Saturday, April 17, 2010

Travel quests

My upcoming trip is part of a quest to visit a country from each possible letter of the alphabet. There are no countries starting with X. On this trip I will visit countries starting with O, K and R. That will leave me D, P, Q, Y and Z to complete the alphabet.

This quest came about after accomplishing some previous quests:
- To go overseas, the first and most fundamental (completed in 1994)
- To visit Africa, the second, having already visited North America, Asia and Europe (completed in 2000)
- To visit all of the Australian states and territories (completed in 2003)
- To visit South America, the sixth continent (completed in 2007)
- To visit Antarctica, the seventh contintent (completed in 2008)
- To visit 40 countries before age 40 (completed in 2009)
- And now the alphabet quest, which will probably take another 4 years.

Then there is to visit every region of the world and to visit every country. Regions include, for example, micronesia, melanesia, polynesia, southern africa, eastern africa, central africa, northern africa, western africa, south amerca, central america, north america, western europe, eastern europe, scandinavia, south east asia, central asia, east asia, russia, the subcontinent and there is bound to be a few more. In the mean time though, quests could include - complete a continent (other than Australia) - South America is the most likely candidate with Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia (can be done in one trip) then Colombia, Venezula, Suriname, Guyana. Ideally French Guiana (Fr) and the Falkland Islands (UK) to. Venezula has Angel Falls and the amazing Tepuis and Peru and Bolivia with Machu Pichu and Lake Titicaca.

The current trip will get me to country 49 and so the letter P, next trip, will also be country 50. Not really a quest but a significant milestone.


  1. In Dubai at the moment, Dubai is a monument to construction, the automobile and the meg-mall with all the feel and brands of a city in the south west of the US. The world's tallest building stands out and looks spectacular, apparently you can travel to the 160th floor. Last night I took a tour to the desert in a 4WD over the sand dunes and the experience was like a ship in the high seas. I enjoyed the desert, the stillness, the patterns in the sands. I saw white orics (oryx) and gazelles and a tiny little sand lizard. Then to a replica camp to watch the sand drawers, henna artists and belly dancing while sitting on a cushion under a tent. A great experience although I was a tad jetlagged after the 6 am arrival in Dubai. Dubai airport was huge and stunning inside, the organisation in terms of meet and greet and tours excellent. Flying in the landscape was interesting too with mountains then desert then small villages before the city. On the way home from the desert I visited another of the seven emirates, Sharjah, which has a lot of characters and looks great by night. This afternoon another tour around the city and I might do a night tour as the city comes alive at night.

  2. Now in Muscat in Oman. Muscat means anchorage and the city is effectively a hidden harbour in that it is surrounded by mountains and not accessible easily from the land. The Portugese held Muscat for just under 150 years and built many forts. Situated between the beach and the sea and with an interesting history and architecture that must maintain an Arabian style, I think Muscat will only grow as a tourist destination over the next decade. Watching a documentary of the country on TV shows some fascinating sites that may be difficult to access at the moment but once opened up will rival many other historical sites on the tourist map. Oman is not an oil rich country, there appears to be increasing international business presence given the number of business people (primarily from the UK)on the flight, and certainly a very friendly population.

    As for the last day in Dubai, I got to see the more historic - educationally and photographically interesting Dubai. Dubai began as a settlement around "The Creek" and this is a thriving hub-bub of activity in certain parts (it is rather long) with Abras (water taxis - very strudy hand made wooden boats) plying the waters and Dhows shipping every sort of good imaginable to countries nearby. The water way reminded me of the Grand Canal in Venice but and I haven't been there - perhaps a Ganges flavour. The spice souk was interesting with great smells and colours and textures but behind this are the small everyday shops selling everyday goods. A great place to wander aimlessly in and get lost among, although the touts are a bit of a pain all wanting to take you to 'their' shop. The window displays in the gold souk also interesting but the touts even worse than the spice souks. But the waterway, that's a great place to visit and across to Fort Dubai a rather impressive museum in the restored original fort of Dubai.

  3. Slight correction to the above, Oman does make money from oil. Today I did a tour of Muscat proper as I'm staying in Qrum (or Qurum, it is written both ways), which is along the coast from Muscat. 38C and I can see why no one was around yesterday when I arrived and went for a walk, the day really exists in two parts - morning, sleep in the middle and then evening when all the shops open, and a large crowd gathers on the beach to play games of soccer and walk and jog. Muscat itself is interesting with all of the old forts and watchtowers. It was fun to imagine olden times and what it must have been like. I toured the fish souq with all manner of fish for sale. Buy one and then take it to have it scaled and filleted. Next to the main souq and a great place to wander with the antique shops selling spices, swords, khangars (daggers), coffee pots, silks, carpets, jewellery and treasures among the wares. Then to the Palace of Sultan Qaboos that sits on a small harbour nestled between two forts - one for jailing the other for guests. Photos allowed but take video and you'll end up in the fort on the left (the jail). A stop at the museum with some great displays from old Omani times - the weaponry, the jewellery for carrying ancient tweezers for removing thorns from feet and for applying Kulh, a protection for the eyes (and to make you more attractive to women I'm told). Plus the very many forms of headress for women, all rather unique.

  4. Ah Oman. Reminds me of the time I was in Grenoble. Or was it Rheims? I'm not sure, but there were dancing bears. M sent me there on a cushy little number, in and out, shoot a banker, laze around the pool, win at the casino, you know the sort of thing. But for some damn reason he sent Moneypenny along too. Cramped my style big time, let me tell you. Managed to pack her off for an evening with some Arabian slave-trader. Ended up having to go to Oman to rescue her. Stupid woman.

  5. Ahh, Sir Roger, good to have you back. You would have enjoyed yesterday's tour of the old fort at Nizwa and its souks. Plus the castle with the bats in the date room store and the many confusing passage ways.

    Perhaps the most though you would have liked Birkat al Mous, old houses made of mud and straw on the hillside next to a date plantation, with weaving alleys and traps for invaders. Or maybe the Sultan's Palace with the Bofors guns out front to the harbour or the antiques souk with all manner of treasures and characters, the coffee man, who carries his pot with hot coals underneath or the antiques shop ownerr with khangars, ancient rifles and swords. Greg Norman was here too, celebrity cameo, apparently designing a new gulf course resort named the Waves. But the geography, perhaps more suited to that Mr Daniel Craig with high mountains, deep canyons and interesting geology. I cam across the odd rogue camel too (although actually it looked rather friendly).

  6. In Ruhengeri, Rwanda now after flying from Muscat to Dubai to Nairobi, a stop in Nairobi and then to Kigali before driving to Ruhengeri. Rwanda is really recovering. I visited the genocide museum - very sad that such things happen and the causes rather surprising to me. A bad part of history. Rwanda is described as the land of 1000 hills and that makes it spectacular except also a trap for pollution and there is a lot of pollution. Ruhengeri is the start of trekking for mountain gorillas, I will start that tomorrow and then Golden Monkeys before going to Uganda fro the chimpanzees. Soccer is a big favourite in Rwanda and the home made soccer balls impressive. A Kenyan soccer team was on the flight with me from Nirobi and their GM, Jimmy Carter, pastor Jimmy Carter and I had a good talk. Kenyans seem to like the Australian kangaroos.

  7. I spent a few weeks in Nairobi once, Moneypenny again, you know she grew up there? M sent us both to sort out some misunderstanding between london and Station K. Flew in, gave them the hard word and shot a few people. They soon came round to our way of thinking. Then I spent a fortnight out bush with Penny's family. Good times ...

  8. You probably dealt with a few gorillas too in your time sir Roger. I went trekking yesterday up the volcano, very arduous trek to find a family of 23 gorillas including the silverback and many babies. There had been torrential rain the night before - 7 dead - and the trek through the dense jungle up steep slopes was tough - glad I hired a porter. Got some good photos of the gorillas and the downward trek was equally challenging, had to do some self first aid when I got back, cuts and mud don't go well but the pain from the stinging nettles didn't last long. Today to see the golden monkeys about 20 or so in the tops of the dense bamboo forest after another torrential rain this morning. Tomorrow crossing the border into Uganda.

  9. Crossing the border into Uganda? I did that once, a few years ago now. I recommend you wait until about 3-4am; the border patrols are generally dozing about that time. Lazy sods. If you can get to Kitale look for Ezra Simmons. Mention my name and he'll get you across for a couple of hundred US dollars. He'll probably take you in through Mt Elgon National Park, so you'll have to make your own way to Mbale. Once you're there you should have no trouble getting a ride to Kampala or wherever it is you want to go. Good luck!

  10. Now in Entebbe, Uganda after crossing the border from Ruhengeri to Kisoro. I stayed at the Traveller's Rest Hotel, a place where Diane Fossey stayed. The hotel had some great masks from the Congo and old newspaper clippings and memorabilia on the walls. Then across very rough roads through the Impenetrable Forest to Buhomo in Bwindi to stay in a tented camp. A walk around the village to see the production of banana juice, wine, and gin, a visit to the local medicine man, and then the next day gorilla trekking in the Impenetrable Forest. I saw many gorillas, a black back walked within a metre of me and on the trek out a green mamba snake crossed about a metre in front of me. From Buhoma to the Kazinga channel via the Queen Elizabeth National Park and probably one hundred hippos, water buffalo and seven or so elephants plus many interesting birds including the sacred ibis and storks. Back off the boat staying at a lodge high on the rift valley with baboons lining the roads in and out. Then to Kibale National Park for a trek through the forest to see the chimpanzees, the sounds they made incredible. Had to make a stop along the way to search the markets for sunglasses - not an easy thing to find in Uganda. After a long drive today and an African lunch at a restaurant overlooking Kampala, I am now in Entebbe, the fortified gates of the hotel opened by a guard with a large shotgun. To the airport tomorrow and back to Dubai before the long flight home.

  11. Thanks for the postcard, but disappointed you broke the cardinal rule of postcard sending: it arrived before you did!

  12. Ahh yes, sorry Sir Roger, should have sent you one from Kisoro, which will probably still be coming next year. Those Omani's are very good and even caught up with the (postal) agents of the UAE who had a five day lead. Kisoro involved some complex negotiation on Australia and where Australia was - not in Europe. Indeed the postmaster didn't even seem quite sure it was a country despite my describing the contintents of the world but then again the customs agent in Melbourne had no idea where Uganda was either and had to look up that I needed a Yellow Fever certificate, which I have.

    You would have liked Entebbe Sir Roger. Large UN base, military from around the world, at the airport I saw representatives of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana, Uruguay and the Slovak Republic all within a matter of minutes. This also helped solve the mystery of the embassy with the green flag with red circle in it near my hotel (among the embassies) in Oman - Bangladesh (okay I searched it out on the web). Entebbe too sits on Lake Victoria, source of the Nile.

    My five minute nap turned into four hours, best I get some lunch and then some more shut eye for the next adventure. I think you'll like the next big adventure Sir Roger, it may start in Prague and travel through the Baltic states - need to get Europe in this passport before it expires.

    Q might be interested in my blog posts on travel technology coming soon. I tried a number of different technologies on this trip and some worked exceptionally well.

  13. The next trip is now booked - Borneo (Malaysia) and Brunei. Borneo has long held a fascination with its jungles and Orangutans. Kuching is reported to have some great old colonial architecture and I'm looking forward to wandering around the city and photographing this. I will also travel to an island for snorkelling with turtles.