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Willover’s Travels Pt 5

Hi, did you miss me? Yeah I know, Dingo lite is fine, but sometimes you really need the full strength Dingo to clear the cobwebs, so here I yam.

Meanwhile back at the adventure….

After exploring every nook and cranny that the dirty old relics had to offer, I decided it was time to leave the bar next to retirement home and go check out the Acropolis. Yeah it was nice, but it would have been better if it had a roof, and maybe a bar or something. But hey! as they say… when in Athens eat moussaka, or something like that.

Speaking of moussaka, the food in Greece is surprisingly non-greasy, which seems to be a contradiction in terms.  Oh yeah, another thing I discovered is that in Greece they don’t call it a Greek salad, they just call it salad, go figure! But I’ll tell you, they really do have the best food there, lots of olives and feta, and the best lamb I’ve ever eaten. I’d love to tell you more, but unfortunately they had some pretty good retsina there too.

And so it was, that after spending about two weeks in Athens, I was ready to do some Island hopping. I bought a ticket on an overnight ferry to Iralkion (Crete) and was off once again. The thing about Greece that can come as a bit of a shock (actually this goes for most of Europe), is that there are real live peasants. And not just normal everyday bonehead morons that we call peasants because we don’t like to call them bonehead morons, but real honest to goodness peasants, just like the ones who chased Frankenstein’s monster over the cliff (I feel it necessary at this juncture, to point out that contrary to popular misconception, Frankenstein was the doctor, the monster was called…err…monster).

But having only spent time in Athens so far, I hadn’t actually seen any peasants. And truth be told, I was kinda wondering where they all were. At around 4:30 that afternoon, I found out. They were all on the ferry for Iralkion. This ferry had a restaurant and cabins (which I wish I had been smart enough to book, but I figured that since it was just for one night I’d go steerage), but they weren’t used by the masses (speaking of which, did I tell you the pope is on his way to Oz for World Youth Day…which lasts for a week! Man those catholics like their mysteries don’t they? A day that lasts for a week, now that’s really something!).  Where was I? Oh yeah on the ferry with the peasants. No, the great unwashed mass sat around the everywhere eating rock hard bread and cutting the cheese (which may have been fetta, but smelled more like blue vein). Those bastards were everywhere, and they all had at least a dozen kids, and most even had a few children!

The crossing went pretty smooth considering it was almost impossible to find a place to lie down for a nap, but eventually the sun came up, thankfully. As is usual for me in the morning, I needed to pee, so I found the toilets (which had been working just fine last night), much to my dismay,  I also found that they were all blocked up with nappies (diapers), toilet paper, newspapers, and just about anything else that could be used to wipe an arse. There were obviously those before me who found the toilets in the this state, because all the hand basins were backed up with the same detritus and in some cases crap (yes I mean actual crap).

Luckily it was only a couple of hours before we reached shore, so I managed to hold it. However, by the time we disembarked, I was starting to feel a bowel movement coming on. But you see, here was my dilemma…άνδρες… or… θήλυς…??

Yeah that’s right, in a display of parochialism that rivals America (sorry but you guys really are parochial), the Greeks in their infinite wisdom, chose to not only use Greek signage, also the Greek alphabet, rather than universal symbols on their toilets in a place that is a mecca for international tourism, so it wasn’t so much a matter of picking which one was male and which was female, no, the more pressing problem was to figure out which sign was indicating that it was actually a toilet! Yet even stranger, now that I think about it, was that they did use universal symbols on the boat, hmm must have been built somewhere else.

I walked for miles in search of relief, and the more I walked the more the turtle poked it’s head out. I was really starting to get desperate when I finally came across a building that was so putrid, so dank, so smelly, so crowded, that it couldn’t have possibly been anything other than a public shithouse. And thankfully it was.

But wait there’s more, I found something that I’d thought I left behind (no pun intended) in Asia, yes that’s right, I found something that whilst surprising, I was at least familiar.

I found one of these…

That’s a picture I took in Thailand, but it was the same sort of thing, which explained why those peasants on the boat didn’t know how to use flushing toilets!

Editor’s note: I wrote this in one go, and haven’t proofread it, so if it’s hard to understand, that’s why.

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Willover’s Travels Pt 4.

My first experience of culture shock would have been in Bali, as that was the first place I’d ever been where the inhabitants didn’t look like me (i.e.  wasp) and English wasn’t the national language (ok, granted I’d previously lived in NZ, and while I don’t look like a Maori, technically the Kiwis do kinda speak Nglesh). However, even though Bahasa Indonesia doesn’t sound anything like English, at least the alphabetic characters share the same Latin ancestry as my own native language, so while I couldn’t speak it, I could at least make out what the name of the street was.

Russia ,on the other hand, somewhat threw me for a loop, for even though the people looked pretty much like me, things were seriously askew; not only did they speak another language (I think yell another language would be more accurate), but they used different squiggles to write it too. Consequently, I had no idea what was going on around me or where I was, and I was in constant fear that I’d get so lost that I’d  end up in a labour camp somewhere north of Siberia. Needless to say that didn’t happen, in fact I found the people very warm and friendly, and this was before Perestroika. In fact it was before the 1980 Olympics, the one where America decided to put politics before sport and took their bat home. The only down side to this was that you were constantly asked by people on the street to either sell you jeans and t-shirts, or change money (the guys on the street would be offering 50 Rubles for a Dollar when the official exchange was about 5), I soon learned from the tour guides that some of these guys were KGB, which scarred the shit out of me.

I think my two most striking memories of that time were a) standing in Red Square and realising that I was standing in Red Square, and b) seeing a queue that went for about 100 yards and asking the tour guide what they were lining up for and he replied “I don’t know, and neither do they, but they need whatever it its”.

All too soon my week of boiled Kielbasy, potato and cabbage was over and I was on the plane to Athens. But not before going through another bizarre aspect of visiting a closed country, for the first and only time I’ve had my bags fully searched (even down to squeezing my toothpaste) as I was leaving a country. Although, come to think of it, they did a check of my money when I was leaving Sri Lanka once too, but they didn’t go through my luggage.

Athens, is a really wonderful, crowded, chaotic city with friendly people, great food and spectacular bargains. But it is a city, and therefore smoggy, sticky and smelly (although no more than any other big city) so I only spent a few days there before heading south to Crete.

That’s probably enough for now, but I’ll leave you with a picture of a place that really stopped me in my tracks. Coming from a country where the oldest man-made structure  was less than 200 years old (as at the time I’m writing about), walking in and around this amazing piece of history, the sheer antiquity of it was simply staggering…

Stay tuned for more exiting adventures with WT….

Willover’s Travels Pt 3

Parts 1 and 2 have been added to the sidebar (under Willow’s Serials) in case you missed them when they were hot off the presses.

In an earlier WT Travel Tip, I explained how a few dollars could be saved by travelling a night, obviously this isn’t the best way to travel if you want to see the country, but a lot of times the geography is pretty much the same as wherever you come from (unless you’re travelling through tropical jungles or deserts). Well, in the premium version of this tip you can actually get some accommodation thrown in.

At a time when the Soviet Union was in it’s final stages, and it’s citizens were still being prevented from travelling anywhere other than within the USSR (although they liked to call it CCCP), one of life’s little ironies was that Intourist was just about the largest travel agency in the world. However, in a prime example of why communism is ultimately doomed to fail, they had no idea of how to turn a profit. The whole thing was heavily subsidised, and run along bureaucratic guidelines, where everyone just did their job. This was great for the low cost traveller, as there were some glaring examples of stupidity that were capitalised on by many a seasoned traveller.

Here’s the deal…Aeroflot flew to almost all European countries, but in a similar way to trying to fly anywhere in the States, you had to change planes at a Hub (which in Amercia’s case, is a prime example of why capitalism is doomed to fail). Anyway, it’s like this, you could fly anywhere you wanted to, so long as you were prepared to change planes in Moscow. This gave rise to some lateral thinking, what if you chose a flight from where you were (say, Bangkok) that didn’t quite meet the connecting flight to where you were going? Answer: free accommodation.

Now the trick was to find the biggest gap possible, in my case I chose Athens as my destination because they only flew there once a week, on Tuesdays. I then found a flight out of Bangkok that landed in Moscow on a Wednesday morning, thus giving me 6 free nights at the Hotel Metropol, as well as three free meals a day! Mind you the meals weren’t that flash. I doubt a commercial airline would have allowed that sort of scheduling.

So now here I was, sitting in an Ilyushin Il-62 (I didn’t know what it was at the time,I didn’t even now a minute ago for that matter, I just looked it up for you, thank you Wiki) waiting to take off, when I noticed two things that made reality seem even stranger than it had been for the last 3 months, due all the drugs I’d been taking. Firstly all the stewardesses were really big (not as big as the women I saw in Moscow, but way bigger than any stewardesses I’d ever seen before), and secondly, there was some sort of vapour coming from the overhead lockers. It seemed like I was at an Alice Cooper concert, with an out of control dry-ice smoke machine! As near as I could tell, that was the cooling system.

Oh I almost forgot, the in-flight meal consisted of a big old sausage and a potato (both boiled) in a cardboard box. While that may not seem unusual now in an era of cheap low frills flights, 30 years ago when you got real cutlery, actual steak and all kinds of nifty little containers on international flights, this was pretty unusual. But the plane worked fine, unlike some I’ve been on (more about that later maybe).

Next time, my week in Moscow…. (don’t hold your breath it wasn’t all that exciting)

* Unfortunately there are no photos of this period, as I didn’t have a camera at the time. I eventually bought a Rollei 35T trip camera in Canada, which I still have.

Willover’s Travels – Tips and Tricks.

Jenni in KS (when she’s not disputing what I’ve said or trying to pick holes in my posts) sometimes makes valuable contributions to the Dingo. In this case she has asked a number of questions on behalf of her son’s friend. So, while I’m sitting on the plane waiting to take off for Moscow (that’s a metaphor guys, don’t send me any emails asking how long I’ll be gone for!) I’ll answer them, and add a few bits of advice as well.

It sounds like you worked for a while until you got enough money for one of your journeys, then worked again once you were out of money until you could afford to go again. Did you have a place to come back
to in between?

Yes and no, I worked in either mining or industrial construction in remote areas of Australia to earn enough money to get me on the circuit* again. I did this for two reasons, a) at the time they were the best paying jobs in Oz, so I didn’t have to work too long, and b) accommodation (including all meals) was provided, which meant that I didn’t need to keep a base of my own. However, I did have some stuff in my parent’s garage in Sydney, and I did stay with them from time to time in between journeys. I should add that I worked for four years straight as an apprentice electrician before any of this happened. Once I got my Electrician’s Licence I started to travel.

Did you work odd jobs while on your travels?
Normally I worked as an electrician in Oz to earn the bulk of my travel money (around a thousand dollars was enough in those days, but I usually tried for a thousand in spending money after tickets), however there have been times when I’ve wanted to extend the trip, so I have also worked as a builder’s labourer, painter, carpenter, waiter, translator, handyman, fruit picker, wood cutter, car deliverer and a few other odds and sods. I’ve worked in New Zealand, America, Canada, Thailand, England and Bali (and of course, Australia).

What kind of places did you stay while you were travelling? (He specifically asked if you had to spend all your money on hotels or if you were sleeping on park benches.)
I have never slept on a park bench, and I never will. Oh wait, there was one time when I went to Queensland with my brother and his car broke down, so we had to sleep on park benches and in picnic shelters while we waited for dad to send him the money to get it fixed (he always was a dependant sort of a person, still is from what I’ve seen). But I don’t take any blame for this, as I had only just turned 15 at the time and I was 700 miles from home and didn’t have much control of my destiny yet. (When I was robbed in NZ six years later I didn’t even tell dad, as I knew he try would to get some money to me, and I didn’t want any help.)

One thing that you learn if you want to stretch the adventure out as long as possible, is to always do long trips overnight, that way you get accommodation thrown in, you may be sitting up, but you’re safe and you haven’t had to fork out for a room. This is actually why I flew to Athens via Moscow (but I’ll explain exactly why in the next episode, if there is enough interest for me to keep writing).

Another thing that helps is that there is a loose travel fraternity, and it’s not uncommon to meet someone in one country and stay with them in another (generally their homeland), for this reason it pays not to be a prissy whining traveller, if that’s how something is done in a country , that’s how it’s done; either deal with it, or fuck off back home to where things are done how you’re used to! It also pays to travel by yourself as you’re more likely to get invites when you’re on your own, plus you’re also more likely to meet people. Where couples tend to stick to together, singles (out of necessity) tend to mix much more.

Have I not been paying enough attention while reading your posts?
Probably not, you’re usually too busy trying to find fault with what I’ve written.

Any other thoughts?
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Yes, I wouldn’t mind a cheeseburger. Oh yes I do have another handy travel tip, taught to me by a Texan by the name of Howard. The best way to pack soft luggage (which is the only luggage you should ever travel with – handlers hate suitcases and regularly take out their frustrations on them), is to get a few nylon sack type backs with string pulls (you can buy them in any camping store now, but I used to get my aunt to make them for me). You need one for t-shirts, one for socks and underwear, one for sweaters (it’s best to follow the seasons, then you don’t need too much heavy clothing, one for your blanket (make sure it’s thin and pure wool), and a slightly larger one for dirty clothes. To pack your clothes (say your tees for example), fold them in half lengthwise and lay them neatly on top of each other, trying to keep the wrinkles to a minimum, then roll them up as tight as possible and stuff them into the sack, which should be just a fraction smaller in diameter than the clothes that you have just rolled up. You’d be surprise how good they look when you unroll them when you get to your destination.

Just one more thing, always carry a flashlight small enough to hold comfortably in your mouth so that you hands are free, a pair of tweezers. a pocket atlas (I find Bartholomew make the best ones) and a universal plug (there’s usually a sink but there’s never any plugs, this way you can always wash your underwear).

*There is a distinct low cost travel circuit that is fairly fluid in nature and can change without warning due to the changing popularity of destinations, the current political situation, the cost and standard of
accommodation as well as the cost of travel.

To join the circuit, basically all you have to do is
find a place where travellers congregate and tag along, you’ll eventually find out where the cheap and safe places stay are. Unfortunately this doesn’t work so well in America for some reason. But anywhere else, all you have to do is stay in a few backpacker hostels and you’ll soon have a pretty good idea of where the current circuit is.

Willover’s Travels Pt 2

I paid the extra for a First Class ticket on the Indian Pacific since it was such a long trip (one of the longest in the world in fact) and I wanted a cabin to myself, there’s diagrams if you follow the link. I also booked the ticket so that I was on the train in the middle of the Nullarbor at midnight on the 31st of December, that way I could celebrate New Years in transit. That turned out to be a good decision becasue it was one of the best New Years Eve parties I’ve ever been to. Seeing as I had a first class ticket, I was able to use the club car, which not only had a bar, but a piano too, and there was a Japanese girl who could play quite well. I had my harmonicas so we played duets and sing-alongs all night. At midnight the chef brought out huge bowls of King prawns and champagne. It was one of the best nights that I can almost remember.

Three days after I left Sydney,  I arrived in Perth (again)…

While I had enough money to get me further than I got last time, I decided get a job just to give me a bit of a buffer; plane tickets always leave a bit of a hole in the finances. So for the second time (hmm, that link is actually better than this post), I phoned a number in the classifieds and was told what time to be at the airport the next day. This time I ended up in Mt Newman.

Three months later I was sitting on a plane to Bangkok. Having learned that hooking up with a hooker can really stall your travels, I determined that I wouldn’t hang out in Bangkok at the Atlanta Hotel* like I did last time, with all the associated risk (wow, just looking at that link, they’ve really cleaned up their act, it used to be pretty seedy). So the next day I caught a bus to Phuket. One day I may go into detail about the pitfalls of spending too much time in Bangkok.

You may well ask, "Why the hell would you even go to Bangkok again? Given that it brought you undone last time". A valid question that deserves an answer…well in those days, airfares were really expensive in Australia (they still are a bit high, but not as bad as way back in the 70s), so the idea was to fly to Bangkok and buy your tickets there, as they had the cheapest flights in the world at the time.

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Phuket is a great place, it’s free from hookers, it has cheap food and cheap accommodation and it’s right on the beach.  In addition, it’s one of my favourite places in the world, I’ve been there with ET (my best man and best friend), Mel (I was his best man),  MDW (I was her groom) and several times by myself, and every time was better then the one before. This particular trip I was there with Mel, my Canadian best friend who I actually met there. Funny, but I met both ET and Mel in Thailand 30 years ago and they are still my best friends, although I’m in contact with ET a bit more, (we talk once a week).

After about six weeks of just hanging around enjoying the beach and the seafood, it was time to leave, so we went back to Bangkok where Mel bought a ticket back to Canada (he’d been working in Oman for the past two years), and I bought one to Greece via Moscow. I really didn’t feel like doing the whole overland trip thing through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey this time, so I just flew over them. I had been to India, and frankly it didn’t hold much of an attraction to me, and it just takes so long to get through those countries…

* A short note on travellers hotels in Bangkok. During the Vietnam war, the two most popular destinations for American servicemen were Bangkok and Sydney (with Bangkok being way ahead of Sydney), the result being a proliferation of western style hotels to cater for the GIs. After the war, these hotels fell on hard times for a few of years until in the mid to late 70s when Bangkok became a mecca for young travellers.

Willover’s Travels Pt 1

My first two expeditions were neither spectacular nor particularly successful. The first overseas adventure was to New Zealand, which is a bit like going to a convent and hoping to see a strip show. It would have been completely forgettable if it weren’t for the fact that I was robbed the second night I was there, I wasn’t mugged, my room got burgled, but the result was the same; I ended up with no money (I had cash rather than travellers cheques), no clothes and no idea.

Two valuable lessons were learned from this unfortunate experience, (i) the value of security, and (ii) the wisdom of having travellers cheques and a money belt, I also got to work in a brewery for six months while I saved enough money to get the fuck out of there.

The second expedition, while being slightly more spectacular, was only marginally more successful. It started with a cross country trip in a  big rig that belonged to a friend’s father (that’s not the actual rig, but it was just like it, and the terrain is the same), followed by a bunch of buses, trains and ferries through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and ended with me being fucked and far from home. I eventually limped back to Perth with about three dollars in my pocket, after having gotten as far as Ceylon (yes, I know it’s Sri Lanka, but Ceylon sounds much cooler).

I got a job in a mine to get enough money to get back to Sydney where I could recover and figure out how I screwed up so badly (I was supposed to get to England). As with the first trip, this too was a learning experience, here I learned a) an absolutely brilliant way to pack my bag, b) heroin isn’t very good for you, and c) Thai girls are great, but they don’t make such great life partners.

Now back in Sydney, I was determined that the next trip would be more successful. So after working as a builder’s labourer long enough to get a thousand dollars, I packed my bag (it’s best to travel with just one bag) with what I now knew to be a successful combination of clothing. ie, t-shirts to swap for local clothes, enough underpants to last a week, some socks, and most importantly some border clothes; these are a nice shirt with a collar, tailored pants and decent shoes (it never ceased to amaze me that there was always a line of boneheads in wife beaters and shorts waiting to have their luggage inspected and wondering how come they always seemed to be the ones getting searched!).

Another thing I learned was that backpacks are like having a sign stapled to your forehead saying "Hi, I’m a Tourist! Please rip me off", therefore I always used a leather barrel bag that allowed me to blend in on arrival. In addition, this time I also figured out a way to include a cut down version of my tool kit so that I could work along the way.

I booked a First Class ticket on the Indian Pacific and was off again…

Indpac

Some random photos

I have a folder that I created just to keep photos (copies actually) that I may use in my blog. Once I have used them I delete them. Every now and then I put stuff in there that doesn’t end up in a post. Well, this post will be the perfect opportunity to get rid of some of them…

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If that thing over my left shoulder looks a lot like a car engine mounted on a pivot stand with the tail shaft sticking out the back, that’s because it is. These things are called long boats, and this is what they look like…

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If that rock looks familiar, it’s because it was in James Bond film, I don’t know which one but somebody probably does.

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The shower facilities aren’t the best, but the views are pretty good.

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