Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Name:
Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Xzibit uses you-know-what for a visa

Mind you, that's a different type of visa (If you have no idea what I'm on about look up the lyrics for the song "X" by Xzibit). I doubt his method would work at customs in India. With this in mind, I researched what diplomatic permission I'd need for where.

Research indicated a need for myself and Trev to get visas for India. Tis apparently fine to just turn up in Thailand and get your visa, and for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia we'll either sort it out in Bangkok or on entry to the country in question. The good folks in the good ol' US of A simply require a friendly fingerprint and mugshot, and for you to have a machine readable passport. Presumably they'll put all this information in the CIA's files so that a faulty piece of software, a malfunctioning chip or some idiot Agent Johnson's cockup can clearly and distinctly imply that you are the head of a major islamic terrorist organisation, but we'll cross that particular free of charge (in both senses) incarceration and sackbeating at Guantanamo Bay when we come to it; for now, all that matters is that I shan't need an extra bit of paper to enter the Land of the Free. Central America is also fine, as is New Zealand and Fiji, which just leaves Australia, the world's foremost sports nation, for which an Electronic Travel Authority can be obtained online. For now ignore this piece of information, and the fact that the acronym for such a thing is identical to the name of a Basque seperatist group (which could lead to some confusion, in my view), and we'll return to Aus later, having dealt firstly with getting a visa for world's second most populous nation, India.

India House in London is the appropriately-named location for getting the bit of paper for India, which I thought was a happy coincidence... But not for us (myself and Trev) the front door. Oh no, a sign showed us round to the side entrance. Seedy. Having collected a small section of yellow card from a man behind a window with a sign saying "collect a ticket and go up the stairs", we went up the stairs. The inside of the visa office is decorated like a train station from an Agatha Christie novel, all oak panelling and cream walls. I kept expecting to see Poirot and Hastings at any moment, the Englishman hustling and bustling in an attempt to get the cool Belgian with the little grey cells some diplomatic immunity.

But even without Hastings, there was hustle, and indeed bustle, aplenty. The office is two adjoined rooms. The first room is just a waiting area, with benches and vending machines. The second room has the kind of glass windowed portals and operatives normally seen in a bank, though as mentioned above, here they are done in oak. Very tasteful, and (much as I hate to say it, for obvious reasons) very empire-looking. In the top corner of the row of portals is a readout with space for two numbers and a letter, ranging from A01 to F99. Our initial complete confusion was soon cleared up at this sight, when upon closer inspection of our "tickets" we saw that the illegible scrawl at the bottom right could, in a certain light, look like C9 and C10. The number at that time was B34, and so we sat down to wait with all the others.

I should mention at this point that said waiting was not being done in the waiting area, but rather that there were in fact loads of plastic school hall type stacking chairs set out in rows in the main room as well. After about 37 seconds of watching others get called up to the portals one by one we realised the system: Wait until number is shown. Go up to portal. Give passport, pre-filled in form (obtained from the internet the previous night and hurriedly filled in on the train on the way up) and £30 to person behind counter. Wait for about half an hour. Go round to other window and collect visa and passport back.

Easy. But of course, there's many a slip twixt cup and lip. And, also of course, the world is full of idiots. Our apparent ease of understanding of the system led to us watching and mocking those fools who didn't get it. Like the loud couple behind who (naively) believed the bit on the form about needing two Indian addresses to get a visa. Yeah right - since when was ol' Joe Stalin in charge of India? Mind you, the fella from said couple was also unable to work out which portal was free when his number was called, and believe me, in these situations you have about 0.7 seconds to get to your designated friendly Indian helper before the next number comes up.

On the down side, our apparent ease of understanding led to fools querying us as to procedure. Fortunately, Trev was on hand to point out to a confused woman that the numbers probably went up to 99 because there was only space for two digits. The only thing stood in our way was the smug long haired bloke who kept walking around annoying us, and the possibility we had screwed up the form. But no! Smug chap notwithstanding, everything went to plan, and I am now the owner of a lovely Indian visa in my passport. In your face, Poirot...

But wait... I still needed the help of ETA (European or Spanish police and/or secret services note: this stands for Electronic Travel Authority). Diligently filling out the relevant internet form, I clicked send, and blam! My application cannot be processed on line! Wha...? Why? Am I a terrorist? International fraudster? Mob kingpin? Race relations agitator? It didn't say... But I WAS charged $20 Aus for the service. So, what now? Well, there's a number to ring, but the website helpfully points out that it will be answered by an answering service, and I hate talking to robots, so that's out. But it's ok, because I can e-mail. Taking a deep breath, I typed all my passport details out and e-mailed them to person or persons unknown, praying that I wasn't just helping passport fraud...

And I waited.

It took them a couple of days, but they got back to me. And fortunately, it all ended up ok. I think. Well, I've got an e-mail saying that I've got an ETA. Hopefully that's what I was supposed to get. And hopefully my passport isn't being printed out en masse somewhere as I write this. We'll see when I get to Australia...


To be continued

Packing (for) heat & soundtracking a journey

I have always hated packing. From packing when I was a kid, going on family holidays, though packing and unpacking my stuff six times a year to go to and from university, it is something that has always irritated and upset me. It is a seemingly endless series of small and fiddly things to remember, each nagging incessantly at the fringes of your consciousness, and then suddenly it's all done. But far from being satisfied at the task's completion, far from getting the sense of fulfilment at the knowledge of a job well done, you are then gripped by a ticklish doubt: what have you left out? Which of the 1827 small tasks that you had to accomplish have you forgotten?

The solution to this is, of course, easy. Simply write down all the stuff that you need to do and tick every item off as you do it. According to my parents. Of course, this is no use when you are in the shower when you think of something that you need to do. And by the time you get out of the shower, you've up and forgotten what it was that you had thought of. Sigh.

Still, after all of these concerns and worries, I think I am all packed. I've got my Visa's for India and Australia (more of which later perhaps), I've got my water purification tablets, I've got my vaccinations, I've got "War and Peace" and a guidebook to India, I've got two packs of cards and some clothes. I think I'll be OK. It's getting exciting now...

In other news, trying to squeeze enough music for 10 months onto just a few minidiscs is bloody hard work. I've got me a few compilation albums burnt off the internet. That's one minidisc. I've got a soul minidisc, featuring Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and a host of old soul classics. I've got a minidisc featuring The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and (slightly bizarrely) the King Geedorah album I got off my brother for my birthday. I've got a minidisc featuring a whole load of Dylan, a bit of Marley, and some Grandaddy. I've got one with The Libertines, The Clash, Sex Pistols and Primal Scream's "Exterminator". And now I'm in the middle of doing another couple of minidiscs featuring some other albums I haven't yet got down.

The trouble is trying to include enough music so that I've got both what I want to be listening to now, and what I'm going to want to listen to 8 months from now. Which is hard, seeing as I'm not even sure where I'll be 8 months from now. Come to think of it, by then my minidisc player will probably have been chiefed off of me by some artful foreign pickpocket. Or actually, probably by some lovable scamp artful dodger of a british pickpocket at Heathrow airport...

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Prevention: Better Than Cure

The thing about Foreign Climes, of course, is that the diseases are different over there. Thus, when you embark on a journey such as the one I'm soon to leave for, you need to get a heck of a load of jabs and pills to stymie a whole variety of bacteriological and viral agents that could otherwise make my stay in strange lands an unpleasant and perhaps fatal one.

To illustrate my point, here is a list of some of the diseases that I have had to take into consideration before leaving:
Diptheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Rabies, Japanese B Encephalitis, Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV.

Each one of which is probably less than pleasant once contracted. But never fear, friends and relatives, as with quaking heart and the above list I ventured into Bognor Regis Health Centre (located conveniently near to my house) in order to achieve immunity to all illness at the minimum of cost and effort, thanks to the NHS. Or at least that was the plan...

Bognor Health Centre is a strange place, and I shall not attempt to describe it's Kafkaesque (that's right: Kafkaesque. As in Franz Kafka. I do read, you know) insane bureaucracy. Suffice it to say that an attempt to see a "doctor" is pretty much doomed to failure, and thus ordinary mortals such as me must content ourselves with seeing a "nurse". Which suited me fine. On my first meeting with said nurse, then, I explained where I was travelling (see previous post "The Route" for details). Then I explained again, because it's a lot of information in one go. The nurse looked at a series of charts and asked me a few questions about what vaccinations I'd had in school (all of them - my mum doesn't believe in not getting jabs). She then told me that I'd need to get vaccinated against Typhoid and Hepatitis B, which was one jab and could be done there and then for free, and that I'd also probably want to be vaccinated against Rabies and Japanese Encephelitis, which would have to be ordered in specially and would cost a combined total of £22o. I assumed this was some kind of a test to see how my constitution would react to situations of extreme shock, and so I nodded and smiled. When she repeated this figure several times, I began to realise that it was the truth. I took the free jab and retreated home, to think about the proposition.

Now, as you probably know, I am a gambling man. In my view, £220 is wasted on prevention. I would have quite happily just said "sod it, chances are I'll be fine" and headed off without having to endure the time, money and hassle of getting a program of armpokery that costs about the same as a hundred pints of lager (that's sixty pints of lager to those of you who live in London, and a hundred and fifty to those of you from up north). But, as mentioned above, my mum is not someone who wants her sons going without every kind of injection-related disease prevention available, and so she (extremely kindly, may I add) said she'd pay for the vaccinations. So I made appointments to get my arms, and her wallet, painfully punctured.

Rabies and Jap Encephelitis require three jabs each, to be given on days 0, 7 and 21 or 28 of the vaccination program. This meant that I could go to the health centre three times and receive two jabs each time. Simple. Or so I thought.

However, as those who have been to Bognor Health Centre (and those who have been reading closely) may have worked out, there was a snag. Quite brilliantly, on the day of my first jab, I turned up only to be informed that they had lost the japanese encephelitis vaccine. Great. So, on day 0 I had only the Rabies vaccine. Then I made an appointment for a week later. Day 7 for Rabies. Second Rabies dosage. But by then they'd found the Jap Encephelitis vaccine, so I get my first dose of that. So it's day 0 for Jap E (I hope you're keeping up with this at the back). So I have to make another appointment for a week later to get my second Jap E dosage, on day 7 for that, and day 14 for Rabies.

Anyway, it all will (hopefully) work itself out, as I can just get my final dose of both on the 28th September, which will be day 35 for Rabies and day 28 for Jap E. Which is apparently fine. I hope. Like I said, I'm a gambling man...

Meanwhile, I've also got to take Malaria tablets. One a week. For pretty much the whole time I'm away. So I've got forty tablets. At a total cost of £120 or so. Ouch. And they taste nasty as well, and can cause depression in some people to boot. How they know that it's the pills causing depression and not the cost, hassle and taste I don't know...

Still, if you've got your health, that's the main thing, eh? And at least now I can boldly stride into disease-ridden places with the firm knowledge that I am equipped with antibodies in my bloodstream to deal with all the nasty illnesses swarming about me. Except STDs. And stomach upsets. And the common cold. And Avian Flu. And SARS. Hmmm... To be honest, I think I just be glad that with only one Health Centre visit left, I seem to have emerged without catching some kind of superbug...

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Route

OK, people, so that everyone knows the score and can check back if and when required, I figured it would be best if I outlined the planned route of the Grand World Tour here and now. Of course circumstances may vary, but if all goes according to plan the route should take in 4 continents, 13 or so countries, and a smidge under 28000 miles. So here goes:
Firstly, on the 4th October I shall fly to Delhi. I arrive at Delhi airport at half past midnight and then have to wait for 5 hours or so for my travelling companion Trevor "El Nino" McClure to arrive. We'll hang around Delhi for a bit, then overland through Rajasthan and places to Mumbai. Then down to Goa, and then once again back up to Mumbai. We are planning on spending about 2 months in India all told.
The next stage on our travels is a flight from Mumbai to Bangkok. Our other travelling companion, Si Whitby, will be arriving in Bangkok on the 11th of December. After this we'll head in a big circle around South East Asia, taking in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where no doubt Full Metal Jacket quotes will abound. Then it's back to Bangkok, ready for our next flight.
Said flight is from Bangkok to Sydney. Not sure whereabouts we're gonna be heading within Australia, but we plan to spend around 6 weeks or so there. Then we fly from Sydney to Auckland, for some time in World's Sheepiest Country, New Zealand. Again not too sure of the planned route within NZ, we'll just make it up as we get there I expect. Completing the South Pacific section of our journey is the next flight, from Auckland to Nadi, in Fiji.
Having bummed around in Fiji, we head on to the grand ol' US of A, flying direct to Los Angeles for a stay of a fortnight. We actually have no real wish to go to LA, but you need to go via there to get to Central America from Fiji, and if we're gonna stop there anyway we might as well see the place. But after a relatively short and expensive time there, we shall move on, flying to Guatemala City in, er, Guatemala.
Again, we don't really have a set itinerary for Central America. Of course by this stage it will all depend on how much money I have left, but after probably a couple of months I shall be returning to dear old blighty from Mexico City, no doubt lighter by several pounds and indeed by several thousand pounds, if you see what I mean...

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Hola!

With just under three weeks to go until I leave for Foreign Climes, I felt it was time for me to begin this travel diary weblog. Basically I'll try to post about where I am and what I'm up as often as I can. I'd write more here now, but I'm nursing a slight hangover as a result of going out for my birthday/my last day at work yesterday. So I'm off for a quick dose of triple S, and will probably post details of where I'm going and who I'm going with tomo, for all those who don't already know.