Monday, December 8, 2008

Australia Number 1!

The Downunders are competitive people. Now they have managed to become the number one polluting nation in the world (as in both hemispheres) per capita! Thanks to long distances that needs to be covered to move people and goods around, many a large town that is run not on power plants but on diesel aggregates, numerous heavily polluting mines and lots and lots of farting sheep, they're really running the planet down!

It seems they intend to keep this position. There's not much more they can do to become worse, but they sure try hard. Between Perth and the rest of the country there's both a road and a railroad. On the road there is no scheduled bus service. If you want to go by road, you'll have to buy a car and drive it across the Nullarbor plains. If you want to go by train, which presumably would hurt the environmental badness of Australia, you'll have to book your ticket well in advance. There's only ONE weekly train between Perth and Adelaide/Sydney, and on that train there are only about 124 sleeper seats!

The result? There are LOTS of flights, both cheap and expensive ones, to and from Perth, and people get on them. It seems that will have to be my option as well, although I really wanted to cross the Nullarbor by land. I've already seen the second longest straight stretch of land, near Coral Bay, so I don't think I'm missing out on much, but still...

What's more, Australia has managed the impressive feat of becoming the most obesive nation in the world! The US is really losing all their hegemonies these days. Food is not even particularly cheap here, they still eat and eat and eat, and leave most of the exercise to be done in Australia to their Olympic swimming team. Sustain-a-belly dwell-up-ment, they call it, I believe.

To make sure that nobody performs any slimming activities, the Australians have introduced tight limits on how many people are allowed to go on the most beautiful walks available in the country. On The Overland Track in Tasmania, for instance, only about 60 people are allowed onto the track per day. And a large portion of those who walk it are actually foreigners. Like me! I'll be going on December 24, yay! I still have to make my way to Tasmania in time for it, but that shouldn't be too difficult.

Right now I'm warming up for the Overland Track by walking sections on the Bibbulmun Track in the south of Western Australia. It's also a beautiful walk, with amazing, tall Karri trees. In a couple of months I'll show you the photos.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nature Calls

I just had the most intense cinema experience of my life, in the Sun Pictures outdoor movie theatre.

Since the wet season is starting, pretty much all tours and destinations north of Broome are closed down for the season. So, to get to see at least some of it, I went to see the movie "Australia", which was shot in the Kimberley region just north of Broome. Now, there's nothing special about the movie, but that movie and that cinema is just about the best combo I've come across ever since I tried putting potato chips on bread. You should try it once. Both the cinema and the chips.

The cinema is "the world's oldest picture gardens", which may be true, or maybe it's just something the Australians like to think, like they often do, and when they discover there's something older, better, faster, taller somewhere, they just add "in the Southern Hemisphere", and then they're usually right. Anyway, the place is from 1912 or so, and it hasn't changed much in the meantime. Everything is built in slightly termite-chewed wood, on the walls there are old movie posters, you sit in beach chairs on a lawn, and the popcorn tastes just perfect.

The movie, however, is brand new. Nicole Kidman is in it, but she is bare noticable compared to the main star of the movie, namely the landscape of the Kimberley. It's an easy plot. An English lady comes to Australia to see to her husband and her property. The husband dies, so that the lady can fall in love with a cowboy. WW2 begins, the Japanese are bad guys and the Aboriginals are good guys, and there's a happy ending. Fair enough.

While the movie is basic, watching it outdoors in Broome is fantastic, because:

* When the movie begins you discover that the screen has lots of geckos on it, running around and feasting on the flies that are attracted by the light from the movie. Some flies are caught by large bats instead, and the bats seem even larger when they're projected onto the screen as they fly in front of the light beam of the movie. And if that's not enough wildlife for you, you'll find that lizards and snakes wiggle their way through the grass just in front of you during the parts of the movie when the audience is quiet enough.

* It turns out that the cinema you're in also is IN the movie! Suddenly watching the movie is like looking into a mirror, except the people in the mirror are wearing 1942 clothing, and they look straight back at you. Surreal! (The movie was shot in the very same cinema.)

* The highlight of the movie was during a scene where Japanese war planes are on their way to bomb the town in the movie. I have no idea how they did it, but just then a large plane flew 50 meters above our heads, making a deafening sound! The cinema is right next to the local airport, so it could of course happening, but the timing was just unreal!

An evening to remember, for sure.

There's much more to tell, but the short story for now is that I flew back to Perth from Broome, and I am now doing the southern part of Western Australia. When I'm done with that I'll go to Tasmania. You see, I've managed to secure a place on the VERY limited access Overland Track there, starting on December 24. I am very excite!

I'll get back to you soon. If I don't fall down from the Bicentennial Tree tomorrow, that is. Google it. #8D)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Careless being carless in Karijini

Wohey! I've just spent some days in the prettiest thing Australia has on offer now that the impressive buttocks of both Kylie and Elle seems to have gone missing.

First you drive for hours and hours and hours across flat land that from a distance looks so nice, green and lush that you have to wonder why the sheep standing along the road look so grumpy. Then you make a stop, to pee or to pull a rotting kangaroo corpse off the road, or both, and you see that between the green bushes there's plenty of red, infertile dirt, and the bushes themselves are armed with long, sharp, lethal needles that could outcompete any kind of porcupine. Poor sheep!

Every 300 kilometers or so there's a petrol station and a roadhouse, and you don't drive past it. You stop, and you fill your tank with petrol at a price two or three times what you might have had to pay for it in any of this continent's major cities. Or if you're twelve years old or so, maybe you just spend all your pocket money for the entire week on a can of Coke or something like that. Life is hard, and expensive, in the outback.

Maybe you drive through Marble Bar, a place that a few hundred souls calls home, and they're proud of the fact that they officially live in the hottest town in Australia. The title was won when they for 160 days in a row could observe the thermometer rise to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 37.8 degrees Celsius. That's actually true, just look here.

Then, right in the middle of the dry hell, you suddenly arrive in the Karijini National Park. It's still a hot place to visit, but you don't care. Down in the many gorges in the park the temperature is bearable, especially because there's a large number of places you can swim and cool down, natural pools that underground rivers fill up with fairly cool water. Besides, it's all just so stunningly beautiful that you forget about the heat.

I spent the last 4-5 days in the park, almost all on my own. During this time of the year the temperature is usually even higher than what it has been lately, and because of this, very few people plan to go there to enjoy themselves between December and March.

I had been warned that I would have to bring all the supplies I would need. But when I arrived, I found a lovely camp, Karijini Eco Retreat, supported by the aboriginal community, where I could get cold drinks, and where I could rent a nice tent with a bed in it. And I could zip off the outer walls of the tent, so that at night a cooling breeze could come in and help me sleep, and in the mornings I would lie in my bed and look out at brilliant sunsets, beautiful colours gradually filling the sky, creating the perfect backdrop for the silhouettes of acasia and eucalyptus trees. Now, THERE's a good way to start your day!

I went on a walkabout in the park. Or to be more exact, I got lost. I carried plenty of water, so it wasn't really a problem. Well, I survived, anyway. I found my way back to the camp, but before doing so, I found a tree that stood by itself, gushing out blood. "That's weird", I said to myself, and photographed it. Back in the camp I showed the photo to the people working there, and they were impressed.

Apparently I had found a pharmacy tree, and it was bleeding/producing medicine as if there was no tomorrow, which was rather unusual, I was told. I took some people back to the tree and we gathered crystallized chunks of the "blood" from the bloodwood tree. The stuff is supposed to be good for your heart, and dissolved in boiling water it becomes a drink that will cure a cold and stop your coughing. They let me try it, but since I did not have a cold the medicine must have become confused, and helped me produce copious amounts of gas instead. It's a good thing I had a tent for myself, and that there were no immediate neighbours of it either.

Supposedly I got off easy. I met someone else who also had tried drinking The Stuff, and she had just started ejecting the contents of her stomach both upwards and downwards. At least she had lost her cough! I'll bring some blood crystals back home with me, so that you, my friends, also can get to try it. It tastes horrible.

Anyway, I'm still alive, and I have now vroomed to Broome. I haven't done much here yet, but I have bought new shorts. The last ones were torn and ripped in dozens of places after too much rough climbing in the Karijini cliffsides. It was SO worth it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Monkey Miarea

You just know you're off the beaten path in Australia when fruit grown in the very same country costs more in the shops than they do in shops in Norway.

And as if I needed further clues, when I was at the local pub the other night, people introduced themselves to me as Rex, Shelz, Jimboy, Mugsy, Pep, Skeg and Wookie. And those were not even made-up names, they had the driver licenses to prove that these were their actual names!

I temporarily settled in Denham, the "capital" of the Shark Bay shire. People there seemed to lead nice lives, although there weren't that many of them. Some of them mainly drink beer, others have several other jobs as well. When I wanted to rent a car, I was told to go talk to the hairdresser, as he also was the local rental company. Oh, and I should go to him outside school hours, as he was also the principal of the school there. When I finally got hold of him, it was of little use to me. The rental car (he only has one) would not be available until sometime next month. Oh well...

Denham has existed for quite a while. I found a tombstone from 1905 at the local cemetary. It may be difficult to live in Denham, but it must be even harder to die there. During the 103 years that have passed since the first grave was dug, only 65 people or so have succeeded in ending their lives in or near the town. At least that's my conclusion after having counted the tombstones. I had to ask someone whether this low number was just because they didn't usually put up a tombstone when someone was eaten whole by one of the many sharks in the area. But no. The only thing coming even close to a shark attack that anyone had heard about, was when a large, old, stuffed fish in the "restaurant" fell down during a particularly lively evening there, and hit someone in the head, causing a concussion.

I spent a day exploring the area on foot. Many a time my heart stopped as something completely unexpected jumped out of a bush just a few meters away and ran off into the distance. My best shock of the day was when the escapist turned out to be some kind of strange lizard that ran using only its hind legs, much like a person. I wish all animals would do that!

I also discovered a strange spider, Golden or Yellow Orb Something. It's venomous, but not really dangerous. Much like this blog. When you carelessly walk straight into its web, it's like walking into a rope or a hard-strung wire, and you do that a lot. Someone else have of course discovered it before me, and not only have they done so, they even have taken some of the spider DNA and merged it with goat DNA. So now there are goats walking around that instead of producing milk can be "milked" for really sturdy rope. This material is used to make bulletproof vests, even more robust than Kevlar. Scientists ARE mad!

Near Denham is Monkey Mia, a world heritage area. It's well-known for being home to large herds of seacows and dolphins. So I have spent the last couple of days feeding dolphins by hand and tipping sleeping seacows. At least I've done some of that, you guess which.

My next stop is Coral Bay. Good luck in finding that on the map!

Kalbarri never hosted the Winter Olympics

At last I managed to escape from Perth and the questionable "hostel" there. Now that I cannot be beaten up in a dark corner of the place anymore, I'll be happy to reveal that I'm talking about The Grand Backpacker Central in downtown Perth. I look forward to writing a report on the place, although I'm not sure whether I should submit it to or to the local police!

My first stop out of Perth was The Pinnacles near Cervantes. It's just thousands and thousands of pointy rocks, possibly fossilized tree trunks, in the middle of a small, yellow desert. It's a great place to visit, especially if you're into vivid colours and phallic symbols in general.

When I left the place, my camera told me that during my stay I had taken on average two photographs per minute. I must have enjoyed seeing it very much. Poor me, who sooner or later will have to go through all my travel photos and pick some of them for the rest of the world to see...

I moved on to Kalbarri, a cute and picturesque little fisherman's village with about two thousand inhabitants. It's located some 600 kilometres north of Perth. Since there aren't really that many alternatives, this means that lots of Perthians drive up there for the weekend, easily doubling the number of people in town.

The coziness of the place is in the details; it's nigh on impossible to buy even something as simple as a bread or a roll without having to spend half an eternity discussing the weather with the baker's wife. Oh, and in the afternoon, hundreds of pink cockatoos or something fly in to eat grass from the lawns in the village, so that the locals don't have to do any mowing. Very practical!

The beaches are nice and the streets see little traffic. So this is the kind of place where parents can let their children be children and run freely around, knowing that the worst that can happen is that they will fall and get a scratch on the knee. Or they could step on a snake, be bitten and die. Or they can fall in the water and be swiftly carried off to Africa by rip currents. Or they can be eaten by sharks. Or be horrifyingly burnt by strange, jello-y creatures of the sea. Or be struck by any of the many other surprises that Australian nature has in store for people equally or less careful than the late Steve Irwin.

I went for a walk of about 20 kilometers along the coast just south of Kalbarri. It's a national park with tall cliffs and ample supplies of coastal bush. It took nine hours to complete! That's partially because I had a talk with a park ranger about venomous snakes before I started walking, but mainly because there was so much to see along the trail: A super-blue ocean, whales on the move south to Antarctica, dolphins hunting for fish, kangaroos looking goofy and/or jumping about, and last, but not least, scenic viewpoints near parking lots, where you can enjoy incredible numbers of skirts flying straight up as the strong winds from the sea do their best.

Kalbarri is a windy place. At night the wind howls so much that you can only barely hear the snoring in the hostel dorm!

Next up is Monkey Mia. Even just the name of the place makes me want to go there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hostel from Hell

Tropical rain of the monsoon kind filled Singapore with dreary weather just as I arrived at the airport to leave for Perth, so I guess I was lucky with the weather. And with Singapore in general. When you go straight from there to Australia, there are some things you really notice and appreciate about Singapore.

Like everyone else, Australians are of the opinion that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. The difference is just that Australians seem to think that they are already on that other side of the fence. I'm not so sure that is completely the case.

As I sarcastically commented upon the price for transportation from the airport to downtown Perth, the driver mumbled something about that I should remember that Australia is a huge country, and that Perth is closer to the Moon than to Sydney.

I remain unconvinced that this was a relevant piece of information, or whether that is a fact or not. What IS a fact, though, is that Perth is located so far away from the rest of the world, that they seem to have no idea there's a world-wide financial meltdown going on. So here in Perth they still build skyscrapers and keep investing all the money they may or may not have. And to do this, they need lots of people to help them with construction work of all kinds. This means that backpackers from all over, desperate to make money on their Work Holiday Visa, are arriving in Perth like never before. And this, in turn, meant that I had a hard time finding anywhere to stay here. All the hostels were full, and I'm not really into five star hotels.

So, now I stay at the decidedly worst hole of a hostel I've ever encountered, except for that one time when I shared a room, and eventually a bed, with three rats in a little village on Java. And it's not even cheap! It IS dirty, however. And right in the middle of Perth. As flash as a rat with a gold tooth, as the Australians say.

We are few actual travelers staying there. I've met three so far, including myself. The rest are people who work long hours, and for the rest of the time sit in front of a TV, completely mentally gone. Oh, and there's a room full of Asians, more of them than there are square meters in the room, I think. They also pay way too much for the room, but in return they have not had to show their papers to the receptionist. Or tell anyone where they're actually from. Wherever that is, I am pretty sure that now they have more items in their beds than they ever owned at home. It's a complete mess.

We're not allowed to access the third floor. "It's too dangerous, the floors may collapse at any moment! If you go there, you will be evicted from the hostel!", the manager says. And then he goes up there. I'm just guessing, but could the floor house an urban marihuana farm, perhaps?

So now I'm doing all I can to get away from Perth, as supposedly it's easier to find a decent place to stay anywhere but here. I'll leave on a bus north to Kalbarri tomorrow morning, so I'm fine.

Yesterday I visited the Western Australian Museum and learned about the sand frog, which lives in the Great Sandy Desert, which sounds just about right. It's a fat frog, apparently, but 50 % of its body weight is "fairly dilute urine" housed inside one of the most impressive bladders of the whole animal kingdom. So, if you're lost in the desert and thirsty, just get yourself one of these, make a hole and squeeze out your frog juice! Yummy!

If there's anything else you'd like to know about survival in Australia, just wait for more blog entries and learn!


Sunday, November 9, 2008


After I visited Singapore 11 years ago (!), I wrote that I would probably never return to this place. And right I was, because Singapore of today is not at all like what it was back then!

Not only have people bought themselves new cell phones, they have also gained a LOT of weight! Several times I've been sitting at the metro here and thought that the person next to me must have fallen asleep, when it turned out that they were simply so obese that they snore even when awake. Have you seen "The March of the Penguin"? You know, the movie where masses of penguins come waddling across the ice, walking from the coast where they have become fat by eating fish, while others had to stay on the ice and hatch the new batch of chicks? Well, the sidewalks in Singapore look much like that.

It struck me when I and the Singaporeans were about to walk across the street when the green man said so. Last time I visited I was very much impressed by the efficiency of the local walkers. Now they have forgotten everything about walking in a big city. They slowly amble along,seemingly at random, with no coordinated direction or pace. When the two groups meet in the middle of a road that needs to be crossed, it often ends in disaster. People crash into each other, and some will fall over, onto their back, unable to regain a standing position. Sometimes cranes have to be brought in to remedy the situation. It's a sad sight. The Burger King here sells four storey Whoppers. Now, if that's not a sign of a nation in decline, I don't know what is.

Oh, and that whole thing with waiting for a green man before you cross the street? That was something that people took seriously eleven years ago. Snipers on the rooftops would kill of anyone that walked on red back then. So people waited for the green man, even when the nearest car was somewhere on the other side of India. Now? They just walk if they feel like it. I have seen no police around to convince people to do otherwise, and there are no more signs around warning about ginormous fines for offences like that. A sad development, in deed.

But there's one street that is easy and safe to walk across. Not to brag, but I believe that the street where my hotel is located hosts the best prostitutes in all of Singapore. I can't tell by looking at THEM (they all look the same to me, try your luck at if you think you can do any better), but the constant still-standing traffic, consisting mainly of single, sad-looking men, tells me everything I need to know. They are there 24 hours a day.

There are lots of 24 hour things around. For instance 24 hour suits. At first I thought they might be good hotel rooms for prostitutes. They're not. That will be 3 hour suits. 24 hour suits are really cheep clothes for business men. By the looks of them, 24 hours is not how long it takes to make them, but how long they will last before they fall apart. But hey, they're cheap!

Did I mention that people in Singapore are poor walkers? They slowly glide down the sidewalks, often stopping completely, forcing me to walk straight into them. The only way they can get going again is by pushing a button inside their nostrils. It's true! Or maybe not, but the fact of the matter is that people here pick their noses a lot, particularly while walking outside. Which reminds me of a joke I heard recently: My wife said that picking nose is disgusting, so now I have to do it myself. Oh well, enough of that.

I've been to many strange sights during the last three days, but the National Museum of Art brought the weirdest experience. I was really sweaty and foul-smelling after a long day of walking, and had planned to just pop by the museum on my way back to the hotel. It turned out that there was an official reception there, because a new exhibition of Korean artists was opening. The ambassador of Korea greeted me eagerly and pulled me over to a table where he told me to help myself to some grilled pig testicles and a large ration of butterfly larvae that had not yet suffered their deaths. Apart from that there were lots of nice things to look at there, some of them wearing cocktail dresses.

Anyway, there's lots more to tell about Singapore. I may tell you later, but now I'm going to the hotel to pack, and tomorrow morning I'm off to Perth, Australia!

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I've made it to Singapore, and so far everything has gone according to my non-existent plan. There has been only one minor obstacle, and that was this question on the immigration form to Singapore: "Have you ever been to Africa or South America during the last six days?"

Well, I "have been to South America and Africa ever" since the very first time I went to South America, a long time ago. Still, I decided to answer "No", since I figured that would increase my chances of being allowed entrance to Singapore. I have no idea why they would ask that question anyway. Maybe no one from Singapore have ever been there themselves, so if anyone could please tell them what it's like there, and whether maybe the Africans and South Americans would be interested in cheap electronics and plastics, they'd be very interested to hear about it? Maybe.

Yesterday was spent in London. I had eight hours to kill between the plane from Oslo and the plane to Singapore, so I took the underground to the city centre. A day pass on the entire underground network costs just 7 pounds, so it's a cheap option to waiting and eating at the airport.

Somehow I made my way to the Museum of Natural History. It's a charmingly dusty place, at least in the sections that aren't very new and/or popular. And the building itself is a gem. Lots of nooks and crannies for living spiders to hide in between their spider-web design sessions. And lots of interesting tidbits of information to discover on small signs all over the place. For instance, how do crabs go about reproducing, when the naughty bits of the female crab are hidden under a robust shell? Well, it turns out that the male crab will closely follow the female, often for several weeks, doing everything it can in order to make the female start ousting her shell. He's more than happy to help her out of her old shell, and when he finally succeeds, he'll be quick and do his business before the new shell hardens! In my experience, this is a fairly accurate description of how many men has to work in order to get their chosen women out of their pants!

I'll be off to work on my jetlag now, but I'm sure I'll be back with more interesting details about life in Singapore soon. For now, all I know is that there are many women in Singapore hanging around my hotel, and they have very little in common with crabs, it appears. (They may very well HAVE the crabs, though!) It's a real struggle to make my way into the hotel without at least one of them latching on to me. Some genius created this site to let you calculate how many five-year-olds you probably could survive a fight with. I reckon they should make a similar test regarding Singaporean prostitutes.

Bye for now!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Koalas and such

Finally! I bought my plane ticket (Oslo - Singapore - Perth - Sydney - Oslo) and I got my visa to Australia. Now, if British Airways can just avoid bankruptcy for a few more weeks, I'll be happily traveling again. Hooray!

And it's a real trip, too. Ten weeks! I visited Australia briefly back in 1998, but that time I just stayed on the well-beaten backpacker trail. This time I hope to go slower and see a different kind of places, mainly in Western Australia and Tasmania. If you're a regular reader of this blog and you live somewhere interesting in Australia, this is your chance to let me sleep on your couch! #8D) I promise to behave and discuss only safe stuff like politics and religion, which I know you Ozzies couldn't care less about, while I'll specifically not say anything at all about more explosive matters, like sports and beers!

Here are some other rules I will live by in order to survive:

1. Never ever put my hand down any hole or opening whatsoever. Inside there will always be some fierce, lethally venomous creature with sharp, long teeth.

2. Never ever try to talk using Australian slang. Unless I feel like getting into a physical fight. I will only listen, not speak. Australians use weird words and expressions, and it's really easy to say something that will offend someone. But I look forward to being offended myself, in creative ways. "I wouldn't piss in your ear even if your brain was on fire!" Subtle, eh? Or "Your sense of humour is drier than a Pommie's (an Englishman's) towel!" Australians are more than happy to indicate that the English do not wash very often.

3. Never ever walk anywhere without bringing a good map. It can be days between each time I find someone to ask directions from. I'd be likely to soon end up in more trouble than a one-legged frog in a snake pit, as they say down-under.

So, this sounds promising, don't you think?

I reckon I will soon enough learn much more about this strange island/country/continent. Just keep reading this blog and I'll let you in on the secrets little by little. I'm particularly sure I'll discover fascinating details about Australian animals. They come in three categories: Venomous, strange and sheep. From among the many strange animals, today I'll tell you a few things about the koala. Or the koala bear, as the English say, because when they first saw this furry, arboreal marsupial, they just reckoned it had to be some kind of teddybear. They can't possibly have checked very carefully.

All I learned about koalas during my last visit to Australia, was that at least one of them did not at all enjoy having his back stroked tenderly, and it would signal this dislike by making sounds that I until then had only heard from freighter trains, and by slashing innocent bystanders bloody with its claws. That's all you need to know to understand that you should keep your distance from koalas. Nevertheless, here are some more facts about the physiology of koalas:

The male koala has a two-pronged penis! And that is not because it might come in handy to have a spare penis, but because the female koala has two vaginas, and female koalas are no less demanding than, say, Madonna. Food and sex is therefore all that is on a koala's mind, simply because there is not room for anything else. The brain of a koala constitutes only 0,2 percent of its body weight. This means that the brain of a typical, ten kilogram koala weighs in at only 20 grams! This ranks it somewhere between a squirrel and a cat, animals that of course are substantially smaller than a koala.

It also means that if we accept the estimate that the koala population on the planet right now is about 100 000 animals, there's only about two tons of koala brains left. The koalas may not be threatened by extinction anymore, but the outlook for any koala zombies isn't too good.

When a koala baby, a joey, is born, it is blind, has no ears and no fur. All it is capable of is to crawl into the pouch of its mother, where it finds a teat to entertain itself with for the next six months or so. During that time the joey develops eyes, ears and fur. Eventually it grows too large for the pouch.

The transition to life on the outside is a major one. Not only will the infant have to hold on for its life to its mother's back instead of being safely inside the pouch. There's no more milk to be had either. From now on the diet will be excrements from the mother! Or maybe it's not exactly excrements, but it sure comes from a section of the same factory. Somewhere inside the mother's caecum/appendix, pap, a strange substance full of bacteria is created, and as it leaves the mother's butt, it becomes food for the child. The young one must eat this stuff in order to acquire certain bacteria. You see, koalas eat eucalyptus leaves, but koalas can not themselves break down those leaves into energy. The bacterias do this job for them.

Appendicitis is not a welcome disorder among koalas, as you may imagine.

That will have to do as a foretaste of what incredible pieces of information that are to come this way. I don't know about you, but I am very much looking forward to this trip!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

About Travel Writing

Maybe modern day books like "One for the Road" can be called travel journals, but I'm not sure. Something has changed. The age of the classical travel journal seems to have passed.

Marco Polo had an easy job amazing his temporary Europeans with tales from the Far East. He mentions a place "so far to the North that the Polar star shines from the south", and he talks about a forest inhabited by myriads of unicorns. To us these claims are clearly just lies. Back in his time, however, although many doubted him, no one could prove him wrong.

Likewise, few questioned the "slightly biased" reports given by early jungle-bound Europeans who wrote home about the pure, godless evils of cannibals and head-hunters hiding deep in the green wilderness. Even our own grandparents willingly brag about the dangerous odysseys they went through just to get to school. Oh, the beauty of accounts that cannot be verified!

Today, however, a trip to remote regions is no longer just for reckless people who are willing to risk their lives to experience something different. Pretty much anyone with four weeks to spend can find out for themselves what life is like at the Mount Everest Base Camp. On any given day in January there are almost as many American and European retirees on the beaches of Antarctica as there are penguins. Even Outer Space receives its share of flabby, filthy rich tourists these days.

Hence, a travel journal today must do something more than to astound, to glorify and to mystify. Instead the writing must be both informative and entertaining, and it must just as much take the reader on a journey through the author's mind as through the locations he or she visits. If it leads to a more wide-spread understanding of the world still being a diverse and place full of problems that needs to be solved, that's excellent.

To achieve this understanding, the author must travel at a slow pace, much like the way young and well-off Europeans did when they sought out formative travel experiences a century or two ago. Their mission was to familiarize themselves with the foundations of their culture, and they did this by going to historical places around the Mediterranean Sea.

The difference between then and now is that we can and must do better. It is no longer enough to visit the places that shaped our civilization, to where the old Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, French, and British performed their art and fought their wars. To see, describe and realize what we could have become, if history had played out differently, that is the challenge for modern day travel writers.

I put forward that travel writing has turned into a branch of philosophy, or at least that modern day travel book authors should try to dig deeper into what he or she sees than what has typically been the case until now.

My travels have gradually become a way to create some distance to my life at home. It's a space that lets me compare my everyday concerns with real problems, problems on a scale rarely seen in my own country.

It's a wake-up call to see a boy on a skateboard not because he thinks it's great fun, but because he lost his feet when he stepped on a land mine, and there just is no wheelchair for him. You learn something from going to a shop where loudspeakers are installed not to play sales-inducing muzak, but because they need to be able to inform customers that the price of bread has risen again, for the third time that day. It is scary to visit a region where 35 percent is not the share of the population who can't be bothered to vote, but how many of those between 14 and 30 years of age who are infected by HIV. In surroundings like that, you may discover that your worries are not really problems at all.

To those of us who live in one of the sweet spots of planet Earth, it's all too easy to think that it's other people's faults and our own merits that have made some places good and other places not so good. After having traveled a bit, I think the most important lesson I've learnt is this: Nothing in the world is fair, and just because some of us have won the lottery, it doesn't mean we can allow ourselves to ignore all the problems we don't encounter at home.

Although I certainly prefer a cheery tone and funny observations to tales of doom and gloom, I hope that travel writers now and in the future will point out this unfairness of the world to their readers. The world is becoming a smaller village every day, and we need to understand what goes on around the increasingly closer corner.

Both travel writing and journeys we make on our own can and should help us improve this understanding.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Jotunheimen Pixel Trail

Hi to you all!

It took longer than usual to finish the photo set from the Jotunheimstien hike I did in July. You see, I've bought a new PC. And this PC is so fast that suddenly I find it worth the while to spend twice as long on tweaking every photo than what I did before. In addition to this, the new PC is so fast that it is more tempting to spend my days pretending to be a high-resolution rally car driver risking my virtual life on narrow roads, than it is to entertain the world with my vacation photos.

But finally the photos are here. Or more specifically, here. I'm not so sure that all of them are worth the 3-4 kilometres I on average had to walk to get them, but I supposed they will have to do. In many ways it was a nicer trip than I had expected it to be, and suddenly I'm in better shape than I've been in for a long time. Which is good, of course.

These days I'm working again, and I don't know neither when nor to where my next trip will take me. But I promise you one thing: Wherever I'll be going next, I'll go there by motorized means, and not on foot! #8D)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mission accomplished!

Somehow I seem to have completed my hike! I'm not sure how it happened, but after 11 walking days I found myself at Lake Gjende and the end of the looong trail. Hopefully more memories from this epic walk will come back to me as I go through the photos from the trip, but judging from the appearance of my feet, I think it's safe to say that it was a tough walk.

I was this happy to arrive:
Unfortunately, that's all I can show you here. It's so hot in Oslo now that I'm wearing an icebag on my head to survive. The combination of the amazingly long beard and the turban-like headwear makes me look like a, well, suspicious person, so since I may want to fly internationally again someday, I suppose it's best to not have that image of me floating around on the Internet. And I WILL fly internationally again. If this walk has taught me anything, it's that distances of more than 300 kilometers should not be walked!

I'll be back with some photos from the trip soon. I just wanted to tell you all that I'm alive. #8D)

See you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oh dear...


I've just grown a new layer of skin to replace the lost bits from my last hike, and if I kick my big toe against something hard, it's almost as if I've regained some of the feeling inside it. So I guess it's time to head for the woods again. Lots of path left to do before I reach the Jotunheimen National Park.

The weather forecast is excellent, so I hope to reach Kittilbua, a place just north of Lillehammer, by the weekend that comes. To increase my chances, I've filled my backpack more sensibly this time. I took out some of the biggest books from last time, and I'm packing food for just 4 days. (And chocolate for a week, of course.) And as if that wasn't enough, I've even trimmed my toenails, and I've been to the hairdresser and cut down a bit on the hair on and near the top of my head.

This means I won't be around to answer any e-mails the coming week. will try to fill in for me, so head over there if there's anything you wonder about.

See you in a hundred miles or so!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Travels in the Interior of Africa

In 1799, Scottish explorer Mungo Park wrote a book with the same title. I read it before going to The Gambia in November 2007. Its description of the lack of resources in the country made me prepare for my trip by adding somewhat to my body mass. The book also offered some practical advice. I would apparently be wise to "bring lots of guns and ammunition", and I should avoid camping near the natives. Not an easy task in Africa's smallest country.

Of course, much has changed during the two centuries since Mr. Park visited, but if you want to leave the hotel strip on the coast, visiting The Gambia can be quite strenuous, even today. "Come and mostly enjoy our edible foods", reads a restaurant advertisement in Banjul, the Gambian capital. Well put, I have to say.

Banjul can be a scary place to visit, especially after dark. Not because of the crime rate. The man in absolute charge of the country for the last decade and a half, President Jammeh, knows that if people had weapons, they would use them on him. So as a tourist, there's not much reason to fear the people of Gambia. Unfortunately, due to poverty and a limited supply of electricity, after dark in Banjul really means in the dark. Add open sewers to that, and you get a city where walking around at night can be rather risky.

I decided to leave the capital and go up the river. There was no public transportation by boat available, so this meant I had to travel by car. I spent two full days doing so, although I wasn't actually moving for more than about six or seven hours. This took me just 120 kilometers inland, but it left me feeling as if I had crossed the continent. And I was a world away from the tourist beaches on the coast. The journey didn't cost much, apart from some blood, sweat and tears - and lots and lots of patience.

From Banjul, you first have to go to Bundung Garage in Serrekunda. There are no scheduled buses in The Gambia, hence there are no bus terminals either. Instead they have bush taxis. These vehicles are usually in a condition that makes it sensible to call the place where their passengers can find them, "Something Garage". You have to be there early in the morning because that's when the bush taxis leave. I wasn't going very far (by any non-Gambian standards), so I figured that leaving around noon would be suitable. I was wrong.

At the garage, I found a 30-seat vehicle waiting for more passengers. The driver needed an additional 25 before he would find it environmentally or, more probable, economically sensible to set off. One hour later we were still 25 short. I sort of gave up on getting anywhere that day, but I stayed put. In a poor country like The Gambia, you can't really comfortably walk around and look at how people live. But you can sit and wait for a bus that will never leave, and simultaneously look at how people live.

I was the only ghost face around, and the locals found much entertainment in me. They kept pointing at me and telling funny facts about foreigners to each other. The children would sneak up on me and caress the "fur" on my forearms. To many of them I must have been the first monkey man they could experiment with at such close range. I guess evolution long ago removed all heat-inducing mechanisms, including body hair, from the Gambian gene pool.

The driver spent the day sitting in the shadow of his car, chatting, drinking hot tea and smoking marijuana. His name was Sambo Dumbo, and I'm not even making that up!

Among my co-waiters were two old women who were coughing in a most tuberculous way. In the end I concluded that getting in that car would probably kill me one way or the other. So I didn't. Instead, I went back to the beach for a late afternoon swim, and I promised myself to get up earlier the next day.

This worked out well. When I returned at dawn, the car was still there, but the driver had been replaced with a more sober one. The two old women had probably died during the night. At least they were gone. At eight o'clock we had a full car and got going. That's when I discovered that the ticket was cheap enough that I could have bought all the tickets the day before and had the bus take off whenever I wanted to. Of course, demonstrating my relatively speaking insane economical powers like that, would not be to show good manners.

We drove for a full three minutes before the driver stopped at another garage. Our tires desperately needed more air. I'm not entirely sure why he couldn't have arranged that during the day and a half he had been waiting for passengers, but there may well have been a good reason for it. Maybe. Then we drove for another five minutes before we stopped for fuel. For the rest of the drive, we also stopped every thirty minutes or so, to fill up on water for the car radiator. I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm just saying that going by bush taxi in The Gambia isn't necessarily a quick way to get around.

In some countries, the traffic is so bad that your chances of survival are best if you sit in the back of any moving vehicle. In The Gambia, I figured I would be better off bribing the driver with a dollar or so to get the seat next to him. That's the only way I could have a good view of what went on outside. It was completely safe. The driving was so slow that there was no risk of a collision with anything bigger than a snail.

That said, we DID drive off the road more or less all the time. But that was just because ironically, the road conditions were most of the time better there than on the actual road. It's just ridiculous how bad the roads are in The Gambia. The only place a pedestrian there can feel safe is in the craters in the middle of the roads! Gambian stray dogs seemed to know this. They spent their days sleeping on the road, waiting for night to come, when they would wake up and start their tireless howling.

Anyway, I sat in the front where I could see what The Gambia was like. It's a flat country. All I saw was what was on or right next to the road, which wasn't much. At least I learned that most people appeared to spend their days sitting in the shadows of trees, scowling at the occasional passing car that showered them in a red cloud of dirt and sand. The locals weren't difficult to cheer up, though. All I had to do was look like a badly sunburned whitey and wave at them, and they would immediately beam their white teeth in a smile back at me.

The numerous police and roadside soldiers didn't smile much. Typically because it had been seventeen months or something like that since the President last paid them their salary. They did, of course, need some money to survive, so they cashed in on just about every vehicle that passed by. They didn't want much, but they took their time getting it. It seriously delayed our progress.

I had been warned about this, so I had brought some small notes to pay the various fines I was given. The crimes I committed ranged from sitting with my backpack in my lap to not being able to explain exactly which coastal village in northern Norway I had been born in. Soon I didn't bother with putting away my passport and my yellow fever vaccination card, as I was asked to show them at every stop we were forced to make.

I soon was taught not to photograph anyone wearing a uniform. They're not that photogenic anyway, but the main reason to refrain from doing so, the driver told me, was that I risked being arrested. Apparently, taking photographs of the police is what a spy will do. And although I can't imagine why a spy would photograph the slumbering, corrupt police of The Gambia, this would probably not keep me out of jail. And there are better ways to spend your time in The Gambia than in one of the local jail cells. On the other hand, there are certainly worse alternatives as well, but I'll save that for another story.

Briefly, a relatively short ride in a Gambian bush taxi can be quite eventful, in an extremely slow kind of way. I do recommend it, at least as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you want to see more photos and read about travelling in The Gambia and Senegal, please visit my West Africa gallery.

(This article is my own work, and it featured on the Boots'n All Web site in May 2008.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Without a Backpack

Ah! One week after returning from the first leg of my walk to the mountains, I still very much enjoy being at home. It's not quite as wonderful as the first few seconds after you take off your heavy backpack, when you positively feel that you need to hold on to something in order not to float up towards the sky and disappear. But it's really, _really_ nice to be home, where all kinds of everyday luxuries are within my grasp at any time.

Anyway, on the map to the right you can see how far I've made it:

So there's plenty of walking left to do, and I will do it as soon as the weather forecast promises at least five days in a row with no rain.

While I'm waiting, I'm working on some writing and I've prepared the photographs from the trip. Feel free to have a look. Please note how I'm transformed between photos 1 and 45, from being a walking deodorant commercial into a sweaty bastard with no will to live. Highly entertaining, in retrospect.

I hope you all enjoy your summer as much as I do!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Will I ever walk again?

Like a normal human being, I mean. Or should I just resign to the fact that my theme song from now on will be Genesis' "I can't dance" ("I can't dance, I can't talk. Only thing about me is the way I walk.")? Here's how I've gotten around during the last couple of days:

1. From a sitting position on the ground, I put my feet together with the weight on the outside of my soles. Pushing hard with my hands I get into a crouching position, from where I whimper as I slowly straighten my body upwards.

2. Slowly, slowly, I distribute my weight across the full area of the soles of my feet. It hurts tremendously!

3. For about ten steps I stagger ahead like a very old man (I would say like an 80 years old man, but that would be an insult to the 81-year-old who swiftly walked past me in the woods two days ago) on his way towards his walking aid.

4. After ten seconds or so, some kind of internal painkiller system kicks in, and I can almost start walking like I used to, you know, back when I had not yet started on this hike. If I stop for a few seconds, though, the pain is back, after which I'm likely to start shouting bad words at the innocent trees around me.

Anyway, due to bad weather, a desperate need of a camera battery recharge, many lessons learned about efficient packing AND, I'll admit, some minor body malfunctions (see above), I've taken a break from my hike. At a spot about 120 kilometers into the 320 kilometer walk, I was just five kilometres away from public transportation that could take me back home. It was a most convenient place to take a break.

It's been a great hike this far, and I've learned a lot from it:

* Anyone voluntarily going on a hike like this must either be mad, in absolutely superb shape, or not at all have understood what lies ahead of them. Hundreds of miles/kilometers of walking through what is basically wilderness is durn hard work!

* Efficient packing is crucial when you have to carry on your back everything you need for a number of days. I'm still no expert, but I've learnt a thing or two by now. For instance, there's no point in carrying several bricks made of paper that you intend to read before you go to sleep in the evening. What happens as soon as you've put up your tent and eaten your dinner is that you collapse into unconsciousness inside your sleeping bag.

* July may not be the best month for multi-day hikes in the forests of southern Norway. Most of the snow in the mountains has melted already, and there's little rain. This means it can be difficult to find streams with potable water. It's fairly warm weather, so you may have to carry a LOT of water on your back. Or you have to resort to drinking Chateaux de Lemmingcorpse or Eau de Shit de Sheep, i.e. brownish marsh water. (Not recommended.)

* Usually when vampire bats attack in the middle of the Norwegian woods with a loud shriek, they're not really vampire bats at all, but just the mattress I carry on top of my backpack, scratching a branch that hangs across the path.

All this is valuable pieces of information that I will find great use of as soon as I return to my walk in the woods in a few days (hopefully).

Happy trails!


Monday, June 30, 2008

Does the Bear shit in the woods?

Well, not right now but apparently I'm soon going to. (To any new readers; my name, Bjørn, translates to Bear in English. *Growl*)

Yep. I'll walk that thin, red line on the map. I'm not sure how far it is, but when a walk is visible on a map of that scale, you just know there will be some blisters involved. I'll begin in downtown Oslo, and if everything goes way better than expected, two weeks or so later I may be in Jotunheimen National Park, "The Realm of the Giants", in the mountainous middle of Norway.

The first half is basically a walk in the woods. Do read Bill Bryson's masterpiece from a similar journey to understand what I may experience there. Then there's a road to be crossed, and if I'm not run over by a car then, the second half will be a walk in the mountains. I expect to see more elks and reindeer than people during this trip. I also expect to smell more like an elk than like a human being by the end of the walk.

So, why would anyone in their right mind do something like this? Well, don't ask me! But personally I do it mainly for these reasons;

1. To figure out whether I actually can do it. If so, there's a number of similar walks in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Nepal and elsewhere I'd really like to put myself through.

2. To tremendously enjoy returning home afterwards. Being deprived of all kinds of luxuries that just don't fit into a backpack for a while, makes you appreciate them so much more when you regain access to them.

3. To eat at least five kilograms of chocolate in the month following my return, without experiencing any feelings of guilt whatsoever!

A complete lack of Internet access is only one of the many qualities of Norwegian wilderness I will enjoy while I'm out there. Hence there will be no blogging from the backwoods. I'll try to make up for it when I return. If I return.

Happy trails!


Ps: Here's a more detailed map, so you know where to look for me in the unlikely event that I decide to settle down somewhere along the route:

Sunday, May 25, 2008


So, since my last blog entry, I've visited Malta. Which was nice, and I have the photos to prove it.
I'll post a full review of the trip sooner or later, but let me just say that Malta isn't the most exciting country I've visited. It's so tiny that I walked across it several times, sometimes not even on purpose. This is not a bad thing in itself, but when you add four hundred thousand inhabitants to it, it gets sort of crowded. Which is not good, in my book.

I figured it might be a Gibraltar-like place. You know, a distinctly British heritage, English spoken everywhere, a piece of Northern Europe, only with palm trees. But it isn't. Instead it's a strange mix of Arab and Italian culture, and the locals don't speak much English unless it is to give directions to a silly tourist. And the names of places are so far away from English as they possibly could.

You may very well finding yourself being a silly tourist asking a local how you can get to the corner of Ix-Xatt Ta'Xbiexi and Triq Gorg Borg Olivier. Oh, and there's a dot over the g's, which means they're not really g's either. Good luck. Fortunately the country is so small that even when you go to the wrong place, you'll be quite close to where you meant to be anyway.

I'll just add that if you go there: Beware of the Kinnie! Maybe I'll explain why later, but for now, enjoy the photos!

Friday, May 9, 2008

On going solo

The following useful article is more or less an excerpt from my book One for the Road. It's a travel book intended to be read as a novel, although there's also lots of useful information for travelers in it.

Fate sometimes hands out a chance to carry out your travel dreams. Maybe you finish school and land a job set to begin a few months into the future. Or maybe you work in a company that struggles to survive, and suddenly one day you're offered financial compensation if you're willing to leave your job. Perhaps you inherit some money. No matter how it happens, suddenly you have the opportunity to leave home for a while, and you know that it's now or never.

Unfortunately, when opportunity knocks like that, it often does so only for you, and not for those of your friends who you might have preferred to share the experience with. So you have to choose. Are you going on your own, or will you stay at home and buy yourself a new couch instead?

There's an easy answer to that question. Especially if you ask others what they think you should do. Your friends envy you because you can do something they can't. Besides, they like to have you around, they don't want you to leave and be gone for a long time. And your family don't want you to end your days inside an anaconda or beheaded in a ditch somewhere in foreign parts where dangerous stuff like that probably happens all the time. Suspecting that you may regret this some day, not next week, but in ten years or so, you end up going to IKEA instead of to Guinea. And you will regret it.

Of course, in many ways it is better to travel with someone, I won't even bother with listing the arguments supporting that view. But before you cancel your travel plans just because you don't have anyone to go with, you should know that starting on a journey alone doesn't mean that you will stay alone while on the road. Backpackers are gregarious animals. They embark upon new friendships as soon as the opportunity presents itself. And it does. All the time.

Sleeping in dormitories automatically lead to conversations with those you share a room with. If you go on day trips organized by the hostel you stay at, before the day is over you will have as many new friends as there are seats in the minibus used for the trip. Or more.

Should you ever find yourself completely bewildered at a bus station in Syktyvkar, Pokhara, Cuzco, Cairns or Kampala, soon enough there will be two of you, and the most natural thing in the world for you both will be to start talking and help each other solve the mystery of the lost ticket office. It's more than likely that you're both heading in the same direction. If not, you will still meet again four weeks later with a hug on a street corner in Hanoi. This, in turn, will lead to annual Christmas cards and a free couch to stay on in London two years later. Maybe you marry the person. Nobody knows what putting a backpack on and traveling the world may lead to. As long as you stay on or near the backpacker highways, loneliness will simply not be an option.

Should you ever feel lonely, just get on a bus!

If one of your reasons for traveling is to meet new people, you should definitely travel alone. Maybe you're not the most extrovert person at home, where you have your friends, family and daily tasks to rely on. That doesn't mean much. When you travel on your own in foreign countries, you'll be surprised by how easily you start talking to strangers. Really. Because that's what humans are designed to do. You may just have to get away from your sheltered home to discover it.

Another bonus is all the time you save when you travel without company. Expect a significant decrease in the number of hours spent waiting for someone to finish in the bathroom, buying fridge magnets or new clothes. Those hours are instead yours to spend on doing exactly what you want to the most. Enjoy!

Your gender doesn't change any of this. Many countries and regions, actually most of them, are as safe to travel in as your home ground. You should take the same precautions everywhere, whether you're at home or traveling. Look after yourself and follow the advice you get from guidebooks and from everyone you meet on your way.
Sometimes, even when it's safe to travel alone, you may need someone to travel with to share the cost of hiring a car and a driver, or something like that. When this happens, just post a note on a hostel notice board. Write where and when you would like to go and include some information about who you are. Or you can simply get in touch with someone who already has put up a note.

If you want to be absolutely certain that you won't be traveling alone, there's a wide range of tour operators that are more than willing to help you. "Overland tours" and other expeditions by bus along popular backpacker routes can get you many places, and they will probably offer you more company than you really need. Still, too much is maybe better than nothing, so there you go.

These tour operators will let you spend weeks or months on tours with intriguing names like "The Great Andean Adventure", "Surf & Drink Australia" or "The Silk Road in a Pink Bus". You pay more than you would have if you traveled on your own, but in return you don't have to plan or arrange anything yourself. On the bus you meet lots of people. Some you will like, some you won't, and you will probably not have to be alone for a second throughout the whole trip.

If you're not quite brave enough to travel on your own, a trip like that can be an excellent way to get your life as a traveler started. You will see most of what the brochures promise, and there's no doubt that you will have some great experiences. What you don't get is the freedom to stay longer in the places you fall in love with. You will miss that freedom. Often. Still, if your alternatives are either to travel with a group like that or not to travel at all, go with the group!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Snoring

The following useful article is more or less an excerpt from my book One for the Road. It's a travel book intended to be read as a novel, although there's lots of useful information for travellers in it.

I consider myself a defender of all basic human rights. There's only one committable crime for which I support the use of capital punishment; No mercy can be given to those who choose to sleep in hostel dormitories despite knowing that they are world-class snoring champions! Serious snorers must at night be kept away from innocent and silent sleepers. Even when confined to single rooms, they should stick to a sleeping position that minimizes the noise. If it's bad enough, a snoring sound can easily penetrate a wall. The offender could for instance try sleeping with his or her head in water, preferably face-down.

Lacking laws to protect us, we must seek out other ways to deal with snoring people. Here are some techniques you can use:

1. Always, but always, carry ear plugs in a pocket or container you have easy access to. While some snoring can penetrate ear plugs and thus only worsen the situation, ear plugs will in many cases dampen the noise enough to let you sleep. Practice sleeping while wearing ear plugs at home, as you have to get used to sweaty auditory canals and the sound of your own heartbeat.

2. Go to bed before the snoring person and fall asleep as quickly as you can. It helps if you spend the day getting really tired, as it will make your sleep deeper. Sooner or later the snoring will wake you up, but in theory you are then close to rested anyway, so you can consider the nasal blares to be your nasty wake-up call.

3. Keep an arsenal of small objects in or near your bed. The objects must be suitable for being thrown at the offender without injuring him permanently. (Although offenders can be of any gender, men are generally the worst.) Suitable projectiles are rolled-up socks, loaves of soft bread, rolls of toilet paper, empty plastic bottles, newspapers and large beetles, preferably dead ones. In the middle of the night it is too much of an effort to get out of bed and walk over to the offender to physically stop the snoring. Throwing objects at him can often work just as well, and it may simultaneously reward you with some much needed satisfaction.

4. If you lack hand missiles, you can go to the offender's bed, wake him up and ask the offender to sleep on his stomach. This is likely to stop the snoring. If you're sleeping in a bunk bed, though, and the snoring person is above you, there is another option available.

When the snoring commences, you simply kick upwards into the bottom of the offender's mattress. Adjust the force of your kick to the size of the receiver. I once failed to do so, and sent a modest-sized, snoring Singaporean flying onto a concrete floor from an altitude of two metres. Luckily he never understood what had happened. It was not a pleasant situation. For him, I mean. Ideally you should kick just hard enough to make the offender change his position. Keep on kicking until the noise is reduced to an acceptable level.

5. For various reasons you may wish to avoid physical contact with the offender. If so, you can direct a fine sprinkle of flour or sugar into his open mouth. This will invariably lead to the offender licking his lips without waking him up. Maybe he will even close his mouth. Either way, the shape of his respiratory passage will be altered. Continue until the snoring ceases. (And stop before breathing ceases.)

6. I can only recommend this last option when you know in advance that someone will snore in the night. Characteristics to look out for are obesity, breathing with an open mouth even when awake, and having bruises on the forehead from thrown plastic bottles or similar items.

What you do is to put itching powder in the bed or inside the sleeping bag of the suspect. When he goes to bed, he will not fall asleep. Instead he will spend the night itching and scratching himself. Who does not sleep, does not sin by snoring. But you will sleep well. (Unless he spends the night swearing loudly. Consider the possibility before you act.)

Unfortunately, not even all these excellent pieces of advice can guarantee you a good night's sleep. If you have other (and better) methods for securing your dormitory sleep, please inform me by commenting on this article.

Happy sleepy trails,


Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Just a quick note to tell you that:

* I've just finished the Brazil gallery from my visit there last month. I'm quite pleased with it. If you like dead cows and graffiti (who doesn't?), you will probably easily waste five minutes having a look at the photographs.

* My book is doing rather well, considering my non-existent marketing budget. It took a couple of years to sell 500 copies of the Norwegian edition. It took only two weeks for a similar number of copies of the English edition to be downloaded! Judging from the number of e-mails I receive about the book, I think some of the free(down)loaders must have actually read the book as well!

* Funny guy and experienced travel book author Peter Moore was nice enough to link to and comment on the domain name of my travel book site.

There. That'll have to be enough good news for one posting! #8D)


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Relating to malaria

The following is more or less an excerpt from my book One for the Road. It's a travel book intended to be read as a novel, although there's lots of useful information for travellers in it.

This is my take on how to relate to malaria as a traveller. I am no doctor, and you should not seek out medical information on the Internet without discussing it with your physician. There's a lot of flawed information out there, even though it's usually posted in good faith. However, I live by these guidelines myself, and I do believe you should read and consider the following before you decide how you will avoid becoming a malaria victim.

Both malaria and malaria medication are at the same time scary and fascinating stuff. Malaria is an illness that affects half a billion people every year. It kills one, two or three million of them, depending on which source you believe. No other disease spreads more efficiently. We have tried many ways to stop it, but we just can't do it.

Exactly how and why malaria medicine works is still a mystery to science. Using it can to some people lead to psychedelic experiences recognizable only to the most eager flower children of 1968. Other users have been driven by the medicine to murder the person next to them on the bus, themselves or their families back home several years later. At least that's the claim of the rumours you constantly hear when you travel in tropical regions.

From Medieval Italian, "Mala aria" translates to "bad air". European explorers realized early on that there was a connection between the outbreak of the illness and staying in places with unmoving water and damp, moist air. These are of course places where mosquitos prosper. Still, as we all know, mosquitos don't limit themselves to pestering people near swamps and bogs. No, mosquitos are almost everywhere, and they're happy to attack not just humans. Apes, frogs, birds and large deer are some other favourite targets. If there's blood in a body they will go for it, whether they'll have to penetrate skin, feathers, fur or scales first.

The keenness of hunting mosquitos is possibly only eclipsed by the willingness of biologists to map the diversity of species on our planet. Somehow they have managed to identify more than three thousand different species of mosquitos! Some four hundred of the them belong to the anopheles branch of the mosquito family tree. These are the mosquitos who can carry the malaria parasites that make people sick. In some cases so sick that we die, other times only so sick that we wish we were dead. The risk of actually dying of malaria depends on which malaria parasite you are exposed to. There are four different kinds; vivax, malariae, ovale and falciparum. The last one is the one you really should worry about. It kills.

You may take slight comfort in the fact that to the mosquito, you are the carrier of the infection. In many ways it is just as correct to say that we infect the mosquitos with malaria as the other way around. Both human beings and mosquitos are slaves of the malaria parasite.

To outwit us in our attempts to eliminate them through the use of medicaments, the parasites use a complicated life cycle which begins and ends neither here nor there. To understand how it works, let's begin with a healthy, young and pregnant mosquito of the anopheles family. She, the poor thing, buzzes around in the air, desperately seeking just the tiniest amount of blood to ripen her eggs with. Sooner or later she finds what she seeks: A human. The person is probably sleeping, or maybe not. It doesn't matter. He won't see the mosquito anyway, as she sensibly hunts only in the dark.

The mosquito prepares its proboscis and plugs it into the human source of life-giving, thick, red liquid. Most often this is good for her. Other times, when the mosquito has picked a human that carries malaria, Miss Mosquito will leave its prey as an infected and soon to be sick insect.

Have you ever felt sorry for yourself after waking up in the morning with a pounding head and a dysfunctional stomach? Well, imagine how it would be to feel like that when your expected lifetime is about two weeks, and you know that you have to go to work today, no matter what. That's what it's like to be a mosquito with malaria.

The parasites acquired from the human blood stream find their way to the mosquito's stomach. If the temperature is at least 16 degrees Celsius both inside and outside the mosquito's body, the malaria parasites will start having massive orgies in there. As a result of all the passion, the rascals will melt together and fasten themselves as cysts to the walls of the stomach. We know precious little about what this feels like to the mosquito, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a triggering factor behind the suicidal behaviour often observed in mosquitos.

Sooner or later the cyst breaks, and the parasites again move through the fragile body of the mosquito. They meet up again near their host's salivary glands. The next time the mosquito strikes a human blood vessel, the parasites will accompany the chemicals that are injected into the human by the mosquito to keep the blood flowing. In a few seconds or minutes, the parasites will have reached the human liver.

There they calm down for at least eleven or twelve days. Some of them will remain dormant for a long time. Months and years can go by before they develop any further. Others will almost immediately start invading and destroying red blood cells as they spread through the human body and excrete poisons. The new carrier of the disease gets sick from the poisoning and must lie down, unable to defend him- or herself against the next bloodthirsty mosquito to come around. And there you are, the cycle is kept going, apparently forever and ever.

For obvious reasons, our battle against malaria has focused on eliminating only one of the two involved carriers of the parasite, namely the mosquito. Many methods are in use, everything from the universal, forceful pat on the mosquito's back, to mosquito nets, repellents, burning spirals and even extensive use of DDT in areas where they can't afford to stop using it. All these actions limit the spreading of malaria, but it's not at all enough to make neither mosquitos nor malaria parasites disappear from the planet. Unless we get rid of the mosquitos, we will not get rid of malaria. Therefore antimalarial drugs is something tropical travellers must relate to, whether they like it or not.

Fortunately there are many ways to avoid being infected by malaria. Sadly, the safest method is to stay in polar regions, preferably far away from any international airport. If you insist on going to the tropics, you will have to stay inside air-conditioned rooms and make sure that you keep your skin covered in a highly toxic liquid. This is hardly compatible with having memorable travel experiences.

If you want to go places where there's a real risk of meeting up with infected mosquitos, you can choose from a wide range of antimalarial drugs. This kind of medication will not stop malaria from entering your body. Instead it aims to prevent the parasites from developing the disease in your body. Sounds good? The problem is just that, well, actually there are several complicating factors.

The problem that should be of most interest to you, is that the medicine may not work at all. Every time we come up with a drug that kills malaria parasites, the parasites will sooner or later develop a strain that is resistant to our chemicals. If you read the small print that came with your medicine, you typically find that medicine X gives you seventy percent protection when travelling in area Y. Hmm. We're talking about life and death here. Your life. How many condoms would be sold if they were marketed like this: “With this thing on, only three out of ten women will become pregnant”? How popular would bungee-jumping be if the brochures on it said “Jump off this ridiculously tall bridge! (The bungee cord occasionally snaps)”? Not much, is my guess. But okay, if you know exactly where you're going and you have updated information on what strains of malaria parasites are at large there right now, you can find a drug that will give you decent protection.

Then comes the second problem, which is also the reason why we will never get rid of malaria completely. Medicine that actually works is expensive. To poor people they are prohibitively expensive, and even to a tourist on a long-lasting trip the cost can be harder to swallow than the pills themselves, as the medicine must be taken both before, during and after the duration of the trip. Two weeks of travelling may mean seven weeks on drugs. If you travel on a limited budget, you may end up spending more money on protecting yourself against malaria than on food or accommodation.

Some of the drugs, typically those that actually work, can only be used for a limited amount of time before to continue taking them becomes seriously harmful to your body. These medicines will of course never be an option for those who live permanently in malaria areas. And there are plenty who do, so the parasites will for a long time to come have lots of victims to attack.

The high price of the medicine may be related to the third problem, namely the many potential side effects. The pharmaceutical giants must pay good money to print the pamphlets that accompany the pill bottles, where all known side effects of the medicines are listed. In addition I guess the companies have to pay an army of lawyers for their assistance as new side effects present themselves.

The number of identified side effects from taking normal antimalarial drugs is vast. Your skin may become more sensitive to sun, which isn't really that dangerous, but neither is it desirable when the reason you take the pills is because you're going to the tropics. You may experience nausea and vomiting, cramps, rashes, loss of hair, an irregular heartbeat and dizziness. You lose your balance, and in return you just get paranoia and problems with sleeping, often due to frantic nightmares. If you're really unlucky, the medicine can give you anxiety attacks and psychotic reactions. That another side effect is depression can hardly come as a surprise. Tragically, it has also been documented that individuals have been driven to clinical madness and suicide after taking some of these drugs. Because the chemicals are active and stay in the blood for a long time, the side effects can be experienced for several months after you stop taking the pills.

Fortunately only a few people experience the most severe side effects. It's still easy to be scared off by the long list of worst case possibilities. Especially when at the same time you know that no one really understands why or how the medicine works. The chemicals used to make the drugs have been extracted from various rainforest plants. I can imagine how a witch doctor with a feather hat and an eerie wooden mask took a bearded white scientist into the jungle and pointed out the plants that his tribe had always used to cure malaria. The white man brought the plants back home, analysed them, scratched his head and did some testing on rats. Sure enough, they seemed to work. Granted, they had some side effects, but who cares about that? He certainly didn't. Now he's sitting somewhere by a swimming pool with lots of servants running around, hoping for the best while his bank account keeps filling up.

Before you choose to take the drugs, you must give them a test run at home. Maybe you'll discover that your trip probably will be better without the medicine after all. If you find the right medicine for your destination, at a price you're fine with and without you starting to see pink elephants the second you swallow the pills, there's still at least one key point to consider: Should you do what's best for you or what's best for the greater good, here represented by the lives of people living in the areas you visit?

Despite what you may think, malaria can in many cases easily be cured. If you get sick, one treatment consists of taking a large dose of the same drugs that are usually taken to prevent you from being infected with malaria in the first place. (Note that this cure is only an option if you have not already taken the medicine as a prophylatic, meaning to prevent you from getting malaria. If you take the medicine and still get infected, you have to go through a treatment that is much tougher on your body.) This is the cheapest cure, hence it is also the one that is usually offered to financially challenged locals in malaria areas. The only problem is that when people use medicine to prevent them from being infected, malaria strains will develop immunity to exactly that medicine. This will in turn lead to the medicine becoming useless as a cure for people living in malaria-prone areas. Tough luck for them, huh?

If you value other people's lives anywhere near as highly as your own, you should probably do what they do. Only use the drugs in the fairly unlikely case that you're actually infected with malaria. If you ask doctors back home what to do, they will probably tell you that for the sake of your own health you should take the pills. It's their job to say that, and you are free to listen to them. But you should at least investigate what strains of malaria actually exist where you're going. If the lethal one, falciparum, is among them, there's more sense to taking malaria pills than if it isn't.

All things considered, the most important thing is to take all necessary precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitos at all. You know, put on mosquito repellent, wear long sleeves, don't fall asleep drunk in the jungle and just try to stay away from mosquitos, especially when it's dark. If you still get bitten, don't panic. Most likely there are no malaria parasites in the mosquitos that bite you. Just be aware of any symptoms of illness. Remember that it'll take almost two weeks before the malaria can be felt. If you know you've been to a region where malaria exists and you start feeling feverish and shivering cold in turns, immediately seek out a doctor. In places where malaria is common, medical personnel will quickly find out whether you're infected or not, and if necessary they will treat you in the best possible manner. Soon you'll be fine again and can move on.

It's not often you can make a choice that saves both other people's lives and your own money, plus you can avoid some nasty side effects! This is one such opportunity!

Please see the following links for more relevant information:

- Map and detailed information from the World Health Organization, including a list of health issues to consider for travellers. Here you can see that contrary to common belief, you probably don't need to take any antimalarial drugs when going to:

* The Caribbean, except for Haiti and Dominocan Republic
* Egypt
* India, as long as you stay in Goa or further south
* Mexico, as they don't have the strain that can kill you
* Morocco
* South Africa
* Thailand, except on the borders to neighbouring countries

Extensive information from Wikipedia regarding various medicines you may be recommended to take by your physician.

Up-to-date maps (country/continent) showing fairly recently observed spread of malaria. More information about the map data can be found at the Malaria Atlas Project,

Monday, March 17, 2008

Back from Brazil

Ah... Two weeks on and along the beaches in the north-east of Brazil was nice.

I found a cheap flight from Oslo to Recife, €300 roundtrip! Arriving there, I discovered that Recife is one of those large (3.5 million people) and ugly Brazilian hives of crime (somewhere between 50 and 100 murders pr 100.000 people per year). Although I know it's not that difficult to stay in the city and still avoid becoming part of those statistics, I just don't feel good in places like that.

So, only an hour after arriving, I got on a plane to Fortaleza, further north. It came to about 200 reals, which is only slightly more than the 12-14 hour bus ride would have cost me. GOL has good deals sometimes!

Guess what? It turned out that Fortaleza was ALSO a large and ugly Brazilian city. By then I had spent more than 20 hours in airports and airplanes, so I just made my way to the peaceful haven of the local YHA-HI hostel on the beach near the city centre. Although the beach is nice, the water isn't. It's a good base, though. It's in a safe area, and there are several companies running daytrips and easy transportation to the lovely beaches within striking distance of Fortaleza from there. Never mind that the electrical water heater in the en-suite shower didn't produce any hot water. It did produce terrific electrical shocks, though!

Encouraged by the many smiling faces and large numbers of people out jogging, power-walking, playing football and volleyball on the beach, I did quite a bit of walking around in Fortaleza. I even asked at the tourist information whether it was as safe to walk on the beach as it seemed to be, which they eagerly confirmed. Now, I probably should have specified that I am Norwegian, and I like to walk, and when I start walking, I can keep going for quite a while. But I didn't, I just was happy to learn that I could walk as I pleased.

So I walked. And I walked. For a couple of hours east along the beach. Past the hotel area, past some port and industrial zone, towards something that was signposted as "The Old Lighthouse", which sounded like a nice place to go. I noticed that there were fewer people around, but there were no bullet holes to be seen. Then I noticed that people stared at me. When I stared back, they didn't smile. They "cut" their throat with their hands, and they pointed finger guns at me. Some just wagged a finger at me, indicating that whatever I thought I was doing, I was doing it in the wrong place. This got me slightly worried.

Fortunately, before I could be processed by the local mafia, a police car came to my rescue. With the lights and sirens on they drove right up to me and asked me what the hell I was doing there. Taking a walk, I answered. They let me know that I should really enjoy the walk then, as it was likely to be my last. I then enquired whether it would be possible for me to hitch a ride with them, but for some reason this was not possible unless I committed a serious crime first.

There were no unbroken windows around, so I had a hard time finding something illegal to do. So I just started carefully walking back the way I had come from, with the police following slowly, one meter behind. I felt really, really stupid. After a few minutes I finally found a taxi. The police interrogated him, and satisfied that he would probably not take me away to my death, they left. It cost 10 reals to be taken to "anywhere safe", so I must have walked for quite a while in unsafe neighbourhoods.

Anyway. My walk ended in safety, and I left Fortaleza the very next morning.

I'll recommend that you take a couple of days in the little beach town of Canoa Quebrada (2-3 hours southeast of Fortaleza) if you ever have the chance. But an even better place to go for some peace and quiet on the beach is Jericoacoara, Jeri for short. To get there you first go six hours in a bus to Gijoca. From there it's another hour in a vehicle, but since there is no real road to Jeri, you will do the trip by truck or by 4WD jeep/beach buggy. It's a long way, but it's worth it!

In Jeri you'll have ample access to beaches with noone else on them, mighty dunes with carcasses of cows and donkeys in them, plenty of hippies walking around selling useless stuff they have made, and after a day there you'll have seen it all and feel like you live there. While the heaps of sand are enormous, the dunes are separated by lush, green fields, wits lots of grazing animals and hunting birds. I spent my days just walking around and exploring the coast and the interior. The shifting sunlight made the scenery constantly change, it never got boring. Just wait a few days, and I'll put up the photos to prove it.

The last few days before going home I spent in Pipa, a somewhat larger beach town between Natal and Recife. It's a pleasant place with little to worry about, but you can't really walk around as you please. Much of the land has been bought by European developers, so there are bothersome fences and ferocious dogs in your way wherever you go. But the beaches are nice, with tall, picturesque cliffs bordering them.

I also spent a day in Olinda, the safe town just north of Recife, waiting for my flight home. That's where the government wants the tourists to stay, as signalled by an absolutely ludicrous density of police officers. I haven't seen anything like it outside of Guatemala! But that's okay. Olinda is nice, a very Portuguese colonial town with lots of cozy small streets, colourful houses and a vast number of galleries and workshops. It's one of those places where the artists of the nation gather, like Venice in Italy, Santa Fe in the USA, Paris in France and Visby in Sweden. It's easy to spend time there.

Anyway, I'm home and I have had a nice trip! Also, my book seems to be doing well. Lots of people download it, and some have even decided they want to pay for it! The online bookstores' systems still haven't received notice of my ISBN, so until that happens, I'm not really marketing the book. But to those of you who have made your way here anyway, I'm really happy to see you!

I'll be back with more details as soon as I've gone through the 1000+ photos I took in Brazil... See you!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

We're on the Road!

Guess what? I just received the first physical copy of my book, "One for the Road", and it looks so good that I've decided it's finished. Hooray! #8D)

In a few weeks it can be ordered from any major on-line bookshop, but already you can get it from me and from Lulu. Also, fairly soon you can download a digital copy of it for free, from the Web site that supplements the book. You're very welcome!

Now, when you have downloaded or bought the book and read it, please come back here and tell me and the world whether you liked it or not. And particularly if you do like it, I'd be much obliged if you would give it a review at Amazon and any other on-line bookshops that offer the possibility to do so.

I hope to add a possibility to give me comments on my own Web site, but until that happens, feel free to use commenting on this blog to tell me anything you want. Or you can just e-mail me.

Thank you!