Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catching up is a little bit hard to do


You may have noticed that I haven't blogged much lately. The good news is that it's partially because I have been traveling and struggling with an absolutely enormous pile of photos and thoughts. Now I've had just over a month at home, and it's cold and dark outside, so it is finally time to create again.

Winter in Norway - A time for indoor activities and/or outdoor freezing.
So where have I been? Well, in May I went to Madeira for a week, surprising my parents who were already there. That went quite well. Then summer came, and I spent it traveling around Norway. As you may know, Norway has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and I will try to show you some examples of this in a while.

My big trip of 2013 was a six week escapade with my girlfriend through large parts of South America, from October to December. It was a bit of a highlights tour, with Easter Island, Salar de Uyuni and Foz do Iguaçu, but we managed to fit in some additional places of less fame, but plenty of beauty. All in all it was an excellent adventure, and what follows here is my account of the first few days.

By the way, if you haven't already discovered that Google+ [https://plus.google.com/] is a great place to follow travelers and photographers, I encourage you to try it out. I'm certainly followable there, with updates and photos published much more often than I get around to do any actual blogging here.

So, here goes. Whirlwinding through South America, Part One.

We started out by flying to São Paulo. One reason was that it was the cheapest ticket we could find to South America. Another reason was that we are geocachers, and if you don't know what that is, but you're interested in traveling, I'll just wait here while you learn about something you as a traveler must know.

You see, in the rainforest just a few hundred kilometres west from São Paulo, a very special geocache is hidden. Sure, it's just a box in the wilderness, but it's only been found a hundred or so times in more than a decade. It's the last survivor of a dozen or so "Planet of the Apes" geocaches, and it's in the middle of a nature reserve with lots of amazing animals, birds and insects, so we figured that since we were in South America anyway, we might as well try finding it. (Or, you could argue, my girlfriend decided that since the geocache is in South America, that was where we would have to go. You choose.)

Landing in São Paulo is fine, because the airport, Guarulhos, is not in São Paulo at all, but located a safe distance outside it. I really loathe São Paulo, having visited it before. It's incredibly large, street after street after street of huge apartment complexes, inhabited by 17 million people who I'm sure are generally nice individuals, but as a group they tend to feel like a plundering army out to get you. Because many of them are. It has been getting better lately, and not being a drug dealer improves your chances for survival a lot, but there's a lot of petty crime. That's just the way it is.

So when we went straight from the airport to a car rental place (Thrifty, easy shuttle service, super-friendly people), I was a bit worried. Each time I have visited Brazil before and observed the traffic, I have congratulated myself on being a bus passenger instead of a driver of a car. As a nation, the chances of dying in the traffic in Brazil is about 8 times larger than in my country, Norway. I didn't really worry about that, though. It's more just that the probability of huge hassles is so large. Either you'll bump into someone, or they will bump into you, and there's going to be a lot of paperwork related to insurance. And then there are the typical road robberies, followed by the boring and frustrating procedure you have to go through to get a new passport and all that.


Oh, and I should probably mention that I got my driver license in Brønnøysund, my hometown in Northern Norway, where we have no multi-lane roads, no turn-abouts, no traffic lights and no one-way streets. But I have logged a lot of hours in the Grand Theft Auto video games, so I'm definitely qualified for driving anywhere in the world.

Still, the geocache we were looking for is hidden almost 400 kilometres away from the airport, in a location where no scheduled bus will get you even close to. So a rental car it was. The rental people prayed for us and gave us a semi-automatic to protect ourselves with, and off we went. Semi-automatic car, not gun, of course. And by that I mean that it tended to want to do it's own thing, but we managed to talk sense into it most of the time.

Driving through São Paulo
The drive from one side of São Paulo to the other was nerve-wrecking. We drove really fast, and the main road west kept splitting and joining and not having many signs at all saying what that meant for us. Numerous motorcyclists weaving their narrow way between the cars just added to my anxiety.

We of course had brought GPS, so we just kept on going in the right general direction, figuring that this would eventually lead us where we wanted to go. It worked well enough, and after a while we could turn onto a toll road. This was bliss. It was rather expensive, but well worth the money. As a result of the toll, most Brazilians crowded onto the free and pot-holed alternative, while we could relax on a wide and almost deserted perfect highway.

Eventually we had to leave the highway, and we entered a small road. We went through a village, and the road lost its asphalt. Another village, and the road turned into loose gravel, on which we still had another hour of increasingly worse road to go.

Both of these car models were manufactured in Brazil until very recently.

Our destination was Intervales State Park, where we had booked a room in a rustic cabin. It had a shower with reasonably hot water, and we could drive to a small hamlet 15 minutes away to get food. By sneaking up at night to the walls of the park ranger office and sit very, very quiet in the darkness there, listening to a ranger having an amorous conversation with his girlfriend (and, it could seem, his second and third girlfriend), while we ignored the sounds of insect feet and flapping wings, we were even able to steal a faint wifi signal. And with that, all our basic needs were well catered for.
 
Somewhere in these hills there's a box hidden. Good luck on finding it!
I can warmly recommend the park to anyone with an interest for nature. There was plenty to see, touch and be bitten by. Hundreds of species of birds are present in the park, and you don't even have to do much walking to see them. Regarding animals, the most exciting possible sights are probably jaguar and tapir. We saw footprints probably left behind by both of them, and that was good enough for me. And bugs! Lots of mostly harmless bugs! More bugs than all my programming colleagues back home could create in a century. Wear long sleeves and enjoy.

As mentioned, the reason we had come all this way was to grab the last remaining of the Project Ape geocaches. There's not much I can say about that without seeming over the hills and far, far away crazy to you non-cachers out there, so I won't. Suffice it to say that it was an absolute pleasure to hike through wet rainforest, through dense jungle and morning mist, and eventually be able to spot a metal container full of trinkets from many parts of the world and a log book. We came, we signed and we left.

Easy find.

If you decide to go search for this geocache, I wish you the best of luck. Do tell us in the comments below how it went!

After this triumph, we went back to São Paulo. Only once have I been more relieved than when I could return the apparently undamaged rental car (the trick is to cover all scratches and dents in mud and dust) at Guarulhos Airport, and that was in 2001 when I finally got back to a proper toilet after having walked the Inca Trail for four days in a rather constipated condition.

Then we flew to Buenos Aires. I'll get back to you about that. In the meantime, you can find more photos and details about my time in Intervales right here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My Oslo Photowalk in June

I began this June by walking through Oslo, on the path down along the river Akerselva, through the city centre and to the Aker Brygge waterfront area. It went so well that I decided to let you accompany me on parts of it, here and now.

If this inspires you to do your own version of it, do show me how it went!

The occasion for my amble through Oslo was a "photowalk" organized  by a Google+ community consisting of Norwegian photographers. The idea is to walk together as a group consisting of all kinds of photographers, ranging from guys barely able to carry all their equipment to others just waving around an iPad. Then you're all free to ask each other questions, point out interesting details, and in general just figure out how to take the photos you always want.

That's how it typically starts out, anyway. After a while people start helping each other buy beers instead, but I still very much recommend giving photowalks a try!
The theme for this walk (there's often some sort of competition during events of this kind) was "Communication". I quickly found my theme, a different one, under a bridge in Nydalen. "For moro skyld" means "Just for the fun of it". The only sensible way to relate to photography, as long as you don't have to make your living from it, is to do it just for fun. In my opinion.
In addition to the herd of photographers walking, there may also be some models coming along, willing to do anything you request, as long as it's not too crazy. "Now run in front of that bus", "Follow the duck", "Buy me an ice cream". That sort of thing.

It can be an interesting experience if you're not used to directing people to pose. Here's a guy who made a girl freeze her toes off in the river, but I decided that I needed both of them in my photo in order for it to be any good. 

Although we're in a city, we can still photograph nature. I was just sitting quietly on the ground when these two came waddling towards me. They seemed to try telling me to stop taking photos and bring out some old bread instead. Or something like that. I'm not entirely sure what they said. Ducks can be hard to read.
I found this sticker to be less convincing than it ought to have been. ("Oslo - A cleaner city - With your help".) I don't know what went wrong, but that place in particular didn't look neither clean nor well maintained. Maybe it's a demonstration of what will be the result unless we do our bit and keep things nice. 
This may look like it's from a war memorial or something, but it's actually just a lot of fencing in a small garden along the river. Maybe someone's doing research on which paint lasts the longest or something. The fences seemed to serve no real practical purpose.

This factory factors no more. It was closed down in 1997, but probably looks a lot better now than it did back then. 
I don't mind thunder and lightening, especially as long as it stays a kilometer or two away from me. Pretty clouds is a lot more interesting than a dull blue sky.

One of the Herrey Brothers also took a walk along Akerselv on this day. Never heard of them? Forgotten them? Click this link. You're welcome, and good luck with getting through the rest of your day.
The Psalm Maniac in the underpass of Vøyenbrua Bridge seemed to enjoy himself. "Haha, you just run, silly people, God will always catch up with you in the end!" is what he's thinking. 
And then he was back to his usual, sinister self: 
"All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all"
I'm not that good at reading tribal tattoos, but I think this must be a Mohican. The hair is a pretty good indicator, but another one is that if you keep on taking a nap on the railing of a small bridge across a raging river, your tribe will soon be down to its last surviving member.
Definitely one of the most spectacular crocodiles on offer in Oslo, a block north of the club Blå.
I found a bunch of city cats to hang with. I felt even more grey and boring than I usually do. 
I felt similarly dull outside the Blitz Building as well, where Synne Sanden gave a concert. Then again, most of the people around me there had probably consumed a lot more magic mushroom than I had. Still, her performance was really good.
Her fans agreed with me, and they knew all the lyrics.  
I don't know what's going on here, but at least one of these two saw something they didn't like, I think. I hope that something wasn't me. 
Just in case, I escaped into the crowd at Kontraskjæret. The audience almost outnumbered the trash lying around after a long day of concerts there. Morradi was playing, and despite the fact that there were a lot of people smoking, I'm pretty sure there was no nicotine involved. Rappers...
When Morradi ("Your mother") says "Say Yeah!", you say "Yeah!". That's how it's gotta be.
After eight hours of walking (and a bit of drinking), we ended the photo expedition on Tjuvholmen. Other people present there had just barely started their evening. 
You know it's time to go home when this is how people pose for a final group shot for the day. 
And if you have people like this in front of you in the taxi line, you should probably just start walking instead. Aker Brygge has lots of very firm upper class people that really knows how to eat with a knife and a fork. You don't mess with them. 

Thank you for coming along! Now it's your turn. Show me your photo walk in a place you know well.

Please! #8D)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Playing my cards

I've tidied up my cluttered desk a bit, uncovering not only travel sickness bags, but a fairly sizeable collection of postcards as well. Some are lying around because I never got to send them, while others are so ugly and bad that I could never make myself put them in the mail. Here are fifteen examples of the latter kind.
The Los Angeles card is from 1995, back when year 2000 still was a little bit sexy, and well before digital photography started pushing the standards of how good a postcard photo needed to be. Someone has just positioned themselves at a random spot in LA and taken a photo while leaving the shutter open for 30 seconds or so. Pretty basic stuff, but it was all the rage in the 1990s.
Berlin was going through an incredibly intense construction phase during the years between the fall of The Wall and the day the city again was to become the capital of Germany. Half the city centre looked like this, so they just made a postcard of it. I suppose it catered well to the engineer tourists of Germany, at least.
So, the owner of Hotel Montemar, probably in Marbella, Terrormolinos, or something like that, was very happy with his establishment, and decided to have a few thousand postcards of it printed. I'm sure at least five or six of them were picked up by inexperienced tourists and sent back to non-judging parents and neighbours. I particularly like the shorts fashion at the time, and the fact that the photographer couldn't be bothered to wait for the moment when there wasn't a car at the right edge of the photo.

Death Valley Junction, also known as Amargosa, has around four citizens and doesn't really need its own postcard. Yet they made one. They used to have an opera house as well, but the woman that knew how to sing has now retired, and the place had to close. I think the photographer should follow her lead.
It is written in Romans 3:10, "None is righteous, no, not one;". To emphasize this, the very narrow selection of official postcard on sale in the Vatican contains this specimen. They've managed to both spell "treasury" wrong, and they've chosen a fairly peculiar image. It's twelve cloned faces looking down towards Jesus who is sailing on his cross somewhere at sea. Strange stuff.

Ah. It's time for an entry from Norway. If this postcard makes you want to visit Sulitjelma in Northern Norway, you may want to have your head examined. You can't walk around in this place, only back and forth on the single road through the village, and you'll probably have to share that road with lots of heavy traffic going to and from the industrial area at the bottom of the photo. Start at the church, and then walk towards the factory until the smog gets too bad, and then run back to where you came from. 
Everyone loves the Pantanal! They have excellent wildlife, including crocodiles (well, caimans/jacare) and huge anacondas. Generally, as you can see, they are busy killing each other, but they'd love to see some tourists arrive, so that they can have a taste of that as well.
Of all the beautiful local species they could have chosen to put on a postcard, Kenya chose a cat. They didn't even bother to make paper for the card, instead they just put the postcard straight onto some strange piece of bark. The cat and the text has been etched onto the card using open fire, I think. 

This card is probably from Mombasa, but from a Mombasa in a different universe and a different time. The city doesn't look like this anymore, but as long as you have postcards left from back when, you still must sell it in the shop, you see. No matter how much damaged folding, direct sun and various stains have added to its surface, of course.

Tijuana! The place to go when you want to spend your honeymoon being pulled from bar to bar through the streets by a donkey wearing a hat and painted to resemble a zebra for the day. Just bring your own bulletproof vest, and you'll be fine!
Oh, Africa... If there's one thing I have recurring dreams of after going there, it must be the bean soup that just keeps being served while on safari in the Serengeti. That's a nightmare you'll never get rid of, that's for sure! It doesn't even help at all that the soup is being served by a kudu. On the back of the card, they actually have had the nerve to include the recipe! Who on Earth would want that?!

In the north of Thailand and Vietnam, the locals always put on their nicest traditional dress when they go down to the stream to do the laundry. As if! That girl rightfully looks suspicious at the photographer, probably wondering when she will be paid what she has been promised to pose for this weird photo.
Another shot of animals in Africa! The photographer wanted to illustrate the wide variety of local species, and used Photoshop to provide it. Either that, or the animals I have encountered have been a less social bunch than these guys are.
Another Norwegian candidate, making it all the way to the second place on my list of horrible postcards. Welcome to Sømna, where you'll find mountains, sunsets, sunrises and... the oldest preserved shoe in the Nordic countries! ("Nordens eldste bevarte sko".) It belonged to old Arnt of the marshland, who in turn had inherited it from his great uncle, Thorvald. Well, not really. They just found it in a bog, and it's estimated to be more than two thousand years old, so let's just assume that it probably is the oldest shoe around from this part of the world. Still, is this really what you would tell the people at home you saw when you went to Norway?

Oh well. By now you should be prepared for the utterly, utterly ugliest postcard that has turned up during my cleanup here at home: 
It doesn't really need any comments, but let's try to recreate the thought process behind this masterpiece anyway:

Ahmed, who is a bit deaf: People keep asking for postcards, we should make one!
Ibrahim: Ok. I've got this photo of a camel. Surely we can use that?
Ahmed: Absolutely, but let's add a woman. Sex sells!
Ibrahim: Fair enough, but don't you have a nicer-looking one? That one looks a bit fruity?
Ahmed: Fruits? Excellent idea! I'll add this basket of fresh fruit
Ibrahim: Errm, ok, but shouldn't she be on a beach instead of on a camel?
Ahmed: YES! We'll add some sea, sun and sand!
Ibrahim: Are you sure one camel is enough?
Ahmed: No, let's add a couple more. Here' I'll draw them. I'll even add my uncle in the front.
Ibrahim: Perfect. Now, finally, we should have some text. Do you know any English?
Ahmed: Not really, but let's use what little I have. "Hello from Tunisia". No room for "Special price". Grrrr.

That's what I imagine, anyway. Oh dear.


I do have lots of pretty postcards as well, but I'll save that for some other time.



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Welcome to Gayruba!

A country whose Internet domain is .aw should be just cute and cuddly, but when we were picked up at the airport, we weren't sure what to think.

Just before leaving home, we had hastily booked a seemingly cheap place for an expensive island, without really checking around about it. We knew what it was called. Little David. But it was Francois the Giant, retired marine and current driver of huge, dented pick-up who were there to greet us. Fair enough. Being picked up cost only ten dollars extra, and that's a good deal on Aruba, so you can't be too picky about the vehicle.

He brought us to a house that has been converted into a five or six room guesthouse, just north of the capital of Aruba, Oranjestad. After negotiating with the resident guarding turtle for a while, we were allowed to enter.

Checking in takes a while here. It's done thoroughly, and it's just as much about checking you out as you checking in. How many rooms the place has, depends on whether you count the room of the owners, because if you're the right guy, you may get to sleep with them in their room. And that's the cheapest option! (I do suppose that they said this as a joke, but as you'll see, one cannot be sure.)


Here are some photos to recreate our introduction to the place. Let me just start out by saying we had no idea what we were in for, but it quickly became evident to us that we were staying somewhere that maybe is best described as a mash-up of a grandmother's living room and a gay porn movie. Which, of course, is something I hadn't really seen before, hence this blog posting.


The entrance looks nice enough. There are some cozy angels and kittens and dreamcatchers making sounds in the refreshing wind on the porch. Maybe there's a bit too much Jesus and Maria going on, but I'll be able to hide my atheism for a few days. Oh, and by the way, the password the Internet wifi is "pussycat", in Dutch. 
Oh, look! A funny little vintage box on the table. It seems like someone is mixing up their sentences, but still, how charming!
The pool looks nice as well. "Clothing is of course optional", our guide says. "Uhm... Ok!", we say.
Don't tell me you never wanted to be showered by a pig? It's very hygienic to be clean before you enter the pool, especially when clothing is optional.
There's a lot of, errr... interesting art on display around the pool. Often combined with rainbows, it seems.
Next to the pool there's a small, but well-equipped kitchen, and we're welcome to use it. If you need, say, a bottle opener, they certainly have got one! I've never seen a bottle opener like this before, but I'm sure it does its job well!
The owners are no strangers to traveling, themselves. And wherever they go, they buy refrigerator magnets as souvenirs. Let's see, they've been to San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Francisco and... San Francisco! I'm beginning to see a pattern. And it's sort of X-rated.
On a mirror in the hallway, this drawing is hanging, pardon the pun. This is Chris, one of the regulars here. He drew it himself! You like?

Oh well, that's enough showing around. Now it's time to see our room.
This is how one of the walls inside are covered. It appears to be the twelve pool boys here, who work one month each. It's very convenient to have them on the wall next to the bed, so that one can memorize them and then know who works here and who just stays here, when you go outside your room and meet others.  
In the bathroom there are a few more young men. They don't work here, but they do add to the decor. 

There are bathrobes in the room, his and hers, sorry, his and his. In lovely orange and brown silk.
Behind the toilet we find this shrine to beauty. On the little photo we are reminded how great the snorkeling and diving on Aruba is, and on the big photo, well, there's a naked dude sitting with his legs apart. For a romantic touch, there are candles, a heart on a stick and the smell of roses. Just what you need while taking a shit.
Also, when you sit on the toilet, this is what you look straight into. If you're not inspired to let go by this, you must be pretty constipated or dehydrated!
In the shower there are plenty of mirrors, so if you drop your soap, you'll easily be able to locate it again without having to turn around at all. Oh, and don't mind the camera above you. Ha-ha.
That's it. We have seen it all now. The place is currenty flying the flag of Canada, in honour of one of the current guests. I don't remember Canada's flag so colourful, but it's probably just something those French fancy-pants Canadians insist on.

Don't worry. I do understand what kind of place this is, and I loved staying there. Everyone, and they were all single men, were most polite and friendly towards us, despite us being of the heterosexual kind. They even kept their clothes on in the pool when we were around, and the weather was really, really warm!


So, if you wish to try a somewhat different, and fairly inexpensive, place to stay on Aruba, I very much recommend the Little David (Gay) Guesthouse. "We're dirty, but we're clean!", as they put it...