#Round the World 2007 - 08

 

#the Gear

You really don't want to know that. A full 80l backpack from Tatonka, and a Deuter daypack. Oh, I need cutlery? Lets go into the kitchen, take a knife, a spoon and a fork. Mh, maybe I need a towel. Que walking into the bathroom, packing an ordinary towel. Oh, I like chess. Lets buy a >1kg chessboard made of wood. I admit, mistakes were made. I wont make a gear list for this tour, it would be hilariously bad. I think I peaked at 27 kg of luggage at some point, carrying 8 books in my daypack. You really don't want to know what I packed, except maybe to learn what not to bring.

#Countries

Germany, England (2x), Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Italy, Vatican, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt (2x), Dubai, Singapore (2x), Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, USA (2x), Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica.

#The Story

My first trip. I started fresh out of school, aged 19, with a heavy 80l backpack and no clear plan of what to do. I wanted to go one time around the world, but wasn't sure how. Worst case scenario, at least in my head, was this: At least I can try. Maybe I can make it to Australia or New Zealand.

I started with a Euro Rail ticket, a europe-wide train pass that allows you to hop on and off trains. I went to Brussels and Paris, Zurich, Milano, Firenze, Roma and Athens with it. You can even ride ferries with the ticket, which came in handy in southern Europe. All went well, people were reasonably used to backpackers, hostels are plentiful and English widely spoken. It was in Greece that I started having slight difficulties, because I couldn't even read the language anymore. Turkey got worse. Way worse, for someone with no travel experience, no guidebook and who thinks that trains are the only way to go. Oblivious to bus travel, I tried to get to Syria by train, and after going around Turkey for almost a week on trains, I gave up and booked a flight. It was my birthday, and I was quite taken aback by how little I know, and how hard it is to travel outside of good old Europe.

Boy, I had no idea what I was doing. A friendly passenger, an Iraqi businessman name Kawa helped me a lot. When we arrived in Syria, I didn't even have a visa. But with his help, 10 minutes and 20 dollars later, I held my stamped passport in my hands. We shared the taxi to the centre of Damascus and he gave me a quick rundown of how things work in the middle east. Which places to go, what to say, what to eat... it was great, just the boost to keep me going. It got so much better after that. I got a bit lost in the desert in Jordan and rode a cap for 330 km, but the hospitality of the Arabs is amazing. Egypt was great. Israel was an island of western culture, which surprised me a bit. It was also the first place that I met Christians that pray before they eat, which lead to a very amusing scene in the dormitory. And Cairo... I love Cairo. Its living, breathing, smelly chaos with a system behind it. Its also the first place I saw a Lonely Planet (wow, they make guidebooks for independent travellers? How handy to have, I never heard about it.) and booked a RTW flight ticket.

Petra

Petra

Which started in... London. So after getting to the middle east, I had to book a flight back to Europe, stayed a few days in London before I got my first RTW flight. It was amazing, everything was green. It was cold. It rained. I was so happy, because I hadn't seen a cloud in over a month. My first flight would bring me to Dubai, so fat chance of rainy, cold weather happening any time soon. And true, it was close to 50° and not very pleasant in Dubai. I walked and bussed around aimlessly, most items and services made for rich people, not lowly backpackers. There I sat, playing chess or backgammon in the guest house, hoping that south-east Asia would be different.

Again, oh boy, I had no idea. A backpacker paradise. Cheap hostels next to good, cheap food, next to internet cafe, next to laundromat, next to more food and hostels. Little shops sell backpacks and clothing, books and everything any backpacker could ever hope for. I was amazed, mesmerized. I wanted to do everything, at once. I hiked and boated in Taman Negarra Rainforest, dived on the Perhentians, partied on Koh Pha Ngan, meditated 10 days in a Buddhist monastery, saw Angkor Wat, tuk-tuked around Vietnam, cruised Halong Bay, playing Starcraft in little internet cafes. 6 hours for 1€. Everything was cheap and there was so much to explore. I did not notice it much at that point, but everything was also full of other backpackers. No wonder the middle east is empty, I thought to myself, everything hangs around here. But I had my next flight to catch: Australia.

 

Petra

Petra

Getting to Oz was another culture shock. Gone were the days I could spend money on anything, no, Oz is a developed western country and I had to pinch pennies again. Luckily my extended family allowed me to stay for several weeks near Sydney, before I got another train pass and explored the inland. I went by train to Perth on the west coast, Adelaide on the south, hitchhiked to Melbourne, hiked the blue mountains, saw the great ocean road, took another train, "the legendary ghan, my ass" across the outback to Alice Springs and hiked around the Uluru. Further north to Darwin, catching another huge surprise: Darwin is marked on maps as a state capital, same as Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth, all having at least a million inhabitants. Darwin has... 70.000. A small town in tropical weather, a strange stop. A good stop, since I found a well stocked bookstore that kept me busy for days.

Australia lasted 3 months for me in total, and I can barely mention everything here. I worked a week on a cattle farm in the middle of nowhere. I hitchhiked in a plane. I had a huge snake around my shoulders. I spend New Years Eve in the domain in Sydney, the largest fireworks in the world. Which luckily for me did not last quite that long, because I had a flight to Christchurch at 5 o'clock in the morning.

Petra

Petra

New Zealand will forever remain as one of my favourite countries. Lush green hills for hiking, mountains and cliff faces for climbing. I have seen dolphins and glaciers on the same day, I spelunked, saw the strangest birds, and managed to spend all that money that I saved in Australia in about 10 days. 10 days in Queenstown, full of bungee jumping, helicopter flying, jet boat skydiving hiking biking fun. And the obligatory Milford Sound tour. Guilty as charged.

After only one month my next flight loomed (was that RTW really a good idea?), with a stop-over on Fiji. Sounds nice, but badly timed just after a large hurricane. Suffice to say, that Fiji ranks high on my least favourite places to this day. Luckily, it was only a short 2 weeks, followed by the US of A. One of the weirdest places in the world, from my perspective at least. L.A., San Francisco, Las Vegas, the grand canyon, all those were part of a road trip I did. And since the friendly Guatemalan guy, who thought me to play backgammon in Dubai, told me to rather cross Central America instead of the USA, I did indeed go further south.

At blackest night, 3 o'clock in the morning, which isn't actually that early in Las Vegas, a German speaking Turkish taxi driver brought me to the airport for my cheap super-last minute flight to Yucatán, Mexico. A good decision. I loved Mexico, with its Maya ruins, the hiking and diving, the food... oh, enchiladas. Now I am hungry.

But smaller, tropical, cheaper almost-third-world countries did meet my travellers needs a lot more than safe, expensive and developed USA. Over the next 2 months I visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and finally flew out from Costa Rica, to Miami. Why USA again? Because the flight back home must be from the USA, part of the odd RTW-ticket schedule. I had to get to New York to catch it, so up the coast it was. Bussing from Miami north, doing a long stop in Washington DC, a town that I adore for the multitude of free museums and classical European architecture and layout, I made my way to N.Y. City.

I remember my first night. I arrived in the evening, everything was so foggy that I couldn't even see the tops of the skyscrapers. All hotels were full. All hostels were full. I ended up with a ~45 year old Bulgarian/Canadian artist, who also got no room that night, and we hiked around the almost deserted city, hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop, walking from Central Park to Battery Park and back, doing the classical NY sightseeing tour. At night. In the fog. It was glorious, and I am glad I never got a room that first day. After that it was more relaxed, waiting with anticipation to go back home.

One last stopover was in the way, I had 48h in London. Not wanting to waste away at the airport, and having seen London on my first stop here, I decided to take the opportunity to see Stonehenge. I managed to get to Amesbury, and decided to walk. At some point I ditched my backpack, hiding it in some bushes on the side of the road, and walked along the highway to where people told me, Stonehenge would lie. After a while I saw it across green meadows, but someone had build a fence. Probably a farmer, to protect the grass. I quickly hopped over it, and walked completely illegally to the great old rock altars, noticing the droves of tourists way, way too late. Everyone had audio guides, and there was a big walkway, ticket booth, souvenir stalls... ups. Well, no one paid any interest to me, the lone figure walking across an empty field towards them. And it was fine, I unknowingly cheated my way in.

That was the last of the adventures of the boy, who did not know how to backpack. And of course, it turned out to be true: On my next tour, I was the biker, who has no idea what he is doing with a bicycle. The important part is that I managed to get one time around the world, achieving my goal, and that from then on I was hooked.