Sunday, October 21, 2007

Coming of age in St Petersburg

Yes I'm 21 on Friday. Or thereabouts. All gifts are welcome but I'll be in St Petersburg on the day in question, probably perfecting my Russian in a dubious bar or club. I can now ask for 120 beers, metro tickets or sets of those little Russian dolls so I'm well on the way to discussing post-Yelsin Russian economic development or perhaps some nineteenth century poetry. Before I get that exciting I have to obtain a visa for Belarus (for later in the trip) and book a rail ticket up north to the Russian Arctic. Unfortunately the Russian I've learnt doesn't cover these eventualities so it will be back to sign language and telepathy to get my requests across. Hopefully my next message will not be from Vladivostock after a catastrophic error at the railway ticket office.

Anyway I need to update from my last point which was Nizhni Novgorod, a town I will always fondly remember for the fact that I managed to get locked inside the Kremlin late one night. Of course it may be normal for Russians to have to climb over the razor sharp and very pointy gates of the Kremlin gatehouse. Or perhaps they're all slim enough to slide under the gate (too many pancake breakfasts and early Baltika sessions put paid to that hope). But I certainly didn't want to get noticed by any police types as I straddled the top of the gate in what was a very tricky manouvre involving complex limb positioning and nerves of steel. The upshot is that I wasn't arrested and I can still father childen. But one slip....

And then to Vladamir and Suzdal which involved more churches than exist in the rest of the world combined and finished with a frankly bizarre international festival of folk traditions, music and dance. Only around eight countries were represented including Nigeria, Albania, India, Spain and our new friends the Moldovans (we hitched a ride on their bus to get out to the festival site). Hypothermia was kept at bay long enough to reach Moscow where I had the good fortune to end up in a rather posh hotel for a couple of nights . The 34th floor bar claimed the best views in Moscow, there was a sushi menu in the shower!!, TV volume control next to the toliet!!!, remote control soft floor lighting!??, and the best breakfast buffet in Russia (that is official). So after caviar for breakfast (red of course) there would be a little sightseeing and the chance to spend huge amounts of money. Thank goodness I managed to.

A brief stop in Novgorod gave me the chance to see some churches (thank goodness) and prepare for St Petersburg which is quite frankly one of the best cities in the world. After a strange first evening involving ex-Russian youth team footballers talking us around supermarkets (too much vodka I'm afraid) it's just been a chance to see the glorious canals, palaces and perhaps another church or two. The weather's been pretty special here too. Good place to turn 21 I think...

This was originally written on 01 October 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

On the curious nature of provincial Russian nightlife

It was probably when I noticed that the barmaid was packing a pistol that I finally concluded that no night out in Russia would ever be entirely normal. It was lodged in a holster round the back of her jeans and I'd only noticed it on the purchase of my third beer. What surprised me most is that I wasn't surprised. I asked her if it was real and on being given an affirmative answer asked for a photo. It turned out that both barmaids in the place were armed and dangerous as you can see in the attached photo album.

But I'd already had a few unusual nights out in Russia. Obviously night one in Siberia I managed to get robbed whilst under the influence of a bit too much vodka. Second time in Russia we ended the first night in Samara at the rock bar and witnessed the most casual police raid I think I've ever seen. I almost expected the cops to pile their weapons in the corner and order a couple of beers at the bar. Samara also introduced us properly to the Russian taxi driver. Whether it be the glamourous blonde who simply didn't look like any taxi driver I've ever seen and certainly wasn't dressed in the manner I'd come to expect of cabbies, or the moonlighting rally driver who on seeing us screeched to a halt in his Lada (giving his bald tires a workout I was frankly surpised to see them come through) and then proceeded to take is on a Pole Position style tour of Samara. Every word we said led to the music being turned up louder or the accelerator being pressed harder (or usually both). The guy was a maniac but we liked him, particularly when we'd finished our journey and we were all still alive.

Kazan was an interesting place even without gun toting bar maids and we managed to make it more interesting for ourselves by getting drunk with Russian mafia (or so they claimed), losing a member of our party in an arm wrestling contest and finding the only restaurant serving food at 10pm was a childrens establishment with huge pirate statues and play areas. To it's credit it did serve beer, I guess Russians need to start early to develop the huge capacity for drink I've noticed thoughtout my time here. We had a camera stolen (and eventually returned) by some local "bad boys" and eventually had to thank a mild mannered bar security man (backed up by our well armed bar staff buddies) for removing the remaining bad boys from our presence. There's plenty more to tell but I can't remember it and of course I need space to tell you about the 101 churches I've visited, the majestic River Volga and the entertaining English Pub in Nizhni Novgorod. No wait I think my time's up....

This was originally written on 18 September 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Chilling on the Volga

Well it's been a while but that's because I've been mostly messing around in the desert. Exciting days of dust, 42 degrees in the shade and extraordinary roads. We've been searching for the evaporating Aral sea and the legendary ship graveyard but nothing seems to be where it should be. Kazakhstan is the 9th biggest country in the world and it sure felt that way for a week and a half. But now I'm in Russia, Samara to be precise and although the weather seemed to change completely on crossing the border at least I'm in an interesting Soviet style hotel, complete with fist hole in the door and a room down the corridor that's been completely bricked in. I've spent my time visiting Stalins bunker (11 floors down into the earth), swimming in the Volga (with all the other mad people who seem eager to do this), and visitng rock bars which serve beer by the litre and only occassionally get raided by a dozen policemen with submachine guns. The raid we witnessed was, apparently, to clear out underage drinkers. As I was (I believe) the 4th oldest in the place I felt fairly safe. All very exciting but not as exciting as the Mexican meal I enjoyed last night. That's all for now, I'm doing my best not to end up in any more ridiculous situations but if I do you'll be the first to know.

And finally a link to a few pictures from Kazakhstan. There's better around but it's tricky to upload at the moment so they'll have to do. I hope you enjoy them.
This was originally written on 14 September 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

I'm glad I crashed the wedding

Ok so since I last wrote I've sliced and diced my legs on a short stroll in the hills, met a kebab seller called Borat and then watched the film of the same name after dinner with a Kazakh couple, and I've camped in the middle of a farm yard (which meant chasing away sheep, goats, horses and cows at one time or another). But I've made it safely to Turkestan home to one of the most beautiful buildings in Central Asia (when it isn't being renovated). And so I headed down to the masuleum yesterday evening to take a few photos. And of course being a Sunday all the wedding parties of the day headed down there as well to have their photos taken. It must have been wedding party number 3 where I met a young Kazakh I'll call Jack (for that's what he called himself). It started off with the standard "What's your name?" and "Where are you from?" but quickly , and rather surprisingly moved on to come on get in the photos. Why Jack seemed determined to ruin his friends wedding pictures by including a sweating, unshaven westerner dressed in last years Chinese fashions I couldn't work out but I'll try to send a couple later to give a fuller flavour. It should have stopped there but somehow it didn't. Suddenly I was being whisked away in a rather full car following, passing, or sometimes swerving round the wedding limo. We were off for more photos at the edge of town and then some toasts to the bride and groom. I was not exempt and as a resident of England (which it appears is a small town in America) was expected to come up with something particularly impressive. Needless to say, I failed. But despite this I was extended I rather informal invite to what I thought was the wedding reception. This was a not particularly ordered dance/dinner/toasting session. It was blazingly hot and I soon added a little more sweat to my already impressive appearance. How the bridal party managed not to passout in their full outfits I can only guess. It turned out that Jack was a bit of a show off and as his guest I was expected perhaps to dance in the rather impressive helicopter/whirling dervish manner that he had patented. Sadly I more closely resembled someones aging uncle failing completely to move his limbs in time with the music being played or indeed any music ever played.

And still it could have ended here. I was close to the hotel and it was as yet a reasonable hour. But no, Jack asked if I had any plans and before I could answer "yes lots" I was bundled into an even more tightly packed car and driven to who knows where. Well it was Jack's house actually and we were stopping for him to change into his favourite dancing outfit. As I had nothing to change into (my dancing outfit remained Chinese T-shirt and shorts, flip flops and a very dirty hat) I simply made do with a spray of Jack's aftershave. The preparation was infact for the formal reception. Hundreds of people were coming, all dressed to the nines. I had a feeking I might stand out a little.

And I wasn't wrong. There were about three hundred people in the hall including two offical video guys. The 4 strong bridal party were on a raised platform at the end of the hall and I was placed on the table next to them. It seemed a friendly enough group and as Jack was doing the rounds with everyone in the room I got to know them a bit better. The one dark cloud was that even this early into the evening I was able to work out that I had the town vodka monster on my table. This of course meant a succession of toasts to whatever he could think of (not that it mattered as Andriy the American couldn't understand a word of it). I did my best to delay the inevitable be eating what ever I could (except for the sheeps head which I politely declined), but the fact that I was drinking Russian cognac only added to my difficulties. This stuff is lethal. Now there were a few gaps as everyone in the room has to go to the back of the room, meant the MC and perform for the crowd. Most people made some sort of toast to the couple (I presume) but some old ladies in headscarves would sing songs and I'm sure there were a couple of comedians out there as well. Even I was called forward, I can't remember what I said but as the only two people that probably would have understood it were blind drunk it didn't really matter. I hope I didn't ruin the video though. The night became a bit more blurry as I ended up finishing the cognac, visited the kitchen for vodka shots and then hit the dance floor with a very energetic grandmother who certainly showed she hadn't forgotten how to move. There's not much else to remember, maybe the communal squat toilets or perhaps the shouts of americanski wherever I went. But to sum up all I can say is that everyone should try a Kazakh wedding reception.... but probably only once.

This was originally written on 03 September 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

On the Beach

Of course I'm not on the beach. I'm infact in the largest city of Kazakhstan, the 9th largest country in the world and a very landlocked country. An increasing number of people now know that apples and tulips originally come from Kazakhstan. But not so many people know that Chris Rea, the popular crooner actually comes from Kazakhstan too. Well we're pretty sure it was him. We were finishing a slow evening at the Guinness pub in Almaty, drawn in by the promise of live music. Well niot much else was live in there, two other punters and a staff who'd clearly rather be home asleep. But as promised we were intoduced to a popular local duo, man and wife, brother and sister, or two strangers who'd met that night, we were never told. It certainly seemed that it might be the latter when they ignored the fact they were in an Irish bar and launched into a particularly moving rendition of "I'll be Washing You" by The Police. Yes English pronunciation was a big issue, and with only every 7th word unslurred it did sound abit like drunken karoake. So it was probably a mistake to cover the Clash. Up to this point we'd only heard the wailings of the female member of the duo, it was only when the guy began to sing that we realised he sounded like a Chris Rea after 10 too many vodkas (or how we imagined this might sound). Immediately a very spooky thing happened as the guy played too (nearly) instantly recognisable Chris Rea songs. And then it was over. No time for autographs or to ask why his command of English seemed so much better on CD. But I guess this sums up nights in Almaty, still not quite what you'd expect.

What I probably did expect was that my bank would refuse to send my new credit cards abroad (despite me having an insurance policy that covers this), it would then mistakenly send the cards to my bank so I'd have to spend the day searching for a fax machine to send authority for someone else to collect them and that for some reason they couldn't hear key phrases on the internet phone when I called to give them further instructions.

So that was Almaty and now there's more terrible roads, more chances for freak wind storms to blow my tent away, more opportunities to view plagues of insects that block out the sun, and of course the ever present local guy who wants to drink a bottle of vodka with you in the middle of nowhere in particular. I can't wait...
This was originally written on 28 August 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Greetings from Ust-Kamenogorsk

If you need help, I'm currently in North-East Kazakhstan enroute for an idyllic lake/river/puddle. I am trying to sort out the fallout from my little incident in Siberia and forget the doom laden feeling I had in Gornal police station (and the taste in my mouth when the investigator lit his 45th ciggarette and I thought I was going to throw up on him). To help me do this I will be staying in another ex-Soviet hotel in Almaty later this week and enjoying a "Bard's festival". Obviously I've no idea what this will entail but I can guarantee there will be absolutely no vodka involved. Anyway I've got to go so more later....

This was originally written on 21 August 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Crime and Punishment

Ok so Dostoevsky got there first but I'll see what I can do with this story of modern Russia. It all stemmed from lack of food, most shops in Mongolia serve nothing but "choco-pies", and lack of sleep, whilst camping I have been kept awake by biting insects, wild dogs, hurricaine force winds (nearly) and the fact that I always seem to put my tent up on top of a hole or on a steep hill. So we finally made it to Siberia after the bizarre Mongola/Russia border and on to the town of Gorno-Altaisk. This place is, according to the Lonely Planet, "a narrow ribbon of Soviet concrete blandness". They weren't wrong. Due to inclement weather we elected to stay at the biggest hotel. The description for this "crumbling Soviet slab" with shared seatless toilets and no shower (well there is actually one for the whole hotel now) finishes with the fact the "Lenin points accussingly to its door". This is true, infact the Lenin statue pointed straight through my window. I have a feeling he was trying to tell me something.

Anyway if I could remember more I would talk about the over excitement that comes from staying in a town for the first time in over a month. Really all that happened was that I had no food, alot of beer, even more vodka (courtesy of an increasing strange set of characters who inhabited the Medea bar on a Friday night. Come Saturday morning it came to light that I was short a wallet, $600 and my mobile phone. I probably have photos of the culprit but the police inestigator kindly advised me that any true investigation would take a long time and that I should simply report them as lost. And so the chain smoking and bureaucratic world of the Russian police force was revealed to me for 4 hours whilst I had photos of my pockets taken, gave 4 million personal details that couldn't possibly be of any importance and got laughed at by assorted men in tracksuits who wandered in and out. I have been told that I was very lucky it was so quick. And having waited 4 days for a police report in China I guess that relatively it was. However I'll be glad not to get involved with the Russian police again as I'm a little unsure about the amount of pieces of paper I signed without understanding anything that was written on them.

Now it's off to Kazakhstan where hopefully my luck will change and I'll win the lottery. I'll let you know when it happens.
This was originally written on 19 August 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

A few photos just so you know I've been

Yes you can catch up with the only photos I was able to upload.

There isn't much to update other than that. We've been to an enormous lake which was gorgeous but stupidly cold for those who stupidly swam in it. Also caught up with some reindeer herders who sold me all manner of nonsense. But it looked so good at the time, a carved fish made out of yak horn, anyone? Now I'm back in Moron before a heavily diverted (due to continuing issues with the plague) trip through western Mongolia, Siberia and Kazakhstan as far as Almaty. No hotels, no ger stays, just camping in the back end of nowhere. I could really do with a bacon sandwich. But enough of my life's ambitions I'm late as usual so I'd better go.

This was originally written on 10 August 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Plague and pestilence

In the mid fourteenth century a strange new disease swept into Europe from the east. The Black Death, as it became known, devastated two continents and killed between a third and a half of medieval Europe's population. And why, you may ask, do I mention this. No I am not (yet) a carrier of this deadly illness, but I have discovered that it's still around. But more of that later.

Because there are of course good things to say about Mongolia. As I sit here in an internet "cafe" in the charming town of Moron, I have time to reflect of the people, the scenery and the questionable foodstuffs. I've trekked around beautiful volcanic crater lakes, walked amongst the ger spotted green rolling hills and shared hot milk with local families. I've also taken 2500 photos (so far). There are also the less fantastic things. The clever short cut I took which involved crossing a ridiculous lava plain of razor sharp rocks. The river crossing which took 5 hours due to crossing the wrong river(twice) and the rainy season starting early. And of course our little problem last night. We were approaching the last bridge before Moron when we noticed some sort of checkpoint. Strangely it appeared that all the staff had face masks, many had full chemical warfare style suits and no-one was getting through. Through our Mongolian fixer we discovered there was an outbreak of marmet (a small furry creature) carried plague. These are the same beasts which are partially blamed for the Black Death and bubonic plague is not much fun at any time. We spent 3 hours at the checkpoint for no apparent reason until we were finally allowed through. We were only required to disinfect ourselves by wiping our feet on a bathmat. I'm not sure how effective this measure will be. Anyway that's all as I think I've got a bit of a fever coming on.

This was originally written on 07 August 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Nothing to report

I am now in noideawhere, which is somewhere in Central Mongolia. There is nothing much to report except for a small incident with a drunk bloke trying to start a fire in my ger, another incident with a drunk travel companion of mine ripping the only snooker table for 200kms and then having it "fixed" with some glue an iron and a large lump of concrete, and a final incident with a drunk bloke and some other drunkards in a curious rural Mongolian disco. I would like to make it clear that the author was only an observer to all these incidents.

This was originally written on 03 August 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Into the steppe

Genghis Khan is everywhere. Pictures, statues, on the currency and on the confectionary. As he was the man of the millenium (according to the Washington Post) it is probablt natural the modern day Mongolia would treat him such a way. But as there probably are only around four products you can by in a typical Mongolian provincial shop then it does mean you see alot of him.
I would like to regale you with stories of living the nomadic lifestyle, travelling from pasture to pasture and occasionally dealng with annoyances by putting an arrow in someones backside. But I haven't been living the nomad dream. Instead I've left a trail of destruction through every ger camp I've been through. This includes utterly destroying a bed simply by trying to get out of it and, my personal favourite, losing the sturdy, wooden door to the tent in a rather strong sandstorm. I still haven't got my luggage so the Mongolian world still know's me by my Chinese "Strength and Endurance" T-shirt and , of course, my "Happy Fatso" pants. However the news on the badly withered and barely functioning grapevine is that I may see my bag in Kharhorin (the old Mongol capital). I'll believe it when I see it.

As I'm under time contraints and am still operating a little slowly due to a dangerous night consuming Genghis Khan beer (probably), "Bears Blood" Bulgarian wine, and of course Genghis Khan vodka with a can of Genghis Khan (a Mongolian rip off of red bull). Have fun and watch out for floods.

This was originally written on 30 July 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

The depths to which I have sunk.

I will be crossing to Mongolia in an hour or so and I will be wearing my new "Happy Fatso" pants (the largest size available in this part of China). That's all I can bring myself to report at the moment.

This was originally written on 20 July 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Shopping for fashion in China

Don't ever do this unless you have to. However as I've got 4 months of travel and absolutely no luggage, courtesy of Heathrow Terminal 4, I've started investigating what a provincial Chinese town can offer the 6 ft 3 style guru. And the answer is vitually nothing. One day you may see the photos, but not if I have anything to do with it. Chances are I won't even get into Mongolia with this kit on. Anyway I've got to go find some socks in something above size 5.

This was originally written on 18 July 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Why the British Empire never really happened.

I can't believe it. The whole last week has been a nightmare of organisation. It's been stress, stress, stress, aside from the 2 wedding days in Cuiaba and Bath which were fantastic. But anyway I'd kept telling myself during those dark hours trying to get the right songs on my ipod that once I got on the plane everything would be ok. Not that this seemed very likely when I arrived at Heathrow yesterday suffering from a major hangover and dicovered that Terminal 4 had been closed due to a broken luggage belt. How... why.... what.... who....!!!!!! A broken luggage belt!!!!!! It was probably at around this time, as I stood amongst hundreads of rather damp fellow travellers outside the terminal, that it occured to me that the British Empire can never really have happened. Just like the moon landings, the death of Elvis and England winning the Ashes in 2005 the whole thing was faked. There's no way this country could have conquered and then administered 25% of the planet. No I refuse to believe it is possible. And this thought has only been strengthened today when I arrived in Beijing (the flight did eventually take off) only to find that my luggage was still somewhere in London (where it will probably be blown up by an over enthusiastic bomb disposal man when he finds all the batteries, alarm clocks and other devices stuffed inside).

So I'm in Beijing with a couple of winter coats (it was 32 degrees centigrade today), 3 cameras (but no batteries) and an order of service from Toby and Helen's wedding (I'll not be singing Jerusalem I'm afraid). I can't smell good, although hopefully I smell better than Beijing itself, I could do with a shave and all I have from BA is a piece of paper with a reference and two phone numbers both of which turned out to be for little old ladies with no history of employment for "The World's Favourite Airline" or indeed anyone else.

So whilst I wait in hope for my faith in Imperial Britain to be restored I've seen some more of Beijing. It's been a little strange even though I avoided the inevitable disastorous and just plain wrong taxi ride from the airport by hiring an executive car and driver (highly recommended if only to see how driving gloves should be worn). During my subsequent wanderings a woman invited me into her shop for a shave which turned out to be a haircut which then looked like it might be a massage. On declining her offer I was then subjected to a barrage of rather heavy blows. I'm not sure what signals I must be given off in my dischevelled state. Later I met a Brazilian saxophonist who invited to come see his jazz act at Suzy Wongs. But due to exhaustion I'm here, not there and will soon be trying the air conditioning and taking advantage of other hotel comforts before a month of camping in Mongolia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. Assuming Britannia finally comes through for me that is....
This was originally written on 16 July 2007. It is from my summer trip from Beijing to Birmingham.

Ouch, that hurt!!

That is a slightly understated version of my now regular outbursts everytime I accidentally sit or lie on my right side. You see I had a little accident whilst on an epic mountain bike trip through the Bolivian highlands. But even worse than the long list of injured spots all over my body is the fact the the main force of my landing (after I had careered over the handlebars) was on my head (always wear a helmet kids) and then my camera. Well I´d owned it for almost 3 months so it was probably time for a change anyway. Medical expert opinion (that is looking at myself in the mirror) suggests I will survive but it was damn close as I finished a few feet away from a 100m drop. So that´s two attempts at off road mountain biking in my life, two crashes and approximately a fifth of either route completed. It´s got to be third time lucky.

Apart worrying about blood poisoning and the understanding of insurance companies I´ve also had a little time in La Paz to wander. It´s a crazily situated place in a huge bowl with mountains all around(-ish). Yesterday I came across various unusal sights (llama fetuses for sale simply being the one I was warned about. More unexpectedly I also witnessed some sort of marching band outside the presidential palace. Ot seemed wildly popular although all it seemed to do was stand still in the afternoon heat for 30 minutes at a time and then play the national anthem (or some other tune which necessitated me to take my hat off) after which everyone would stand still again and try to fidget without being noticed by the quite frightening bloke who seemed to be in charge. However much fun this was it wasn´t quite my highlight of La Paz. No that was definitely the zebras on the zebra crossing by the main square. Yes 4 people dressed as zebras control the traffic and direct people to the crossings at the appropriate time. And they do it with style. Of course I should also mention the donkey with a placard saying something to the effect of "only a donkey doesn´t use the zebra crossing.

Well must go now as I´ve a flight to catch and I need to consider what all the riot police I saw at 4am this morning might have been gearing up for. More later.....
This was originally written on 05 July 2007. It is from my summer trip to Latin America.

High times on the Altiplano

Ok Bolivia. Yes I´ll admit it has surprised me, especially as I only came here to fill some time up before a wedding in Brazil. Suddenly I´ve found myself going to mass at 7.30am and making offerings to the devil in a mineshaft three hours later. No I´m not hedging my bets with regards to the afterlife it´s just that life is tough here and people take help wherever they can get it.

However if I ever have another bus driver like yesterday´s specimen I´ll be selling my soul to the highest bidder as long as he can keep the insane creature´s foot off the accelerator. This cursed gentleman seemed determined to break all Altiplano land speed records despite the road regularly having sheer drops of 300 feet or more in either direction and the tires of the vehicle having no tread whatsoever. Any request for him to slow down was taken as a personal insult and only led him to try and gain an extra few mph from the already straining vehicle. Well I´m now still alive in Potosi and could recount tales of extraordinary landscapes on the Bolivian salt flats, give accounts of freezing temperatures (minus 15 and below) on the high plateau and regale you with stories of maneating llamas and the deadly desert rabbit. But I won´t.

Instead I will briefly pass over a morning which involved me purchasing mild narcotics, some stupidly strong alcoholic bevridges (96 per cent I believe) and some dynamite before heading up to the silver mines to blow things up. This was an experience that my ear drums are still coming to terms with but that´s nothing compared to the guys who work in there from the age of 13. That´s all for now though as there´s a chance I could fit another mass in before dinner.

This was originally written on 01 July 2007. It is from my summer trip to Latin America.

And now it begins.....

Right, there's going to be one attempt at this and due to a dodgy spacebar it mightn't be pretty. The big news is that I've finally started the 5 month soujorn. It's time to forget about 60 hour weeks, over crowded desks and malfunctioning computers. Instead it's 60 hour bus rides, over crowded train stations and malfunctioning bodily functions. I can't wait. After two nights without sleep (that was in the UK for work and packing purposes!!!) I took a flight to Amsterdam and then Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here I briefly met up with Paul, my reason for heading out this way. No we're not in love, I'm actually ushering at his wedding, although he only revealed the ushering bit two weeks ago, and he only told me I'd have to do some ceremonial dance with one of the bridesmaids this morning. But I digress...

Now I'm in La Paz, Bolivia on the one computer in the hotel. A queue is building up behind me and the pressure is stunting my comic imagination. I can see Bolivia will be an interesting place. A country where taxi drivers accelerate non-stop down steep hills. A Spanish speaking country who's biggest airline will only let English speakers sit on the exit rows of their planes (not that I'm complaining). A country with more bowler hats than people (this may not actually be true). Yes I think I'm going to enjoy myself, if these crazed drivers don't finish me off.

(Only China, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, some bits of Europe yet to be decided and Bath (for Toby's wedding) to go.)

This was originally written on 26 June 2007. It is from my summer trip to Latin America.