Run the equator: January 2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

Blog: ideas, design, and artwork

Idea. I have always kept some sort of log of my travels in the past, on scraps of paper, dog-eared notebooks and lately online. So when this whole idea of traveling around the world started to look like it was actually going to happen, it was only natural for me to start making plans for keeping some sort of a log, not only of the trip, but of all the issues we would have to deal with before leaving. I didn't want this story to mix with the regular content of my other blog, which is full of not-so-PG-13 stories, so there was about time to start a separate site.

Design. I have already outlined why I chose Blogger and not the other free or commercial sites that offer blogging environments. In short, I want the freedom to design my own flexible layout without advertising banners, I want javascript and I want an interactive map - for free. I do all this myself and give up the convenience of having my travel blog advertised and indexed on a travel web site. I'll have to work more to promote this blog. It's a trade-off.

A fixed-width three-column blog layout is vital for an optimal distribution of information without cluttering: a thin left sidebar with the essential links, a wide middle bar with the blog content, text and images, and a right sidebar, wider than the left one but thinner than the content bar, containing the interactive map and a few other widgets.

Blogger doesn't offer three-column layouts but there are plenty of eager blog-template developers on the net who have thought of this before me. I am no artist or professional web-developer, but I have a very acute critical sense and can't stand 90% of the stuff that's out there: either too garish, too simplistic or too overloaded with content. I got my inspiration from various sources, here are a few of them:

  • Thur Broeders' "The Blogger Workshop" - lots of templates, and he's also a funny guy, like all Dutch I know.
  • Ramani's Hackosphere - which contains many other useful Blogger hacks. This is where I got the code for the peek-a-boo posts (content hidden behind a "Read more..." link.)
  • Bloggerhacks - good collection of various Blogger template tricks.
  • Random Bytes - this is actually the first post on the topic that I clicked on while searching for "three-column blogger template".
  • Andreas Viklund - very creative guy, his template creations are all over the place.
  • Grand Stream Dreams - a three-column blog about sites about three column blogs.

... and others, but most can be reached from the links above; it seems to be a close-knit community. I would just mention Scattered Notes and Hoctro's place for their efforts to integrate Blogger with Google maps.

Artwork. I found that, when switching to a three-column template, going for fixed-size width like I did is much harder than sticking with variable sizes (pixels vs percentages), only because one has to come up with entirely new artwork that matches the new sizes. I have spent a lot of hours using Gimp, cropping pictures and moving layers to pixel boundary... My template is based on the Blogger standard TicTac Blue template, but not much is left of the original by now, and more things may change later.

Last but not least, the blog header background is a wide-angle lens picture of Machu Picchu, courtesy of Matt Marino, found on It is by far the best pic of this kind I have seen on flickr - it is superbly focused both in the foreground - the stone bulwarks along the path - and in the background - the citadel and the mountains, and it's wide enough so I didn't have to crop much of it in order to use it as a banner. Thanks Matt for allowing me to use it. You can see Matt's photo stream at

If you stumble upon my blog and you like it, feel free to drop design suggestions, after all, it's a work in progress.

For instructions on how to download and use this template click the "Read more..." link.

To use this template for your blog you will need to do some work:

  • Download the template to your computer from my file hosting share on MediaMax:
  • Edit the file in notepad and search for "TODO:" within Javascript comments marked by those characters /* ... */
  • Follow the instructions contained by those TODO's, then you can delete the comments
  • Basically, the todo's ask you to copy some images that I host on and use your own favorite image hosting instead.
  • I would appreciate if you didn't use the Machu Picchu header picture because:
    • I use it as a courtesy of its author
    • It's the one thing that makes the look of my blog unique. You can however use any picture that is wider than 985 pixels
    • If you absolutely have to use it, I won't come after you screaming
  • Click on the "Customize" link, go into the "Template" section (you should already be there by default), click on "Edit HTML", then click the "Browse" button, navigate to the file you saved, and finally, click "Upload".
  • Don't forget to save!
  • To get expandable posts working you must do one more thing: edit your post template and add those lines (read the whole instruction set on hackosphere):
    Type your summary here
    <span id="fullpost">
    Type rest of the post here
  • A credit on your blog for "Big Fat Rat" would be nice, but not necessary.

I haven't included the map widget and javascript code in the template, because it is heavily customized for my own travel data and still a work in progress. There are plenty of web sites with instructions on how to add interactive maps to web pages.

Good Luck bloggers!

Click here to

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Looking for visa requirements?: if you have reached this page while searching the web trying to find out if the citizens of your country (most likely Romania) need visas to travel to one of the countries listed below, note that this information is valid for the period from around January 2007 to April 2008. Things may have changed since; when they change it's usually for the better and visas are no longer required.

In my youth, growing up in Romania, I have spent many days waiting outside foreign consulates in the wee hours of the morning, hoping that I would get a chance to get past the gates that seemed permanently closed, and apply for a permit to travel to the promised lands. In these times, the coveted destinations were France, Germany, Italy, the United States... Then, as my native land took steps toward entering the select club of countries who do not call themselves the "first world" but reserve the implicit meaning of those words for themselves, obtaining travel visas became increasingly easier, and in some cases - for example within most of Europe - there was no need for them anymore.

And now it seems that I have to start all over again; this time however, I won't have to knock at the doors of industrial nations suspicious that I will remain in their country as an illegal immigrant, determined to steal their low-wage jobs. Instead, I will be mostly begging to get into the yard of the not-so-privileged but picturesque and dollar-starved countries, most of whom are located between the two tropics. And it seems that they are not going to make my life easier than the condescending representatives of the west did a few years back.

Angela, as an American citizen, is luckier in the visa department. Most countries we're travelling to admit American tourists without requiring a visa, or would grant the visa at the port of entry which is pretty much a bureaucratic way of saying that no visa is needed.

I'm going to try to list all my visa voes one by one. I will need multiple blog instalments in order to cover the whole topic. The authoritative information is taken from various embassy websites, the Romanian foreign affairs ministry (, foreign affairs ministries of various countries (it's fun to look for those, then try to understand the language), other Internet research, books - although the ones we have don't usually say anything about visas for Romanian citizens, and last but not least, from calling the consulates directly.

  • Mexico - As a United States permanent resident, I do not need to have a visa in order to enter the country. That's one of the few countries where having a u.s. green card gives you a different status when it comes to immigration matters. They are pretty much saying "since you have a green card we can be pretty sure you're not going to hang around here once you run out of money". Update: Romanian citizens do not need a tourist visa to travel to Mexico anymore.
  • Belize - I will need a visa, Angela doesn't. A travel book she has looked at said that there's a way to get it at the border post in the Mexican town of Chetumul, but the embassy people I called said that the honorary consulate in that town no longer exists. I will have to apply beforehand at the embassy of Belize in Washington, DC. It costs $50 + shipping, they need 1 picture, a copy of the green card, and a bank statement. Why the hell do they all need to know how much money I make? ... Visa application sent in the mail March 2, 2007. Visa received March 13!.
  • Guatemala - they have a bilateral agreement with Romania, therefore, no visa needed. Their "Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores" web site says it. Americans are fine as well.
  • Honduras - no visa needed.
  • Ecuador - no visa needed for Romanian citizens, according to the site of the ministry of foreign affairs of Ecuador and its Romanian counterpart. Americans walk right in as well.
  • Peru - Angela does not, but I unfortunately do need a visa. Their "ministerio" and Washington, DC consulate say so. I will have to apply beforehand at their San Francisco consulate. The requirements are on the bilingual visa page. If I can't apply in the US because it would be too early, here's the address of the Peru consulate in Quito, Ecuador. I'm getting to learn some involuntary Spanish as I sift through these websites. Visa received in person at the Peruvian consulate in San Francisco, April 10.
  • Bolivia - I need a visa but there are rumors, rather confirmed by the U.S. consulate in Bolivia that American citizens may as well need it soon. The links to the visa pages on the Bolivian consulate in Washington, DC web site don't work. The Bolivia consulate in Seattle refuses to give visas earlier than 30 days prior to the trip, but they mentioned that I can apply at the Bolivia consulate in Quito, Ecuador, or in Peru. Update: the consul must have had a bad day the first time I called: I got a 30-day visa from the Seattle consul on 4/19.
  • Argentina - no visa needed neither for Americans, nor Romanians. The Romanian ministry says no visa, but many of the Argentinian consulates' web sites say I need a visa. I had to clarify this. I called the embassy of Argentina in Romania and they confirmed I don't need a visa. Maybe I should call the consulate of Argentina in LA for a second opinion.
  • Uruguay - no visa needed, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Esteriores, neither for Romanians nor for Americans. I'm getting really good at understanding consular Spanish.
  • South Africa - I need a visa, says the South Africa consulate in New York. I'll probably have to apply in L.A. The visa will have to be issued for a longer time than the regular 90 days since I can't apply anywhere but the US. Application sent to consulate 3/14. Visa arrived 3/28. Valid till 11/25.
  • Namibia - Angela, like Angelina Jolie, citizen of the most powerful nation on Earth, does not need a visa, and could even give birth to our children in that country and make them Namibian citizens. However I need one in order to enter. I will apply either at the Namibia consulate in Pretoria or at the Namibia tourist board office in Cape Town - phone number +27 (0) 21 422 3298, which I called and found out that the visa is issued the same day, no picture needed, and costs 213 rand (approx. $30). I already love that country. Visa received in Cape Town on 8/21/2007.
  • Botswana - of course I need a visa (Angela doesn't)... The web page with the addresses of their consulates in South Africa has only one good phone number, the one for Johannesburg. They gave me the correct number for the Cape Town consulate: +27 (0)21 421 1045. Both consulates told me pretty much the same thing: I need 2 pictures, 565 rand (about $80!!!), a copy of the passport data pages and of the itinerary. The office in Jo-burg seemed more anal about having the itinerary and hotel accommodations faxed to them and said something about a copy of the visa for South Africa. It should only take 1 day. Visa received in Cape Town on 8/21/2007.
  • Zimbabwe - we are spending only 2 days on the zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls, but I need the visa nonetheless. The Johannesburg consulate would give it to me in one day if I pay the rush fee: $115. Ouch! Tel: +27 11 838 2156/7/8/9. - no more going to Zimbabwe - their visa proces is screwed up.
  • Zambia - no visa needed. Well, sort of. All tourists can get it at the port of entry. Romanian citizens - for once - don't have to pay, because of a bilateral agreement between the countries. Americans however, dish $100, according to the Embassy in Washington, DC. They gave me the phone numbers of the Zambian authority in Lusaka that manages the border posts: +260 1 25 26 22/25 17 25. More information can be found on the Zambia national tourism board web site.
  • Malawi - hard to find anything about this country on the web, let alone visa requirements for Romanians. The US department of state makes clear that Americans don't need a visa up to 30 days. I'm stuck with having to call the numbers listed on The Malawi tourism web site gives wrong phones numbers. The new phone number for the Malawi embassy in Washington DC: (202) 721 0274. They gave me the phone numbers for the consulate in SA: +27 123 42 0146/1759, and the email: Visa received in johannesburg on 8/16/2007.
  • Tanzania - seems to be quite relaxed with visa matters; but both Romanians and Americans need them. Their High Commission in South Africa accepts applications from everybody. The application costs $50 (bank information on the web site), it requires one photo and it takes 1 day to process. Visa received in Pretoria on 8/14/2007.
  • Kenya - we both need visas and we can apply at the Kenya High Commission in Pretoria. Phone: 27-12-362-2249. It cost 350 rand ($50), we need 1 picture, copy of accommodation, plane ticket, blah, blah. Processing time 24 hours. Visa received in Pretoria on 8/15/2007.
  • Uganda - Romanians and Americans need visas, but it seems these can be purchased at all border posts. The Uganda Travel Planner site gives good tips for people who want to do the gorilla trekking entering and returning to Kenya, like us. A transit visa seems to be adequate for us. In any case, I will call the High Commissioner in Pretoria at +27-12-3426031/34. Call needed.
    No more Uganda - gorilla sightseeing passes are way too expensive!
  • Egypt - Angela emailed back and forth with the consulate and got them to understand the situation, so it seems that with a special letter enclosed with the visa application things can be solved. I can only apply in the united states at the San Francisco consulate. Application sent to consulate 3/28. Visa arrived 4/4!
  • Greece, Italy, Spain, Romania - no visas needed.
  • Turkey - it's still not clear whether I need a visa or not; visas have been introduced between Romania and Turkey since Romania was about to join the EU and the EU wanted to secure the borders. The Romanian embassy in Ankara gives ambiguous informations, mentioning that tourist visas "may" be obtained at the border...
  • India - everybody needs a visa. We will be applying for one in San Francisco. It looks like a trip to California is in the making, especially since their consulates's website says that in person applications are honored the same day, and mail applications take 5 to 10 days... 1-year multiple-entry visa (10 years for Angela) received in San Francisco on April 9!
  • Thailand - I got my Thailand visa at the Thai visa processing center in Chennai, India in 24 hours, no questios asked. However they did want to make sure that I had an outgoing plane ticket, to show that I will leave Thailand eventually. Unfortunately, they do not grant multiple-entry tourist visas, so after leaving for Cambodia and Laos I had to apply for a new Thai visa in Vientiane (again, no problem).
  • Cambodia - this has been the most painless, fast and efficient visa application. No wonder, it's online! The e-visa web addres of the government of Camodia is Applying is smooth and efficient, the site has no unnecessary clutter and you can supply your own digital pictures - they supposedly have an automated system to verify that the photos are accurate enough. The site said it takes 3 business days to process the applications but we got our responses via email in 20 minutes. I didn't even have to type my credit card number - they use paypal! Kudos to the Cambodian government and the web site developers for their efforts!
  • Laos - everyone needs a visa for Laos - no wonder, they're a one-party state and the government has been obsessed with finding "enemies" since the communists took power in 1975. Luckily the visa situation is more relaxed now and the process has become rather a formality. We didn't bother going to stay in line and apply for this one - the Lao consulate in Bangkok was so far out in the suburbs that it would have cost us more money to take the taxi there and back downtown twice (once to apply, once to pick-up) than the markup which tourism agencies were charging for the visa service (all travel agencies in Bangkok offer visa services for Cambodia, Laos and Vientnam). We applied using the agency at the Lamphu House hotel on Soi Rambuttri where we used to have breakfast every morning. The passports were back the next day. Fun fact: the Lao visa application for American citizens costs more than that for Romanians - of course, we weren't the ones who bombed their country to bits.

OK, enough for now. This is an ongoing article, information is added as comes.

Click here to

Saturday, January 20, 2007

More germs this way

On Thursday we got our second round of shots: twinrix (hepatitis A/B) - second shot, rabies - second shot, Japanese encephalitis - second shot, and typhoid fever - one time dose. Unlike after the first visit to the clinic, a week before, this time my left arm really hurt. On top of that, both Angela and I had a light fever that night - probably a side effect of one of the vaccines. I was fine the next morning - at least fine enough to go to work - but she was knocked out for most of the next day. It's hard to know now which vaccine caused the fever, because most of them have fever and flu-like symptoms as a possible side-effect. The good thing about it was that it made us go to bed at 10:30PM. When was the last time I was in bed at that hour?

Last round of shots for twinrix, JEV and rabies will be on Feb 12, then all this will be behind us. The not so good news is that I found out the insurance doesn't pay for malaria pills - and we need a year's supply.

Click here to

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Does your mother know?

No doubt about it, telling my mother about our extended travel plans was one rather difficult thing to do. I knew she was going to think that having no job for a year is very bad idea - and that will be the essence of all her objections, although she may have more to say. And sure enough she did. As I announced the notice during my weekly phone call, I think she was initially in a bit of shock. Then she started organizing the counter-attack. My mom has common sense, so didn't really object to the idea of traveling and seeing remote places. But for one year? That's borderline insanity... what's gotten into her son?

Spending one year without a job is a long time by any standards, however not an uncommon occurrence among people of all kinds, from bums to yuppies to millionaires. My mother however thinks that giving up your job at this age is completely irresponsible and is afraid I would become some sort of a loser without any achievement in life. Instead, I should buy a house. I should concentrate on my career. She also seems to think that working for Microsoft is an achievement of unparalleled brightness, it is the paradise every computer programmer should aspire to.

Explaining that life is not only made of work and saving money, and buying a house and having kids like everyone else, that life is also learning how to get out of the daily routine, and doing crazy things that go against the common sense of the majority, explaining all this and convincing her that our plan isn't lunacy wasn't easy. I used the metaphor of life as juggling balls - I don't know to whom I am quoting; it's probably one of those common sense things that date a long way back and are attributed to many people - "life is like trying to keep five balls in the air: they are called work, family, friends, health, spirit. Of those, work is made of rubber. You can always drop it, it will bounce back at you. But the others are made of glass. Once they have fallen, they will be nicked, scuffed, maybe even shattered." This is one of those quotes that really gets to people. It really struck a chord with me a while ago when I heard it in the "engineering excellence" class, on the subject of work/life balance. I don't know if it got to my mother.

How could I explain to her that Microsoft is just like any company, and that although I love my job I don't make a religion out of it? That there are plenty of other opportunities in other places? That there will be plenty of jobs for me in a year, maybe even back at Microsoft? How should I put it to her that this career doesn't really have long-lasting satisfactions, that whatever you have achieved today will be obsolete and forgotten in a couple of years, that not even the money part is that that rewarding, and that the greatest thing about it - the interesting challenges we face in our work as software designers - is also the one thing that leads to all that stress and the nights spent at the office and burns you out...

I insisted on the predictability of our enterprise instead, and tried to convince her that we were planning this thing the right way, we won't be going head-first into the unknown with a shirt and a change of underwear. Yes, all the route is planned, we know where we're going and what to expect. No, we're not going to blatantly unsafe places, but there are certain risks when traveling to the third world, we're aware of them and we're mitigating them. We got vaccinated. Etc...

In the end she had to admit that it wasn't a bad idea, but she won't agree with it regardless. She'd rather that we wait. How long, it's not clear, but in any case, we shouldn't do it now. We could do this during our regular vacations - just the math of it is absurd - the 52 weeks that we'll spend this time, divided by 3 weeks a year yields... - well, in 18 about years of working we may be actually done with it. And once you bring children in the picture... don't even get me started!

I understand my mother's fears - she would like me to be safe, to benefit from the security of a steady job, to thrive and buy a house and have children... These aren't bad goals but they aren't very exciting either, they are rather common. If I did that, It would be as if all my future life were fully arranged ahead of me like a perfectly fitting puzzle, neatly tucked into a nook of the mainstream democratic-voting middle-class beehive. I need more uncertainty than that. I need new projects to get absorbed into, I need some sort of chaos to thrive intellectually. I need to tell work "you don't own me". There will be plenty of time to concentrate on security. Later.

Click here to

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Health matters

When you travel for such a long time you're bound to go someplace where nasty bugs roam free. Our itinerary, hovering between the two tropics, is going to take us in so many of those places that some form of protection for our frail, pampered, immunity-lacking organisms becomes absolutely necessary. And the one great invention of western civilization that helps globe-trotters like use in this department are the vaccines. They seem to have one for anything nowadays, except stupidity.

One can't help having an ominous premonition that the nastiest air-borne and insect-borne diseases can be caught when travelling in places off the beaten path in Central America, South America, Africa and Asia. However I didn't actually know how many of those exist, and when I found out it became quite a shock: "you mean I can get... what? How did you call that thingy-fever, again?"

Angela made an appointment with the University of Washington Travel Clinic and we went there last Thursday morning for a consultation that took no less than four hours. We were briefly told about all the diseases that could befall us during our trip, and I say briefly, because there were just too many of them to go into details. For the sake of consistency, Malaria is one disease that affects all the countries we are visiting, save Egypt and Europe. Kevin, our health practitioner, was kind enough to provide printouts for all the scary things he didn't have time to talk about.

And here's a list of the things that can happen to you. Just a tiny part...

Malaria is among the diseases you cannot get vaccinated against and your best bet is to get preventive medication like Mefloquine, Doxycyline and Atovaquone. The problem is that medication usually turns out to have wild side-effects, from yeast infections to seizures and psychosis. People taking Mefloquine have been reportedly seen running naked on the street, thinking somebody was after them.

The most common annoyance for the exotic traveller is diarrhea. Contaminated water and food are the main causes that can send the north-american tourist straight to the bathroom, every ten minutes for a few weeks in a row. While the people living in the visited area would have developed some sort of symbiosis with many of the bacteria that jump hosts between soil, plants, animals and humans, you, the thirty-something year-old yuppie computer programmer from Seattle have certainly not, and nor should you try to. The easiest way to stay out of trouble is to buy bottled water which, thanks to the unavoidable process of globalization, is now available even in most third world countries (at least in those which tourists find worth visiting.) Eat well-done meats - yeah, no medium-rare antelope steak for me in Botswana - forget about milk and do not touch the tartar sauce. However, if these suspicious foods are commercially-packaged, they are usually safe because they are pasteurized before hitting the shelves.

What about street food? Sure, you'll have a wide choice of mouth-watering, appealing, cheap eats pushed at you by local vendors at that bustling Sunday-market in Lima. Should you even dare look at them? Nobody wants to travel in a glass bubble and exotic food is a necessary part of any complete travelling experience, but use caution and common sense. Peel fruits if they can be peeled, and avoid things that have been sitting in the sun for too long, look raw, or seem to be touched by too many hands.

We ended the visit to the travel clinic by getting a bevy of dormant germs injected in our arms - the actual vaccine shots, all seven of them.

  • Meningitis - quite rare but not completely eradicated in the United States, it still ravages Africa across the so-called "meningitis belt". It's not a very common traveller's disease but we'd like to reduce all risks when it comes to germs...
  • Polio - can cause paralysis and even death. It has been all but eradicated in most places since the aggressive vaccination campaign started in the sixties, but it's still endemic in India, and we're spending a long time there.
  • Hepatitis A and B - "always wash your hands before touching food" my primary school teacher used to say, and most parents would hammer the same message into their children's heads. But what if somebody else touches your food? Although treatable, hepatitis A is still very prevalent in Central and South America, Africa and South-East Asia. It couldn't match our itinerary better! Hepatitis B is a blood-borne disease, the chances to get infected are much smaller than those of hep A, but they had the new twinrix vaccine for both A and B at the clinic, so we got the combo for maximum protection.
  • TDaP - Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis - the three graces. They're not country-specific but occur more often in parts of the world that are warm and damp and where vaccination levels are low. Let's be on the safe side.
  • Rabies - "Ah, this monkey is so cute, can I pet it?" Sure, go ahead! A significant part of our trip will consist of seeing and being in the proximity of wild animals. We'll visit the Amazonian jungle, we'll be on a safari through various countries in Africa and we'll dip into the habitat of the gorillas in Uganda. Don't you think that somewhere along the way a mad possum might bite Angela's butt?
  • Yellow fever - a disease spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes, that can get you very, very sick. It will make vomit blood and will ruin your vacation. It is still common in large parts of South America and Central Africa. It's not very common among travellers, and certain countries require that tourists be vaccinated against it in order to be admitted. So, there, no wonder it's not so common among travellers...
  • Japanese encephalitis - Encephalitis is bad. Japanese encephalitis must therefore be sort of a ninja of germs. You don't want to run into it at night. You don't want to mess with it. There's a 25% chance it will kill you. It's common in many rural areas in south-eastern Asia - yes, Japan included. And yes, all Asian countries on our list...
  • Typhoid fever - it usually spreads through contaminated food or water, it kills about 200,000 people a year and it's still common outside of the industrialized nations, and we don't have any of them on our list, bummer! The vaccine is not 100% effective, so you'll still have to buy that bottled water in Kenya...

Does that seem like a lot? It is... I hope the insurance covers it, because some of those dead and crushed germs can cost a fortune. I'll get into this when my statement from Blue Cross comes in the mail. When I asked them, they said that all travel vaccinations are covered, but can one really trust anybody in the insurance business?

We'll have to go back to the clinic twice for our second and third instalments of shots for Japanese encephalitis, rabies and twinrix. And we'll actually have to get the Typhoid fever shot for which we opted at the last minute instead of going for the pills, in order to avoid the hassle of having to go to a pharmacy and then getting to ask the unavoidable question: "where the hell did I put my typhoid fever pills? Honey, did you see them?"

Neither of us has had any adverse reactions so far, but Angela's arms are still sore where she got the shots and she's a little more tired than the usual. But that could also come from reading travel books until too late at night...

Click here to

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Here's a quick peek at our itinerary, just the countries we are going to visit and a few highlights, listed in chronological order. I will follow up with more detailed information soon:

  • Mexico (April 24 - May 5) - Cancun, Merida, tacos, tequila, Mayan ruins
  • Belize (May 5 - May 14) - Diving, Mayan ruins
  • Guatemala (May 14 - May 21) - Tikal and other Mayan ruins (OK, enough of those pyramids already) and seeing various small towns
  • Honduras (May 21 - May 29) - Lots of diving (more Mayan ruins?)
  • Ecuador (May 29 - June 20) - Quito, Spanish lessons, and the Galapagos Islands. I assume my wife will want to dive with the great whites, so the trip may end here ;-)
  • Peru (June 20 - July 13) - Lima, trekking up the Inca trail, Machu Picchu
  • Bolivia (July 13 - July 31) - Lake Titicaca, La Paz, the Uyuni salt flats
  • Argentina (July 31 - August 12) - Overland from Bolivia, horseback riding, Buenos Aires, trip to Montevideo (Uruguay)
  • South Africa (August 13 - Sept 8) - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kruger National park, the Garden Route, we start our overland tour September 5 in Cape Town.
  • Namibia (Sept 8 - Sept 17) - The Namib Desert, wind, Estosha N.P. and maybe I'll get a chance to practice my German...
  • Botswana (Sept 17 - Sept 23) - Safari, the Okavango delta
  • Zambia - Safari, Victoria Falls
  • Malawi - Safari, trekking around lake Malawi
  • Tanzania - Safari, Zanzibar, perhaps climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Kenya - Ngorongoro crater to see pitiful inbred lions ...and tigers, Serengeti, Nairobi
  • Egypt - Pyramids and diving, need I say more?
  • Greece - Cheap flight out of Egypt. See the Acropolis and head on to a couple of islands
  • Italy - Rome in the fall, Naples, costa Amalfitana, lots of Pizza
  • Spain - Visiting museums in Madrid and all the bars in Barcelona
  • Romania - Visiting my mother, getting a new passport and going to the mountains in the dead of winter. Brrrr!
  • Turkey - Istanbul, and that's about it
  • India - Delhi, Goa, Tandoori chicken, all over the place
  • Thailand - Bangkok and many sandy beaches bustling with drunk westerners
  • Cambodia - Pnomh Penh, Angkor Wat - will I meet Angelina Jolie?
  • Laos - My wife only knows what we're doing in this country...
  • Vietnam - Saigon to Hanoi
  • Hong Kong - Fun! majestic!... and expensive!
  • China - Beijing, conquering the Great Wall, Shanghai maybe, seeing the places where our TVs and clothes are made
Still on the candidate list are Morocco (side trip from Spain) and Russia - we wanted to take the trans-siberian train from Beijing to Moscow but the Russian government would do everything they can to not let you into their country - keeping a tight control on who goes in and comes out of their precious steppes has always been a dear prerogative of any Russian - or Soviet - rulers. It's quite tough to get a visa for Russia, especially in a situation like ours, when we can't apply before leaving. That's it, no more Russia!

Click here to

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Starting up

So we have decided to leave our yuppie lives behind and get out of urban hell and the everyday routine of metro-boulot-dodo, like the French would say. One year. One travel. Two people.

No more jobs, no more work-related stress. Travel-stress? Maybe, who knows, we'll try it and we'll tell you...

For our travel blog I chose blogger because I can integrate it with javascript and add custom maps to it with the locations we've visited. I know many travel sites offer this functionality but I haven't found any yet that wouldn't make me cringe in pain at their design and usability. There are many offers out there; it actually looks like every travel-related site that we've seen offers some sort of a free or not-so-free blog. The most notable among them:

  • - nice, but it doesn't offer a spell-able site name, it creates instead an endless URL for each journal with meaningless numbers and letters. The problem with that is you can't give a catchy-sounding website address to your friends and expect them to remember it. It's also not in a blog-format, thus your updates aren't obvious for anybody who just gets to the site, they would have to click on a country you visited, etc. It offers a nice map feature though. The standard website doesn't offer much, and the premium version costs $89 a year. If I can do this for free with blogger or livejournal or google maps or Microsoft Live maps why bother paying?
  • - I didn't understand exactly what they offer, and it's not free. Too many ads, and it seems it's mostly targeted toward sharing photo albums and it's not a blogging site. It's important for me to get content in blogging format because I rely heavily on text, and I may blog without adding pictures sometimes. Anything that has "unlimited photos" in the offer doesn't impress me because, first, I already pay for which is awesome, and second, the travel websites compress the pictures way beyond being useful for actual storage.
  • - free, nice map feature but no personalized address, too many ads, and way too many clicks to get to any actual content which is almost too hard to locate on a page. Jumping from entry to entry is also not the easiest task.
  • - free, not bad, good map, but still too complicated. Although I have nothing to reproach this site on the technical side (it even offers a decent URL ""), it seems a little too unwelcoming. There are too many "boxes" on the site and in order to read each post one must always scroll down to it.
  • - free but with a horrible design - it uses the whole width of the page for content, and their map feature... couldn't see it, it hung my browser.

So I decided to go on my own with Blogger (aka Google). I would have chosen livejournal, as I have used it for years, but it doesn't seem to allow any javascript content and I need that for displaying the interactive map with our itinerary.

Check the Live map on the right sidebar - it displays our current location and a pushpin that bubbles up with a link to the latest blog entry. To this I'll add itinerary lines, and more goodies. Javascript rules. Microsoft Live Maps is awesome. Google Maps was my first choice but it lacked geographical data for all Central America, most of South America and most of Asia. I turned to Live Maps and don't regret it, it's much better. Yahoo has something similar and Mapquest may as well, but hey, enough is enough...

It will be a little more difficult to promote the blog, not having the travel site behind my back to feature me on their homepage, but there are too many blogs anyway, who cares about one more traveller recounting his experiences?

Click here to