29 December 2012
This account will be used as as one-way feed of updates from the blog and anything else I fancy adding - please (pretty please, with cherries on top if it will help) see my contact me page for info on how to reach me whilst keeping me sane. Ta.
Interesting side-effects of travel
Cameras (part 3)
I still need to extract and process the pictures from the trip (sorry for those waiting on them), but having lived with it as my main camera for only 2 weeks I know it isn't what I'll be taking with me. It just didn't feel right - yes the pictures are good, but I can't get on-with the camera for extended periods. I'd have known this if I'd used the camera as planned - oh well.
Among my friends are a group of amateur, semi-pro and professional photographers who all range somewhere between very good and very good in their ability to take (make) a picture. They're also a danger in the pub, but that's another story.
Cue much debate and discussion on options and the rather talented Mr. Hardwick pointed me in the general direction of the Olympus OM-D E-M5, where he'd heard good things despite having not used one. Back in the day Olympus were a brand to be reckoned with, but I'd only been looking at Canon (my current kit) or Nikon (whose latest DSLRs are stunning). Cue what I'd expected to be a quick look at the OM-D and an even quicker write-off.
Several hours later and I've got dozens of tabs open in Chrome, I've read countless reviews of it and taken a look at all of the sample images I could get my hands on (see DP Review for some RAW samples). I spend the next few days doing more of the same. This is a very serious piece of kit. A really very interesting piece of kit. The first time in a very long time I've been interested in taking photographs - this is a good sign.
A quick trip to a physical camera shop (Jessops on New Oxford Street, mostly as I was on a bus going past it) and it feels pretty good - it feels like a proper camera, giving a "oooh, this feels right" feel; something I've had with the cameras I've been happy with (the D10 and the 7D). There is also a touch of "proper" old camera about it, which harks back to the Canon AE-1 Program I first used when I was a kid - the body is still owned by my dad, if not used on a regular basis.
The one thing it doesn't have which I'd like is built-in or hot-shoe mounted GPS, as I'd really like to be able to geo-tag photos; although if the only thing I'm really complaining about is the lack of GPS in a camera that can't be too bad.
I need to get some more hands-on time with one, but it is a very strong contented to take with me. It'll be interesting to see what Olympus and others release in their traditional spring releases - in time for Focus?
28 December 2012
Another flight booked
The only flight I can't book is the return - I get to set off, travel and have no idea of when, or how, I'll return. I can't wait.
27 December 2012
See ya later, Gil
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
At the time of writing this (18:50 GMT, 27th December 2012) Gil is currently on a plane to Madrid, which puts her on to a plane to Chile later tonight. As of some point tomorrow lunchtime (GMT) Gil will have landed in Santiago for the start of her adventures.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
On Sunday morning, about 09:15 GMT, Gil drove off my from place; the end of The Last Super (part 2), having had the chance to have one more evening of chatting. Fate, in her twisted way, had found us a bit more time.
Not a great morning, but it's easier the second time.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A few weeks short of 6 (yes, six) years without eating chocolate it made one hell of a return to my diet last Wednesday, when Gil and I had a Gu chocolate soufflé as the desert to our Last Supper (or more accurately, The Last Supper (part 1)). We also had Lindt wasabi chocolate, which is amazing (far far better than chilli chocolate).
The return of chocolate to my diet is something which was very planned - I want the ability to eat/taste/sample anything when travelling, so bring it back now to share it with Gil during The Last Supper and then to have things like Christmas Pudding with the family. I'm glad I shared it with her.
(side note: for those who've just given me that look - don't worry, I'm still on-the-wagon. As I've said before - keep me honest.)
Getting out of bed and going to work on Thursday morning sucked more than I thought possible.
Now I'm not ahead of myself.
My friend Jean-François has taught me many things, the one which is most useful is "see ya later". There isn't a goodbye, there is just a "see ya later" - given how small the planet is even a departure with a unplanned return is a "see ya later". See, for example, meeting Jean-François going into the Okavango Delta as I'm leaving it - the planet is tiny.
As for Gil... Well, we'll be meeting up for a week of adventures in Lima in September 2013 - I'll have just landed in South America after 4 months of travel through Central Asia and she'll be in her final days in South America before she heads back to the UK for a bit. For those who've read the early posts - we've had to work hard to be able to do this.
Gil is one my closest friends, it'll be strange to not have her around. If nothing else, who is going to sleep on my sofa?
See ya later, Gil.
 - OK, we all know that I'm lying. I just don't want to give them up.
 - There's a crap job: Find all your CDs (because, like me, yours aren't all in one place either), the majority of which you've encoded already, and the find the ones you've not done - you're trying to find a few dozen needles in a fairly large haystack. Then pack them away.
- Credit cards
- HMRC (bless 'em)
- Insurance providers
- Previous employers who still need to send you stuff
- Current employer (well, technically still current)
- Pension people
- Magazine subscriptions (all cancelled, apart from National Geographic)
8 December 2012
Dear BA (or The Point of No Return (Part 2))
There is a person working on your booking call centre today called David; I know nothing about him other than he is Scottish (based on his accent) and has just spent he last 40 min helping me find and book my flights. He has helped me find a sensible, non hell-like, route from Beijing to Lima and (and I hope the rest of you will excuse me for this bit) fly the vast majority of it in first.
David took the time to find various routing options for me and found something which worked - no it isn't the perfect flight, but it appears no carrier actually has the perfect flight; it is the perfect flight which is actually routable.
I hope a manager at BA Customer Services sees this, then finds David and gives him the utterly massive hug that I'd like to give him. His time and help today just made the The Dream come true.
In the off-chance you ever see this... THANK YOU. I fell over myself to say thanks on the phone and I do it again now. You, sir, are a Gentleman and a Scholar, and I thank you.
 - Yes kids, after years and years of saving airmiles (or Avois as BA likes to call them these days) I managed to burn a whole bunch of them and get my flights around the world in first and it not cost a fortune. I'm giggling like a schoolgirl at this.
 - The "cost" of doing this is that I'm flying via London for all of it, which I would have liked to avoid; given what I've got this was the easiest trade of them all. The upside of this is I get a few hours in London to see people, assuming people come to LHR to see me.
 - I have, had, this thing about being out of the country for a whole year. Given what I've booked today I'll take a few hours at LHR T5.
7 December 2012
The Guardian, bless it, does like lists of stuff, most of which I ignore. For reasons best know to the universe I looked at their gift guide for travellers, which is very strange given my opinions of that event. Much to my surprise this was in their (otherwise dull) list: The Scrubba. Looks most useful.
24 November 2012
A new plan. Again.
Sadly the Galapagos hasn't worked out for Gil, which means I get to change what I'm doing too. Instead of spending a few weeks in the Galapagos and then focusing on Peru, I'll be flying from Beijing to Lima (having possibly/probably spent another few weeks in China) and working my way down to Santiago over about 3 months - the reverse of what I'd originally planned with Gil several months ago. Funny how life is circular.
Whilst it is a shame to not do the Galapagos on this trip it is still on the list of places to visit - everything is a trade and this is just another one. This trade has means I get to sample a lot more of South America and that is no bad thing.
The beginning is still fixed, in that I'm overlanding from Istanbul to Mongolia, and I'm still off to SE Asia after South America. If I don't meet Gil in South America then she'll be doing bits of SE Asia with me. It's all a bit fuzzy.
This change to the plan just changes the entire of what I'm doing in South America. I wonder what the next change will bring.
23 November 2012
Point of no return (part 1)
I've just told my landlord that I don't want my flat next year. A point of no return.
19 November 2012
A mistake I've made before
And one I'm sure I'll make again... the "food" options air-side at Miami International are crap; I really need remember to buy real food before security. Sadly I suspect it'll be a while before I get to come here again. I suspect I'll have forgotten. Again.
It's hot, it's sticky and...
... There are places selling Christmas trees. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Florida.
Warm (read: hot and sticky) and Christmas (humbug, etc) is just wrong.
18 November 2012
Genius from Air Canada
Dear Air Canada,
Please find the person who thought providing a USB connector, in addition to a normal power socket, to each of the seats and give them the Pure Genius Award of the day, week and month. Brilliant.
16 November 2012
Best kept secret of Toronto
Toronto has a secret that it doesn't advertise (read: I didn't see it, but given that I did not research before going that doesn't actually mean a whole lot) that is probably one of the best features of Toronto International... If you're flying to the USA from Toronto you do all the immigration and customs in Toronto - you just have to collect your luggage when you get to the USA. Given that my recent entry via Dulles gave me a 2 hour wait at immigration (and for a 8 hour flight that's an extra 25%, in addition to the 4.5 delay in departing LHR) doing it here is a welcome relief and means I'm far more likely to route via here if a direct option isn't available (gives me an unneeded excuse to visit Toronto).
Oh, and you can take the tube + bus to/from the airport too. Congratulations, you've just saved $60 on a cab fare.
Pampered pooch's paradise?
Getting to walk around the back streets and wonder around the places that locals live has been really nice. Getting to do it with a friend has been even better.
Toronto is a place I'll be coming back to, as it deserves more than the time I've had to explore.
I leave Toronto having spent 2.5 days with someone I'd not seen for far too long and, having spent most of that time discussing travel, full of fire for what I'll be doing.
Onwards to Miami, with that bittersweet taste. Again.
13 November 2012
That bittersweet tang
This is something I should really get use to, it'll be happening a lot over the next 18(ish) months. That bittersweet taste of leaving one place and all that's there (the people who are there) and going to another. As much as I'm looking forward to my time in Toronto and seeing Jean-François, it is a shame to be leaving Steve and Lisa in DC.
Given how small the planet is, it's far too big at times.
12 November 2012
The local taste (part 2)
Part of the local taste is creating new local dishes, which will be part legend and part folklore. An example of this is the Paco, the pork taco. Slow cooked pork, wrapped in ham. Washed down with a beer.
See also the Paco sandwich: bread roll, slice of ham, slow cooked pork, freshly made coleslaw, more ham, top of the roll, all with a generous dash of Chipotle sauce. Washed down with a beer.
The legend is pictured. Folklore remains for those that were there.
11 November 2012
The local taste
One of the nice things about being somewhere that isn't home is the sampling of new, local, things. In the case of when I visit my friends near DC this means one thing and one thing alone. Beer.
America had a reputation for really bad beer and if you drink the likes of Budwiser: 1) it's true (cue the canoe joke); 2) there are many many other beers you could be drinking which are really very good.
Things to add to the trip
Having spent the last few days in Lost River National Park I've found something I need to make sure I add plenty of to my trip - darkness.
Two evenings sat outside in the pitch black staring at the sky and a field of stars. Being able to see the arm of the Milkyway is really very cool (not a reference to the freezing cold conditions) and something that I'd forgotten just how nice it is. If nothing else it made me remember being in the Namibian Desert and falling asleep out under the stars. Heaven.
9 November 2012
Oh so glamorous (part 2)
Yesterday I spent about 17 hours getting from my place to a friend's house near DC. An 8 hour flight with a 4.5 hour delay and 2 (yes, two) hours to get through immigration at IAD.
The Beijing to Lima jump is about twice that (excluding delays). That is going to hurt. Lots.
Oh so glamorous.
In related news, the beer and pizza when I arrived tasted *so* good. Kinda like the breakfast in Lima will.
8 November 2012
Oh so glamorous
A 4 hour delay on an 8 hour flight. This travel lark, it's oh so glamorous.
7 November 2012
I'll put a little (lot) more thought into packing for a multi-month trip, but I'm willing to bet that the results look a lot like what is currently routing its way around LHR T5 in an effort to find me in DC in about 10 hours time.
In related news, this is the first time in a very long time I've been at an airport and not hated it. For someone who had travelled a lot (with work, mostly) I really don't like airports.
I wonder if I could do my RTW without flying. :-)
22 October 2012
Something approaching a plan
The previously mentioned Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar trip has me finish in UB on the 22nd August - allowing a couple of days slack to allow for randomness (there is no way a journey that long over that distance is going to work to time) I'll be departing UB for Lima on the 24th August. Cue 30-35 hours of travelling via a route to be confirmed (although I've got a fairly good idea) and I'm in Lima.
We've then got 10 days to do a journey we could do in 24 hours if we had to, but where the first day or so will mostly involving me doing nothing more taxing than picking what I want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, possibly with a bit of the watching the world float by - I'll be jet-lagged to hell-and-back-again after that journey and probably unable to tell which way is up.
We work our way up from Lima to Guayaquil overland and then fly to the Galapagos, where I get to spend about 2 weeks playing tourist and Gil gets to start her medical volunteering - playing tourist with me when she can.
About the 17th September I head back towards Lima and spend the next 6(ish) weeks poking around Peru, taking in everything it has to offer - the short version of which is: lots.
At the end of October / beginning of November it's time to move on again - to South East Asia, via one of two possible routes:
1) Fly back to Beijing, spend a week or so there and then take the train to Hanoi
2) Fly back to Beijing and then fly straight out to somewhere within SE Asia, probably Bangkok.
The route comes down to visas. Again. This probably won't be sorted until I reach Lima after the Galapagos - as it depends on my routing in-and-out of Mongolia and what the visa people have to say.
I want to spend at least 3 months in SE Asia, spending more time if the funds allow. This is somewhere I've wanted to spend a significant period of time for as long as I can remember. This is that.
After the travelling part of SE Asia I'd like to spend about a month in one place studying, as this way I'll be heading back to the UK with a few professional certifications under my belt and that means it'll be easier to find work (yep, I'm months away from leaving and I'm already planning the return); realistically this means Bangkok or Hanoi, as these are cities where I'll have better access to the study materials and exam centres I'll need.
This has me heading back towards London in February/March 2014, depending on money. The logical route home would be to fly from Bangkok or Hanoi back to London, but today I had the idea of taking the train. Needs research.
So there you have it kids - the route in all its sketched-out glory.
20 October 2012
As starts to the day go (part 2)
As starts to the day go... Agreeing dates to travel to the Galapagos with Gil as our travelling together in South America is a a pretty damn good one. By 10am today we'd sorted out our bit of South America, which means that I can now sort out the rest of it and then make that work for the rest of the trip.
A good start to the day, even if it does mean I now have to face hell.
17 October 2012
I have seen hell
Tomorrow I shall be stopping in to see my local friendly travel agent to see what magic she can work. Not a lot, I suspect.
Travel - it's so glamorous.
16 October 2012
10 October 2012
As starts to the day go
9 October 2012
I'm going to have my cake and eat it
Thanks to Gil there is a way of me doing both the Central Asia trip I want *and* spend time travelling with her in South America. Gil is one of my closest friends, so being able to do both makes me deeply happy.
Today I booked myself on an Istanbul to Ulaanbaatar overland trip with Dragoman, spending four months touring the heart of Central Asia, China and into Mongolia.
Afterwards comes South America (something along the lines of Peru, bits of Ecuador and maybe the Galapagos), South East Asia (mostly Indochina, hopefully more) and, if I'm lucky, bits of Africa (Namibia down towards South Africa) - but the details there are all still in a (mostly) non-existent state, but should be reasonably sorted by the end of November.
I have waited and worked towards this day for a very very long time - it really doesn't seem real; it will be very real on the morning of the 25th April 2013 when I set out on to day 1 of my round-the-world trip. Think of me.
Dreams do come true.
6 October 2012
- Go to Central Asia, where the only way I can find to make this work is skip South America
- Go to South America and travel with a friend, making the visas practically impossible.
4 October 2012
Dear Central Asia (part 2)
I really want to visit you - I really do. The total remote and wilds of you, the land less trodden, the chances to go places and do thing which are far removed from the beaten-track or even the beaten-backpacking-track (which, honestly, often isn't too far from the track - we just got there a different way and stay in far cheaper sleeping establishments). The experience far removed from the norm. The centrepiece of my long-held dream.
China isn't (currently) allowing British passport holders through and even if they changed their mind who says they wouldn't change it back; getting visas sorted for the Stans is a PITA and the UKPA has confirmed that I can only have 2 passports for business reasons and that removes my last "easy" choice.
I now face the decision - if I do Central Asia then I can't do South America in Feb-April and that means not travelling with a friend of mine - it also means the plans which work really nicely if I leave mid-Feb are broken as I need to hang around until mid-April. As much as I want to do the Central Asia trip, I also want to travel with her. Essentially I have to choose.
3 October 2012
Please can you let me into Tibet, I'd really like to go. I know you're not all that keen on British passport holders going there at the moment, but if you could let me (and a truck full of others) in, say, late May / early June next year that would be just lovely.
Dear Central Asia
Why do you have to be so tempting and yet such a pain in the ass to get visas for?
30 September 2012
New Zealand vs. somewhere else?
New Zealand. Everyone says it is an amazing place and that I need to visit it and I'd love it. So far so good.
The trick comes that for my time there is have less time and money for other things. Whilst this is true for everything else, a lot of the other stuff isn't something I want to trade (SE Asia and Central Asia (assuming I can sort the visa issues and I think I have)) or is "fixed" (travelling with a damn good friend in South America). New Zealand is probably the only thing I've got left I can trade, having decided I'll return to Africa on another trip.
Southend question becomes... Do I do NZ or somewhere else and if somewhere else, where?
23 September 2012
I picked-up a copy if the Rough Guide to New Zealand as the Footprint guide hadn't been updated in a couple of years and the Rough Guide was released this month. The difference in guide styles is amazing.
Whilst the Rough Guide isn't bad the Footprint guide is, for me, a far better guide - little things like listing sleeping options in an area on price (as the Footprint books do) and not alphabetically. It'll do for research and planning, but if Footprint release as updated guide I'll probably grab that.
17 September 2012
Cameras (Part 2)
I'm not in a hurry to make a decision, so I've got plenty of time for DP Review to do their thing and get a feel for the real-world comparison of that vs. whatever Nikon releases next - here's hoping that Nikon take some of their low-noise magic and put it into something "pocket" sized.
Considering the unthinkable
My current unthinkable thought, one that most, if not all, of my friends would be astonished to find me having even had let alone be seriously considering...
Don't go to Africa.
Yes. I am seriously contemplating not going to Africa, a place which calls to me, during my trip.
I suspect many will be surprised by this, but it is actually very simple: I have a finite budget and I need to make compromises about where I go and what I do. One of my options, and all I've got at the moment are options, is that by skipping Africa it gives me more time and money for other things, specifically a trip through Central Asia.
This trip has been something I've looked at many many times and it just grabs me. In reality I'd probably do this one (or something a lot like it) as I'm not sure Iran is going to be a good place to go in 2013, but that is (mostly) America's fault - from what I've heard Iran, and Iranian people as a whole, is a wonderful place and well worth visiting; unless, of course, America and Israel decided to turn it into the next war zone.
Back to Asia... The trip is something I've wanted to do for years - it is so far removed from anything I've seen and done and such an amazingly remote place that it just screams "DO ME!" Alas it is way over my budget - skipping Africa means I can do the Central Asia tour, doing Africa (bit-by-bit?) at another time.
Time to think the unthinkable.
16 September 2012
Your fellow travellers
Sat down on a train and pulled out my guide to Tanzania, whereupon the woman sat opposite me said "going anywhere nice?" (you couldn't see the title as the book was face down). Cue a frantic 40 minute discussion on the joys of travel and how good it is. I suspect we'd have chatted all the way to London if it weren't for her having to find to assigned seat, not the one she happened to sit in for a bit.
Nicely done Universe, nicely done.
 don't worry, this wasn't in London and as such strangers talking to each other is not only ok, it is considered normal.
15 September 2012
Cameras (part 1)
Today's discussion on travel has been around pictures and what to use (read: take) in order to make them.
In simple terms the choice comes down to either a DSLR or some form of fairly advanced "pocket" camera (e.g. a Canon G11).
On one hand I am a keen, if lapsed, photographer and on the other I have to accept that the travel is the purpose of the journey, not taking images - I want to take good images, but they are "only" there as a record for me and as something to share with friends.
If this were a safari trip the choice would be simple: a couple of DSLR bodies and all the lenses. It's not; this is a year-long walkabout where I have to carry everything and where weight & space are at a premium. Packing even a basic DSLR kit (1 body, 1 lens, a few filters, a few batteries, lots of CF cards and a charger) takes up a lot more weight & space than a "pocket" camera, where the likes of a Canon G11 takes really very good images (still and video).
There is also the issue of carrying what is a (very) expensive bag of kit which is highly desirable to those who'd like to make my journey more "interesting" by removing my property from me.
Insurance will deal with any monetary risk, just is mostly the "need to carry this every day" factor. Do I want the hassle of a DSLR over a good "pocket" camera?
One to ponder.
14 September 2012
Africa vs. South America
There appear to be two types of people in the world; those who find themselves pulled towards South America and those who find themselves pulled toward Africa. I've always firmly been in the second camp, classing South America as somewhere I'd go if I'd got time and nothing better to do. (I'm not saying it is bad, just it didn't have any pull for me.)
Having spent the last week or so skim-reading my guide to South America whilst commuting and reading in detail for the entire of this 4.5 hour train journey to The Motherland, I can see the appeal. This is both surprising (it really has had no appeal at all, until now) and useful - my first stop is going to be South America. More of that later.
Lots more reading and research needs to be done, but Peru strikes me as the type of place in could spend a very happy month.
 I am blatenly ignoring the existence of Asia, Australia, New Zealand and many other places at this point.
 Well, almost; I wrote this on the train too. Isn't technology great. ;-)
 The place that calls me to most, despite how hard Africa calls.