Friday, September 30, 2011

Nothing to see here..

..move along.

I'm home. It's all over. I'm bored already. Planning next trip. As you do.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Home

I'm tired, broke, bored and quite bummed that it's over, but also really glad to be home.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nothing to see here..

..Move along now.

I'm in Font, doing more climbing than anything else, by quite a long way. If you're interested in that kind of thing (god knows why), I've been updating the other channel.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

23000kms Down


View Larger Map

Nearly two months in, and I've covered over 23000kms already (as per the map above, which doesn't include Cape Town to Jo'Burg to Paris). Not bad work, really. So I thought that I'd try to work out how much I've covered this year in terms of flights etc, because I've been travelling pretty full on.

Warning: it's scary.

So here's the SCIENCE:
(1) I've estimated that I made 38 flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg (19 return flights at 2800km each) for work travel, totalling roughy 53200km.
(2) I flew to Dubai, and then to New Delhi, and then back. Add on another 2000km for the trains and motorbikes. Total: 21650km.
(3) Add on 23115km thus far for my sabbatical.

The total is roughly 98000km. And that doesn't include any driving that I've done in South Africa.

By the time I get back, it'll be 113000km. Or nearly 3 times the circumference of the earth. And that's just 2011. Maybe it's time to slow down a little.

Fontainebleau

It's likely that all posts about this stop of the journey will be on the other channel. This is because (a) we're staying in a town called Tousson, which is so small that it doesn't even have a local shop; and (b) because this is climbing heaven and that is all I'm doing, bar drinking obscene amounts of espresso and eating baked goods so phenomenal they would make you cry.

The downside is that the other channel is probably ridiculously boring for people who don't climb.

Not my problem.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lisbon

In a moment of pique with France, we decided to spend a week in Lisbon, land of salt cod and pasteis de nata, with one of my oldest friends in the world, el Stone (Mike to his folks). Stone and I have known one another since Sub A (grade one to you Gen Y'ers) at Grey PE, which equates to something like 26 years. That makes me feel old. Of course, recently making 32 also makes me (feel) old. And being creaky as anything. And grumpy. But I digress (it's the alzheimers).

Where were we again?

Lisbon is not a tourist city like Paris or Barcelona. It doesn't have many explicit tourist attractions, or tourons. Yes, there were tourons, but they were wandering around with a look of confusion on their mostly vacant faces, as if to say "We had the pasteis de nata and we saw Placa Commercio and the bridge - is that it?". If you're a tourist, chances are you *will* be bored after Pasteis de Belem and Placa Commercio. If you're lucky enough to have a guide as au fait with the city as el Stone, on the other hand, Lisbon will reveal all the fun stuff.

What made Lisbon great to me was a combination of a few pretty important things - food, beer, people and surf. I'll start with surf. Stone and I started surfing together, back in the dark ages of something like 1992. We've since surfed together in PE, St Francis, J-Bay and Cape Town (and very possibly other places along the way). Stone 'moved' to Lisbon a while ago because he couldn't surf in London. So, of course, we went surfing. The surf wasn't great. Hey, it's Portugal in August, not J-Bay. But there's something awesome about paddling out, getting wet and hooking up a few waves with an old friend. It made me realise that I don't surf nearly enough.

The food, and food culture, in Lisbon is awesome. It's all about three things - salt cod, steak and pasteis de nata. None of these are bad things. In combination, i.e. functioning as starter, main and dessert, they're pretty damn awesome. Hence the reason I left Lisbon as, basically, a fat bloke. I went to three restaurants in Lisbon that I'll never forget - Petiscaria Ideal, home of the best prego roll and blood sausage ever; Pasteis de Belem, the king of pasteis de nata; and Cafe Buenos Aires, which makes a damn fine Argentinian steak. And none of them more expensive than a very average meal in Paris.

Added to all of this are the people - they're chilled, friendly and nowhere near as tourist-wary and -weary as Barcelonans or Parisiens. Stone took us along to a guerilla inner city birthday dinner where a horde descended on a small square in the middle of LIsbon one evening, set up tables, and proceeded to have dinner. And then show a stop-motion animation on of them had made, projected on a building across the square. Rad. And no-one batted an eye when Stone brought along a wandering horde (and Tanja) of hungry, loud and hard-drinking Africans - we'd met up with another old friend from back in the day that evening and had started in on the beer. The beer is pretty good too, except that it comes in 200ml bottles, or 200ml draughts, called Imperials. It took a while to realise that you could order a normal 500ml draught, called a Caneca, because they're not on the menu. Apparently the Portuguese don't like them because they get warm and flat too quickly. There's a solution to that, of course - just drink them quicker. I call that South African ingenuity.

And now we're staying just outside Fontainebleau - from the city to the forest, from chaos to calm.

But more on that later.

Boa viagem.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Barcelona

Palma, Mallorca, waiting for a flight to Lisbon. Lisbon, the home of my old friend Stone, salt cod and pasteis de nata. We're travel fucked and weary. An hour on the metro, half an hour on the bus, two hours in an airport, 40 minutes on a plane, four more hours in an airport and another 45 minutes on a plane. And I feel OLD. I am OLD. A year older, at least. Two big evenings of celebration more tired. If you're going to be in Barcelona, you may as well throw down on the partying.

Partying is the modus operandi of the locals. Wake up late and stay out late. 10am on a friday morning in central Barcelona is dead zone time. It may as well be 5am in JHB. 11pm, on the other hand, is when everyone sits down for dinner. You learn, you adapt, you arrogate the Barcelona lifestyle. You sleep in. You start late. Lunchtime becomes breakfast. Bedtime becomes dinnertime. You learn. You adapt.

See the locals - tanned, tattooed, gooood-looking, endlessly-chilled. See the tourists - burned, flabby, bloodshot eyes, waiting in queues and biiiitching.

You arrogate to the point that you look past the tourists and the pandora's box of shit they've opened in Barcelona. The litter, the crowds, the unruly drunks, the early morning beachfront shitzone, the souvenir hellholes and crappy t-shirts appropriating Barcelonas history and the nest of thieves that moronic tourists flashing money and drinking too much in a sun too hot brings. Don't make the mistake of going to La Rambla. it the Gothic Quarter instead. Hit Park Guell. Hit the Picasso museum. Hit the small restaurants far away from the attractions. Go late or go early.

Or, don't go to Barcelona, not in July or August. Go late or go early. And don't be a tourist.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wien-er Town, or You Really Don't Have to Wait for the Green Man

We've spent the last two weeks in Vienna (Wien to the locals, and a source of endless amusement to my puerile sub-intellect), where Tanja's aunt has very kindly put us up in some luxury. I realised that this is the longest consecutive amount of time I've spent in the same city for at least a year. It's lucky then that Vienna is awesome, even if the people do have some little.. let's call them quirks, shall we?

But before I get to that - Vienna? Before I arrived here, I'd had "Vienna is the best city in the world and everything is better in Vienna" drilled into me by Tanja (a.k.a. Captain Map, a.k.a. Oatface Killer) for a month and I wanted to hate it on principle. It's unfortunate then that it's a really chilled, beautiful city. And the people that I've spent time with, mainly Tanja's family, are fantastic - they're welcoming, open, informed and love to have good debates. There's a cafe culture like Milan, an art culture like Paris* and a drinking culture like England. There are beautiful parks like Schonbrun and great bars and restaurants. Beer is good and cheap(-er than anywhere else we've been), bars stay open late and the coffee is good. There is an inherent love of pastries and sachertorte. English is the defacto second language and they're actually willing to speak it. I forgot how much easier it is when you can understand the language. Not that I can, but my translator / German teacher / intercessor has assisted me in negotiations and, in addition, I can now navigate the minefield of the purchase of essentials, i.e. coffee, weissbier and wifi, like a true Wien-er (hur hur). (Oh, and I found a pretty decent climbing gym close to the centre of town, which doesn't exactly hurt)

So, if it's so cool, why aren't I dropping everything to move here? Because, sweet baby jesus, there are so many rules and most of the population follow them to the letter, which bugs the hell out of me. For example, at crosswalks everyone waits for the little green man. Everyone. Out of some sort of demented principle. Even if there are no cars in sight and the the only coming in their direction is a guy on a bicycle pedalling, slowly, up a hill 400 metres away. They'll still wait. And give me the shifty eye when I walk across, all "Why the hell aren't you people walking?". I can only think that all of Vienna must shut down when there are power cuts and the traffic lights don't work. And then there was the first climbing gym I went to, where you weren't allowed to use chalk, or brush holds. I did both, of course, but the minute I brushed a hold, an employee walked downstairs from the front desk to tell me off. Apparently he'd seen me on their CCTV and decided to rush down to put me to rights. And of course you need CCTV in a climbing gym to stop people from brushing holds because the alternative, the collapse of civilisation, is unthinkable.

I don't get it - despite all the rules, there's lots of graffiti which means that either there are no rules against it (not very likely) or there are fellow nihilists like me who habitually disregard the rules and are contributing to the breakdown of society. It's still a cool town.

Oh, and we saw Bad Religion, Suicidal Tendencies and Strung Out last night. It was Bad Religion's 30 anniversary. They're almost as old as I am. Jesus. The show was incredible. I've written more about it here, but perhaps one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time was, after the gig when everyone was walking to the u-bahn station, a crowd of people who, 15 minutes previously had been shouting their allegiance to anarchy, were now waiting for the little green man before they crossed the road. And there wasn't a car in sight.

Punk rock, huh?

*Italy's art culture seems to be rooted in and often focused on the classics, while Paris and Vienna embrace all manner of art, from a largely horrific space-inspired exhibit (the only highlight being Kentridge's Journey to the Moon), to a Dali exhibit to Kunsthaus Wien and it's permanent Hundertwasser exhibit - the whole building is actually a Hundertwasser exhibit - to the Klimt, Schiele, Durer and Holbein exhibits currently running.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Travels in Euroland

So, where've we been?

Including stopovers, we've seen Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Nice, Ventimiglia, Milan, Florence and Ausserferrera so far. We didn't spend very much time in Lyon, Nice or Ventimiglia, but we spent at least four nights in each of the others. Paris is.. Paris. It's an incredible, vibrant city, chock full of history and art and culture. It's beautiful, but then most places are in the middle of summer, on a perfect evening.We spent the days in galleries and museums and doing classic touron things like seeing the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomf and the Eiffel Tower. And, you know what? They're pretty spectacular.

Marseilles feels like a sleepy beach town, a playground for the rich tourists, but it's also a sprawl, built around a picturesque harbour, encircled by overpriced restaurants. We spent days walking Marseilles - to la plage des Castillanes for a swim or up to the Notre Dame (another one) to take in the city. Milan is very different - it's industrial and it has a vibe about it, especially in the difference in people and attitudes. Where France is very laissez faire, but subtle and elegant, Italy is brashness, emotion and warmth. But while the French can't really be bothered about you, the Italians will engage you, chat and generally be friendly. We wandered the streets of Milan, Tanja enraptured by the fashion, debating the merits of a culture that worships a 1000 Euro handbag, eating ice-cream and drinking the incredible coffee that is available almost everywhere.

Florence is as pictureseque as anywhere you've been - il Duomo, the river Arno and it's bridges, and the view from the Plaza Michaelangelo are incredible, as is the art collection in the Uffizi, which is the equal of the Louvre and the National Gallery in London, if not in size, but in quality of collection. we spent four days walking Florence, getting completely lost and trampled by tourists, but eating ice cream and canoli and drinking more coffee and Heinieken than is healthy.

And then to Ausserferrera, via an hour in Milan to collect a rental car. If Florence was tourist-choked, Ausserferrera is the opposite. Dead quiet, high up in the Swiss Alps and, blessedly, cool. Tree-lined hills, rivers, boulders and peace and quiet were so different to anything else we've experienced, where the beauty was completely man made. I wanted to come here for the climbing, but the change in pace and aspect is refreshing - the endless drive of travelling tires you out, to the degree that we reached a point in Florence where we couldn't face leaving the guesthouse. I guess that after two-odd weeks of walking and moving and missioning (and yes, we've been walking a lot - I would guess that on some days we easily walk 12 - 15kms, and we probably averaged 5 - 7kms a day), you actually deserve a rest. Who would have thought?

We're spending a week here and then we're off to Vienna, another entirely new stop on a list of stops the feels immense and exciting.

Switzerland

It's like a postcard, really, but with grumpy people who charge far too much for necessities like coffee, weissbier and wifi. And, as I was writing that, they just crapped all over us for daring to have a laptop cable across the aisle of the restaurant. This is a beautiful country but, damn, the people are assholes. While we were driving here, I wondered how soon it would be before I got shouted at. Answer: less than 24 hours. It's now twice in less than 48.

Anyway, shitty people or not, we're staying in a beautiful guesthouse in the mountains, minutes away from some of the best climbing in the world. Needless to say, most of my posts are going to be on the other channel for the next week.

More later.

Oh and, by the way, if the Swiss are the most unpleasant people we've encountered, the Italians were the coolest.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travel-Induced Lethargy (Redux)

Like the similarly-titled post over there, we were completely broken yesterday. Basically, I left the hotel to:
(a) Get coffee
(b) Get lunch
(c) Go climbing
and not much else.

Which is not to say that Florence sucks - it's a tourist-choked hellhole, but it's pretty damn picturesque. You know how there are all these cliches about narrow cobblestone streets and crumbling brick facades and ivy etc? That's Florence. At first, you're all "Argh, Montecasino" and then you realise that this is the original. It's crumbling because, well, it was built by Italians.

More about Marseilles, Milan and the general Italian temperament later. For now, we're off to be tourons.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Admittedly, this includes stopovers..

..but, damn, that's a lot of cities and countries we have planned for the trip.


View Trip in a larger map

So far, we've done 3.

Hmmm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Week 1: Paris

After the rocky start, Paris grew on me somewhat. OK, quite a lot. It's a beautiful, vibey city full of .. tourons. Like us.

I can now completely understand why they refuse to speak anything other than French at you. Of course, in most cases, if you actually make the effort to greet and approach them in French, they'll drag out more than enough English to be friendly and helpful.

At which point I feel like a complete dick.

Highlights were:
(1) Seeing my wonderful girlfriend after 5 months apart.
(2) Our apartment. It was small but comfortable and having a kitchen makes life a lot easier.
(3) The Egyptian exhibit in the Louvre.
(4) The various sights. Yes, I know it's cliche, but it's pretty cool to walk up the road and see the Notre Dame like it's something you do every day.
(5) Patisseries
(6) Fromageries
(7) Sandwicheries
(8) A Vieux Camper. Basically 2 city blocks of outdoor shops. One of which is dedicated to climbing gear. Climbing gear that's hella cheap.
(9) The park down the road from the apartment where I went running.
(10) Not the tourons.

Basically, after wandering around Pont Neuf for a few hours, I thought it was a little like Covent Gardens in London. Then I realised that it was 9pm, the sun was shining, the weather was perfect, the people were beautiful and the vibe was chilled. So nothing like Covent Garden really.

Now we're in Marseilles. It's also very cool, but in a completely different way. More later.

Oh, and just so you know: this is much better than work. (I know, I know, I'm a dick.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

just smile and nod, they're laughing at you

i'll say it again - i really hate the french. in fact, where i previously only mildly disliked them, i'm now sick of the bastards. all of the stereotypes are true.

and it's only been 5 hours.

the problem is the whole language thing. and the fact that they patently refuse to speak english. even when you know they can. i met people in rural india who spoke better english that french shopkeepers in paris. and the indians lived in huts. huts made out of mud. but at least they'd make an effort to scam you in your own language.

whereas in paris, even a trip to buy wine turns into an experience frustrating enough to cause you to break out in hives. you politely greet the shopkeeper in french, with a friendly 'bonjour', and then explain that you are south african and don't speak much french. at which point they rattle off more, faster french at you. so you point, smile and use what limited french you have - 'oui, rouge, deux s'il vous plait..' etc. at which point the shopkeeper has a full-on pointing and laughing session with one of the other customers, who descend into a cackling mass that couldn't be more french if they were moustachioed, wearing stripy shirts and berets, smoking gauloises and riding bicycles with front baskets containing baguettes.

so you just smile and nod and know that the fuckers are laughing at you. it's not like you've got any snappy comebacks in french, and you know that the assclown behind the counter knows english well enough to kick you out sans wine if you mouth off at him in a real language like english.

next time, we'll side with the germans. that said, two hours in frankfurt airport was enough to make me side with the russians. the frankfurt airport staff were hilarious, in a bad way - they literally searched *every* black person going through the security checkpoints. and not a single white person. i'm suprised they don't have a separate line. i'd like to see them try that with Chalky White.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On the road

the roads were glittering and cape town was shiny and clean and blanketed in cloud and rain as we took off. i tried to check myself, to force myself to accept the reality of what was about to happen. i was leaving cape town and my home for almost three months. i was going to somewhere i had never been for almost three months and i was going to have to confront the fact that i had far more time than i'd had in almost 10 years and probably not enough money to sustain myself.

and yet, in trying to force myself to accept that i was leaving home, I was sobered by the realisation that i don't really feel like i have a home. i have a house, but i don't really live there. i sleep there 3 nights a week. i haven't spent more than a week at a time in the same city since september 2010. i'm a gypsy, used to living with music in my earphones and trying to sleep in an airplane seat, or drinking coffee in an airport lounge, waiting for another flight, or hot-desking with my laptop. i've become, in some ways, incapable of accepting a stable existence, unable to deal with stasis.

Another adventure starts today*. it won't be like india, but it will, i hope, be pretty awesome. i fully realise that i'm in a rare position and that i'm really, really lucky, but it's up to me to make the most of it.

fuck, i sound like charlize theron. no more emo bullshit.

what's next? paris. then marseilles, nice, milan and and and... all of it, i hope, with the person i most want to spend it with. unless, that is, she decides that i'm a shitbag and leaves me for a greasy italian.

Whatever happens, I've got a passport, a credit card, an ipod and a whole shedload of grit. Bring it on.

*I should also write more about india - you know, actually write it up into a narrative that is (a) coherent and (b) moderately entertaining. i know, i know, i know. and i will. i've got a few days worth of posts in the pipeline and i swear i'll get around to posting them. actually, by the time you read this, they should be posted. and, seeing as i have the next 3 months off, i'll start transcribing the rest of my notes and writing it all up properly, because, apparently, people actually read this (and not just my mom. Hi Mom!).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Just go already..

.. I'm in the Slow Lounge at Cape Town airport, waiting to get on s flight to Jo'burg and then to Frankfurt and then, eventually, Paris.

Awesome.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 11: Kalpa to Nako



Morning.

Rob looking through the Lonely Planet - quote: "Most dangerous and nervewracking road in India". That's what we're doing today.

Psyche-out.

Just push through and don't give in to fear.



Dirt roads and rocks and river crossings at 1000m above the river. Fuck, this is scary. Just push through. Hug the inside and pretend there's no looming precipice to your left or your right.

It's still there. Your eye catches it and you edge away. Just go.

Rockfall. Rob caught in the middle of it this time. Basketball-sized rocks on either side of him. He ditches the bike and runs. No damage to Rob or bike. A closer call than we realise.



We meet Jerry. Retired fishing boat captain from outside Seattle. Doing the same thing as us, just for longer. One of the nicest people I've ever met.

Then perfect ribbons of tar, bookshelved by u-turns. Jesus, this is amazing. This feels like freedom.



More looming precipices. Scary again. Nako. Shitty, but shitty with history. Jerry confesses that it was the scariest thing he's done, and he's been riding bikes most of his life. Expresses disbelief at this being my 6th day on a bike, ever.



Fellow travellers dine on kiwi wine and experiences. Much laughter.

Day 10: Sarahan to Kalpa

Broken clutch cable just outside Rechong Peo. Left Sarahan early this morning. Huck left today. Back to Manali, to Delhi, to Taipei, then back again to Delhi, to Dubai, to Cape Town. Long rides alone.

Go well, friend.

Made good time then bad time today. Scary moments. Bad roads. Traffic. No good time on these roads. Dirt and mud and sand and water, nearly no tar. Roads carved out of the mountain. Roads capped with rock overhangs. Impossible to conceive the effort and the risk.




Rockfalls.

Wait.

Wait more while the the master of the backhoe goes about his business. Boulders the size of small cars, tossed off the the cliff into the river below. A man in total control of his ho(e). More sand and mud and trucks and broken tar. Hard on the body and the bike. tired now and don't relish more riding. 6 more days - there and back again. Spectacular vistas.

Spectacular country. Rivers and valleys and snow caps looming above us. Continually. The mind becomes dumb to these things. We become stupid machines - the road, the road, the road. Fuck, there's a whole world out there, just out of your eyeline.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Visa in hand...

.. and trip #2 for the year starts in t-minus 15 days. It involves a beautiful woman who I cannot wait to see, climbing in Magic Wood and Fontainebleau and much wandering through Europe for two and a half months.

I am truly a very lucky man.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 9: Chindi to Sarahan


View Larger Map

Better time today but still not good.



Twisting, 30 degree downhill dirtroads with 100 meter dropoffs and a bad back brake. The ubiquitous trucks and busses. More than nervous moments. Then better roads and time made up. 200km a day was an overestimation. The body aches after 120kms on dirt roads and the mind needs more rest than 20 minutes on the side of the road with a naan and a coke.


Sarahan, temple town. High up, beautiful. Crappy hotel with amazing views. Temple to Shiva. Wander around until they bang drums and cymbals and bells and the headache kicks in and we need to drink.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 8: Pandoh to Chindi


View Larger Map
Note: Not the route we took. The route above has actual roads.

Pandoh to Chindi. An almost infinitesimally small distance on a map turns into 7 hours of riding over backroads. Endless switchbacks and bad roads. Metronomic blind corners and trucks. Tiring and nervewracking, the riding is about having faith into a corner and signalling your intentions with your hooter, loud and often. Processions of small towns and smiling schoolkids.



Average 15 or 20km/h.



Didn't fall off the bike today, but riding too carefully, too slowly at first. Frustration, mine and the others'. Confidence low and feeling guilty at slowing the procession. First gasps of confidence as we roar into Chindi and the Bates motel with more shitty food and the same shitty beer.

Day 7: Manali to Pandoh


View Larger Map

Start slowly. Rob still sick and I'm not high on confidence. Get the bikes ready and the bags strapped down and some coffee and banana pancakes at Chopsticks. Ready to move in a southerly direction. No idea how quickly we'll go, but 200km in a day is more than optimistic.



We go. We lose Huck. Find Huck. Moving again.

Sand on a corner outside another one horse town. Look back for Huck and bang, off the bike again. Bruised but not damaged. Not happy to be here. Low motivation and lower confidence. Inched into Pandoh over scary passes full of trucks and buses and cars. 200km in a day feels completely unattainable.



Shitty roadside hotel, shitty food, shitty beer. Everything seems shitty when you feel like this, so not a charitable assessment. Get some sleep and get the hell out, aiming for, well, we don't know yet.




Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 5 and 6: Manali


View Larger Map

Banana pancakes. Bike touts. First real introduction to our soon-to-be-anthropomorphised modes of transport, and feel the excitement growing. We really are doing this. Find Anu Autoworks at the top of the hill, right next to a climbing shop. Svetlana gives us coffee and we talk bikes and routes and origins and destinies. More coffee and friendly bullshit.


The chilled out eponymous arrives. More friendly bullshit about bikes and routes and suddenly we're coming back 3 hours later to watch them service our bikes.




Bikes get serviced. Rob gets sick. We get bikes.

Collect in the morning.


It's on.

Morning. Rob sick. Rob siiiick. Huck and I get bikes and aim them in the direction of the still-closed Rhotung. Try to get bearings on big bikes that we haven't ridden.


Snow and vistas and tourists and tight tight tight corners. Bikes are good, as is confidence. Get to the snow line, still 30kms to the top and it's almost may. No Rhotung for us.

Descent. Hairpin. Car. Ice and water, a streak through the midpoint. HUck goes, water. I go, ice. I go over, onto my shoulder, leg under the bike. Accident. Bam. Carry on like nothing happened. Just a few more scrapes and scratches. Broken footpeg, bent crashbar, wounded pride and fractured confidence.

Later. more shaken than I think. Sore shoulder, leg, hip, elbow.

Later. Rob better. We roll out tomorrow. Nerves not helped by accident. Fuck it. Just go.

Day 4: Shimla to Manali


View Larger Map

Bus again, but less cramped. 10 hours. Fitful sleep. Puncture. Make that 12 hours. More fitful sleep. Talk to a cool kid. Learning english. Fearless of the big, gruff, bearded guys. Mountain passes. More mountain passes. Scary fucking driving. Really scary fucking driving. Snow caps and steep drop-offs and roads that scare the shit out of me.


Truck and bus and narrow narrow narrow road equals accident. Next to my sleeping head. Wake with a bang. Just carry on like nothing happened. Just a few more scratches and scrapes.


More snow caps. Road between Pandoh and Kullu is the most beautiful I've seen, but one of the first in the long list of scary roads that we'll see. It's scary enough in a bus, I really wouldn't want to.. Shit.

Manali. Rain. Bustle. Nepal and Tibet and China and India and Kashmir. This is not Delhi, Toto, and thank god for that.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 3: Delhi to Shimla


View Larger Map

Air-conditioned luxury to Kalka. Contrast and compare the luxury train to Kalka, fighting manfully for the title of the worst place in the world, the shittiest shithole in India. A shitty town full of even shittier, unhelpful people. I would rather lick out a New Delhi sewer than live in Kalka. My ire knows no bounds. Kalka is irredeemable. No Himalayan Queen for us. Fuck. Disappointment.

Bus? Taxi? Taxi is cash money and quick, bus is cheap and tiring and shitty and dangerous. Taxi.

Suprise. They try to rip us off.

Suprise.



Bus. No direct bus. Fuck. Bus to Solan. Cramped. Four hours of mountain passes, screaming brakes and screaming people. Solan. Yet another small town in northern India. Bus to Shimla, creaky as shit. Cramped. This one goes slowly. Not a bad thing. More altitude, more mountain passes, less screaming. Fall asleep and wake up outside Shimla. Fuck. Fuuuuck. They built a city down the side of a steep hill. It's beautiful. Clean. Clamour- and stress-free and cold and cool, the polar opposite of Delhi. Full of monkeys. Words cannot do it's shabby majesty justice.



Hotel. Food. Alcohol. Sleep.

Note: As with the last post, these are pretty much just transcribed notes that I made on the trip, posted while I try to write it all up.

Day 2: Delhi

Still mired/tired/wired in Delhi. Filth and majesty and loud loud loud populace and continual clatter and din and interactions and shouting and hooting and friction and heat and grinding and colliding and I am incapable of processing this, of relating it to a mental model that is built on a semblance of order and rules and discernible logic, let alone assembling it into a reliable narrative. I feel like Hosni Mubarak, like I am seeing a past and a future interwoven so subtly that I don't know which is which.


And then to something I can understand: great food in a hole in the wall next to a hole in the ground. More wandering: touron, mouth agape at the Red Fort, a sandstone monolith that took decades to build and was what can only be described as a fuck up. It's still spectacular, but better luck next time. Back to the hole in the wall at the hole in the ground. Back to the Gem Bar. Kingfisher and Fuel and Honey Bee brandy.



Train to Kalka tomorrow, then hopefully we can sneak a few seats on the Himalayan Queen train to Shimla.




Note: These are pretty much transcriptions of the notes that I took during the trip. I'll post them to provide a picture of it all, while I write up the trip properly.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Holy shit..

We survived the bike trip. I'm in Manali, trying to fill my body with enough caffeine to handle normality after too many days on the road without it. The roads were horrific, the traffic insane and the country incredible.

But it was really, really hard.

Plenty more later, when the body is full of caffeine and the mind is something other than a quivering mess.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I went to Delhi and all I got was this hangover

Joburg to Cape Town to Dubai to Delhi.

Crazy from work in Joburg and Cape Town. Onto plane. Emergency exit. Thank you god and the Emirates checkin staff. Alcohol. Sleep. Fights for the arm rest. Then Dubai, full of tired, frustrated, joyless people in transit. Just want to leave, Delhi. heaving and mad, a city falling apart and under construction. Infused with life and colour and sound and smell. Lots of smell.

Takash, our airport transfer. Navigating through the most mental drivers in the world. Suicidal. No accidents, unbelievably. Right into the seediest market we'd ever experienced. Stops car "you're staying down there". Confusion. Sorry Rob, I fucked up. The Smyle Inn, tucked in a quiet corner in the midst of the mayhem. Huge tip for Takash.

Touts. scams. Dirty streets. Train station beaurocracy. Train ticket to Kalka, but not sunday, only monday. Shit. White Mischief vodka and Kingfisher beer. Beggars. Street food. Amazing park. Luxury and wealth. The Embassy restaurant and the Gem Bar. Cricket mania.

Fuck, this is overwhelming. Some tourons, but no mixing. Except the argentine, who wanted to talk soccer and rugby. Into another, another world.

Rain, Red Fort and street food today. Bring it on.

Delhi

We're here. This place is completely insane. More later.

Friday, April 15, 2011

And thus it begins..

"You better take care of me, Lord. If you don't you're gonna have me on your hands."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Here we go, an hour until I leave for the airport.

This is going to be a wild, scary, incredible journey. I'm completely burnt out from too many late nights and early mornings, trying to sort out the last of my work and my admin and my packing and everything else. But 10 minutes into that plane ride, I'll feel like a kid again.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I'm Alive.

Yes, I'm alive.

This kind of self-evident writing is no less than you, dear reader, deserve but it's probably going to take you a little while to stop banging your head against the table, continually wondering why you read this utter codswallop.

Once you're done, let me finish, because I'm going to describe a pivotal moment in the preparation for this trip.

Are you quite done?

I hope it hurts.

While the swelling subsides, let's meander back to the matter at hand. I am alive. More importantly, I am alive after spending a weekend riding a motorbike on a combination of farm roads, tar roads and dirt roads. I am remarkably intact, with the exception of a kick-starter-related shin bruise and a slightly more bruised ego from being utterly incompetent and 'kicking like a girl'* when it comes to kick-starting, or more accurately, trying to kick-start a bike.

Rob even had the good grace to tut knowingly and pronounce me competent once we'd made our way to Clanwilliam, via the tar road, and back, via a much longer, more challenging dirt road loop. High praise from Sonny Barger himself. There was one significant difference between this and India - it was hot. Actually, hot doesn't begin to describe it. When Rob checked the temps, it was 39 degrees. At 4pm. I'm not built for heat.

So, India's 4 days away. I survived biking for a weekend. We've got most of our gear.

Bring it.

* Quoth Rob

Another littel update:
(1) Book accommodation for our first night or two in Delhi Iced like a cake.
(2) Get our visas Ka-pow.
(3) Work out where to rent reliable motorcycles from in the Shimla area Rob done stepped up and seems to have, through some sycophantic comments about the Indian cricket team, gotten us the hookup through some dude called Sanjeev. Go Sanjeev.
(4) Buy the necessary gear Bar the caveat below, shick-a-dink.
(5) Oh, and actually work out what the necessary gear is. We think we know what we need. Hence, this one's toast.
(6) I should probably learn to ride a motorcycle. Back. Of. The. Net. Swish.
(7) Vaccinations. I am unkillable by disease. Ish.
(8) Travel insurance Crushed.

Shit, I think we're actually ready. Except for Huck of course. Top Gear rules apply. Thy will be done. etc etc.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It'll be fine..

Every 'proper' trip has to have a memorable quote, a tagline if you will. On the last serious climbing trip I went on, it was "Don't start anything Trent will finish". This was amended to "Don't start anything Julia will finish" after a particularly suprising off-colour joke from Ms Chen. Trent may be Durban's biggest hooligan, but we breed them filthy in Cape Town.

I'm not sure that this is a good thing, but this trip already has a quote. And the trip hasn't even started yet. Worryingly, the quote is "It'll be fine", accompanied by a dismissive hand gesture. This served us well yesterday when Racist phoned to tell me that "bad news.. road to Leh closed.. 15 foot of snow.. highly unusual.. it'll be fine..". I could almost hear the little hand wave over the phone.

Said road closure does cramp our style somewhat. We really wanted to go to Leh. But, and this may be news to you, India's a big country. There's lots to do and see from the vantage point of a Royal Enfield. Hell, within a thousand kilometers of Manali is the Great Himalayan National Park, the Pin Valley National Park, Nanda Devi Biosphere, Lahaul Spiti, Govind Pashu National Park and Shrinagar (where they poison stray dogs) and loads more..

I'm not going to say it..

Brief update:
(1) Book accommodation for our first night or two in Delhi - Iced like a cake.
(2) Get our visas Ka-pow.
(3) Work out where to rent reliable motorcycles from in the Shimla area Rob done stepped up and seems to have, through some sycophantic comments about the Indian cricket team, gotten us the hookup through some dude called Sanjeev. Go Sanjeev.
(4) Buy the necessary gear Bar the caveat below, shick-a-dink.
(5) Oh, and actually work out what the necessary gear is. We think we know what we need. Hence, this one's toast.
(6) I should probably learn to ride a motorcycle. Oops. Not so much.
(7) Vaccinations. A new addition. I am unkillable by disease. Ish.

Brief update redux: Holy shit, this thing is nine days away. Holy shiiiiit.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Things are moving now, and moving quickly. 33 days until we board the plane and hop our way to Delhi. 35 days until get on the bikes and start moving north and up. 35 days until all the planning sessions and preparation and and and comes to nothing and we realise that we are Out There and have to get our act together. I should probably be more worried, but I'm over it.

At least I'm now impervious to all known diseases. OK, hepatitis A, typhoid, polio, yellow fever and cholera. And one other that I can't remember, but I'm sure it's serious. It better be - it cost R1300 for a woman to turn me into a human pincushion. And that's not counting the antibiotics and diamox that I also had to get. Jesus, this trip was supposed to be cheap. Just surviving the possibilities looks like it will bankrupt me. And that isn't counting the bad roads, the other drivers, the weather and the food.

If I sound pissy, I'm not. This is because I'm less likely to be completely useless at riding a bike - on friday evening, the Ginger Ninja was kind enough to hand me the keys to The Frog, his aging Bajaj scooter, and turn me loose on an unsuspecting Woodstock. There was some method to this madness - the Frog actually has manual gears and would help me learn things like clutch control and not riding into inanimate objects while trying to change gears. Luckily he also pointed me in the direction of the open road, so my early attempts at pulling off resulted in nothing more than a singed clutch and some embarrassed smiles at the giggling locals. I won't mention nearly running over an old ladies dog (which may have been on the curb), but she took my rueful "I'm trying to learn how to ride this" as a sufficient apology and walked off shaking her head.

But, by the end of the evening, I actually had the hang of the damn thing. Even managing to do three apparently particularly stupid things (so much for reigning in my inner hoon), namely:
(1) Taking The Frog onto Main Road Woodstock at 5pm on a friday
(2) Taking The Frog onto Main Road Woodstock at 5pm on a friday without wearing a helmet
(3) Possibly, and I admit no culpability in this etc etc this is no admission etc etc, driving The Frog home after a beer or two. And driving better. (it was 2 blocks of back roads, OK?!)

Yes, I'm an idiot. And a fool. And a goon.

But the whole experience (except the stupid bits) was great. With any luck, it has ruined my life, but in a good way. I'm already looking at buying a Bajaj. I mean, why not? Surely a little less horsepower will .. sedate me somewhat. God knows that things will get ugly if someone says "Hey, why not just by an 800cc and be done with it?". The result will, if I'm lucky, be something along the lines of a smoking crater and a rueful "I'm trying to learn how to ride this". The problem is, I'm more likely to be unlucky and that's not going to end well (c/f above comments re: "I'm an idiot" etc etc).

So, some updates on progress:
(1) Book accommodation for our first night or two in Delhi
(2) Get our visas
(3) Work out where to rent reliable motorcycles from in the Shimla area
(4) Buy the necessary gear.
(5) Oh, and actually work out what the necessary gear is.
(6) I should probably learn to ride a motorcycle.
(7) Vaccinations. A new addition.

Monday, March 7, 2011

I am Ahab

"Don't fuck with me now, man, I am Ahab."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I have two things today:
  1. A stomach bug (not premium news)
  2. An Indian visa (premium news)
Getting the visa is awesome, but I swear these damn things are cursed. First Google failed me, then the flat tire and now I have a stomach bug. But you know what? I have the damned visas* in my hand. I am Ahab, all harpooning the visas and reeling them in to the Pequod.

*They even decided to give Rob the Racist a visa. God help them.

One more step complete.

Progress is now as follows:
(1) Book accommodation for our first night or two in Delhi
(2) Get our visas
(3) Work out where to rent reliable motorcycles from in the Shimla area
(4) Buy the necessary gear.
(5) Oh, and actually work out what the necessary gear is.
(6) I should probably learn to ride a motorcycle.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Omens and Portents

"But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country—but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

After the abortive attempt at finding the Indian Consulate (thanks Google, you really effed that one up), I was fired with purpose at actually getting it right this time. No lollygagging or mucking about for me. Right up until I walked out into the car park, with an extra half hour planned into my trip to the airport, to find that my rental car had a flat tire.

For most people, this would probably result in wringing of hands and frustrated noises. Not me, oh no! I am chock full of said Thompsonian grit and, because I drive like 'an utter hoon'*, I've gotten pretty good at changing tires. Like, really good. I have changed a tire on Woodstock main road. On the traffic side of the car. In saturday morning traffic. In the rain. On my own. This was no obstacle but it was, perhaps, an omen.

Tyre changed, I made the Consulate with just enough time to .. wait in line. Bugger. But, once again, the grit came through and I staved off the thought of being late and handed the forms to the most unfriendly dude on earth and made the airport, the flight and home.

Bring it.

* Quoth the Ginger Ninja

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Indian Consulate Visit: Attempt 1

This is not the Indian Consulate at 1 Eton Road, Park Town, Johannesburg, unless you use Google Maps, in which case it is and Park Town has strangely migrated to Sandhurst.

Siphokazi, the friendly security guard, told me that this is a common mistake.

So I guess we all use Google Maps, huh?

(Dammit, and there I was thinking I was all ten kinds of Jo'burg local. Back to Cape Town for me, where we have a mountain to tell us which suburb we're in.)

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Process of Planning

It's probably no suprise that a trip of the magnitude of our little journey to India requires a fair amount of planning. Planning is Important. Planning is the difference between returning home flushed with success, a trip worth taking taken well, and spending three weeks in jail because you don't have a visa.

The problem here is that neither Rob the Racist nor I are the planning type. You know the type - hyper-organised, everything managed down to the nearest second etc etc. Boring and predictable. Micro-management. More accurately, neither Rob nor I like planning and we're rubbish at it. We're more likely to spend the trip in Tihar prison in Delhi (one of the largest, most overcrowded prisons in the world but one that does have a website) glaring at one another and loudly and exasperatedly proclaiming "You said you were going to sort out the visa!".

That is, until we hit upon a solution to our fatalistic attack of the casual. We realised, drumroll please, that you cannot plan if you are hungry or thirsty. Ergo, planning should be done over food and drink or, more accurately, over beer and pizza. Problem solved. Planning sessions have now become twice weekly occurrences planned, ironically, well in advance. We are now, or should be, the best planned expedition on the planet. Space shuttles have been launched with less time spent "planning".

The real problem with this approach is not our magpie-like ability to be distracted by pretty much anything, but instead the fact that we do really try to plan things. We spend the first hour of the evening (approximately three beers worth) discussing things like gear, routes and bike rental. We then spend the next three hours talking about interesting things like climbing and girls. Three hours equates to about five or six beers, which means that we tend to forget whatever we spent planning.

The upside of this is that we have to have another planning session to discuss what we have forgotten. As you can imagine, we're starting to relish this planning malarkey.

The outcome of three "planning" sessions this weekend is that we now have roles. Rob is to be head motorcyclist-ist and he-who-knows-how-to-repair-motorcycles. Seeing as he is actually a motorcyclist-ist, that should be fine, except there's a slightly worrying look of uncertainty, like a poodle being shown a card trick, every time I mention that he's probably going to have to do things like repair a bike or fix a flat tire. My role, and one that I am suitably qualified for, is, basically, to look impressed at all the motorcyclism, pretend to know what they're talking about and try not to die*. And, if I manage to do all of those, I will be rewarded with the privilege of editing the written output of the trip and being blamed for no-one being willing to publish it.

I'll do my best not to mess that up then, shall I?

* I've spent 31 years trying not to die, so I guess I'm qualified.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Captain

Rob the Racist has been derelict in his duties, so he's no longer allowed to wear the mesh vest that says 'Captain'*. This is because I went and booked our first nights' accommodation at the super helpful and mellow Smyle Inn.

An airconditioned room for two people and an airport transfer for R200? Bargain.


* Despite this being a rather fetching look for him.

Progress is now as follows:
(1) Book accommodation for our first night or two in Delhi
(2) Get our visas
(3) Work out where to rent reliable motorcycles from in the Shimla area
(4) Buy the necessary gear.
(5) Oh, and actually work out what the necessary gear is.
(6) I should probably learn to ride a motorcycle.

Oh, and..

..Rob doesn't know about the planned route.

Won't it be a nice surprise for him?

Inhospitable terrain

So, the Great Indian Motorcycle Roadtrip is taking shape.

The route, roughly, looks like this so far:


View Larger Map

Not that that makes any sense to, well, most people. Except Sumit, who's an Indian from India and has already given us seriously important assistance. Hats off to Sumit.

Sumit also said we should go to Lahaul-Spiti. Here are some photos, purloined off the web:








I'd argue that it looks like a destination, non?

So, all that we need to do now is:
(1) Book accommodation for our first night or two in Delhi (any recommendations?)
(2) Get our visas
(3) Work out where to rent reliable motorcycles from in the Shimla area
(4) Buy the necessary gear.
(5) Oh, and actually work out what the necessary gear is.
(6) I should probably learn to ride a motorcycle.

No worries then, should have it done by lunchtime.

Vague Stirrings of Fear and Loathing

(A cross post from cipherland)

"As your attorney, I advise you to buy a motorcycle. How else can we cover a thing like this righteously?"
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

It seemed like a great idea at the time. That time was, however, blurred by alcohol, fatigue and a need to impress. But I wasn't going to admit that as time passed and more commitment than a vague "That sounds cool, I'm in" was needed. Commitment, but no admission, was made despite the gnaw of worries. What the hell was I doing? This is madness. This can't possibly end well. I lack the essential confidence and courage to pull off what is, essentially, a test of courage and confidence. Am I man enough for this?

I'm going to have to be because, emboldened by some kind of collective mania, I booked the plane tickets. This Frankensteinian monster is lumbering on inexorably and dragging me along with it. It's really going to happen. Shit.

Later, Rob the Racist, aka my attorney*, explained a vague itinerary. I was again blurred by alcohol and fatigue, but had no desire to impress on this occasion. Luckily, the itinerary was abstruse and indefinite enough to not require significant input that I would have been unable to provide. As commitment had been made, there was no need to do anything other than nod, shrug and hand over leadership to Rob. He is the team captain, the experienced leader. I am the team halfwit, the jester. The idiot who has never ridden a motorcycle, going on a motorcycle trip up the highest motorable highway in the world, a wild and inhospitable streak of gravel zig-zagging through the mountains of country not known for hospitable roads, drivers or climate. Basically, if I don't off myself, the trucks, intestinal parasites or roads will probably get me. Or the altitude. Or the Indian army.

This is not my comfort zone. This is not easy or practical or well-planned. Or even planned for that matter. This is my unreality, an environment that I will not be able to control or mitigate.

This is not a holiday. This is an adventure.

Fuck it, let's do it.

* He is actually a real attorney. This may come in use.