Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Welcome to Gayruba!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Passing it on

Here's the third and final part of my passport cavalcade, my way of filling the time while I wait for my fourth passport to arrive in the mail.

This time I will review my passport from 2006. The pages are generously filled, so we'd better get started right away. 
It is evident that this passport has been around, despite me having kept it in a plastic folder most of the time. This was my first machine-readable passport, as indicated by the little icon at the bottom of the front page.

On the back I have forgotten to remove a small sticker given to me by a kind man in Kenya.
Upon just opening the passport there's little information about me yet. Instead we get an introduction to archaic Norwegian symbol art. Inside one of the hexagons there is a microchip with information about me.

Generally the same information as could be found in my previous passport, except that this time there appears to be a need to emphasize that I am of the male gender. Also new, a few holograms to make the passport fancier and more expensive to make.

I don't know what witchcraft they have used in the signature field in order to mess up the scanning of this page, but it's probably well done and a great idea.
For some reason, page 2 has never been bothered by anyone, but on page 3 we get to the action.

I was going to The Gambia on a cheap fixed-dates ticket for two weeks, and I figured that was too much time for such a small country. So I went to the consulate general of Senegal in Norway and got a visa for that as well. The Gambia is just about entirely surrounded by Senegal, so it was the obvious choice for an add-on trip.

This turned out to be a smart move. In The Gambia I just got on buses by random, and one of the times I did that, I discovered that when I got off the bus again, everyone there spoke French instead of English. I had crossed a border during the bus ride, without really knowing it. I was in Senegal.

Now, I loved being in a new country, but my passport contained no information about me leaving The Gambia or entering Senegal. That can be a huge problem anywhere in the world, and in Africa in particular, it can be an expensive problem.

So I did the obvious thing. I bought a few potatoes and set about to make a stamp. I got a guy in my hotel in Casamance to write a note that said, I hope, that I had officially passed into Senegal, and I stamped it. In addition I put the name of the border crossing I assumed I should have used, and an incomprehensible signature, next to the visa in my passport.

It worked! Thank gods for silly countries that haven't gotten to the age of computers yet!
Here you can see that I have both entered and exited The Gambia. I had to glue this page closed when I arrived to The Gambia for the second time, from Senegal, without having left The Gambia properly first. Doing that prevented the border control in The Gambia from checking whether I had been to Gambia before, or whether I still was there, so to speak.

In addition, page 4 says that I have traveled between South Africa and Lesotho across the dramatic Sani Pass. Google that if you want to see some photos of a scary and steep road in otherwise excellent surrounding.

On the next page I have returned to South Africa and left it again, and I have entered Australia safely through Perth, on the very western end of that continent.
Do you like my visa to India? Type TV means tourist visa, not transvestite.

In addition to that one, we see two oval stamps related to it, entering and exciting the subcontinent through Goa. There's also an exit from Sydney, Australia, and a visit to Guatemala. Three contintents on that page. 
Here are some more Guatemala, plus Mexico stamps from the same trip, as well as a South African exit.

To the right, the tiny country of Belize contributes two geometrical stamps, and I have been to Swaziland and Singapore. I don't really remembre what that Gambia thing is. I suspect it may be a test stamp from when I struggled with the potatoes. It doesn't look better than what I was able to create, at least.

If we count the potato, there are four continents on that page!
We're back to the Senegal story.  After a lot of grumbling and suspicious looks, the border control officer in Senegal agreed to stamp me out of the country, albeit upside-down. I wavered between trying to sneak into The Gambia or to just enter it while trying to hide my previous entrance. In the end I decided to take the smallest risk, so I got my second Gambia entrance stamp.

When I later left Gambia, I first got an exit stamp for my first entrance. Then I was sort of all clear, but I still decided to sneak into the country again. This is not as hard as you may imagine. Then I got another exit stamp, for my second official entrance. So now I think I'm all set to return some day, no worries. Especially since I'm getting a new passport before that. :)

At the bottom left there's an exit from Johannesburg, South Africa.

To the right I have entered and left Brasil, possibly through Recife. Another cheap last minute ticket.
These two pages are almost all Mozambique. They love formalities and big documents there! I was delighted to discover that I entered the country through the Namaacha border post. I remember that when I was a child and there was something about the war in Mozambique, the reporters were always signing in from the Nama Atchoo province, as I remembered it. 

Another tour of the Yucatan Peninsula to the left (Mexico and Belize here, Guatemala will shortly show up again). To the right there's a quick visit to Jordan, where I mainly just wanted to see Petra properly.
Turkey sells visas at all their international airports, and I assume they make good money from selling tiny stamps for 20 dollars a piece. It didn't seem like any checks or work were performed at all, so it's just a tourist tax, really.

Then there's an exit from Kenya, and an entrance and an exit for both Guatemala and Belize. If you're going from Cancun in Mexico to Tikal, you're almost bound to do so by going via Belize. Even though you're just spending a few hours there and you don't stop anywhere, you still have to pay the full entrance fee every time you enter Belize, even if you're extreme and do it twice in one day. 
I've been to India once again, this time to see the Himalaya foothills, the Taj Mahal and a few other amazing sights. I chose a multiple entry visa this time, just in case, because it turned out to cost the same. I could have returned anytime "for free" during the next six months that way. 

To the right there's another visit to Turkey. I wasn't in Antalya or Marmaris, no matter what you think.
On the left and top right you can see the traces of a tour through South-East Asia. I flew cheaply to Thailand and immediately bussed out of there through Malaysia and Singapore, flying back to Phuket, Thailand to return home. It was a good trip, with Malacca and the Cameron Highlands as the highlights. Interesting bar code thingy in the Malaysian stamp.

Beneath the Thailand stamps is an entrance to Tanzania, accompanied by some mysterious notes. It may relate to the officer searching for a while to establish that Norwegians must pay 50 dollars to be allowed into his counry. In the bottom right I have visited Curacao.
Ooooh. Kenya have such fancy visas, this one prescribed to mister Christian.

On the right there's an entrance to the flamingo country of Bonaire. Although it's in the Caribbean, it's really part of the Netherlands, so that's why it looks like an EU stamp. I've also exited Tanzania, and there's a three day visit to Qatar on the far right. That's more than enough for Qatar. 
A collection of Stamps from the ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the main part of the former colony/semi-country called The Dutch Antilles. Very tourist-friendly stamps, they are.
Checking in to and out of the Cape Verde island of Boa Vista is very cozy. The actual border control takes place in open air at the airport, before you collect your luggage. There's a real risk you can get a sunburn before you even enter the country!
A stamp from the USA, granted to me as I began on a thorough excursion to the theme parks of the Orlando area in Florida, with a heavy emphasis on the Disney parks. 
A tour of Morocco and Western Sahara. Unfortunately, Western Sahara is currently occupied by Morocco, so I didn't get any stamps there.
No stamps on the final page of my passport, but we should dwell upon a couple of misspellings in the passport information to the right. How embarrassing!

(Mistakes: "inne haveren" instead of "innehaveren" and "intresse" instead of "interesse".)

So there you have it. Now I'm completely done with my old passports, and I'm more than ready to receive a new one!

(I'll soon be back with some photos from my recent trip to the Caribbean.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Passionably late

I got my second passport in 1999. By then the passport issuers in Norway must have recruited some new talent, because now the document didn't look like something anyone with a laser printer and a stapler at home could create in a couple of hours.

At least the passport looked okay when I got it. After I had used it for seven years, it looks, at least from the outside, more like something someone has forgotten to remove from the pants before putting it in the laundry.
Inside, however, everything is nice and dandy. Possibly apart from the hairdo. But, hey, it's a passport photo. They're supposed to look that way.

Since my previous passport I have changed my place of birth from the specific town of Finnsnes to the larger county of Lenvik. I don't know why. Also, my passport now shows my national identitynumber, although I have removed it from this snapshot, because this is, after all, the Internet. It's not really a secret ID, but there's still no point in showing it around too much.

Although the person owning this passport hasn't turned into a grown-up since the last passport, at least the signature has changed a bit in a mature direction.
Learning from their errors, the guys in charge of making passports have wisely chosen to not include French or German translations of the phrases this time around. Now there's only Norwegian, New Norwegian and English to be found.

The order of the stamps in this passport is even more random than in my previous passport. On this first page, I have entered the USA. Some other time, much later, a dimwit at the gates of Egypt has tried to cover up my visit to the US. Not only has he stamped the page with heavy, black ink. He has even donated half his stamp collection to wipe out my history of American pilgrimage. 
In January 2001 I traveled via the Charles de Gaulle airport in France, if page 4 is to be believed. I think I was on my way to South America and Antarctica. Then, four years later, I went to Brazil to celebrate the carnival and to look for strange ants.

Page 5 is a journey to Thailand via Switzerland. Also, I'm popping by Botswana and entering Argentina. This single page in my passport has stamps from four different continents!
When you travel in Patagonia, this is likely to happen. Most of your time is spent crossing the border between Chile and Argentina, depending on where a passable road can be found through the narrowest and most mountainous part of South America. The result: Lots and lots of stamps in your passport.
Haha! A silly tourist stamp from the town of Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego, Fireland. Unfortunately I got the "End of the World" version, but I know there's a much funnier "Bottom of the World" version to be found as well.

In addition to that, the madness of numerous border crossings between Chile and Argentina continues. Also, the USA has added another stamp from one time when I went to San Francisco to for an IT conference.
Another peculiar mix. Here are some stamps from various Argentinian and Ukrainian research stations in the Antarctica, plus a mini visit to Mexico (tittillating Tijuana) and Swaziland. It's a fairly atypical travel pattern, I think. 
Again the US imperialists try to occupy a full two pages during a single entry to the country (to Florida via Chicago this time). Fortunately none of the other countries seem to care about the attempt.

Then there are some more Chile stamps, a visit to Botswana and then actually two stamps from Norway (Sandefjord and Gardermoen)!  This is from back when I was young and cute enough to be able to cry my way to stampings upon returning to Norway. They generally don't do that any more, unless you're a suspicious foreigner and/or tanned. I don't remember the occasion for the Gardermoen visit, but I did travel with Ryanair to and from Sandefjord to go on a three week railway trip all over Great Britain.
The third middle-of-the-page stamp from the USA! Is this something they do on purpose?! This time I was on my way to a roadtrip through Texas with my parents. Fortunately, no one checked my mother's bag when we landed in Chicago. It was full of bananas. Big mistake, if you're caught! We quickly ate the evidence when we arrived at the hotel and deposited the dangerous peel in a safe way.

Apart from that, there are a few stamps from Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as a one day permit for going into Zambia to enjoy the view of the Victoria Falls from their side of the border. 
Here's another batch of African stamps. I collected them on an overland trip starting in Cape Town, South Africa and ending in Johannesburg, South Africa, after traveling through not just that country, but Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia, including a short jaunt into Zimbabwe/Zambia for the Vic Falls.
The Egyptian stamp collector strikes again! Plus I've been on a whirlwind tour of Croatia (six different places to sleep in seven nights). 

I've also gone on another quick trip across the border to Mexico, from Texas, on 2 April 2003, accompanying two slightly nervous parents. And finally I found space for another trip to Brazil.
Hooray! I got a visa to Russia, although it took quite a while to arrange. It looks as if they think my name is  B9ern Hristian Terrissen, so I can really understand why they were reluctant to let me visit. With a name like that, even I would be worried about having the person come by. It was a weird, but somehow still pleasant trip. I took a plane to Vladivostok in Far Eastern Russia, and then I spent a month traveling mostly by train , making lots of stops, back to Moscow, along the route of the Transsiberian Railway.

On page 21 there's a flight via Frankfurt, Germany, but the more interesting bit are various border crossings by train. I traveled through Eastern Europe in 2005, when several of the countries had not yet joined any EU border agreements. I think these stamps are from crossing between Hungary and Romania.

Before Christmas in 2005, I took a tour of South-East Asia. I flew into Bangkok, Thailand and quickly moved on to Siem Reap, Cambodia, followed by a banana-shaped trip up Vietnam and back to Bangkok. There's a small Angkor Wat in my Cambodia stamp!

To the right you can see proof of the rare occasion when someone voluntarily visits Moldova. To enter the country, I had to spent quite a bit of time on the border explaining in Russian English that yes, I really actually wanted to go there, while a busload of passengers patiently waited for me to succeed. To be allowed to continue to Transdniestr, I even had to pay a bribe or two.
Yay! Another tour of Brazil! This time I traveled in the north-east, enjoying the sand landscapes of beaches and deserts.

And then there's the lovely visa to Cambodia. I got it upon arrival at the Siem Reap airport. A well-groomed line of uniformed officers with Lego hairdos efficiently issued it, all participating eagerly in registering and handling me. I'd love to see the photo they took of me, using a 320x320 pixel Webcam from Logitech. 

More South-East Asia, this time with Vietnam doing its best to impress. I wasn't really required to get a visa in my passport, because Scandinavians visiting for two weeks or less are welcome without any paperwork. Still, the consul general in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was so semi-drunk and charming that I gladly handed over 10 dollars to get this piece of paper in my passport.
Hm. It appears that I have visited Tunisia. I think...
There you go. My passport number two as it lived and died.

Now there's only one passport left for me to show off! :)