Widgets A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care: Anthony Rickey Archives

Anthony Rickey Archives

(Click here for background on the Supreme Court Project)

Supreme Court of Peru, Palacio de Justicia, Lima, Peru
Address: Miguel Aljovin, Lima, Peru, by Estacion Central subway (Map)

Unlike our Ecuadorian adventure, our visit to the Supreme Court of Peru didn't feature any impromptu meetings with publicity officers. Our cab driver didn't know the way to the Supreme Court--and wondered why two foreigners wanted to go there--but he did know the Sheraton Lima, which faces right across the park from the fantastic Palacio de Justicia, and we could guide him from there.

Thus, we emerged into a sunny afternoon in front of a grand neoclassical structure that takes up most of a city block and houses the upper levels of the Peruvian judiciary. According to Wikipedia, the Peruvians modeled the building off of the law courts of Brussels, and the building does have a very heavy, European feel. Foolishly, I tried to walk up the steps to the front entrance, only to be rebuffed by a uniformed clerk who insisted that if we wanted to enter, we needed to go in the side door.

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The Palacio de Justicia, at night

There are no signs advising where to go as a "visitor," although there is a public entrance on the north side of the building. Unlike the grand facade, these doors are more pedestrian steel affairs, and a small crowd of litigants, attorneys and document carriers milled around waiting for admission to begin at two o'clock. We were in no hurry, and so wandered in a complete circuit around the building. To the northwest, a dirty park sat forlornly across the street from a few cantinas. Surrounding the Palacio on the west and south are the offices of government and private attorneys, both of whom were privileged to use entrances limited only to officialdom. The private offices to the south are a particularly interesting mix. Some bore clean, polished bronze plaques announcing the name of the lawyers within, while the windows of other offices were festooned with dot-matrix banners annoucing "ABOGADO" in faded grey letters.

The public doors still hadn't opened when we made it back to the public entrance, so we made our way northeast up Azangaro street. Here the shops are most definitely lawyer-focused: I have not seen so many places to buy highlighters, binders, binder clips, printing services or other paper-based products in my life. Mixed amidst these are a number of cheap coffee and sandwich shops, where it would be hard to pay more than five dollars for lunch.

Feeling well fed on ham sandwiches, we returned to find that the public doors had opened in our absence. The crowd was now slightly larger, but also slowly making its way past security. A few attorneys (or perhaps employees of attorneys), sweating in the sun outside the door in navy blue wool suits, approached us to ask if we needed counsel. They were skeptical that the guards would let us in as tourists, but we actually didn't have much trouble. This may be because the guard asked if we were attorneys, we said "yes," and he let us by without inquiring further as to our business.

(Click here for background on the Supreme Court Project)

Ecuador provided us with one of our most pleasant and unexpected encounters at the Tribunal Constitutional. We hadn't had much time to plan a visit to the Ecuadorian courts, as the idea to visit various supreme courts popped into my head a few days before we were leaving for Peru. In what would become my standard operating procedure for this project, we looked up some online background information on Ecuador's court system, found the addresses of the courts, and--in the absence of any tourist information--dressed fairly nicely and headed out to see what reception we would get. In places like Ecuador, this worked out better than expected. In other countries, I ended up being menaced by men with guns or indirectly bothering an attorney general. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ecuador set my parameters for this project, both in where I would go and what I'd try to achieve. Like many countries, Ecuador has separated the court that functions as the highest appellate body (the Corte Suprema or Corte Nacional) and the body charged with interpreting the Ecuadorian constitution (the Corte Constitucional del Ecuador para el Periodo de Transicion). In every country, I tried to visit both the constitutional court and the highest appellate court.

Yet merely finding the Ecuadorian courts, let alone trying to understand them, proved difficult. We didn't always have internet access, and when we did, the Ecuadorian court websites seemed to be frequently offline. Pallavi's Spanish is better than my "donde esta el bano?" level, but neither of us is up to doing legal research in the native tongue. I quickly figured out that there was little way to conduct in-depth research for the Supreme Court Project, especially once we entered Asia or Africa and I had even less grasp of the language. So while I hope that these entries will be entertaining, and I'll do my best to provide links to useful sources of information, the Supreme Court Project is more a short excursion into gonzo journalism than a legal project. In other words, This Is Not Legal Advice (and for goodness sake, don't cite to it).

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The Corte Nacional de Justicia, Quito, Ecuador

With that in mind, here's my tale of the high courts of Ecuador.

TripAdvisor offered to send us a free "Top Contributor" tote bag. I don't normally use tote bags, but it might be funny to see the reaction of hotel staff if we walked in carrying one.

Today is the last 'official' day of our trip. We're flying to India to visit family, but that isn't really part of the "round the world" excursion. Pallavi heads out at insane o'clock early tomorrow morning, and my flight is the next day. A few days later we'll be back in Texas, ready to get on with the rest of our lives.

The blog, of course, will keep going for a while. We haven't told a lot of stories yet: how Tony bloodied his feet walking up to the temples at Tirupati and almost got run over by a big monkey, or Pallavi's guide to all the best Mexican restaurants in southeast Asia, or why you should never take a reed hat under a waterfall....

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Ronald waves at the Luxor Temple and mosque

Pallavi decided to sleep in upon our return from an early-morning trip to Kom Ombo temple, leading to a certain amount of consternation from the cleaning staff, who wanted to come in and fix the place up. We came back to the room after lunch to find this little fellow hanging in the entryway.

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I'll admit to the possibility that this was meant to be a jovial and welcoming figure, but with its vaguely threatening aspect it felt more like the janitorial equivalent of a horse's head left in the bed. We resolved to be up and out of their way the next morning, and sure enough, waiting for us was a much more cheering towel swan.

"Let me show you around, friend." The desperately cheerful Luxor shop owner is the fourth in as many minutes to insist that he holds only my best interests at heart, and that he has absolutely no intention of taking me to his shop. Both of us understand, take as read, the insincerity of these promises.

I would never have thought to see touts with more hustle than in the maze-like medinas of Marrakech and Fez, but the Egyptians take second place to no one in the "separate tourists from their liquid assets" category of the capitalist Olympics. Even among Egyptians, Luxor merchants are considered particularly aggressive. Or, to spin it more kindly: Luxor may be the easiest place in the world to find a new "friend."

The land of the Nile lies quiet these days. Whatever the democratic vices or virtues of the Arab Spring, the January 25 uprising has driven a stake through the heart of the tourist industry. Archaeological sites accustomed to thousands of daily visitors now host a handful. Hotels are almost empty: during a dinner cruise of the Nile in Cairo, I was amazed by how few rooms were lit up in the grand downtown hotels. The Four Seasons, the Sofitel, or the Sheraton now seem similar to the quiet, eternal sentinels of Abu Simbel, darkly guarding a river that does not really need them anymore.

To a tourist, the signs of the limited violence that followed the revolution are few, if significant. Sadly, one of the most obvious is the National Democratic Party building, put to the torch by protestors during the demonstrations. The political implications of this act of patriotic arson are obvious, but economically unfortunate: the burnt-out hulk overshadows the Egyptian Museum, reminding Cairo visitors of present dangers.

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It feels like the nation is holding its breath until the September elections, hopeful that they will bring a renewed sense of normalcy, and fearful that they will not. Our guides have ranged in fervency from slightly to fanatically anti-Mubarak, but most have also expressed a wish for the protests to die down. They know how demonstrations are covered internationally. One Friday, while we were diving in Sharm el Sheikh, our divemaster took every spare above-water moment to check Facebook on his Blackberry, hoping that he'd see no traces of violence from the protests at Tahrir Square.

On a purely mercenary basis, I understand why some Egyptians wish that Mubarak had simply left the country, despite the fact that he would have walked off with quite a few assets. Instead, he's holed up in a hospital in Sharm el Sheikh due to "poor health." Sharm, perhaps more than any other area of Egypt, relies upon divers, beach lovers and other devotees of the Red Sea for tourism income. Mubarak's presence there has scared off much of the tourist dollar, on the not-entirely-ludicrous theory that someone attacking Mubarak might not be too concerned about collateral damage. Be that as it may, while we were there disruption was limited to two protests: a demonstration outside the hospital much-covered by local and international news, and a smaller demonstration of laid-off workers outside the Marriott, seeking government assistance with the rent. We dubbed this The Rent is Too Damn High protest.

The hot summer is always slow, but this very low season makes it an interesting time to be a tourist. With business down, hotels and tour operators are willing to cut some pretty fantastic deals, with four and five star hotels suddenly springing within range of the budget traveler. Some chains are offering free room upgrades, others complimentary breakfast. While government-run tourist sites have not come down in price, tours guides and restaurants will readily negotiate. Given that we saw more violence in Morocco than we've encountered thus far in Egypt, there's a lot to recommend the Nile to a cost-conscious traveler right now.

That said, it's not all wine and roses, although most of the negative aspects of Egyptian tourism are vastly outweighed by the positives. Hotels operating with skeleton crews may not charge first-class prices, but they also can't offer first-class service. (That said, they offer hot water and working plumbing, which immediately sets them apart from some of our budget hostels.) We had our first theft from a hotel room at the Sheraton Dreamland in Cairo. A year without incident in our accommodations had left us complacent, so we didn't use the hotel safe for everything. That this was unwise is a blinding flash of the obvious.

Our taxi driver from Luxor to Aswan implied that the revolution has left certain areas with a great deal of autonomous power. This came up in the context of speed bumps, which have proliferated on the Luxor-Aswan highway as locals used them as a substitute for absent policemen. The driver blamed these for the increase in travel time from two and a half to over three hours. Frankly, given the insane disregard for life and limb shown by Cairo drivers, I was actually happy for the hinderance.

But while the revolution has engendered a certain degree of disorganization, the chaos often has happy endings. We had hired our driver because we had to make our Luxor-Aswan trip at the last minute. We'd initially booked a Nile cruise upriver, with Travco, only to have them send us an email at 4:57 pm the day before we were to travel to Aswan, telling us that the Jaz Jubilee had been cancelled. There followed an anxious day of phone calls and emails, in which it was unclear whether we'd go Luxor-Aswan, Aswan-Luxor, or simply not take a cruise at all.

It turns out that most of the Nile fleet is not operating due to the lack of tourists. But in the end we were transferred to the M/S Princess Sarah , an even nicer boat with an excellent staff and better facilities. Thus, I write this from a wood-panelled bar, floating off the bank of the Nile in Aswan, surrounded by a handful of German and Russian families making the trip with us.

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Sunset from the sundeck of the M/S Princess Sarah

So while there's a bit of sharp practice from touts, and you need to be careful with your wallet, there's much to recommend traveling to Egypt this year. Keep a bit of a thick skin: every person that you're likely to encounter will be both happy to have a job, but obviously hurting from a downturn in business. That being said, this may be the best time in living memory to have an Egyptian holiday.

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Abercrombie & Kent, the Nile Cruise Boat

We found this in a hardware store in Marrakech while we were looking for a juicer. I don't know what you would cleave with this thing. It was all one piece of metal, and looked more like something out of a low-budget Tolkein ripoff than a kitchen implement.

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UPDATE [July 15]: According to one of my friends on Facebook, this implement is used to cleave meat with bones. Given the weight, I can see that.

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A camel-mounted policeman outside the Red Pyramid

A long overdue update: after looking over all of our options, we decided to make our way through Egypt. The State Department has downgraded its warnings , and there are some real advantages to coming here when the tourist trade is low. For instance, I had fifteen minutes of utterly solitary contemplation inside the Great Pyramid, as Pallavi decided to stay outside and no other tourist ventured in until I was on my way down the dark staircase leading out from the tomb.

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Outside the Great Pyramid

After a week in Cairo, we are spending five nights in Sharm el Sheikh before we head on to Luxor. We found a great deal on a Sheraton resort, but internet access here is extortionately expensive. [1] (We're here to dive the waters, not surf the web.) We can occasionally check email for free (thanks to the international 3G access on Pallavi's Kindle ) through a slow and intermittent connection. If you want to get in touch with us, email is probably the best way to do so, though we may not be able to reply very quickly.

[1] Seriously: $25/day. That's a little less than half the daily room rate. I get the business logic on this. First, people here are only likely to get internet when they really need it, at which point they'll suck it up and pay the cost. Second, resorts work on a "keep them here" model, and anything that allows comparison shopping with the walled garden down the road is anathema. But while I understand the principles at work here, it puts a foul taste in the mouth.

On the other hand, I can't complain too much...

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The view from our balcony

I have no idea what he was protesting about, but he was very happy when someone decided to take a picture of him.

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It seems logical. El Corte Ingles needs to name its own-brand patio furniture range. It goes outdoors. Outside the house. Nonetheless...

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Insert crude joke about thrones here.

...maybe you should check your branding with a native speaker.

(Urban legend background behind the title for this post here.)

Pallavi brought this to my attention while we were in the grocery store today, with the comment, "This looks like a very bad idea." So long as it's a choice between risking this and my new favorite, Alhambra 1925, I'm going to take the latter. Does anyone know if this is available outside of Spain, and if so, is it as horrible as it sounds?

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Back from the Millesime Weekend Valencia food festival. This weekend we drove thirteen hundred kilometers in order to consume an untold number of calories. I suspect that Pallavi will be doing some food blogging shortly, once Picasa's upload function starts working again. And yes, I might have a wine review or three.

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Cerezas con foie: Cherries covered in port and coffee, by Restaurante Moo, Barcelona

The internet has long been the battleground for technology holy wars: UNIX v. Windows, Mac v. PC, etc. I have been surprised, however, by how many conversations I've seen recently concerning a new technology conflict: which is better, Kindle or iPad? (Wired even questioned, tongue very much in cheek, whether this reflects an ideological divide on the Supreme Court.) In particular, I was taken aback by the intensity shown by partisans on both sides when a friend wrote a query on Facebook asking if she should buy a Kindle.

I'm not certain that the question makes much sense in the first place: these are two different technologies for very different purposes. But for use on a long-term trip like this one, I'd recommend the Kindle. There's absolutely no difference in the availability of books, since Amazon will quite happily sell their Kindle content to the iPad's app. Yet the Kindle has a number of distinct advantages for a long-term traveler.

  • Price: Here, Apple is its own worst enemy. As of this writing, a wifi-only iPad costs $499. A Kindle with 3G and wifi costs $189, and a 32GB iPod touch $299. So the question isn't really "which device is better?" but "does the iPad do anything that a Kindle, plus another $300 device, doesn't do?" We've been traveling with an iPhone and Kindle, and I'd have to say that the answer is no.

Despite not being particularly religious, I picked up the basics of Christianity as I made my way through the public schools, along with a bit of knowledge about Judaism and Islam. Similarly, I learned about Shinto, Buddhism and Confusionism--the three major Japanese religious influences--as part of my undergraduate studies. But despite having been part of a Hindu wedding ceremony (in which I swore vows in a language I don't understand, and to this day have no idea what I swore to do), it wasn't until we went on this trip that I managed to learn much at all about Hinduism. 

Making our way through Asia opened my eyes to the prodigious influence of the Hindu religion on cultures outside India. [1] By the time we set foot in Delhi, we had already visited Hindu religious sites in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand. Thankfully, Pallavi had suggested that we go to the Ramayana Ballet in Yogyakarta, which gave me at least some grounding in one of the major works of the Hindu religion before we made our way further.

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Lord Rama and Leksmana comfort a fallen Jatayu

I recently received a request for a photograph of myself, and was left scratching my head. I actually do have an electronic album of my few decent photos, but that album is on a hard drive in storage somewhere in suburban New York. All I have with me are photos from this trip.

Instead of weeding through several thousand photographs looking for a presentable image, I decided to cheat by relying on Picasa's facial recognition technology. I left the program running overnight and returned the next morning, coffee in hand, to the somewhat tedious task of identifying four thousand or so faces that Picasa had picked out of our photos.

Most of these faces belonged to innocent bystanders, and could be set aside easily. There were a few photos of me, a few more of Pallavi, and several of friends and travel companions whom we've met along the road. In the end, I found a couple of pictures that didn't make me look like a deranged lunatic with a bad haircut. But Picasa also picked out the faces of two individuals who we'd photographed in several countries, and yet weren't friends or family.

It's not surprising that we have multiple pictures of President Obama, whether in a cafe in Ecuador;


or on a campaign poster in Peru.

But while the President may get a bit of exposure, he's a virtual nonentity in comparison to the man who has followed our footsteps on every continent, in virtually every country: Che Guevara. 

As we were searching for places to go next, we came across two more blogs written by couples making lengthy journeys, both of which are quite good. The first, Yann and Catherine's Global Undertaking, hasn't been updated in quite a while, but I love how they insist that they are not backpackers. Their travel style mirrors ours pretty well.

Jack and Jill's blog, on the other hand, has frequent updates and makes for a pretty pleasant read on a chill afternoon. They're in Ecuador now, and I'm hoping that they enjoy it as much as we did.

We spent the weeks since leaving Marrakech making our way through Morocco by train: Fez, then Meknes, then Rabat, then Casablanca. Much of what we'd heard of Casablanca from other travelers wasn't very positive, along the lines of "spend a day, at most." Yet I rather enjoyed Morocco's economic capital. Besides the quite magnificent modern cathedral that is the Hassan II Mosque (worthy of a post of its own), the city has a new world charm and character that made for a nice contrast after a month of tajines in various ancient medinas.

I owe part of my satisfaction with the city to the Hotel Amoud, which although at the top end of our budget, provided surprisingly good value for Morocco: the bed was comfortable, the bathrooms clean, and the location smack in the middle of the art deco district of Casablanca. While the Amoud itself is nothing special, it's neighborhood makes for some entertaining photography. I'm cursing the fact that I did my phototourism on an overcast day, when the light wasn't anywhere near ideal.

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We've encountered a fair bit of art deco on our trip thus far, though we've not blogged about much of it: a few spots in Banos, Ecuador, or the small town of Ranfurly in New Zealand. Of these, Casablanca has definitely been the most fun. 

Days in Art Deco

We didn't hit any of the bars or clubs after hours, but this is a well-known (if not exactly salubrious) nightlife area, not much frequented by tourists. Make sure to catch a cab home if you're going out.

I would like to apologize for the problems that we seem to be having with comments at the moment. I've had a few reports that the site is timing out before accepting comments. This may be a problem with my web host, or it may be an issue with how MT rebuilds. The more I fight this system, the more that I wish I'd just installed Wordpress.

The situation in Egypt altered our travel plans considerably. We'd originally hoped to travel south from Egypt to Tanzania, from there to South Africa, and then on to Morocco. Instead, we skipped straight to Marrakech: South Africa is showing lows in the 50s and will only get colder, and we couldn't find an inexpensive London-Tanzania flight on short notice.

Right now, we're in Malaga, and the only flight left on our round-the-world ticket is Madrid-Quito, which we'll probably skip. We're working with a time restriction, in that we need to leave Spain around June 28, must be in India for a family event around July 23, and then need to return to the United States by early August. Yet we can go almost anywhere the budget allows in early July. Ideally, we're looking to travel somewhere cheaply, live there cheaply, and then get to India cheaply. (If it weren't for this last qualification, I might actually take the Madrid-Quito ticket, and then take a short hop to spend our last three weeks in laid back Buenos Aires.)

If you have a recommendation, we're all ears. Although we're open to any and all ideas, we're currently thinking about:

  • Tanzania: Back to the original plan. Although tickets are expensive, the cost of living is pretty low, and we'd be able to make our way back to India without much fuss.
  • Iceland: We'd been strongly considering Iceland as a recession-tourism destination. Despite their currency woes, however, it doesn't appear that the cost of living has fallen enough to make this budgetarily feasible.
  • Greece: A few weeks on a Greek island might be a nice way to chill out, but they're still part of the euro, and unless the dollar surges this may be a problem.
  • Ireland: Both of us have always wanted to go to Ireland. Same problem as Greece, however: the strong euro.
  • Turkey: Midway between Spain and India, and would allow for weeks of "it's Istanbul, not Constantinople" jokes.
  • Kurdistan: Adventure tourism. The NY Times says it's one of 41 places to visit this year, and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is apparently less anxious than the U.S. State Department. What could go wrong?

As always, we'd welcome comments.

We've been fairly happy with our OneWorld Explorer ticket, especially with its flexibility on date changes. When we purchased the ticket, I'd read horror stories, mostly involving lack of availability. Yet until now, every date change that we've made has gone off without a hitch: OneWorld had flights available either on the day we wanted, or within twenty-four hours. The process is pretty seamless: make a Skype call with LAN, change the flight, and receive a confirmatory email in a few days.

Last Friday, the process broke down badly.

Our last weekend in Cuzco we took a bus to Pisac, a town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas famed for its Sunday market. We had seen the town a week earlier from a very different vantage point, looking down across the river while trekking on the way to Huchuy Cusquo. The plan was simple: bus the hour or so from Cuzco to Pisac, drop our bags at a hotel, and take a taxi to the top of the ruins for a leisurely walk down.

It didn't quite work out that way. Even though we'd been in the highlands for weeks, the rickety-swerving bus managed to make us motion sick, and by the time we'd rested, eaten and managed to find Hospidaje Kinsa Ccocha, it was getting towards late afternoon. Negotiations with a taxi took a bit more time, as did buying our ticket, and we reached the summit with only a few hours of light left.

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A few hours later, we were making our way down in the dark.

We haven't blogged much about our various visits to Incan ruins. Built primarily with corv�e labour, these enormous constructions of stone are all that remain of the great Incan cities after centuries of Spanish conquest, extensive robbery of antiquities and the unrelenting passage of time. While neither as spectacular in architecture as Huchuy Cusquo, nor as famous as Macchu Pichu, the ruins of the Incan citadel are well worth the hike downhill.

Pisac: a walk through dark places

The cemetery at Recoleta is one of three famous resting places that we've visited on this trip, along with the San Francisco's Columbarium and the Mia�ra of Marrakech. We blogged a bit about Recoleta, and I made a banner from one of our pictures, but I realized after posting the Mia�ra photo set that I never put up our photos.

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We visited Recoleta on a rainy day. While the damp made for a chilly walk, it's the perfect environment for a visit. In Recoleta rest the great and the good of Argentina, including most famously Eva Peron. Judges, doctors, politicians and others invite you to look upon their works and despair, striving to outdo each other in baroque and extravagant edifices of marble and granite, observed by petrified angels or looking out upon their competition through unaging eyes of stone. The combination of somber silence with the active, frenetic statuary creates an almost uncomfortable atmosphere. The word necropolis has never been so appropriate: if the Columbarium captures San Francisco's optimistic attitude even in death, Recoleta is a city caught in an undying bourgeois attempt to keep up with the Joneses.

Recoleta Cemetery

Looking back on these, I really regret that we hadn't purchased a good camera before setting out on the trip. These were taken with our old Canon Powershot, and the difference does show.

Everywhere that we stayed in India had a television, which allowed us to watch the cricket and keep up with the news. And almost every television station, whether showing Indian dramas or American movies, had the occasional ad in English. I wish I could find some of the body spray advertisements online, because they give Axe  commercials a run for their money in the lack-of-taste department. [1]

On the other hand, I applaud the marketing department that attempted to make a low center of gravity moped sexy:

This Tata commercial seems symptomatic of a corporate inferiority complex: it's not like these "advanced" features are novel on Japanese cars. More to the point, we rode in a Tata Manza on the way from New Delhi to Agra. It's a competent little vehicle, but I don't think the feature set or build quality is keeping Japanese engineers anxiously awake at night.

Then again: there's a reason Tata isn't bragging that its cars outclass GM!

[1] Lynx, for my friends in the UK.

We arrived in Oomaru, part of our as-yet-mostly-unblogged ten day road trip through New Zealand's south island, in order to watch as the famous blue penguins made their way back to their nests. I wish we'd had more time to spend, because the city is as quirky, cute and fascinating as its flightless waterfowl.

Penguins' Progress

Let's get this out of the way: the blue penguin may be the cutest creature ever, or at least cutest thing created by God as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki.

Actually, there's more than a little influence of Miyazaki in the blue penguin, as well as traces of Disney and Charlie Chaplin. The smallest breed of penguin in the world, they stand about twelve inches high, and are apparently as graceful in the water as they are clumsy on land. Their short stature makes it difficult for them to climb the steep hillsides rising out of their oceans to their nests. Intensely communal, they twist and turn their heads while looking at each other in a manner that begs for a voice over from a British comedian. To top it all off, they can't see yellow light.

This last disability is what allows them to be a major tourist draw. Every year they return to their nesting area to raise their new chicks. Proud penguin parents journey out into the ocean by day to scoop up small fish, and return each night under what they think is the cover of darkness to feed their young. The locals of Oomaru have cunningly constructed a giant stone ampitheater right next to the nesting area, allowing spectators to observe the progress of these penguins back to their nests under intense yellow spotlights.

It's comedy gold.

I mentioned before how much I loved our Marrakech apartment. It was really too much space for us, with three bedrooms surrounding a kitchen. But we got such a deal that it was irresistible, and the extra space did allow us to have a friend visit without feeling cramped.

I probably enjoyed the patio most. I tend to wake up a little earlier than Pallavi, so I could start my mornings with a cup of coffee out on the patio, checking my mail and getting a little bit of writing done. Coffee time ended once the sun had risen high enough to shine directly onto the table and, more importantly, my head. Two more months of this and I could have finished entire novels.

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Likewise, the combination of a simple kitchen and fresh, fragrant vegetables made for easy culinary experimentation. In truth, I know very little about cooking with spices. But Pallavi would come back from the market with a little bit of this and some of that, and one or the two of us would whip up lunch or dinner by spicing some meat or legume and heating it up in a huge wok. And given the quality of the ingredients, it was really hard to screw anything up too badly.

The fruit and the mint were best of all. Oranges the size of softballs made a mess of my hands when I tried to peel them, and I picked up the Moroccan habit of glazing them with a bit of cinnamon and sugar. One morning I broiled grapefruit in the toaster oven, covering the half-globes with the same cinnamon sugar mix, and the sweet/tart taste turned out surprisingly well.

Then there's the mint. Moroccan mint has more flavor than any I've tasted. Combine with juice from the tart, fragrant limes, and you have the makings of a wonderful mojito. And if you happen to be in the country for Cinco de Excuse To Drink Margaritas, they make this too.

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Our apartment's only downside: no freezer, and thus no ice

Here are a few photos of a Moroccan labor day demonstration that passed outside the window of our apartment. Despite the depressing rain, the crowd chanted boisterously. According to some of the local news, the normal May Day pro-labor messages were mixed with a chorus of protest against terrorist attacks.

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A few blocks away from the Bahia Palace lies the Mia�ra, or Jewish cemetery. As you wander in, a caretaker will offer to guide you, and a tip of about 10 dirham apiece (less than $2) is expected. We passed on the guide, which was probably a mistake, as he could have added some context. On the other hand, the cemetery offered plentiful opportunities for photographs.

Jewish Cemetery

We've just finished a stay of a little over a month in Marrakech. I am writing this on the morning of May 12, on a train rolling its gentle way north towards Fez. It's a seven hour journey that should provide some catch-up time for blogging for as long as the laptop's battery holds out.

Despite a few small problems here and there (more on which later), Marrakech has become one of my favorite cities on this trip. Our beloved apartment sat only a few minutes walk from Jamaa el-Fna, the boisterous central square that leads into the marketplace. Yet our street, Rue Fatime Zohra, was itself relatively wide, brightly lit, and not so close to Koutoubia Mosque to make sleeping through a call to prayer absolutely impossible.

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The front door of our apartment

Finding a grocery store was one of our first tasks upon arriving in Marrakech. Living in the center of fruit stalls, corner markets, and little shops selling eclectic hodge-podges of household goods, it might seem odd to seek out the local equivalent of a Kroger. Yet supermarkets have one thing that a souk does not: fixed prices. Shops in the medina expect haggling, and a quick exploratory jaunt to a grocery store serves to set baseline expectations for later negotiations.

(As an aside: I've heard various visitors discuss--okay, complain about--the "foreigner tax" that stall owners will apply when negotiating with an out-of-town customer. While getting a bit ripped off is annoying, I don't think that the description is entirely fair. The salesmen in the Marrakech medina tend to be in cutthroat competition with one another and have developed trading instincts to match. Were a local to show up without experience in bargaining or the ability to speak one of the local languages fluently, I'm sure that they'd also be "taxed." Similarly, I'd love to visit Marrakech with some of my relatives who have earned reputations as... well, let's say hard bargainers, although their counterparties might use more colorful terms.)

No two walks in the medina are alike. Some areas specialize in certain goods: there are alleyways full of goldsmiths, squares that sell the latest Converse or Nike sneakers (or knock-offs thereof), and passageways full of leather handbags stacked three men high. The pathway north from our apartment to the grocery store remained my favorite throughout our month in Marrakech, however. Reflecting its residential character, the path had less in the way of souvenir sellers and tour operators, and more butchers, fruit vendors, bakeries, spice merchants, tailors and dry cleaners. A few days before we left, I chronicled the walk in this photoset.

From Our Apartment to the Market

Much as I prefer this domesticity, the charms of the more tourist-driven Marrakechi markets are undeniable. In Chicago I learned that everything you ever wanted was bought, bartered or stolen in my lifetime, and it's easy to conclude that all of that has been sold in Marrakech at some time or another. 

The passages that lead off from the Jamaa el-Fna are as much linguistically as geographically confusing until you nail down a few terms. A medina is the old part of a Moroccan city, generally surround by a wall. A darb is a road or alleyway. A souk is the name for a market. But most of the alleyways, squares, roads or pathways that spring up in the marketplace tend to call themselves souks. Meanwhile, many mere darbs are full of enough commerce that you would think they were markets in their own right. And if you walk at a brisk pace, you can probably make your way through a majority of those terms in less time than it takes to define them.

We were lucky to have the luxury of time in Marrakech, because some of the most fun can be had setting aside the guidebook, wandering down an alleyway and intentionally getting oneself lost. The medina has an allergy to right angles, and once the high brick walls block your view of the sun and local landmarks, it is easy to wander westward for half an hour, firmly convinced that you are heading east. [1] Once, when I was trying to meet Pallavi and her friend on an afternoon, three Brits rolling suitcases asked me the quickest way to the Koutoubia Mosque, as they were trying to catch a plane back home and needed a taxi. Luckily I had my iPhone with me: the combination of a map and compass sent them on their way.  The medina is not the place to be if you actually need to get anywhere else in a hurry.

But it abounds in sights like this:

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A cobbler fixes my shoes... with fire

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Tourists "fish" for soda bottles in the Jamaa el-Fna. The prize for winning is a bottle of soda. I never saw anyone win.

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Food stalls

A word of warning about street food: while we never had any problem in restaurants, proprietors of market stalls will quite cheerfully set out unasked-for plates of bread, olives, and other seemingly complimentary snacks. They will later appear on the bill, especially if the proprietors do not think you ate enough.

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Dates, figs, and dried fruits on the left. Fresh orange juice on the right.

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The markets hold a few dangers and annoyances. Most of the traders are polite and professional, but I did have some worrying encounters. I don't know if it was because of my shaved head, but my journeys through the medina were punctuated by offers of hashish from shady men. A few others would call me "footballer." (Is there some shaved-headed football star in the spotlight at the moment?). Indeed, the touts seemed to enjoy giving nicknames to passers-by.

Likewise, I can see why women would be annoyed by the leering, hissing and "kiss kiss" noises from some of the men in the market. It's a constant, and something that young female visitors should be prepared for, because they're not likely to avoid it: these sounds follow in the wake of even accompanied women. What puzzled me was the sheer indiscriminacy of it. It's true that the average tourist dresses less modestly than many a Moroccan woman, and by the end of a month the sight of bare shoulders had become a bit shocking even for me. But what possesses a man to hiss lasciviously at a girl dressed perfectly appropriatedly in cargo pants and a bulky GAP top? Not that a woman dressed like that can't be pretty, but she's certainly not trying to be noticed.

Of course, sometimes men have the odd bad encounter as well. While I was looking for limes one day in the Jamaa el-Fna, an orange juice seller decided that it was critical for me to sample his wares. His cries of "Hey, friend!" turned to profanity after I had ignored his first few attempts to draw me over. I'd never before had a problem with ignoring a tout, nor did anyone else seem to understand why he was so upset. The date-seller next door, distressed by my reaction (and those of tourists around me) began loudly admonishing the orange juice vendor. Things only really ended when I went back to the distraught salesman and explained, in my broken French, that I was looking for citron verte, could see that he had only oranges and grapefruit, and didn't want to bother him with my poor language skills if I wasn't going to buy anything. Following my "apology," they guy's neck retreated two inches into his shoulder blades, and after he slunk back the date-seller really gave him an earful. A better linguist than I could probably have picked up some really choice Arabic words.

Unpleasant at the time, sure, but it's a story. Hang around these markets for a month, and you'll have plenty of them to tell.

Markets of Marrakech

[1] If desperate, an iPhone's local map can generally get you back to a landmark: Google really is that good. But it's cheating.

Cairns teems with backpackers, hostels, cheap hotels, dive centers, more backpackers, tourist shops, spas, coffee shops, yet more backpackers, faux-Irish pubs, nightclubs and the occasional additional backpacker. Pallavi sits just about at the top of the average age range for visitors to Cairns, and I felt very much like the creepy old man at the club. This didn't matter, of course, because we were there to dive the Great Barrier Reef, we stayed at a cheap tourist hotel instead of a party hostel, and we only incidentally took in the other attractions (and oddities) of Cairns. Nonetheless, we still managed to find Sydney-class drinks at Society, which I consider Cairns' finest bar.

The first thing you need to know about Society is that it is set up for youngish people looking to drink, dance and hook up. Decorated in a modern metal-and-plastic style, with only a bit of hard wood, the bar and the menu are ridiculously woo-girl friendly. The drinks veer heavily towards the sugar bomb: even their negronis are, as standard, mixed with a sweet syrup. Society is a product of its society.

That said, the bartenders can mix the classics, and enjoy showing off their skills when asked. They're also very friendly: one had spent a few years in Detroit, and he and I traded Michigan stories. Another wanted very much to try his hand in bars in the States, and we talked about what we thought might be the best markets for him. It's a shame that he probably won't be able to get a work permit: some fine bar in the States is currently missing a great employee.

As for the drinks, Society is quite creative with concoctions for the sweet-tooth set. Their absinthe-based signature drink manages to be sugary and yet not smother the strong anise flavors of its principal ingredient. On the other hand, Pallavi tried a yellowish concoction which captured the essence of a Starburst fruit chew in a glass. This drink almost doesn't taste alcoholic, which makes for one of those potions that every young girl's mother warned her about. These aren't normally my thing, but Society has elevated cocktail-as-sugar-delivery-mechanism to an art form. Don't drink too much, have plenty of water to ward off the almost inevitable hangover, and brush your teeth afterwards.

Following the welcome news (today must be a great day to be in New York), the U.S. State Department has issued an alert for Americans traveling until August 1, 2011... all over the world. While I suppose it's always useful to reiterate common sense advice (avoid demonstrations, especially if you don't know what they're about; pay attention to local news), this kind of generalized worry doesn't seem particularly helpful.

That said, the alert does link to the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), one of those amazingly useful government services probably known to too few people. Not only does the system email you the latest news and alerts for the country you're in (we avoided some massive Bangkok demonstrations after the service alerted us), but if something does happen, the U.S. embassy knows you're around. If you're leaving the United States any time soon, it's worth registering.

My family moved around a lot when I was young, so the concept of "home" is sort of hazy to me: wherever my stuff and my loved ones are at any given time, or have been for any period of time, qualifies. But if home is a variable, Alabama has always been a constant for me. It's the place where I "grew up."

I spent my high school years wandering around Huntsville, yearning to become an adult and get out into the great wide world. And small as I thought it was back then, Huntsville is where I gained skills and learned life lessons that helped me once I did leave. Beginning journalism consisted of editing interviews with local greasy-spoon legend Eunice or chatting with the political cartoonist from the Huntsville Times for the school magazine. Exploration meant hitching a ride with the older daughter of a family friend and making our way to far-off Vanderbilt, where we could catch a screening of Howards End and dream of exotic locales like London. My views on guns and gun control? They were largely influenced by the (now probably defunct) tradition in which some of the history teachers would bring in their extensive collection of historical firearms, which covered much of America's martial history.  As for character, well, the cast of characters made Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil look like Sense and Sensibility.

True, it wasn't all fantastic. My high school, a foxhole in the war on energy inefficiency, had no windows to stare out from during less than thrilling lectures. But I did learn to type on an IBM Selectric (which gave me some perspective a few years later), and today when I walked down into the souk and haggled with a cobbler who repaired my shoes with fire, I gave thanks for four years of French. There may be better places to become a young man, but allow me my doubts as to their existence.

Huntsville is hurting now, as is much of the rest of Alabama, after a series of tornadoes ripped through the state this week. We've been obsessively glancing through Facebook status updates and Twitter hashtags, learning what is still there and what has been lost. Every story is a little bit of horror, or a moment of relief when I learn that something I treasured remains unscathed.

If you have some to spare, a donation to the Red Cross or other charity working in the area would go a long way.

Our travel strategies have differed radically among countries. In Ecuador, Peru, England and most of southeast Asia, we hopped from hotel to hotel, never staying more than a week in any given place. In Argentina, Thailand and Morocco, on the other hand, we've rented apartments. (In New Zealand, we lived in the back of a van for a week.) There are advantages and drawbacks to both modes of travel, and a few things we've learned along the way that help with both.

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Another unanticipated advantage of apartments: sometimes you get unexpected co-tenants in the windowsills

If your camel is annoyed with you, it will let you know.

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For those concerned: we were not in the Jamaa el-Fna square when the explosion occurred, although I walked by there just last night with one of our friends. Current reports indicate that this was an accident involving a gas tank.

UPDATE: Our apartment is just outside the square. I'm kind of surprised that we didn't hear the explosions, although we heard the sirens afterwards. We actually learned about the accident when #Marrakech became a trending topic on Twitter.

[UPDATE 2, 4:20 pm: News sources are now reporting that this was a bomb attack, not an accident.]

Here's the scene as of an hour ago.

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As I'd mentioned, I was walking by the Argana last night with a friend. You can see a little bit of the building in the bottom left of the first picture, and its facade in the photo below that.

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With certain exceptions, our travel style involves cheap and cheerful hostels, cozy apartments and hotels at the inexpensive end of the scale. (Our Tripadvisor reviews tend to be biased toward our more expensive experiences, as I haven't reviewed many of the cheaper places.) Yet we've wandered through a few fairly nice hotels, either because they were attractions in themselves or out of pure curiousity. In the unlikely event that I one day try to re-experience this trip with a budget two orders of magnitude greater, these are the places that I'd love to book.

I should note that these are not necessarily the nicest hotels that we know of in any given city, but the best that we've seen on this trip. For example, if I could stay for free at any hotel in London, I'd rather see what the Savoy is like than the Metropolitan. On the other hand, I don't think I've ever been amazed by any hotel so much as I was by the Taj Falaknuma in Hyderabad, where you can quite literally sleep like a prince. For reference, I've included some prices of the nicer, lottery-winner level rooms.

La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco (Churchill Suite, ~$2,200/night): Located near the medina (and only a few blocks away from our current apartment), La Mamounia looks less Moroccan and more European than its website suggests. Wandering through its halls, the colonial influence is easy to discern, but this is classic colonial, not a cookie-cutter continenal hotel. In the evening, when the hurrying throngs have whipped up enough dust in the market to inspire previously unknown allergies, La Mamounia is a clear, quiet and clean oasis. We dropped by to try a drink at the Churchill Bar, which was both overpriced and somewhat disappointing: despite displaying several nicer brands of alcohol, a Manhattan with a price tag over $20 was mixed with Four Roses. Setting aside the mediocre drinks, the Churchill and Italian bars are both elegant and comfortable, and I was impressed by the attentiveness and professionalism of the staff. If you're looking for a "low-cost" way to enjoy this location, the Sunday brunch is only about $150. If you try it, tell me how it goes. (That said, we encountered a first for a high-class hotel on this trip: free wifi in public areas.)

The Metropolitan, London, England (Park Suite, ~$1,000): We stopped for a drink at the sister of the Bangkok Metropolitan after picking up our Tanzanian visas from the nearby embassy. Far from the most extravagant hotel in Mayfair, let alone London, it nonetheless has a top-class bar which continues the Metropolitan tradition of knowledgeable and skilled bartenders. Worth it just for a tipple.

The Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad, India (Grand Presidential Suite, price on request, upwards of $4,350): Pity Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, who had this palace built in the shape of a scorpion (for astrological reasons), only to realize that he had gone over budget. He ended up giving the palace to Nizam VI, the then-ruler of Hyderabad. The Nizam thoughtfully gave Vikar-ul-Umra the entire amount spent on its construction, saving him from financial catastrophe.

Taj Hotels have leased the palace and converted it into an extravagant fantasy. When we dined here one evening at a family gathering, we were able to watch as one of the guests arrived. A horse-drawn carriage drove him from the gates to the front courtyard. At this point an employee--although courtier seems more accurate--hoisted a gold mace and escorted the new tenant as if he were royalty up the marble steps to reception, as another attendant dropped rose petals before him from an upper balcony. Kitschy, yes, and perhaps they only do this for certain guests, but it fits with the setting. The Grand Presidential Suite, "once the sanctum sanctorum of the Nizam himself," is the most opulent option in a hotel filled with extravagant choices, and features a private pool.


Photo by friends J & J

The Oberoi, Agra, India (Kohinoor Suite, ~$5500): The bar at the Oberoi possesses a unique alchemical secret: it can transform the most staid and ordinary cocktail into one of the best of your life. The Manhattan recipe? Take a standard combination of rye, vermouth and bitters, and serve suffused with scarlet light filtered through tall, ornate windows that frame the sunset-pinked marble of the Taj Mahal. The Oberoi's view of Agra's unquestioned wonder of the world must be seen to be believed, and only hotel guests are allowed to have their drinks served on the balcony.

Unlike La Mamounia, the Oberoi's style speaks more to Agra's mughal heritage than colonial refinement, lightly reminding the visitor that he is elsewhere rather than giving hints of the comforts of home. We didn't get much further than the bar and the opulent lobby, itself an orgy of marble and stone, but supposedly each room has its own view of the Taj Mahal.

I found these at a shoe shop in Hoi An, but they didn't have them in my size and they couldn't make me a custom pair in time. If they're replicas of some existing brand, I can't find them on Amazon, either.IMG 0377

Hoi An's old town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is famous for its custom clothiers, and justifiably so: a ten minute walk through the narrow streets will take one past the wooden entryways of innumerable custom shops, offering everything from suits to casual clothing, silks to shoes. We visited for Tet, the lunar new year, and figured that we could hit two birds with one stone: see the cultural events and cheaply restock on journey clothes, as half a year of travel and varying laundry conditions had left much of our wardrobe ragged. Hoi An's reputation among travelers in Vietnam is simple: a cheap place for custom work.

It worked, for a certain value of working. Quite a few new outfits were made for us for only a couple of hundred dollars, including two suits and a pair of custom leather shoes for me. But "hit or miss" proposition does not begin to describe shopping for custom clothing in Hoi An, and several of our purchases, while cheap, have ended up being not so much of a bargain. Hoi An clothiers range from the utterly unscrupulous to the pleasant but corner-cutting, and care is required to make sure that you get what you want. Having been on the bad end of a few "bargains," I'll leave the following advice, as well as a few reviews of good and bad vendors.

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Chilling out at a lakeside bar in Hanoi, in a Kimmy's suit

When we started this blog, I thought it would be a good place for restaurant, hotel and other travel reviews. Over time, I've come to realize that this blog is a good place to describe our experiences, but our reviews best serve other travelers if they're aggregated with others. So I've added a link in the left navigation to our TripAdvisor profile. That's not to say that we won't post the occasional review here when the occasion warrants, but the bulk of our reviews will probably go up on TripAdvisor.

Besides, I like the travel map. As we add more reviews, it will become a more accurate reflection of the trip.

A good friend of mine used to write weekly posts entitled "Designated Hero of the Week," in which she would thank someone who had helped her. I always wanted to be designated, but I can't remember ever making it. [1]

It was a great idea that I wouldn't mind shamelessly ripping off, especially because a number of people and organizations deserve to be thanked for invaluable help as we make our way across the globe. But I also think the blog would be well-served by a Failed Hero category, for those organizations that make life difficult, especially when they did not have to do so.

Designating a failed hero this week would be a tough call due to the crowded and competitive field of candidates. There's Air India, which caused us to miss an important appointment by delaying our flight from Tirupati to Hyderabad. That would be unfair, however, as I understand that the unexpected happens, and they did their best to help us out. Capital One has also been giving us a hard time, but the conflict there has been brewing since December (and nothing particularly silly happened this week), so they will have to wait.

Thus, LAN Airways takes the prize this week for being exceptionally unhelpful with our round-the-world ticket. We purchased our OneWorld Alliance tickets through LAN because we started in Ecuador, and so LAN is the only company that can modify the ticket. This week, their call center has suffered from ridiculous technical difficulties, resulting in a week's worth of repeating "Hello, can you hear me now?" to different operators, multiple dropped phone calls and half a dozen slowly-answered emails. The whole process culminated in us having to send our credit card number to LAN over email, an unsecure practice that I normally avoid.

I'm also more than a bit upset that they wouldn't waive the fees for changing flight plans from Cairo to Marrakesh. Technically they're within their rights, as the OneWorld Explorer ticket only allows us to freely change our dates [2], not our destinations. Nevertheless, I had hoped that they'd take the current political situation in Egypt into account and cut us a break, rather than insist on collecting $250. Now I have to see if our travel insurance will cover the costs.

Hidden within LAN's award-worthy lack of performance, however, is a travel lesson for long-term voyagers: put some slack into your budget to account for ticket changes. However well you may plan, the world is almost certain to throw a few obstacles into your path once you've set off. We've been lucky: so far, our problems have been relatively minor, and we gave ourselves more than a little wiggle room when we started out, so we can absorb this cost without having to cut much back.

[1] I would link, but I can't recall if she liked her blog to be publicized.

[2] Within certain restrictions, of course.

The captain just came on the intercom, gave us the normal welcoming speech, and then finished by providing us with the score of today's cricket game.

I suspect that more frequent updates will be given on tomorrow's flights during the big match between Pakistan and India.

I have no idea what Solid Masti is, but if the name doesn't enthrall you, you can always try Lay's Magic Masala.

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To build upon the great Benjamin Franklin, three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and the desire of insects to suck your blood out of your skin. In some countries, biting fiends actually constitute a mortal risk, through malaria or dengue fever. In all countries, they're an annoyance. [1] If you travel around the world, you'll get to observe the methods used by locals to prevent bug bites, be they hippie-approved all-organic tomato-based sprays, incense coils that smoke up a room, or the ubiquitous Off!

The most effective thing we've come across, however, is Detar, a mosquito-repelling lotion that we picked up on our first night in Ecuador. In the war against mosquitos, this stuff is the equivalent of nuclear weaponry: we've saved what's in the bottle, using it sparingly, and bringing it out only in locations with the worst of the worst bugs.

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This stuff is uncompromising. It doesn't smell good. It doesn't contain small amounts of sunscreen, like other repellents often do. Mosquitos, however, feel about this spray like Superman does about kryptonite, Jamie Oliver about fattening fast food, or Charles Rangel about IRS audits. I've actually seen little blood-sucking beasts fly near to Pallavi while she was wearing Detar, hover for a moment, and then dash away like they'd smelled the coming of the devil himself.

The bottle's a bit scary, though, especially if you look at the back of the one we're carrying. The concoction has actually stripped the paint off of the back label, leaving only a handful of partially-intelligible warning signs. Although it's hopefully safe to use on humans, I think these mean that you don't want to pour it in the water or use it on animals that might be used for food. This is probably just one more reason for Greenpeace to disapprove of me.

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 [1] Far in the future, I suppose an insect might evolve who not only bites the victim, but injects some substance that provides a pleasant, soothing effect. Anti-drug zealots will then ban being bitten by these insects, probably imposing strict liability.

Pleasant environments are not necessarily great for productivity. For instance, it's hard to concentrate on job applications when you have a view like this.

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Anjuna Beach, Goa, India

You're likely to see a sign like this on any form of public transport in the world.

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This, on the other hand, I've only ever seen in Thailand.

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Is it much more difficult to ride a motorcycle than a scooter? I've done a bit of riding in Ko Chang, and I'm feeling a little more comfortable here in Goa, but if we want to ride to any of the neighboring towns we'll need a bigger bike.

Travellers are by nature collectors: some collect those little silver spoons, others favor stamps, and some just keep a pocketful of the local currency. I am a law nerd, however, and so when Pallavi and I set out on our international trip I decided to collect pictures of our host nations' highest courts.

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Entrance to the Palacio de Justicia, Buenos Aires, Argentina

It's been fun, and we've learned quite a bit. Over the next few months, I intend to write a series of posts about our experiences visiting international high courts. We've had a pretty good run so far, making our way to about a dozen courts in eight countries. But Supreme Court tourism is a bit of a hit or miss proposition. In Argentina, for example, the Palacio de Justicia is an architectural wonder, with the government providing guided tours in Spanish. In other countries, there were no organized tours, but various administrative officials, guards or other staff went out of their way to show one or both of us around once they realized a tourist had dropped by to look about. Yet other courts appeared to be closed to public viewing, or at least that's what I was informed by polite but somewhat skeptical guards.

We had to miss out a few countries altogether: Canada, because the project hadn't occurred to me until after Ottawa; New Zealand, because we only visited the south island; and Australia, because every Aussie whom we talked to expressed profound bewilderment as to why anyone, given a choice of the many things to see on his great continent, would want to visit Canberra. [1]

A post for each country is on its way. Until I get around to finishing them, however, here is a quick photo album with the courts we've visited so far.

Supreme and Constitutional Courts

[1] Also, we ran out of time. Frankly, I kind of wish we had made it, because apparently there are kangaroos hopping across the lawns of government buildings in the capital. Kangaroos would greatly improve the White House and the Mall.

Here are a few pictures of strange and interesting signs that haven't really fit in any other entry.

An election poster, Lima, Peru (September 25, 2010):

Forgive my cynicism, but I somehow doubt that President Obama actually endorsed Dr. Davila.

The idea of studying up for a round-the-world trip seems perverse, but now that we're on the tail end of our journey, I do wish that I'd spent a couple of months learning a few skills before we set out.

  • Photography: I didn't really understand how much help a photography course would be until we started using our DSLR. With our old camera, I could write off the inability to take good photos of certain things as a technical limitation. Now I know that my camera is capable of getting beautiful shots of the fireworks at Hoi An, the sprawling neon lights of Bangkok, or the delicate colors of a butterfly's wings in Sydney. The camera lacks an "idiot button" allowing it to take more than passable photos without my involvement, however.
  • Motorcycle riding: Especially in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, motorcycles often outnumber cars. In Ko Chang (where we are this week), motorcycle rental is the most convenient way to tour the island. I haven't driven a motorbike or scooter since I was underage and my parents let me take a (closely supervised) wheel in the Cayman Islands. Needless to say, a mountainous island with relatively sparse hospital facilities is not the place that I'd most like to learn.
  • Spanish: It would have been utterly unrealistic to try to learn every foreign language that we would need on this trip. Southeast Asia alone has a prohibitive variety of languages. Nevertheless, a grounding in Spanish would have stood me in good stead throughout South America. At the very least, I would not have needed a crash course in Spanish numbers from Pallavi prior to my Argentinian poker game.

On the other hand, I'm glad that we learned to scuba dive before we left Texas, as it has literally added another dimension to our travels. [1]

[1] Only those with the most literal minds will think that I'm violating the Oatmeal's style guide here, in that anyone planning on flying is already intending to travel in the directions "up" and "down." (Maybe NSFW. Also, I sort of want that shirt.)

So far, we've avoided meeting any disasters during our travels, although we've had some near misses. It's been heartbreaking to watch the images of Christchurch this afternoon, and to think back on our drive by the cathedral and the city centre. We didn't spend much time there, but one rainy afternoon we did stop for supplies at a local warehouse-style supercenter. In the checkout aisle, where the People magazines would normally be in a U.S. Wal-Mart, sat a glossy book commemorating last year's earthquake. This one, although smaller in magnitude, struck closer to the heart of the city.

A different kind of upheaval, the political turmoil in the Middle East, raises questions for our upcoming plans. Our tickets currently take us from Thailand to India, India to London, and then London to Cairo. From there, we intended to make our way into Africa on local carriers, as the One World Alliance does not have a lot of intra-African flights. Given the situation there, and the fact that the State Department is recommending against travel to the region, we're wondering whether to proceed. I'm not even sure the extent to which OneWorld will allow us to change our flights: British Airways policies only cover flights before the end of March, and LAN's website has no information that I can find.

Any advice is welcome in the comments.

It's always fun to see what happens to "American" brands that have gone global. I think we've seen Pringles all over the world, but we've found the widest and goofiest variety in Southeast Asia.

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Sure, there are your standards: Cheesy Cheese, Sour Cream and Onion. There's a few things you'd expect to see on any good Asian tour: Wild Spice, Bangkok Grilled Chicken Wing (part of the "street food" series), Seaweed, Grilled Shrimp, Softshell Crab. But then we leave the land of the savory altogether, and plunge into "fruit and nut" potato chips: Lemon and Sesame and the so-improbable-we-had-to-try-it Blueberry and Hazelnut.

Prediction: this will not become a hit in the U.S. anytime soon.

What's the word for those not-really martinis: appletinis, espresso martinis, mangotinis, and all those other overly-sweet concoctions? I'm generally not fond of such "something-tini" drinks, at least if they don't involve gin (or maybe vodka) and a whisper of vermouth. [1] I'll admit that this is a kind of name snobbery: it's not that such things can't sometimes be good drinks, but they're not martinis. I'm glad I let curiousity overcome my natural dislike of fauxtinis when we had our Valentine's dinner at Nahm, or else I would have missed the Met Bar's "C3 Martini" due to a silly prejudice.

IMG 0403The C3 perfectly captures the coconut and spice flavors of tom kha soup, a common Thai dish of which I'm very fond. The drink is served very cold: the humid Thai air had covered the glass in a thin sheen of condensation before the drink had reached our table. Garnished with what looked to be a floating kaffir lime leaf, its consistency is distinctly thick and soupy, and the pepper gives a sharply aromatic flavor lacking in many mixed drinks. Unsurprisingly, this cocktail perfectly complements Thai food, even moderating the hellish spiciness of some dishes.

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a sausage-factory drink: the effect is magical when you don't know what's in it, but loses its charm once you've seen it made. We went back to the Met Bar last night because I wanted to figure out the recipe. In case you don't want to know how it works, I've put my observations after the cut. 

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If you are doing a lot of international travel, take the time to learn the words for "men" and "women" in the local tongue. There will come a time when you are faced with two doors, and they will not be as helpfuly illustrated as the ones below.

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Restrooms at the Wonder Restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam


A spectator strolls past a glowing cat-shaped parasol in Hoi An, Vietnam

In the spirit of catching up, I figure that I ought to review a few of our favorite drinking holes that I've missed out. We visited Margarita Resto & Bar twice, the last time on the night before I won my first poker tournament . The restaurant has an old fashioned crimson and dark-wood theme, and the kitchen serves tasty and not-too-expensive Argentinian food. Behind the bar hardwood bar, like little liquid soldiers, stand row after row of bottles containing spirits and beer from across South America and the world.

I doubt most of the bottles have been touched in decades, but the multitude of available options hints at the creativity of the bartender. While mostly offering common classics (as well as backpacker staples like Sex on the Beach), the back page of the drinks menu holds the bartender's personal inventions. Most of these were fun and fruity, but he recommended his Martini Malbe to me as his greatest creation. Sadly, it's only occasionally available, as it takes him a while to prepare the malbec reduction, and this ingredient doesn't keep. The wine and whiskey combination works surprisingly well, however, so I've included the recipe below.

Malbec Martini (Puerto Madryn, Argentina)

  • 1 part reduction of malbec
  • 1 part juice of 1 grapefruit (and one teaspoon of pulp)
  • 2 parts whiskey
  • A dask of lemon

Mix ingredients with ice in a shaker, in the order given. Shake, strain, and serve in a cocktail glass. Garnish with starfruit (although I think an orange or a bit of grapefruit rind would work as well).

One constant that we've noticed throughout our travel: wherever one is in the world, a young boy of about four to six in possession of both a similarly-aged boy and something to beat him with is going to thwack his companion. This was certainly true when we went to the Ramayana Ballet in Yogyakarta and sat in the same audience with a large school group. Audience members were handed an explanatory program the size of a paper placemat. Every audience member between six and ten in possession of an Y chromosome proceeded to roll the program up and use it as a cudgel. (The girls giggled and texted on their cell phones.)

This is as true for two young brothers on a small skiff being rowed by their older sister. Here is what it looks like in a brief intermission between thwackings:

Vietnam Chidren

And this is the not-so-tranquil moment:

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My earlier entry on the Siem Reap temples focused mostly on our morning and evening excursions to Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (the "Tomb Raider" temple). Those are probably the most famous of the sites around Angkor Wat, but we managed to make it to a few more temples over our three days. My favorite was Banteay Srei.

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Carving over archway at Banteay Srei

I should probably warn you that this is a long post.

Good Hanoi blogs

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A shout out to a few blogs that we've found while navigating this city:

  • Sticky Rice: A Hanoi food blog, and a great guide if you need to find great places to eat and new things to try. He tweeted us directions to a great streetside pho spot.
  • Our Man in Hanoi: Wry commentary on life in the capital from a training and communications man for hire. He's got a strong voice telling a fascinating story. (One sign that he's good with online communications: he shows up on the first page of a Google search for "Hanoi.")

It did make me a bit homesick, though: this photo of Mr. Stewart often perches above his New York studio, which I would walk past every now and then on the way to a restaurant. (If memory serves, it reminds passersby that if they're looking for the Penthouse Club, it's on the next block.)

I am a bit surprised to see the Daily Show star chosen as a model of sartorial excellence. Then again, the female celeb on the opposite side of the doorway is Lindsay Lohan.

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Despite having spent our first week in Thailand catching up on our to do list, we had time to see a few parts of the city, ride the train, and check out one of the local favorites: trendy rooftop bars.

We decided to take in sunset at the Sky Bar at LeBua and failed because we arrived a few minutes too late. One note when using an iPhone maps function in Thailand: the program will sometimes interpret a street number as a zip code, and deposit you at entirely the wrong end of the street.

While Thailand is generally a low-cost tourist destination, this business district bar swings high market, high-in-the-sky, and high-priced. Waiters in suits and waitresses in long fancy dresses greet you at the bottom of a flight of stone steps, then escort you past the outdoor dining area to the bar. On a weekday evening, it's an interesting mix of afterwork business people, elegant diners on a night out, and tourists in jeans. We ran into a very nice Australian couple who described to us their recent trip to Burma.

The view from the bar is unquestionably superb. On the sixty-fourth floor of the State Tower, the Sky Bar looks down over the bustling city and its neon lights. Bangkok skyscrapers are few and far between, which means that the skyline is mostly uninterrupted, and from here the haze of pollution that nestles over Bangkok is hard to miss. It was impossible to tell if the gibbous moon was red from normal atmospheric conditions or the smog, but either way it was pretty. As you turn away from the balcony, the gold-domed restaurant that caps State Tower is itself an image worth seeing at night.

That said, don't come for the drinks: what we tried ranged from disappointing to an outright titanic disaster. Pallavi's spicy gin and tonic wasn't horrible, but overdid the pepper to the exclusion of all other taste. "Earth," another Sky Bar specialty, claimed to be a mix of whiskey, a few other spirits, and lime juice, but was drained over crushed ice that watered it down to a thoroughly forgettable concoction: all that sticks in the mind is a sugary flavor of syrup. I moved to classics, but while the mojito was merely so-so, the Manhattan introduced me to the unpleasant concept of a fifty-fifty bourbon/vermouth split. It's a horrible potion that I hope never to suffer again, and I can't understand why any bartender would offer it to a customer, unless she wanted that customer never to return. By the way, all of these drinks are at New York prices (upwards of $12), and certainly not worth it.

We'll probably try another rooftop when we're back in Thailand, but while the Sky Bar is an architectural wonder, save yourself some money by buying a soft drink, watching the sunset, and heading for some other bar.

For instance, walk up the block to Jameson's Irish Pub Bangkok, where you can buy a relatively inexpensive glass of Hoegaarden that's about as big as your head.

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Greetings from Hanoi. We've arrived as the city prepares for Tet, the celebration of the lunar new year.

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There's much to catch up on since our last entry.

Facebook silence

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Incidentally, Vietnam is the first country in which we're experiencing difficulties accessing a website due to what appears to be government policy (although the government has not confirmed this). Facebook is blocked.

The Facebook ban seems to be a bit hit or miss. On the one hand, Vietnamese cellphone companies advertise that their new phones are perfect for updating Facebook. Likewise, many restaurants and shops ask that their customers "friend" them. A few internet reports suggest that the block is easy to get around, but I'm not very fond of the idea of circumventing a restriction imposed by my host country. So if you aren't able to contact us on Facebook, it's not that we're ignoring you: we just can't log on.

This trip has taught me the value of a good camera. We made our way through the Galapagos photographically outclassed by our fellow travelers, our little Canon Powershot the plucky younger brothers of the digital SLRs carried by our shipmates. By the time we got to New Zealand, we figured that it was time to invest in a better camera. We snagged a Canon Rebel XS, as Amazon was having a sale that scored us a free telephoto lens. It's an older model, but we felt that there was no sense in paying top dollar for something that we didn't know how to use.

Indeed, despite the plethora of features, buttons, knobs and dials, I hadn't taken the camera out of automatic until I got to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples of Siem Reap. These locations overflow with beautiful imagery, but much of it eludes capture by our SLRs automatic settings. More detail after the break.

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A carving at Ta Prohm, the "Tomb Raider" temple

Another fine product from TripAdvisor: SeatGuru. Simply input your airline and flight number, and it happily shows you which seats have more (or less) legroom, the location of power sockets, and other details. (via Lifehacker)

It's been a bit more than six months since we left our apartment and hit the road. More importantly, we've flipped over to a new tax year, which drops us from a high tax bracket to the bottom. I'd always planned to shift gears at this point: traveling a little less, focusing into things that I wanted to finish while on the road, and picking up some projects here and there to make money. Of course, there's also the minor matter of finding a job for our return, and figuring out to which city we'll return.

Thus, we're likely to slow down some over the next few months, spending more time in front of a computer screen getting job applications prepared. The good news is that the new schedule is likely to make us more productive authors, and allow us to fill this blog with some of our earlier adventures. As I think I've said a few times, it's hard to live life and write about it at the same time.

As a celebration of my ability to escape the hotel, yesterday evening we dined at Nest, a well-reviewed establishment in the heart of Siem Reap. I was genuinely impressed by the layout: the dining area sprawls underneath a series of interlinked canopies such that it feels outdoors without being open-air. A curved stone walkway meanders through the middle of the restaurant, dividing the lounge area and bar on the left from the dining area on the right.

We didn't sit in the lounge, but I'd like to go back and try it: some of the seats are practically beds made from wicker frames, and couples were cuddled up on them drinking. It looked like a cozy, comfortable place to have a cocktail.

On the other side of the stone path, dark wood dining tables are covered in white linen, while dark-stained wicker decorations carry over the motif from the bar. The overall effect is one of relative luxury and comfort.

And for Siem Reap, this is certainly luxury: even the set menu will run you $20 or upwards, which sounds like a good snack to a Manhattanite, but extravagant for a meal here. The food is fantastic, however, and I highly recommend the set menu. The salads were fresh, well-presented and spicy. The meat dishes--Pallavi had a finely flavored pork shank, while I had a nicely peppered cubed-steak dish--show signs of a French/Cambodian influence.

Hopefully Pallavi will say a little more about the food--I'm not much of a gourmet [1], and so I lack the vocabulary to really do Nest justice. I'll stick to my strengths and note that I'm very impressed by their cocktail list, which shows a delicacy that I haven't seen since we left Hong Kong. Most Cambodian bars have your standard fare--mojitos, caiparinhas, cosmos--and a few "tropical specialities" that are mainly fruit juices and spirits. These don't take much skill to mix and aren't very ambitious. Ordering a Manhattan will show the weakness of such places: the result will be pedestrian, usually poorly mixed and with a too-strong flavor of vermouth.

Nest's menu, on the other hand, respects the classics while holding some true modern gems. One sign of sophistication: the menu asks you to "please order your Manhattan dry, sweet, or perfect," and has similar instructions for variations of martinis and other classics. On the other hand, the bartender challenges you to try modern innovations like the Occidental Blazer (see the last page of the PDF, the only recipe I could find online), a strongly aromatic rye-and-brandy mix. Served warm in brandy snifter, this cocktails doesn't so much tickle the nose as assault it prior to the first sip, but then settles to a spicy thick syrup as it cools. They have a few more drinks (including a curious stout/vanilla ice cream mix) that I hope to try before we hit the road. Preferably in one of those lounge beds.

[1] My sibling has informed me that he hates the word "foodie," so I'm avoiding it, but I'm not much of one of those, either.

We're in Siem Reap, probably the most tourist-friendly city in Cambodia, and I think we're going to be here for a week more. We arrived on the fourth, but we have had no chance to get to the temples yet as I've been ill ever since we arrived. Indeed, I didn't even leave our initial hotel until last night.

Any extended travel plans need to have enough slack to account for getting ill, so that if you end up bedridden for a day or two you don't feel like you're missing out on a great cultural experience. Face it: if you spend a year going through countless airports and staying in hotel after hotel, you're going to pick up a germ or two. We have flexibility at the moment, so in all honesty I'm kind of glad that it happened here rather than Phnom Penh. For one thing our hotel, while as nice as our Phnom Penh abode, was much cheaper: three nights with every meal that I was able to eat (and all of Pallavi's food) came to less than $65.

Nor am I feeling much time pressure, because Southeast Asia is probably the least-scheduled part of our international trip thus far. Our last ticket was from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh, but our next ticket is from Bangkok to Dehli. How we get from here to Bangkok is up to us, meandering at our own schedule. So a day or two doesn't matter much: we'll still see the temple.

We've now changed hotels into something only slightly more expensive, but much nicer and more central. Now that I'm finally able to leave the hotel, I think I'm going to like Siem Reap.

I've mostly wandered around the Old Market area downtown, which is a hodgepodge of tourist restaurants, bars and massage parlors, each surrounding several marketplaces. These sell everything from gaudy t-shirts and flashy dresses to an IP litigator's paradise of knock-off watches, sunglasses and fashion items. Bargain hard: dealers will relent to far less than their original offer, and the knockoffs are normally such poor quality that they're not worth the discounted price. (I ruined the "waterproof" Wal-Mart watch I purchased before we left Texas while diving in Gili Trawangan, and tried to replace it with a "Vacheron Constantin" [1] here. It ceased to work overnight, though the vendor did replace it when I came back. The replacement "Patek Phillipe" has already broken.)

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This is not a Patek. Nor anywhere near the correct time.

In any event, Siem Reap is tropically warm, the weather has favored us so far, and I look forward to three to five days of viewing Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

[1] Yes, the watch almost certainly violates VC's intellectual property rights, and given that I love what VC makes, I don't take that lightly. That said, if there ever was an argument for a parody exception to trademark, this watch was it. A glance at the metal casing, the asymmetrical bezel, and the poor work on the watch face suggested that the strap, which appeared to be authentically leather, was the most expensive part of the entire contraption. Anyone vaguely familiar with the VC brand would not suspect for a minute that this watch had been on the same continent as a Swiss watchmaker. Besides, since arriving in Cambodia and trying to purchase a watch, I've found it impossible to find anything that isn't impinging on someone's IP.

A comment on my curious lawyer advertising post led me to FirmSpy. If for some reason you were ever looking for an Australian version of Above the Law, now you've found it.

Search engine optimizers have made life difficult for those doing travel research. Often when I am looking for advice on places to stay or methods of travel, hundreds of similar hotel booking sites will fill the first three pages of results. Some of these are actually the same site using different URLs, and none of them meet my needs.

I really want to read personal experiences. TripAdvisor is good for this, but like any popular site, its recommendations are somewhat self-enforcing, in that the top-ten hotels will tend to get a lot of TripAdvisor visitors. Best of all, I find, are travel blogs.

Thus, I stumbled across Stop Having A Boring Life when we were trying to decide whether to take the night train from Yogyakarta to Jakarta. In the end we took a flight simply because we wanted to stay an extra day, but his travel stories were nonetheless useful and entertaining, and I keep returning to the site. Rob, the author, is a bit more of a backpacker/traveler than we are, and he posts more about why he is on his journey than we do. He's been through quite a few countries, however, including many that we will be visiting in the future, which makes it a good site to watch.

As you can see, I've added him to the blogroll.

For those who are fond of Twitter, we now have a feed that will be filled with more irreverent, spur-of-the-moment observations. It's displayed in the lower left-hand column.

From the "I wish someone had told me this before we left" file. While you're on the road, your computer will crash. Someday I'll tell the epic farce that has been my interaction with ASUS tech support, but suffice it to say that I left them with a computer that booted into Windows, and they gave me back one that blue-screens. Reinstalling Windows looks to be the only solution.

I can back up the data, but reinstalling Windows will delete all of our installed programs. We don't have that many that we use regularly, given that most of our computing is in the cloud these days. But it's hard to collaborate with anyone without Microsoft Windows [1], and I keep track of finances on Quicken. [2] I won't be able to get those back. The disks are... well, somewhere in Texas or New York, who can tell?

So here's my advice, if you're taking a long term trip and leaving key software behind: copy the disks (or ISOs) to a USB key, and bring a file with the relevant software keys (those lengthy strings of numbers and letters that you need to install the program). Because over a year, your computer will die, and you'll probably need them.

[1] Yes, there are alternatives like OpenOffice. I have it, and I like it. But many collaborators don't.

[2] Though it strikes me that I could start the new year with Mint and abandon Intuit forever.

I meet him on every continent, in every country. Hong Kong is no different.

Pallavi wanted to hit the 8th Annual Hong Kong Food Festival at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, but since that isn't really my cup of tea (or steamed dumpling, wine sample, fried won ton etc.), I ventured up a few escalators to Asia Game Show 2010. I'd never actually been to a games exhibition, and I don't think this was a great one. Sony dominated the event, taking up over half the floor space, mostly to advertise GT5 and the Playstation Move. [1] What wasn't taken up by Playstation had been taken over by cosplayers representing video game icons that I could not begin to identify.

Then he sauntered around the corner, and I almost didn't recognize him: MiniChe, leading the next generation into socialism through the free market purchase of branded consumer goods!

Behold MiniChe, stamped on just about every product from youth-oriented BSX. This cuddly little brand character, based on everybody's favorite executioner for the Castro regime, wandered the aisles waving at children, posing for cameras and stroking his cartoon stubble. His image could be purchased on hoodies, jeans, tote bags... just about anything. A plastic piggy bank was my favorite, as it allowed the hero of the revolution to be used to store up one's filthy lucre. I'll admit, I bought someone an impromptu late Christmas present.

Che: he's not just for pizza anymore!

MiniChe goods: JOIN US!

[1] Basically Sony's answer to the Wii's motion controls.

I would like to apologize to readers who came to this site yesterday and saw a warning from Google stating that the site had been infected with malware. It seems that my webhost was hacked and our files altered. I'm not very happy with their solution to the problem (which has taken days and not really fixed the issue), but I have removed the offensive code by hand. Although I suspect that the warning will remain until Google reevaluates the site, I believe I have made the necessary repairs. If you discover otherwise, please comment or send me an email. And keep your antivirus up to date!

Update: Google's webmaster tools appear to be giving my sites a clean bill of health now, although the malware warnings may persist for a few days.

Update 2: One problem with trying to troubleshoot from this distance is that it's hard to identify problems. I'm getting a lot of 403 errors ("You do not have permission to access this site"), but it's difficult for me to tell whether this is because my host's servers are falling over as they try to remove traces of this hacking attack, because they have reset my file permissions, or because I am on a flaky connection in Jakarta. Is anyone else seeing this?

Starting on Wednesday we're in Hong Kong, a city that both of us have visited and another expensive destination. We're only there for a week, and we intend to spend a lot of time catching up on the blog and other items on the to-do list.

In the meantime, here's an word in favor of a handy travel app useful to anyone who takes a lot of trips: TripIt. The core concept is easy. Every time you book a hotel, flight, or other travel plan, forward the confirmation email to TripIt, and the application automatically compiles it into an itinerary. [1] Your flight times, record locator number, hotel address and phone, and other information are (mostly) automatically at your fingertips. If you don't get an email, you can add information the old-fashioned way: by hand.

While this system isn't foolproof -- we've had a few hotel reservations missing the hotel name -- it takes very little effort to correct any errors, and I've been surprised at how few there are to begin with. All in all, it's the easiest way to get all our plans in one place on the web. Typical of such systems, there are mobile apps that synchronize with your mobile for offline access.

There are many other bells and whistles (e.g., the ability to share trips with friends, keep track of frequent flier miles, and a map showing your travels) but TripIt's ability to keep track of our schedule with a minimum of fuss is what has turned it into an indispensible tool in our kit.

[1] You can even give TripIt access to your Gmail so that it scans for travel plans automatically. That said, I'm not comfortable giving anyone that much access to my email.  

The process by which we generated Pallavi's last post left me briefly awed by the miracles, and apparent absurdity, of modern technology. Not that we did anything particularly special.

While she was drafting, Pallavi decided that it would be nice to post a picture along with her entry. She used my iPhone to snap the photo, and then the only question was how to get it to her computer so that she could add it to her entry.

Now that I give the matter considerably more thought than I did at the time, there were several ways we could have accomplished this: miniSD cards or a shared network, for example. But I chose the easiest and most thoughtless way, which actually involved a number of complex international transactions:

  • I transferred the image to my computer and attached it to an email. Because my SMTP server is based in England, this means that the image was probably uploaded to a machine outside Oxford.
  • It was then sent to Pallavi's Gmail address, to a server that may be located anywhere in the world. I'd guess that it was in the United States.
  • Pallavi then downloaded it from Gmail's far-flung servers to her machine, which I could have reached out and touched without stretching too hard.

In a real sense, the image had traveled much of the way across, if not around, the globe. In a practical sense, I had shifted it across the table.

I've done something like this hundreds of times. It only occurred to me now because I've been reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. These sort-of-sci-fi novels are perfect for a round-the-world trip: first, because their sheer length and complexity demand a significant amount of time to complete them; and second, because their scope spans decades and the entire breadth of the world. [1] Much of the plot revolves around problems in communication, and how events on the other side of the globe will eventually affect the flow of money within Europe when they become known. I realized that one character spends much of the second book, and a decade of his life, to go a distance around the world that is actually somewhat shorter than Pallavi's photograph took this morning.

As I said, I've done something like this a hundred times, and it no longer seems magical. That alone is worth noting.

[1] It should also be noted that while these are historical novels, Stephenson does not always get his history precisely correct. For instance, there is a point where a Japanese character relates the story of how Dutch were allowed to trade in Nagasaki that gets certain historical events a bit out of order. Of course, it could simply be that the character relating these events had his history, handed down to him by his father, somewhat misremembered.

In New Zealand, we learned a new word for our kind of traveller: flashpacker . I'm not sure that it's an entirely complimentary term: "flash" can be somewhat derogatory in British slang. But the general idea seems to be that flashpackers are long-term travellers with a slightly higher budget (and often a few more grey hairs) than backpackers.

That describes us pretty well. We stay in budget hotels and hostels, but we try to find private rooms. If we can, we get a private bath. We could probably get by paying considerably less for accomodation, but our budget allows for some comfort. We have a few gadgets with us, and in a pinch I could muster together a decent interview outfit. (Here's an entertainingly written blog on flashpacking, though I don't endorse everything in it.)

Then again, occasionally we'll splurge and go for something more than comfort, especially when a new experience is on offer. For our first two days in Indonesia, which I suspect will otherwise be filled with budget hotels and hostels, we luxuriated (surprisingly affordably) at the Dharmawangsa.

Dharmawangsa bed

A bit more than a budget bed.

The three movies I watched in-flight from Sydney to Jakarta:

  • Inception: I had high expectations for this film given its reviews, but it just didn't live up. The concept was good, but it felt like the writer was making up things halfway through just to maintain suspense, without worrying about consistency. Adding the concept of "limbo" forty-five minutes in just crushed my ability to believe in the storyline. Great CGI, and decent acting, but sci-fi is all about the idea for me.
  • The Expendables: So full of action movie cliches that it somehow managed to invent new ones. That sentence doesn't make sense, but neither does the plot, dialogue, or characterization of this movie. Also, of all of these action film icons, how did they miss out Jessie Ventura (which would have made this the second film to have two American governors in it)? If you really want to punish yourself, watch it as part of a double-feature with the new A-Team.
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began: Based on the first in a series of children's books, this is apparently Australia's answer to Red Dawn. Much like the American popcorn classic, the invading aggressors are a tactical and logistical mess, although instead of an identified red menace, Australia is partially conquered by an unnamed Asian "coalition" force. It makes for a fun romp if you don't think too hard.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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As you tuck into your dinner, be thankful for many things. Including the fact that you don't have to feed your children like this:

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A parent frigate bird feeds its child, virtually swallowing the chick's head to keep the food safe

(Of course, it's Friday here in Australia, but it's still Thanksgiving back home.)

We caught word of the tragedy in the Pike River mine yesterday. We did not get as far north as the mine in our travels, making it only as far as the the Franz Josef Glacier. But ever since learning of the trapped miners we have been keeping watch on the news. I know that mine rescues are dangerous ventures unlikely to succeed, but I had irrationally expected this one to work out. Part of this was undoubtedly bias at having watched the Chilean miners be triumphantly rescued, but it also stemmed from the sense that this was New Zealand, and bad news didn't happen there.

In the middle of our van trip across the country, we'd had a rough day in Christchurch. The cooler in the van had failed, resulting in spoilt milk and a two hour delay at a Jucy Rentals location. But we were finally on the road and receiving an unusually strong radio signal from a station broadcasting a news program that sounded like NPR down under. The top two stories? An outbreak of disease had struck the nation's kiwi fruit crop, and a school bus driver had been shot. But this was not an American school yard shooting: the driver had been hit by a pellet gun, and, as the announcer sternly informed us, was receiving medical treatment.

I don't mean to say that these are not serious concerns. Agriculture makes up a large percentage of New Zealand's exports, and kiwi fruit are a major crop. The bus driver was doubtlessly traumatized and in pain. But after a few years of the crime, corruption and financial crisis that make up the nightly news in New York, New Zealand's reporting was comfortingly somber and calm.

We'd actually joked about this on the flight from Sydney to Cairns, when Pallavi was looking through a copy of Time that she had picked up at our hotel. America's once-great newsweekly had spent a year studying the decline of another once-great American institution, Detroit:

But if city officials ask Corley to relocate, as political winds blowing through Detroit indicate they soon might, she's not budging. If this desperately poor city is no longer able to provide services to the neighborhood -- trash pickup, fire protection -- "we'll just have to deal with it," she says.

Just as she had to deal with the discovery of a man's burned torso in the underbrush across the street a few months ago. Betty Corley says she won't move away, but other isolated homeowners don't share her loyalty. Cynthia Ciesiolka, who lives on the next block with her four grandchildren, says if the city offered her $5 and a place to live, she'd be gone tomorrow.

(emphasis mine) It's a shocking return to Detroit "normalcy" to see the discovery of charred body parts relegated to a minor paragraph, when one has been driving through a country where pellet-gun assault is lead local radio news.

So when I heard about the miners, I thought that only the Chilean best-case scenario was probable. Yet as lovely as New Zealand is, it is not immune from misfortune. Sadly, I was wrong, and our hearts are with the families of those who were lost.

I don't understand why the back end of this bus should make me conclude that I need legal advice. Any thoughts on how I'm missing the joke? (Taken in Cairns, Australia.)


We're arriving in Jakarta on December 1, 2010, and we're thinking of renting an apartment for three weeks. If anyone has advice on good (or bad) apartment options, or any other advice on Indonesia, we're all ears!

Airport Security

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The new changes to American airport safety procedures have been much in the news lately, with the news coverage even managing to pierce our internet- and TV-deprived cocoon. I had originally greeted the news that the TSA would be adopting backscatter x-rays with considerable enthusiasm, as I had participated in a trial run of one of the early devices before a Heathrow-New York flight a few years ago. As the security technician was testing the machine, he talked to me about the device, showing me my pale mannequin-like image (the machine makes you look much fatter than you are) and highlighting to me the advantages of the new technique. As I recall, the main benefit to passengers was supposed to be less time spent in security and the elimination of the need to remove jackets, belts and shoes. At the time I wondered how much of the test was about introducing passengers to the new technology, rather than actually making sure that it worked in the field.

Obviously, we've not been back to the United States nor had to endure the new procedures, but I gather from news reports that they have not been well-received, especially coupled with a pat-down alternative described as if it is just short of sexual assault. Nor have I seen proponents of the new system suggest that there is an upside for passengers in the sense of quicker or more convenient security screening. The whole arrangement differs considerably from my British experience, which was altogether pleasant.

We've taken half a dozen international flights on this trip, with almost as many domestic flights. The security arrangements have differed markedly by country, and sometimes within countries. At a few checkpoints, security made passengers take off their shoes, but this was uncommon. Buenos Aires' international terminal made us get rid of water and other liquids before going through to the gates, but this was not necessary on the domestic Puerto Madryn to Buenos Aires flight. Australia and New Zealand have been very strict about ensuring that any small liquids in your carry on are in a plastic bag, and if you don't have one, will helpfully provide one for you. [1] Meanwhile, every checkpoint has had a different procedure for what constitutes a "computer." Some screeners consider a Kindle to be a computer, and others are perfectly happy to keep it in the bag.

In my experience, security screeners respond to the differing customs of international travelers with a kind of bemused graciousness. While the occasional x-ray machine technician will let you get your boots all the way off before telling you that you can walk through a metal detector with shoes on, most will stop you before you hold up the line too badly. When faced with a passenger quietly wondering whether a water bottle needs to be binned or can be kept, they will usually swoop in with a kind explanation. I haven't encountered (knock on wood) anyone in security who has been anything less than polite, even if sometimes they were somewhat hurried.

[1] I really don't get this. If all I have is one bottle of handwash, and I show it to the inspector, what is the point of her handing me a plastic bag, me placing the handwash into the plastic bag, and her inspecting the bag-and-handwash comb? It reminds me of some old school Monkey Island -style adventure game where only the precisely correct combination of inventory items will allow you to get on to the next puzzle.

A good deal of law, American or otherwise, concerns separation and division: partnerships dissolve and assets must be allocated, or marriages end in divorce and property must be divided. Modern American law has any number of mechanisms for the allocation of property between disputing parties.

The latter day descendants of the Uros people, who live (more or less) on Lake Titicaca, have developed a unique method of dealing with intra-clan disputes. The Uros constructed a network of artificial floating islands on the part of the lake near modern-day Puno, building reed huts atop a base of more reed and clay. The island that we visited measured approximately seventy by thirty feet and held about six reed huts and as many families.

Our guide described the Uros method of dispute resolution. If the clan living on the island found itself unable to resolve its internal differences, the clan would shift the huts of contending parties to opposite sides of the island, and then the clansmen would use a very large saw to cut the island itself in two. Both sides were then free to drift away from each other and start anew. As mediation goes, I suppose it does cut down on legal fees.

Floating Village

Our approach to the floating village

But I am getting ahead of myself....

Pallavi is feeling a bit under the weather. While she catches a nap I'm sitting on a third-floor balcony writing a lengthy catch-up post about Lake Titicaca. The sun set about an hour ago, and the hotel lights are casting long shadows of palm trees over the pool and the courtyard patio below me.

A sudden shadow passes over my netbook monitor, so fast that I think for a moment that I misinterpreted a blink. The sound of wings makes me look up, but whatever bird passed by has flown over the roof, and I go back to writing. Then, only a moment later, the shadow passes by again.

So I stare out into the dark, looking for whatever nocturnal bird is hiding in the high reachs of the palms. Looking for feathers and an avian beak, I'm caught offguard when what drops from the trees, spreads cape-like wings and swoops into an ascent is a bat. A very, very big bat. A "Christopher Nolan, call your casting agent because this guy needs a role in your next movie" bat. About ten feet from my head it banks sharply upward, and I think I hear it thump on the roof above me.

Near the bottom of the welcome poster hanging on the back of the door, you see the comment "A sharps disposal bin is located near reception on the ground floor."

I'm sure they host a lot of diabetics.

Gotta run...

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We're heading up to the north coast of Australia early tomorrow morning, with the hope of doing some diving off the Great Barrier Reef. But in the mean time, some cuteness to distract you from the fact that we haven't updated in a while.


I don't think we can say enough good things about the South American Explorer's Club. Lonely Planet's South America on a Shoestring recommends them so frequently that I had initially assumed there were kickbacks involved. The accolades are well-deserved, however, and I wish we'd joined earlier. They have offices in Quito, Lima, Cuzco and Buenos Aires. Members can have mail delivered to the SAE offices and held for them. But most importantly, the SAE staff provide a wealth of local knowledge and organize events with other travelers.

It was through SAE that we ended up driving into a Buenos Aires suburb in order to watch a practice polo match, with the expectation that we could give it a try ourselves. Polo days are a common tourist activity in Buenos Aires, but they're quite pricey, and SAE managed to book the excursion at a significant discount (albeit without the heart-attack inducing asado as a post-game meal).

How did we make out?

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Posted at the polo club

As I've mentioned, New Zealand looks a bit like heaven's back lot: every twist around a mountain road reveals another magnificent valley, until the path goes far enough east and runs into Kaikoura and miles of azure coast. The question isn't why they shot The Lord of the Rings here. It's why one doesn't treat every movie, from A River Runs Through It to Leprechaun 6 - Back 2 Tha Hood, as an excuse to shoot New Zealand scenery.

Given the idyllic ambiance, New Zealand's highway safety signs come as a bit of a shock.

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There are quite a few traffic safety signs in this morbid vein. One dramatically proclaims:


(I imagine that they thought having the red letters drip with blood would be a bit too over the top.) Another shows a cross atop a grave, with the tag line "If it's a race, this is the finish line." [1] The overall effect is to give one the impression that New Zealand's roads are deadly wastelands, strewn with the wrecks of unwary, careless, or inebriated drivers.

A few other examples:

New Zealand isn't much better for internet access than Australia. Most restaurants, cafes and holiday parks offer paid, metered wifi. Those few that offer free wifi with purchase tend to limit bandwidth to very low levels.

Yet even with these access issues, we've been able to post more regularly than in South America, thanks to a few useful offline tools. (Since this is mostly a technical post, however, I'll put the details behind a cut.)

Bad news for people who don't like Taylor Swift. I think I've heard something by the Kanye-dissed songstress in every country we've traveled through thus far. Although not every country thinks she's a country-music musician.

Home, sweet campa

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Greetings from New Zealand, where our home for the next ten days looks like this.

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The back roads of New Zealand are littered with camper vans of various sorts and sizes, and every roadway holds dozens of picnic spots. When God handed out geographic bonuses, New Zealand got an obscenely unfair share of gorgeous green landscapes, picturesque views and New Yorkers-can-only-be-envious sunshine. Yesterday we made our way from Queenstown to Twizel, and I found myself challenged to keep my eyes on the road instead of the landscape.

New Zealand View

Like a mousy girl jealous of the high school beauty queen, such majesty makes it tempting to seek for some cosmic source of fairness. "Sure, New Zealand's got great summer scenery, but it must have a horrible personality." Nope. It's friendly, cheaper than its big cousin Australia, and actually has (a few) places with free wireless.

Weather, however, is the great equalizer of landscapes, and we woke this morning to the patter of rain on the top of the camper. It hasn't let up, which means today will make a good day for laundry, stocking up on equipment, and blogging.

As some of you know, I used to write a law school blog several years ago. It still gets a little bit of traffic and has kept a respectable Google PageRank (the measure that Google uses to assess the importance of a page). Search engine optimization specialists (who try to get their clients' pages towards the top of a search engine's results) like sites like my old one, because they can help move other pages up in the rankings. I frequently receive offers from legal publishers to "exchange links," which I routinely turn down because I don't need a link from a textbook publisher. But last month I got a new and interesting offer: $300 cash on the barrelhead for a link from my old site. I don't know how I feel about the ethics of such a transaction: certainly no one who used to read or link to my site expected that I'd use it for profit in that way.

While Devil May Care has a zero Pagerank, it did get me thinking that I should make a brief note of how we're "monetizing" this site. Of course, we don't come close to making a profit, as it costs more to keep the site running than we've taken in thus far. As with my old blog, the revenue-generating portions of DMC mostly allow me to play around with web technologies that I used before I was a lawyer. But in theory, this is how the site could subsidize the trip:

  • Amazon Associates: If you read Instapundit, you may have wondered why he obsessively links to every sale on cutlery, lawn and garden equipment, or assorted piece of tomfoolery that the nation's premier online merchant decides to hawk. Like DMC, Instapundit is an Amazon affiliate, which means that if you click through one of his Amazon links, he gets a small cut of whatever you buy from Amazon within a set period of time (usually 24 hours).

    Amazon provides an easy source for product links when we want to review equipment or travel guides, and they have a nifty storefront application that was fun to mess about with.

  • Google Ads: I had never used Google Ads prior to DMC. Google provides an interesting suite of tools useful for analyzing site traffic, and the ads play into that. And surprisingly, some of you have clicked through on these ads, putting a total of about $4 worth of cash in our pockets. Thank you, and I hope you found what you were looking for.

That's about it. Hopefully the quasi-mercenary nature of the site doesn't change your opinion of our blog. And if you're in the market for some particularly expensive piece of kit from Amazon and feel like helping us out... well, please click through here before you order!

We spent our first few days at a backpacker hostel, but found that a small, local hotel a few blocks from Kings Cross offered cleaner, quieter accommodation at a lower price. It also happened to put us a few blocks away from some of Sydney's top cocktail bars, so of course I jumped at the opportunity. Once again, the weak greenback conspired to achieve what I would have thought impossible a few months ago: Sydney's cocktails are the most expensive of the trip, making the watering holes of San Francisco and New York look positively frugal by comparison.

Eau de Vie: Approach the austere glass doors of the stylish, sexy Kirketon Hotel, and glance at the beautiful people hanging out in the Art Lounge, and breeze past the bar as if going to the restrooms. [1] Keep going past the facilities, hang a left, and enter Eau de Vie, which presents itself as a domain for serious drinkers.

Have a few carrots before you go, however, because this bar isn't for the night-blind. A few candles and the occasional overhead light struggle valiantly against the gloom of this small, windowless space, and the dark wood and brown leather furniture is no help. The bar itself is far from well-lit, and if you choose a table in one of the further corners, you may need a flashlight to appreciate the small leatherbound volume that details the history of the club, the biographies of the bartenders, and, almost incidentally, a set of available drinks.

Although the ambiance cranks the pretentiousness up to 11, and the joint doesn't leaven this with the cheery kitsch of a Bourbon & Branch, you can't fault the drinks themselves. Don't go looking for classics. The menu is mostly new creations or old recipes with some form of "new twist." Although we felt the budget would only support one drink apiece (prices range from about AU$16 to AU$25), the two we tried were meticulously executed, well presented, and tasty. I recommend the Highlander Sazarac, a whiskey-based concoction that starts sweet and finishes smooth and smoky. (Upgrade to the Talisker: it's worth it.)

The Victoria Room: This Victoria Room was our Sydney splurge in an otherwise budget-conscious week, although neither drinks nor dinner were as wallet-busting as Eau de Vie. Although the VR doesn't look like much from the outside, once you walk up the stairs to the reception, it's a whole different world of hardwood and fine upholstery. If you don't have a reservation, don't worry: the best part of the evening may be sitting in the bar area until a table frees up.

For one thing, the bartenders are skilled, curious, and very, very friendly. While they'll happily make anything from the menu (again, leather-bound and weighty, with lengthy expository sections on the virtues of various spirits), they also welcome off-menu or "omakase" (bartender's choice) orders. I'd liked my first drink, but found it a bit too sweet, and the bartender cheerfully asked what I liked when I was elsewhere. This led to a quick conversation about the Oaxaca Old Fashioned and an experimental attempt at a new tequila classic that turned out surprisingly well.

Once you're done at the bar, the Victoria Room's food is pretty good as well. All dishes are meant to be shared by the table, and if you're price-conscious, get the mezze platter. It's the best bread and dip we've had south of the equator, and the portions are more than generous.

[1] Although always well put together, the stylish set vastly outdressed our "nice night out" traveling outfits on Tuesday night. It was the evening after the Melbourne Cup, and patrons had dressed accordingly.

Just another one of our places to stay posts. I'll update this with new accommodations as we encounter them. (One of these days I'm going to cross-post these reviews to TripAdvisor.)


Note for cheap and cheerful places to stay in Sydney: the hostels and internet options are not always the best deals. I recommend booking online so that you have someplace to stay for the first few nights (until you're past jetlag) and then wandering around on foot. It's how Pallavi found The Royal Sovereign.

The Funk House Hostel: Stay here if you are: (a) in your early or mid-twenties, (b) on a budget, (c) appreciative of the finest in trippy graffiti-style wall murals, and (d) want to meet others who are (a)-(c). The Funk House will provide a free ride from the airport (valuable, though you may wait an hour or so for the shuttle). As hostels go it's decidedly mid-range, and a bit more "party hostel" than our normal habit. The double rooms are clean and spartan, though the bathrooms are grim. My main problem with this hostel was its decidedly dictatorial character: every surface seemed to be covered with some dictate:

  • No visitors. [1]
  • Rooms will be cleaned at noon every day, so make the room available for cleaning.
  • Any items left on the floor of your room (other than under the bed) are assumed to be trash and may be thrown away.

To make matters worse, the manager's voice frequently pipes up over the intercoms in the hallway, sort of Big Brother meets Lord of the Flies, reminding inmates... erm, guests of their responsibilities. Perhaps this kind of maintenance of order is necessary at a party hostel, but places like The Secret Garden manage it without such an overbearing attitude.

The Royal Sovereign : Simple, unpretentious rooms with shared bathrooms a few blocks south of Kings Cross down Darlinghurst Road. The Royal Sovereign isn't really a hotel, but a set of rooms above a pub. As such, it's not suitable for those wishing to get to bed before midnight. Once the pub shuts the entire area quiets down, so sleep was not a problem for us. No-frills and the beds are pancake-thin, but room are cleaned daily, fresh towels are provided, and the rates are cheaper than doubles at the Kings Cross hostels. The only downside: the bathrooms and showers have lights on a 15-minute timer, so long showers can involve fumbling for a light switch in the dark. While we were there, two of the three bathroom lights weren't set properly, and would only light for fifteen seconds or so before turning themselves off.

[1] Actually, this is probably sensible given that Kings Cross is, among other things, Sydney's red light district.

On October 18, the same day that Pallavi's elder sister left Buenos Aires, we set out on an eighteen-hour bus ride into Patagonia. Visitors to Puerto Madryn typically come to see whales, penguins, guanacos and other wildlife. And we did see these, as I'm sure we'll detail in a later post, but I also had an entirely different kind of adventure.

Having returned from an eventful Wednesday afternoon's whale-watching, I left Pallavi at our hostel to wander around Puerto Madryn seeking out socks to replace those lost in the lavenderia. The city itself is not as touristy as one might expect. The roads near the coast are dotted with hotels, and the avenues slightly inland decked out with backpacker hostels, but Puerto Madryn's most important economic activity is industry. (If you travel an hour north to watch whales, you will pass aluminium smelters, agribusiness operations, and other manufacturing plants, as well as a gigantic open landfill supporting a population of thousands of scavenging seagulls.) Tourism's role in the local economy is secondary: travellers are scarce for the third of the year when the whales and penguins have migrated elsewhere.

Thus, Puerto Madryn is actually a surprisingly good place to shop for basic necessities. Businesses cater mostly for locals. When it comes to clothing, the selection is good, you can purchase both local and foreign brands, and stores generally don't have a gringo markup.

Near the shopping district, and about three blocks away from the hostel, I came across the creatively named Casino Puerto Madryn. The place itself looks small, and besides a tall neon sign (reminiscent of an old movie theatre) not particularly obstrusive. But outside the door, a friendly sign advised that their next poker tournament, with a AR$220 (~US$50) buy-in, would be held the next night. So I returned later that evening to sign up.

She booked us tickets for a play concerning profane puppets and income tax law.

Our jump to Sydney was our first transcontinental shift of the international trip, and it has been a bit of an adjustment. In Argentina, a thousand dollars covered a month's rent at good apartment in Recoleta, one of Buenos Aires' most fashionable neighborhoods. As every Australian helpfully tells you these days, the greenback is now at parity with the Aussie dollar, and as result a double room at a rough hostel in Kings Cross is about three times the price of our beloved apartment. Thus, we go from comfortable and fashionable expats one week to proper cost-conscious backpackers the next. I imagine this will happen a couple of times this year.

We intentionally punctuated our trip, which mostly makes its way through budget-friendly and exotic countries like Ecuador and Peru, with a few weeks in more expensive nations. The expectation was that the costlier countries would give us a chance to outfit ourselves with items not available elsewhere. For instance, I am hoping to pick up a pair of high quality sandals either here or in New Zealand, as the (very cheap) pair that I purchased a week and a half ago in Puerto Madryn are already falling apart.

Some things that you might not expect to be hard to find turn out to be inconceivable in certain countries. For instance, women in South America apparently wax or use
depilatory cream on their legs: women's shaving cream is nowhere to be found. Likewise, the newer men's razors are not on offer.

Another major difference between Australia and Argentina partially accounts for our lack of frequency in posting. In Buenos Aires, just about every bar, coffeehouse, hostel or other freestanding structure likely to host tourists is likely to have free wireless internet access. Sydney is far less welcoming: most hostels require some hourly fee for wireless access, if it is available at all, and coffee shops with wifi are few on the ground. Indeed, the big venue for free wifi is the Kings Cross Mickey D's, and it bustles 24-7 with a LAN party's worth backpackers working at their notebooks and iPhones.

Wednesday will put us in New Zealand, though we will be back in Australia later this month. Although the plan is subject to change, we are thinking of renting a camper van and heading through the countryside. It may take a while to post them, but we hope to have some good pictures.

I'm used to the U.S. dollar, which is the lingua franca of currencies: even when it's down, everyone wants them.

The Argentine peso? Not so much. I really should have converted my pesos to dollars before we left, because while the exchange rate with the Australian dollar is theoretically about 4:1, no one will buy pesos at less than a 4.6:1 rate.

Leaving Buenos Aires

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I have to admit, I've kind of fallen in love with Buenos Aires. I keep referring to it as "a laid back New York without all the bad bits." But today we're leaving. I'm writing this post from the airport, and we board the flight to Sydney in a few minutes.

A quick note for those tempted by the Tina Fey advertisements touting the utility of American Express cards for getting into airport lounges: think twice before making this investment. We've found that once we're out of the United States, every lounge has a different reason to deny you access. If it's an American/OneWorld lounge, you have to be flying American, not a partner. Or you have to fly business (which would get you into the lounge anyway). Or it's the second Tuesday of the month and the moon is in Taurus.

That said, Amex has its own lounge in Buenos Aires, and while it's not as nice as many I've been in, it does have free wifi, free coffee, and relatively clean facilities. So at least on this leg of the trip we get some value.

Everyone is entitled to his opinion. This is a statement about the rights of free men, however, and does not imply that the opinions of all men are equally valid, a statement that can be proven by a cursory glance at GQ's article purportedly listing the best cocktail bars in America. It's a travesty.

I like Angel's Share, which happens to be where I first met in person an old law school mentor who would years later help kick off the North American Road Trip. [1] Angel's Share's drinks are well-mixed, the surroundings classy, and the place certainly deserves a spot in the top-25 New York bars. But second in the nation, ahead of Houston's Anvil, to say nothing of New York's own Death & Co. or PDT? Not a chance. And what Pegu Club is doing on GQ's radar at all is a mystery: it's overpriced, overcrowded, and by the time a drink gets to you it's sometimes room temperature. That said, if you require a chance to sober up between cocktails, Pegu's your place. For better drinks and better ambiance in New York alone, you could try White Star, Apothke, or half a dozen others. Still, it's made me think of one important project for this trip: to keep track of the best drinking holes that we come across on our way around the world, and to wrap them up into one lengthy post.

Speaking of which, we came across a new global favorite on Saturday night, when I hit The Library Lounge (warning: sound and lots of Flash) with the Guniganti sisters. Like the overdone website, the actual bar must be seen to be believed. The decor is faux-19th century tacky, as if Russell Crowe's character in Master & Commander had resigned from the Royal Navy, purchased an upscale French bordello and converted it into an unofficial officer's club. The walls are bedecked with animal heads. Some of the walls and half of the seating are one shade or another of dull crimson. But the Library Lounge doesn't stop at chairs, chaises and low tables. One corner holds a leather-covered desk and four officer's chairs, next to a small humidor of cigars, while another corner offers what I think is a fainting couch as a seating option.

On Saturday night it was filled with an odd mix of the brash and the beautiful: hotel guests in their khakis and golf shirts sat at one table, while another was full of slinky model-wannabees in little black dresses. Yet another couple nestled on a loveseat and attempted to bring hipster fashion to South America. (Note to the hipster: a gentleman always takes off his hat indoors.) While I wouldn't wear jeans and a t-shirt, you don't have to dress up too mightily to avoid feeling under-dressed. One thing Buenos Aires shares with San Francisco, however, is that if you feel like going all-out, you can do so. A young gentleman roamed the room in a suit with such broad pin-stripes that it begged to be turned into a Tex Avery cartoon, while a woman with hair trimmed an eighth of an inch from her skull never took her (presumably real) fur cape off the shoulders of her bright red dress.

A word of warning: this place is expensive. Buenos Aires is in general more expensive than Peru or Ecuador, but this was the first place that made New York prices look good. In the evenings the bar has an AR$150/per person minimum (about US$38), which will buy you about two drinks. We avoided this by arriving very near closing, so that they only charged us for the one round we had time to drink.

On the upside, the cocktails themselves are as interesting and oddly-designed as the bar itself. My Manhattan was unusual for two reasons. First, the whiskey did not taste like Jack Daniels or Jim Beam (apparently the two go-to brands south of the equator), but considerably better. Second, they garnished it with some kind of albino cocktail cherry, a whitish marble at the bottom of the glass with only a rose-like hint of its original color left. I don't know how they bleached the cherry, but it did go well with both the drink and the decor.

[1] This lady taught me one rule to live by: if you're a lawyer and you meet a law student at a bar, you pay. They then pay the next generation of students when they graduate. (My only post-recession corollary to this rule is "when they graduate and have a job.")

Dear iTunes:

I know that you would really like me to spend as much as possible in your store. As a generally capitalist fellow, I can appreciate this. However, some of us have slow netbook computers that choke on HD video of anything more complex than South Park. And out here on the road, some of us frequently stay in hostels with internet connections that make 2400 bps modems feel proud of themselves. Buying HD video is simply not an option.

Thus, making me click through several slow-loading iTunes pages in order to get to the SD video option is really, really annoying.

P.S. On a side note: are there really people who buy South Park and Futurama in HD?

An important lesson about international travel: bring extra socks. The little b**%#@#s are Madame Bovaries of fidelity. Like carbon dating, I suspect you can tell how long someone has been on the road by the percentage of original socks that they retain at any given point. Socks will betray you, they will leave you, they will get lost, whether you do your own laundry or give them to a service.

Thus on a rainy September day in Cuzco we stepped into a Tipitop, a Gap-like chain of inexpensive clothing offering "MEGA-sales!" And while I didn't manage to find any socks in my size, a couple of interesting shirts caught my eye.

It wasn't that they were stylish: on the contrary, they were in garish colors that would not match any of my other clothes. But the designer indulged in an odd form of collage: he would take bits of old maps, combine them together, and stick them on a shirt as if they actually represented something. For instance, a shirt that declared itself to be a "Map of the Province of Nottingham" [1] turned out to be, on closer inspection, the borders of the Austro-Hungarian empire from about 1890. And then there was this:

The shirt, which bears the title EAST-WEST SCHISM, mostly consists of a map from The Atlas of Middle-Earth. It's all there: the Shire, Gondor, Mordor, each in glorious, copyright-violating purple-and-black. [2] The text below the map, on the other hand, reads:

The origins of the Crusades lie in developments in Western Europe (or earlier in the Middle East Ages, as well as the deteriorating situation of the Byzantine Empire in the east caused by a new wave of Turkish Muslim attacks. The breakdown of the Carolingian Empire in the late 9th century.

What does all this mean? Your guess is as good as mine. It was odd enough (and cheap enough), however, that I had to buy it. I figure it would make a great prize for a Devil May Care contest.

If you have thoughts on what the nature of the contest should be, please leave them in the comments.

[1] Is Nottingham even a province? Was it ever?

[2] For some reason it comes out as red when shot with an iPhone. I don't know why. Perhaps representations of the Eye of Sauron don't like Steven Jobs. Or perhaps Steve Jobs is Sauron, and iPhones are his version of the rings given to mortal man. The latter possibility is made much more likely if they ever launch an iCanHasInvizibility app.

Travel broadens the mind, but not necessarily in the ways that you expect. You can walk through centuries-old ruins and come away with nothing more than a respect for stone masonry and gratitude that Thomas Friedman has fallen in love with modern China and not ancient Peru. [1] On the other hand, the ordinary course of daily life will grant plenty of sudden insights through smaller lessons. For instance, never stay in a hostel with a cat that looks like Garfield, for fat cats do not mouse.

Traveling has made me fascinated by humanity's seemingly limitless ingenuity when it comes to the provisions of running water, particularly hot water. Although several of our hotels or hostels have had standard centralized hot water heaters, others have been quite creative. For instance, our first night at Los Ninos in Cuzco (the night after the the rat incident), we contacted the front desk and told them there was no hot water in our room. Quickly thereafter, a short handyman in paint-flecked overalls showed up at our door, followed by the receptionist. The receptionist and I boosted the handyman into a tiny crawlspace above the bathroom, and there followed a few minutes of his shifting about culminating in the loud, unmistakable click of a circuit-breaker being thrown. Apparently each room had its own hot water heater, hidden out of sight. Once I realized this, I started looking in other hostels, and realized that in Cuzco this sort of set up is not uncommon.

We've encountered a variety of different plumbing systems so far. Hospedaje Kinsa Cocha features wood-heated showers. When we have stayed with local families (at Huchuy Cusco or Puno), there has either been no hot water or no running water at all. [2] While making our way around Lake Titicaca, I noticed that some of the most prosperous of the small houses had large, bright metal drums perched on their roofs, presumably to warm water through sunlight.

Our Buenos Aires apartment has introduced me to the concept of the tankless hot water heater. Instead of pre-heating water, a gas burner provides hot water on demand, with a "maximum" temperature set on the heater. I can't believe that these systems are efficient: although they allow the luxury of tremendously long showers, they seem to use a lot of gas. The downside is that the heaters are triggered by pressure, which means that a certain volume of hot water must be demanded before they kick in. This makes shaving--which requires a low volume of warm water--quite tricky, as the temperature will tend to switch between boiling and freezing.

While I did my share of tinkering and DIY when I lived in New York, my projects were always utilitarian. I never thought that I'd be so interested in the pros and cons of hot water systems.

[1] Given Friedman's habit of praising a totalitarian society for making the trains run on time, I figure it could be worse. If he'd seen what the Inca were able to do using only a penchant for conquering neighboring tribes and a talent for employing corv�e labor, I'd fear for the day that the New York Times op-ed page proposed the repeal of the 13th amendment and the annexation of Canada.

[2] Nothing makes one more thankful for working sewers than a day or so in locations served only by outhouses.

I can count the number of "tweets" that I've ever sent on one hand and my facebook updates are irregular, at best. That said, I've added some code to Devil May Care for tweeting and "liking" posts.

I'm still testing the code: I'm pretty certain that on the homepage, for instance, I need to pass the URL for the entry to the Twitter button. (To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that the Facebook button works.) If you have any problems, feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to fix it.

UPDATE: I think that I have it fixed, so feel free to try it. Does anyone with better CSS skills than I have know why the Facebook and Tweet buttons won't line up?

You may remember me remarking on the coolest consular website ever, the Indian consulate in Buenos Aires, home of Cafe con Visa. On September 27, I wandered across Recoleta and other of the posh areas of Buenos Aires to that consulate as part of my long-running quest to get an Indian visa. To give a short version of the story: I had planned to get my visa when I was in Houston, but did not realize (as it's not well-explained on the website) that you can only make a walk-in visa request in the specific Indian Embassy assigned to your state of residence. Thus, if I wanted to get a visa in the U.S., I needed to be in Chicago.

On the other hand, embassies outside the U.S. could give me a six-month visa if I dropped by during my travels. I tried in Lima, but they pointed out that a six-month visa would expire before my arrival in India, and encouraged me to try Buenos Aires. Since I wanted to see Cafe con Visa anyway, this wasn't such a bad thing.

And let me say, it lived up to expectations. The waiting area for visa applications is on an upper floor of a gorgeous office tower in one of Buenos Aires's nicest locations. A brilliant sunny view pours in through wide windows, lighting an open space filled with a long table, bookshelves full of helpful information on Indian business and tourism, and best of all, wifi and free coffee. Embassy staff were ceaselessly helpful, and while there was the typical amount of sitting, waiting, and filling out forms one expects in government processes, the affair was actually quite pleasant. Other applicants around me were similarly cheerful and upbeat.

Bureaucracy has an unpleasant reputation, usually deservedly so. Anyone who has ever tried to get a passport in person in New York knows about waiting in multiple lines in cramped, dingy, dirty spaces, as functionaries behind glass security windows move with no particular urgency. Even when I dealt with Japanese bureaucracy--which is generally quite competent and efficient--the sense of the impersonal and uncaring was palpable. Cafe con Visa is unique in my experience: a government agency seemingly designed to make interactions with it pleasant, professional and respectful. Perhaps it is not the Lost City of Atlantis or the fabled Cities of Gold, but it is the most surprising discovery I have made on my travels thus far.

Pallavi and Tony sign up for polo lessons. Tony is allergic to horses and not fond of big animals. Hijinks ensue. Later in the week: tango!

I wrote a full review of this device at Amazon, but figured I would post the short version here. We purchased this GPS for the road trip largely because it offered a broad feature set for $99. After a month of intensive use, I'd recommend against buying a Motorola GPS because:

  • The user interface is clunky, attempting to guess the address you are searching for in a manner similar to Google's auto-suggestion feature. Unfortunately, the processor is nowhere near powerful enough to support these operations, so entering an address is a painful process.
  • The unit overheats easily if mounted on a dashboard, rendering it useless much of the day (or requiring us to turn the AC on full blast and pump it out of the front defogger vents). One would have thought that this was a basic feature for a GPS. (That said, while parked at the U.S./Canada border, we passed one couple who had solved this problem with a similar model by putting a towel over the unit, making it look like Lawrence of Arabia.)
  • The power adapter broke in Canada, and we had a ridiculous time trying to contact customer service to get a replacement.
  • The bluetooth connection (one of the high-end features one doesn't expect on a unit this cheap) is finicky, to say the least, and did not play well with an iPhone.

Bottom line: I would steer clear of Motorola products in this segment.

I'd like to add a map to Devil May Care illustrating our travels, something like the interactive map on 13 Months. Unfortunately, I don't know how to program in Flash. Does anyone know of something similar that might be easy to put together?

It looks like Tuesday morning was a great time to leave Cuzco, as we got out just before strikes and protests paralyzed the city. Although we had a very hard time catching a cab to the airport, and were a bit confused as to why there was such a strong police presence apparent during the journey, we made it to our flight, and to Lima, without incident.

I'm really excited about the election. Not the American election (which I'm not talking about on this blog, unless sudden upsets become relevant to our travels), but the Peruvian elections coming up this fall. For sheer enjoyment of the political process, nothing beats a country in which you don't speak the language, don't understand the process, and don't have a stake in the outcome. It's all the fun of parades, crazy guys shouting through loudspeakers while perched precariously on the back of trucks, and omnipresent political advertising, without an investment in the outcome or the stress of civic duty.

The Peruvian election graphically illustrates that all the folks hyperventilating about evil corporations buying our political process following Citizens United are worried about nothing. Corporations can spend every drop of profit that they have on advertising, along with the unions, and tap into leftover TARP funds, and we still won't approach the level of political advertising of a Peruvian regional election. I have never in my life seen as many ads for candidates as I have in three weeks in Peru. Indeed, I may have seen more campaign signs, walls painted with slogans, buildings decked up to proclaim their allegiance to a particular party, large rocks decorated in campaign symbols, and cars sloshed with partisan paint than I have seen in the rest of my life combined. I kept thinking I'd turn the corner and find some young mother moving too slowly down the street, and some hack busily tattooing party symbols on the baby hanging from her back. [1]

I have no idea which party is which, or their positions. What I do know is their symbols, which are very important. While traveling through Peru, we've met people who speak one or more of Spanish, Quechua, or Aymara, and I'm sure there are other tongues. Moreover, about 7% of Peruvians can't read, according to Wikipedia. Presumably for this reason, every party political sign includes the party symbol with an X over it, illustrating how supporters should vote. [2] Thus, to go only by the pictures, Peru's political parties include, among others, the Condor Party, the My Logo Looks Like the O in Vodaphone Party, the Soccer Ball Party (I could make out that they're for more spending on sports and education), the Wheat Party, the Pan Pipe Party, the Incan Profile Party, and my personal favorite, Pan: the Bread Party. Their symbol is a loaf of bread, and depending upon the size of the wall bearing the advertisement, the logo either looks like a dinner roll or enough bread to feed a family of eight for a fortnight. Sometimes the loaf is framed by the outline of a mountain.

Pan's ads are cheery, brightly colored in greens and reds (except for the bread, which is the color you would expect), and I like them for their simplicity. Again, for all I know they're the party furthest away from my own politics, but I base my fondness solely upon their branding. It's a little liberating to chose your political support based on wholly senseless reasons.

While I never changed my political loyalties, other of our traveling companions were more fickle in their adoptive politics. One young lady was particularly fond of the Pan Flute Party, until she saw some of their supporters dancing down the street in a parade. Every man carried a cardboard cutlass covered in shiny foil, while every woman mimicked the moves of the men, sans weapon. Deciding that this was not her feminist cup of tea, she began looking for alternate choices. (I think, but can't actually remember, that she settled on the Sprouting Shamrock party.)

However, if I were a nationalized Peruvian voting for the first time, I think I would find democracy itself a disappointment, at least after I'd read the instructions helpfully provided by ONPE, the Peruvian agency responsible for voter education. ONPE's posters, explaining how to vote, were posted in most of the town squares, and as public service posters go, they were concise, direct and beat the heck out of anything you see at the post office. (Look at it this way: I could understand them with my limited Spanish. Imagine reading voter education signs in New York if your first language weren't English.) However, the sample ballot on the signs had even better political parties: the Pumpkin Party, the Internet Party (symbol: @, of course), and the Fudgesicle Party, among a dozen others. After that, Bread and Condors (let alone elephants and donkeys--how boring are we?) just can't compete.

[1] We asked one of our guides whether candidates were required to paint over these ads after the election, and he told us that while they were supposed to do so, they often did not. On the other hand, one mayoral candidate took advantage of this, with posters and banners proclaiming (roughly translated) "[Candidate] believes that we should keep Puno beautiful, so he doesn't paint ads on the walls."

[2] This caused us a few seconds of cultural confusion. Because the symbol was covered by an "X," we originally thought that these were somehow negative ads: "Don't vote for the Bread Party," etc. In actual fact, I've not seen a negative ad yet, which is perhaps aided by the multitude of political parties. Maybe it's easier to go positive for yourself than to trash a dozen other factions. Or maybe negative ads have been banned. I don't know.

We started this trek on June 22, 2010, which does not seem so long ago. Since that time, we've rarely spent three nights in the same place. Every few days, our entire stock of accessible worldly possessions are stuffed into four bags for transport to the next plane, the next bus, the next hostel. We've gotten very good at packing our things. And as a result, we've seen a lot of the United States, Ecuador, and Peru.

I'll admit, however, that I'm growing a bit weary of never having a place. Thus, we've rented an apartment in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires for the entire time we're there. We may do some travel through the Patagonia, or trek up to Igazu Falls, but for the most part I'm thinking we'll stay in the city. We've been taking salsa lessons in Peru, and we might keep that up, although I wouldn't mind studying a bit of capoeria as well. The rent we're paying on the apartment isn't really a savings over a cheap hostel, but we hope to make up some of the budget by cooking--and am I ever looking forward to cooking, something I never thought I'd say.

In short, I think that while we've traveled through Ecuador and Peru, I'm hoping to live a while in Buenos Aires.

We already knew that if we were going to charge anything in South America, the Capital One card was the way to go. They have good exchange rates and no foreign transaction fees. (Seriously, if you're doing overseas travel, CO beats AMEX [1], BoA, or Chase hands down.) But credit cards are the least of one's payment problems in Ecuador and Peru. For the most part, establishments are loath to take your plastic, and will frequently charge you a heavy fee for the convenience. While you're down here, cash is king.

Which had been a problem, because we were getting killed by ATM fees: about 10 soles or $3 per ATM transaction. Which puts one in a bind: do you pull out the maximum amount of cash and become an instant mugging target, or do you pile up the fees?

Fortunately, Scotiabank has solved the problem. Its ATMs throughout Peru do not seem to charge ATM fees, nothwithstanding which of our accounts we used for the withdrawal. If you're traveling in this area, it's worth walking over a plaza or two to get to their ATMs. (The GlobalNet ATMs, by the way, are tourist-trap-highway-robbery fee machines.)

Hey, How I Met Your Mother may like to make fun of Canadians, but at least they have civilized cash machines!

[1] Which does, however, have a pretty good platinum concierge service, although it's more likely to get a good result if you ask it a question about stateside services.

I'm not sure if anyone has ever bothered to make it official, but it becomes obvious after ten minutes in about any Peruvian bar that pisco is the national spirit of Peru. Visitors will most likely first encounter the spirit in the pisco sour, which again, if not actually the national cocktail, appears on menus with sufficient ubiquity that one could be forgiven for thinking that it is. Unfortunately, the sticky sweetness of the pisco sour and its whipped-egg consistency do not appeal to me. [1] Quebranta and aromatic piscos on their own, give me a sharp, strongly alcoholic taste, like a dry brandy.

We've tried a few pisco drinks while in Cuzco, but my favorite so far is the Capitan, served to me last night by the bartenders at Chi Cha. Besides being an excellent restaurant (and I suspect that Pallavi will write more about this), Chi Cha boasts some of the friendliest bartenders that we have encountered in South America. They managed to overcome my poor-to-nonexistent Spanish and conversed with me, at length, about the various local ingredients to be found in their cocktails. They also gave me a quick primer on pisco (which admittedly I had to supplement later with some online research).

Better than that, they shared with me the Chi Cha recipe for the Capitan (which is slightly different from some I've seen online). It's essentially a pisco-based Manhattan, but with the taste of vermouth coming through more clearly. Not a drink for those deeply opposed to Cinzano (you know who you are), but one that I think I'm adding to my list of favorites.

  • Three oz. quebranta pisco
  • Two oz. red vermouth
  • One twist orange peel
  • One twist lime peel

Combine pisco and vermouth in a shaker with ice. Pour into cocktail glass. Twist orange peel into glass, coat rim. [2] Garnish with a twist of lime.

[1] About the only cocktail in this genus that I occasionally drink is the White Lady, and I admit that this may only be due to my fondness for the American Bar at the Savoy. In any event, a proper White Lady doesn't have egg white.

[2] I think a dash of bitters would also work here, if you're not feeling like professional-grade cocktail-making.

While composing this description of our time in Ba�os, I realized that we took very few pictures in this tourist city. This makes sense: the city is mostly populated by backpackers and the service industry that has grown up around them, and other than amusing sights the city has little to offer to a photographer. It's a city where you do things: adventures in the jungle, hot springs, nightlife. Most of these activities are not camera-friendly, unless the camera is waterproof.

We're spending a bit of downtime between Machu Picchu (last week) and Lake Titicaca (tomorrow) planning our time in Argentina. Rather than move from hostel to hostel, as we have been doing, we'd like to rent a nice but small apartment as a base of operations, and then stay at cheaper hostels for day trips throughout our stay.

On the upside, Buenos Aires appears to have hundreds of short-term rental options. Although many are designed for two persons, others are suitable for four to six people, and obviously the per person prices tend to go down as the numbers go up. So if anyone feels like taking an extended holiday during our Argentina stay (from September 25 to October 23), please get in touch, and we can look into shared housing.

Sitting in a Peruvian bar, hearing Tom's Diner (the dance mix, of course), and realizing that it pretty exactly describes a lazy Sunday morning at Columbia, dodging work.

I have received a few emails stating that users are having a hard time leaving comments. If you do have a problem, always feel free to send me an email describing the problem and I will try to work it out.

As near as I can tell, readers have been trying to leave a comment by signing up to be a commenter on the blog. However, before anyone who signs up can comment, I need to approve the "pending" user. Unfortunately, I am not online very often, and cannot approve everyone immediately.

The best workaround for this is to try logging in with a different system: either a Livejournal, Google, Facebook, or OpenID account. Any of these should allow you to comment without system approval. However, if you do want a unique "Devil May Care" login, I will do what I can to approve you as soon as possible.

Blah, Blah, Hope

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Although we try to avoid political posts here at Devil May Care (unlike my previous blog), sometimes I wander across something just too good to resist, such as this picture that we took on August 28 in a cafe in Ba�os, Ecuador.


From Cafe Blah Blah, Ba�os, Ecuador

Some context, after the jump....


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We've been gradually telling the story of our Galapagos adventure, but another couple traveling on the Encantada have already finished their photolog and, unlike us, seem to be up to date on the rest of their trip.

This cheerful couple were an inspiration, great travelers and (as you can see from their site) accomplished photographers. They recommended that we dive in the Gili Islands in Indonesia, near Lombok, particularly noting the opportunities for underwater photography. Of course, any camera that we have would short circuit if taken underwater, so that would be obstacle one to this plan.

(I have added Sortides to the blogroll.)

(I tried to write this in the style of Cormac McCarthy. Even after being woken up by a rat and two cups of coca tea, I just couldn't manage it.)

As I've mentioned before, I needed some new shoes by the time I got to Peru. Not expecting to do much in the way of nice dining, I had brought only my boots, some bright yellow running shoes, and my four-year-old sandals. After Galapagos, those sandals were on their last legs, and I couldn't clean or repair them any further. Given my other options, I thought a cheapish pair of leather slip-ons (casual enough for every day, and that might serve in a nice restaurant) were in order.

The only problem: neither Ecuador or Peru are particularly good places to find shoes for large feet.

We arrived at Lima's airport late on the night of August 30 and stayed at Hostal El Patio, a charming and not-uncomfortable little place. They let us arrive very late (after midnight), picked us up from the airport, and were clean and quiet enough for the first night.

The next two nights were spent in luxury at a Doubletree, enjoying a soft bed and splurging a bit. My parents had saved up some Hilton points, and offered them to us as an anniversary gift, without which this would have been impossible. (Thanks!) This hotel was willing to accept post on our behalf, which solved one issue for us.

We did not really see much of Lima in the first three days. Knowing that we had two days of comfort and safety at the Doubletree, we had not planned much in advance. Also, a month of Ecuador had run down our supplies: my old sandals were pretty much destroyed, a few shirts had seen their last days of service following shrinkage in a hostel launderia... in short, sightseeing took second-fiddle to shopping, answering long-overdue email, and generally preparing for Cuzco.

We did wander around the Miraflores district, mostly a "gringo" area full of shopping, food, and nightlife. Although not exactly what some would call an "authentic cultural experience," I find that every so often I need to sit in a business district just relaxing and catching up with the world. The plan is to actually do Lima on the way back, as we have to fly out of there on the way to Buenos Aires.

On the other hand, we did waste some time talking to travel agents. Note to future Peruvian travellers: LAN has two prices for domestic flights, one for Peruvians and the other for foreigners. There are, reputedly, some ways around this, and the woman at the LAN ticket desk did not seem to want to charge us the foreigner price. But Peruvian Airlines and Star Peru, the two low-cost airlines flying to Cuzco, won out. Which led us to the ancient city of the Incas in the morning of September 3... more about which later.

An unfortunate first

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I woke up this morning to spy the first rat that I've seen in any of our accommodation. Suffice it to say, the Pirwa Bed and Breakfast Suecia is not getting a good review.

On the other hand, now I'm unquestionably awake, so a good time to blog.

Update: Two new thoughts upon waking: (a) that explains the cat, and (b) judging from the sounds coming from the courtyard and my experience with old house cats and field mice, the rat may now be less of a problem. We're still checking out today.


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I've updated the Places to Stay in Quito entry.

Day 3

Galapagos, Day 3

Day 3 was "bird day," and was consumed by the avian life of Genovesa Island. Not fifteen minutes after our early morning landing on a white sand beach, we were surrounded by countless boobies, frigates, pelicans, and finches. The path wandered through the avian version of suburban sprawl, and we had to be careful not to blunder onto a nest. (This isn't actually that difficult, as a parent will quite forcefully honk at you if you get closer than about two feet.) Some parents covered newly-hatched chicks with their underbellies, some fed more mature children, and some boobies and frigates circled the settlement looking for mates.

It was here that the frigate birds earned the nickname "evil bastards." Younger males will circle nests, seeking to quite literally snatch food from the mouths of baby boobies and younger frigates. For this reason, feeding is a complicated matter. A parent begins by looking about cautiously while its child complains with hunger, until the coast is clear. The the parent's jaw flares wide and half-swallows the child's head in order to make sure that the offspring, and not some raiding frigate, will be fed. This thievery culminated in the most disturbing "tooth and claw" view of nature that I had on the trip.

Off to Peru

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This evening, we're off to Peru. Hopefully we can write some updates of our Ecuadorian experience at the airport. But one way or the other, you'll hear from us in Lima.

The problem: we have items that friends need to mail to us, but starting next week we will be traveling somewhat randomly around Peru. Our older guidebooks suggested that American Express would hold packages, but apparently Amex stopped doing this due to security concerns sometime after 9/11. So now we're trying to find someone who would hold packages for us if it arrives before or after we're there.

If you have any thoughts, we'd love to hear them.

Remember our regrets about A Space Place Storage, which responded so badly to a break-in and had none of the basics you would expect from a storage place (such as working door locks)? Well, it seems that while we may have removed all of our things, and received a refund of our initial payment from this awful storage company, they felt no need to stop charging us a monthly fee.

Nor did they reply to an email asking them to refund us two months' worth of "fees" put on our card. When I called this morning, the woman on the other end of the line (a) insisted that we call her on the non-toll free number, (b) "couldn't remember" the email she had sent us confirming the refund, and (c) suggested that we call her back at the end of the day. Given that international phone calls are expensive and Skype difficult, and their behavior so shifty in the first place, I asked for all future communication to be in writing.

That's one problem with long-term travel. You can leave your home behind, but certain aspects of it (such as fly-by-night businesses) will follow you.

Oskar's Pizzeria, Otavalo, Ecuador. A pizza restaurant targeting kids and teens, with placemats hawking the local equivalent of the Gap. Their mascot: a cartoon Che Guevara with pizza slices for eyes.

Che! Comrades shall pay for their pizza at the front!

Yes, that's Che, the face that launched a thousand college t-shirts, telling you to settle your bill at the front.

I think it's safe to say that when your leader has been reduced to a cartoon giving instructions to teens on how to pay for their capitalist fast food, the revolution's over.

We're currently catching up on blogging, but our thought is to write posts in parallel: some catching up on the U.S. trip, some describing our time in Ecuador, and some just "fun" posts. Such as this one, which is probably more interesting to our lawyer readers.

Where art thou, Lysol?: After a week on the Encantada (about which much more later), my sandals, some of our clothing, and my luggage was a bit odorous. The clothing was easy to handle--launderias were thick on the ground near our hotel--but the luggage and sandals were a trickier matter. They could be cleaned, but some deodorizer was in order. My go-to tools for this would be Lysol or Febreze.

While the Ecuador supermarkets stock dozens of air fresheners in familiar brands (e.g., Glade), they didn't have Lysol or Febreze. This struck me as odd, because I had seen a Lysol advertisement on cable TV. When I saw the same advertisement later (playing on the widescreen at Red Hot Chili Peppers Mexican restaurant--great margaritas, FYI), even I could translate the fine print from the Spanish: only available in the U.S., Costa Rica, and Panama. I have no idea why this is true, but I assume it's some environmental or health concern.

Aerogal, our carrier from Quito to the Galapagos, provided a particular welcome for New Yorkers: given that they are opening a new flight from NYC, everything from the napkins to the posters in the airport were stamped with "I [Aerogal iguana logo] NY." By the way, one great thing about Aerogal: the seats in economy are far enough apart for a 6' 2" man to sit comfortably.

A note for those traveling to the Galapagos: upon arrival you will need to pay $100 for a National Park "passport" and another $10 entry fee, and these have to be paid in cash. Make sure you have money when you leave, as I didn't see a convenient ATM.

We were met by our guide, Juan, who helped us navigate the airport, and a few of our fellow passengers. (Since we didn't ask them if they could be mentioned, we're not naming names, but some of our fellow travelers hailed from Norway, Israel, Spain, and Denmark.) It was then a short bus to the dinghy, from there to the Encantada, and then on to the events of Day 1. We will write a separate entry about the Encantada itself: here I want to focus on the events of the day.

Day 1: Sea Turtle Safari at Black Turtle Cove

Galapagos, Day 1

[Click on the album to see all of its photos]

This is probably not of interest unless you are coming to Ecuador, but I thought it might be useful to give brief review of places we have stayed. Who knows, it might be of use to future travelers. I will update this post whenever we go to a new hotel or hostel, and probably write a similar post for each country we visit. (These are only my opinions: Pallavi may disagree.)

Hotel Boutique Plaza Sucre (~$100): A charming boutique hotel we chose for our first night here, the beautiful aesthetics are slightly let down by the staff. While they are not unfriendly, the are certainly the least helpful group of anyplace that we've stayed. The rooms on the first two floors all surround a quiet, bright courtyard, and the top-floor cafeteria (serving omlettes for breakfast) has a fantastic view of the surrounding hills. Good for a night, but not a great value for a long-term stay.

A couple of blegs

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Galapagos posts are coming, but the main impediment is trying to figure out how to manage the pictures. I have never taken as many photos as we did in our eight days in the islands, and sheer volume is overwhelming me. I don't want to upload all of them, I do want to share a few from each day.


For instance, a Pelican that posed for us

Unfortunately, I'm not used to working with large numbers of photos in Windows. I can't simply upload them to my webhost, as I can't afford the bandwidth. At the moment, I'm using Picasa and Picasa web albums, but it seems to have only 1GB of free space. If you know of a better service, please feel free to leave advice in the comments.

Also, I'd like to set up threaded comments on DMC (so that if you reply to a comment, it is nested underneath rather than placed at the end). If you happen to know of a good "how to" on this, I'd appreciate it.

Having a good (although often damp and slightly smelly) time here in the Islands. We'll get back to you on Monday.


A baby seal rests amidst our snorkeling gear

Tomorrow morning we're off to the Galapagos, sailing aboard the Encantada. Spending a week on a boat is far outside my comfort zone, and I'll admit to a little nervousness. Given the tales of jellyfish in the water, I'm slightly regretting the fact that we didn't buy wetsuits back in Texas.

Hopefully we'll bring back pictures and stories, not sunburn and stings. On the other hand, we're unlikely to have internet access, so we're probably off the grid entirely for a week. I can't remember the last time I didn't have cell, internet, or at least land-line access to the world.

Since our wedding, our signature cocktail has been a Godfather: equal parts scotch (or bourbon, we're flexible) and amaretto. But on an airplane, it's not like there will be a flight attendant trained as a bartender. Still, we wanted to start out keeping the tradition.

Which works if PG orders an amaretto and I order a scotch, and then I mix the drinks at our seat. So the journey has started the right way.

...because as of 5:45 this afternoon, we will be on a flight to Ecuador.

Of course, we'll have some time on the plane to draft catch-up posts from the road trip.

So I've been having a little trouble getting an Indian visa, which will hopefully get sorted out. Looking at options, however, I've scanned the Indian consular sites for South America and half of Asia. This wins the prize for most helpful and friendly consular website ever:

Cafe con Visa: "First, we invite you to have a cup of coffee. Or if you prefer... tea, chocolate or capuccino... Your visa will be ready ... pronto."

My explanation for the lack of updates: all driving/downtime is currently given over to either a) trying to deal with matters related to the renting of our New York apartment or b) studying for scuba certification, which we should complete this week in Nacogdoches, Texas.

With regard to the first, we can recommend a very good and helpful New York real estate agent. With regard to the second, it's not the bar exam, but it's still a lot of study.

But some times you have to put all that aside. Like tonight, when we bring you a blog post from the inside of a small dome tent, open to the central Texas stars (but hopefully not the central Texas bugs). It seems AT&T gets just enough coverage to blog from out here.

By the way: if you are driving in Texas, try not to hit a skunk. It causes problems.

If you intend to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, I highly recommend two strategies:

a) First, stop either in Monterey, north of Big Sur, or Cambria. Anything between those two points seems to be "luxury" hotels in the $150 and up (sometimes way up) range. While there are quite a few camp sites, they fill up quickly.

b) Second, gas up in Monterey. Gas stations are few in the resort districts, and I feel we serve our readers well by preventing them from paying $4.50 per gallon.

We're driving and doing things faster than we can write, but there will be updates soon on Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco and the Pacific Coast Highway. Tomorrow, LA!


The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Much to write, and much to catch up on, but FYI if you are ever in San Francisco: they give you a ticket if you turn your wheels the wrong way when parking on a hill. It seems that the correct way is:

When facing downhill, turn your wheels to the right. When facing uphill on a street with a curb, turn your wheels to the left. When facing uphill on a street with no curb, turn your wheels to the right.

Needless to say, I got that mixed up.

I've been meaning to write this up for a while, as it's a story from before we set off on the road. Pallavi took the lead in finding us inexpensive storage outside Manhattan, and had a number of good locations picked out. At the same time, I was selling some of our possessions on Craigslist and came across an ad for $99 climate-controlled storage. The ads are still up there, for this firm, and if you're thinking of storage in the New York area, I can't recommend against this company highly enough. [1]

After a considerable time on the phone with LAN, we have now purchased our round-the-world tickets.

Something I learned: you do not need to take advantage of the "Canadian exception" in order to arbitrage the difference in round-the-world ticket prices. So long as you are willing to purchase an e-ticket (and none of the airlines that I spoke to were particularly enthusiastic or willing to issue paper tickets with open dates), it seems that an e-ticket purchased online through the OneWorld Alliance website will be priced at the cost of the country of origin. [1] Thus, it is often possible to save money by "starting" the trip in another country (in our case, Ecuador), and then booking a separate flight from the U.S. This is particularly true in our case, as the OneWorld Explorer is priced by the number of continents visited. Technically, we are not visiting North America on the "round the world" section of the trip.

If you are looking for more information on round-the-world travel, you could do a lot worse than signing up for the FlyerTalk bulletin boards, where there are a lot of very helpful and experienced travelers willing to answer questions from newbies.

[1] This may still be due to the "Canadian exception," as the booking agent listed on the online reservation is located in Vancouver.

After Ottawa, Toronto; and after Toronto, we crossed the border into Michigan. If you are ever considering a similar trip, I advise that you add an hour for the border crossing and getting through customs. Once past these hurdles, however, we had somewhat smooth sailing. Somewhat smooth because the roads around Detroit have deteriorated a great deal since I last drove them (before law school). Our first stop was in Novi, where we visited some of Pallavi's relatives, and then we continued to Big Rapids, where we stayed in one of my childhood homes.

The Fourth of July weekend was a story of relaxation, a chance to meet with family and friends. We grilled steak using an espresso rub, a spicy/coffee mixture that I highly recommend. After a week on the road, spending some time with a fully-stocked kitchen (and bar!) and good company made for a nice change. I got to take my old car for a spin, go sailing, and spend time with family that I will not be seeing for a year.

Typing that feels odd. We've been on the road for half a month now, but sometimes the trip does not feel entirely real. I still wake up occasionally expecting to hop out of bed, pull on a suit, and head for an office. It wasn't until we pulled out of the forest where my parents live that I started to think that I will not be "home" for a year. Perhaps more on that later.

Found on West Grand Avenue in Chicago, as storefront that takes customers "by appointment only."


This sign adorns the door to an otherwise unprepossessing two story brick building. I have no idea what the store sells, finds, or barters, but on a street bedecked with glass-front boutiques and Starbucks sidewalk cafes, the locked doors and drawn curtains evoke unlikely mystery. I don't want to know, because the reality will almost certainly not live up to the promise of an advertisement suitable for a story by Bradbury or Gaiman.

Nonetheless, it's the odd kind of thing I hope to see more of on my travels, and reminds me why some of my friends who are writers found their own journeys to be fodder for good fiction.

Time for a catch up entry. I would despair for our ability to update the blog while we are traveling, if it were not for the fact that our schedule gives the entire US and Canada as much time as Ecuador and Peru. I figure that once we're off the continent, we'll have a little more time for reflection (and a lot more to reflect about). In the meantime, a bit of what we've been up to since Prince Edward Island:

The Canadian trip has been somewhat hurried, as we've had to cover a great deal of ground since Prince Edward Island. We'll have further updates on Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Ottawa shortly.


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I doubt it's possible to take a transcontinental road trip without one's vehicle experiencing some sort of mechanical breakdown, but yesterday's adventure was pretty harmless. On the way from Quebec to Montreal, my fondness for gadgetry blew a fuse in the minivan, which disabled the radio and the power outlet. [1] In my old cars, replacing a fuse was a simply matter of looking at a small box beneath the dash, but a 2004 Chrysler minivan hold its entire collection of fuses in an "integrated power management" box under the hood, next to the battery. Unfortunately, the explanatory diagram of the IPM box makes sense only if you already know what its acronyms mean. I couldn't immediately understand it, but as we were about to stop at a hotel for the night anyway, I used the University of Google to figured out which of the dozens of fuses probably needed to be replaced. One short hop to a pieces d'auto in Montreal and our radio happily spewed French pop music again. Figuring that they might be handy, I bought four fuses at the auto store.

An hour later, halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, I pulled over for a cup of coffee. On the way out of the service station, I walked by an older couple standing in front of their Dodge Caravan, staring quizzically at the cover of an integrated power module. "Fuse blown?" I asked. They replied that yes, their radio wasn't working, but that they didn't know which fuse to replace. I told them that it was the one labeled "RDO," and asked if they had the right part. Although they had bought a small box of generic fuses in the filling station, none of them fit, so I gave them one of mine and a spare for the road. "How'd you blow it, anyway? Overload the cigarette lighter?"

"Yes," said the husband, sheepishly. "I was using my laptop."

[1] For what it's worth, I think that a Chrysler or Dodge minivan will quite happily charge a notebook when it is not in use, but the fuse tends to blow when a powerful notebook's fans kick in.

What would a road-trip be without a drive-in movie or two?


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At the moment, I think comments are working: feel free to contact me if this is not so.

By the way, for those of you authenticating using Yahoo! OpenID, your comments currently display your identity as a series of random letters. This can be changed using the settings in your Yahoo account.

Bad luck. I just received an email from my favorite Hong Kong tailor announcing his American tour. My last suit from Peter So garnered quite a few compliments when I wore it back in law school, and I was hoping to have a second one made. Unfortunately, he's going to be in precisely the wrong places, missing us by about a week at least three times. But if you're in his area and need a good suit, check him out.

I've been told that we're having a few technical difficulties today with comments and page loading. MT 5.0 is still pretty new to me, so it is taking me some time to iron out the problems in the system. In particular, because MT 5.0 will accept authentication from several different systems, it is difficult to figure out if the issue is with our host or the external process. If you are having difficulty leaving comments (particularly with authentication), please either send me an email or leave a comment below and I will try and work it out. Please include the login method that you tried (OpenID, Facebook, etc.) and the nature of the error.

Update: A few tests have worked. My host seemed to be having some severe service issues earlier today, so that may have been the problem, but again, please contact me if you have further difficulty.

Update II: Is anyone having trouble logging in using Firefox (particularly in Windows)? Chrome on Macintosh is working fine, but sadly I think I need to create a better testbed.


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Greeting from Prince Edward Island! About halfway through our 300 miles of driving, we crossed into Canada. Arriving late, we've not had a chance to explore, but I'm sure PG will be updating tomorrow.

One note for anyone driving to Prince Edward Island: there is not very much between the border and PEI. Do not let your gas tank get low!

The Charles Inn

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A brief thought on our hotel last night, The Charles Inn. This "Art Gallery Hotel" wasn't my cup of tea, but certain travelers might like it. The rooms are spartan (although our room had a surprisingly spacious and strangely-designed tub), the hallways appear to have last seen new wallpaper in the Reagan years, and the "complimentary wireless" does not reach our room. That said, it had an atmosphere unlike any hotel I've ever seen. The staff are helpful but remarkably informal, and as the hotel is surrounded by various bars and nightclubs, by 10pm the lobby assumes a bohemian aspect. Predominantly young patrons lounge on couches surrounded by paintings from local artists, making the entryway feel closer even to a dorm than a hostel. Although seemingly safe and above-board, the Charles Inn conjures a sense of seediness, and walking up from the bar through the dilapidated hallways you would be forgiven for thinking of a Mickey Spillane novel.

As I said, not to my taste, but some travelers on a budget might like it.

PG didn't mention this, but despite having a brand new GPS, two smartphones and an atlas, we still got lost on the way to the L.L. Bean store. One experience I've not had in a while: not minding getting lost. Although we have a couple of "must hit" deadlines on our North American trip, for the most part a minor course deviation merely means unexpected adventures. In this case, a working dock, some lobstermen, and great fried clam strips.

a port in South Freeport

As you might expect, not being stressed about sudden, unexpected changes in plans is a new experience for me.

A long and eventful "first" day. We skipped Boston proper, instead making our way to Cambridge, where we grabbed a burger at the world's most political burger joint. (Mr. Bartley's burgers are named after local luminaries and national politicians) right outside Harvard Yard. We wandered around campus, which served as a great way to kill an hour, but I didn't find it as impressive or interesting from an architectural perspective as PG's alma mater, the University of Virginia.

The rest of the day was spent meeting people we knew, including one of PG's college friends in Chelsea, who told us to leave Boston before 3:30 when the traffic would hit. This good advice prevented us from being too delayed on the way to Portland, Maine. Highlights of Portland:

  • The Inn at St. John. A very price-competitive bed and breakfast, whose cheapest rooms are less expensive than a chain hotel. True, we have a European-style across-the-hall shared bathroom and an in-window AC unit that may date from the Eisenhower administration, and some of the furniture and wallpaper shows its age. Nonetheless, the rooms are charming, if slightly dusty, with plenty of colonial trimmings.

  • Local 188 (warning: link has sound). I don't know about the food here, but the bar serves very potent cocktails. If you order the sazerac, they'll happily substitute absinthe for pernod, and PG found the "margarichio" strong enough to knock her for a loop. The bar was recommended by blogger Sherry and her husband. I had not seen her since she acted as my unofficial mentor in law school, and this was her first introduction to PG. Still a great mentor!

Which brings us to a big travel lesson: local friends are invaluable when exploring a place quickly. We'd planned to spend tomorrow in Portland proper, perhaps doing some sailing, before heading on up to Prince Edward Island. They recommended better places to sail, other places to see, and which campground would be the best to get to by tomorrow night. I'm sure we would have had fun without the advice, but having heard their tales, we're really looking forward to tomorrow.

Today I learned that our life (defined as "possessions we'd be willing to pay to keep in storage for a year") fits comfortably in a room 10 X 5 X 8 feet. And that our plan for packing light for the road has, at least initially, failed miserably. There is plenty of room in the back, but little floor space, and our bags and boxes are not well organized. Still, we're on the road.

By late afternoon, we closed up the apartment and managed to make it to the FDR, which obliged us by remaining relatively uncongested. After a few setbacks involving road construction, we found ourselves on our way to Hartford, Connecticut, where old law school friends introduced us to a wonderful recipe for poached salmon.

We're considering this Day 0 of the trip: too short to be a full day's travel. Tomorrow, we'll make a brief stop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that I can say that I have at least seen Harvard Square once in my life, and then settling down in Portland at nightfall.

After my earlier problems, I reposted my computer on eBay, again specifying local pickup. The auction ended yesterday, and the first thing I received from my buyer was an email saying, "hi, are you going to ship this macbook? I asked because you the shipping method is pick-up only..."

You know, I think the question pretty much answers itself. Whatever eBay's virtues for professional auctioneers or people who do a lot of shipping, it has very little protection for non-professional sellers.

Spent an evening at Please Don't Tell. I don't think it's replaced Death & Co. in my heart, but it does have bacon- and tobacco-infused drinks.

Good news for our road trip: posting will be easier because Starbucks will start offering free wifi in July.

Bad news for our road trip: AT&T considers Canada foreign enough to justify international roaming and data rates. At least while we're Up North, the cell phones go off, and we'll be in contact a little less often.

I now have first-hand knowledge of why eBay and PayPal were two of the first companies to work with Google on their email identity verification system. On Friday, eBay notified me that a MacBook that I had put up for sale went for its full Buy It Now price. Given that the item was for pick up only, I expected an email asking where the buyer could meet me. Instead, my "buyer" sent me a message "apologizing for the inconvenience," but informing me that he would release PayPal funds from escrow after I sent him proof that I had sent the computer to his Pastor's wife in Nigeria.

Two minutes later, an email arrived informing me that PayPal was holding the funds pending proof of shipment. Although a pretty obvious fraud, the email was close enough to have tricked someone who didn't look carefully (or notice the obvious spelling errors). Google's identification program worked as advertised, however, and spotted that the Paypal email was not genuine.

Thus followed a few days of trying to convince eBay to cancel the sale. Today, after my second online chat with eBay support, they finally credited me back my fees. (The computer is still for sale here, if you're interested.)

For your convenience, the waiting lounge at the New York Passport Office, just like airplanes, comes pre-equipped with screaming babies.

One hint for a round the world trip: check your passport not only to make sure that it won't expire, but also to ensure that you have enough pages for visa stamps.  That way you won't have to make last-minute appointments with the Passport Office. (If you ever do need to do so, here are instructions.)

Based my admittedly non-extensive research, there appear to be three main ways to ticket a round-the-world trip:

  • The first is to book tickets as one goes, taking advantage of the skills of local travel agents, trusting on one's ability to obtain visas, and generally being willing to be flexible. This method appears to be heavily endorsed by Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding, and I can see its attractions, but I believe that had we tried this method the uncertainty and risk would have quickly driven me mad.
  • The next option is to contact a round-the-world specialist travel agent, such as Airtreks or Air Brokers. This approach is favored by the author of The Practical Nomad. We looked at these, largely because I was attracted to the idea of having an experienced agent who had a vested interest looking out for us as we traveled, and to whom we could send questions. But these operations did not seem to be price competitive for the trip that we wanted to take.
  • So in the end, we decided to try booking a RTW ticket with an airline alliance, in this case One World. Of the various options, they seem to have the best coverage in the southern hemisphere, and although their options in Africa are limited, this appears to get us most of the way around the world in one package.

Things We've Seen

Things We Like