Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week Three:

What day will I arrive in Senegal? Who knows? I'm going to finish my entire trans-Africa plan before I decide which option to choose in Mauritania. I'm starting with Option A, and then I'll add the corresponding number of days if I go with one of the other options.

I know it doesn't seem like I'm staying anywhere long. That's because I'm first trying to sort out the bare minimum I could comfortably get by with. Then I'll go back and expand the trip to fill whatever time is left.

March 12: Early trip from Nouakchott to the notoriously irritating Rosso border post. The ride down there is 3.5 hours (204 km) in a shared taxi. The border is crossed by boat or ferry, and there are a number of unexpected fees suddenly added on, as well as helpful "guides" eager to be employed. Sounds likes a hassle, and the Lonely Planet's memorable line about Rosso is "The town is full of hustlers and garbage." There's the lower-key Diama border not far away, but it is isn't clear that I can get there on public transport. After crossing through the hell-border, I get into another share taxi on the Senegalese side and head to Saint Louis, which is 106 km and two hours away. My goal for this day might be this campground, Zebrabar, or I might stay in town, like at this or this.

March 13: All day in Saint Louis, which will probably include an excursion into the national park.

March 14: Saint Louis to Dakar, 4 hours.

March 15: Sightseeing. Ile de Goree.

March 16: Dakar to The Gambia. Six hours. Overnight in a posh resort on the coast.

March 17: Sleep at that posh resort.

March 18: Maybe I'll take a day trip to Banjul and the Roots island and sleep more at that posh resort.

March 19: I'll go along the north road, which was re-paved a few years ago, from Banjul to the Wassu rocks, 20 km northwest o of Georgetown. Mini-Stonehenge. Then to Georgetown. The distance is 300 km, but most of the information I've found is for how long the ride took when the road was a mess.

March 20: Numbers get a little vague here in my guidebooks. I'll need to get out of The Gambia and into Senegal, which shouldn't take too long. From there, it's 200 km to Tambacounda, and three hours from there to the border of Mali at Kidira. From Kidira, I go to Kayes, and from there to Bamako.

Of course, nothing is telling me how long these legs take, so I'm going to estimate arrival in Bamako, at the Sleeping Camel, at March 22.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Two:

March 10: This is where I'm not sure what to do. I cross the border from Morocco/Western Sahara early in the day. I can then stop once I cross the border, and stay overnight in Nouadhibou, Mauritanitia. Or I can proceed to Nouakchott, then to Senegal, where I am going to stop for a bit. Maybe here.

So I have four options. Like this.


March 10: Overnight in Nouakchott.
March 11: Nouakchott.
March 12: Early rise and cross into Senegal.


March 10: Overnight in Nouadhibou.
March 11: Board the iron ore train in the afternoon. The wagons are free and these guys make it look fun. But I'm aware of how inappropriate it would be for me to travel that way, plus it would be cold and filthy. But this woman did it. The experience and safety probably depend on who you ride with. The luck of the draw. Or you can buy a ticket for the passenger car, which seemed perfectly reasonable until I read about there being no windows and women being groped. Nothing like cowering in a corner on a cold train for 12 hours so that I can disembark at two in the morning, jump into a shared taxi, and continue for a few hours drive.
March 12: Early morning arrival in Atar.
March 13: Desert trips.
March 14: Desert trips.
March 15: Bus to Nouakchott. (Six or so hours.)
March 16: Nouakchott.
March 17: Early rise and cross into Senegal.


March 10: Overnight in Nouakchott.
March 11: Bus to Atar.
March 12: Desert trips.
March 13: Desert trips.
March 14: Atar to Choum by shared taxi. Choum to Nouadhibou on iron ore train (see above).
March 15: Overnight in Nouadhibou.
March 16: Bus to Nouakchott.
March 17: Nouakchott to Senegal.


March 10: Overnight in Nouadhibou.
March 11: Afternoon video and photo of the chaos as everyone jumps on the iron ore train, but don't get on myself. Then head to Nouakchott.
March 12: Nouakchott.
March 13: Early rise and cross into Senegal.

I guess it comes down to how interested I am in the desert and the iron ore train.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Week One:

I'm trying to assess how long I'll need to traverse the African continent starting in March. I have it roughed into my schedule as needing about 12-13 weeks, but of course, that's not based on much real information.

I sat down last night to try to work out how long I really need.

And only got as far as Mauritania before falling asleep.

Here's how it works out so far.

01 March, Tuesday: Fly out of Newark.

02 March: Arrive Malaga, Spain at 12:30 p.m. The daily ferry to Melilla (the Spanish enclave in Morocco) leaves at 2 p.m. so I won't make that. Overnight in Malaga, which is just as well since I'll have jetlag.

03 March: Morning look at Malaga and last-minute kitting-out. 2 p.m. slow ferry to Melilla. There's no fast ferry in the winter. Set foot on the African continent at 9:30 p.m. Overnight Melilla.

04 March, Friday: Walking tour of modernist buildings in Melilla. Afternoon city bus to the border. Catch train at Beni Nsar at 1925, and head down to connect with the sleeper train at Taourirt. Overnight on couchette ($42) or in private cabin ($73). Seems to be impossible to purchase tickets from outside the country, so I might have to take what I can get. Which might be a seat.

05 March: Arrive Casablanca early morning, transfer to Marrakesh train. Arrive Marrakesh, and transfer there to the Supratours bus to Essaouira, which should get me there for lunch. Overnight in Essaouira. Maybe at Le Grand Large, which is on sale on Expedia.

06 March: Essaouira. Second night.

07 March: Essaouira to Agadir bright and early in a shared taxi. Catch a nice bus (again, I'm aiming for the the top-end but might have to settle for what is available) to Laayoune. There's a 1000 bus out of Agadir that arrives at Laayoune at 2000. Something like Hotel Jodesa sounds fine for a night of a late arrival and early departure. I'm tempted to make one long go of this two-day bus ride, but I think it's too early in the trip and too soon after the night on the train to stomach a 21-hour bus ride. Maybe I'll do it.

08 March, Tuesday: Laayoune to Dakhla. Eight or so hours by bus or shared taxi. I'm supposed to carry about five spare copies of my passport to hand out at checkpoints, to make the process go faster. Overnight in Dakhla. Visit Hotel Sahara to arrange for a lift to Mauritania, about 350 dirham.

09 March: Maybe I'll just sit tight in Dakhla for a day. Sleep, eat, wander around.

10 March, Thursday: Dakhla to Nouadhibou, Mauritanitia. Overnight in Nouadhibou?

or...proceed on to Nouakchott, to Auberge Menata.

This is where it gets confusing. How into comfort am I? How lazy? How much energy do I have? If I stop at Nouadhibou, it will be for one night, and then the next day (March 11), I'll take the (in)famous 12-hour iron ore train to Choum. It arrives in the wee hours, and then I have to bum a ride off someone to Atar. By this point, I will probably be exhausted, but I'll need to find someone--maybe a taxi driver or a tour operator--to take me to the local version of Uluru/Ayers Rock, which is called Ben Amira. Or maybe I'd just see that from the train. I need to read up more on Atar. I'd stay in Atar the night of March 12, when I'd probably be completely exhausted, then head to Nouakchott the next day, staying at Menata on March 13 before heading south 3.5 hours to Senegal.

No wonder I gave up last night. Each step requires a lot of reading. I'm going to have to plan this in stages.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Gear

I want to have a tripod for night shots, but I don't need much of one.

These are my three lightweight tripods. I'll probably take the lightweight one next to the hippo. But I might throw in the screw-on one too. It fits on any water bottle.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gearing Up

Let's talk about travel packs.

Conventional wisdom says to take a bag that can convert from wheelie bag to backpack. And I wish conventional wisdom were right. But conventional travel wisdom also direly warns you against taking jeans on the road ("Heavy! Take too long to dry!") and advises you to buy all kinds of hideous lightweight khakis for travel.

Long ago, I worked out that the best stuff to take with you on a trip is pretty much the same stuff you'd wear out of the house at home. I don't mean heels or business attire. Just whatever you'd wear to meet a good friend for coffee. That's what you want to travel in. And do take a pair of jeans. Throw it in the bottom of your pack and forget it's there until you have to go out at night. A pair of jeans is warm and also can double as stylish. Your country isn't the only one where everyone wears jeans.

Back to my bag. Also known as that f*cking albatross. Luggage is a nightmare. There's no way around it. Want to check something out during a stopover? First, you need a place to securely stash your bag. Having a fight with a taxi driver and want to throw money at him and run? Too bad your bag is locked in his trunk. Stop in for a coffee at Starbuck's? Oops, sorry I didn't mean to hit/trip everyone in the room with my luggage.

Can I do the no-baggage challenge? No, I can't. That's fine if you're traveling for a short time, but I'm not, and anyway, I do like taking my camera and my laptop and a change of clothes, so if you want me to do that, um, how can I put this? Screw off. Go do your own trip and leave mine alone.

My current pack is one I bought online in 2000. It's an Eagle Creek "World Journey" (women's fit) and weights 6 lb, 3 oz when empty. That includes the zip-off daypack. The daypack is just can't zip it on and stuff it with something heavy, or you'll tip over, but you can wear it on your front to balance out the weight on your back, or carry it on the bus while you main bag goes in the hold or on the roof (don't forget to put the rain cover on it for the roof, to avoid dust). And you can pod-bag with your daypack and a collapsible extra bag. That is, you can stash a pod somewhere, like in a hotel luggage room, while you run off with your pared-down bag on a short excursion.

Nevertheless, I had high hopes that the world of luggage had improved over the last decade. If so, I could shave off a few pounds. Every ounce counts on the road. Believe me.

And I read a few articles that were like OMG GET A WHEEL/BACKPACK CONVERTIBLE NOW, I INSIST! So fine, maybe they're lighter?

No. Smaller capacity and two pounds heavier. That's a shame. I can't add on two pounds. I wouldn't mind wheels. My knees aren't so great anymore and I'm a lot lazier than I was in 2001. But lazier also means not carrying an extra two pounds for ten months.

But what about regular backpacks, I though. Perhaps they'd slimmed down.

No. I can save about five ounces, but that means less tough fabric.

I guess I'll stick with my old backpack then. And as my pal Ray pointed out, I can always buy a new one halfway through when I'm in Bangkok.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The List

Leaving a job where I'm the main (and only) upper management authority in the hemisphere has turned out to be a little complicated. I seem to endlessly sign my name to slips of paper in the process of altering the banking, contracts, and authority on each aspect. To top it off, I have at least 209 pages of material to generate this month, and then there's the freelance gig that had to be sent to the printer this week.

And in case I didn't have enough to do, I also had to get through the start-up procedures on a comic book and graphic novel packaging partnership I've set up with a friend. We had to learn everything there is to know about corporate structure, settle on a structure, learn about the legal aspects of getting that registered properly, and then traipse down to the Brooklyn County Clerk to get our paperwork filed and notarized properly, get a Federal ID Number, set up the books, then take various slips of certified papers to the bank, sit around, and sign our names for a while longer.

Then there's teaching. Yep, every Tuesday.

Now I have some other looming problems. Like subletting my apartment. Except the bathroom is deteriorated to where I think it's going to be a problem. The old caulk pulls away from the bathtub walls and is covered in mildew. So water might leak into the walls. And some of the tiles have come loose. I need to get the bathroom redone, but the man I was going to hire to do it had a family tragedy, so I may end up scrubbing it clean, caulking, and hoping for the best.

Then there's my own taxes, Federal, State, and property. And the corporate taxes, which I have to get all the materials together for. And I have to generate the 1099s for my company and finalize the 2010 books. Small (really small) business is fun.

I also have to get my visas, which is an ongoing project, and I'll have to scan and convert the guidebooks not available for Kindle, so that I don't have to drag heavy books around the world.

I have all kinds of little things to do too, like finalize my plane ticket, research hotels and the route, figure out what luggage and shoes to take, get old computer gear out of my garage and to the electronics recycling center, make a bag that I can take around the world, sort out gear and clothing, learn some French for West Africa, and oh, maybe I need to do this.

Build a damn website., remember that? The main point of this RTW project? Right now, it's ten years old.


So yeah, unless you want to do my taxes, rebuild my bathroom, or make a website for me, leave me alone, okay?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Slushy Beauty

For a brief moment this morning, the snow outside my window is beautiful. Dogs are romping in it and children stand and stare, mouths agape.

But I'm about to venture out. Soon I'll be cursing what is likely to be slush within an hour or so.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

RTW Roulette

I have the basis of my Star Alliance frequent flyer mile round-the-world ticket.

It goes like this:

1) Newark-Malaga (Spain)
2) Cape Town-Madagascar

3) Madagascar-Bangkok

4) Bangkok-Tahiti

5) Tahiti-New York.

I get six stops and one open-jaw. The last leg home doesn't count. Or maybe it does.

I get a different answer every time I call. Yesterday, the consultant put me on hold and checked with Star Alliance. They said I have four stops and an open jaw scheduled, and that I'm entitled to two more stops.

Other consultants, during other phone calls, have said that I have either five or six stops already.

I have no reason to believe that one person answering the phone knows anymore than any other person. Therefore, I have no idea how many stops I have so far.

I tried to get yesterday's helper to walk me through what else might be available to me as a stop.

"No, no one on Star Alliance goes to Vanuatu or Tonga. No one goes to Fiji. You can't go to Yap without backtracking. In fact, I'm pretty sure you can't go anywhere and I'm tired and I already answered your one question about the number of stops and I have to pee, so will you please hang up and leave me alone?"

Okay, I made up that last bit. But, uh, you already backtracked me out of Madgascar and Tahiti where there was no other way out, no different from Yap or Tonga, and I can see perfectly well that Continental Micronesia goes to Yap, and that Air New Zealand goes to the other places, and if you'd look at the goddamned map, maybe you'd suggest Sydney or Perth or freaking Manila or Bali or Auckland but yeah, that would take a lot of work, wouldn't it? (Marie steams and manages not say this on the phone.)

I guess I'll try again and hope to get someone different on the phone. Two of the people who helped me so far were outstanding.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A High Bar

So my friend Denise had a birthday. That's not so unusual. It happens about every year or so.

What was unusual this year was that right before her birthday, I got a Groupon offer for a half-price cupcake class in a former funeral home in the East Village.


We worried we'd get snowed out, as plenty of snow fell the night before, but by afternoon, the snow had transformed Manhattan into a city of slush, so getting to cupcake school was no problem.

We were assigned to mix up banana cupcakes with a couple from Fordham Law School. We learned how to scrape, how to pace adding in the flour, and how you want to add the banana at the opposite end of the process from the flour. We took home the valuable tip to use an ice cream scoop to measure the batter into the baking cups. Two other groups made vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. All of these went off to bake while we wrestled with cream cheese, butter, and sugar to create buttercream frosting.

The hard part was frosting the cupcakes. Here's how the professionals frost:

I guess it takes practice. Ours looked like this.

And at the end, after our group had frosted more than a hundred cupcakes, we each got to take nine cupcakes home.

Which sounds like more fun than it is. I shortly found myself staring at nine cupcakes and wondering what the hell to do with all of them. A few of them are still in the fridge at work.

Cupcake school was outstanding. I am not sure I retained all the info, but Denise and I had a fine afternoon. Later, her kid sat her down and told her that they were the best cupcakes she'd ever made.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Step

The deed is done.

I cashed in 160,000 frequent flyer miles for a 10-month round-the-world ticket.

I have either one more, or maybe two more stops to add. I can change the dates for free so long as it's 21 days ahead of time, and I have to pay $75 to alter the route.

I do want to alter the route already, but the Continental agents advised I ticket ASAP to confirm the trickiest legs, and then screw around with the route later. And do it once, and well, and then leave it be.

Here's the current itinerary.

Newark-Malaga, Spain. March 1.


Cape Town to Madagascar. June 3.

Madagascar to Bangkok. June 17.

Bangkok to Tahiti. November 17.

Tahiti to New York. November 25.

I'm not really leaving Tahiti on November 25. But the airline on that leg hadn't published its flights for December yet, so we had to get the latest one we could, with the plan to change it as soon as they release those seats. And I'll probably add Fiji or Tonga in between Bangkok and Tahiti, or maybe try to get somewhere in Central America on the way home.

Or...I don't know. I'm tired of looking at all the options. Someone else got any bright ideas? I can't go in reverse, say the fare rules.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Today's Forward Movement

Star Alliance was able to add Madagascar to my round-the-world itinerary.

I don't think I need quite this long in Madagascar, but I can fiddle with the dates a little later.

Thanks, Peter, for the push.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Big, Big World

I'm not too shabby at planning. But when my choices include the entire world, I get as overwhelmed as your average non-passport holder looking at a map of Cancun.

A few days ago, I was definitely going to take a Star Alliance Round-the-World flight on my mileage. This means six stops and only one open-jaw (meaning I have to fly in and out of the same cities except for once, which enforces a hub system on me). I have to fly in one direction which means no flying west.

I was looking at this:

1) NYC-Spain
--ferry to Morocco, overland to Cape Town via West Africa over 14 weeks (that's the open-jaw leg). It's more-or-less this route that Mali's Sleeping Camel/Surfing Camel trips follow, without the southern Africa legs.

2) Cape Town-Singapore.
--using Bangkok as my base, I'd spend at least 3 weeks sleeping, catching up, and going to doctors for whatever illnesses I've acquired in my travels by then.
--Loop up to Tibet via Thailand/Laos/China and then come back via Nepal, making my way to Bhutan, and maybe Bangladesh before using a one-way budget flight back to Singapore.
--Rest up for a few weeks in Ubud, Bali.

So far so good, right? But...what about Madagascar? I'd like to go to Madagascar. What would I do there? This? These? Does Star Alliance go to Madagascar?



How does one get to Madagascar? More research required.

Planning an extended trip requires persistence. Links lead to links, clicks to new ideas, and wham, there I go down the damn rabbit hole again.

Let's say I found a way to Madagascar outside of the constraints of my RTW flight. It could happen.

So then we'll change #2 above to this:

2) Johannesburg-Singapore. We're making that change because JNB is the regional hub. If I end up paying for a flight to Madagascar, it's going to be out of and into JNB.

Back to Asia now. We've rested, recuperated, seen the $13 dentist, zapped all my excess parasites, and I've slept for several days straight. Let's pretend I've gone to the Thai massage pavilion at Wat Po 20 times in July and eaten so much mango and sticky rice that I've got a distinct orange sheen. Then, we've made the loop north and come back south and we land in...


--Singapore to Borneo and back on I've been admiring some group trips in Borneo. Some with my old friends at Intrepid Travel, and a few with Canadian operator GAP.
--Singapore to Denpasar, Bali by budget airline. Round-trip. Because after that loop around Asia, I need to sleep some more. I know it looks like I'm sleeping around the world, and I am, but I promise you it's needed. It's on my list of most important planning items. Quit job. Sublet apartment. Get vaccines. Remember passport. Plan to sleep a lot.

And when I'm done sleeping and fighting with pesky monkeys, I use the budget airline to go back to my hub of Singapore and resume my RTW ticket.

3) Singapore-Fiji. Or Singapore-Tahiti.

The Fiji thing is a bit of a whim. People like Fiji and recommend it. If I have a stop left after all this, it's on the top of my list of spare stops.



I don't need to go to Tahiti itself. Tahiti is a regional base. My local hub.

From Tahiti, I want to go on a trip freighter-cruise to the Marquesas island on the Aranui 3 ship. I initially thought I couldn't afford this ship, and then I looked at the costs of doing the same trip independently.

I can afford the ship.

Then I'll use my BA or AA mileage to get a roundtrip ticket to Easter Island.

And finally, I'll get to the end of the trip. If I went to Fiji previously, I have only one leg left, and that's from Tahiti to New York.

Damned if I can't make the Star Alliance booking engine do that though. Maybe it isn't possible. Which would throw a wrench into the works, to put it mildly.

At the end of all this, I have another thought that I can't quite shake.

What if I went from Tahiti to South America? And threw away my last ticket, and just went overland, including sailing around the Darien Gap?

Or...wait. I'm down the rabbit hole again, aren't I?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Hippos and Sporks

Resolved for 2011: Marie will be sillier.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Route Map

I made a potential route map for my trip, which starts March 1. This might work. I have the frequent flyer miles to get the blue lines free, and then I have to add on the orange lines.