Hardie Karges media kit
Here’s background for journalists and reviewers on extreme-budget-travel expert Hardie Karges. His 36 years touring the world credentialed him to write Hypertravel: 100 countries in 2 years (A Backpacker’s Guide to the World and the Soul). Unlike PC travel-industry conformists who must suck up, Hardie is free to tell it as he sees it.
A quick look at Hypertravel:
Hardie Karges’ wife from Thailand likes America so much she won’t go home with him to Chiang Rai, where they’d lived seven years. Solution? Give her a little space by taking a four-country jaunt in South America. The relationship worsens upon his return; divorce is an option. Employing travel as therapy, Karges takes nine more trips awaiting an epiphany, visiting 100 countries in about two years. The resulting unplanned book is a stream-of-travel-consciousness kaleidoscope providing nonconformist insights into half the planet’s nations enabled by research, foreign language prowess and 36 years of extreme budget travel. Karges’ irreverent prose skewers places that are pretentious, hostile or dangerous.
2. table of contents
3. media contact info
4. news release
5. story ideas
12. sample interview
13. publishing info
3. contact Hardie
For an interview with Hardie Karges, please contact him at email@example.com.
Time zone: When home in LA, Karges is on Pacific Time.
4. news release
Contact: Greg Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org, 703.356.5298
Travel therapy reaps accidental book on trips to 100 nations in 2 years
Hitting forks in the road at 54 for his life, career and marriage, Hardie Karges detoured from his midlife crossroads by resolving to see every country in the world. Though he’s anything but “The Accidental Tourist,” the blogger’s travel therapy led to an accidental book: “Hypertravel: 100 Countries in 2 Years (A Backpacker’s Guide to the World and the Soul).”
The journey began when the former folk art dealer brought his Thai wife stateside after seven years together in Chiang Rai. They would return to Thailand after she tasted America. Karges had gone native, fluent in Thai language and customs, but could his non-world-traveler wife do same-same? Yes, too much so. Tang wouldn’t budge from Los Angeles’ Thai Town, a marriage-threatening departure from Karges’ agenda.
“Everything feels kind of tentative and unsettled between Tang and me,” he wrote. “I don’t know if we’re coming or going.”
She moved in with friends; Karges hit the road. His accidental book sprang from his travel blogs including “From Thailand to Timbuktu.”
“The number of countries and the time involved were never the goal,” he said. “I only realized that’s what I’d done when it was almost over.”
He wrote the book largely during 10 trips each lasting two months or so, between short stints home with Tang. While often fun, warp-speed travel became work.
“This is not my vacation; this is my vocation,” he wrote. “Some people like an office with a good view. I like an office with many good views, constantly changing.”
Hypertravel doesn’t tell where to stay or eat. The witty, hybrid memoir/guide traces Karges’ oft-humorous quest for elusive visas, cheapest fares, WiFi and good coffee value. The 312-page book, now available on demand, is a stream-of-travel-consciousness kaleidoscope that provides astute insights into half the planet’s nations including contrasts and comparisons enabled by research, foreign language prowess and an adult lifetime of extreme budget travel. Unconstrained like traditional travel guides that must be PC and suck up, Karges is free to offer smart but nonconformist irreverent commentary:
n Karges hits Rimini, Italy’s renowned beach resort with a glorious past, during off-season instead of summer because it “must be an anthill of sun-burned tourist butts strolling down the street in search of pizze and gelati.”
n “Downtown Buenos Aires has a level of social organization that rivals an ant hill for order. Many people seem to like the confusion, meeting with friends and chatting on sidewalks where three sets of shoulders couldn’t fit sideways. They seem to feed off the stress, like Matrix mugwumps getting a bio-electric buzz.”
n In Ethiopia, “I’ve seen humans eating off the ground in flocks like pigeons and (consume) discarded mango skins. I’ve survived at least one pick-pocket attempt and countless beggars. It seems as if a whole nation is hungry and willing to do just about anything to satisfy it.”
n “Guidebooks . . . act like Djibouti is the Promised Land; I won’t. I could write the guidebook on Djibouti in one word: sucks.”
Aided by a philosophy degree, Karges, now 57, explored his own mindset as travel lent self-discovery. After logging four South American countries, Karges returned to LA hoping his wife could leave.
“ ‘Are you planning to go back to Thailand with me or not?’ She’s not. So I guess that means I’m going back alone?”
Back on the road, Karges didn’t always know his itinerary. Staying flexible let him flee places that sucked. Armed with his ever-present laptop in Dubrovnik, Bosnia, he considered destinations between Addis Abba, Ethiopia and Zagreb, Croatia . . . or maybe all the way to South Africa. Hypertravel teaches readers to avoid being scammed, short-changed, or stranded. It lists budget strategies including hostelling, self-catering and using London as a hub for its low international air fares. Skirting British airlines’ infamous fees, Karges might don multiple layers of clothes filled with heavy objects to lighten an overweight suitcase.
Avoiding high-rent districts, he spent only $4,500 including all air fare for two months visiting 16 countries in Turkey, Scandinavia, southeast Europe and northeast Africa. Back in LA, Tang uttered hurtful words and “the cancer is still there.” He was out of there.
A 31-year total of 143 countries lets Karges go beyond cultural geography to assess destinations with time-traveler perspective.
“This is no ordinary international airport, more like the old airport at Luang Prabang in Laos some 15 years ago,” he writes of Hargeisa, Somalia. “After dark Georgetown (Guyana) reminds me of nothing so much as Vientiane, (Laos) c. 1995, though in the light of day I’d say maybe Dakar. One guidebook says the market is “edgy”; I’d say it’s psychotic. Imagine a bus terminal and a market sharing the same space, accompanied by the sounds of barkers barking and horns honking.”
Dining usually means local cuisine from street vendors or a supermarket. Splurges? Chinese food, preferably in Chinatown. Karges rides buses often – not necessarily for the scenery: night buses cut hotel bills. When he does check in, he bypasses chains and tourist ghettoes that hide the locale’s soul in favor of hostels, home stays or independent hotels. The more authentic, the better.
“If a place has more than 50% tourists and/or tourist-industry workers, then I can’t do it,” he writes, acknowledging “the danger of reverse snobbery, the authentic guy acting “less-tourist-than-thou” when faced with people simply enjoying themselves. Does that mean I’ll be hanging out at Khao San Road in Bangkok (tourism ground zero)? I doubt it.”
Authenticity trumps comfort for Karges, who dislikes towns that are self-parodies.
“If you want to see the REAL Santa Fe, NM, then you go to Las Vegas, NM. If you want to see the REAL Thailand, then go to Laos.”
He frowns on touts and other “interzone people” with few credentials beyond English who distort a place – “local people who consider themselves the self-appointed interface between cultures.”
“A traveler can hop from one safe haven to the next, all around the world, without ever really seeing the real world around him, only the false world created by other travelers like himself and the Interzone people.”
That danger Karges needn’t fear.
- Hypertravel -
5. story ideas
Hardie’s non-conformist lifestyle invites exploration. A long-term budget traveler for 36 years who lived seven years in Thailand, he devoted most of his adult life to importing folk art which took him to colorful indigenous villages. Educated in philosophy, he blogs on travel and world music. He is a poet and an accomplished linguist fluent in English, Spanish and Thai who dabbles in many other languages. Unlike the conventional travel industry that must be PC and suck up, Hardie unleashes his irreverent wit on all deserving targets.
Culture shock, embedded style: Marrying a Thai and living with her extended family for seven years in a city off the main tourist trail, Hardie can share those experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Wife says she needs her space? Give her some: Try halfway around the world for weeks on end. That’s big-time space. His wife went to Rose Bowl festivities while he toured Guyana amid New Year’s hysteria. Hardie’s plan of waiting out his wife’s fascination with America eventually worked.
Time travel: Visiting 143 countries over 36 years gives Karges perspective way beyond cultural geography. He compares places today to spots on other continents years ago.
Going beyond Lonely Planet: Ever see everyone at a travel destination with the same guidebook? Few travelers venture past suggestions from a handful of books and web sites. Hardie reveals how to take the path less traveled in tourist meccas, affording a different perspective: a look at the genuine culture, not its tourist enclaves.
Avoiding touts, guides and other interzone people: Locals acting as the self-appointed interface between cultures, with few credentials beyond English, often distort a place. “A traveler can hop from one safe haven to the next, all around the world, without ever really seeing the real world around him.” Hardie knows how to beat the system.
A respite from the Great Recession: many younger Americans are taking a break from banging their heads on a brick wall, instead traveling for months or years.
Extreme-budget-travel strategies: A master of traveling on a shoestring, Hardie shares tricks most guidebooks don’t tell you like self-catering and using London as a hub for its low international air fares.
Staying safe in unfamiliar settings: Hardie offers strategies for experiencing less-traveled spots without getting robbed or worse. For example, he points out many fascinating Islamic countries that are largely friendly despite their bad rap since 9/11.
Just saying no to the corporate lifestyle: more than ever before, people are leaving the traditional working world for a more satisfying life. Karges is an expert on alternate lifestyles, having walked the long walk for a third of a century.
“Hardie is a smart man with a keen eye for detail. He effortlessly weaves in information about culture, people, traditions and music” – Leigh McAdam, www.hikebiketravel.com
“Hypertravel is an essential reading for modern backpackers and young people travelling on limited budgets. The writing is fluid, and unique with unexpected twists and turns, and outcomes” – Hrayr Berberoglu, http://winesworld.com
“Karges may or may not be a modern day Ibn Batuta or Marco Polo, but he wrote a fun and informative travel journal that really should be read” – Kaleel Sakakeeny, www.technorati.com
Here’s what some others are saying:
“Very impressive stuff…it’s got style and attitude” – Mark Stevens, author of Buried by the Roan and Antler Dust
“Great voice. Very nicely done. The reader feels very comfy. (Karges) is a terribly knowledgeable adviser, good to have around” – Barry Wightman, fiction editor of Hunger Mountain, author of the novel Pepperland
“Great writing…” – Tomas Belcik, editor of Top Travel Leads
“Hypertravel: 100 Countries in Two Years by Hardie Karges is one of the best written and most interesting travel books I ever read.”— Bonnie Neely, Amazon review
What motivated you to see so many countries in such a short time? “The number of countries and time involved were never the goal. I only realized what I’d done when it was almost over, when I started to consider those two years traveling as a period of my life rather than as unrelated trips. The goal was always to go to every country in the world.”
Why did you write Hypertravel? “I never intended it as a book. I figured to blog it for the hell of it. then the trips kept coming and the blogs kept coming and before you know it, it was two years and 200K words. Almost as an afterthought I read it all of a piece and was surprised that it held together fairly well. The actual book preparation was mostly editing, cutting it down by a third or so. I had to learn how to un-write.
Why did you wait three decades to write about your travels?
“I’ve always been a traveler, even when I was doing business and have long considered myself a poet and writer, but I never attempted to mix the two until now. Duh. Maybe it’s because travel for me has little to do with leisure or luxury, nor adventure in the extreme life-risking sense, and that’s what constitutes much of travel writing. For me travel is mostly about culture and history, experiencing that first hand and up close.”
How did you handle the logistical nightmare of visiting so many countries? “Actually it wasn’t so much of a logistical nightmare, just a bit of advance planning, usually no more than starting to think about the next trip before I’m finished with the one I’m on. I personally don’t find that distasteful or distracting, though some people might. I was not maintaining a fixed residence at the time, mind you, so I had to keep moving. I like a good challenge and have always enjoyed multitasking. In retrospect, I suppose what facilitated it was that many, if not most, of the individual five- to nine-week trips were planned as multiregion ventures to begin with, so the entire project took on a hopscotch quality sometimes. Budget airlines have really changed the concept of extended travel as a slow, plodding point-to-point venture, and some regions don’t lend themselves to that approach very well, either.”
Are you a travelholic?
“I suppose so, but not like those who travel all the time, no direction home, funded by God knows whom. My trips have always been about returning, really. There was always the question of funds for one thing, but also I'm strongly motivated by work and career. You couldn't pay me to submit to a life of leisure. That would be pure hell.
List your three top favorite destinations: “It’s nice when a spot mixes nature and culture. For that I rate the Iguazu Falls region high, given the beauty of the falls and the location at the junction of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Then there’s Victoria Falls in Zambia and the Crossroads Music Festival. Probably what I love most are tribal peoples and their arts and crafts. That’s what I did for a living most of my life, but they’re not in the book since it was long ago. My third pick would be Ethiopia, even though it prohibits blogging, since it’s such an incredible and diverse place, culturally and historically.”
List your three favorite countries.
“That's tricky, because it's so subject to shifting perceptions and degrees of familiarity, or lack thereof. Limiting it to the countries in this book, my favorites were Ethiopia, Madagascar and Chile.
List the three worst countries: “The places where I felt unwanted, to the point of being physically harassed, were Djibouti and Comoros. The places where I felt unsafe and at constant risk of being a crime statistic were South Africa and Papua New Guinea. A lady I met in a Micronesia airport assured me DR Congo and Sierra Leone are far worse.”
What were the biggest pleasant surprises? “Bosnia-Herzegovina, which I assumed was war-torn and miserable. It’s not.” Also the splendid culture of Ethiopia, the likewise interesting culture of Madagascar, and then maybe the surprising welcome in the Arab countries of the Mideast, which get such an unjustified bad rap in the West these days. And don't forget Yemen; it's incredible.”
What was the biggest bad surprise: “Papua New Guinea, which I expected to really like, with all its beautiful crafts and indigenous culture. In fact, I barely left my room for four days, never at night. It was too dangerous.”
What’s the worst mistake you ever made while traveling?
“Taking off on a four-month trip to South America in 1978 with only $600, thinking I'd have my father send me the other half, which he did, but it was still stupid. That was a lot of money then. I crossed the border at Laredo with $24 in my pocket, got busted for littering and the cops got $21. Then I got a ride to my driveway in rural MS, and came down with Hepatitis the next day. Coulda' been worse I guess.”
Born in Jackson, Miss., veteran blogger and traveler Hardie Karges first journeyed out of the United States at 21 to visit Mexico in 1975. The next year he roamed nearly three months in Central America; the following year he explored South America for four months. He was hooked.
After graduating from Millsaps College with a philosophy degree in 1980, Hardie began a career importing folk art. Hardie has toured 143 countries and lived in three, including 10 years in Thailand. Fluent in three languages, he dabbles in many others. He has published poetry, made videos, and written blogs on travel and world music but only late in life decided to get serious about writing. Hypertravel: 100 Countries in 2 Years is Hardie’s first full-length book.
“My first book came from doing two things I love, writing and traveling.”
Quick facts about Hardie:
Born May 24, 1954.
Married to “Tang,” Nitkamol Rungputtakhun.
Most countries visited on one trip: 19 in Balkans.
Most Hardie paid for a hotel room: $129, near Stansted Airport outside London.
Least for room: about $11 for private rooms in Luxor, Egypt and Belfast, Ireland.
At the age of 54 Hardie Karges suddenly finds himself at a crossroads in his life, career, and relationship, so decides to do his favorite thing: travel. He cashes in frequent-flyer miles to see the four southernmost countries he has yet to visit in South America. Ah, that felt good. Two months later the crossroads remains, so he decides to stop putting off a longtime plan to visit every country in the world.
These are the tales of Hardie’s hypertravel, a hybrid memoir/guide telling how he’s done authenticity travel on an extreme budget for most of his life. This is a guide for people who hate travel guides. It provides insight into half the world’s countries, all recently viewed by the same two eyes within two years. This is the guide tells you the cultural context of a country, not what to eat or where to stay. This is the guide that tells you which countries just plain suck. The happy ending is right around the next corner.
Don’t Need a Diagram 4.18.2012
By Mark Stevens
In Anne Tyler gives us an odd and interesting guidebook writer, Macon Leary, who doesn’t exactly relish his work.
He hates travel. He travels “in a desperate kind of blitz – squinching his eyes shut and holding his breath and holding on for dear life.”
Leary writes “chunky, passport-sized paperbacks” like and The logo for the series is a winged armchair.
Macon Leary writes the anti-guidebook, slim volumes that capture the essence of a place. “Plenty of other guidebooks say how to see as much of a city as possible,” his boss had told him. “You should say how to see as little.”
Macon Leary is weary of checking the quality of scrambled eggs in the various haunts he has recommended and he just wants to go home.
Hardie Karges is the opposite.
Hardie Karges has the urge, this deep itch, to keep cruising – to keep gobbling up the countries and diving into new cultures. “Hypertravel” is his account and it’s a breezy, fun, fast-moving (as one would expect) and enriching account of bombing around the world.
Karges is an old-school backpacker, a hostel-seeking, Wi-Fi-hungry traveler who depends on a good slug of coffee more than Jack Reacher. He searches for quality Chinese food everywhere he goes, battles gout and deals with his not-so-deep approach to sleeping. He thinks about his Thai wife Tang, who is at home in Los Angeles, and wonders where the relationship is heading. He has a fascination (fixation?) with border crossings and how each country handles the check-in process, the whole visa stamp and visa approval thing.
Once you settle into Karges’ style, a fine mix of chatty conversation interspersed with witty slices of poetry and moments of sheer beauty, you’ll find yourself extraordinarily engaged.
You get that feeling of being out on the road, of pushing your limits of comfort and communication and confusion. When Karges gets lost, you might never feel more clueless. When Karges gets robbed and assaulted, you’ll feel the same anger at his attackers. When Karges encounters another pit being passed off as overnight accommodations, you’ll never feel more disgusted.
Karges’ view of the world is at the street level. He’s rides buses and he walks. A train here, a plane there, but most of “Hypertravel” is hoofing it. A little bit of Bill Bryson, a little bit of Brad Newsham (“All The Right Places”) and a little bit of early Paul Theroux.
His humor is sneaky and sly. “Argentina rolls under the bus like Nebraska and her mother-in-law, just going on and on about nothing, vast plains dotted with towns and cows.”
In Buenos Aires: “What I can’t believe is that o many people seem to like the confusion, meeting with friends and chatting on sidewalks where three sets of shoulders couldn’t fit sideways. They seem to feed off the stress, like Matrix mugwumps getting a bio-electric buzz.”
In Paramaribo (Suriname): “My first three days…I stayed in a great little place a half hour’s walk from downtown that had everything you could ever want for the price of a U$ Grant—Internet, full breakfast, A/C, in-room coffee & tea, and as spic-and-span as my German grandmother would have it. If anything, it was TOO nice. I was afraid of losing street cred with you, my readers.”
Djibouti: “Guide books won’t tell you when a place sucks; I will. They’ll act like Djibouti is the Promised Land; I won’t. I could write the guidebook on Dijbouti in one word: ‘sucks.’ It should make interesting reading.”
Favorite line of the whole book is the punch line here: “The Kalahari Desert isn’t so deserted, really, just a notch more so than the savannahs where the Big 5 animals roam. But there’s not much wildlife here I guess. That’s up north in the Okavanga Delta, where I’d love to be going for its environmental uniqueness, but that requires a safari budget, and I require budget safaris.”
Okay, second favorite line in the book, while Karges is lost in Marseilles: “Streets branch off at acute angles that leave buildings on corners sucking in their bellies and hanging on for dear life. They probably mark the spots where some ancient forbear—let’s call him ‘Desmond’—manned a barrow in the marketplace and the rest is history.”
There’s a bit of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” to Karges’ whole spirit, in fact. Life goes on, Karges cruises and we take in the sights and sounds, all from the comfort of our winged armchair.
Karges doesn’t go for the big sights, the big tours, the famous spots (much) or the postcard settings. He’s after the flavor, the color, the food, the music—an impression more than sharp relief. These are his encounters, not necessarily the routes he’s recommending.
Karges makes it look easy, he makes it look (mostly) like fun and makes me want to hit the road.
By Kaleel Sakakeeny
Hardie Karges has one self-professed goal in life: to see every country in the world.
And he’s off to a grand start!
His recently self-published book, is less about Karges’ journey to most of the countries defined by the United Nations as countries, and more of a journey into Karges’ mind. That’s not to say we don’t get some powerful and startling insights into the countries, villages, bus depots, airports, marketplaces, cafes, cities and dumps he wanders through. We do.
It’s just that the three-hundred plus page book is really the author talking to himself and our listening in as he skewers a country (Djibouti sucks, and can’t make a good cup of coffee). Or as he makes an off-handed comment about a national characteristic: “There is something peaceful about the Iranian character, likewise rigor mortis.”
But don’t for one minute underestimate him. His humor and tongue-in-cheek approach belies astute observations about the countries of the world, their people, cultures and traditions.
His hopscotching the globe could not have been accomplished with heavy reliance on the
Internet, and his desperate search for WiFi spots is one of the humorous high points of the book.
But so is his exhausting mastery of bus and train schedules, the art of ticketing convoluted flights that often take him back to a destination, in order to go forward, just so he could go further back from where he started.
This travel legerdemain requires fortitude, street-smarts, planning and tremendous sense of curiosity coupled with life-saving humor and patience.
But I especially love Karges’ sense of irreverence.
Take the Italian island of , for example, the celebrated seaside resort along Italy’s Adriatic coast. For most travelers, it’s a place for the rich and famously tanned beautiful bodies. For Karges, however, in the summer, it “must be an anthill of sun-burned tourist butts strolling down the street in search of pizze and gelati.”
Or his initial impression of Cairo at midnight as as “halogen heaven.”
But between seemingly endless searches for visas, hotels with Wi Fi, cheap buses and random airlines to take him to even more random places like Somaliland (is that even a country?), the author shares a running commentary on everything from religious overtones of Islamic or Christian enclaves, to the street touts who try to scheme him.
Hypertravel is a guide book of sorts, but not the kind one reads for bus schedules and generic places like “the Middle East.” Karges unravels the places he visits, and if he doesn’t go very deeply, he more often than not strikes a true chord with an honest, clear-eyed look at who he is and who the people he meets are.
He’s married, and now and again confesses to utter exhaustion and looking forward to his reunion with his wife in Los Angeles. As to why he undertook the mind- boggling trip, his answer, again, is disarmingly simple: “My goal was and is to see every country in the world.”
There is one serious omission in his book, and one I was surprised to discover: The total lack of illustrations and maps. It’s inconceivable that a travel book such as his would not have visual summaries and examples of his journey. The reader, I’m sure, will grab his or her atlas and try to follow his routes. He could have made his book more appealing and interesting if he had supplied some of these reference points for us.
Karges may or may not be a modern day Ibn Batuta or Marco Polo, but he wrote a fun and informative travel journal that really should be read.
11. sample interview
By Heather Rae, insearchofsquid, 3.23.12
100 countries in two years? That's HUGE! What motivated you to set such a big goal? Why so many countries in such a short time?
The number of countries and the time
involved were never the goal. I only realized that that's what I'd done
when it was almost over, when I started to consider that period of time as an
inter-connected whole period of my life, rather than as a series of individual
unrelated trips. The goal was and is simply to go to every country in the
Actually it wasn't such a logistical
nightmare, just a bit of advance planning, usually no more than starting to
think about the next trip before I'm finished with the one I'm on. I
personally don't find that distasteful or distracting, though some people
might. I was NOT maintaining a fixed place of residence at the time, mind
you, so I had to keep moving. I like a good challenge, and have always
enjoyed multi-tasking. In retrospect, though, I suppose what facilitated
it was that many if not most of the individual 5-9 week trips were planned as
multi-region ventures to begin with, so the entire project took on a hopscotch
quality sometimes. Budget airlines have really changed the concept of
extended travel as a slow plodding point-to-point venture, and some regions
don't lend themselves to that approach very well, either.
What I hope to
gain on any and all my travel is knowledge and experience. To visit every
country is not absolutely necessary, but every region is a must for me as a
serious traveler. I only now find myself a travel writer somewhat by
accident. I never planned it that way, not even with this book, not until
the three-month gap before the last trip when I started sending queries to
agents. I've always been a traveler, even when I was doing business, and
have long considered myself a poet and writer, but I never really attempted to
mix the two until now. Duh. Maybe it's because for me travel has
little or nothing to do with leisure or luxury, nor adventure in the extreme
life-risking sense, and that's what constitutes much of travel writing.
For me travel is mostly about culture and history, and experiencing that
first-hand and up close.
I think anything I do as a traveler can be
done by anyone, certainly, but it might take you thirty or forty years, as it
has me. Of course you need the free time and freedom from other
commitments, so that's the main reason my trips were all broken into two-month
segments, to try to maintain a healthy relationship with my wife. So that
drove my costs up maybe 20%. Otherwise I'd have gone back-and-forth to
London the entire time London or Paris is definitely the cheapest place
in the world from which to see the rest. But the most important thing is
to avoid paying rent here while traveling there; that's half the cost right
there. And then hopefully you have or can pick up some work along the
way. I spent probably $50,000 for travel over the whole two-year period,
everything included: flights, buses, rooms, and food. How much does it
cost to live in LA, London or Paris for two years? I won't even mention
New York. Hostels help a lot, that and budget airlines. I pretty
much avoid fancy restaurants. That's a real budget-killer, and I'd rather
eat where locals eat anyway, that and self-cater, which is the healthiest
Top three favorite destinations, but not necessarily countries? It's nice when you can get a good mix of nature and culture in one place or region. For that I'd have to rate the Iguazu' Falls region in South America high, given the beauty of the falls themselves, and its location at the junction of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. Then there's Victoria Falls at Livingstone, Zambia, for similar reasons, and the Crossroads Music Festival while I was there. Probably what I love most are tribal peoples and their arts and crafts, but that's what I've done for a living most of my life in ten or twelve different countries--Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Indonesia, Thailand, and others--so most of them are not included in this book, since I went there long ago. So for number three I'd probably choose Ethiopia, even though they prohibit blogging, simply because it's such an incredible and diverse place, culturally and historically.
What destination was the biggest surprise?
Biggest surprise? I was
favorably surprised in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which I assumed was war-torn
and miserable. It's not. I was negatively surprised in Papua New
Guinea, which I expected to really like, with all its beautiful crafts and indigenous
culture. In fact I barely left my room for four days, never at
night. Missionaries run many of the guesthouses, and there are few
Well, some of
the best countries weren't included, simply because I went there long ago, and
so many of the worst I have yet to go to. Of the 100 countries included
in the book, the places where I felt unwanted, to the point of being physically
harassed, were Djibouti and the Comoros. The places where I felt unsafe,
and at constant risk of being a crime statistic, were South Africa and Papua
New Guinea. A lady I met in the airport in Majuro, R.M.I. a few days ago
assured me that DR Congo and Sierra Leone are far worse. That'll be later
this year or next year.
Of the countries included here, Iran is
normally an obstacle, but I went to Kish Island which is the exception, due to
its special tourist status. Actually Suriname may have been the most
difficult simply because few airlines fly there, and the land connections are so bad. I got stuck
there when the road to the Guyana ferry washed out, and I had to catch a
last-minute flight to Trinidad on Air Caribe to re-connect with an
already-scheduled itinerary on LIAT Airline. But Russia is the worst for
visa hassles, expensive too, hardly worth it unless you want to ride the
Trans-Siberia train. Ukraine is much easier if you simply want a taste of
the old USSR. Belorussia is one of only two European countries that I
have yet to visit.
Tired, tired, tired . . . at the twenty-month point, that is, before I
took a three-month break and then one more trip in this series. I should
have taken the three-month break a few months earlier, but there were
circumstances beyond my control. As I explain in the book, my wife and I
were going through some adjustments to our situation, and this period of travel
was part of the transition. It took a while to get back on the same page.
If I had planned the book BEFORE the travel,
or even AFTER, then it would have been different, or it may not have happened
at all. As it happened, I decided to blog it as I went--I'd been writing
a mixed blog of travel, music, and random musings for a year--and those blogs
became the book. So it wasn't really ABOUT the travel, as much as it
actually WAS the travel. Writing it in present tense was no mere
stylistic flourish. Even writing my most recent trip as a single
past-tense narrative for one friend's website is totally different from my own
individual present-tense blogs. To me it feels more alive that way,
"in the moment" if you will; I hope my readers agree with me.
So the book itself was mostly a work of editing, getting some 200,000 words
down to 135,000. That's a lot.
What do you hope readers will get from your book? What can they expect? How would you like your book to impact them/help them?
What readers can expect is a
mixed travel guide/narrative. I view the paradigm of a travel guide that tells
you where to go and what to do as an anachronism. I hope my readers get
a feel for the places involved. I hope they laugh when I laugh and cry when I cry. But most of
all I hope they get a sense of awe and wonder--not at my book, but at the world
itself, in all its history and diversity--and an expanded sense of what their
trips can be. If they're not yet travelers, then I hope they'll feel
empowered to get on the plane.
The list price for the paperback book is
$17.50 on Amazon. I'll probably start the process this week of converting
it to an e-book. I don't think that will take long, and price should be
about half that of the paperback. More exciting to me is that I also plan
to publish another e-book version completely re-edited to better serve as a
guide, rather than a narrative, so grouped by region rather than chronology,
like something of an "electronic re-mix" or "director's cut,"
except that my favorite version actually comes first. That should be
ready in a few months.
I can probably sum up my travel
philosophy in a few words: travel widely and travel wisely. No offense to
Ricky Gervais, but "Idiot Abroad" is not a concept that I find
inspiring. And there are travelers out there who still act like
"ugly Americans," so that's not good. Be polite and sensitive
to other cultures.
Take baby steps to start with. Start with Canada, the UK, or the Caribbean, maybe Mexico or Guatemala if you're linguistically adventurous. Get used to the system and the feel of travel, then take it from there. It's a great time to travel Europe right now, with all the budget airlines and the Euro currency at a decent rate. East Europe is especially nice and still relatively inexpensive, and the English language will suffice in most of the heavily touristed areas.
12. excerpts from Hypertravel
Marriage on the rocks
I content myself for a while in Tijuana, reading writing and going up to LA one or two nights a week for music and to hang with Tang on her day off. That works fine for a while but, you know, it’s TJ. Enough’s enough. Tang managed to set us back, too, by saying something that managed to hurt my feelings pretty badly. Fortunately it happened early enough in my sojourn that we had a chance to move beyond it, but obviously we still have a lot of work to do. The cancer is still there. So I finalize my plans for South Africa. Waiting isn’t going to make it any easier.
I’m starting to feel like I’m part of a couple again, fingers crossed. Given the regular availability of Wi-Fi and Skype, Tang and I are able to chat on a regular basis, sometimes every day. It’s almost like having a normal relationship, almost.
Theft in south Africa
I’m on Cloud Nine now, practically skipping out the door, whistling while I walk. All the ten-minute walk back I’m re-thinking my harsh judgment of South Africa and re-confirming my faith in mankind. When I get back to my padlocked gate I struggle with the padlock as usual, but get inside and close it behind me, once again struggling to replace the padlock. Just then a car full of locals pulls up and two of them get out, walking over. I momentarily tense up, but consciously cool it rather than panic over my inability to lock the gate. They ask directions.
I shrug. “Sorry, but I don’t know. I don’t live here.”
“We just want to know how to get to the other side of town.”
He seems slow on the uptake, so I reiterate, “I don’t live here.”
Just then a hand shoots out, goes through the fence bars, and jerks the passport bag off my neck so fast it’d make your head spin, like nothing so much as a snake’s tongue darting out and back.
Next thing I know my passport, my money, my camera, and my telephone are in some guy’s hands on the other side of a metal fence. It’s over, my life is over, but he’s fumbling with something that fell on the ground, so I go for it. That gate’s still unlocked, remember. I dash after the two of them, hoping somebody will drop something, even catch up enough to smash their car window, but it’s not enough, of course. And I’ve still got my wallet, and my computer. They could’ve had that, too, maybe even my life, if I’d won my chase.
After holing up with Wi-Fi for six days, my flight out of South Africa can’t come soon enough for me. I’ve never traveled anywhere—ANYWHERE—and only seen suburbs. It’s ridiculous and pathetic. The blacks here are vengeful and the whites are racist, a gross exaggeration to be sure, but too accurate for comfort. The mall has a gun store. The supermarket employees are frisked upon departure. I mean FRISKED.
Papua New Guinea
The Goroka plan was contingent upon things falling together quickly. That didn’t happen. It’s all too weird, too, and the paranoia all too real. There are armed guards in front of EVERY commercial establishment, not just banks, and there are just too many people hanging out with nothing better to do than look at my pockets. I know what THAT means. Store guards grab your pockets on the way out, too, feeling you up for illicit goods.
Bad baked goods
I stamp out of South Africa and stamp into Lesotho, no problem until I pass what looks like some women’s bake sale. That’s Lesotho Customs.
“You need to declare your commodities,” the nice lady says, pointing to my plastic bag.
I open the bag for her to see, muffins and apples and caramel-flavored peanut butter. “These are no commodities. This is my lunch.”
“Do you have receipts?”
This is ridiculous. “Would you like some lunch?” I ask, trying a different tack.
“Just the receipts.”
“I didn’t save my grocery store receipts.”
“Next time,” I nod. It’d be a joke if she weren’t deadly serious. These cartoon characters from cartoon countries can hold you for ransom just like anybody anywhere with a badge and a gun and your passport in their hand. I always carry a day’s supply of fuel with me, just in case, but I don’t think of it as “commodities.”
Bad bus from Dar es salaam to Malawi
The bus is packed to the gills with freight. I mean every inch of available space, every overhead bin, every space under every seat, is crammed with product. The cargo hold is stuffed with the big stuff, including leaf springs for large trucks.
Finally we pull up to the border after dark…and stop. I inquire as to what’s going on, and only get fuzzy answers, but it seems we’ll be here for the night, similar to what happened on the other route, all because Tanzania doesn’t allow night driving…apparently.
So when the sun also rises, still nothing happens too fast. I and a few others rush through our immigration paperwork only to find that we’re waiting on the bus to slog through its Customs paperwork. It gets worse. When the bus finally makes it to the Malawi side of the border, then the real fun begins. Every item on the bus has to be off-loaded, counted, accounted for—all of which takes hours—and then, drum roll here please, RE-PACKED! Well, anything carefully packed to begin with can never be re-packed the same way the second time—this is doctrine for us importers—no matter how many coolies you have helping, nor how hard you kick the doors in.
So the aisles fill up rapidly, and I’m not talking about new passengers. By the time we finally shove off, there’s a half-meter increase in the height of the aisle, and you need some pole-vaulting experience to navigate it. This is NOT funny; it’s dangerous and by any rights would be proscribed by any country in the world, civilized or not. I can’t imagine what would happen if we had a wreck, but a good clue comes when the driver slams on the brakes once and a Somali lady in the back seat gets knocked in the back of the neck with a very heavy object.
Burkinans are every bit as aggressive as Ghanaians are chilled. Ghanaians must be smoking the good stuff. It’s not that Burkinans are violent or anything. They’re just there, like it or not, and they aren’t fast to leave, that and the fact that I’ve never been called “whitie” so much in my life, “blanc” this and “blanc” that.
Some of the Interzone scum that play/pray/prey on tourists in Osu are downright detestable. You do the math. If you don’t take their hook, then they try their child psychology on you before resorting to the adult stuff- “what, are you racist or something?” On the whole Ghanaians are nice though, something of a revelation that West Africans can be so chilled, almost self-effacing, and genuinely friendly.
North To Albania: Communism Long Gone Dog Gone
The Albanian drivers seem to love the modern Greek highways, clipping along at break-neck speed only slightly moderated by the need to flick cigarette ashes out the window in a gesture of contempt for the rules, if not the actual passengers who indirectly pay their salary. Prohibitions against smoking on the bus apparently do not apply to the driver.
When the bus breaks down, I realize at this point how vulnerable and insecure I am, hardly the master traveler and linguist I may come off as sometimes, to myself if not others, whether intentionally or otherwise. Down deep I’m a scared little child. The only difference is I’ve been here before, lived my whole life here in fact, trembling before the vagaries of Circumstance.
Jo’burg With Trepidations, Zimbabwe By Night
Johannesburg is about what I expect, and it doesn’t feel particularly good. Its reputation for crime precedes it by so far that most travelers simply avoid the place and many others are intimidated by it, myself included. Any place where you’re advised not to walk around alone downtown at any time of day is problematic. Walking around downtown is usually EXACTLY what I do. But no hostels are there anyway, so when in Rome…
So I plug in my computer. And it goes dead.
For what starts off as a confusion in plans (Do I cut the trip short? Do I get the computer fixed? Do I buy another? Or do I abort the mission entirely?) soon degenerates into a deeper existential dilemma (What am I doing here anyway? And why am I attached to these cords like some Matrix mugwump? I only need pencil and paper to write a poem) one that may not terminate any time soon.
Busted in Moscow
I get busted by a real live coulda-been-a-Commie cop in the Moscow train station, waiting for my train to St. Pete…cooool! I get busted for sleeping on the bench … or at least trying to, anyway, as if any zzzzzz’s you manage to cop like that could really be considered sleep. I got yelled at and everything! But I couldn’t understand a word, of course, since even though I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the Cyrillic alphabet.
Inside Hardie’s head
I don’t even know if these are my trips anymore. I almost feel like I’m in another dimension now, a travel dimension, working for some big boss I’ve never even met. I’ve been traveling for a year now, five trips in all, and at least two more in the works. It’s not over yet.
Airport security is a joke, kids running around begging for coins, while ex-pat palangis use the Forex booths to do their monthly banking, cashing personal checks and walking around with thousands of dollars in cash. I feel like I’m tripping. How do you maintain security in an airport with no exterior walls? Not so very easily . . .
The hostel scene is getting old, though, like a frat party with changing cast every day. I’m tired of fighting for counter space in the kitchen and listening to itineraries.
You don’t get out of Sarajevo without the ritual baptism of snow. It’s like Flagstaff, I checking the Weather Channel constantly. But its checkered past is like Mississippi. Then it hits me—this may not be my epiphany, but at least it’s my catharsis, forcing me to face up to the dark recesses of my own past. I’ve been at odds with all the places I’ve ever lived, so maybe now I’m trying to get even by going to them all. Catharses can be messy.
I almost feel guilty, that so many people are undergoing economic hardship right now and I’m traveling the world, but…naah. I’m just doing what I always do. Others spend money like it’s going out of style when times are good; now they cry when the credit’s gone. I never ask for credit, though I certainly could. It’s just not my way of life. People usually call me a tightwad when they’re not calling me a wastrel traveler. But I don’t spend that much and still manage to enjoy.
After the previous continuous stretch, I was dangerously fatigued. Frankly I probably wouldn’t recommend two years continuous travel, but a year’s good, especially if broken up into two-three month segments. Though it seems to defy logic, travel is very tiring. To do it continuously and healthily, you have to find “homes” along the way, something analogous to serial monogamy, “settling down” when the mood’s right. In a previous era of backpacking I’d say that was almost the paradigm, stretching it out as long as possible. That’s easy when there’s all the time in the world, of course, easier for a twenty-something gap-year traveler than a golden-ager still flirting with career ambitions.
For me finding a place to hang for a while is more like the cherry on an ice cream sundae that’s in the process of melting—I want to enjoy that crunchy sweet sensation but not at the expense of watching the whole thing melt away. Of course the real trick is to work as you go, putting that laptop to good use. That’s what I do. When the day’s done, it’s just another 9-to-5 gig. The scenery outside changes, but the work’s the same…
I immediately remember why I once moved to Chiang Rai (Thailand) way back when. Somehow Chiang Mai’s particular version of “Asia Lite: Just For You” doesn’t get me excited any more—if it ever really did—while Chiang Rai retains a refreshingly significant amount of what made Thailand so nice in the first place, before the foreign hordes came in and started staking their claims to a piece of its well-coiffed turf. It would be easy to get judgmental about it all, but really it’s just a numbers game. At some point the tourists and ex-pats and related service industries start taking over whole sections of the city, transforming it into something it never was before and would cease to be without constant new infusions. That’s no good for me.
The Addis Ababa bus station at 5 a.m. isn’t pretty. But unfortunately that’s when all the buses to far-flung parts of the country assemble for departure, and this is where they do it. Since the bus is already quite full when I arrive, I suspect some of the riders have been there all night. It already looks pretty lived-in. But it’s no worse than the Guatemala City market terminal back in 1978 and the fares just as cheap almost thirty years and a few petrol crises later.
They say that if you want to see old Thailand, go to Laos; old Mexico, go to Guatemala. But if you want to see old Turkey, where do you go? I’d say Bosnia, particularly Mostar for architecture, culturally closely related, even if not linguistically, nor even geographically. That may seem strange at first, but appropriate considering Turkey’s own distant origins in the far reaches of Central Asia and Mongolia. This is probably the most interesting thing about Turkey, its extremely mixed population with small but distinct segments of blue-eyed and red-haired peoples that blend seamlessly with the larger darker majority.
If roti is the Trinidad burrito, then “doubles” are the Trinidad taco. This is fast food par excellence, the same kind of curry thing but smaller and rolled over, “doubled”; get it? They come off the line about five or six per minute by a guy who resembles nothing more than a DJ wowing the crowd with his mixes and mash-ups. The trick is to eat them before the goop drips all over you and starts to get embarrassing –true fast food; eat it fast.
Of course the DNA of cuisine takes some weird turns this far from the source, so I bought some kim chee, WITH NO CABBAGE! I thought kim chee WAS cabbage. Then I bought a sushi roll with egg inside, and a big slice of…WTF? SPAM! Gross! Someone put Spam in my sushi
On the way up the bus passed through Kotor and the surrounding fjord, which is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen in the world. I wish I’d stayed there instead of Pudva, but Dubrovnik makes up for it. Whoever said that it’s the “pearl of the Adriatic” is right, beautiful views from every angle and a stari grad for the record books. Unfortunately this pearl is a bit too shiny for me, too polished and tidy. It feels like Switzerland or something. We’re definitely back in Europe now, prices and all, fast food limited to bakeries. Gone are the shish kebabs and the Turkish hamburgers. Gone is the gulash and moussaka. It’s back to pizza and European pastries and byreks if I’m lucky.
Belfast, Bosnia, Beirut, and Baghdad, these were the four forbidden B’s of travel only a short generation (an Irish generation) ago. Now, with the exception of Baghdad, they’re wimp central, pussy-whipped by consumerism and funny money into a peace of cake, for an indie traveler at least. Show me a former war zone, and I’ll show you a travel bargain. And I’ve got it pretty good here, too, private room with bunk bed for only $11.
All the cheap flights (in Paris) use Beauvais way out in the suburbs. It takes me €28, but finally I get there, so now the challenge is to get on the plane without paying any baggage charges. Carry-on is limited to one bag at ten kilos, but the main trick is getting it inside their little test rig, which is pretty small. So I wear all the clothes I can wear with pockets fully stuffed, and a little plastic bag of food which will usually pass, but if it doesn’t I’ll toss it. After I get on the plane, of course, the plastic bag gets full fast with all the gadgets and gizmos I’ve stuffed in my pockets.
What Spotify and YouTube are to the current state of the modern music industry, European budget airlines are to the travel industry, destroyer and savior. While internal flights within Africa and elsewhere are sky high, flights out of the UK to much of the rest of the world are dirt cheap.
The effort (to get to Petra, Jordan) can be harrying, not surprising after a year of constant travel. I couldn’t do it without the Net. People ask me where I live and I say “the Net.” It’s true. That’s the little world I carry with me. If I have low prices, good food, and good Internet, then I can live almost anywhere.
So now I’m in Doha, here because it’s on the map and on the list of UN member countries. That’s the ultimate discipline behind this “every country” plan. Why else would I be here? . . . This is pretty much just a place for immigrant labor to service a bunch of spoiled-brat Gulf princes who lucked out and got born in a place with nothing…but oil and gas.
Places that suck
I catch the ferry to Zanzibar. I had hoped to wax poetic over the “spice island,” Zanzibar, but I can’t, because it sucks. Don’t you wish guidebooks would tell you that? Uncle Hardie will. Djibouti? Sucks. Port-au-Prince? Sucks. Bamako? Sucks. Hey, there’s a pattern forming here. These were all French colonies. No matter, that’s the skinny. I don’t pretend to remain neutral on these. No, they’re pretty bad. But actually, though, Zanzibar is not bad. Zanzibar is sad. It has no electricity, except that which a thousand generators can produce for their own use on their own initiative.
I don’t totally buy into the “famous Turkish hospitality.” For one thing, this only applies to men, not women, who are allowed no contact with strange men whatsoever. For another, these acts of hospitality tend to occur in commercial transactions. There are a lot of words for that besides “hospitality.” When a shoeshine guy sits down and starts shining my shoes ignoring my requests to know the charge in advance, I don’t consider that hospitality.
There is a stari grad, an old town here, with wall and all, just like the textbook model, built to withstand attack. Now they’re just tourist attractions. Who says our lives haven’t gotten better through the course of history? Many do, imagining some romantic past without the Romans, full of fairies and runes and Venus figurines that meant we all loved each other in a perfect state of natural bliss, uh huh.
Mostar shows heavy scars from the war with Serbia of 1992 and the racist policy of “ethnic cleansing.” The irony is that Bosnia and Serbia and Croatia are all the same race, with some notable cultural differences, specifically religion. Most violence is committed within the family, isn’t it? Unfortunately you can’t rebuild history like you can buildings. You’re stuck with the memories, and they die hard. The same is true on a personal level. As I sit soaking up afternoon sun in a Mostar Islamic graveyard I reflect on all the people who have come and gone in my life and wonder why. Then I realize how much time I’ve spent in other countries, a stranger in a strange land, trying to make sense of things back home. Is this what travel ultimately means?
Our alcoholic history is harder to swallow. There’s no soft-sell (in Ukraine.) People buy beer and head straight to a park bench—or wherever—in the middle of the day. Stores proudly brandish the word “alcohol” like a flag to rally behind, while even in southern Africa they were—ahem—“bottle stores,” and we from the deep southern U.S. grew up with “package” stores.
Other than that, there’s the Iranian personality to consider, apparently a somber one, likely a pessimistic one, perhaps even a death-oriented one. Some have intimated in hushed tones that they were looking to emigrate. It all feels a bit like Communism frankly. Unfortunately for most of them, this is as far as they will get, and if this is Iran’s quintestellar resort, then that’s a bit of a joke, unless you actually LIKE wearing a burkha on the beach. They’re obviously looking for a piece of the Persian Gulf “action,” but I’m not sure they’re ready for it, though I can appreciate the relative serenity vis a vis the region’s Arab capitals and their relentless honking and halogen.
There IS something peaceful about the Iranian character, likewise rigor mortis.
Africa is a tough place to love, what with its triple-C whammy of Chaos, Crime, and Corruption. Some people—mostly French—pretend to like it that way. A certain amount of order to existence is a good thing.
I won’t talk about the combo shitter/shower stall I had the pleasure of navigating in Nairobi, all for the sake of “going native.” Use your imagination.
In Rwanda not only will you not be issued plastic bags for your many miscellaneous purchases of groceries and so forth, but your plastic bags will be confiscated upon arrival in the country!
Is Albanian culture the missing link between northern and southern Europe? I’ve always wondered where the French negative pas comes from. Well, there it is, right there on the Nescafe machine in Kosovo: me/pa=with/without (sugar).
Considering their Illyrian forebears at the dawn of civilization, but for a few accidents of history, instead of getting romantic with our lovers, we’d all be getting lyrical … Hey, wait a minute…whatever. But I absolutely refuse to study a language in a country I’ll only visit a few days and which only has a few million speakers. So when I go to the market I start using the little Italian I know, given the low level of English I’ve encountered so far. It works.
Strangely enough it seems in the Balkans that the more English they speak, the more polite they are. Just the opposite is true in Thailand, where English is the language of aggression. At least now I know why Albanians considered themselves the nicest people in the world. They were comparing themselves to their neighbors!
Despite its Muslim religion and other similarities, Turkey, especially Istanbul, is miles away from its distant cousins in Central Asia and light-years away from its origins in Mongolia and the Hun/Han plains of northern China. This represents one of the greatest national migrations of history, equal to or greater than the American or the Inuit or the Russian.
The Turkish language itself almost sounds French from a distance; whether that could be from a similar underlying Celtic substrata is an interesting proposition. At the beginning of the Common Era, Gallic France and Galatian Anatolia were both heavily Celtic, similarities in their languages attested by none other than Saint Jerome himself. Could this explain France’s bizarre deviation from the Latin norm? It’s almost as if language and culture were some sort of viral DNA conquering and occupying territory, not people. Anatolia has been home to countless nations and notions; they didn’t all just up and leave. They blended and adapted and did what people do when winters are cold and nights are long.
Satori In Suriname: Naked Lunch & A/C Nightmares As I Lay Dying
In a country comprised of large percentages of Africans, Javanese, East Indians, and even some Amerindians, Taki-taki is the language of no single one, but of all. Still Dutch is the language of government, education and commerce, and educated native-born Guyanese, many of whom have been to the Netherlands, will speak it amongst themselves.
The big linguistic surprise in Suriname is that touts and hawkers will bark at me in Dutch and not English. This is especially surprising considering that English is widely studied and known, though outside of the rather small tourist zone not likely to be used at you, unless you stand there at the cashier dumbfounded for more than about ten seconds. It’s also testament to the very low level of tourism here and the high percentage of those who are Dutch.
Too many tourists
So I guess two short days will have to suffice for my Tunisian experience. Is that enough to “get it?” Yes, and no. I’ve eaten couscous with the Homies and gotten lost in the souk. Half the fun of coming to any Arab country is getting lost in the souk and seeing where it spits you out. It’s also half the frustration, the crush and crunch of bodies slipping and sliding against each other in some caricature of a pedestrian walkway. Don’t go if you’re claustrophobic. How anyone could actually shop in such conditions is beyond me. Of course there’s no shortage of plasti-crap in the old medina along with the good traditional stuff that successful tourism brings.
But I don’t have Internet, and Tunisia is just not really working for me for some reason. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe just the large ratio of tourists to locals, always a recipe for dissatisfaction for me. That’s the good part about the slow season, but maybe it’s not good enough.
Too much hunger
Africa is a continent unlike any other, where your very conception of what it is to be human will be put to the test, where you’ll see things you might rather forget.
In just a few days I’ve seen humans eating off the ground in flocks like pigeons and I’ve seen them collect discarded mango skins to process one more time nutritionally. I’ve survived at least one pick-pocket attempt and countless beggars. It seems as if a whole nation is hungry and willing to do just about anything to satisfy it. When I suggest to two amputees, one male and one female, that they look cute together, they suggest that I should snap up the thirteen-year-old girl with her hand outstretched.
Ethiopian dancing has to be seen to be believed. It’s hard to describe, something between pec exercises and specific muscle group coordination, all while hopping around the floor, kicking and screaming and gesticulating wildly to music that is best described as a cross between Mungo Jerry and Khmer-language gantreum from Surin in Thailand’s border region with Kampuchea.
The coffee is excellent, apparently an Italian legacy, and cheap too, as it should be, except in the foreigner haunts complete with Wi-Fi. Though it originates here, the Italians took it to a high art, and the antique espresso machines prove it. So do the words “macchiato” and “cappuccino” in the local vocabulary. The best coffee comes from old fashion machines with four-barrel carburetors. Ethiopians drink it with popcorn traditionally, and incense too, a more distant legacy.
At least poverty in the countryside maintains some sense of dignity, indigenous people in their homes of birth, not crammed into shit-stained cities and left to hustle for crumbs. They all come to me with hands out and mouths open, but where would I start and how would I finish? If I pulled out a loaf of bread, it might start a riot. At least I give them all a smile, something to tell them it’s okay; don’t give up. They usually smile back, so maybe it IS okay.
At least they’ve got a real supermarket here, complete with five-dollar roast chicken. I pace the city trying to decide whether to risk a crowded truck back overland, through malarial miasma, to the world’s poorest country. I buy carrots, still digressing. Finally I decide that if they take credit cards, then I’m on the plane. They do. Whirr birr thank you sir. My mental condition immediately improves. I celebrate with a whole roast chicken. I need the protein. I might even work out, only one day to go. But there’s more:
DO NOT TAKE PHOTOS IN DJIBOUTI, OF ANY THING ANYWHERE ANY TIME!
For some reason this makes the locals livid.
When the bus finally arrives, it’s dark already. And guess what? All the lights are out! Welcome to Gonder, same as Harar. So I check-in in darkness, a candle supplied for each room, and the
n proceed to check out the town. Self-proclaimed guides swarm me. (I blow them off ) wholesale, not even feeling guilty now, probably adding some new swear words into their little vocabularies. I can’t go anywhere without them following me, into stores and up and down the street. Ethiopians get in your mind, not in your face.
“What are you looking for?” a voice calls out of the darkness.
“A WORLD THAT DOESN’T INCLUDE YOU!” my answer responds in kind.
13. publishing info
Publisher: CreateSpace, North Charleston, S.C.
Number of Pages: 312
Size: soft cover, 6 x 9 inches
Bar coded: yes