This has nothing to do with travel, so if you just want to read about my travelling adventures, move on to the next post. It’s also lengthy. And miserable.

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Vagabonding…

“For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead – out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don’t really need – we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called ‘lifestyle’, travel becomes just another accessory – a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.”

Excerpt taken from Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts. Published by Villard Books.

I haven’t read too much of this book yet, but I came across the above paragraph in the opening pages and suddenly it became very clear to me why I’ve always had an intangible but ever-present dislike of week-long packaged holidays, rather than throwing any sense of a time-scale out the window and walking out the door.

Things I have learned #3256…

I’m relatively sure it isn’t that many, but I lost count and couldn’t be bothered to go back through my posts to check how many TIHL posts I’ve made already.

  • When travelling by Amtrak in the US, always book a lower level coach seat. They’re no bigger or more spacious than the normal upper deck coach seats (or expensive, as far as I can tell), but they are in their own little compartment which is a dead end, so it has the huge advantage of not having people walking past your seat all the damn time, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Check Greyhound and Amtrak prices before booking anything. While the Greyhound is often cheaper, it’s far less comfortable and for some reason Amtrak tickets are actually cheaper if you book ‘em the day before you travel (or I happened to get lucky/need a cheap route).
  • While we’re at it, if you’re near a major city or transport hub and need to travel from a minor outlying town to another minor outlying town, check prices for indirect routes into said major city and then out to the other town again, rather than minor town to minor town. Example, La Crosse to Iowa City – over $100 and a ridiculous 24 hour bus ride for some damn reason. La Crosse to Chicago to Iowa City – $72 (train for $60, express Greyhound for $12), and eight hours.

These things I have learned this time are getting a bit lengthy. Need to think of something short and pithy.

  • White T-shirts appear to be more slimming than black..?
  • Taking my laptop and camera out of my backpack and carrying them in a messenger bag doesn’t appear to reduce the weight of my backpack whatsoever, and yet it does increase the weight of my messenger bag exponentially. Physics, you’re doin’ it wrong.
  • Americans do not know that hostels exist in their country. At all. “Wait, whu? You stayed in a hostel? We have those here?” Yes, you do. Some of them are awesome, and they’re cheap (ish, certainly –er than in Europe).
  • I knew this one anyway, but I feel it needs advertising. I fucking love the album Swim, by July for Kings. Look it up on Grooveshark.com, it’s all there and free and legal. Do as you’re told. Go, now. Not you, parents.
  • I’m still good enough at Chess to beat a guy who sits on the street in Downtown Denver every Sunday and plays with other like-minded chess players. First game, stalemate, second game, won.

I haven’t learned anything else. I was quite knowledgeable to begin with.

Trains…

I spent 24 hours on a train crossing from Chicago to Denver a couple of days ago. The train passed through some of the states that make up the Great Plains of the US – Iowa, Nebraska, some other ones I forget specifically.  I’m actually on a train from Albuquerque to Los Angeles while I’m writing this.

Anyway. Watching the sun rise over the Great Plains was truly awesome, in the original meaning of the word, which means inspiring awe, in turn using the true meaning of the word awe, which is not what a lot of people think it is. Look it up. Oh never mind, I’ll do it for you – otherwise I know you wouldn’t.

Awe – noun \ˈȯ\
1: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime <stood in awe of the king> <regard nature’s wonders with awe>
2: archaic a : dread, terror b : the power to inspire dread

Somewhat like if the train had somehow crashed and I’d been the only survivor out there, in the middle of nowhere, I’d be afraid. And die. Definitely die. Miles to anywhere of anything of any note whatsoever. I can walk a long way, but I don’t think I could walk that far.

Yes, the sunrise over the plains was a wonderful sight. I hadn’t slept too much during the night, and I was awake anyway as my train was meant to be getting in at 7am, so I thought I’d head up to the observation car to watch the sky. Sitting staring out the window at such wide open expanses was actually somewhat revelatory (sorry, Tink) in a manner which I may or may not elaborate on at a later date.

I’m sat in the observation lounge waiting for the sun to set over New Mexico at the moment. I may even post some pictures I’ve taken from the train, though you’ll have to excuse the damn annoying reflections of the sun on the windows. I have not a polarising filter so I can’t get rid of ‘em.

Three months on the road…

Yarp, as of today (19th as at posting) I’ve been away for three months. That’s one whole month longer than I’d been away from home ever before ever. And stuff.

It’s funny. It feels like I’ve been away and travelling for a while, and yet at the same time it totally doesn’t feel like I’ve been away for a quarter of a year already. Last time I did a lengthy trip (the two month trip around the US and Canadia, for those who don’t know) by the last few weeks, the whole thing was really dragging on me and my travel buddy, and we both felt very much along the lines of “fuck it, we want to go home.”

Not so, currently. I’m not tired or worn out, or sick of moving around a lot, or bored, or anxious or missing people at home enough to want to dash back immediately. Maybe this has been because over the last month I’ve been staying in the same place, with friends, and that’s been somewhat restful and relaxing. I know not having to pack my damn bag up every few days and cart it half way around another country is a pleasant break.

I have also become desensitized to the discomfort of being on transport for long periods of time, and re-learned how to sleep comfortably on a Greyhound bus (no mean feat, I tell ya). A few days ago I did a five hour stint on a train, followed by a short 15 minute walk (with bag on back), immediately followed by another five hours on a coach. Was fine. Barely cranky at all. The guy sat in front of me on the coach did have the loudest sneezes I’ve ever heard, though (picture, say, a small firecracker going off not next to you, but placed just inside your ear). He also had a cold. This was annoying, as a combination.

I’m contemplating taking a train straight from the midwest where I am now, alllll the way to LA, which would end up being something in the region of 48-72 hours solid on the train. It’s not like the coach where it stops every so often so you can stretch your legs etc. But, while I’d get to see a lot of the country through the windows, I’m less excited by that than getting to at least explore the myriad truck stops and dive bars I’d find along the way if I went Greyhound again.

Speaking of truck stops, on the way here I passed Iowa 80, officially the world’s largest truck stop. Of all the things I’ve seen, Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Sahara desert, that one has to be the most awe inspiring and breathtaking one. I mean, wow.

Wow.

Boat times…

So people keep asking me what it’s like on the boat, whether I’m having fun and enjoying myself, what the crew are like, what the boat itself is like and so on and so forth. Telling the same story ten times is just plain inefficient communication, so I’m just going to write it out and y’all can read it here.

First of all, let’s take a tour of the boat. Here it is from the outside:

Here is my cabin and bed:

Here’s the main inside area, so the galley, table, living quarters I guess:

Here’s the toilet and shower. Yep, they’re the same room:

This is the outside stern deck and seating area:

And finally a picture from the bow:

Ok, so that’s the boat. Now we’re all caught up on where I am, since I get the impression a lot of people heard the word ‘yacht’ and thought of a big luxury liner with huge spacious rooms and the like, which is not the case. It’s actually quite, quite comfortable on board, though.

Moving on. Am I having fun and enjoying myself? Well, the answer is somewhat more complicated than a simple phrase, but it could be summed up with ‘meh’. Which is ok – not everything can be fantastic. And the reason it’s only meh, and not awesome is, mostly again, down to people.

Which nicely brings me onto the crew. There’s the skipper, who is an asshole. There’s an alcoholic from Texas who speaks exactly like Boomhaur from King of the Hill (who is actually the most pleasant member of the crew), and then there’s a Finnish couple who don’t speak an awful lot of English (though in their defence, I don’t speak a lot of Finnish, and they do seem like a lovely couple). Now, that’s five people. Out of those five, I am the youngest by exactly half. What I mean by that is the next oldest person on board is 200% my age, being twice as old as me. So… yeah. I’ve not a lot in common with anyone here, and feel kinda like a fifth wheel on a four wheel car, ‘cause the Finnish couple have each other, and the Texan has been on board for a few months so he and the skipper are pretty friendly. Such is life, though.

Why is the skipper an asshole? Well, for a start he’s incredibly selfish, and seems to think this is a) acceptable, and b) amusing. He does nothing on board whatsoever. Now, I know this boat is his home and sailing around with paying crew is his lifestyle, but if it were me, I’d feel all kinds of awkward having random strangers not only do everything for me, but pay me for the privilege as well. The guests do the provisioning of the boat (food, supplies etc), all the cooking and cleaning and so on and so forth. He lacks fairly basic manners which I, despite outward appearances, possess and use regularly (when appropriate…). For instance, once other people have prepared the meal and set the table and all that jazz, he’ll not either wait for everyone to be seated, nor wait for anyone else to be ready before taking food for himself and starting to eat, let alone just serving and waiting for everyone else. Also shit like taking the last of the sweetcorn, say, without asking if anyone else would like some, or pouring himself a glass of water and not offering anyone else a refill. Now maybe it’s just me, but that shit is common courtesy.

And none of that is really the biggest issue. The real problem is that he’s the kind of person who has no idea how to deal with or interact with other people. He reminds me of people I’ve worked with years ago – just a plain bad manager of people, and given that he’s the captain of the boat, that’s somewhat important. The main manifestation of this is that because he’s been on boats for years and obviously has a lot of experience in the area, he assumes that things that are obvious to him and are a given are also obvious to people who’ve never been on a proper sail boat before and that they should have inherently known. Telling me to “tie off that rope” when there are a) fifteen fucking ropes, and b) a hundred bars it could be tied to, and c) seemingly infinite knots that could be used to tie it, is no fucking use, now is it? “Same as you did two days ago” is no use either, since everything I did this week involved ropes, tying, and knots. When one does try and get involved and is asked to do something and is had a go at and made to feel stupid for not knowing how and what to do instantly isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring and certainly doesn’t encourage one to join in more often. Then you’re berated for not offering to help out. Then there’s the whole being ‘told off’ (you’re neither my boss nor my parent, that shit won’t fly) for doing things (or not doing) that have never been mentioned as things that shouldn’t (or should) be done. I should’ve known, what with my extensive time spent aboard boats. I do know, honestly, that he’s the captain and it’s his boat and his rules apply, which I’m totally fine with. What I’m not fine with is not being told what those rules are, and then being railed at for having bent them accidentally.

Anyway. Bitching over; there’s more and I could go on, but it’s unnecessary. You asked what the crew and boat were like. Answered.

What we do. Well, mostly, we sail from about 10am ‘til we get to wherever we’re going that day, then we dock either at a port or in an anchorage (away from shore, basically). Then we’ll go ashore for a while, have a look around, come back to the boat for dinner, maybe go back ashore for drinks or something, and rinse repeat. A lot of the scenery has been lovely, and the nights out here are beautiful because there’s no light pollution (as previously mentioned).

Now, like I said earlier – that’s all okay. One lives and learns, and not everything has to be or can be a completely pleasant experience.

Tonight…

Was probably the first night aboard the boat that I’ve enjoyed. That’s not to say the others have been awful, but you know. The sea was very calm, and the sky was completely clear and empty of obstruction. I lay out on the deck and stared up at the sky and the stars for quite a time, then curled up on one of the outer couches and listened to some quiet music while pondering things.

What did I ponder? Well, just life in general, I guess. Lots of things jumble around in my head vying for attention at times like that. I considered all the options I have for where I’m going to go next when I get off the boat and I think I finally made a decision on that front, so I feel somewhat relieved to have some rough plans.

Being anchored in a bay next to a tiny island with barely a taverna and a shop to its name means that there is literally no ambient light or light pollution at night. It makes watching the stars incredibly easy, and very peaceful. I must have spent quite a time just looking upwards.

And now I have an idea for a tattoo I could maybe see myself having.