OK — I’m finally getting around to writing the update on my resolution of the travel route issue that I had last week.
My original plan before I started the trip was to go down Central America and the west side of South America, to about the middle of Chile, over to Argentina and then try to catch a freighter to South Africa and then go up the east side of Africa, though the Middle East, then to SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand and then the long boat home.
Typical for me, I didn’t do much research into any of this. I just figured it would sort of ‘work out,’ as frankly, things usually do for me. Right before I left, I emailed a guy that has a blog titled, “the Practical Nomad.” I’d read his book and he’d talked about freighter travel as an option. I told him by basic plan and said I was going to try to make it with no reservations.
In a nice way, he said I was screwed. Post 9/11, there are a lot fewer freighters that take passengers and you need to reserve your spots far in advance because there are few spots and also because they had to arrange insurance and such. He also said he wasn’t sure there was much freighter traffic between South America and Africa.
So I did an internet search for freighter companies that took passengers on the South America to South Africa route. He certainly was right about the lack of freighter traffic between the two places. It was almost non-existent. I emailed the couple companies I could find that seemed to have a ship or two plying those waters in the time frame I was looking towards (late March, early April departure).
I got back two replies. One said the closest ship they had on that route to my time frame was in mid-June. The other one said they had a ship going in late March, but the passenger spots had been booked for months already.
I’d heard that I might be able to hop abroad some sailboat and cook for my passage from some Kiwi travelers. I’d heard from a another couple of folks that there was a whole network of sailboats that followed the prevailing winds and sailed around the world and that it might be possible to pay my way abroad or offer to do manual labor for my passage.
After looking up that sort of stuff on the internet, I realized that the prevailing winds were blowing the wrong direction at the time I needed to get to Africa.
So, early on in my trip, I had pretty much resigned myself to taking a freighter from Buenos Aires to Spain and then going back across to Morocco and making the Africa part of my trip an adventure across the Sahara Desert. Although I was content with that option, it really wasn’t what I had set my mind on before the trip. I’d gotten all excited about South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a photo safari in the Rift Valley, scuba diving in Lake Malawi and all the other stuff I wanted to do in South and East Africa. But since my trip was going to be spontaneous and unplanned, I was willing to let fate and the winds blow me as they wished.
Then as the trip progressed and I read more about South America (and thought about things that might be interesting enough to get a book published), I realized that I wanted to go all the way down the west side of South America to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Chile. At the same time, I was watching Michael Palin’s BBC travel show called “Pole to Pole.” He went from the North Pole to the South Pole, through Norway, Finland, Russia, and down East Africa. On the way, he stopped in the northernmost city in the world, Hammerfall, Norway.
A plan was born. I’d hit the southernmost city in the world, go up through Patagonia, to Buenos Aires, hop a boat to Europe, rip through to the Baltic, go up to the northernmost city in the world, then back down to St. Petersburg.
I was also reading “Crime and Punishment,” which is set in St. Petersburg. It seemed like fate had given me a cool new route and a new theme to the book.
From there, I’d take the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia, hit China, down to SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand and back. Advantages: I’d hit the six major continents; I’d hit the southernmost and northernmost cities in the world, I’d so the Trans-Siberian (part of Paul Theroux’s route on his seminal travel book, “The Great Railway Bazaar”), get to see a bit of China, miss the Middle East in July, and accommodate the Fates as well.
I emailed the freighter companies again, this time asking about passage options from Buenos Aires to Europe.
A couple days later, I got back two replies. One company said they had passage from Buenos Aires to Rotterdamn in mid-April. And completely unexpectedly, the company that said the one ship from Buenos Aires to Capetown had a cancellation and that they did now have a spot open.
What to do? I really, really was no enamored with the southernmost/northernmost city thing. I also had started rationalizing that the Middle East in July would be pretty hellish. Plus, I have taken to this form of backpack travel really well, and as excited about Africa as I am, I was thinking a full another year in Africa and the Middle East, when I wouldn’t be as rushed, would be good.
On the other hand, fate had placed an opportunity to do my original route. Who knows what the future will bring? I might not be able to make it back to Africa? All of my friends seemed to want me to go on that route (aside from my parents) as well. Perhaps that journey — overland through Africa and the heat of the summer in the Middle East — would make for a better book.
I was truly torn over this turn of events. I make decisions, even major ones, incredibly quickly. I bought my house after looking at it for 5 minutes. I made the decision on taking this trip after having one conversation at happy hour with friends. I decide whether I like someone enough to get to know them in about 10 minutes. And so on and so on. But this decision bugged me for days.
Driving a car is one of the places where I do my best thinking. I love to drive for hours and hours, alone, with my stereo or iPod cranking out some good music, and just let my mind wander. Most all of the time when I drive like that, I put a notepad in the passenger seat and write down some of the things that come to me. I recently roughed out a script for a TV show in that manner (yet another writing project I need to complete).
The solution to this particular quandary came to me while I was riding a bus from Cali to Popayon. I was in a foul mood, over this trip problem, everyone’s almost universal suggestion to go with my original route (I don’t do well with unanimity in advice — one of the reasons I waited on going to law school, since everyone told me from a young age I should be a lawyer), and also from thinking about one of my remaining legal cases back home.
And while looking out the window, I thought to myself, “why not do both?”
Obviously the right answer. As one of my favorite tag lines from an ad campaign, the MTV ad campaign back in the early 80s, when they were first trying to get on cable systems around the U.S. — “too much is never enough.”
So, here is my resolution. I am going to go all the way down the west side of South America, all the way to the southernmost city in the world. Then back up Patagonia to Buenos Aires and try to party with Chance for 4-5 days there. My liver will then need a break (and I’ll need an entire new batch of non-alcohol contaminated blood), so I’ll hop the boat to South Africa. In my internet research, I’ve also found out that there is a major Latin America Poker Tour tournament in Uruguay before my boat leaves — I shall play in my first major poker event. Then South Africa and up the east side of Africa — Tim, I’m climbing Kilimanjaro — book your tickets to join me. Skipping the Middle East in the mid-summer. Getting to add in Istanbul and then up quickly through Eastern Europe, across the Baltic, to the northernmost city in the world in Norway. Then back down Sweden and Finland to St. Petersburg. Pictures at all the places mentioned in “Crime and Punishment,” then Moscow and the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Mongolia and Bejing. Probably over to Shanghai and perhaps quickly across to Japan.
If I’m going to take a picture at the top of Kilimanjaro, shouldn’t I have one at the top of Mount Fiji as well?
Then Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and back.
Six continents. Southernmost and northernmost cities in the world. Siberia in the summer. Kilimanjaro. Mt. Fiji. Manchu Picho. Angor Wat. Ayer’s Rock. Great Wall of China.
Someone publishes that book, don’t they?