Archive for the ‘Couchsurfing’ Category

The Uncle has returned to his Nephew

Friday, October 29th, 2010

I realized I hadn’t told the travel-log that I’ve returned home… 😛 It’s been eventful:

Went to Kuala Lumpur and had great fun with friends. Also got robbed in my room, and lost my eeePC and my iPhone.

Plane from KL to London got delayed by 3 hours, so my transfer from Stansted to Gatwick through London was in the middle of the night, after the last tube. Molto interessante…

Stayed a few nights in Oslo, first with cousin Gaute, his wife Beate and their son, my Godson, Filip. Next I stayed a couple of nights with Valdis, who visited me in the Perhentians a while ago. I stayed until Sunday, when my cousin Maya had her firstborn, Filippa, baptized.  Then I drove to Arendal with my grandparents, and then to Vanse with my father the next day. Visited little sister Johanne in uni in Kristiansand on the way, and saw her appartment.

Stayed a few nights in Vanse, then drove to Sandnes, or rather Johanne drove the car and I instructed. Got to see my nephew, Terje, and his parents Jenny and Tom. Terje now walks and talks. My sister Jenny is about the size of a small house. Technically she sort of IS a small house, to my niece-to-be who is due to leave her snug home in November to join the rest of us out here in the cold of Norwegian winter.

I am currently staying with Odd Helge in Stavanger, looking for an appartment with a couple of friends here, Trine and Annikken.
There. That’s a little update on what I’ve been up to lately.

Luxury in Tulamben

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Yesterday afternoon, Jon and I arrived in Tulamben around half past four. The others were there already, lounging lazily in the lovely open livingroom of our huge villa. We had a nice little pool, a fantastic lawn, and the sea just beyond. We joined them in the good life until we were picked up for the dive at six. We entered the water right after sundown, and had a wonderful dive on the Liberty. At first sight of the wreck, there was a group of massive bumphead parrotfish, and the dive was filled with life from end to end. Before we went up, the last skill we had to demonstrate, was a 3 minute lights out while kneeling on the sand. The amount of luminescent algae was impressive, and being the total geek that I am, I was gesticulating and casting “fireballs” the whole time…

After dinner, we were driven back to the villa, where we emptied the minibars, joked and laughed. This morning there was breakfast next door, and then I had a long HOT shower in the classy roofless bathroom… 😀

We did two dives today as well, just for fun. The first dive was on the wreck, and the second one in Coral Garden. Now we are on our way back to Blue Season, and I’ll spend my last night in Bali at Leo’s.

Bye bye Bali

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Since I finished my diving specialties, I haven’t really been doing much… My days have been spent on the beach, walking around Sanur, surfing the net and watching movies and tv series.

I’ve had excellent company in my days of laziness, though. I managed to get in touch with Leonid, a couchsurfer I met in Irkutsk in Siberia, november 2008! He was hitchhiking back then, and his goal was Bali. A year ago, five months after I last saw him, he reached Bali, and he’s since set himself up with a job in a real estate office right here in Sanur! This week he had two couchsurfers staying at his place, Gosia from Poland and Houda from Morocco, and I spent a lot of time with them. Gosia is a backpacker who came here from New Zealand and Australia, heading up north, basically going back to Europe overland, the same way I came here a year ago. Houda lives in Malaysia, and was here on a visa run, to get another 90 days’ stay.

Yesterday my copy of winXP refused to start up, saying it needed activation. I couldn’t activate it, because it was an oem version from another machine, so I headed off to Denpasar to find a place where I could get hold of an external DVD-player to run the recovery DVD off of. I was told there was an electronics mall called Rimo, where I could get a good deal. The deal I got when I found the place was indeed good. I had a good time talking to a young Indonesian guy, while I borrowed the store’s external DVD-player, and it was completely free! The only drawback is that it just ghosted the standard installation, and that one is full of Microsoft’s crappy little programs that take up storage space and processing power for no intelligent reason…

I have now checked out of Little Pond, where I’ve been staying since got here. My luggage is stored in Blue Season, and in about an hour I head up north to Tulamben with Jon, my course director, for the Night Diving Specialy Instructor course dive that was postponed. We’re staying in Tulamben tonight, and head back here tomorrow. My last night in Bali, I couchsurf with Leo, and late Tuesday night I have a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Supplies!

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

October 19

So. Two weeks ago I posted from KL, and later that day I headed to the airport. By 1am I was on a plane from KL to London Stansted, where I had to spend 27 hours, due to a slight brain hiccup in the booking process…

I bought a ticket from Kuala Lumpur to London, leaving in the middle of the night on October 6, and arriving the next morning. So, being slightly retarded, I booked a ticket from London to Oslo on the morning of October 7, not taking into consideration that when I’d arrive in London it would of course STILL be October 6… When it dawned on me, I tried to change my ticket from London, but that was about 10 times as expensive as the original price of the ticket, and a new ticket on the correct date was about 15 times as expensive. So, I organized a couchsurfing host in Bishop’s Stortford, next to Stansted airport, and prepared for a stay-over.

The stay-over was actually a lot of fun, as I got to experience small town England for the first time. 🙂 My host was working as cabin crew for Ryan Air, and we spent the day exploring Bishop’s Stortford. (He’d moved there 10 days earlier, so he didn’t know the town either) The evening was spent in an old English pub, even though I was dead tired, seeing as my jet lag made midnight in London feel like seven in the morning…

On October 7 I flew to Torp, and hitchhiked to Oslo, where Annikken was waiting for me. She had made me an awesome Tiramisu (my favourite dessert!) and we cooked a nice Norwegian dinner. She was leaving for Stavanger the next morning, so I wrote to my cousin Gaute on msn and asked if he had plans for the evening. 😉 He answered a mildly confused “uuh, no? Why?” and was slightly more than mildly surprised when I invited myself over!

I spent a long weekend with him, his wife Beate and their three year old son Filip, who is my godson (fadderbarn).

On Monday morning, a week ago, I got on a bus to Arendal, where I dropped in on a surprise visit at my grandparents’ house. When I got there, the door was open, so I walked right in, and when I was on my way up the stairs, my 85 year old grandpa called out for my grandma. I answered “No, it’s not her, it’s a surprise!” Needless to say, he was surprised, as was my grandma when she came home for dinner a few minutes later… 😉 I visited my other grandma as well that evening, and the next morning I headed west again, to surprise my parents. I hitchhiked to Kristiansand with a nice lady who was going to the university, and then through Kristiansand with a guy my age, who had recently been on a long backpacker trip. (!) From there to Vanse I got on a bus, and walked up the drive to my parents house. My father saw me through the window from his office, and opened the window but was too surprised to say anything coherent. The look on my mother’s face could not have been any more surprised if I’d been a green Martian… 😀

I stayed with my parents a short week, ordered a new Visa card (the old one was destroyed by mould in the Perhentians) and returned my malfunctioning EeePC901 to the dealer. On Saturday I also went diving with Farsund Undervannsklubb, the local dive club where my parents live. It was a beautiful day, and we were four people who headed out to Ytstesteinen, far out in the archipelago outside Farsund. The water temperature was around 13 degrees, quite different from the 29-30 I’m used to… I had no clue as to how much lead I had to take down, seeing as the last time I did any dry suit diving was a year ago, and I was a complete newb… I took three kilos less than I used before I left home, down from 16 to 13, and was HORRIBLY over weighted. 😛 I’ll try with nine next time…

This morning I hitchhiked from Vanse to Bogafjell, where I eventually managed to locate my little sister’s house, and rang the door bell. When she opened, she told me later, she was prepared to tell some annoying door-to-door salesperson to bugger off, when I shouted Supplies! for the n’th time this week. 😛 A short while later my brother-in-law came home, and another surprise was sprung… It was REALLY nice to finally meet my little nephew Terje, who is named after my grandpa, his proud great-grandfather! Terje junior was born in February, so he’s almost eight months old. As I write this, my sister and brother-in-law are at a cell group gathering with their congregation, and the proud Uncle Travelling Gjerulf is babysitting his only nephew!

October 22

Yesterday I called up a few friends of mine in Stavanger, and arranged to meet them at The Irishman for our traditional Wednesday night at the pub. 🙂 A couple that I hadn’t called also showed up, and there were welcome-back-hugs all around. I’ve stayed the night at Hallgeir’s place, and am looking for a job and a place to live until I go back to Malaysia in March. 😉 If you’re around, give me a holler!

Kuala Lumpur

Monday, October 5th, 2009

On Wednesday, my first morning in Singapore, I went sightseeing with a dutch girl I met in my hostel. We went to see the biggest fountain in the world, and were a bit disappointed… What was cooler was to actually see the tracks from the F1race the weekend before, and some of the huge stands for the audience that had been rigged up around the place. In the evening I went to Singapore zoo for the famous night safari. It was nice to see a zoo where the animals seemed to have a decent life!

The next day I had the most expensive cup of coffee of my life, in the City Space bar on the 71st floor of the Swissotel Stamford. The next point on my agenda was to have a Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel Long Bar, where the drink was first invented. I got there though, and it was filthy. You get free peanuts with your drinks, and there were peanut shells EVERYWHERE. It was crunching under my flipflops when I walked in, it crunched under my bum when I sat down, and the tables were so full of peanut shells that there was barely room for glasses and when the waiters were clearing the tables, they just shuffled it all down on the floor… It was not very nice, and the service was extremely slow, so I flung the whole idea of a Sling out the window.

In the evening, I went to dinner and drinks in Little India with a bunch of couchsurfers. After a late night at the Singapore couchsurfers’ usual hang out, I was talked into staying another day, and go clubbing with Nikki from Singapore, and we asked Glenn from Norway to join us. Hence, on Friday, instead of going to Kuala Lumpur, I went out and bought a pair of dress shoes for 10 S$, and was then ready for the clubs. The rest of the daylight hours I pent walking around Fort Canning Park, and learning about Singaporean history from the information boards along the historical paths.

In the afternoon I met Simin, a schoolmate from my Italian days, for dinner, and she came along clubbing as well. We went to a fancy club called “Attica” on Clarke’s Quay, where we (to Nikki’s disappointment, I think) dropped the dancing, and sat talking into the small hours of the morning, and shared a bottle of Moet, courtesy of Glenn. I had a great time!

The next morning it was time head out to Kuala Lumpur. After about three hours of sleep, I got up around nine, and took the subway to the border, and a bus across. The border crossing was intensely crowded and took forever, but I finally arrived at Larkin bus station in Johor Bahru on the Malaysian side, and immediately got on a bus for KL. I’d been texting Seth with regular intervals since that morning, but since I didn’t get any reply, I assumed I’d written down the wrong number. When I arrived in KL around 6pm, I sat down somewhere that had WiFi, and looked up the number, and it turned out Seth had given me wrong instructions as to what to do with the area code when adding the country code. When I got it sorted out, he gave me directions to his place, and I got in a cab and went over. The evening was relaxed but fun. We went over to Ali’s place, another diver I met in the Perhentians, and who lives in the same apartment complex as Seth, and played Rock Band on his PS3. To round up a good evening, we went around the block to one of the best night spots in KL for a couple of beers before bed.

Yesterday I bought some clothes, cuz the ones I had made in Nepal are getting worn out, and today I’ve had lunch in KL Tower. It was a bit costly, but worth it for the view, just like the coffee in Singapore. (and it was only about twice the price of the cup of coffee anyway, for an eat-till-you-drop buffet…) Today I’m hoping to meet with another friend from the Sunlight Divers for tea, but I don’t have his phone number, so it’s looking bleak…

May 17 in Pattaya

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

May 15

I reached a decision as to where to head next on Wednesday, and bought a bus ticket to Bangkok for the following morning. The dreaded road from Siem Reap to the Thai border has been renewed, and is now one of the best roads I’ve seen in months. The border crossing was long, hot and tedious, and the wait for our connection from the border into Bangkok was just as bad, but around 6pm we were finally there. I tagged along with some other travellers from the same bus, and we found a cheap guest house in the pouring rain. The rainy season is just on time, and at least a shower is to be expected every afternoon, but that doesn’t make it any colder, only more wet… 😛

This morning we all went out for breakfast together, before I started looking for a way to get to Pattaya. A crowded inner city bus took me from the backpacker area around Khao San Road to Siam Square, and from there I got on the Sky Train. It’s been over six years since the last time I was riding that same line to my then hotel on Sukhumvit Road, with the aircon blasting, and an ingratiating female voice announcing the stations, my favorite being NANA, pronounced in a distinctive nasal voice… I got off next to the bus staion on Ekkamai, bought a ticket, and was on the bus about ten minutes later.

Last night I did a CouchSearch, and put out a request for a couch in Pattaya. When I arrived here, I found a place where I could use the net, Viking hotel and restaurant, and found to my surprise that the request went through, on such short notice! One of the girls working here let me borrow her cell to call the guy, and now I’m expecting him here in a few minutes.

Tomorrow I guess I’ll see if I can find the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, and on Sunday I’ll be celebrating there, with the Norwegian community here. I’m curious to see what it’ll be like, I’ve never been to an official celebration the Norwegian National Day outside of Norway before. When I lived in Italy we’d get together for a breakfast and some waving of flags, but here I’ve read they even have a march! 🙂 For all of you back home, enjoy the weekend, and have a good 17th of May, hipp hipp hurra!

May 16

So. Things don’t always work out as planned. The couchsurfer I was going to stay with showed up, but he had a Thai girl with him, and said I couldn’t come because she was going to stay with him. We went out for dinner, I met a couple of his friends, and I checked into a crappy guest house instead. Pattaya is known for the sex tourists coming here, but I had no idea to what degree before I got here. One of the couchsurfers’ friends was showing me around, since my host was “busy”, and the friend stated quite matter-of-factly that he’d slept with 20 girls in the past 10 days, but he did not consider himself a sex tourist, since he didn’t go with girls that wanted payment, only the opportunists looking for a rich husband. He was in his mid-thirties, doing his job over the net, and doing quite well for himself, so he put himself in a different category than the retired old men who come here for whores. Like he said, “they know that I’m only in it for the sex, and I know that they’re only looking to land a rich, western husband or lover and benefactor, so the playing field is level and we both know the rules…” He did not appear to have any qualms about taking advantage of the fact that these girls have only that one chance to find a way out of poverty, or even considering himself to be taking advantage of it. He was an otherwise nice guy, and wanted to show me more of the city today, but I didn’t know if I could take another evening talking to someone with opinions that deluded, so I claimed to have plans…

I found out in other ways too, why the Thais in Bangkok that I asked about how to get to Pattaya looked confusedly at me and wondered if I was sure I wanted to go there… There are at least two “Go go bars” or strip clubs on every street. The pubs that aren’t strip joints, have “bar-girls”, pretty girls who hang around and shout lewd suggestions at people walking by, or physically ambush them, to get them into the pub.  There are at least three massage parlors on every street, and two of them will offer a “happy ending.” The staff at any kind of establishment will also offer other services, like this example from yesterday: I needed to do some laundry, so I took a bag of my dirty clothes to a place that offered laundry service. One of the women working there sorted through the clothes, told me how much it would cost to clean and also wanted to know if I’d like to have sex with her while the clothes were being washed!

This morning I checked out of my guest house because it smelled too much of mould in the room, seeing as it had no window, except one facing the hallway… At noon I headed over to the church for the Saturday Rice Porridge, and met some of the people who live here. There were a lot of retired people, as I had expected, but also a couple of other backpackers, here to celebrate May 17 as well. I asked one of the volunteers there if there were any decent but cheap places to stay, and she was going to show the three of us to an OK place. One of the retired people I’d talked to over dinner, Liv, came over as I was talking to the other backpackers, though, and said she had a spare bedroom, and asked if I wanted to borrow it for a couple of nights! Here I am now, in a big appartment on the 31st floor, with my own bedroom and bathroom! 🙂 Tomorrow we’re getting a free May 17 breakfast at the church before Service, and later there’ll be the celebrations.

May 19

SjomannskirkenThe celebrations for May 17 were very nice. At ten am there was a short service outside the church, and then a proper Norwegian breakfast. At noon there was the parade, but the marching band was exchanged for a pick up truck with a sound system. 🙂 The parade ended on a big lawn, where there were the usual speaches, ice cream, hot dogs and games. Most of the time the weather was swelteringly hot, but we had a half hour of tropical rain as well… There were somewhere between 150 and 200 people, most of them retired people who’d moved out there, but there were a couple of other backpackers as well. They were going to Bangkok the next day as well, so after we’d spent the evening together, we made plans to meet up the next day and go together. We arrived back in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow we’re headed out to Laos on the overnight train.

We met some nice Brits in Bangkok last night, and with them, we tried crickets and some roachlike insects. They were pretty good, but they obviously look gross… 😛

Temples of Angkor

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I am now travelling alone again. Annikken and I spent our last night together in Vietnam in the company of Karoline, Jake and Bryan at the GO2 in Saigon. I stayed in a cheap dormitory that night, and Bryan saw what it looked like when he followed me over to get money for the bus to Cambodia. They made fun of it the whole night, but when it came down to it, I slept like a baby. 🙂
Early Monday morning I went to the guest house where our three new friends were staying, had breakfast with them, and got on the bus to Phnom Penh. Later the same day, Annikken got on a plane to go to Hong Kong, then London and finally Oslo, but I didn’t see her that day, as I left too early. This goes out to you Annikken: It was really nice to see you again, and to travel with you, even though I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with anyone in go, ever. The more I think about it, the stranger I find it that we didn’t have more fights!

On the bus, one of the bus company guys collected all our passports, and filled out our Cambodian immigration forms for us. I was going to buy my visa on the border, and the bus guy said he’d fix it for me, the price was seventyfour dollars. I got worried, because I didn’t anticipate such a high price, and told him as much. He kept sticking to his price, but I just didn’t have that much dollars on me, so I couldn’t give it to him. When we got to the border, I fixed the visa myself, for 20 dollars, and it took about five minutes. This is the kind of behavior I’m getting tired of, you ALWAYS have to be worried about getting ripped off.

Before we got to Phnom Penh, we decided to keep going directly to Siem Reap, as the others were flying out of Phnom Penh later, anyway. We arrived there in the evening, really tired, but booked a trip to Angkor the next morning anyway.

The alarm went off at 4:45am on Tuesday, and we were off at 5, in our little Tuk-tuk. The one day ticket cost 20 dollars, and was printed with our photo on it, taken at the counter! Around 5:30 we reached Angkor Wat, the temple city, itself, and together with the crowd of tourists, we watched the sun rise over the thousand year old temple complex. We spent the next couple of hours exploring the huge temple, climbing stairs and photographing bas-reliefs and fascinating architectural details. The only disappointment was that the stairs to the upper level had been closed off, because they’re so steep, and some tourists have fallen down and hurt themselves.

At the end of it we met up at the tuk-tuk, and continued to Angkor Thom, the Great City. Angkor Thom was the capitol of the great Khmer empire, and the area housed about a million people around the turn of the last millennium! Much of it was swallowed by the jungle after the fall of the empire, and some claim that there are still undiscovered structures hidden in the dense growth, even though most of the sites are overrun by tourists. We were among them, as we entered through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, over a bridge where statues of men holding the bodies of two great seven-headed Nagas formed the balustrade on each side. Once inside, the jungle still grows, but is kept at a distance, so it more closely resembles a park. The second stop inside the walls, after breakfast, was the Bayon temple, with a stunning 54 towers, each adorned by a smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, in what they say is a great likeness to the face of the king who had it built, King Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181-1219. Inside Angkor Thom is also the Baphuon, which was constructed by King Udayadityavarman II who ruled from 1049-65. In the 15th century parts of it was dismantled, and used to build a seventy meters long reclining Buddha, which is still part of the rear of the structure. We went to the Royal Palace with Phimeanakas, and to the Elephant terrace, where the kings would watch elephant races and acrobat shows and other entertainment. At the opposite side of the racing ground were big towers, between which long wires used to be fastened, for acrobats to “fly” through the air before the eyes of their audience. We had lunch before we left, and then headed out the east gate of Angkor Thom.

The first place we stopped at once outside, was Ta Keo, which is almost devoid of carvings. Lightning struck the temple before it was finished, and this was considered such a bad omen that construction was just left as it was, and to this day the place looks like it’s almost done, and is only lacking decoration.

Our last stop was Ta Prohm. This temple is the only one close to Siem Reap that is still partly overgrown, but even here the growth is kept down, and only the biggest trees with the largest roots are left standing. King Jayavarman VII, who also built Bayon, built this temple dedicated to his mother, and it contained massive treasures. Some of the many Sanskrit inscriptions apparently state that there used to be thousands of pearls and precious stones, and golden dishes weighing more than half a ton each! The one thing that the temple is most known for today, however, is that Angelina Jolie was here as Lara Croft for the filming of a couple of scenes for Tomb Raider… By the time we were done sneaking through dark galleries and climbing over roots and fallen pillars like Indiana Jones, it was getting late, and we headed over to Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill, where we watched the sunset before heading home for dinner. By the time we got back to our hotel, we’d been walking around for 14 hours, and my feet were sore in my new sneakers.

The last couple of days, I’ve been taking it easy, reading and relaxing. Jake, Bryan and Karol left for Phnom Penh on Wednesday, and went looking for a cheap hotel. I ended up in a place called Sakura Village, where I’m staying in a double room with aircon, my own bathroom, cable TV and minibar for 5 dollars per night. One of the things that are peculiar about Cambodia, is that the ATM machine only dispense US dollars… To change to Riel, the local currency, you need to go to street-side exchange operations or banks! The Riel is used instead of cents, so that one dollar divides into 4000 riel of small change, but price is almost always given in dollars. Across the street from where I stay, is a hotel called Soria Moria. Because of the name, a palace in the clouds from a Norwegian fairy tale, and because it had a Norwegian flag, and promised Scandinavian food, I went there Wednesday night. It was run by a couple from Sandefjord, and I spoke briefly with the wife. It was one dollar night, with tapas at a buck a piece, so I stayed a while, and sampled amongst other things the Swedish meat balls… They also had free Wifi, and when I got online, I found that there was to be a small Couchsurfers’ meeting that night, at a place called… Soria Moria! I kept hanging around, and eventually met up with a group of surfers. After dinner, three of us went to the Bar Street to play pool, and after several rounds eventually ended up playing Wii Sports in a bar until time came to head off to bed. 🙂
Yesterday I sat in a garden restaurant reading all day, just enjoying life, and today I am meeting with a German guy Annikken and I met in Hoi An. First though, I am planning to go see if I can find this place that’s supposed to have some nice miniature landscapes, copies of the Angkor areas, and get some nice bird’s eye view photos. 😉

PS: It’s REALLY IS a small world. On my last day in Vietnam, I walked into a restaurant to have an iced coffee, and I started talking to some of the other patrons. Two of them were Swedes, and the third was a Norwegian they’d met and travelled with for a couple of days. His name was Jostein, and he went to school with one of my best friends, Hallgeir…

VietCong’s Cu Chi Tunnels

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 22

My plane was an hour late, but I got through immigration without problems. Annikken was waiting for me when I arrived, and we took a taxi with a Canadian woman to the backpacker area De Tham in Saigon (=Ho Chi Minh City=HCMC). We bargained for accomodation, and managed to get it down to eight dollars for a room for the both of us.

We tried to get a CS host in Saigon, but due to some misunderstandings and short notice, we’re spending our nights in Saigon in a hotel (read: room above an arts and crafts shop). The temperature down here is a scorching thirty five degrees centigrade, and we’re both having a bit of trouble adjusting to the climate. We’re travelling together for the next couple of months, so the coming weeks we’ll share this blog.

Yesterday was mainly spent resting and trying to recover from jet lag and sleep deprivation respectively, while both attempting to cope with the dramatic climate change. In the afternoon, however, we had a nice walk around down town Saigon. The parks were filled with teenagers and young adults playing games. The most prominent is kicking around things made of layered plates of plastic, with tails of feathers, as if they were hackeysacks. Another favorite pass time is apparently hiding from parents, making out on all the benches in the darker shadows in the park. A striking point to be made on the layout of the city, are the abrupt changes between different quarters. On our side of the park is the backpacker area, while the park was almost all Vietnamese youngsters. On the other side of the park we entered an area catering to well off Vietnamese professionals, and at the north end were all the luxury hotels. Amongst them is the New World Hotel Saigon, where Annikken will be spending her last well deserved night in Vietnam, drinking her long awaited champagne after backpacking for sixty days. Google it and and weep! 😀

We decided early to try to mostly eat traditional and local cuisine preferably outside of the typical tourists areas, dining where the vietnamese dined, from street vendors or similar. So yesterday at lunch we started our food adventure by buying baguettes from the street vendors, one with tofu and one with ham, filled with lots of vegetables and different kinds of tasty sauces, and for desert a big pineapple. Unsurprisingly this tasted fantastic and we will without a doubt try this again. For dinner however, Gjerulf decided to be a bit more adventurous and we sat down at a street barbeque and ordered a whole frog WITH skin as well as grilled pork to be a bit more on the safe side.

This morning we got up early and headed off to see the Cu Chi tunnels, for which the American War (that’s the Vietnam war to you Americans:)) is famous. On the way there we stopped to see a laquer-workshop run by vietnamese who were handicapped due to the military use of the chemical Agent Orange. The workmanship was fabulous, but being backpackers with weeks and months left to travel we couldn’t very well stock up on the awesome trinkets. At Cu Chi, the Vietnamese soldiers dug small tunnels under the ground, to stay hidden from American bombers and infantry. The tunnels were tight, with little oxygen and less light, but the construction was fantastic. The area was spiderwebbed with tunnels, so that if a bomb broke through the ground and destroyed some chambers or tunnels, there were always ways to circumvent the missing parts. On three levels, at 3, 7 and 9 meters under the surface, the lowest tunnels needed air shafts to supply oxygen. They were built by drilling bamboo pipes from the surface to the ground, and disguising the opening at the top as a termite mound! The tunnels were in places riddled with booby traps, to stop any unwelcome visitors, and deep fresh water wells to get drinking water. We were shown how they popped up of the hidden entrances, some of the ingeniously cruel traps, got to taste the food they ate (mainly tapioca) and had the opportunity to fire weapons from the period, like the AK47, M30 and others. Annikken had done it before, and Gjerulf is pasifist, so we skipped directly to the tunnel walk. The tunnels were widened and heightened to fit westerners, but it was still a pretty claustrophobic squeeze, running at a crouch through the pitch black heat. We were told the widened tunnels would feel to us as the originals feel to the Vietnamese. The small size of the tunnels was a great defense against American soldiers, who’d have no chance following into the tunnel system.

Tomorrow we’re off to Mui Ne, a five hour bus ride from HCMC. It’s a famous beach resort, and we’re looking forward to finally throwing ourselves into the turquoise water, and lie on the beach under a clear blue sky. The bus leaves at eight am, so Annikken is headed to bed, while Gjerulf goes out to see if he can meet some CS’ers for a little while.

RP’er LFG in Ktm! WoD, D&D, MERPG, VtM, GURPS, anything!

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

First of all, an important announcement: the title Uncle Travelling Gjerulf is no longer a lie… On February 27 around noon Norwegian time, my little sister Jenny gave birth to my first nephew! This picture is taken the same evening, sent to me by my mother, the proud grandma. 😀

Now for the heading… I would very much like to play some roleplaying games again! I’ve been thinking about this game I’d like to run in the World of Darkness setting, but I’d also just love to play any game of RPG… I’ve just posted on the Nepal forum in CouchSurfing.com to see if there are any other gamers around, wasting for a session of dungeon crawling or blood curdling horror gaming, or any gaming at all, really….

Day care centre for mentally handicapped childrenIn the past couple of weeks I’ve been to youth gatherings, organized a Sunday Service and had the sermon in church, read books, had diarrhea again, visited a day care centre for mentally disabled children, said goodbye and hello to Mikhiel a couple more times, gone trekking again, and bought plane tickets Kathmandu-New Delhi-Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City.

Mikhiel came from Tibet, then went to Chitwan National Park, came back, went to a buddhist retreat, came back, and then eventually left for good, to go to India. we talked a bit about his buddhist retreat, and it seems very close to the Christian retreats I’ve heard of, with teaching, silent contemplation, prayer and meditation. Mikhiel is probably the one person I’ve spoken to most in the past four months. I met him, as you remember, at the CS-meeting in Irkutsk, we went to Lake Baikal together, then we met in Ulan Bator for a few days, and now here in Kathmandu.  The other day I met up with another CS’er, Sanna from Finland. She is here for volunteer work, but after a week her coordinator still has to give her anything to do. My volunteer work is also limited, so we spent a day roaming Kathmandu’s Durbar Square (Durbar means Palace) and finished the day with a beer on the rooftop terrace at my house.

Water shortages are a fact of living in Kathmandu. It is most obvious in the fact that there is less and less electricity as the rivers are running dry. It’s been a very dry winter, and the only rainfall since I got here was a couple of weeks ago, and came in the form of a very light drizzle that lasted for about three minutes. The holy garbage dump, (some call it “river”) Bagmati is almost dry, which leaves all the feces, human ashes, and other waste of the city just lying there. At  the house where I live, a truck comes in every once in a while and fills a cistern in the yard, from which I pump up water to a smaller cistern on the roof whenever there’s electricity to run the pump. On the roof is also a setup that very effectively heats water using the heat of the sun. Saturday a week and a half ago, the house manager ordered more water, but because there’s so little water to be had, it took ten days to arrive, and then I only got 1500 liters… The last seven of those ten days, there was too little water in the cistern in the yard for the pump to get any up to the roof, so I had no running water. No running water means no filtered water, no showers, and most importantly: No water for flushing toilets… In order to get water for flushing, and also for washing myself, I climbed down into the cistern in the yard, where I sat scooping water into buckets, that I hauled  in to the bathroom. Impractical you say? Well, I say “At least there WAS water.” If it’d been another couple of days before the water truck arrived, I figure I’d have had to start using a bucket for a toilet, and dig a hole in the yard to empty it…

The service on Sunday was very good. The youth did everything from leading the service and playing to the worship, to preparing and showing the power point presentation and filming the service. I now have about ten gigabytes of  video that I need to send back to Vardeneset, but I’m having trouble uploading photos for this journal, and I can’t imagine trying to upload several gigs of video… I’ve also been told not to trust the postal system here, so I don’t want to send the memory cards back from here. The post offices are complaining about rats eating the mail, but people say these “rats” must be very choosy, seeing as it’s only valuable mail that gets “eaten”…

I mentioned my tickets. I wanted to go to South East Asia without going by plane, but my plans have been thwarted by political circumstances. It is not possible to go from India into Burma/Myanmar, and there are no boats heading around. This means that I have to fly. Originally, I was supposed to meet my friend Annikken in Vietnam in March, then she got into law school, and our Vietnam travels were postponed till summer holidays. Now it turns out she didn’t like law school, and we’re on for March again. This means that I’m skipping India for now, going directly to Vietnam when my volunteer period is over here in Kathmandu. On March 19 I am taking a plane to New Delhi. I wait at the airport in New Delhi for almost eight hours, and catch a flight to Bangkok, where I arrive early in the morning on the 20th. After over nine hours at Bangkok airport, I head on to Ho Chi Minh City. I leave Kathmandu at 15:45 Nepal time, and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at 17:35 Vietnam time, 24 hours and 35 minutes later… To be honest, I would much rather take the train for three days, than hanging around planes and airports for 24 hours…
Annikken arrives about half an hour later, and after we go through immigration, we’re hoping we’ll have a CS host to head off to.

I have spent a long time typing this out while doing other things online at the same time, so now I have almost no battery left. It’s still two hours till electricity comes back, so I can’t just plug in the charger either… Oh well, at least I got the post up! I also posted some pictures, but I haven’t taken many in the time when I haven’t been a tourist here. 😉

Hoping to get some pics of  tame elephants and wild rhinos, bengal tigers and crocodiles in a couple of weeks… I am going to Royal Chitwan National Park! 😀

Proposal of marriage

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

It’s turning out to take a bit longer between each time I post, now that I’m not moving around. This is for several reasons. I already mentioned that I don’t have internet access at home, but I’m now at the Higher Ground café, which is the only café I’ve found that offers free WiFi for the customers. Also I’m a bit more busy, and my activities are a bit more commonplace and thus a little less interesting to write about. 🙂 I’ll relate a little from the past week that has been memorable, though.

Early Saturday morning, I took a bus out to Suriya Binayak, which  is the place Milan lives, just south of Bhaktapur. I met up with Milan there, and we walked south into the hills. Milan was telling me how he’d been thinking of buying a plot of land up there, and building a small cottage to go to in weekends, and maybe renting out to tourists. We stopped in little villages on the way, for refreshments in the form of small cups of milk tea and barley or rice beer. The “beer” tastes nothing like western beer, it is a cloudy, milky white, and the taste is  slightly reminiscent of lemonade with just a hint of sugar… Milan spoke to the locals, asking them about distances between villages, directions for where we were going as well as other villages in the area. At one point we met a local school teacher, who knew actual distances in kilometers, instead of in the time it would take them to walk… 😉 At one point a group of mountain bikers zipped past us down the hill at break-neck speed, and I made a mental note that I’m going to HAVE to do that before I leave!

As we went on hiking, we came up through a pass, and as we were heading down into the next valley, a small suzuki 4wd stops on the shoulder of the little road we were walking down. As always, Milan makes a little smalltalk, and quickly realizes that the driver is a friend of a friend, and we’re invited up to their cottage just up the hill next to the parked car. It was a gorgeous place, with a marvellous view of the Himalayas from the Lang Tang to Kangchenjunga and if the weather was clearer we would’ve even seen the Everest. The guy had recently finished building it, and was planning to hire a couple of people to run it as a guest house in the tourist season, and then use it as a private cottage in the off season. He and Milan really hit it off, and even discussed possible furnishing options, publicity, and the like, and before we left, after having been treated to a traditional lunch, they’d exchanged phone numbers and planned to meet up again to continue the talk!

The views of Kathmandu Valley had been gorgeous along the way, and we both agreed it’s weird that not more people come out there for walking! You can get out there on a local bus, for the neat sum of 15 Nepali rupees, and it’s completely quiet, the air is fresh, and the atmosphere is the exact opposite of the busy, traffic-clogged streets of Kathmandu! It was an almost religious experience to walk along the forested ridges and up and down hillsides, here dry and warm in the sun, and there moist, lush and  green in the shade. After a while we reached another pass, and from there it was all down hill. It fogged up as we descended, and by the time we reached the floor of the valley at Lamatar, it was dark. The goal for the day was Milan’s cousin’s house, but with the horrible cell phone coverage in Nepal, he’d been unable to get through, so we showed up unannounced. Milan told me that over four years ago he’d been acting as stand-in for his cousin’s parents when her marriage to a christian Nepali man was arranged, but he hadn’t had an opportunity to visit her since then, even though it’s not really that far away!

When we’d finally managed to ask our way to the house, it was completely dark, and it turned out the the cousin and her husband weren’t home. Their two children were there, however, with the cousin’s mother in law. We stopped in for a cup of tea, but when we said we’d be taking the bus (about fourty-five minutes) back to Kathmandu, the old lady looked hurt, (I’m not too old to cook, you know!) We were treated to a wonderful baal bhaat, and I played with the children, a two year old boy and a four year old girl.

The next morning we got up at seven, had a cup of tea, and left for Kathmandu. While we were waiting for the bus, a rather wealthy looking couple in a big SUV picked us up, and I was home at eight already, in time to have breakfast and a shower, and prepare a sign-up list for the youth social the following Saturday, which I brought with me to church at eleven. After the service I was invited to lunch at a restaurant by some Norwegians, and then I tagged along to a youth group meeting they have every Sunday afternoon, called “Sparks.” I had dinner with the host and some of the older youths after Sparks, and then headed off back to church, because they were having an evening “contemporary worship service” that Sunday.

Monday and most of Tuesday I was basically locked up at home with a stomach ache, and I don’t think I’ll be going too far today either, at least not to anywhere with no proper toilet… Yesterday I got a phone call from Mikhel, the Dutch buddhist guy I met in Irkutsk, and then spent time with in Mongolia. He’d just arrived in Kathmandu, and I went to meet him. He’s staying with me for a few days, while he’s here. 🙂

Now, you might be wondering about the heading of this post… When we were in Lamatar, and were sitting around having supper, Milan suddenly started laughing so hard he almost fell over. When he got himself together enough to answer my inquiries, he explained that the four year old girl had just asked him if he could make her father contact my parents, and arrange for our marriage! Milan proceeded to patiently explain to her that she would have to be grown up before she could marry anyone, to which the answer was clear: “I’ll make sure I grow up by Wednesday, when Daddy comes back!”

(EDIT: Pictures from my trek in Panchase outside Pokhara are finally up – captions to come later)