Saturday, October 25, 2008

"I love it when a plan comes together"

- Col. Hannibal Smith, The A Team.

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If people could be classified as one of the A Team, I would say I was Col. Hannibal Smith with a dash of BA Barcus. My friend Cheryl is a bit more like Murdoch, loveable but slightly, um, well how do you say it - insane. She's the delusional one who is convinced that Vancouver is a nice place. And she's also a crazy lady that demand I post more often even though I'm not convinced I have much to say at the moment.  See, told you she was crazy. 

The biggest news to report is the new map up above and to the right. It's all new complete with multi-coloured route markers - ooooo, aaaaahhhh - that show the new itinerary we've decided on. After my momentary panic of what to do and where to go I think I've figured it out (well for now at least). So here's what we've got so far.

Central America:
Southern Mexico: 3 weeks
Belize: 2 weeks
Guatemala: 3 weeks
Honduras: 3 weeks
Nicaragua: 3 weeks
Costa Rica: 2 weeks
Panama: 2 weeks

South America: 
Ecuador: 3 weeks
Peru: 3 weeks
Bolivia: 3 weeks
Chile: 3 weeks
Argentina: 5 weeks
Paraguay: 1 week
Brazil: 5 weeks

South Africa: 4 weeks
Lesotho: 1 week
Namibia: 3 weeks
Zambia: 2 weeks
Malawi: 3 weeks
Tanzania: 6 weeks
Rwanda: 2 weeks
Uganda: 2 weeks
and then
Ethiopia and beyond.

And that's where the dots on the map stop. Not because that will be the end of our travels. I hope not. But because that's as far as I'm allowing myself to plan at the moment. And by planning I mean, filling in an excel spreadsheet that looks a lot like a day planner. We still hope to carry on travelling on into Asia via Russia. But there's no need to get ahead of ourselves (that's a note more for me than you btw).

As it is, I've already been collecting tonnes of hostel, tour and adventure links in my profile. You can check them out there. Yes, I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to planning.

Another list I've started is things I'd like to do. This trip is completely selfish for me, in the sense that it's all about trying things I want to do. Here's a list of the top 10 in no particular order.
  1. Learning to scuba dive in Honduras
  2. Seeing the Galapagos
  3. Seeing Easter Island
  4. Getting competent in Spanish (and revive my French)
  5. Taking the slow boat through the glaciers of Chile and Argentina
  6. Cage diving for sharks in South Africa
  7. Searching for gorillas in Rwanda
  8. Climbing Kilimanjaro
  9. Seeing the big 5 on safari (although I'm sure I'd settle for 1 out of the 5)
  10. Experiencing the world with Adrian

Out of these 10, the closest to being ticked off is the language thing. I've been teaching myself Spanish off and on for about a year. And how's it going? You tell me.

Puedo hacer los phrases basicas. Y puedo leer despacio los libros sin el diccionario. Pero hablo muy malo. ¿Verdad? 

Well, I'm working on it, okay. I've finished my intro spanish tapes, I mean mp3s. I'll soon finish my beginner's book before I undertake the first year MIT spanish course. So hopefully I'll improve before I have to put it into practice.

As for the other things on the list, some of them are pretty crazy and I'm not even sure if I'll actually go through with them. But if I do, I hope Cheryl doesn't mind if I start classifying myself as crazy Murdoch. 

And with that it's time for an update ( I actually first posted this without it).

So where are we now?

location: Toronto, Canada
ETD: March 15, 2009
savings: $36,498

Friday, October 24, 2008

Read all about it

Thanks again to wiki for this photo

When I was about 7, my dad bought me two books that had lots of words and no pictures. Real grown up books called The Coral Island and King Soloman's Mines. And I still have the books. It took me forever to read these adventure stories. But they're probably the reason I have such a travel bug. Every description I read exposed me to exotic places, people and animals I wanted to see for myself. And I was lucky that although my parents weren't world travellers they sent me on every school trip they could so I could feed the bug.

Fast forward about 25 years when Adrian and I were planning our trip to Peru. Thanks to the wonders of google and the recommend of fellow ThornTree posters I discovered two blogs: Conor's Mildly Thrilling Tales and The Global Trip. Both followed the adventures of two guys travelling solo around the world. From the first entries, I was immediately hooked and gave up more than a few hours sleep to catch up and follow along with their entries as they made their way around the planet.

Although both of their blogs made me feel like I was there with them, I wasn't. So the next step was finding a way to visit all these places myself. Thankfully, Adrian was fully onboard. And 3 years later it's getting close to being a reality.

As we've been planning, we've read alot of other blogs and books. So I thought other's might appreciate some of the inspiring reads we've found.

Of course, I'm a huge fan of <Lonely Planet guidebooks - even when they've led me astray as they did in Vancouver. I've got the complete Shoestring guides set and have been using them to plot our adventure. They are already horribly out of date in terms of pricing and contact info but a little google magic fixes that. 

Rough Guides has a great book called First Time Around the World. A must have and read and study for anyone thinking of taking off. It's rather straight but that's what you want in a guide book. 

I suggest reading it in tandem with Vagabonding. If the Rough Guide is all about getting the your physical world in order, Vagabonding is all about the mental. It's rather philosophical but in a good way - and I don't know how many times i'd stumble across a passage and think "that's exactly what I was thinking but I never had the words to describe it. It's like he's in my head". 
Admittedly sometimes the philosophical can be too much. Thankfully there are some great websites inspired by this book where a bunch of author's contributing a wide variety of articles to help you in your quest to become a Vagabond. 

Here's an annotated list of of other resources in a loose chronological order of when I came across them.

Michael Palin's stuff: Seeing Michael Palin on TVO was always a little treasure when I was a teenager as he followed the footsteps Hemmingway and Jules Vernes.  I have a couple of his coffee table books (always picked up for pennies from the clearance section over the decades) and while I can now recognize that many of his journeys are unattainable to the average backpacker, they were one of my first inspirations. Plus, he was in Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda - what's not to love?

Lonely Planet/Globe Trekker/Pilot Guides TV: Ian Wright is my hero. While Michael Palin was always the observer, Ian is the participant. The way he interacts with people he encounters reminds me that travelling is about getting involved and not watching stuff from the sidelines. Interaction over observation. And he certainly makes it look fun. Adrian and I saw him speak at Convocation Hall a few years back and I he was so... so... normal. Just a kinda geeky and awkward guy who happens to travel to some pretty awesome places. He knows he's lucky and doesn't forget it. No wonder I've been a fan for 20 years. 

Chasing Che: Retracing Che's motorcycle journey across South America for your dissertation - why didn't I think of something fun this when I was writing mine? Regardless, it's a great travelogue as the author shares the trials and tribulations of travelling solo through many different cultures and countries adding in a thin Che political filter (Latin American politics light). It began Adrian and I's own accidental retracing of Che's steps. Hopefully we won't end up dead in Bolivia too. 

The Beach: when I read this in the mid nineties I was blown away by the idea of an individual taking off to far away Thailand. It seemed so seedy yet so decadent - exactly what 20-something I was attracted to. I read it again this year and was struck by how immature and annoying the characters were. Interesting how time and experience can completely change one's perspective. Oh yeah and the movie sucked. 

Bill Bryson: any of his books. His humour is so spot on. My first introduction to him was in 1999 during a raucous Hogmanny (New Year's Eve) in Edinburgh crashing on the floor of a friend's flat with 8 Brits. Caught in the crossfire of competing regional accents, I ducked and picked up the copy of Notes from A Small Island that was lying around and quickly devoured it. I don't know if it was my outsider status at the time  but everyone of Bryson's North American observations about Britain was dead on and hilarious and timeless. A girl. Travelling solo. Through really odd countries. I'll take Obscuri-Stan for 200,  Alex. Megan's site is a great travelogue from a unique perspective. She shows that no country is off limits (within reason) if you want to go there. It's also a great reference. She shares all her financials - something few people are willing to do for some strange reason. Oh and she responds to emails promptly and thoroughly. She's pretty awesome.

Holidays in Hell: 80s memoir of travelling to some whacky places courtesy of P.J. O'Rourke. I loved the spirit of this book. In a weird way it's the travelogue I related to the most. Although a little warning some of the terms he uses later in the book are a little irking for my PC addled brain. Amazing how appropriate the politics are 20 some years later. 

Adventures of a Continental Drifter: series of short travelogues by one guy. Interesting for the perspective of a former American flight attendant travelling after 9-11 but also because he's black. The outsider in many cultures and just another face in the crowd in others. A great read because he doesn't try to make sense of anything that happens he just experiences it and shares it with us.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism: This one isn't an inspiration but I feel the need to include it because I take it as a cautionary tale. The author's attitude and adventures are exactly what I want to avoid while travelling. All selfish and self important "what's in it for me" mentality. The guy has an ego the size of Greenland and like to think he's living on the edge and writing like Hunter S. Thompson. But his actual adventures and experiences are pretty tame, and lame. Perfect contrast to P.J. O'Rourke who downplays the real craziness happening all around him.

I have another hundred books and movies set in certain countries that I could add to my list of inspiration. Don't worry I won't. Every time Adrian and I come back from a trip, the one constant on our customs declaration has been books. (yes it means we have a lot of books waiting to be packed up before we go, don't remind me). Reading them is a great way to revisit the places for free. And on one occasion buying a book was an adventure itself. 

In the Cusco, Peru airport as we were waiting for our flight to the Amazon, Adrian was at a newspaper stand looking for NFL news (I know, don't get me started). Out of luck he was flipping through the rack of books on Macchu Picchu when another customer started talking to him about Macchu Picchu. This gentleman happened to be an author and the book Adrian happened to be leafing through was his. Adrian had a great conversation with the quirky man in the panama hat and when Adrian bought his book, he signed it for him. 

Reading can't replace the real thing but sometimes it can be an adventure in itself.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Let's start at the very beginning - wherever that is.

Excuse me, do you know the way to... to... wait where are we going? Good question and one we thought we'd answered.

However, circumstances intervened - Adrian found himself without work for a few months, our anniversary trip required an expensive detour, pre-trip expenses are adding up - and our savings haven't accumulated as fast as we hoped. But we're not too far away. In fact we're only a couple of months behind. But all these hiccups made us realize that we should probably over save - justincase (justincase of natural disaster, justincase of a tough returning job market, justincase we need to pay ransom to our kidnappers, etc) .

Unfortunately, this means redoing our itinerary. Now understand, I'm a closeted control freak (okay, maybe not so closeted), so I need the security blanket of a planned route. But I know that these itineraries are never set in stone. And thankfully, when we've had to deviate from past travel plans, Adrian has stepped in to take care of stuff while I sit rocking in a corner clutching my itinerary.

So here I sit, once again looking at a map of the world and wondering where to go. And there are so many options it's a little dizzying. In fact I just starting typing out a list of options and when I got to number 11, I deleted the list for fear of losing the few readers I have. So this post is far less informative than I hoped it would be.

I posted to Lonely Planet's Thorntree looking for advice, and only got one response, from Donna, my virtual travel friend. (thanks Donna! lots of great tips and I halfheartedly blame you for introducing options 6-11 ). But I'm realizing that Adrian and I are the ones that have to make the decision.

Our requirements are complicated.
The only must do things on our trip are South America (Adrian) and Africa (Liz). So these our priorities.
I've been learning Spanish and would hate to lose it before we can use it.
We want to fly on as many StarAlliance carriers as possible to capitalize on Aeroplan points.
We don't want to spend more than $1000 on any airfare leg.
Our savings will probably cover 500 days (at $100/per day)

And this is where we've ended up (mentally): either Central American to South America to Africa to ?, OR South America to Africa to ?, OR Africa to South America to Asia to ?. Each have their pros and cons and each time we think one is in the lead, something makes us change our mind.

Feel free to add your two cents. Literally (if you visit any of the google links on the righthand side). And figuratively (by adding a comment).

Oh and slightly good news. Adrian's contract has been extended for another 4 weeks so we have a bit more cash to look forward to. And I finally got a retroactive raise (only 6 months late).

So where are we now?

location: confused in Toronto
ETD: March 15, 2009
savings: $30,998 (but hoping for a big jump in the next month)