Run the equator: May 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Almost Famous

Down the drain

A few months after we left Africa, a blogger from Spain who maintains a popular site where he collects bits of information about interesting and strange places and events wrote an article about the adrenaline-junkies messing around in Devil’s Pool, the natural swimming pool at the edge of Victoria Falls, which we had visited in September. He assembled a few photos and videos off the internet and linked them to the original sources. Within days, my flickr picture set on Victoria Falls was getting thousands of views. I tracked the clicks back to the referring site, to find out to whom I owed this unexpected surge in interest – for once the view count of my travel pictures of exotic places was surpassing that of my older photos of drunk girls kissing in dark and noisy clubs.

Rich and famous... and beautiful!

By April, the story was making the rounds on the internet and a few news agencies caught wind of it. Devil’s Pool hasn’t been discovered yesterday; in fact tourists have been going there for a quick adrenaline-loaded swim for decades. But it looks like every generation needs to be reminded of the same things over and over. There’s just too much information floating around for us to be aware of; knowledge that isn’t in your face daily (and even that) is forgotten fast – how else would you explain the avalanche of movie remakes these days? Hollywood began by reissuing and updating movies from the forties, which were understandably unknown to most of the population currently living on Earth, but with each revamping project they are getting closer and closer the movies of our times – money-making entertainment machine has married attention-deficit disorder and their children are the placebo soothing pills of our anxieties. Soon they’ll be remaking next year’s movies today… but I digress…

A British online news agency contacted me on flickr and asked for permission to use my pictures – in exchange for publishing credit and compensation. I gladly agreed – who doesn’t want to be famous on the internet? – and they wrote a short article that appeared in the online versions of a few British newspapers. The reporter asked me for some quotes about my experience, which he wanted to use in the article. Among others, here’s what I said; this quote was reproduced without much journalistic adjustment:

“Being in Devil's pool is a serious adrenaline rush for the first few minutes. If you jump (you can also get in gently) it adds up to the excitement. The thought that you may get sucked away from the relatively calm waters of the pool and down the foamy hell into the pit makes you giddy with apprehension - although you have to stray far out quite a bit for that to happen. It's great fun - some people enjoy it quietly, swimming, looking, thinking, while others keep screaming to no end.”

I also told the reporter that we chose to go swimming in Devil’s Pool instead of trying bungee jumping because there would be plenty of opportunities for bungee in other places, but swimming at the edge of a 360-feet waterfall is not something you can do anywhere and anytime. That was quoted as “[…] said it was better than bungee jumping”. Well, damn you reporters! I have never jumped anyway, so I wouldn’t know.

Within days I also gave publishing rights to BBC Brazil and to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Before I could say “waterfall” my quote and pictures were syndicated in online newspapers and magazines around the world, translated from English into Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, hell knows what else, and even Romanian. They also made it into a printed version of the US entertainment magazine In Touch – which I am considering suing for millions owed to me in royalties. Wouldn’t you?

OMG! A child! Save him!
This guy had his share of online bashing

The readers’ comments online were mixed – half of the people adhered to the “this is soooo cool, I want to do it too” opinion, the other half supported the “these people are idiots, they should put themselves out of the gene pool” position. An even more divisive discussion went on about the people who had their children in Devil’s Pool with them: one group (consisting, of course, of people who have never been to Victoria Falls) kept screaming bloody murder “I can’t believe these idiots can be so reckless to take their children in the pool with them and expose them to such danger,” to which the second group would reply: “get a life, these children are obviously not in danger; if it were up to you, the social services would rule everybody’s lives and children would go to the playground swathed in bubble wrap.”

So, uhm… I’m famous! Do you want to hang out with me?

Note: not all photos featured in the articles listed below are mine. While all those news items quote my words and mention my name, the photos come from various sources. In some case, other Victoria Falls pictures have even been mistakenly attributed to me.
Some of the links below may become dead over time. The internet moves fast…

Article Links:


South West News Service
Daily Mail Online
Daily Mirror
Metro Online
Times Online
Opodo Travel News
Daily Express
Atlas Direct
The London Paper
Essential Travel
The Telegraph
2by2 Holidays


BBC Brasil
Ultimo Segundo
Globo News
Jornal NH

Viet Nam

Viet Bao


Timis Online
Informatia Zilei
Antena3 (hacked)






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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Life after the road

  “Sir, are you finding everything ok?” the sales associate with a fake smile interrupts my moment of day-dreaming.
  “Yes, of course,” I say and I walk away, but I am irritated, and I don’t know if I’m annoyed more by the fact that she talked to me when I was obviously not trying to make eye contact or by her choice of words - the most aggravating conversation opener used by salespeople in the northwest.
 “Do you want to apply for our store Visa credit card today?” I am told later at the cashier’s desk, again, with a huge, unjustified smile.
  “Do you know you can save ten percent of your purchase price today if you apply for the credit card?”
  “Yes, and I still don’t want it.” Please stop offering me things I don’t need. Just ring me up and take my money.
  “Do you want to donate one penny for the Special Olympics?” the grocery store checkout clerk asks me.
  “No.” I look her straight in the eyes but my laser gaze misfires. I don’t care for the Olympics, special or not, and I only donated money once, long ago, during the Microsoft giving campaign, to a cancer research institute. I am a bad person and I do not want to save the world. I swipe the credit card; the cashier gives me the bag with groceries and before she hands me the receipt she takes a brief look at it, then turns back to me and says, sporting the same punch-me-in-the-face smile: “Thank you, mister Sturgeon.”

I give her the look of death again, but I don’t say anything. I’m back home and it’s generally considered impolite to tell people what you think, i.e. I really, really don’t want you to act like you know me and say my name when you thank me for shopping at Safeway; I do not need you to try to make me feel like I am at the neighborhood mom-and-pop store and you’re my best friend. And certainly I don’t want you to butcher my name mispronouncing it, which is more likely to happen than not.

Now that I can compare I realize that the salespeople at home are just as annoying as those from the Cairo bazaar, albeit a bit less aggressive; they just have a different style. I don’t know what is more pitiful or irritating – the impertinence and obstinacy of street-vendors and taxi drivers in third-world countries, asking you, the presumably-rich foreign backpacker, for prices five times higher than what they expect to get in the end, or the excessively obsequious and unnecessarily friendly attitude of American sales associates working for commission or simply being forced to apply what their management considers good customer service.

Urban bliss

Later that evening we have dinner at a local restaurant in Queen Anne. The over-the-top friendly waiter talks too much, and pushes the specials of the day at machine-gun-fire speed, his smile so wide and bright I could almost believe he loves being there with us more than anything else in the world. At the end of the meal I take the bill and add the tip, 15% before tax, plus a few pennies to round up. It’s been a year since I last had to figure out a waiter’s tip, write it down on a bill and do some post-dinner math. In most places we had just followed local customs – leave some coins to show that you don’t care much about the petty change in most small eateries; tip nothing in Europe or risk getting the “pathetic American sucker” look; add up to 10% in more upscale restaurants anywhere else.

New home

A trip cannot last forever; sooner or later, moving from place to place every few days becomes too exhausting and starts undermining the desire to travel; slowly, the need for some sort of stability, for a home, settles in. And now, a year after packing up and cramming all our belonging into a 12x10 storage room, we ended up back in the same town that we used to call home before this adventure started. There are quite a few things about Seattle that I did not miss during our year away. The semi-permanent rainy season is one of them. Having to pay 8 dollars for a plate of Thai food that used to cost me one dollar merely a few days before is another. The price of gas, the housing market, car and health insurance, being stuck in traffic on the way to work listening to an uninspired morning show on the radio…

I can’t let those things and thoughts take more importance than they are due. There are plenty of reasons why it’s fine to be back at home. During the past week I saw a few of my old friends: some have longer hair, some have lost a bit more of theirs. Some have lost or gained weight, others have more wrinkles around their eyes. But they are still the same people and I’m glad to see them again.

Hi sweetie!

I missed the way our beautiful little city shines on a sunny day, the clean, quiet tree-lined streets in the residential neighborhoods, and the views of downtown from the freeway. I missed drinking microbrew ales on tap at a local tavern, the Capitol Hill coffee shops and my favorite Thursday night hangout. I missed working out at the gym and having a proper bathroom. I needed to be around my horses, play my guitar, and maybe most of all, I missed my weathered, beat-up 1988 3-series BMW, which still needs new suspension, a few sensors and a replacement left-side door lock since thieves broke into our apartment’s garage more than a year ago. Maybe if I get a job I will be able to afford all that.

Strange as it sounds, after a year of keeping my brain in hibernation I miss having a job – just the exciting parts of it, the challenges, the rewards and the fun, not the stress and the occasional nights and weekends spent trying to meet a deadline.

Life is normal again. Or is it?

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Return address

We're back in Seattle. Life goes on, even after you've been traveling for one year. Updates soon... this blog does not end here.

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