Sunday, December 12, 2010

There He Goes Again

As mentioned in my last post here, I've been walking. From France I walked 809 kilometres along the Camino de Santiago. It took 23 long days of walking. I logged the trip with GPS here, but as usual I'll also upload the more, I think, interesting views I had on the trip on-line.

Actually, the photos should have been available to you now. After all, I've been at home for about six weeks now. But they're not ready yet, and now I'm off again! I just told the tap in my bathroom, and this is the expression it made when it heard I was going to Cancún without finishing the gallery from my previous trip first:

If I had two more days before the plane leaves, I would have finished the gallery. Instead a few quick glances at the trail will have to do for now. The full gallery will show up here probably just a few days into 2011.

As I suspected, the pile of photos I gathered along the trail consists mainly of fields, forests and churches. It's really, really difficult to take photos that haven't been taken thousands of times before along the Camino. Here are some of my attempts:

The climb up from the French side of the Pyrenees offered the most stunning views along the entire trail. It's too bad, really, that the best bit of the trip is put right at the start of it. Fortunately, I did not know this, so I just enjoyed the views and figured it was a taste of what was to come. It wasn't, but to be fair, there were a few nice bits of scenery later as well.

Pretty Pretty Roncesvalles
Coming down from the mountains on the border between France and Spain I was met by this cozy forest. Just a few days before, hikers had to be rescued down from the cold and misty mountain by helicopter. Some of the evacuees may well have planned their trips for years. It's not fair that I, who had not planned anything at all, was given this great welcome by the Roncesvalles forest.

The Wide Path to Santiago
A 300 kilometres long boring bit is what awaits you after a few days of beautiful and exciting surroundings at the start of the trail. Here you will often be tortured by the view of several kilometres of trail ahead of you, with no signs of any shade, water, nice views or other refreshing elements at all. People with all kinds of handicaps walk the trail. If I had to walk it with a serious handicap, I think I would have walked as a blind person. Not seeing the trail may be a good thing.

Bovine Breakfast
A week or so before the finishing line, I found this group of cows grazing in an opening in a forest. Other animals than domestic ones are rarely seen. I saw some deer, rabbits, a fox and a dozen squirrels. That's all. There's no need to worry about being eaten by dangerous animals on this trail.

Ancienity Depicted
There's a real danger you'll overdose on churches and religious art on the Camino. If you're eager enough, apparently you can enjoy seeing about 1800 churches along the eight hundred kilometres or so of trail. That's less than 500 metres between the churches, on average. Crazy catholics! Anyway, some of them are really worth stopping for. I liked this one a lot. It's the Cathedral of Léon.

Full Metal Pilgrim
There are more pilgrims than pilgrim sculptures along the trail, but that's just with a narrow margin, I think. I photographed this one outside the Cathedral of Burgos an incredibly early morning with an intense sky above it. The clouds were menacing, making even the sculpture look sort of scary.

There you are. That's all I have for you now. In a month or so you'll get more. I'm pretty sure the final collection will include several insect close-ups, vineyards wearing autumn colours, ancient bridges, cobwebs at sunrise, a butt from a bordello, graffiti, mountains, more mountains and the valleys between them. You might as well preparing mentally for it now.

Until thne I'll be in Mexico most of the time. Or in Belize. Or maybe even in Guatemala. It'll be a great end of a most satisfying year of travel.

Merry Christmas to you all!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Shimlalaya Express

Yay! Another round of India photos are ready, lookie here. After having been burnt and boiled thoroughly in Rajasthan during the first two weeks of the trip, the time had come to travel up into the mountains and cool down a bit. So I did, through one of the most dirty and depressing main bus terminals I know, Kashmiri Gate in New Delhi. You really have to look after your mind there, or you might well lose it.

Fortunately everything went fine there, and five hours later I was in Chandigarh, possibly the one and only well organized city in India. Even I can look like an ant if I'm far enough away from the observer. Indians, however, can look like ants even when you have them right next to you. They're experts at swarming and teeming about, creating an apparent chaos, but still getting things done in their very special way. And if you annoy them, they will pee on you. Or at least that's what the smell in many Indian cities hints of, I believe. But not in Chandi!

In Chandigarh everything is in perfect working order, chiefly because the city was planned and designed by the architect Le Corbusier, much like Brasilia. Even the garbage in the city has been used to build a park. 50 men have worked for 20 years to create art in many forms out of rocks, broken plates and toilets, power outlets and wires and bottle caps. Rumour has it that it's the second most visited tourist attraction in India, after Taj Mahal. This of course sounds crazy, but then again, apart from Taj Mahal, which major Indian tourist attractions can you name?

Anyway, I quickly moved on from Chandigarh and further up the mountains. Shimla was my goal. Partially because Shimla is a name to fall in love with, and secondly because on the buses taking you there, Hill Sickness Bag are distributed to the passengers. So now my travel sickness bag collection has been extended.

It's difficul to be completely prepared for arriving in Shimla. It probably looks different from all cities you've been to before. The central part of the city is located on the ridge of a mountain, many places with room for buildings on only one side of the street. Many places the city looks like it's full of skyscrapers where every floor has its own look, but when you look closer, you see that the terrain is just crazy steep, and the skyscrapers you saw at first, turn into houses with different designs just being located very close to each other horizontally, but often far from each other vertically.

I don't think I've ever seen a city of this large size with so many houses and so few streets. It's just not possible to fit in normal streets between many of the houses in Chandigarh. Yet there's lots and lots to see when walking around there, including real mountain monkeys. For more details, please see the captions I've given the photos.

So, now that I've finished India, can I rest? Not at all! Everything's ready for my next project, which is to run the semi-marathon here in Oslo on September 26. I'm not in a really good shape right now, but that's fine, except the next thing on my schedule is to get up really early on September 27 to get on the plane to Bordeaux, from where I'll get on a train to a place where I can walk almost 800 kilometres to get to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast of Spain...

Sometimes even I, myself, don't really understand how I'm thinking. But that's what it's been like for a long time, and it usually works out well. I'm sure that applies this time as well.

In the meantime, take care! #8D)


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Indian Summer

I may be wrong, but I think I went to India last April. Now I've finally decided to finish off the pile of photos I seem to have dragged with my home from there. I limited myself to taking only one photo per two million people in the country, but even that turned out to be a large number of image files. To help me get through it all, I've decided to split it into two batches, and now I'm done with the first part. Hooray! Look here to see the results.

I'm quite content with the photos, but I'm afraid I made few major new discoveries on this trip. The closest I got to something of the kind may have been when I during transportation glimpsed "Anu's Rear Parts Repair Shop" outside, but I fortunately never got around to taking any photos of whatever they did at that place.

The cheapest flight from Norway to India will take you to New Delhi, and when you get there, you typically leave ASAP for the city Agra to the south. Agra isn't much to look at either, but it does have the major draw called Taj Mahal. Any seasoned traveler must have been there at some stage, and now I have. It was nice enough, but the best part was walking around in it's vicinity and see all the strange sights available there.

Right next to Taj Mahal, but entrance-wise far away from it, I found a Hindu temple that appeared to be THE place to be burnt if you died anywhere around there. Indians aren't more shy about their way to say goodbye to their dead than we are, so I could observe the interesting ritual without feeling bad about it. After a while, unfortunately, there were more people there looking at me than following the burning of the corpse. That was a bit embarrassing, so I left.

The next mandatory stop in the region was Jaipur, yet another chaotic and filthy large city inhabited by several million too many people. Again I just walked around with big eyes and looked at everything. It was mainly modern misery, but also some ancient grandeur. Once upon a time the Indians really knew how to build palaces. One of them turned out to be a cinema with a well maintained interior from the 1950s. Apparently many go there because it's air-conditioned. It was quite chilly, but people kept warm by talking frantically into cell phones, letting their children roam freely about and by laughing heartily every time the movie contained anything resembling violence. Also, at the Raj Mandir Cinema they still have a break in the middle of the movie, in which you can go out and warm yourself and stock up on more popcorn.

While the city of Jaipur may not have that much to offer, you don't have to travel far from there to find some magnificense. Just outside the city you'll find Amber, a gigantic fortress stretching across several mountains and hills, looking almost like you've found the brother of The Wall of China. I was not at all prepared for that, so I was really, really happy to discover this on just an easy daytrip out of town by rickshaw.

By now I had had it with cities and culture. What I needed was calmness and nature. I found this in Ranthambhore National Park, right next to the town Sawai Madhopur. That's the place to go if you want to see a wild tiger or two, and an easy way to get there from Jaipur is by train. I traveled on crazy class. Fortunately the trip isn't too long, so the lady on the seat opposite mine had not managed to bury me higher than to my knees in empty peanut shells when it was time to get off the train.

Despite having the least enthusiastic guides I've ever met, we actually saw both tiger and leopard. This was also all they cared about. The landscape was breathtaking and there were lots of beautiful birds and lovely deer around, but the park rangers just did not pay any attention to them. Then again, if I had been leading a tour through a forest in which I was not on top of the food chain, I might have looked twice at any crows or daisies either.

Anyway, I've put up some photos on my Web site, and there will be more coming along soon!

I'll round off this post with my best line on this trip:

As usual I was wearing my stupid tourist hat, Indiana Jones style, to make sure people understand that I'm not one of them. Also, it makes people notice me, so that if I ever walk straight into a crocodile or something, the people sent out to look for me will not have too hard a time tracking my movements. Anyway, a young boy in the Taj Mahal came up to me and asked "Ha-ha, are you a cowboy?", to which I immediately replied "Yup. Are you an Indian?"

I received no reply. #8D)


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Epos From Cyprus

I've been on a package holiday! It still turned out fairly well. I'm particularly satisfied with my timing. Just as this issue of a major Norwegian daily, in which I'm depicted as a rather lazy worker, came out, I sat down on a plane to Larnaca, Cyprus. A week later I returned, and by now this article should be forgotten by everyone.

(The article is in Norwegian. I gave an interview where I tried to explain that I prefer to "retire" every second month now instead of just retiring completely when I reach the age when that is a normal thing to do. The reason is that I think I have more options for what to do with that time now than when I'm 70.)

It's not a misleading article, mind you. The only error in it is that by now I'm a lot more tanned than on the photo in the newspaper, so there's no reason to complain.

I don't complain about Cyprus either. It's easy to spend a week there having a look at a strange, little country.

The most peculiar thing about it is obviously that the island is a bit of a war zone. The northern third of the island is occupied by Turkey, and in many areas there are enough checkpoints and soldiers around that you never forget it.

As a tourist the "war" is not a problem, but it's strange when you walk up the main pedestrian mall of the capital. Suddenly a man in uniform comes up to you, demands to see your passport and asks "I hope you are aware of the fact that Turkey is occupying parts of our island?". Then he lets you continue your walk. A hundred metres or so further up the street, beyond some barbed wire and skeletons of houses full of land mines, you arrive at a fairly normal-looking Turkish border control post, where you hand in your passport and fill out a form. With all formalities completed, there are now no signs or conversations in Greek around anymore.

Apart from that, it was impossible to be in Cyprus and not think that I was in Greece. Wherever I turned there were old churches, blue and white vistas, olive trees, old women with white hair and black clothes, mathematical symbols and new and old ruins.

I ended up walking lots and lots of kilometres on this trip as well. With a GPS in hand I managed to find more than twenty hidden treasures on the island, without disturbing too many snakes and spiders with my feeling around in dark holes in nature. It was a sweaty activity, fortunately mainly because it was so hot every day.

Among the pleasant surprises I enjoyed, I can mention that I did not end up in the city of Sin (Agia Napa), there was a salt lake with flamingos near my hotel in Larnaca, there was a pool on the roof and I wasn't at all burned by the sun.

Still, would I recommend anyone going there?

Nah. Not really. But maybe I'll serve up some more photos from there eventually. We'll see. First I'll be working in July, both for my employer and with my own photos from India this spring.

Bye for now!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Petra Dish For You

Hey! I'm almost up to date with my photos! At least I'm done with the pile from Jordan, so go ahead and have a look if you like.

The trip to Jordan turned out to be almost just Petra. I went in February, which turned out to be an especially good month to visit Jordan for people that enjoy making snowmen. My original plan was to have a look at some dunes and scorpions as well, but a blizzard closed all the roads I had wanted to travel on. So instead I spent a good deal of time in Petra, which was great, and some fairly bleak days in Aqaba, the grey "beach" town just east of the mine field that is also known as the border to Israel.

It took only about 10 hours to get from my kitchen to the gates of Petra. The flight is 5-6 hours long, and then there's a two hour taxi ride to the rocky delights. Mind you, the hours on the plane may turn out to feel a lot longer. Especially if you, like me, end up sharing a plane with ninety middle-aged, female, over-perfumed, slightly drunk cosmetics distributors on a company trip. I was fine, but next time I'll bring a jock strap or something.

Even though Saudi-Arabia is just next door, you can hardly say that Jordan is a Mekka for anything at all, and certainly not for tourism. Both when I arrived and when I left, the only planes I saw at Aqaba International Airport were the SAS planes I traveled with. Tourists to Jordan seemed mainly to consist of busloads of people coming in on express visits from beach hot-spots in Egypt. It's a long ride, so all they had time for when they arrived in the late morning was to have a quick look around at a couple of temples, before they had to leave and go back. I'm glad I had more time to see Petra properly.

I wasn't so happy, however, about the Jordanian hotel breakfasts. Lacking tourists and an understanding of what and how one should eat, and I suspect having too many people employed to do the dishes, the morning meal typically entered the table distributed across 15-20 tiny plates, all full of vaguely alien objects that may or may not have been for human consumption. Fortunately, there was always some cereal to rescue me. Mind you, the milk I was offered to pour onto the cereal was as a rule kept boiling hot. Oh dear.

Never mind. I had not come to Jordan to enjoy the food, but to explore the mountains that contain the treasure of Petra. Any further details regarding this can be found in the gallery I have just published. The short of it is that I liked it very much, and I recommend that you use at least 2-3 days exploring and experiencing Petra.

In other news, my travel sickness bag collection has opened at a museum in Hå in Norway. I was invited to attend the opening, which was a nice gesture. Except the opening was on June 12, and I received my invitation on June 15. I'm sure it was meant well. #8D)

At roughly the same time, the results from the voting for the Wikipedia/Wikimedia photo of the Year was completed. I did not win! But my iguana photo made it to a split tenth place, and this pleases me a lot. Thank you, Charlie, I could not have done it without you!

Now I'm stuck in the rain in Norway, considering whether I should escape somewhere for a week or so, or whether I should just stay home and do something useful. I'm tempted by both options. Does this mean I'm getting old?!


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Moztly Harmless

Phew! Only half a year has passed since I returned from Mosambique, my photos from the trip are ready to be scrutinized by your eyes. It wasn't supposed to take that long, but it did. And in the meantime I've visited Jordan and India fairly extensively, so now I have two more mountains of photos to conquer. It's a good think I rather enjoy editing photos.

This trip was more rushed than I usually prefer it to be, because I chose to join a typical (not too) organized overland truck tour. With a purpose-built vehicle and fairly seasoned guides, this part of Africa was all too easy to visit. I escaped from the rather dull program as often as I could, and most of these photos were taken on the "side trips" I made on my own.

We started out by driving from Johannesburg into Swaziland, the tiny country stuck between South Africa and Mozambique. Our camp was in Hlane National Park, known for its many predators. Supposedly we were safe there, as our camp was surrounded by an electric fence. This worried me slightly, since there was no electricity whatsoever available inside the camp. But we were fine nevertheless. And compared to the 120 or so members of the Johannesburg police force who were killed in 2009, we were absolutely fine.

I won't blog about the animals I found there. Look at the photos instead.

We continued into Mozambique, which made a noticeable difference. Strange sights kept popping up. In Maputo they were building a football stadium, paid for by money borrowed from the Chinese, as always eager to befriend countries with more natural resources than they can handle. Originally the stadium was meant to be used in connection with the 2010 World Cup tournament taking place in Southern Africa. I'm eager to find out in what decade it will be finished.

Mozambique has lots of unemployed people. The strategy seems to be that instead of having workers get things done, let's have time take care of business on its own. When it comes to camouflaging planes and helicopters, this works very well. By leaving the flying machines out in the open at an airbase just outside the capital, they've succeeded in hiding them all inside a wide selection of bushes and weeds. Well done, Mozambique Air Force!

Little work was done at the petrol stations as well. People were employed there, but they had precious little to sell. On a good day there would be petrol on offer, at other times the selection was limited to yoghurt, old bread, engine oil and soap. Which makes sense, since most of the petrol stations were owned by PetrolMoc, and I assume Moc is short for "Mock-up".

Mozambique is huge and the roads are horrible, so even with more than a week in the country, it wasn't possible to make our way more than about a quarter up along the coast. We camped on beaches and ate mostly food we had brought from South Africa. There's not much that can be easily and reliably bought in Mozambique. If you choose to eat what you can find there, chances are you'll have bananas and mangos for breakfast and grilled barracuda for lunch and dinner each and every day. Unless you become a meal, yourself, that is, which is quite possible, thanks to a healthy population of crocodiles.

My final verdict is that I found Mozambique to be a pleasant country to visit. However, if you're the kind of person who prefers a certain minimum of comfort and reliability, you might want to wait 5-10 years before you go there. There are many beautiful spots, but sort of difficult to get around unless you have your own transportation. Also, the country is haunted by cyclones, which may mean that anything of any size, up to and including small towns, can suddenly be gone. When you choose when to go, choose wisely!

The return to Johannesburg went via some days of safaris in the Kruger Park in South Africa. There's almost no way that can fail, unless you go there for the shopping and hiking in the mountains. What you'll find is a tranquile, savannah-like land, where easily driven roads takes you between a huge number of different species of animals. I had a great time, and I'd also like to recommend a visit to the Moholoholo Rehab Centre just outside the gates of the Kruger Park, where you can have close encounters with birds and animals desperately in need of some care, medical assistance and/or psychiatrists. Just make sure you don't play too wildly with the young rhino they have!

This is how thick your skin should be before you head for Mozambique.

Good luck, and happy trails!


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Going easter than usual this Easter

I'm about to thoroughly break a promise.

Once upon a time, towards the end of the last millennium, I promised myself never to return to New Delhi. Guess what? I'm soon on my way to that very city and Rajasthan again! And I don't even know what I'm going there fore. Turkish Airlines just waved a cheap ticket in front of me, and I willingly grabbed it. Oh well. It could be worse. I think.

The last time I was there, it was mainly the conditions at the airport that made me move on to Kathmandu rather quickly. True, I was less than a seasoned traveler back then. Today I would probably cope better (we'll see!), but looking back at my notes from my visit, I can see why I hated the place.

Take the toilets, for instance. It was the first time in my life that I had to use a lavatory with no door to hide behind while doing my business there. But if you have to, you have to, and I really, really had to.

It went fairly well, until I got to the part where one wipes one's ass. Inexperienced as I was, I had brought no toilet paper, and there certainly was none of the kind available inside my stall either. This was when the missing doors became a great feature. I waved my hand, and immediately some guy with a roll of toilet paper appeared. He sold me what I craved, at one rupee per wipe. Expensive, but well worth it, I thought.

I also remember that the toilets had muzak. You know those birthday cards that play something quite, but not entirely unlike a melody when you open them? Well, they had one of those hanging on the wall by the sinks there. It played the theme from Lambada. Six seconds long, over and over again. Which was quite fitting, as few people spent more than six seconds in the airport restrooms. Even though three men were hard at working changing batteries in the Lambada card and keeping the mirrors and sinks nice and shining, no one ever went anywhere near the toilets to clean them, apparently.

I saw few other passengers at the airport, but hundreds of people worked there, doing nothing. They just walked around, looking rather gloomy. Every now and then someone would come up to me and say "Don't worry, sahib Torrissen". This kind of freaked me out a little bit. First, why did they know my name, and second, what was there not to worry about? Did they pity me for being about to enter the accident-prone Indian air space? I still don't know.

Oh, and the food was awful. Golden Fried chicken turned out to taste decidedly fishy. And not smoked salmon-fishy. Not at all.

Fortunately, everything should be in perfect order there now. The last thing I did before leaving, was to put eight full pages of my best ideas for improving the airport into a suggestion box hanging on the wall there.

On my way to New Delhi I'll get to spend an evening and a morning rediscovering Istanbul. That's the price I have to pay to get a ticket to India at roughly the same price as a ticket to my hometown in Northern Norway would come to.

I'm looking forward to an alternative and extended Easter in Hindu-land, although this might turn into an a lot more hot experience than I normally would want.

I'll try to keep you posted here about my Indian early summer during the next few weeks.

See you later!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Good Heavens, Sort Of

Time has behaved in strange ways lately. Since I returned from Africa in December I've been busy working, enduring Christmas, chatted about the cold weather and declining camel rides in Jordan, but now I've pulled myself together and finished the first photo journal from my time in the Drakensberg and Lesotho.

If you click your way through the photos, you'll join an African maths exam, you'll get to see how I get almost so lost that I need to be rescued and die of shame, you'll meet good olf Falkor and you get to see that blizzards can be encountered even in the middle of an African summer. Oh, and there are of course, like always, some fascinating bugs to see.

Maybe I'll post some stories from this trip here later, but the short of it is that the mountains of Southern Africa are well worth visiting.

Oh well. Now I just have to work my way through the piles of photos from Mozambique and the Middle East.

I'll be back.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Indiana Bjørn and the Last Crusade so far

In the series "Bjørn goes to hot places only to freeze his butt off", it's now time for a trip to Jordan. Or Horrordan, as it apparently is known as to most people I have told about my fresh travel plans the last couple of days. At work I was instructed to write down in more detail than usual exactly what I've been working on lately, in case, eh..., someone else will have to finish it.

Let them worry. I'm confident I'll be fine. The only worry I have is that it seems as if I shall have to spend a few days at a five star hotel. This is not something I was designed for. What will I do if the mattresses are comfortable?! What if the cleaning people thinks my backpack is just a piece of garbage? What if I go for a hike in my room and I get lost? How embarrassing!

(Photo borrowed from the Creative Commons, by C. Chou)

Apart from that, Jordan will please me, I'm sure. I'm already thoroughly impressed by how the people there, being surrounded by Israelis, Irakis, Syrians and Saudi-Arabians, haven't been at war for several decades now. And the stuff I'm going there for, mainly mountains, looks just great!

Well, apart from the fact that they offer freezing temperatures at night during this part of the year, that is. That's okay. If it gets really cold, I can just stay inside and pretend I'm out exploring the country, by watching movies like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (sounds like a feel-good movie!), Red Planet and Mission to Mars (I suppose this means the landscape may be slightly alien?) and a large number of action movies that needed spectacular scenery to lead the attention away from a missing story.

Ground Zero of my journey will most likely be Petra, the mountain town that isn't a mountain town because it's located in the mountains, but because it's built INTO the mountains! You've probably seen photos of it already. If not, I can pretty much guarantee that when I return, I will force you to look at some.

Well, as soon as I've finished the pile of photos from Africa, that is. It's right her next to me as I write, only half done... I'm sorry. In the meantime, you can look at my Turkey photos one more time. Lots of Turkish people do! No less than nine of my photos from my time in Turkey last summer have been voted to be "Featured Photos" on the Turkish Wikipedia. Like the one above. How nice of them! #8D)

There you go. Now you know where you won't find me the next week or so.

Enjoy your February!