Saturday, August 23, 2014


Today is my birthday. It's my forty-second. In Angola, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Djibouti, I would have been dead, statistically. But I live in Norway, and in the world of nerds, turning 42 is sort of an especially special occasion.
In Lesotho, pondering upon life.
Imagine drilling a hole in the ground, all the way down to the centre of the Earth. Then keep on drilling until you reach the surface on the other side. Empty all air from the hole and jump into it. I recommend bringing a tank of oxygen. Let gravity do its thing. It will take almost exactly 42 minutes from the moment you jump until you neatly pop out of the hole on the other side. But that is not why 42 is so special.

In Japan, 42 is anything but a lucky number. The two digits, 4 and 2, pronounced together, "shi-ni", means "To the death" in Japanese. And 42 shouldn't even be halfway to death. At least not for those of us who were born in the north of Europe. But that's not the thing about 42, either.

No, 42 is special because of its role in a book that is well-known by any nerd, and now also by many others. "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy", by Douglas Adams. In it, we can read about a civilization similar to our own, where people spend a lot of their time trying to figure what is the answer to the question about Life, the Universe and Everything.

To figure it out, they build a giant computer that works on the problem for millions of years. Finally the day when the computation is done comes, to the great anxiety of all philosophers on that planet. "The answer is 42", the computer proudly declares. That is the answer to The great question.

It may be the right answer, but as long as we don't know what the question is, we're none the wiser.

I have squandered some of my years, or at least a few days worth of thought, on trying to understand why I am here, what the meaning of life may be. Now that I am 42, I might work harder on it, but I'm not sure I'll ever get any further to reaching a conclusion than I am now.

I think I am in this world to observe it, to try and make sense of it, and to help others in all kinds of ways while I'm doing this. But what the purpose of all you others may be, now that is a lot harder for me to get a grip on. Still, I am satisfied by this thought, and I live by it every day.

A birthday is just another day to me. So this day is just as good as any other for trying to decide on whether I have, so far, spent my life the way I should. I think so, although there are many things I haven't tried yet. And by that I don't mean eating fried pizza covered in chocolate or drunk driving, but more meaningful things.

Let's start by having a look at what I did in my younger years, summarized in imaginary newspaper headlines:
  • 1972: Boy born in home for the aged.
Mostly harmless
  • 1975: Bit dentist's finger, rewarded with small toy
  • 1979: Read One Thousand and One Nights, oblivious to the erotic bits
  • 1982: New transportation device for children; Ice floes
  • 1983: Got both a computer and a concussion the same week. Agony, as enjoying the first is prevented by the other.
  • 1985: Child worker: 13-year-old sold more than a hundred Commodore64 home computers 
  • 1986: Confirmee fashion of the year; white suit, pink shirt and grey leather tie.
Oh, the humanity!
  • 1992: Conscripted young men shoots down airplane on Crete with missile 
  • 1998: How to become an IT professional without writing a line of code
And then I started traveling.

I think it's safe to say that I have had other priorities in my adult life than most people choose. Still, I have recently become part of the crowd, sort of, by buying a house, a car and home appliances for the first time in my life, together with the woman I have shared many journeys and other nice memories with for the last five years or so.

I'm fairly happily doing this, but the more I get into the kind of activities that are socially expected of grown-ups, the happier I am that I didn't get started on this until now.
As you can see, I will not be living downtown from now on.
Suddenly life is full of stuff that I have never before devoted any thought to. Paper work, budgets, screwdrivers, painting of walls, curtains, petrol and corrosion. Oh, and not forgetting the most ludicrous of all activities people choose to do; gardening! This all occupies time that my gut feeling tells me would be much better spent in, for example, Turkmenistan or Surinam.

I'll obviously have to do something about this eventually. In the meantime I'll just try to go along with the kind of life that most people live, cheering myself up with the memories of all the things I have done and experienced in life so far.

Please believe me when I say that this isn't about bragging to you, but about comforting myself, summing up what I have done instead of the things I "should" have done. Not only do I understand that others choose to live differently from me, I'm actually very happy that they do.

Since I started traveling, I have:
  • Warily made my way across the slippery penguin shit beaches of Antarctica.
Self-reflection in Antarctica.
  • Visited all the seven continents before I turned 30.
  • Crossed Russia from east to west in a month, going by train and boat.  
  • Got to be alone with Tut Ankh Amon for a full 15 minutes.
I just call him Tut.
  • Patted a giraffe on its head and tickled a jaguar's paws. 
  • Climbed the Great Pyramid of Giza at least a little bit before they spotted me.
My camouflage was too warm and not sufficiently camouflage-y
  • Waited for more than two days for the bus in Banjul to fill up sufficiently with passengers.
  • Floated down the Amazonas river for five days and nights, 1,500 kilometers from Manaus to the Atlantic coast. 
Rainforest happiness.
  • Been riding on a horse through water filled with crocodiles/caymans. Well, jacarés, really.
  • Been arrested for espionage in Egypt as well as in Trans-Dniestr (the latter twice in one day).
  • Snorkeled, dived and swallowed huge amounts of sea water along four of the five largest coral reefs in the world. 
  • Gotten lost in fresh snow high up in the Himalayas.
  • Had my photos used in books and magazines in a number of languages, occupying almost one meter of bookshelf space in my library.
  • Represented all Christians in the world in a panel debate in far eastern Turkey, until someone discovered that I was just an atheist with a misleading middle name. I escaped.
  • Wandered day and night all alone through choice parts of the Sahara.
There's just something special about a really huge desert
  • Visited almost 13 chocolate factories.
  • Never been a patient at any hospital.
  • Traveled to the Moon and almost back home by plane, except I chose a different route that took me all over the world.
  • Hiked all of Northern Spain, starting in France, on the pilgrim's route of Camino de Santiago. 
Half-way there on an 800 kilometer walk. Considering turning around and go back.
  • Traveled on the roof of a bus through Nepal. 
  • Had to persuade a bus driver in Australia to let me get off his bus in the middle of the nowhere to go hiking.
  • Gone for a ride on an elephant, a camel, a donkey, a water buffalo, a cow and an ostrich. And on a few horses.
Bordering on animal abuse, but at least I have my pants on!
  • Ran faster than at least three robbers in Zimbabwe. 
  • Walked through half of Italy, from Milan to Rome. 
  • Found more than a thousand hidden treasures in forests, mountains, cities, jungles, deserts and an owl and a duck.
I risked my life to find this thing.  (I had to drive a rental car in Brazil.)
  • Briskly walked from one side of Monaco to the other.  
  • Snuck into The Gambia from Senegal by using a stamp I made with a potato. 
  • Celebrated the Mayan New Year in the temple city of Tikal. 
  • Been rolling on the floor laughing in North Korea, after being presented with their stuffed animals.
  • Seen bilbys, coatis, wombats, guanacos, rhinos, bears and Thai transvestites in the wild. 
  • Sat quietly in the jungle at night, listening to walking, hissing and grunting in the bush around me.
  • Swam to the airport on Fiji in flooding following a cyclone.
  • Donated more than a thousand photographies to Wikipedia.
Not for a moment have I been bored. Instead, I have always tried to be kind and considerate to others. Never have I had any reason or inclination not to.

That will have to be enough pep talk for now. Life can be wonderful wherever you spend your days. If it turns out that my next 42 years will to a large extent be filled with activities that I today consider mundane and trivial, I'm pretty sure that they will still bring plenty of excitement. Same same, only different.

A new report will follow in due time.

I do not wish for any particular attention on my birthday. Instead, you should enjoy some chocolate, making your day just as splendid as the one I have.

Found on a grave in Ireland. Wisdom.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catching up is a little bit hard to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy find.

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

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

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