A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Shlugger

Its all over now

London called

semi-overcast 0 °C

Arghhhhhhhhh! It's overrrrrr!
So the biggest trip I've ever done is over and I'm in London ('home') for a while.
Now I'm trying to find a job. In banking. In a recession. Smart move. I would have stayed in Fiji and dived for the rest of the year, but that costs money, so I had to head back.

So it was 11 months to the day that this all came to an end. 11 months between my arrival in Bangkok, til my departure from JFK in New York. Around the world in 335 days. I saw a lot.

My last stop along the way was in New York City. I flew from Vancouver via Toronto to NYC and made it just in time to join my sister Margot, au pairing north of the city, for New Years celebrations. What a blast! Margot organised to go to Bryant Park Grill - a popular night spot a few blocks from Times Square, where the crowds were fewer and the drinks prepaid, and we had a blast of a new years party. It was still a bit jam-packed, but I guess what can you expect from NYC on New Years. As the ball dropped in Times Square clouds of confetti came floating down to earth. The wind brought bellowing plumes of the stuff down onto the nightclub's glass roof. It was great partying with my sister, who I hadn't seen in over a year, since Christmas last year, back in South Africa.

Before I left NYC the two of us managed to see quite a bit of the city together - Brooklyn Bridge, down-town Manhattan - including ground zero, Wall Street, uptown-Manhattan and all its skyscrapers. Its a phenominal city - just huge and so busy. A bit too busy for my liking, but still a fascinating place. I think it was perhaps the time of year that I was there - there were just huge crowds of people everywhere - the year-end sales may have dragged the masses from their living rooms.

In many ways I wasn't all that excited about New York. I couldn't figure out why that was. Every country I had been to previously, had filled me with energy and an ambition to read as much about the place before I got there, but here I was in NYC and I just wasn't all that excited. Was it the cold? Don't think so - Canada and New Zealand were colder. The masses of crowds? I'd been in some busy places already - like the tourist crowds in Thailand, the train systems of Singapore, or the Christmas crowds of Oxford Circus in London. So what was it? I was boarding the plane at JFK, departing for London, and it was now pretty clear: I had been away long enough. I had seen enough. I had met enough people. Made enough friends. Re-packed my bag enough times. I wanted to go back to familiarity. To my old friends. Any random job. I wanted routine. And most of all - my own bedroom!!

So here I am in London now and its time to get real and find a job! Wish me luck!

I'll produce a final blognote on the stats of my trip sometime soon and I think that'll probably be it. Hope you enjoyed it ;)

Totsiens!

Posted by Shlugger 08:28 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Shoveling snow in Vancouver

Discovering British Columbia and the US north-west

snow -21 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

Back in August, I extended my trip by a few months after I worked out that I had enough budget to add some time to the tour. I spent an extra few weeks in Fiji and made time for the US roadtrip with Keith. But I decided it was also high time I visited Canada – the home of my aunt and uncle, and three cousins – two of whom I hadn’t seen since 1991. That’s a long time ago. So my new goal was to arrive in LA and after staying with Keith, head up the west coast and stop at Vancouver for Christmas.

Portland and Seattle
I left San Francisco, headed up the north California coast and arrived in Oregon. Portland is another great north west city. Its small in comparison to San Francisco or Seattle, but its got a great restaurant scene and a lively micro-brewery industry. I hired a bicycle for a day and went over the multiple bridges that cross the Columbia River from where the city draws its name, and on day 3 there - hired a brand-new Toyota RAV4 and charged down the Columbia River gorge to see the numerous waterfalls and Mount Hood, which was mostly snowed out anyway.
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After spending a few days in Portland, I went on through to Seattle - going by Amtrak's scenic Coast Starlight option, and then staying for a couple of nights at the city’s famous backpacker lodge, the Green Tortoise, which is also situated only a short walk from the home of coffee franchises – Starbucks – its first branch, at Pike market. There are now about 12,000 franchises internationally. I also went to the Needle, built for the World Fair back in 19-something, and the amazing EMP (Experience Music Project) museum dedicated to the rock scene in Seattle (it's incredible how many stars the city has produced – Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Presidents of the USA, Foo Fighters) and did some high rise viewing from the Columbia Centre. Other than that, I found Seattle quite boring - perhaps it was the cold that prevented me from seeing too much (even the needle was covered in cloud half the time I was there) - I did spend a lot of time in coffee shops getting away from a freezing sea breeze. Next time, I'll visit in summer.

Vancouver

My uncle David met me at the train station, once I'd crossed the border and faced some rough questions at Canada's border immigration office. I hadn’t seen him for nearly three years since our last meeting in Cape Town in early 2006. Little did I know that David and Heidi had plans in store for me - shoveling snow in their driveway. Shortly after arriving, there I was, shovel in hand, skin frozen to the metal handle, back virtually breaking, sweating away in sub-zero temperatures - clearing snow off the ground and salting the driveway. I had to work for my meals...
Well, not quite. But I did get to shovel snow when bad weather came in, which was great because it meant that the ski-hills would most likely be getting a good dumping of snow. Plus, the whole snow-thing was quite a treat. In South Africa, snow is pretty rare, and a good dump is considered to be any snow, even a few centimeters. So watching the snow fall was something I found myself doing quite a bit of. Amazingly, there were still a few crazies around wearing t-shirts outside, when the temperature read as -4c. What would they wear if they were in the Caribbean?
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Vancouver is an amazing city - its built along miles of inlets and bays, and is surrounded by pine and maple forests, and stunning mountain backdrops. Its a gorgeous city and although its meant to be stunning in the summer, I'm glad I went in winter, especially with all the snowfall. David took me on a number of walks and it was great seeing the natural forest splendor of the area. Trekking in snow was also something of a novelty. Its just incredible how much people have to adapt in those cold conditions - whether its the tyre treads of your car, installing a heating room for wet jackets, waterproof boots for a quick stroll outside, the brief hours of daylight, gloves in case you touch a metal surface - there are so many considerations and changes that come about with the winter season in Canada. And this wasn't even the east coast, where its far colder.
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So I got to see my cousins Chris and Sarah - it had been a long time since our last meeting. I got to meet Lisa's husband Ken (cousin in law??) as well. So all-in-all, it was pretty good getting some well-earned catch-up time in. The highlight of the trip was heading to Kelowna, the family destination for Christmas. That place is cold! On Boxing day the cousins and co headed up early to the nearby resort of Silver Star, where after pulling some sic snowboarding moves (for me, thats turning left and right consecutively, without falling over) we would get onto the ski-lift and head back up the huge slope. On the way up, the temperature dropped to -22c.... It was COLD! No amount of gloves and scarves can prevent you from freezing! In the evenings, Chris and I would warm up in the hot-tub. After enough dares, I'd head out to the snow, jump in it, and get back in the tub. Its pretty weird having icicles grow on your head while the rest of you is relaxed in hot water. The occasional beer or bottle of wine helped matters.
Ken's folks organised a hockey game for us in Kelowna - the local team - the Kelowna Rockets were playing against some rival team. Ken bought me a puk-head. I got to wear this at the game, until people starting complaining that I was blocking the view. Anyway, I'll add it to my party-dress wardrobe, right between my Nepali Hindu holyman gear, and the Balinese fisherman suit.

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My cousins - Sarah, Lisa, Ken, and Chris and Aunt Heidi (above).

It was great staying with family again - I've luckily had the opportunity a few times during the trip. David and Heidi made things very easy. But after 10 months on the road, it really makes a difference.

Just by the way - HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Posted by Shlugger 17:41 Archived in Canada Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Shlugger visits America

The end is nigh...

sunny 14 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

So, here are some pics from the roadtrip with me mate Keith in the US, my time in dodgy LA and San Francisco & the great university town of Berkeley.

Los Angeles:
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Above: Hollywood Boulevard, Darth Vader about to end Tigger's happy existence, Venice Beach basketball, David 'Mitch' Buchanan, Manhattan Beach volleyball, LA Kings v Washington Capitals, Keith and I, Walt disney concert Hall.

Roadtrip:
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Above: Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand canyon, Bryce Canyon, Smokey the Bear, The Mirage casino, paris??, Keith and his car, Keith's folks in Vegas and dog Baxter in front.

San Francisco
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Above: Sather Tower at Berkeley campus, Uni of california; berkeley Bears playing at home; cheerleaders; SF skyline; Alcatraz; Golden Gate Bridge - the most amazing bridge I've ever seen.

Posted by Shlugger 19:08 Archived in USA Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Roadtrip through deserts in the South West

& Los Angeles and its characters

sunny 20 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

Hollywood in all its glory

Unknown to most tourists, Hollywood is spectacularly dodgy. Its full of creeps. Still confused with the city layout after being in LA for 8 days, I decided I'd buy an illustrated map of the city. A couple of crazies glared at me as I crossed the street on the way to the gimmicky little map shop. One even tried to shoulder - charge me, but he seemed to change his mind when he was a foot away from me and stopped right in front of me. I kept walking down Hollywood Boulevard. I picked up the map and walked over to the cashier to pay. At that moment, another crazy ran passed the shop screaming and flinging his arms above his head. He had a long beard and old clothes on. The cashier says "He's high on crack. They all high on crack. Do you know what crack is?" I was still focusing on the crazy but when I looked at him and his raised eyebrows, it seemed he was trying to lull me into some sort of drug deal. I mumbled something about having to go, and took the map. I also witnessed some oscar worthy performances from some bird and her pimp (I think) and some guy trying to get a free drink at McDonalds which led to the outlet closing down for the next 10 minutes as the cops where called and the drinks machines put on hold.
There are definitely more crazies in America than anywhere else. Apparently there is a story about bums and beggars being dropped off in LA by other city metropoles in California and Arizona. There definitely seemed to be a lot of bums around.

Los Angeles: "The Angels"

LA is a mega-city. It is absolutely huge. There are a vast amount of freeways throughout the city, and cars everywhere. Its extremely cosmopolitan, and suprisingly, given the political climate with Iran, there is a large Iranian presence in the city too. Even more of a suprise, is that large parts of Beverley Hills are dominated by the Iranian community. The city, and all of southern California as well as Arizona, is supported by the Colorado River. It never rains in LA, perhaps only a dozen days a year. As a result, I was wearing shorts everyday, despite it being near the height of winter. Perfect weather.

My old pal Keith Davis met me at the airport. Its been 9 years since we last saw each other when I was back in first year at varsity in Grahamstown. Keith had been on exchange for a semester and we've kept up ever since. There was a lot of catching up to be done. Keith's a great host - he took me to so many of the famous places in LA - Venice Beach (bumped into a drugged-out hippie party on the beach, and saw all the famous basketball courts where street teams compete aggresively for the courts), Santa Monica Boulevard (street musicians as well as the famous pier), Mulholland Drive (where James Dean crashed his bike), Manhattan Beach, Bel Air (unbelievable mansions), Beverley Hills and the San Fernando valley (full of all the famous studio houses). When Keith was working I cruised about the Hollywood area, and wandered up to the Hollyood Hills, or the various boulevards - Sunset Blvd especially. There is a lot to see in the city - its truely massive. The day I went up to the Hollywood Hills I found the view even smoggier than expected - the fires at Yorba Linda (outlying district) were creating such a haze that I couldn't see downtown LA. The entire valley was grey and the next day ash was falling over Hollywood. Being in LA was a surreal experience - especially for someone from outside the US - all the names, places, buildings - are familiar - I've seen them in so many movies and shows that it feels like I've been there already. I kept saying "This is just like the movies!" and then Keith would mock me. Keith was always pointing out something from some movie.

Dr Phil, my hero

I did a day trip to Universal Studios, but found it less than impressive, its one of those places where you need to be with mates, or perhaps just 15 years younger ;) I also went to Paramount Studios for a studio tour - that was great. Unfortunately we had to witness Dr Phil rounding off one of his shows with his legion of bored housewife fans. This was excruciatingly painful to say the least. Dr Phil was walking along this fan-filled aisle up to his studio stairs and his legion were just cheering and cheering. There were guys hanging just out of sight from the camera's who were revving up the crowd every 30 seconds or so. Dr Phil looked in our direction, aknowledged us, and then made some corny, lame-ass joke to his die-hard legion, who erupted into hysterics (some of the fans almost did some Beatles-mania faint maneauvres). Yuuurghh. Anyway, the rest of the tour was great. We saw a few famous people on set, between takes (well I didn't recognise them, but apparently they're big news).

Living the dream: Roadtrip into the American South West

Keith got a week off from work over the Thanksgiving break, and we headed out west from LA, with the intention of hitting some of the the national parks in California, Arizona, and Utah, with a final fling in Las Vegas, where his folks live. We hit Joshua Tree National Park just outside of LA. This was a symbolic moment for me as I've been a big U2 fan for years, thanks to old school mates. Like hardened U2 fans, we played their greatest album - The Joshua Tree - at full volume. Fortunately there weren't any tourists about. After about half an hour we came across our first Joshua Tree. It looked like a big cactus... We took some pics and moved on! The build up was better than the real thing!

Our first night was in Phoenix, a massive, sprawling city - seemingly endless, and with random suburbs spreading for many miles beyond the downtown area. Its fascinating to see - the city is quite literally built in the desert. Another example of the the wonders of the Colorado River and the Hoover dam. I couldn't help but wonder how this city would deal with a massive petrol price hike - its so spread out that building any public transport system would cost a vast fortune. I reckon a massive price hike would cripple the city, and LA, for that matter.
Its so spread out that we struggled to find a hotel. When we finally did, we found ourselves in Tempe, considered completely seperate from Phoenix city. We dropped off our stuff and headed into the Tempe area of Phoenix, which is the home of Arizona University students. No problem! We ended up in Hooters, which was quiet anyway.
Phoenix is a little strange in my opinion - its so spread out that I think it loses a lot of character.

We rose late and cruised north to the Grand Canyon, passing a few small towns along the way. Keith stopped at a typical Diner and there was some great people watching in order. It was like another world. Guys were even arriving in hunting gear with rifles strapped to the backs of their "buggies." Later, we stopped off at some old Native American cliff dwellings and at Sunset Crater national park. Both were absolutely gorgeous. Sunset Crater is a large dried out lava field - a total moonscape. Arriving late at night at the Grand Canyon, we almost hit an elk caught in our spotlights. Keith freaked out. (Maybe it was all the long hours on the open, desert roads) Still, it was pretty funny. I was also freaking out, but mostly because Keith was making me listen to Annie Lennox. Roadtrips are one thing, but inviting Annie Lennox to the party is something else altogether. He's a borderline Annie fan, which is shameful. Day 3 and we did a small trail into the Canyon. Its unbelievably huge. You start to feel that you are looking at a painting, because it just doesn't feel real. Its that big. There are some great walks and viewpoints along the ridge and we cruised along the edge stopping every now and then to get some pics. The sunset was great - the canyon went bright red and I got some great pics.

Utah: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Another day, another state. Utah was next, and the deserts kept rolling in. We crossed the north-eastern point of the Grand Canyon, and went over the Colorado River, which was stunning with its bright green waters. Keith and I even met a Navajo woman later, on the rim of the Canyon. She was pretty engaging and told us lots about the culture and the squaw dances they still do every year. We managed to reach Bryce Canyon as the sun was setting, which was fortunate because the next morning it began to snow. We managed to walk a trail down into the canyon and get out as the weather turned icily cold and the snow started to come down quite hard. Bryce is spectaclar. It is a small canyon with bright red rocky pinnacles surrounding its rim. It has a planet Mars feel to it. The viewpoints, once again, were great.

Zion is spectacular, but in a different way. The highlight of the park is a cliff viewpoint that looks out over enormous domed mountains. There is a stream and valley below the viewpoint, and the entire place just makes you feel so insignificant. Its one of the most amazing viewpoints I've been too. I think that says a lot taking into account this year of travel so far. I could have sat there all day staring at the domed mountains ahead of the viewpoint.

Viva Las Vegas!

Vegas is unreal. As you can imagine, its all the glitz and glamour of the casinos world, along with as much sleaze and as many slimeballs as you could possible have in one place. The city has plenty of character! I think half of Mexico is there too. Keith gave me a few tours of the city and its famous casino's, but the highlight for me was spending my first thanksgiving in America, with his family. It was great doing the whole turkey thing, and staying in the comforts of your own bedroom, if only for while! Hostels get to you eventually! Keith's brother and sister-in-law came through from New York and it was great meeting them too.

So I'm in Portland, Oregan now. I've just been in San Francisco for three days, and they were epic. The city is definitely a place I could live, if the oportunity ever presented itself. Golden Gate was magnificent. I've only been in Portland for a few hours and it looks nice too. Its meant to be the micro-brewery capital of the US, so I'll have to conduct some firm investigations into this statement.

Til next time, ciao.

Posted by Shlugger 20:46 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Fiji: The pics

Mamanuca's, Vanua Levu and Taveuni

sunny 32 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

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Brendan Sparg and I met in Auckland. Brendan moved there a few years ago and it was just great catching up.


Sunsets and Parties in the Mamanuca's

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The chief at Bounty Island. When he isn't singing he's teaching you how to open coconuts, clean turtles(?!), cook taro, etc.

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Thats Castaway Island on the right. This is the view from Mana Island, my favourite - what a place, what a crowd.

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View of the pier from Mana Island.

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Drinking games, and the English are unstoppable.

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Contemplation as the games get underway... what DID they put in my cup?

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Don and Fred - local legends. Fred can make you believe anything.

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After 2 weeks marooned on a little island I turned around and saw another island. Freedom!


The Journey to Taveuni

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Yes, that is a loader that fell over during the voyage. All the trucks couldn't get out, except by squeezing through on the far left, which meant putting a few dings in the trucks. It took them three hours to sort this out. The MV Sophie.. never again.

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The gents - pictures can't describe the horror I felt when I walked in here. And shock. And horror. Then the army of cockroaches arrived in our cabin.

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Bus trips are always entertaining and the kids often take great interest in you.

Taveuni: Beauty above and below the sea

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Taveuni is full of dense greenery, and deep blue seas filled with coral reefs.

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Vuna Lagoon, always beautiful.

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Jerry has a phobia for buses and little kids. This did not bode well for our trip.

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The fireflies are just massive in Fiji. Wait til you see the bats.

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Buzzy, a pro golfer in hiding, putting for glory, with Bruce our Instructor watching. M'Ok.

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Jerry was always having a bit of "Jerry-time," as he called it. He'd go for little wanders down the beach and skip stones on the water and things like that.

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Tracker is the puppy at Vuna Lagoon that has in excess of 1000 fleas. So we called him Fleabag.

Vanua Levu and Dolphin Bay

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I spent 16 nights camped 10 meters from these waters. Paradise.

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Out on the boat.

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Studies were made difficulty thanks to the attentions of Carrycat, one of nine cats at Dolphin Bay.

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A local Scottish-Fijian Tribesman with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle partner on Halloween.

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Rose - abusing animals again. She was always throwing them off tables or something. The ginger cat is foxy and is the greatest cat in the world.

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The Levena Coastal Walk. The entire coastline is covered in coral reef. If you walk out to them and peer over the edge, it drops off into big coral walls. There must be so much life down there cos there is very little fishing in the area.

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Tovoro Falls, Taveuni. This is where one of the famous scenes from Return to the Blue Lagoon was filmed. I kept waiting for a naked Milla Jovovich to arrive but she never did.

Posted by Shlugger 21:12 Archived in Fiji Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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