Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 from the other side

Almost a full day of 2013 has passed, and I still can't see what was so bad about 2012 that we had to change it, really. Ok, so maybe 2013 is new and shiny, but I can see little further ahead than the guy just under here, so I thought that for now, maybe we should concentrate on looking back at my version of 2012 instead of looking forward.
The year started out nicely. The nice hotel we were supposed to stay at in Kuala Lumpur was overbooked, so we were transferred to another even crazier hotel. It was so posh that even the TV remote lived in a leather case of its own, and we had to pick pillows for the bed from a pillow menu. The place was so overly luxurious that there was even no full wall separating the bed from the bath tub and the toilet. That's clear evidence that an obnoxious, overpaid interior designer has roamed here freely, and that only happens at the best hotels. Still, New Year's Eve in Kuala Lumpur was excellent.
Kuala Lumpur at New Year's
From there we headed for the woods, to the Cameron Highlands. Those hills have the perfect climate for some extensive tea plantations. The farming creates a surreal landscape, and wandering through it was among the highlights of the year to me. If you get tired, just head for the nearest tea house and order their strongest, sugary iced tea, and you'll soon be hyperactive again.
Cameron Highlands - Tealand
It wasn't long since my last visit to Singapore, but since we were in the neighbourhood anyway, I went back to check on them. The city state gets weirder every year. The latest is that now you can buy five storey Whoppers at Burger King, and in the steep Fort Canning Park, they've installed escalators... I'm guessing that the number of heart disease patients around there must be climbing. Clogged-up blood veins obviously havent been outlawed quite yet.
Singapore oddity
Back in Norway the winter was fairly mild. The season for hiking in the woods was a nice and long one, albeit it slightly wetter than we prefer. As early as late February we could start hunting geocaches along the Oslo fjord.
Springtime Geocaching
The old news of 2012 was that the Hobbit surfaced into popular culture, this time as a long-winded move trilogy. If you still think the movie moves too fast, try going to Killarney in western Ireland and hike the forest there. Everything moves real slow there, except for the clouds, and the surroundings are very The Shire-like.
Hobbitish Killarney
I discovered that there were heaps of other good reasons as well for visiting Ireland in springtime. Wandering along the Cliffs of Moher was awesome. Basking sharks enjoyed the sun in the sea far beneath the trail, huge numbers of puffins squawked on the cliff ledges, crazy green fields collided with the crispy blue sea, and there were no fences to be bothered by.
Living on the edge
As you get close to the edge of the cliffs, you quickly realize that it may be a good idea to keep some distance between yourself and the vertical sides of the cliff. A cozy amble can otherwise suddenly turn into a short and fatal flight.
Into the abyss
The saddest days of the year arrived quickly and left agonizingly slowly. A death among friends should be exclusive to retirees and smokers, but that's unfortunately not the case. It's tough, but as long as you can embrace the feelings that come with it, shake it off and start appreciating being alive as much as possible, it's almost worth it.
Early in the summer my parents visited with me in Oslo. It's always a nice thing. Here we're on a walk in the forest, and I just told them that I'm moving to Afghanistan to work for Programmers without borders.
You what?!
Fortunately, that wasn't completely true. I was just going to Italy to walk from Milan to Rome along the old pilgrim's route Via Francigena. It's a fairly long walk.
It's a long way to Rome
Walking that far isn't what Italians are into. They prefer to use their bicycles. I find that I see more when I walk, so I walked. In Siena, about half-way on my walk, I went to the City Hall and discovered that they were preparing for a large welcome party for me. I just had walked too fast, so they weren't ready for me yet. They were still inflating even more balloons as I continued my walk southwards, so I'm sure the next pilgrim had a grand welcome.
Party in Siena
After about three weeks I was delighted to stumble into the Vatican, in the middle of Rome. The great feeling of accomplishment is among the better sides of life on this planet.
Happy days in Rome
Throughout the year my travel sickness bag collection has kept growing. I only barely managed to keep these guys from the barfbag museum in Cobh away from my specimens. The new countries on my list this year were The Vatican, Kenya, Tanzania, Qatar and Cape Verde. I've passed 70 countries now, and I hope to add about 30 more this next decade.
Not at all well
I found time to visit the dentist as well. There weren't any cavities, really, but I was allowed to have my wisdom teeth rearranged slightly, to make them easier to brush. Without using any anaesthetics! Am I a (frugal) tough guy, or what?!
A trip to the dentist
I have also had the pleasure of cleaning a few chinchilla cages this year. That's what you get for getting involved with someone who believes that rodents are animals that should be kept as pets, and that you need at least 30 of them in order to breed ever superior animals. I just hope that she will soon make some animals that are smart enough to start using a toilet properly.
Furball cuteness alert
This year I actually managed to go to Africa, and twice at that! The first time was to watch animals. The enormous herds of wildebeest, zebra and buffalo that roam the savannah between Tanzania and Kenya was the most overwhelming wildlife encounter I have had in years. Look out for lions and ticks as well, though!
How do you gnu?
My other trip to Africa was more to look at rocks and people. Cape Verde is the perfect location for that. Although people there smile, it's difficult to understand exactly why they do so. As a tourist you'll have a marvelous time in Cape Verde, but most of the locals are going through some tough times.
Cape Verde locals
Scenery-wise, the greatest experience I had this year must have been when we started the day in a dense mist at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, and then, as we slowly descended on a mud road into the crater itself, the clouds parted in a divine fashion, and more and more animals came into view. It was just breathtaking.
The Descent into Ngorongoro
The possibly strangest experience I had this year, at least outside my own head, took place closer to home. In the middle of November I joined a gang of hard core geocachers in recreating the horror movie "The Blair Witch Project" in the forests of Østfold. I can't tell you much about it without risking a curse on my life, but I'll tell you it was a wonderfully funny, cold and wet experience. Geocaching is a great hobby to, uhm... strange people.
Caching in the dark
That's life; a series of hindrances and challenges that generally can be overcome, although not always in the most elegant fashion. As long as you have fun and you learn from it, that's the way it should be.
The Hard Way
A lovely, white Christmas in Norway ended the year for me. I was quite pleased with 2012. Would live it again. 2013 I hope to put to good use as well, and while I hope it will be different, I also hope it will be just as great as 2012. First, however, I foresee that I shall have to eat lots of half-price Christmas candy.
Christmas on duty
I found these words of wisdom at a cemetery in Ireland:
Life is not a carousel. It only goes around once. So enjoy it.
So there you have it. I wish a Happy New Year to all of you!