Friday, December 26, 2008

The Suicide Simulator

Nothing particularly interesting about this 300 ft. bridge over Bascun Cayon... that is, until you strap yourself to the railing and leap from it. For a nominal fee of $20 you can don a harness and find out what it´s like to hurdle yourself into the gaping crevase below without the messy clean-up...

(read more)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Destination, Shmestination.

After four days in Quito, in an unprecedented bout of foresight, I actually made reservations for a hostel at my next destination. Following an awkward phone call to the Spanish speaking hostelier I even got to bed at a reasonable hour and set an alarm to catch the early bus.

I was on my way to the reportedly beautiful town of Baños. I bought the ticket and was informed that my bus was leaving from gate 21 at 9:15. I found gate 21 and the bus parked there with the name Baños in two foot letters on the side.

At 9:10 the conductor began to shout "Baños, Baños, Baños" and I boarded the bus, which, I was impressed to note, actually left at 9:15. Just not, of course, to Baños.

Three hours into the three and a half hour ride to Baños the conductor came to collect my ticket and informed me that I was, in fact, on the "Baños" Bus Lines five and a half hour bus ride to Tena. A town about four hours away from Baños.

Never one to contend with the will of the fates while traveling I paid for my ticket to Tena, got off the bus and took advantage of the towns close proximity to the rainforest to embark the following morning on a jungle trek through the Amazon. Why not?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bienvenidos a Ecuador

Two weeks ago I sat down to find a ticket somewhere-I was thinking South America, maybe Peru. Ecuador was the cheapest and so here I am. Two nights ago I arrived in the city of Quito just south of the equator.

Nestled in the Andes mountains at 9300 ft. even the equator gets a bit chilly at this elevation so I'm not quite laughing yet at all the Norte Americanos that I left behind in the cold, but I'll soon be on the beaches of Canoa for a white sand Christmas and paddling into the waves of reputedly epic length-if I don't get lost in the Amazon rainforest first.

I spent the last two days exploring the sites of the city, highlighted by the majestic Basilica of Old Town, a behemoth vestige of Spanish colonialism. If you had told me yesterday morning that I was going to spend two hours in church I would have laughed, but you don't have to be Catholic to have a religious experience atop the towering spires, and the precarious climb to get there is prayer inspiring.

So begins the latest adventure and, I might add, the least planned yet so stay tuned for the misadventures to come...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stay at Home: A Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel in Guatemala

Congratulations, you’ve decided to travel to Guatemala! You have an adventurous spirit unparalleled by that of your peers and, with any luck, the intestinal fortitude of an alley cat. You’ve come a long way and after a few months of acclimation you’re considering exploration outside the four block radius around your hostel or Spanish school. But how do you travel safely amidst the hidden dangers in this foreign land and where do you turn to for reliable health and safety information? Relax. Here at CrawlWalkTravel we’ve got your back. We’ve compiled all of the relevant tips and warnings from various real, reliable sources* and brought them together in one easy-to-read guide. So be safe and enjoy!  (read more)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Where in the World?

Today's location: Kuta, Indonesia

After five days in Pinang, Malaysia I booked a cheap flight to Jakarta and then to Bali where I'll spend the last few weeks of my trip surfing and diving, if I don't get mauled by the hordes of hawkers, shopkeepers and moto drivers first.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Travel-o-pedia: Useful travel adjectives

Travel writers are liars. They get their cut, not for honesty, but for irresistibility and between the airbrushed photos and sickly sweet prose, a decent travel writer will have us salivating over Bayonne, New Jersey by the end of the opening paragraph.

But there is a darker side of traveling of which we are inevitibly reminded when at long last we embark on that much-anticipated and well-earned vacation. Whether it's the ubiquitous hotel room that smells like urine or the stark realization that you can't actually stand to be around your loved ones, traveling can be tricky business.

The truth is that with every picturesque white sand beach comes giant tropical mosquitos carrying deadly pathogens and to reach that gorgeous vista of verdent green there is a twelve hour bus ride complete with flatulent farm animals and upon arrival there's a man with a gun who's decided to charge admission...
(read more)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Where in the World?

Stop Pretending you actually know where any of these places are and follow my progress Indiana Jones style.

After four and a half months and almost three hundred hours of bussing I've covered most of Thailand, Indochina and the north of Malaysia via a bizantine conduit of bad roads and beautiful landscapes.

Starting In Bangkok and heading north to Sukothai, Chiang Mai, Pai and Mae Hong Song I crossed the Border at Chiang Kong and traversed the land locked country of Laos from north to south, trekking, rockclimbing, white water kaying and tubing my way down to the northern border of Cambodia.

After an Exhaustive tour of Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh and relaxing in Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand it was east to Saigon, Vietnam where I followed the coast of the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin to Hanoi.

Daunted by 48 consecutive hours of bus travel I opted for a cheap flight back to Bangkok before heading down the Thai coast to the island of Ko Chang and then via Bangkok down to Koh Tao on the east coast for some scuba diving.

An overnight boatride and about seven mini buses later, I crossed the border into Malaysia and bussed down to Georgetown on the island of Penang.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Scenes from Cambodia

  Laos to Ban Lung

After about a week my travel companions, Lynette from Canada, Sanna from Sweden and I reluctantly pry ourselves away from the hammocks and dollar liters of whiskey on the idyllic island of Don Det and take a small wooden boat to the southern border where we will cross to Cambodia.

After the boat, a bus brings us south on a wide dirt track cut through the trees. The crossing is new and I'm uncertain of what to expect. We arrive at a small wooden shed with a large open window and official sign in white spray paint. This is the Thai customs office where I pay $1 for an exit Visa.

Not for the first time, I feel that strange emotion that I've come to associate with the state of limbo between borders. I've agreed to leave Thailand before securing a spot in Cambodia and until I receive a visa and four or five official stamps I am without country. To amplify the feeling, the Cambodian border is nowhere in sight and it is with a shaky faith and no other options that we begin on foot to traverse the red dirt track south and climb down a large embankment of loose dirt from some abandoned construction project toward the horizon in search of Cambodia. Eventually we reach the border station and enter to secure our visas.

I don't have much cash and I'm lucky that the border officials are not feeling particularly greedy today. I'm told that the so-called "stamp fees", which do nothing but pad the pockets of their official border guard trousers, can run as high as ten or twenty dollars. Today I pay only two dollars and then give the last of my Lao Kip to a girl who hadn't been clued in on the extra charge and came up short.

From the border we bus south to Stung Treng, little more than a truck stop, to change money and catch a ride to Ban Lung in the north east, lured by the promise of waterfalls hidden in the jungle and a pristine volcanic crater lake. Though we have only traveled about 50k from Laos the environment is totally alien. East of Stung Treng the dense palms and full green of the Mekong have given away to a sparse and rocky Martian terrain.

Ban Lung itself is a dust bowl. A sprawling town atop a volcanic plateau with wide and straight roads of red clay reminiscent of Hollywood visions of the old American west. It is not the jungle paradise I had expected, but I'm here and I'm hungry, so I take the advice of the guest house manager and we set off into town for our first taste of authentic Cambodian cuisine. The recommended restaurant is not unlike a barn. In fact, it is a barn, complete with a vaulted cathedral ceiling, dirt floor, rough shod plank walls and large open barn doors at the front. I am certain that tonight's dinner was feeding here only hours ago.

Like many Southeast Asian restaurants the kitchen is not hidden in back but displayed proudly at the front of the restaurant and our table must be cleared of some chopped green herbs and a large bowl of what appears to be chicken intestines before we could sit down. I managed to communicate an order and we sat drinking Cambodian beer and hoping that chickens innards would not find their way back to our table in a stir fry. They did not. However its neck and hairy little feet did among various other unidentifiable bits. I ate around the feet, but wasn't half bad.

The following day we rent motorbikes and brave the rocky country roads to hunt for waterfalls. Just minutes outside the tumbleweed town of Ban Lung we are engulfed in the shade of the rubber trees planted in orderly rows for miles on either side of the road. We periodically pass small roadside shops selling bottled water and gasoline out of old glass bottles of Johnny Walker Red and Coca-Cola. After an exhaustive tour of the waterfall circuit we drive to the crater lake to rinse off the layer red dust from the dusty roads.

Sunset on crater lake in Ban Lung


The city of Kratie appears a bit worse for wear but the white sandy banks of the blue Mekong are powerfully redeeming. A dirty central market sells gray market electronics and vegetables and a few western style cafes around the edges sell real espresso- a welcome taste of home after months of the sweet syrupy coffee of Laos and Cambodia.

We rent motos to drive south to the One Hundred Columns Temple and the real heart of Kratie reveals itself along the way. A rustic village road straddled by bamboo huts with palm thatched rooves follows the Mekong periodically bridging green valleys bearing tributaries to the wide river to the east. An endless supply of smiling children run toward the road to greet us and shout "Hellowhatisyourname?" and the chickens and water bufalow clear the road (sometimes) as we pass. The old women wear traditional garb beneath a shaved head and a stern countenance and they examine us with scorn. The men wear thin white and red checked towels and wash in well spouts by the roadside.

The One Hundred Columns Temple itself is a moderately impressive edifice on it's second rebuild (third times a charm) with, as you may expect, ninety-six columns(?) and elaborately muraled walls and ceilings telling the story of the crocodile princess. The story was relayed to us at length by a friendly resident monk in a garbled and utterly incomprehensible accent while we nodded and smiled in feigned comprehension. Something about a monk who turned into a crocodile to avenge the death of a king and subsequently won the heart of a beautiful maiden- a story that the monk, with level gaze, assured me to be true.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is a medium sized city of commerce with a vivid night life, it's streets decorated with food stalls and street kids who never seem to sleep. The bustling modern metropolis is nestled amidst the ancient ruins of the Angkor civilization, a splayed city of monuments and temples displaying a pinnacle of human achievement, which surrounds the contemporary city for miles. Buildings of every size and shape, some towering, some squat and maze-like, all with elaborately carved sculpture and relief and a breathtaking complexity.

We tour the sites by tuk-tuk and at every stop we wrestle with the hordes of vendors who swarm quickly in to peddle books, t-shirts, beer, post cards and other cheap trinkets. The children are particularly persistent, some promising us peace and quiet only if we agree to make a purchase.

Nearly 1,000 years old these temples vary in their state of ruin, some restored nearly completely, and some in shambles as they succumb to integration with the surrounding jungle. A three day tour of the archaic constructions drains us of any remaining awe.

To break from the temple circuit we ride west to the lake to tour the floating village off the east bank, a watery ghetto of beauty and tragedy, an entire city precariously afloat replete with restaurants, shops, a school and shanty shack homes. Our boat pulls out from a crowded and dirty fishing port and we cringe as we pass some showy children yelling to us as they launch themselves from the railing of the school building into the slate gray stew of sewage and fuel and god knows what else, through which we are motoring. A Christian church is afloat on the outskirts of the town, far from the other dwellings and I find myself wondering if it was placed there by choice.

We tour the village via wooden longboat with a make-shift engine, mildly embarassed at the spectacle we are creating of the Vietnamese and Cambodian villagers who make their lives here. As if to emphasize my guilt, a boy with one arm paddles toward us in a small round aluminum wash basin and demands money. He is most likely a victim of one of the residual landmines or unexploded ordinance left over from the Vietnam war. I can't help but think with a twinge of irony of the stark contrast between this place and the leisure, luxury and status denoted by boating and waterfront property in most of the western world.

Phnom Penh

The road to Phnom Penh reveals the characteristic Cambodian lanscape of geometrical rice paddy plains of verdant green scattered sporadically with tall palms stretching to the rocky horizon. The city itself is an an enigma of a modern metropolitan life that reveals the traces of the agrarian roots of it's inhabitants as protesting pigs and chickens cruise the avenues strapped to the back of motor bikes amidst high rises, department stores and gourmet international restaurants.

The cruel mark of the Khmer Rouge, the radical communist regime of Pol Pot is most readily seen in the capital through it's historical sites, S-21 prison and the killing fields. A drastic and ruthless transition to communism claimed the lives of as many as two million innocent Cambodians in a four year period from 1975-1979, many were tortured and murdered while others succumbed to starvation, lack of sanitation and health care, disease and over work.

The killing fields, a former extermination camp and partially excavated series of mass graves, lies just outside the city and bears a multi-story monument filled with the skulls of victims. S-21, a former school in the heart of the city was converted into a center for torture and imprisonment of Cambodians and foreigners alike.

Classroom turned torture cell at S-21 in Phnom Penh

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The 4,000 Islands, Laos

The view from my bungalow just after sunset. Not bad for two dollars a night.

There is a pleasant tranquility on Don Det, an island on the Mekong in the south of Laos, that challenges even my delightfully cheeky brand of satire. No hassles and plenty of hammocks, you'd be hard pressed to get stressed out here.

Electricity and running water are scarce luxuries on this tiny island so we eat dinner by candle light and bathe in the blue Mekong and we wouldn't have it any other way.

I spend my days wrapped in a hammock and strumming a guitar, wondering how I might turn hammocking into a viable form of transportation. Traffic jams would be blissfully relaxing.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Crawl Walk Travel-opedia: Are you a Backpacker?

A dormant backpacker in his natural habit, the shared hostel dormitory 

It may come as a surprise that despite a long history of spreading freedom through surgical military strikes and the surreptitious incitement of civil war, outside of the United States there are still some people that don't speak American.

While shouting loudly and slowly in a poor approximation of the accent of those you are speaking to is the preferred method to permeate any language barrier, even those of us who are fortunate enough to speak the correct language, the revered language of such important figures as Rush Limbaugh and God, sometimes need a little guidance regarding the peculiar vocabulary that has sprung up among the travel set. Thus I have created an enclyclopedia installment as a reference for my fellow travelers and those wishing to live vicariously through them. Read on for todays definition and interactive traveler's quiz.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Mighty Spider Battler

The town of Vang Vieng, Laos is rapidly developing into a beloved backpacker stop on the Southeast Asia circuit. A haven for outdoor sports enthusiasts, Vang Vieng is a perfect place to pretend that that you will eventually get off your hammock and go biking, rock climbing or hiking. But in reality all that anyone can really muster up the energy for here is tubing. The pristine blue green river that runs through town is lined with sandy beaches and surrounded by intimidating crags and cliffs.

The natural beauty of the place has only been enhanced by the arrival of the myriad riverside bars each sporting a stack of 3000 watt speakers, blaring everything from metal to Marley, and Lao bartenders pushing free shots of Lao Lao, the local rice whiskey. Visitors rent tubes and a tuk-tuk in town to haul them up river and spend the day drifting and drinking their way back towards town. For those who drink up the courage, each bar has a rope swing or zip line to launch themselves gracelessly into the water from rickety wooden platforms built to absurd heights. Clearly this place was totally awesome.

Arriving in town in the early afternoon I find myself a charming little bungalow by the river. The behemoth speakers on either side of my room are pumping out bad Asian pop, bad European dance music and, mysteriously, bad Christmas tunes, but at least it masks the inescapable clamor of construction. All in all, a lovely place to base my adventures in Vang Vieng considering the price of five dollars a night. Or so I thought. Then I discovered Vang Vieng's dark secret...

(read more)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Buddha of the Cave

Reclining buddha in a cavern near Vang Vieng

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Travel Day: An Epic Tale of Adventure

A familiar shiver of panic forces me upright in bed and I turn on the tv to check the time. It's 8:04. I was supposed to meet Hannah downstairs at eight and most of my stuff is still decorating the floor of my hotel room. The plan was to catch a tuk-tuk, two buses and a boat to Mong Ngoi Neua today and the first bus leaves the Luang Nam Tha station at eight thirty. The station is fifteen minutes away. She knocks on my door as I begin to toss everything in sight haphazardly into my pack and I tell her not to bother waiting. She tells me she'll wait downstairs anyway. Five minutes later I'm on the sidewalk and she's nowhere in sight. As I scan the street for her I see a full tuk-tuk pull away in the direction of the station and I know that was my last chance to make the bus. It's just as well. Hannah wears her Canadian accent like a skintight neon jumpsuit and I wasn't sure that I could have maintained my composure as she recited "hey?" after every sentence over the next ten hours...
(read more)