At least some people read Part 1 of my random list of travel anecdotes, so, as punishment, here is part 2…
Weirdest place you slept
The arrivals room after immigration at Aktau port. Having docked at the port at 1am they let us kip there till day light. Made slightly more weird by the fact that before we went to sleep we watched the end of the Belgium playing USA at the football World Cup.
Best wildlife spotting moment
Without a shadow of a doubt it was seeing the dolphins swim out in front of the bow of the cargo ship that took me across the Atlantic Ocean. Absolutely amazing creatures. Just one of those moments that makes you grin like a moron and your mind empty itself of anything close to a suitable adjective to describe what you’ve just seen.
Best sporting moment
The weirdest sporting moment will have to be seeing the game of “horse polo” played with a headless goat carcass as part of the Kyrgyzstan Independence Day celebrations in Bishkek, but if I was to pick a best sporting moment then it would probably be the ice hockey match I saw way back at the beginning of my trip when my old German friend from University took me to Nuremberg to see the Nurnburg Ice Tigers defeat the Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams (worst team name ever) in front of a pack crowd with crazy support for the home team.
In terms of seeing a new sport (assuming I don’t count the headless goat polo) I enjoyed seeing baseball for the first time, both at Toronto seeing the Blue Jays trounce the Chicago White Sox and also in LA seeing the Dodgers go down to the San Francisco Giants.
Most frustrating “why am I doing this?” moment
In terms of sheer frustration with my decision to not take any flights the biggest issue I had was at Batumi in Georgia. A place I only visited because it was allegedly the easiest place to get a Visa for Azerbaijan and then when I got there it turned out the consulate had been shut down, probably because of how easy it was to get Visas. This all made me very frustrated given that Azerbaijan was a country I was only visiting because I couldn’t get a Visa for Iran and because there was no other way to get to Central Asia other than going through Russia, which would involve going back on myself all the way to Ukraine because of landslides blocking the Georgian/Russia border. A good nights sleep and finding another couple battling with the same problems soon got my spirits back up though.
In terms of wanting to give the whole thing up, the closest I probably came was when it came time to leave Hong Kong. Here the combination of the fact there is much in Hong Kong to make a Brit feel at home and the fact I didn’t really have much of a sense of what I was going to do and where I was going to go when I re-entered China did rather combined to make me feel rather helpless and to give me a bout of nerves that saw me stay in HK for an extra day before I managed to get my brain back in order. Tiredness probably contributed to it. Travelling and staying in hostels is not conducive to good sleep.
Difficult one. The best meal I had was a rather unexpected one at a fantastic restaurant in Sarajevo in Bosnia. A guilty secret would be my fond memories for the instant noodles ubiquitous on any long distance Chinese train, but in terms of my new favourite food, that would have to be Japanese Udon Noodles. I’m still to get around to trying one of the many restaurants in London for fear it won’t match up with my memory of the real thing.
Weirdest photo of me
Japan is weird. Maid Cafés are even weirder…
Burma/Myanmar. By miles and miles and miles.
Where would you recommend to visit?
Rather depends where you are based. If anyone was looking to backpack around Europe I would whole heartedly recommend they focused their trip on the Balkans. Great food, great hostels and fantastically rich and diverse history.
If I was to recommend somewhere in Asia, it would be Burma/Myanmar, especially if you have enough time to go beyond the main tourist stops.
If you live in America than I must insist that at some point you take in one of the trans-continental railroad trips you can take with Amtrak. I blab on about why some more here.
Finally if you wanted somewhere a bit left-field but still not completely off the beaten track, then check out Uzbekistan. Plenty of tourist infrastructure, even if it is aimed more at citizens of the ex-USSR, some truly beautiful buildings and cityscapes that will have you thinking you have wandered into some sort of fantasy novel, and a black market exchange rate that makes things conveniently cheap.
Strangest border crossing…
Entering China from Kyrgyzstan via the Turagat Pass. Not only was this a rather cool drive via barren Luna-esq landscape, but when we reached the border, the gate (yes literally a big gate across the road) was shut. On the other side the Chinese border guards were having a photo-shoot. Eventually they did open up the gate, but not to let people through. Instead they drove a 4×4 up to it, opened the doors and they adopted an array of firing positions with their rifles! Things got even weirder when they got one of the cars queuing up to get into China to move forward so the soldier with the camera could climb up on its bull bars for a better angle! Perhaps unsurprisingly given they were literally pointing multiple rifles at me, I could only get a sneaky photo through the window of the car I was in.
What would you have packed differently?
Washing line was a complete waste of time. Taking along my little Mr Happy soft toy seemed like a fun idea but a fear of losing him meant that whilst he may have been around the world he hasn’t seen too much beyond the inside of my bag. There is probably a few other things I didn’t really need. In many places for example the hostels will provide you with a towel which makes dragging one around potentially unnecessary and when I lost mine in Mexico I didn’t miss it. Ultimately it’s probably easier to pack light and pick up other things as you need them.
Two things I would emphasise though would be:
Where will you go next?
I would still love to check out Iran and Russia, both countries I ended up missing out on that I had originally planned to visit. Elsewhere Ethiopia is another place I’d love to check out sooner rather than later.
Best travel song you picked up?
Not one I picked up but if I had a soundtrack it was probably a Ministry of Sound Trance album I had, Carte Blanche by Veracocha livened up many a long bus journey.
In terms of picking up the local tunes the biggest ear worm would have to be “Little Apple” which bounced around my head long after I had left China where I can only imagine its part of some government program to drive its citizens mad.
Biggest “is this legit” moment
Got to be the “ticket office” at Baku port. Yup, that looks legitimate…