Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nigeria











I looked up a few books stores to try and find a guide book about this country – and nothing. I must admit though I didn’t check out if there was a section in the Africa books. However country books were mainly for South Africa and Kenya.

Coming from Sydney from my brothers wedding weekend it was my seventh long haul flight in around 6 weeks – I was tired but am getting use to airports and long haul flights and I found myself mouthing the emergency exit demonstration. The flight was not very nice – we seemed to go through a storm – it was pretty spectacular until we hit a huge air pockets and it turned into a carnival ride when people sneak on food and drinks.

Dubai had one thing that every airport I think should have – banana chairs – or permanently reclined chairs. Brilliant idea. I don’t know if I can go back to normal waiting to board chairs – it is going to be tough. Getting onto the flight to Lagos – two things were apparent, the Nigerians travel in numbers and love duty free…The cabins were overflowed with duty free bags, and I was confused as to who knew which bag was whose.

Landing in a new country I find exciting – always. There is always something different to find out about. However I always dread the customs part, there is always some type of lining up waiting for at least half an hour or more, and depending on what country you’re entering in an orderly fashion. The orderly fashion in Lagos was a vague line and push your way to the front, and coming off a 27 hour trip I wasn’t one for patience. Without blowing my own horn I made fantastic time, unfortunately there may have been a few sore feet and body parts when I discovered that swinging my laptop bag around and moving forward speed up the process of getting to the front. One thing to mention we were given a briefing about entering the country and what to do to get through customs without making a bribe payment. One thing I took from the brief was to have good humour, appear pleasant, answer questions politely and if asked for something to wish them happiness and prosperity. I though oh no I’m not happy I do not exude good humour or happiness and the air around me given the sore feet and body parts and sneers was a good representation of that. However there was no question of asking for gifts, which I think had a large effect more on my body odour and attractiveness after having not slept very much in the 27 hour journey.

My security team meet me at baggage, I waited half an hour took my bag and went forth into Nigeria. I felt a little like a diplomat being driven off in a huge van with tinted windows and another truck following me with armed guards. In with me were two bodyguards…and away we went. I turned one of the bodyguards into my personal tour guide for the duration of the trip, asking the usual curiosities when you first step off into a new place. One thing I’ve learnt is common among people – people are proud of their countries and love talking about them.





Lagos is a very interesting place. From the air the first thing you notice is loads of yellow vans. I found out these are used as taxis and hold an impressive number of people given they are filled and some hang out of windows and have doors open to fit a couple more people where they stand on the rim and hold onto the roof as the van fangs down a roadway. There are not many made roads, the large one are main arteries going from airport to towns and sections of the mainland onto various islands of the coast which is where I ended in Ikoyi.

There are the normal slums you see outside of most airports. Going over the bridge into Ikoyi there are shacks that are built over the water – I would assume similar to types in Asia. Loads of people on the roads hanging out, or walking somewhere, selling something from bottles to cards to tyres, food, water handiwork. The people here are very elegant looking. They walk tall and straight. They carry items on their heads without effort. They are beautiful looking people with eyes that look like they a million thoughts behind them.

There have been a few things that have amused me which are to assist in our security.

We have what I’ve nicknamed a barge car. It is a smaller second car that follows us. It is a security concern to be stationed for too long, given robbery is quiet rife a stationed car with a bunch of ex pats is a huge target. So this second car will barge through traffic if it gets too thick and makes a pathway for us. I still get a little confused as to how this doesn’t annoy the local people off to a high degree. The traffic is chaotic but has its orderly fashion. To give you an example we want to turn left (rules are American side driving) so we need to cross over traffic. Our barge car will edge into oncoming traffic and then just stop there so we have a clear path to cross.

The use of insect repellent is required especially at nights when the mosquitoes are out. Malaria is quiet active here, so I look at it like my new perfume. I apply it in the morning and top it up at nights. I have found another use for it as well, to use it like you would smelling salts. It has come in handy at keeping me awake purely from the smell when I hit my walls from jet lag!

I found out during my security briefing when arriving on my first day that Ecuador has the same security risks as a country as Nigeria. I was a bit confused – Ecuador has its own guidebook in stores.









Cape Town











I ventured into my first town in the southern countries of Africa. Cape Town what a wonderful place. A little fact that reclaimed land (that being they pumped sand from the ocean to create land) makes up most of city section of Cape Town.



I travelled on my own here for a work project. The first night I went into the Waterfront which was pretty touristic but had some lovely restaurants. I was on my own, and so they put me in the best seat of the house over looking the waster, and one of the waiters would come and keep me company - how lovely.



We had one of the operations guys down from Gabon who had spent many a night in Cape Town being the remotes business center so to speak. He knew the owner of the Manor I stayed in, and from the second or third night, we started off listening to the owners stories, being a well travelled man born in Canada, raised in Brasil, working in Russia in the likes of oil industries, hedge funds and then throwing the good life and an expesive divorce on a Russian girl he fell in love with. Quiet a cute couple, but the guy tended to like the sound of his own voice, and you were never sure how factual his stories actually were....anyway we did help him out with choosing chef for a function by taste testing the food, as well as helping him out on the vino - nice.



Cape Town is beautiful, the Townships (slums) were different from any city I have been to. People tended to be more proud of the space that they lived in, and they were cleaner, but also I noticed there was running water and electricity which must have made the clean up easier. The government had been putting some investment into these areas. However as most developing cities the slums are always just after the airport and are the first and last thing you see.



I took some time out from work during the couple of weeks I was there, and did a hike from Cape Point to Cape of Good Hope. I was lucky that the whale season was still very active, and I saw a number of whales just off the coast, they are mesmerising. I also was intrigued by the Baboons. They are not very happy looking, and most of the time tend to be rumaging through someones garbage or kitchen for food.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

London

This is a city that has always fansinated me so much I tend to live here - well a lot really this decade. But it really knows how to push my buttons. The last couple of months have been pretty entertaining. My favorite bands Kings of Leon, Smahing Pumpkins, Catpower, Portishead and The Shins are just a few that I have seen in the last couple of months - and I still have booking for more - Portishead being one. Can it get better than that.



I have come to terms that I indeed have a love hate relationship with this city.





The bad -





1. No matter where you are you will always have someone in front of you and someone behind you. If you stand still you will get bumped at least by every third person that passes you (Im a numbers person if you havent guessed)


2. Peak hour travel you will always hear - can you move down a bit - even if there is a dwarf with his face squished against the far window in the inner depths of the train - there is an inch of space somewhere that can obviously fit in an oversized person. Of course being politely english there is always an apology.


3. Guaranteed pictures of Britnay, Paris, Macca's ex wife or the latest z lister that stumbled out of a reality tv show. Someone tell me why I want to see them on Monday morning? please?





The good and the ugly -





1. The art work in London and how much I missed it - you get all sorts from art, dance, music, readings, public and private art.



2. Meeting people from all walks of life - from new Australian friends to people in exile from the Middle East as they no longer believe in the religion that dominates a large portion of their country, being able to practice my Spanish in a small restaurant, and they dont think Im showing off - well I at least think that. uh emm.



3. No matter how old you are you're never too old to act like - that. Can you believe I am still allowed out - into a bar with people that are all ages, and we have things in common when our feets tend to start tapping away together..



4. summer. there is an air of people starting to become happy..shaking off winter as I know it.



5. I can go to say hmm africa, europe or the middle east and it will take me no longer than 4 hours fly time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Oh my what style you have






The Argentinians are known for their style sometimes like Alexis (obviously group picture far left) , and sometimes it is only their eccentricities that take over any style that will leave you with you scratching your head.
The pictures of the daytrip was my introduction to the Argentinian country. To get you into the mood of the day, I was still getting over my events of Peru or somethings that had decided to attach for my trip back to Argentina so running around in the paddocks in this case wasn't for me. However I usually do like to go country. The place we visited was the family farm of Nadie (the girl second of the right in the picture above) in an area of the town called Rojas. I was packed off into a car with porteños drinking mate for around 3 hours. I have a taste for mate these days but it really makes you want to go to the bathroom - a lot, and the bathrooms were few and far in between for such a diuretic. My holding in muscles got a work out. In Peru I became somewhat of a vetran of holding on for long bus journeys. To date the personal record was held from Cusco to Lima, a 19 hour bus journey only going once when we stopped off nowhere but a concrete shed makeshift baños for all which smelt of vomit and urine. People were actually brushing their teeth eek an awful flashback and an odd tangent from my story. So lets get back to Argentina.

The intention of the trip was for the guys to do some filming of a multimedia background for a dance production (coming to England!!!). It is always interesting to me to watch filiming. In particular how someone has an eye for the perfect shot or will see some detail that I know my eye would not pick up. The farm was similar to those around the world. It had loads of big toys that you would expect to find in most working farms and the odd carcass of an animal that was being prepared for lunch hanging on the vernada. This place was very interesting. For me probably would have been better to avert my eyes from the veranda. But I still managed to hold for the fantastic food and more importantly the lemon pie and red wine - is there a bad red wine in Argentina?

An important lesson learnt on this trip was the common ground shared between the Antipodeans and Latinos of a good song which must be played over and over. Inclusive of air musicians and loud singing.
The country is beautiful and made me a little nostalgic given it was very much like Australian landscape. I was in slight envy given that these guys were working. What a great job. At one point though the sound guy had to run behind the car while they were taking film of the landscape of the farm, and unfortunately got slightly entangled in the wire to the camera, professionally he untangled himself and still managed to keep up with the speed of the car. bueno. After our long day, well my long day of peeping around big toys and beautiful landscapes, we stopped off into town for a beer and made our way back into Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Machu Picchu and Cusco II






There is a very good reason why Machu Picchu was awarded one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Many people I know have been to MP either via the Inca Trail or the train and walk up to the site. It is spectacular. We spent the night before in Auga Calientes a small village at the base of the mountain, and then made our way up early the following morning. You cannot spend less than a full day in MP, there is so much to see and do. I also realised that I have an issue with heights and the trip up to the sun dial left me a little shaky. This place feels like you are on top on the world, it is so steep, and when you have a narrow path to walk on and a sheer drop it is not for the faint hearted. I am a bit of a wuss. But pushing through it was worth making it to the sundial, which is the Inca trailians have a first glimpse of the lost city. We both then spent the day rummaging around the ruins. Bueno.
If I am completely honest Cusco is awful. The town and surrounding areas are very beautiful but it is a false tourist bubble. Tourists by in large dominate this town and you get hassled to buy trinkets every second step you take. One smart person wore a tshirt that read "No Gracias". I was very embarrased to be a traveller when you see a lot of people in the main square very drunk or on drugs. The local "healing drink" San Pedro was advertised and from one traveller I met was in fact a hallucinagenic. Why!! The locals lie to you including at one point where a small shop said it had bread when in fact they would have had to go to another shop nearby to purchase it and then sell it back to us at a higher price. Having to pay gringo prices does become part of travelling in parts of South America. Cusco has in fact a three tier pricing system, prices for gringos, prices for people from Lima and then the price for the locals in Cusco. With a high rate of poverty locals should have the right to pay less, but when the locals here also discriminate against themselves I am a little less inclined to pay a higher rate. If you have been to Cusco did you ever wonder why you do not see a local at one of the bars in the central area or be allowed to roam around in the stores that tourists do. By no means it is not that they dont want to associate with us, it is because they are not allowed into these places.
The air is not the best, so I happened to get ill with a respiratory infection. Cusco sits at around 3300m so not being well and having dealing with higher altitudes I decided rather than spend more than my two days in bed to see a doctor. Our hotel had advertised that they have medical services. This service as we found out was to try and call a doctor, when they couldnt get through they said sorry they are no longer operating and walked away without any further information to help out.
We seemed to be met with frustration everywhere. Then we happened upon South American Explorers to get some information for travelling further. A lady called Janice was helping out a friend on an early Saturday morning, an English lass who had been in Peru for two years. She was lovely and also owned a local restaurant which soon became our local. Young Fanny was celebrating her birthday so after a couple of days in Agua Calientes and MP we made our way back to Cusco had some cake and a drink at Janices Cuban Bar. I think without meeting Janice our trip to Cusco would have been completely awful!!
After our return to Cusco we decided to see how we were going to go on, possibly through Puno and into Bolivia or down through Tacna into the Atacama Desert in Chile. We took ourselves to the local bus station. No buses were running south due to protests and Bolivia was in fact shut down due to problems in La Paz and the border areas. Stories came in about large protests where buses had rocks thrown at them, stopped and robbed, and deaths of people in the protests were left upon the sides of the roads. An awful situation. At one point I had had enough, I was at a counter, my hands going numb as I was getting accustomed to high altitude again (MP is in fact lower than Cusco), and being told we could not get out, how i wanted to leave Peru right then and there. In hindsight we were very lucky to be in Cusco and not on the bus the night before to Puno where no doubt we would have been caught up in some of the problems or being stuck in Bolivia for the 'indefinite period' until the protests stop. They were protesting against water contamination, why and how they become violent is a sad situation. We did see some of the buses come back into the terminal none of which were left untouched, graffiti, dents or windows smashed with the rocks.
So our next avenue was to get a bus back to Lima. We could not get down to either southern border for a week, so with time being tight we looked at bus companies to Lima. Our usual company was booked out. We headed back to the SAE clubhouse to try and get some more information on the protests. On the way there we were told by a taxi driver that the bus company we usually used had just been in a bad accident where 24 people had been killed and that we should not use them. He told us about another company, a little dubious about this person more likely getting a commission if we booked with this bus company we tried to do some more research. We had also found out that the accident was on the Panamerican which is the same highway i had my accident in Ecuador, and could see that it would not necessarily be the fault of the bus driver given most people driving on this road are pretty bonkers!!So four hours later we looked at some companies decided on one and we finally had our tickets back to Lima.
The road from Cusco to Lima is not a great road. It resembled a rollercoaster ride with loads of unmade sections. One of the drivers thought he was a in the formula one, so these combined leads to a few panic attacks over the 19 hour journey and an unheard request to slow down on the curves when the bus felt like the top half may snap off. I had serious thoughts about whether I was really made for backpacking in South America after this.
So the plush ladies we are after landing in Lima we had a manicure and took a flight back from Lima to Argentina. Back in my beloved Buenos Aires. What a wonderful surprise to land when it started to snow, it was magic. It had not snowed here in nearly 90 years, frio si!! pero muy hermosa.

Machu Picchu and Cusco I






Arequipa II





After much deliberation of our choice of route we decided to head from Lima to Arequipa. I must say here that South American Explorers have been a great resource on my travels, with the exception of one lady at the Lima office who decided that information about how her grandmothers knitted socks did not keep her warm on the bus from Lima to Cusco was more important than border crossings at Bolivia..



We caught a bus for 14 hours to Arequipa. The first photo uploaded on the first Arequipa section is a picture of what we drove through, which is pretty barron, and is an extension of the Atacama desert.

We met a couple of friends that Fanny had travelled with previously and we decided to head on a two day trip with them to Colca Canyon, one of the world deepest caynons. I will say that I was surprised at how developed Peru was but it started here at how annoying it can be to get a straight answer or in fact be given the right information from the Peruvians. We were suppose to be going on a trip and do some hiking with our friends. We were put onto a seperate trip and hiking involved a two day car trip with ony 1 and 1/2 at the most outside of the car when we reached the watch point for condors...so not exactly a walking trek but I did get a suberb picture of how touristy this place is, just look at the photo of the people taking photos of birds...and this was one of the smaller groups there.
Pan pipe music, who was the person to think of blowing into a tube covering songs by Celine Deion. On the way to Colca Caynon you pass a point at 4900m, yes I hit altitudes again. However when at lunch with a headache from altitudes the locals think it is a great idea to play piercing pan pipe music. Some how the two dont go together, and boo to the people who make payment to these guys and encourage this.
We reached our hostel and where at high altitudes the tempatures are freezing. No heaters and warm water for a shower. We were looking to the hairdryer as a makeshift heater. Anyone who thinks that taking a hairdryer on holiday as a luxury item can think again.