Partially so *I* can remember, here’s a rough day-by-day itin (reverse chron):
future: northern Laos, across border to Chiang Rai. Back into Laos to the south. back across border to Bangkok to catch flight to NYC Sept 25. Yikes.
writing & working. chatting with Raquel
bus from LPB to Luang Nam Tha, near the Chinese border. our brake line broke halfway here, but luckily the driver noticed in time and knew how to fix it. brakes are handy on curvy, potholed mountain roads.
met two Argentinian sisters and Raquel, a Peruvian woman with whom I’m sharing a room to save cash (after my splurging ways in LPB).
dinner of cheap and delish roast duck for about $1.75 at night market
uploaded a shitload of pics
bought bus ticket
writing & working
boat trip to Kuang Si waterfalls with three Spaniards and a German/Canadian Aussie couple.
wander LPB. traded books and got “Lost in Space” – a remarkably well researched and well written book about the history and culture of NASA. As I read it I get more and more worried about Al’s safety.
no early ANYTHING. recovery day. I barely left my room.
early bus to Oudomxay, where I left behind my travel companions (Christie and her control-freak ways was really getting on my
nerves) and went to Luang Prabang.
checked in to Manychan Guest house (no relation) run by Peter, a Belgian guy who reminds me a LOT (though an older version) of my my friend Peter from Hungary. Indeed, I’m a bit shocked that Belgian Peter is not (like the Magyar Peter) gay – married to a Lao woman. Or maybe he’s lost in a closet?
In any event, my gaydar is going off left and right in LPB. The place is crawling with male couples (in addition to the standard backpacking crowd and hetero couples).
early rise to go to bus, but still no bus.
instead pickup truck across river and to just outside Muang Khua. walked rest of way.
rested and stayed overnight in this uninteresting town.
early bus to Muang Khua. crossed border with no incident. but got stuck in Muang Mai, because river too high.
met Christie (Hong Kong), Jim (Brit), Imme and her boyfriend (from Basque country). Also met Mrs Manychan, who cooked us dinner and helped us out. What great luck, being stuck!
morning bus to Dien Ben Phu. windy roads, then muddy roads, then windy muddy roads. mudville. tons of construction.
met Wes (from Austin) and Michael (from Poland).
Wes and I had dinner in DBP (we avoided Michael, who was waaay talkative), then I crashed early to catch the 5:30 am bus across the border the next day.
morning with Su May. motorbike back to Sapa.
met up with Jason, an earnest Canadian I had met in Hanoi, and a few other folks for dinner/drinks at the Bia Hoi and then drinks/pool at the Hmong Sisters bar. Jason (who’s around 30) says I’m hot, even though I’m 39. How sweet(?!?).
trek to Taufin. I was led by Su May. Also with us were the Israeli couple and Canadian dude (whose names I forget), led by Cici.
overnight (just me) in Su May’s mom-in-law’s homestay. Grrrlz night, Vietnam style.
tour to Bac Ha Sunday market. meh. but met some other fun travelers.
evening dinner with everyone from Bac Ha market, plus Cici the tour guide.
arrive Lau Cai/Sapa.
Sapa, the place I came to relax, is twice as loud as Hanoi. Eff.
wandered market and met Jiao Su May, who attached herself to me.
wandered Hanoi old town. tried to trade books. drank at a local Bia Hoi place instead.
night train to Lau Cai, to catch a van to Sapa
Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Temple of Literature, Museum of Ethnography. Way too much for one day.
wandered old town. water puppet show. various temples.
dinner of store-bought cheddar, baguette, red wine, cucumber and tomato. ahhhh.
bus to Hanoi via Hue
checked in at the breathtakingly friendly, clean and amazing Little Hanoi Hotel. Kim rocks!
(the 12 NASA PR people I’ve been trying to extract any useful info from are, in fact, useless jerks.)
found out I’m stuck here until Tuesday. so spent the day at the beach. burned my ass.
took a bike into town and wandered Hoi An. a bit too tourist-trap for my taste, but pleasant.
in pm rode the 5 km out to Cau Dai beach.
on the way back, met an Aussie building a cafe/food shop that sells only non-Vietnamese, imported stuff to serve the 250-odd ex-pats in Hoi An. Good luck to him.
bus to Hoi An – actually, Danang. there’s no bus from KOn Tum that stops in Hoi An.
met a Dutch family on the local bus from Danang to Hoi An. All the hotels in town were booked, so they told me where they were staying…which wasn’t full and was really nice (though at $20/night, a bit beyond my budget)
took motobike tour with Jean Ho, who I found through my guest house.
ate a fantastically tasty dinner of meat, veggies, and random leaves wrapped in rice paper, dipped in spicy peanut sauce.
morning: tried to find a local guide
afternoon: hired a bike and rode around. visited Wooden Church
bus to Kon Tum
met Antonio (his South-Americanized name), a Vietnamese missionary living in Paraguay who was home to visit his family. he
very kindly showed me to the Family Guest House (one on my list of options), saying he knew the owner. The owner – a grim
looking woman – promptly tried to rip me off, saying the cheap $8 rooms were “full” and saying I should take the lovely $15 garden room instead. I started to walk away (“I’m sorry, I don’t have money to pay more than $8”) and suddenly there *was* an $8 room. in fact, I was the only person in the cheap rooms. bah.
tour of area with Easy Rider Mr. Hung
arrive in Dalat early. no sleep on bus, so delirious.
wandered the town
rainy day – went to the movies: Knight and Day.
then afternoon beers in the HCMC version of an old-man bar and (surprise) had a long conversation with a boring old man
night sleeper bus to Dalat
second day of Mekong tour
back to HCMC, where I’d have to spend another night as all the bus tickets are sold out
tour of Mekong: Ben Tre
overnight in “homestay” that’s really a guest house by the river
Chuchi Tunnels tour
ran into Ben & Kendra from SJ
drinks with them later that evening.
writing & working
writing & working
visited War Remnants Museum – profoundly disturbing
caught part of Sunday afternoon services at Notre Dame in Saigon
took a cyclo tour of HCMC with Nzhia as my guide.
picked up my visa.
packed my bags, stored my scuba gear and other nonessentials (thanks Sukhumvit 25 Yoth Hostel!) and flew to Ho Chi Minh City,
spent the morning reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. If you haven’t read the Stieg Larsson trilogy, it’s pretty
great beach reading.
then went to MBK in search of Tevas and a rain coat. bought jeans instead.
uploaded a huge backlog of pics. did a lot of work, too.
applied for my Vietnam visa. book shopping (dangerous).
fly to BKK. after so many passes through this city, I am really starting to like it.
rainy day, spent in an internet cafe.
in the evening the Swiss girls (Andrea, Sabrina and Sandra) from the liveaboard arrived. had long dinner, then back to their pad for a visit.
internet and more news in the morning. then went to visit Miro in his new pad. had a craniosacrotherapy session. um…yeah.
had sushi dinner (shhh don’t tell Rohan). Yum.
morning yoga. then catch up on news: newspapers, Newsweek and Time.
meet Miro, a German web designer/craniosacrotherapist, by the pool. have dinner with him at Sagitarius restaurant across the street. he invites me to yoga the next day.
fast boat to Bali. Ubud here I come.
Stay at Dewi Ayu guest house. nice, but guy at front desk is creepy.
6/21 – 6/29
Mike leaves in the morning. Poo.
Komodo liveaboard. Yay.
Saturday 6/12 – 6/20
Gili T with Mikey, Adam, Sarah and Jeremy
fast boat to Gili T. check in to d’Gilian guest house.
doing various errands. beer. pool. bowling. gin. oy vey.
hangover day of backgammon. the bowling at night.
more of Kuta. awful awful. decide to move to the Blue Ocean in Seminyak.
splurge dinner with Mikey at Zanzibar.
wander Kuta, rediscover how awful it is. watch a game of the NBA finals – Celtics beat the Lakers this game, but went on to lose the series.
goodbye, SJ. hello, Bali. stayed in Kuta.
3/12 – 6/5
back to work at Scuba Junkie. spent about 2 months of this on Mabul.
2/27 – 3/11
doing absolutely nothing with Mikey in Lanta
fly to Krabu to meet Mikey, then minibus to Lanta.
Chinatown and more shopping. at night Calypso Cabaret.
meet up with PC, Tatiana, her mom Angelica and cousin Johana for tourism and shopping.
PC and I went to see a Muay Thai fight in the evening, and then Cabbages & Condoms for dinner
To BKK to begin my visa run.
***HAPPY NEW YEAR***
12/12 – 2/22
working at Scuba Junkie
fly back to Borneo. Band night!
in KL, writing and whatnot.
long ride back to KL. DrC to the airport.
hightail it to the Thailand border to cross on a “visa run.” In Thailand for about 20 minutes.
Cameron Highlands – visited tea plantation
driving to Cameron Highlands. stopped at an internet cafe and got a job offer from Scuba Junkie. Hurray!
wander around Georgetown. afternoon to Kek Lok Temple, then up the stuffy funicular to Penang Hill, where it’s cooler.
DrC and I drive to Georgetown, Penang. Sleepy and not feeling well.
Mexican “barrio food” for dinner. early to bed.
trudged back to Lee’s. nap, then pack up for the first time in 5 weeks.
hung around SJ until taxi to Tawau airport. Sad to leave, hoping to come back.
fly to KL to meet DrC
back to Semporna for second snorkel test with Mike. killed it!
slept at SJ backpacker’s (thanks Mike)
first snorkel test, on Mabul with Rohan. killed it!
check out dive shops, chose Scuba Junkies
meet up with Sylvia, Norwegian I met in Melaka
bus to KL
fly to Tawau, Borneo
met Robbie, a Welshman whose wife is doing DM course
dinner in Semporna with “Big John” dive-shop owner, his wife, and Robbie and Amy (aka Qinru)
dinner with Edwin and other guys from Voyager Hostel/Cafe. So nice!
…baseball til noon
dinner at other Portuguese restaurant
live music at Voyager Cafe
woken up by bedbugs. met Winston. baseball all morning!
walk down to waterfront.
dinner with Winston in Portuguese/Malay settlement
drinks with Jason et al
baseball all night!
Ethnographic Museum, St. Peter’s Church, other ruins
live music at Voyager with Willem, Dutch interior designer
explore town: Chinatown, river.
picked up poste restante – thanks Lis!
bus to Melaka
town is dead after 7!
went to Chinatown (ironically), wandered around
no more China no more China!
fly to KL
people smiling, happy. food has flavor. yay!
can’t do much today – blisters on toes and legs too awful.
late bus to Guilin for the night
more bedbugs! argh.
bike ride to nearby town that makes fans. ride there noisy and polluted. Ride back nicer, through small villages.
bites blistered up during day. legs look atrocious.
ran into Ia and Evelina again! dinner with them, Nick, Jessica
trek to Pingan.
followed by insistant “guide” – had to be rude to her to finally get rid of her.
late lunch in Pingan, then walk 6 km down hill to main road and flag down bus back to Dazhai. Long day.
try to see more rice terraces. pretty much fail – get lost.
in evening, find the right way. I’ll get to Pingan tomorrow
bus to Dazhai
late lunch, wander up hill to village in rice terraces
evening, arrive Guilin
mooncake festival, lights festival
tour if Xian
train to Guilin
spent day watching creepy propaganda
picked up trousers
picked up visa extension (took a few hours)
bedbugs again. changed beds, washed stuff.
Li Jing tomb with Jemma, Alex, Brocket, Fani
took bus to wrong town on way back. adventure!
got attacked by bedbugs overnight.
train tickets, logistics planning in Guilin, Pingan, etc.
dinner with Jemma, Alex, Brocket, Ben, Ia, Evelina, Israeli guy
late night drinkin’
walked Xian wall
explored city, get trousers made (!)
met Niels and made fun of dumpling-making couples with him
woken up by incredibly rude Chinese tourists making tons of noise at 6 am.
flight to Xian
went to PSB to get visa extension
last day in Kashgar. the only city in China I was genuinely sad to leave.
fly to Urumqi
asshole airport van driver drops me in middle of Urumqi at 2 am with no idea where I am. but I managed to find my way.
Karly left, I went to PSB to extend visa. no-go.
dinner and wine with Koert, Laura and Victor
last day of Ramadan. wandered old town taking pics of kids in new outfits.
up early – too early – for livestock market
curfew at night – troops afraid of end of Ramadan violence.
ahh, real, good food!
except for the intestines, which we ordered (again) by mistake. we blame Jason, the Aussie we found on the train.
ate night market with Bettina. met Tajik truck drivers.
train to Kashgar – 24 hours
bus to Urumqi
found poste restante package on second try! thanks Zoe
found a bar, had a martini, got stuck in middle of a bar fight
gave Tuygun another chance to “practice English” but no go. ditched him, tried to go to other ancient city, but ended up just hanging around
biked to Jiao ruins, a huge, well-preseved ancient city from around the time of Christ
met Tuygun, Osman. bad wine-tasting. “he’s a bad muslim”
serious hassle with van/bus/taxi driver from train station
back from trek.
bus to Liliang, then overnight train to Turpan (Tulufan)
“I don’t know where we are, but I bought two chicken legs. Would you like one?”
overnight camel trek
tour to Jade Gate Pass, etc.
booked tours, tried to buy train tickets.
moved to Charley Jhong’s hostel. much better than hotel, and 1/4 the
price (30 yuan).
tried to climb dunes without paying rip-off entrance fee and got chased
off dune by megaphone-wielding farmer.
No other tourists, so didn’t go to Mogao caves
steamed buns and cheap wine for dinner
wander a bit. buy toiletries. bad lunch, expensive food-on-a-stick for
bus Xiahe/Lanzhou, then overnight train Lanzhou/Dunhuang
“If you haven’t got on the train, please hurry up.”
visit Labrang Monastery in Xiahe
lots of Tibetan pilgrims. lots of stares (at us).
almost got ripped off by taxi drive to bus station, but I just handed
him what I thought was fair and walked away. Can’t believe I got away with that.
up early – damn maids. breakfast.
mail stuff home.
overnight train to Lanzhou
Hohhot – wander through town, park.
pleasant, but uninteresting.
dinner of spicy hotpot. mmm.
rest day, laundry. check email, come to grips with return of Great
dinner in night market area – ordered booze that caused a stir. we’re not sure what we did wrong. meh.
Crossed border with Sodoo. He found us a share taxi to Hohhot. Waited a few hours for taxi to leave, then drama at the traffic police, then another wait to switch cars. Ugh.
Arrived in Hohhot late, cranky.
If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Lunch under a tree. KitKats.
Pass through old Soviet barracks town – abandoned concrete blocks
everywhere. Visited Shambala monastery.
Camped about 70 km from the border.
Wolf? Nope, just flashlight flashes and a dust storm.
Long drive day. Zig-zag through Gobi, looking for a family Mr. SN knows. Asking at every ger. Nobody knows the family. The men point
vaguely in various directions, but the women are honest and say they
Stopped in Manlai, a small town, for beer, vodka, petrol, and to go
fossil-hunting (in a sand storm).
Decide (or really, were convinced by Sodoo and Mr. SN) to stay in a
hotel in a nowhere town instead of camping, because of the wind. Creepy town.
Vodka toast “to getting what you wish for.”
Mr. Saturday Night lives up to his name, in amusing fashion.
VV also a joke. Fed up with Sodoo (“soto”), our so-called interpreter, who tells us nothing and even gives us false information. Like today.
The angry walk back up the valley (after not seeing the cave he was
looking for and lied to us about) helped us all blow off some steam.
Camp on flat nothingness in the middle of nowhere. Stargazing. Friendly dinner with conversation, wine. Mr. Sat Night tells Karly (via Sodoo) that he likes me best. Hmmm.
Another wind storm overnight.
Khongoren Els. Climbed a bit of the dune, but too tired/hung over to climb too high. Mr. Sat Nite mocked us.
Drove to Flaming Cliffs. If I drove all this way just to see a small
hill of red rock, I’d be pissed. Such a joke/disappointment. Camped by
Vulture Valley, where we’ll hike tomorrow.
Lots of stops for airag (fermented mare’s milk) as we make our way downto the Gobi. We finally made it, just before sunset. Greeted by a sand storm. Drank vodka in the van and waited it out.
Pitched tents in the dark, in the wind, in the sand, while tipsy.
Crunchy (sandy) egg-on-toast for dinner.
Our driver’s name, translated from Mongolian, is “Mr. Saturday.” I
nicknamed him “Mr. Saturday Night (special),” humming the song in my
Supposed to be long drive day down to sand dunes, but got late start
because our driver had to fix something on the wheel. Stopped instead
after just 3 hours, in a small town called Averheer (sp?), to see
Haranga, an old Mongolian rock band.
Stayed in what we think is our driver’s in-law’s ger. I offended the
Late start on Gobi trip. I think Gans, who Karly likes as a guide/tour
operator, sucks at his job. But whatever – we’re off.
First night in ger in “fake Gobi.” Best horse ride in Mongolia – smooth
gait, lots of galloping…without pain or fear.
Spent day fielding interest from people who might want to come to Gobi
with us. Karly got back from her weekend trip too late to make any of
it happen, though. ANNOYING. Came close to bailing.
Dinner with interesting Dutch couple (the Dutch are everywhere). The
guy is a journalist, the woman an accountant.
Ahhhh, nothing to do. Uploaded pics, checked email.
Wandered UB a bit. Tacos for dinner – no mutton!
Goodbye to Gundei and Bek. Flight back to UB. Batbayar picked us up. No hot water in UB. BB took us to dinner – Indian and delicious.
Fascinating conversation: “Mongolians make bad slaves.”
Loooong drive back to Olgii with Bek. Mars-scape. Stopped in Sogoog to visit the women’s crafts collective his NGO helped start. Gave our
collected candy bars from the week to the local children (sorry,
Wandered around town. Bought vodka for the night. Back to ger camp for “hot shower” (more like hot trickle) and Five Fingers feast. Music –
guitar, horsehead fiddle (dombra), singing. Conversation. Met aggressive and cocky female mountain guide. Good time.
Slept like the dead.
Walking east instead of west for the first time. 22 km (the long way)
back to rest-day camp. This time along White River valley, starting from its source at edge of glacier. We took our time, lollygagging and
taking pics. A perfect, warm sunny day.
Last night in a tent – thank gawd.
Bagged my first peak: 13 km to/from Malchin.
Reward: boiled marmot and bad beer.
Now that it’s over, my body tells me “enough.” I’m completely wiped
17 km over a smallish hill, cold and windy mountain pass, through a
hail storm to base camp. Wizard of Oz – follow the whi te hailstone
road. Met two cute French guys packing to leave camp. They said climb was tough but possible.
From far away, one of the meterologists at BC looks like Henry.
BC weather is sunny, beautiful. View over glacier is unlike anything
I’ve seen before.
Rest Day – much-needed
Slept well, but woke up to the news that our cook’s mother had died
suddenly. We found her in tears, packing her stuff to leave with her
husband (who had driven all night to give her the news, and who had
brought a new cook). We felt awful.
As for the day: Sun! Sleep! Were invited to the camelman’s ger, where
we ate noodles and mutton and drank fermented cowmilk vodka. After I
returned to my tent for a nap. By mid-afternoon the cold wind started
to blow again. Sigh. It’s not the cold that drives you inside your tent, but the wind, which is relentless.
Woke up to hail on my tent. But then, before breakfast, it started to
*snow*. Cold camels, annoyed horses. 1/2-in accumulated.
16 km upstream along White River to our camelman’s home ger and the
entrance to Tavan Bogd National Park. Despite this morning’s misery and cold, this was the nicest day yet. The snow meant the temp was warmer than sub-zero, and everything is more beautiful in the snow. Also a no-wind day, which has been rare.
On arrival at camp, cold wind starts to blow. Short hail storm. Back to
cold misery. Ugh.
“Easy” day of 15 km, though over hummock – steppe aerobics. Arrived in camp early enough to attempt showers in “shower tent.” Ended up just using plastic tub. As soon as we finished, an icy gale kicked up. Hail before dinner.
I’m starting to question my sanity for coming on this mad trip, and I’m
only halfway there. “You just need to take it one day at a time.”
Sleeping attire and gear, starting from feet: thick hiking socks under
fleece socks. Yoga shorts, long underwear, cotton jogging pants,
waterproof pants. Two t-shirts, long-sleeve thermal shirt, zip-up
hoodie, fleece, rainproof jacket. Pashmina around neck, silk glove
liners on hands, hat on head. Once I’m dressed (about 10 mins) I
wriggle into my silk sleeping bag liner, which goes into a flannel-lined sleeping bag that’s graded to -3 degrees C. The bag sits on a camel bag (smelly, but excellent insulation), then a thin tent pad, then a thin air-filled sleeping mat. When I’m in my cocoon, I pull an extra sleeping bag on top. And I’m still too cold to sleep.
Getting up to pee in the middle of the night sucks.
The hardest hiking day of my life. 25 km in 8 brutal hours, up a river
valley and up a very steep and windy 3500-meter mountain pass called
“Worship,” then back down a steep and long trail to river valley below.
Almost killed Gundei, who doesn’t really know how to guide – he chooses the shortest (rather than the best/easiest) way, even if it’s up a sheer rock cliff. I kept thinking of scenes from “Into Thin Air” –
overly dramatic, I know (this was not exactly Everest) but I was out of
Border guard unhappy with paperwork for me, so we had to drive back to station to sort it out. Met two Russians while waiting for paperwork.
Despite late start, hiked 23 km to other side of river valley. Camp
site breathtaking, with mountain streams gushing into White River,
snowcapped peaks in distance, multicolored wild flowers, occasional
herds of sheep passing.
But it’s been cold the last few nights, and it’ll get colder as we climb.
20 km hike across prairie and hummock. Stopped at a ger to eat curd,
cheese, fresh donut-like bread with creamy butter. Mmmm. As we left,
grandma gave us each a hunk of cheese and curd. Hospitality
Clear mountain streams + White River = wintogreen river water.
Camp at bottom of river valley. Russian jeep replaced by camels,
first day of hike, 15 km. easy day along lakeshore, but I felt like
shit – lack of sleep, greasy food, maybe a few weeks of relative
inactivity. Stopped at a ger to watch felt-making, drink tea, eat dried
Bonfire by lakeside camp. Vodka and singing.
another driving day, to Khoton Nuur. This is where last year’s
eclipse-chasers camped. Petroglyphs. Swimming in lake.
3 am taxi to airport to go to Olgii.
arrived, met guide and driver, breakfast, local museum, Donna bought
wall hanging. Met Mongol Rally peeps at petrol station.
Went to Sagsay to meet eagle hunter & hold eagle. Camp by river.
ox cart to bus. Barely made it after our cart “broke down” and we had
to borrow a neighbor’s. Thunderstorm and heavy rain as we entered the
Archery day. Big bruise on inside of my elbow. Ox cart to 4th ger.
Wife is quite young – maybe 21. Very sweet little boy. Walk by the river – too hot to climb nearby hill. Haruka, boy from Chukha’s, lives
next door. He’s our favorite. In the evening hubby came home and
cheerfully made buutz with his wife. They are clearly happy and madly
Ox cart ride to 3rd ger. Stopped at a wedding nadaam along the way. 3rd ger is the “posh ger.” Wordless offer from neighbor to join him in his
ger. Polite refusal.
Long 23-km horse ride to 2nd ger. Forest strawberries. Drama around
Bjorn’s butt. Grabby brother. Wife with very long black hair, braid,
lip liner, orange socks and red patent leather sandals, sweet smile.
Family doesn’t clean dung, so lots of flies. Walk by the riverside.
Watched sheep slaughter. Two-hour horse ride. Very sore. Came back and had snack of boiled innards of sheep killed in morning. That night long song, vodka from cow milk, regular vodka, and Big Bowl of Meat (rest of the morning sheep slaughter) around a fire. Drunk “bus engineer” and “operators.”
to Terelj National Park with Bjorn and Kjersti from Holland. Took crowded public bus. Had to elbow way on. Grim-faced woman sat with us and slowly elbowed and kicked herself comfortable.
Picked up by two boys on an ox cart. Taken to first ger, owned by
Chukha. Played shagai (like marbles, but with sheep ankle bones) and “herded” goats and sheep.
&%$ got kicked off Gobi trip. Arrange G2G trip. Registered with
immigration so I can stay longer than 30 days (if needed)
arrange Gobi trip
avoid annoying woman from the train
drinks with people from the train
early train to Mongolia. YAY.
sharing compartment with 2 Singaporean guys.
delicious Peking Duck
798 Art Space, Beijing.
too commercial. as many cafes as there were artist studios and galleries.
still can’t find any funk or soul in China.
straight to e-mall to buy netbook. took all afternoon
Killing time in Wuhan. Boring city.
Overnight train to Beijing
Up at 3:30 to shower and get to Holiday Inn for 5 am bus to viewing point.
lunch at uni, then back to town. I decided to skip Xian for now and just get to Beijing and Mongolia – get out of China ASAP.
Stayed at Holiday Inn (bit of a splurge) and they helped me get a train ticket, etc.
A good, relaxing, delightful day.
arrive Wuhan. Wander the town a bit, but it’s like Shanghai – hot and all malls.
Al Drew called when he arrived. We met at Holiday Inn for a drink, then nice dinner. Found Rick & his group back at the hotel.
not much done
overnight train to Wuhan.
tried to see Shanghai Museum, but huge line. Almost fell for the “tea ceremony” scam but caught myself in time.
wandered through French Concession, which was nice.
still trying to see city, but it’s too hot to really walk around.
At night saw There Be Powers and Carsick Cars. Great show.
the Bund is under construction. everything is. it’s hot and humid. gah.
bus to Shanghai. didn’t do much before my bus left.
ran around to a few bus stations, found bus to Shanghai (no trains available).
Visited Temple of Heaven or whatever.
Forbidden City. HOT and crowded. the Chinese tourists were SO pushy and rude, it was unbelieveable. People would shove me out of the way so they could see what I was looking at.
I hate this place.
arrived 3 am.
In morning found Coline and her dad.
Staff helped me find an HP service center in Beijing. After at least 90 minutes with service guy, found out that it’s unfixable.
At night Peking Duck with Colilne & her dad.
arrived Harbin. Bus just stopped on random side road. Slept a bit more then found train station. No tickets to Beijing. CITS, once opened, wouldn’t help me. Went back to train station – this time there was a ticket, leaving in 30 mins.
Soft sleeper to Beijing, arrive 3 am
bus(es) to China via Ussurysk. My first Chinese scam: bus left me at the border.
Taxi driver charged 100 RMB for trip to town. Then he helped me run around to get money, try to buy a train ticket, bus ticket, etc to Harbin. Finally found a sleeper bus. He tried to charge a ton more money for his time. During our argument about money, two guys started playing badminton on the sidewalk next to us.
Took night bus to Harbin. Before the bus left the taxi driver, who I had left angrily hours before, showed up full of smiles and with a huge bag of apples and some iced tea for my trip. Bizarre.
picked up my visa. Yay!
tried to contact HP about computer. will try again in China.
tried to call ATT about my phone account. they left me on hold long enought that my phone card ran out.
tried to book hostel in Beijing. ccard denied because I need to authorize international transations, *BY PHONE* every three months.
the Red Sox blew a 4-run lead and are now tied for first place with that pathetic team from the Bronx
a pretty bad day, all told.
Writing in the morning.
Reading (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one of the few Eng-lang books I could find)
Went for another run
Effed up my computer. $&#@$
OK, this is getting ridiculous. The fog! Makes it impossible to see anything, do anything.
Uploaded photos. Plotted some China stuff.
Went to “Chinatown,” but it was just a normal market.
In the evening went for a run, just for a change.
Regional Museum. RAIN. Met up with Eugene & family for last time – they go on a trip to China tomorrow.
Ummm…writing day, I think. Starting to get reaaalllly booorred.
Helped Corine, French woman, print out some stuff at the business center at Hotel Gavan.
More wandering. Actually sunny for a bit today. Met up with Eugene in afternoon. Funicular, tea.
A bit of wandering, but sick. So slept/read.
dropped visa application at the Chinese consulate. THey agreed to put it in my Greek passport. Hazzah.
Writing a bit, then out with Nastia and Tony in the evening. Invited Eugene, who brought his family with him! Awkward time at the pub, with the 16-year-old brother and the mom.
wandering around. Marine park, sub museum
ran into Eugene, his mom and brother by the waterfront
arrive Vladivostok, 6:30 am local time
staying at Mix-Mix Hostel
went to Chinese consulate to see about visa
ran into US sailors
train to Vladivostok!
Rain. Plans changed. Got frustrated and left UB on 2 pm bus. Bought ticket to Vlad.
Night back at the Great Baikal trail hostel in UU. Met Aussies who shared their pasta with me.
Hanging around on a rainy, windy day. Reading “You Shall Know Our Velocity” and drinking tea.
In the Suddenly Alex’s friend Victor can take me kayaking/hiking!
(alas, it was not to be)
7 hours to Ust-Barguzin.
Bad news from Alex
Staying with Svejta.
Made it to Ethnographic Museum. Was befriended on bus by a student working there for the summer. He gave me a free tour to practice his English.
Tried to meet up with Alyena from train. Thwarted.
Tried to go to Ethnographic Museum. Thwarted. Tried to sight-see around UU. Confusing.
Gave up, bought a new SIM card instead. (One from Irkutsk didn’t work here)
train to Ulan-Ude
during the day, so I could see Baikal along the way. Lovely!
Luckily, the hostel had a room. After a painful 20-min schlep uphill in the heat with all my stuff.
Dinner with strange and rather annoying Canadian woman.
Finally did the tourist thing in Irkutsk, with Dawn, an Australian woman from hostel.
In the evening met up with Anton, wife Dasha and baby Polly. Forgot my train ticket at their house – required much late-night taxi-shuttling.
bus back to Irkutsk. Day uploading pics, catching up on email, blog. Also researching article on Baikal/ecotourism?
windy, rainy day. Andrei canceled on me – bad viz, no good suit, etc. bullshit, but I was thinking of canceling anyway, b/c I don’t trust him.
tried to walk to the museum/aquarium, but the weather was too awful.
Met new guests at hostel – 5 Polish men on their annual boys trip. They invited me to the banya with them. On the second-to-last steam we ran down the road and jumped in the lake – me in my swimsuit and them naked except for the cloth banya towel. We were a spectacle for passersby.
Then the traditional post-banya vodka and food. When the third bottle came out, I went to bed.
moved to hostel/homestay in “Green Hostel”. better accommodation, location for less than 1/2 price.
spent day writing, reading looking around village
Smoked omul (fish) is *delicious*
Andrei picked me up to bring me to Listvyanka for scuba diving.
But the suit too big and Andrei not a good instructor. I gave up.
All the divers are men, and the dry suits are for them – too big for me.
Andri gave me a day off and said we’d try again Friday.
Night in overpriced “Chalet” hotel.
catch up on email
found diving company
only 2 hours of hiking to campsite today. FF has a toothache.
After lunch hiked down for a swim at rocky beach.
Vodka dinner – argument with Anton.
F1 Race day – trying to catch up to the group on downhill bits.
This was the longest day – didn’t get to camp until around 6:30. But only one hardish hill.
short day – campsite by lunch.
shared campsite with mountain bikers.
cutting onions with hatchet.
easy day – many stops.
best campsite – on lonely beach. had to hike up to get our tents, etc.
Hills. The hills are alive.
campsite by lake. FF made a ladle from birch bark. A dog, named shashlik by FF, and puppy at the camp.
the trek begins! Anton picked us up and drove to banya place. dunk in the Lake – my first Baikal dunk. Night in log cabin with Nikkie and the man who would become Father Frost.
back to Baikaler to meet up with Nikkie.
Minibus back to Irkutsk. Left Nikkie behind. No rooms at the hostel, so did a home stay. Great room – writing desk! But shitty, overpriced dinner at Russkaya Chaynaya.
Bus tour of Olkhon. Nikkie had love connection. I met Kristin, who is guiding 30 US college students as they study nature and help build a hiking trail.
Another banya, this time with a Dutch man instead of a Kazakh shaman.
minibus with Nikkie to Olkhon Island. Stayed at Olga’s homestay.
arrived Irkutsk. Baikaler hostel. Met Nikkie by chance! dinner at Russian restaurant.
surprise – rain in Krasnoyarsk! So I drank a half-liter of coffee and went to the ethnographic museum, which was pretty good.
afternoon train to Irkutsk
plotted escape from shaman. internet cafe, train ticket.
banya before train. is it strange to be beaten with birch branches by a mostly-naked fat woman in a hot steamy room?
evening train to Krasno.
5 am pick up by Marina’s cousin for ride to Abakan. Dropped kids off at camp.
Then they dropped me at Svejta the Big Fat Kazakh Shaman.
This was my shaman healing night.
more floor leaking – the pipe burst.
BBQ at Sean Quirk’s
kitchen floor a big puddle – washing machine leaking?
hung around with Marina for the day.
horse farm with Ayan
at night moved to Marina’s boyfriend’s flat, via her aunt’s. laundry!
met Sean for coffee
went to see Tuvan throat singers at school graduation ceremony. Met Sean Quirk.
Then went to Tuva Museum with Marina. Met Radju.
Walking along river, saw shaman “ceremony”
arrived Abakan 6:16 am. Got in marshrutka to Kyzyl, through Ergeki Mountains.
Arrived Kyzyl, checked in at Hotel Koddedzh. Met Marina, an English speaker who offered to show me around.
raining. No Stolby, no museum. Beer with Dan & Karly. Overnight train to Abakan.
arrived in Krasnoyarsk. Spent the rest of the day looking for a hotel room.
last day in Tomsk. graduation day – girls in French maid outfits. Farewell coffee with Olga and Nadja.
visited Conteksoft, Tomsk SEZ. Went bowling with Conteksoft peeps in the evening.
guided tour of Tomsk. yawn.
met with Olga & colleagues
6 am/9 am
arrived Tomsk. met by Olga from Polytechic U (friend of Karel’s from HP) and Natalia, who will be my guide, it seems, while I’m here.
wandered about then took a nap. bought some food, to try to save eating expenses.
3 am/5 am
train to Tomsk.
mean babushka wouldn’t share seat
terrible two-year-old (“ne! ne! ne!”)
in evening, met group of linguist-students on way to Tomsk. “I’m surrounded by young Russian women!”
arrived in Yburg. Confusion with Marguerite – she invited me to her house, but it seemed her husband flatly refused. despite her pleas, I was left, rather abruptly and unceremoniously, at the “resting rooms” at the train station instead.
went into town for a meal. rainy and raw and cold.
biding time in Kazan.
then night train to Yekaterinburg/Sverdlovsk.
train was a high number (378) which means older and slower and cheaper. and, it turns out, friendlier. had entertaining night with compartment-mates, none of whom spoke English. thank gawd for my much-thumbed phrasebook.
Sasha – Siberian truck driver, mostly of N2O. grandfather at 38.
Tatiana – quiet, middle-aged blonde
Marguerite – a retired airplane “constructor”
others who joined:
Sergey – an electrical engineer. drunk and reeking of raw onions, but friendly.
His “baby mamma” (his words)
some dude – drunk and talking politics: “Putin!” “Billery!” “Reagan!” was all I understood
wander through “old Tartar” settlement. electrified water fountain? speakers blaring music *everywhere*.
everything falling apart or shiny and new
Kazan Kremlin – mosque more elegant than the church
Tourist info friendly and eager but useless
gross pizza at Giuseppe’s
fantastic, cheap room at Hotel Fatima
overnight train to Kazan
AmCham meeting in the morning. Then Andrey Kortunov of New Eurasia. Then lunch with Sergey Kravchenko, head of Boeing Russia. Left Esther to meet with Bas again to talk about Ozon. Then dinner with Karel Vavruska (HP), Ron Lewin (TerraLink), CIO dude from GE Russia, and Esther.
Guitar sing-along going when I returned to hostel.
two morning meetings with Russian entrepreneurs. watched Esther interviewed for Russian VC documentary series. Lovely lunch with Bas Godksa. Then to Star City, for tour. Bus # 380 (?) out, elektrischka back. Spaghetti dinner with NASA dudes Bob (medical officer who’s going to Space Station in ?June?), Tom (flight surgeon), Al (director of operations for NASA in Star City), “Hammy” (flight surgeon on backup team for Hubble mission)
perfect day for Kremlin and Red Square. Late to meet Esther for coffee at Balchug hotel.
Chatted with Olga, the Russian psychologist from Yekaterinburg who I’m sharing a room with, using her hubby as translator. He is in Ontario, Canada working as a programmer. We called him and put him on speaker.
Missed parade with Woody and…dude that reminds me of John Duquette.
at night to Djao Da with Nikki and Russell, two Brits I met at hostel. Crazy band! Vodka dancing and drinking till wee hours
Moscow. Home from Home hostel
Museum of Northwestern Front
train overnight to Moscow
Dostoevsky Museum, Staraya Russa
bus to Staraya Russa
basically another sick day
sick day at Hotel Akron in Novgorod.
Checked out of Cuba Hostel (thank god!) and took bus to Novgorod. Wanted to take the local bus into town, but got on in the wrong direction. Got of bus, asked local family (Roman, Julia and baby Vladimir) for help in broken Russian and with lots of pointing. Over my protests, Roman just called a cab-driver friend to take me to the hotel.
Wandered around the under-construction Novgorod kremlin. Yawn. Got sick at night.
Went to the Museum of Political History. Exhibit explanations, ironically, *too* detailed for casual museum-goer. In the evening sat and read and drank wine.
May Day. Expecting big parade, but no crowds. Wandered around city (Petrograd Side) for much of the lovely day.
whole day at the Russian Museum. The 300 roubles I paid for the English audioguide was well worth it. I learned a ton about Russian art and history. Between the ballet and the day perusing the paintings, I am thoroughly inspired.
@ 3:30 am: wake up to see dad off to airport. then take a nap and pack up myself to check out and move to Cuba Hostel for cheaper, more-my-style last few days in St. Pete.
evening: went to see (Kirov?) ballet company perform Swan Lake at Mariinsky Theater. I was far, far more touched and amazed by the performance than I thought I would be.
some souvenir shopping in the morning, then I read in the hotel bar while dad rested and packed his bag.
tried to go to Peter & Paul Fortress, but the nearby Metro station was closed and dad was too tired to walk there. In hindsight, this plan was rather foolish, given our action-packed schedule up to this point.
evening: Our “vodka and caviar night.” We went to Matrosskaya Tishina, supposedly the best seafood place in St. Pete. The caviar-for-two was tasty, but no black caviar (which is now banned, I think). We also had the tasting menu, which had some highlights but wasn’t particularly great. But a lovely evening.
went on a day excursion out of the city, to Peterhof, site of Peter the Great’s Grand Palace (summer palace) and the much-admired fountain-filled gardens. The fountains, however, were not yet on.
Second day. Went to Menshikov Palace (on Vasilevsky Island section of St. Pete), then Winter Palace of Peter I (now mostly a theater, and very disappointing). Dad went back to hotel and I went back to main Hermitage to see the rooms of Picasso, Matisse et al.
First of two-day pass to Hermitage. Spent it in the main building(s). Could barely walk by the end of the day.
changed money, bought some food, wandered around Hermitage area to get our bearings.
arrived. after border scare, checked in to hotel and dinner at the hotel restaurant. the “entertainment” included “traditional Russian dancing” and some poor dude dressed up like a bear.