30 April 2013

Timezone change

As of tomorrow I'll be BST +3 (UTC +4), not BST +2 as I currently am.

PS. All blog times and GPS coordinates are in BST.

Leaving Goreme and the first bush camp

Day 5. 29 April 2013.

Today is all about driving, about 500Km, from Goreme NE to, well, somewhere. There was no fixed camping point, we just found a suitable, and really rather pretty, space near on of the many rivers which flows through the valleys. Suitable in this case is flat(ish) ground with suitable cover so as to make a toilet - there are no facilities unless you make them.

I really like camping like this, it is wonderfully simple and generates a real peace in me - all you have to focus on is setting camp, cooking, and enjoying the food and the evening with your fellow travellers - the addition of (the endlessly hypnotic) camp fire to keep us warm and you have a properly happy time; there are no distractions and nothing to worry about. Heaven.

The evening was spent doing communal cooking, everyone mucking in to add to the whole, and talking - over the next few months we are all going to get to know each other really well, which will either leave us with friends for life or with people who we never want to see again.

The scenery on route was just stunning. I know I'm in for a glut of riches over the next year, the next 4 months especially, but as a start to the trip it was perfect - something to help remove the mind from the UK/London life and help adjust it to life on the road and a life of taking in and making the most of what is around you.

Alas I've got no pictures on the phone of the scenery on route on my phone and I can't yet extract them from my camera - I need to find a way of reading an SD card from a Google Nexus - so here are a couple from the camp.

Goreme

Day 3. 28 April 2013.

As Day 1 was a long driving day we had created more time in Goreme to do things, the firstly of which is proof that this trip isn't pure rock & roll - a trip to the supermarket to get supplies for the truck.
Whilst utterly mundane, it is a small view of the everyday life in Turkey and it looks a lot like anywhere else in the western world - people buying all the usual items we all do, from a supermarket which felt too much like a Tesco for my liking (the blue & white "value" brand being the seal).
The truck was the source of much interest and amusement to a group of local kids - unlike other parts of the world where overland trucks are common, its must been fairly rare to have one parked outside a shopping mall (where the supermarket was) in the middle of an otherwise ordinary town in the middle of Turkey.

The afternoon was spent at the Open Zelve Museum, which is a UNESCO world site - a fascinating place and another chance to explore cave buildings, which yet again is an interesting mix of homes, communal facilities (cooking, larder, wine production, etc) and another Christian church within more stunning artwork, which is in far better condition condition than what I saw yesterday.
I think all of using who went (Kim, Brian, John, Rachel, Tony and Olly) all came away really glad we'd visited - well worth a few hours to slowly take it all in.

There is a real pleasure on having a couple of giggly 11(ish) year old girls come up to your group and practice their English - we got as far as names and where we come from. I think they went away happy that they'd spoken a little English, back to what's I assume is a school trip. It wish I could remember their names.

One small drama - an old lady from another group collapsed as she sat next to me. John thinks this was a reaction to me zipping my trousers into to shorts, which isn't impossible - I'd blame the heat and a lack of fluid.
One quick check of CABC later and the most useful first aid skill I'd got was to run like buggery to fetch help, leaving Olly and the others with the woman. As with running away from an unhappy elephant in the Okavango Delta a few years ago, it turns out I can move surprisingly quickly when properly motivated.

The group went out to a wonderfully touristy dancing night for food, drink ("all the alcohol you want is included" as promoted several times, which is all well and good if you're don't have a long drive the next day) and to watch traditional Turkish dancing. Yes it was very very touristy, but it was a good laugh - especially that the biggest cheer of the night went to a group of 5 older (late 50s+) guys, customers, who took to the dancer floor between shows and danced - easily the dance highlight, even if it's was (Turkish) (gran)dad dancing off the highest order.
I suspect the pictures I haven of Olly and Kim being "dragged" on to the floor as a part of a show will make good decoration for the truck.

Cappadocia

Day 3. 27 April 2013.

After a must more sensible starting time we were picked up from them hostel for an all-day tour of the Cappadocia region. For those interested, Cappadocia (or one of the various other spellings) means Land of Beautiful Horses, based on the history of the region and some invaders whole got, unsurprisingly, beautiful horses from here - 100 of them, according to our guide.

The area is famed for the geology and thus the look of the place - the SciFi fans we'll recognise the look, even if Star Wars was filmed  in Tunisia. Paperwork prevented it actually being filmed in Turkey, so they built a set in Tunisia based on the look of the place.

A combination of volcanic activity and water erosion has left a really stunning looking landscape - something I expect to say a lot over the next year.
It has also allowed homes to be carved directly into the rock, where a (far too short) look around one set on these was fascinating - a combination of places where people lived and ancient churches. We only had about 30 to look around, which is a real shame - I could easily have spent a good couple or hours poking around; the downside to a fixed itinerary.

One short drive and a short walk later and we're at another ancient home and church site, this time focused on the church - the areas where until really very recently (1960s) people lived; it just got too dangerous for people to live there (a family being killed was the last straw) , so they were moved elsewhere.
The highlight of the church was easily the wall paintings, which areas in a poor state - partly due to age, partly due to centuries old state sponsored vandalism, partly due to more modern destruction due to the people at the time being taught Christian images were a bad thing and partly due to the type of idiot who sees centuries old paintings and thinks the way to improve it is to carve their name in to it.

Another short drive later and we are at the one's of the many underground cities in the area, a places built centres ago as a refuge where, not if, invaders attacked - a safe space for 1000 people to live for a few week to sit outside an attack. The numbers of people who could live there is a clue to the scale - 8 levels of carved rooms, wells, ventilation shafts, a church and a place for the dead and more; all designed to withstand attack (small, single-file, corridors towards the safe areas and blocks stones (think Indiana Jones) with attack holes (think arrow slits in castles, just bigger)).
Fascinating to look around by itself, although the inner geek in me is amazed my the engineering of it all.

Alas, because it was a touristy tour it ended with a visit to a local factory/showroom, where we had the opportunity to look at how Onyx was cut (think turning wood) and then an array of tat which could become bought - I don't like this side to tours, but accept it is part of it. Still, it gave me 15 min sat outside in the sunshine.

The only thing I didn't do at the Onyx "factory" which I should have it tried the tea - pineapple and rather good, apparently. Still, fixed that with dinner - an underwhelming Turkish Pizza, but a damn good laugh with the waiter; we were trying to convince him that Brian and I were both the boyfriend of Kim, although that she was leaving us the next day to get married to a younger man - good times.

Day 6 camping location

I am here: 40 47.082 N 39 36.838 E at 459m as of 30/04/2013 15:45 http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:40.7847,39.61397

28 April 2013

Istanbul to Goreme

Day 2. 26 April 2013.

Today was the first driving day, kicking off with a 12+ hour, 800+ Km, drive to Goreme. The original schedule has today as a much shorter drive with bush camping on route, but a long day of driving gave us an extra day to explore Goreme - worth getting up at 0415 for a 0500 meeting outside the hostel.

The hostel itself was great - clean, safe, fun and on an interesting street (think a smaller version of Long Street). They are obviously use to working with Dragoman as at 5am they'd managed to provide us breakfast and coffee. I'd stay there again.

At 0511 the wheels rolled and we were on our way, Olly (the tour leader) driving for them first leg.

Driving through Istanbul pre-dawn and what is otherwise a very busy and manic city was calm, still and peaceful - a side to Istanbul which probably isn't seen that often. The full(ish?) moon providing a wonderful light, especially on the water.

By 0530 we'd crossed the bridges from the European side of Istanbul in to the Asian side - within half an hour of day 2 and we are on our second continent.

There was a very noticeable air of excitement as we drive through Istanbul, the feeling from all of us that this was real and the start of something exciting. Big smiles all round.

The next 12+ hours areas spent driving through increasingly more rural land, stopping a few times for a leg stretch; lunch was overlooking Turkey's second largest lake. My time is spent taking in the scenery and getting to know my fellow travellers, mostly of whom (4/6) are going all the way to Mongolia.

Arriving in the hostel for tonight and we have a well earned beer and a simple meal. We all sleep early, having been up at far-too-early-o'clock, within some of the group up early again for a hot air balloon ride - something I didn't do.

The soundtrack for today was a selection of music brought to me by D. Thank you, D.

25 April 2013

Daisy by night

This is Daisy and she'll be my home for the next 4 months.

Better pictures and a proper description to follow - we've got a 12 hour drive tomorrow, so a 5am start awaits.

For those emailing me... I've now got sporadic access to the Internet so replies may take days.

Day 1

Although I've been in Istanbul for a couple or days, today is day 1 of the tour. By random chance I met one of the guys who it doing the whole 4 months whilst sat out on the hostel's roof-top bar terrace last night with the people I was sharing a dorm with and another over breakfast this morning; I met the other 3 (+ 2 crew) who are leaving Istanbul tomorrow this morning at the prearranged meeting point (the hostel I'm staying in - handy, and planned).

I spent my first day in Istanbul shattered in all the ways possible, so took it very easy. Slept a chunk during the day, wandered around during the evening, a little to eat and then, because it's a backpackers, drinking and smoking shisha (a first) until about midnight with two random Ozzies I ended up sitting with. One who had spent years living in London working as a chef before then working as a chef on superyatchs, now heading back to Oz; the other taking 3 months out to go around to world before doing his PhD in genetics. A great evening and one that helped settle my head into "this is real", although that really hit me as I was dozing on my bunk with the windows opened - the smell of cooking coals below, a sea of languages being spoken and the Adhan from the Mosques.

10 hours of sleep later and I was (more) human, so wandered around the old town, the Grand Bazaar (all the dust gathering tat you could ever need) and the outside of the Blue Mosque and the Ayasofya - the queue for entry being hours and that is longer than I'm prepared to wait, although it is meant for be worth it. Istanbul is a places I want to return to and do properly, so I'm not worried about not going inside to look around properly - as with everything in this trip, it's a trade.

Today it going to be another quiet day for me today as we've got a 0500 start tomorrow, which my body will think is 0300. An early start, but it's goes use more time in Goreme, our first stop.

24 April 2013

Expected finds in Istanbul

Given that I've got no way to connect my camera to my tablet at the moment all I can post are snaps from my phone, but I'm taking "proper" pictures too - they'll appear once I've got the cable I need. Until then...

Unexpected finds in Istanbul

I'm miles from home and even further from my tame paramedic and yet they are right here.

This isn't Ealing

A snapshot from earlier today.

I'm not in West London anymore.

23 April 2013

Not Constantinople

I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

Last known location

I am here: 51 28.161 N 0 29.281 W at 39m as of 23/04/2013 07:04 http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:51.46935,-0.48801

Leaving, on a jet plane

Here we, well - I, go.

21 April 2013

20 April 2013

Visas (again)

After more last minute issues than I'd have liked, I have all of the visas which I can actually get in London. This is a good thing. This is a very good thing - the alternative is, was, something which caused a lot of stress.

I've not managed to get all the visas I'd expected to get, the Azerbaijan visa just couldn't be sorted out in time; thankfully it is "very easy" to get in Batumi, according to the Dragoman ops team. Having read the howto, it is - one form, a couple of pictures and some cash is what it should have taken in London and what it will take in Batumi; the difference is that it should take a few hours as compared to the wrong side of a week.

None to the issues have been due to Travcour, who have been absolutely invaluable and worth every penny of their (really very reasonable) fees - I'd not be able to do what they've done for me for what I've paid them and I would use them again without thinking about it. Thanks, Darren.

On Monday I collect my passport on my way to Heathrow, having said see ya later to yet more people, confident in the knowledge that I've got all the visas I need.

In the end I didn't need to move my flights, but I don't regret doing so - it means I have more time with people and that's priceless right now.

12 April 2013

Contact me

As of some point later today I'll be living off a phone and tablet for a year, with no access to my laptop.  As such a polite request...

If you need to reach me from now on whilst I'm in the UK (until Tuesday 23rd): e-mail, phone or SMS. After that: e-mail.


For the sake of my ability to manage communications whilst travelling, please don't use Facebook or Twitter to try and reach me - I probably won't look at them for weeks (and weeks) at a time.


Thanks.

11 April 2013

10 April 2013

Test packing

This morning I've started test packing - an exercise to work out the best way to get everything I think I need into the bag, which is probably about to turn in to an exercise of "what do I *really* need" and then how do I pack that.

I thought I was being fairly sensible with the amount of stuff I was taking - the large bag I bought would have plenty of space. That bag isn't looking so big.

8 April 2013

Looks like we got ourselves a reader

One of the nice things about having a year off is that I'll have the time to read and read extensively; I should have the time to make a serious dent in the list of books I've been meaning to read for ages, boxes of which are currently stored with Gil - but those are for when I return.  (I'm addicted to books as well as CDs - as very clearly evidenced by the amount of both I've got in storage in various locations.)

I'll be picking-up and trading physical books as I go, where the idea of BookCrossing appeals - I like the idea of "my" books travelling around.  (side note: are books like like a bicycle in Amsterdam - you never really own them, just have physical possession for a while? Discuss.)  I'll also have a Kindle with me, as the downside to physical books is that they are big and heavy - space and weight are at a premium when your world is on your back. Thankfully I can carry as many books as I want on a Kindle and it doesn't take up any more space or weight - this is where you come in...

What three books would you recommend to me? It can be any three books, not specifically travel books - just three books which make you go "Rob would really like these" or "these are the books I'd take with me" or even "these books will change Rob's life". Either way - I'm looking for ideas.

If you could recommend three, and only three, books to me - what are they and, for bonus points, for why?



And for those who don't get the reference for the title... The late, great, Bill Hicks.



Speaking of which...


T-minus 15 days

In 15 days time I'll be on a plane!

4 April 2013

T-minus +1 day

It was all going so well.  Well, it was for about 40 hours.  Then I got call from the friendly folks at Travcour (who are continuing to prove the value of their service) to tell me that the Azerbaijan embassy is going to take longer to processes my visa that expected, despite having paid for "express" processing, and that as such we'd still get the Turkmenistan visa sorted in time but the Uzbek visa, which all looked so good a couple of days ago, was, is, now is real danger of not being done in time.

Houston.  We have a problem.

One (thankfully not too expensive) flight change later and I've moved my flight to Istanbul to Tuesday 23rd April (from Monday 22nd) to have one more day in London to get this sorted - I have quite literally bought more time.
I don't get to spend as long in Istanbul, but that is an acceptable cost - I need to have some time there if only to allow for any issues with the flights (snow in April anyone?) and/or when I arrive (lost luggage), so departing any later than the 23rd for a 25th departure from Istanbul is just asking for trouble.

I am talking to Dragoman about the option for getting the Uzbek visa whilst on the road, as that might be an option - presumably at the cost of losing (a small?) part of the trip (a few days stuck somewhere doing paperwork?) and/or spending even more money. Once I've got some ideas from Dragoman on what options I've got I can make a decision on if getting the visa in the UK is worth the risk.


If, dear reader, you happen to have friends who work in the embassies of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan and they are able to make visas appear in passports far quicker than the published time I'd love to hear from you, and then buy you and them a very large drink.


In related news... changing your flight bookings using a tablet which is wirelessly tethered to your phone whilst standing in some car park darkest Cornwall where there is fluctuating coverage, all whilst it is bitterly cold and blowing a hoolie, is interesting.  Hurrah for technology.

2 April 2013

One down, three to go

As of about two hours ago I've had confirmation that the Chinese embassy has granted me my visa, after a couple of wobbles with the application due to needing to prove more clearly that I really did need a dual entry visa (the second entry is for my Mongolia-to-Lima flights, which takes me through Beijing for a couple of days, along with London and Miami - for those keeping track). This is a huge relief as I can't afford to lose any more time with getting visas sorted.

A small issue with my application for Azerbaijan, in that the form asks where your passport was issued (answer: the UK), but the real question is "write the details of the issuing authority as printed in your passport into this box" (answer: IPS).  One re-submission of the paperwork later, a bit of a faff with a printer (things with a paper path are evil) and a lot more of a faff with a scanner later and the paperwork is now all with Travcour.  An exciting 45 minutes, but it means my passport will be with the Azerbaijan embassy tomorrow morning.

In excellent news Dragoman have managed to get some paperwork which should help speed-up the processing of the Uzbek visa, which hopefully means that I'll still get everything back in time and I can stress slightly less about the visas and get back to sorting the storage of boxes, which is what I have been doing otherwise today.

One visa down, three to go.

1 April 2013

Unemployed and homeless

It is official, I'm now unemployed and homeless.  A few years ago this would have terrified me, now it terrifies me that I wouldn't be in the position I am in today.

Technically the last day of my employment was the 31st March, even if I left the office a little earlier than that and a little earlier than I had actually expected.
As I said only a few hours ago, I left London today - having given-up my flat.  I am, technically, homeless. Saying these words to my mother earlier caused her to flap. :-)


Except I'm not....
I am not homeless - I have my parents place in Cornwall to call home, along with a rucksack and the planet as a whole.
I am not unemployed - OK, technically, I don't have a job contract at the moment and I won't be able to change that for the next 4-5 months, but after than if I can pick-up some work whilst travelling I will - it helps replenish the travel fund and thus keep me going for longer. Yes IT work pays fairly well, but I've done all manner of work in the past and I'm more than happy to push a broom around (again) if it means it keeps me travelling.

My (current) skill set is inherently portable, I just need access to a computer to be able to do my job - or at least it makes it easier; I can actually do a lot of it without one.
I have ideas around making my skill set far more diverse, even more portable and far more rounded - adding in a whole bunch of non IT things, making myself more useful in more places, with or without IT as a part of it.  It needs thought, but luckily I've got a lot of time on my hands now and plenty of experiences to be had to help feed my thinking.


Not so much homeless and unemployed, more travelling IT (security) consultant, with ideas around changing who, how, where, when and why I work.



Given the date - I should point out this isn't an April fool. :-)