I’ve gotten some criticism about the lack of updates lately. So here you go, all you complainers. This is a picture I took last December while in San Francisco, my first visit. I spent a couple of days doing the tourist thing. I was really impressed by the public transportation (it doesn’t take much to impress me). The BART was efficient and easy to use. And even though, the cable cars are totally inefficient and very dangerous, they are such icons that it is worth risking one’s life to take a ride on one.
The “Floating Shrine” of Itsukushima is located outside of Hiroshima, Japan on the island of Miyajima. For some reason I didn’t record my visit to the island in the journal I kept during my 2002 trip to Japan. The thing I remember most about the island was the distinct lack of monkeys.
Both my guidebook and local tourist brochures promised that there were rambunctious monkeys roaming freely on the island. Most of my previous experience with monkeys has been limited to visiting the zoo, so the idea of an entire island full of wild primates was exciting. I arrived on the island via ferry, visited the quiet town and beautiful shrine, and then hiked up the mountain to where the monkeys lived. I don’t remember how long it took me to climb the 530 meter Mt. Misen but it wasn’t easy.
As I neared the summit I began to see signs illustrating the rules and regulations when dealing with the monkeys. One warned, “We do not like to be stared at our eyes. If you do so, we are not responsible for what will happen.” (Scroll down on this link to see photos of the signs.) Not only was I going to see some monkeys but potentially dangerous ones, I was excited. I put my bag into a locker as recommended by the park officials and then scouted around hoping to spot some monkeys. But alas, I didn’t see a single monkey. I don’t now if it was the wrong time of year or if all the monkeys were on their lunch break, but there were no monkeys to be found. As I hiked back down the mountain I felt like the victim of some sort of monkey conspiracy.
In September 2002, I was on a train in western China, a month into my six month around-the-world trek. I had left home with more than little apprehension about my security as an American traveling overseas. It turned out to be a great trip; I met some fantastic people, both locals and fellow travelers. Here is what I wrote at the time:
“Sept 10, 2002. I had a lot I wanted to write about Kashgar but I was too busy enjoying it. The Sunday bazaar was really incredible, especially the livestock market. 2000 yuan (~$250) for a horse, 800 yuan for a mule. I met up with a French couple I had run into in Turfan. We went to the bazaar together and spent some time at the Caravan Café over coffee. We left Kashgar on the same train, unfortunately they could only get hard seats. I helped them upgrade on the train, what a hassle.
I would like to return to Kashgar someday and see Karakul Lake and possibly Tashkurgan. Maybe a trip through Pakistan? As the train pulled out from Kashgar there were a lot of tears; a young Uyghur girl saying goodbye to her grandmother, and a Chinese woman waving to her boyfriend on the platform.”
I took this picture last year. My friend Rick helped with the cropping.
I took this photo during my brief stay in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I can’t say that I recommend Almaty as a travel destination. A couple of journal entries from my trip may help to explain why:
“Aug. 25, 2002. I stepped off the train several hours ago but I feel as though I am still moving. The four day trip from Moscow will do this to you. A family from the train shared a taxi with me and I got to the hotel without any problems. The guidebook was right when it said the staff was unfriendly, rarely have I seen a surlier bunch.
Aug. 26, 2002. The sun seems hotter here than other places. Today it is slightly overcast but whenever the sun peeks out I begin to sweat. Before leaving on this trip I told myself I wasn’t going to drink at all once I left Western Europe. I was convinced that gangs of mafia hoods and corrupt cops would pounce on my moment of weakness. Well, since I had already broken that pledge in Moscow I thought I’d try a beer in a café surrounding the city square. I sat there enjoying the surroundings when I noticed a group of military types patrolling the square. I kept one eye on scenery and the other on the soldiers. As I neared the bottom of my beer -about 7:15pm- I saw a couple of the soldiers confront a traveler with a backpack and pull him around the corner, out of sight. To me this looked like a classic ‘shakedown’ and I wanted to get out of there. I frantically flagged down the waitress, paid my bill, and high-tailed it back to the hotel.”
Looking back I realize that I should have tried to help my fellow traveler; of course I have no idea what I could have done.
It is not unusual to see street barbers in China; I have occasionally seen street dentists. This man was getting his head shaved in the city of Kashgar which is in the far western part of China. I visited there in 2002. Here is what I wrote:
“Sept 4, 2002. The train from Urumqi to Kashgar is one of the newest lines in the entire country. It also must be one of the most visually dramatic. The scenery charged no less than a dozen times during our 24 hour journey. Five hours into the trip we were among canyons rivaling the American west. In the morning I thought I was on the wrong train, outside it looked like eastern China with lush green fields and tall trees planted in straight rows. Just a few hours later we were in the desert with very sparse vegetation and rolling dunes in the distance. As the train sped on the hills in the distance came closer and I could see their orange colors become fiery red.”
I was traveling around Germany with my pal Carsten in 1998 when we decided to head to France and watch the final match of the World Cup at the first bar we came across. We found ourselves in the middle of Strasbourg along with what felt like the city’s entire population. My hangover influenced journal entry from the following day:
“July 15th, 1998. Decided to go to France to see the final World Cup game (Brazil vs. France), ended up in Strasbourg where they were showing the game on a screen in the town square. At first the town seemed empty, all the shops were closed and we saw very few people on the streets. A few hours before the game things started to get hyped; people with flags, painted faces, and air horns walking towards the square chanting and singing. It was too packed to see the 1st half but when France scored the mob went nuts, lighting fireworks in the middle of the crowd. We were able to see the 2nd half amongst the swarm of fanatical French nationals, it was incredible! When France won the entire town exploded, people packed the streets singing and shouting. Cars drove around honking and people beat on their roofs. It was insane. We headed back to the hostel at 1am but the party went on until at least 5.”
Yes that is a working phone. It was nailed up along a lonesome road on Stewart Island, New Zealand. I visited NZ after my stint in Antarctica in 1997. It was great: beautiful, friendly, and easy to get around. I’d love to go back. Here’s what I wrote about Stewart Island:
“Feb. 26, 1997. Spent the night in Invercargill after a lovely train ride from Dunedin. The train passed by farms full of sheep, horse, cows, etc. When the train approached a group of sheep would dart away from the tracks causing all the other animals to follow suit……After a 20min. plane ride in what felt like a cardboard box with wings I am on Stewart Is. There are beautiful beaches and a real sense of an island community. Things are changing fast here, I wonder how long it will stay this way. Went for a hike and saw wild parakeets and other native birds but no Kiwis.”