Tag Archives: internet
May 2, 2012

Waiting in Maun, part 2

This is a continuation of the story told in the previous blog entry: Learning to use the bus rank in Botswana.

We spent a week in Maun, passing most of our time in a chalet at the Okavango River Lodge.  The lodge itself was nothing special, but it suited us just fine.  This far from the actual river, we expected the delta to be mostly dried up, but Maun was seeing the highest water levels in 15 years.  Our chalet was a two-room cement bunker set back in the landscaped grounds.  It was quiet, but not so far from the open-air bar and restaurant on the water’s edge that we couldn’t hear the more social travelers watching the hippos grazing at sunset.

Our room was a concrete box with a curtain hanging over a doorway into a small bathroom.  I set up my laptop on a narrow desk and claimed the only chair in the room.  Oksana spent a lot of time reading in bed, underneath the mosquito net.  After dark I joined her there.  That close to the river, the mosquitoes began to swarm just after sunset.  We learned to shake out our clothing and shoes in the morning, too.  There was a gap under the door that let in all manner of little crawly things.

We didn’t see much of the delta while in Maun because we were caught between jobs.  I spent most of the week diligently editing a video of our four-day safari with African Big 5 Safaris.  They had treated us to a fantastic time and I was set on giving them the best promotional video I could manage.  In the meantime, Oksana was coordinating our next assignment.  There was a tour operator up near the Okavango Panhandle that had expressed an interest in taking us out on their riverboat in exchange for some professional photos of their renovations.

Problem was, we didn’t have internet access.  There was a laptop at the bar we could use to check our email, but at $6 per hour, it was actually cheaper for both of us to drive into town and get online at an internet café.  We fell into a routine where we’d catch a combi to the city center every other day, buy some donuts for breakfast and check our email at a place called “Tech Times.” We’d load up on groceries before heading back out to the River Lodge – it was cheaper to eat PBJs and soup than to buy all our meals from the restaurant.

Eventually, I finished the safari video and, because it was impossible to upload it to Youtube with Botswana’s poor internet infrastructure, we planned one more trip into town to mail a DVD back to our friends in South Africa.  Oksana checked her email and discovered that our riverboat contact had just arrived in Maun the day before!  We’d already made plans to ride out on a bus the following day, but she was offering us a ride instead.

We were kicking ourselves for not checking our email the day before and for not going to the effort to get a cell phone while we were in Botswana.  If we’d done either, getting in touch with them would have been easy.  As it was, all we could do was reply to her email and hope they got in touch with us through the Okavango River Lodge.  Just in case, I printed off all the contact information and directions to the riverboat from their website.


April 9, 2012

Living Down Under

When we were planning our trip, it was only supposed to be a year-long thing.  July 1 to July 1.  We were both hoping that our jobs could be held for us, but in my case, that didn’t work out.  I’m glad.  We would have lost out on a world of opportunities if we’d had to rush back to the daily grind.

Just after we left the United States, we heard about one of those opportunities from a fellow traveler in Ecuador.  He (or she; wish I could remember who it was!) told Oksana about Australia’s Work and Holiday Visa program.  Basically, if you’re 30 or under, you can apply to live and work in Australia for up to a year.  I was over the age limit, but Oksana was both qualified and intrigued.  It seemed like a risky proposition at the time – spending almost 3 days worth of our travel budget on the application fee – but ultimately we decided to give it a go.  Maybe, if everything worked out just right, we’d be able to extend our trip.

Two or three days later, she received confirmation that her visa had been approved.  It stipulated that she must enter Australia by December 28th, 2011.  Perfect!  We had a full year to decide if we were going to use it.

By the time we were in Thailand, we had met many Australians while traveling and most of them had suggestions about where to stay and how to go about finding work.  During our month of downtime in Phuket, Oksana started the job hunt, mostly using Seek, Australia’s job search site.  She sent her resume to dozens of recruiters and companies and collected an impressive set of rejection letters.  We learned that companies don’t often give interviews to applicants who can only work a maximum of 6-months in one place…

Getting her resume out there wasn’t a complete waste of time, however.  She had a least one Skype conversation with a recruiter that specialized in auto-industry work.  He confirmed what we already knew: Just after Christmas (which was when we were planning to arrive) was literally the worst time of year to be looking for a job.  Nobody’s hiring during the summer holidays.

He asked her to contact him when we arrived, though.  Maybe something would turn up.

February 21, 2012

Thoughts on Vietnam

It was just before 6am when the tuk tuk we’d arranged the night before arrived.  We’d been waiting in the lobby with our bags.  I tossed them in and asked him to take us to the bus station.

We didn’t expect Phonsavanh to be so cold in the morning.  It must have been close to freezing and we were wearing shorts and sandals.  We never went over 30kph, but the tuk tuk was open to the elements and our teeth were chattering when we arrived at the bus station on the outskirts of town.

We showed our tickets and shoved our bags underneath the bus.  Oksana climbed aboard to claim our seats while I looked over the snacks at the station kiosks.  I started up a conversation with the only other tourists in sight.  Derek and Paulien were from the Netherlands and had just traveled through all the same places we’d been, going all the way back to Phuket, in Thailand.  When I asked them if they were going to Vietnam, too, they looked relieved.  It always feels good when you get independent verification about the bus you’re about to get on.

Shortly we were underway, but our driver took us on a tour of Phonsavanh before pointing us in the direction of Vietnam.  By the time we’d arrived at the border, I’d read a few chapters of my dog-eared copy of Kitchen Confidential and watched a movie on my iPhone.

The Laotian side was nothing more than a concrete corridor with a row of windows along one side.  Unaware of the protocol, Derek, Paulien, Oksana and I neglected to add our passports to the stack from our bus, so we were the last to get our exit stamps.  Bringing up the rear, we hefted our bags and hiked across the border.

The immigration office on the Vietnamese side was a different beast altogether.  High-ceilinged and full of echoes, we gawked a bit when we entered.  Instead of the loops and swirls of Laotian, the signage was written in a Roman-derived alphabet. The plentiful and peculiar accent marks were the only clue that one should not pronounce them without first learning more about the language.

Beyond the tall glass doors, a long counter sat in the sunlight.  As we entered, an official behind the desk pointed to a waiting area with rows of airport-style plastic chairs.  I set my bags down in front of one, turned back, and raised my eyebrows.  Here? (more…)

August 15, 2011

Thoughts on South Africa

Elephant in Addo

Going to Africa for the first time was a huge step for us and it’s hard to remember how worried we were about the whole thing.  Would we have trouble with the languages?  Would we be safe?  Will the food be safe to eat and the water safe to drink?  Should we worry about racism?  Civil wars?

In retrospect, I’m very glad our introduction to Africa was through Cape Town.  The infrastructure there is good, the population is mostly white, English is spoken by just about everyone… starting at the southern tip really eased us in.  Later on, as we progressed through the rest of Southern Africa, things became more difficult for us as travelers, but by then we had gained enough confidence to handle anything thrown our way.

Africa has elements of the Western and Eastern worlds (and even the Middle East), but it’s not really much like either.  Africa is its own place, with its own cultures, and its own way of doing business.  The list of notes I jotted down on South Africa grew rapidly.  As our first introduction to a new continent, there were bound to be many differences from the other countries we’ve visited, not to mention the United States.

May 9, 2011

Thoughts on Chile

If you’re in South America and ask other travelers what they think about Chile, you’ll hear two different things over and over: Chileans speak fast and everything is much more expensive.  I guess it’s not surprising then that those were pretty much the first two things we noticed when crossing the border from Bolivia into San Pedro de Atacama.


The language, I knew, would sort itself out in time.  They speak Spanish there, like pretty much everywhere else we’d been, they just hurry all their words together.  In previous border crossings, I noticed the weird phenomenon where, on one side, I understood almost everything said to me and on the other, practically nothing.  My Spanish usually isn’t good enough to pick up the reasons why; it could be the speed, the accent, or the slang.  The tiny improvements I gain in comprehension over the next week are too small to notice as they happen, but after seven days or so, I’m usually doing alright again.

I never got to that point in Chile.  We were in and out of the country too fast.

(Interesting note about Chilean English:  We were told that Chileans learn “American English,” rather than “British English.”  Not that there’s a huge amount of difference between the two, but sometimes you notice the changes.  Flat for apartment, that sort of thing.  You would think that learning American English would somehow make their Spanish easier to understand, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong.)

Sticker Shock

The sticker shock in Chile was harder for us to deal with.  Coming from Bolivia, we were used to paying, oh, about $20-25 a night for a nice private room.  Our first place in San Pedro ran us $42 and we had to live with a shared bathroom.  (They even charged us for towels, $2 a piece!)  The hotel reception guy saw our hesitation and asked if we were coming from Bolivia.  We nodded and he said, “Yeah, tourists from Bolivia always want lower prices.  It’s just more expensive here.”

Later on, in La Serena, I wandered into a music store and looked around at the prices.  Figuring the Twilight sensation would be a good place to do a price comparison, I checked out what it would cost to buy a book, a DVD, and a Blu-Ray disc of the first in series.  Roughly: 10,000 pesos for the DVD, 13,000 for the (trade paperback) book, and 22,000 for the Blu-Ray.  That’s $21.25 (DVD), $27.65 (Book), and $46.80 (Blu-ray). Not everything costs more than it does in the US, but media certainly does.

It would have been easy enough for us to stick to our $100/day budget if we were only concerned with food and lodging, but we had two other big expenses to consider: Excursions and transportation.  I haven’t look over the budget too closely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chile was the first country that broke our budget.  In that respect, it was a good thing we got out of there so quickly.

January 13, 2011

Staying Connected while Traveling

Yesterday, I was asked a question and, after typing up my reply, decided that posting the answer here might satisfy other people’s curiosity, too.

In the future I would like to do some traveling like you, but I work on line for about 25 hours a week. How easy would it be to find wireless in other parts of the world that you have traveled? –Rich Marcus, via Facebook

In 1998, my college roommate and I spent three months backpacking around South America.  I had just opened a Hotmail account and once a week or so we’d stumble upon an internet café and I’d send an email update to a mailing list made up solely of family and friends.  It surprised the hell out of me that we were able to get online in Aguas Calientes, a tiny, remote town at the base of Machu Picchu.  Granted, it was with a slower-than-molasses modem connection to Cusco, and it cost an arm and a leg, but I was still able to send an email out of the remote Peruvian jungle.

The lesson I learned then: If a place is popular with tourists, someone will be making money off their internet access.

July 12, 2007

The Internet

A group of us were talking the other night about that online site that was taking votes for the “New 7 Wonders of the World.”  Before looking at the list, we had fun brainstorming what should be on there.  Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Teotihuacan?   The Hoover Dam, The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Panama Canal?  My best idea was one that nobody really wanted to concede: The Internet.

When I think about it – and I think about it often – I’m amazed at how the Internet has changed the world.  Or at least my world.

For instance:

  • I handle almost all my finances online now.  My paycheck is direct deposited, our monthly expenses are paid automatically by our Alaska Airlines credit card (which is, in turn, paid off by our bank account – got to get those miles!)  There are exceptions, of course.  I still have to pay rent with a check, and people will probably still be using the ATM to grab theater money in 3007.  Even so, I’d estimate that 90% of my own wealth never manifests itself as anything more than numbers in databases.

  • The Internet has also brought the world closer.  E-mail, the ubiquitous and obvious tool, has allowed me to stay in touch with friends and family the world over.  In recent years, new tools have sprung up and I find myself taking advantage of them more and more.   I remember how surreal video conferencing seemed when I first peered into my own living room from an Internet cafe in Peru; now it seems blase.  Oksana uses Skype to talk to her brother in Russia; the quality on both ends is better than any phone call, and ever since we bought a cordless Skype phone, we’re no longer tied to the computer’s clunky headset and microphone.  Even Internet Messaging, simple as it is, recently surprised me when a friend started a live chat message with me while I was at work… and he was standing in front of the Easter Island statues with his Blackberry.  (And later that week, he IM’d me from a bus in Santiago to ask me what a Spanish word meant, because, you know, it was easier than looking it up.)

  • The way in which the Internet impresses me most, though, is with its vast store of information.  I’m old enough to remember when a 26-book set of encyclopedias was the best way to get information for school.  Now to research and learn anything – anything! – all you need is a computer, a connection, and time.  Learning, learning, learning!  I use the Internet all the time to learn new things.  Photoshop tutorials, screenwriting advice, HDTV and next gen DVD formats.  Recipes, desktop publishing, video editing, astronomy, home design.  Want an answer to a question?  Want to learn something new?  It’s ALL RIGHT HERE, and it’s all FREE (and usually on Wikipedia.)