Monday, February 21, 2011


I finally finished putting up all my pictures of Europe. You can see them all here:

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Hitchhiking is an amazing thing. All it takes is a little courage to get to the side of the road and stick your thumb out. Once you're there it's all up to the driver. On the one hand it's great, it's freeing, just you and your bag and the road. You may have a destination in mind, but who knows where you'll end the day. No need to follow the schedule of trains and make rigid plans. You just go and see what the day brings you. On the other hand you're completely dependent. You're waiting for some goodwill and open seats heading in the right direction.

It's really all about human interaction. You have a short window of time in which to make an impression on a driver. Maybe it's your sign, maybe your smile, maybe you remind them of their son, maybe they used to hitchhike, and maybe they're just looking for some company. If you're at a gas station it can be easier to make a connection. You can talk to them. They're spending some time there so maybe while they're going to the bathroom they're thinking about you and in that extra time they decide to take you. You become more than just another stranger on the side of the road, you become a fellow human being looking for a hand. It's harder to say no to a fellow human being than it is to just keep driving past a stranger.

In that way hitchhiking is a truly amazing thing. It's a chance to reach out to strangers and just trust and recognize the humanity of others. You get to experience strangers helping each other for no reward first hand.

Real interaction with strangers is a rare thing. During our days we rarely have sincere human interactions with strangers. Most of the time people buy their groceries with barely acknowledging the cashier. Most of the time people drive their cars, locked away in the steel frame away from everyone else. Even when people do take public transportation there is rarely much interaction between passengers. These day to day interactions are just little skits we've learned to act out, our culture is full of little formalities and roles that we perform to expedite things. So it's pretty unique to hop in a car with a complete stranger and just get to know each other for the next few hours.

Hitchhiking isn't all glorious though. Sometimes you wait for hours in the cold, the heat, the rain, on the side of a busy road, at a gas station. You know where you want to go but you don't know how you'll get there. It's not always fun and sometimes it's depressing to just stand around waiting. It's a humbling experience to completely rely on the goodwill of others. But it's also an amazingly euphoric experience when you get that ride. Miserable hours spent waiting at a gas station vanish when you get in a car heading the right direction. Each time someone reaches out and gives you a lift it re-energizes you, inspires you. The people you meet and the kindness you experience feeds you (sometimes literally) and gets you back on the road again.

It is exhausting too though. While waiting you may start to second guess your location. Maybe over there would have been better, maybe I should move here. What should I write on my sign? Should I even use a sign? After a couple hours maybe you start thinking of heading back the direction you came and trying at a different location or on a different route. And then there's the question of where you'll sleep that night. Even when you get in a car it's rarely going exactly where you need to go. Chances are you'll have to find a good spot for them to drop you off along the way. And getting out of cities? Oh man, that's no fun. Nothing is worse than lots and lots of local traffic.

If you can just get it all out of your mind and just take it one step at a time then you'll be OK. The worst part isn't the waiting or the uncertainty. The worst part is the self inflicted anxiety. It's really hard to not start thinking about it though. When I start thinking a few steps or hours ahead then I just have to stop and tell myself I'll see when I get there. I found that when you can just put all those worries away you'll realize that things tend to work out pretty harmoniously, and in ways you couldn't have planned.

I've been back in the States over a month now. It was a great 6 months out on the road, but it feels good to be back too. It's nice to be in one place, to know where you're sleeping, and to just relax. Especially at the end of my trip I was constantly on the move and that got tiring. Am I done traveling? No, but I do need a break. There are still so many places I'd love to see. But I don't want to just be a tourist going from place to place all the time. Next time I go out travelling I want to spend a lot of time in each place, find some work, and meet some people.

When your only goal is the next destination then when you arrive the only thing for you to do is to find another one. I found that didn't change when I got back to the states. Whether it was a job or a place to live I was still looking for a destination. And the same old worries kept cropping up, where are you going? How will you get there? Maybe you should have done this or that instead? What will you do once you're there? For now i'm that guy who's living in his parents basement (at least I'm not 30 yet). I'm OK with it though, and i'm trying not to look for destinations. I'm just trying to enjoy each place and moment I find myself in. Just as with hitchhiking, I don't have a clue where i'll end up or how i'll get there, but i'll deal with that when the time comes. And it's nice to know that, when you need a lift, people will pick you up.

Check out this video:
It's a great documentary on hitchhiking and it will give you a good sense of what hitchhiking in Europe can be like.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meandering Briefly

A lot has happened since my last post! I've been all over the place, but still have only seen a fraction of whats out here in Europe. Almost all of my traveling has been by hitch hiking and walking, with the occasional city bus.

I had a beautiful walk through the woods north west of Frankfurt. Emerging two days later on the autobahn I promptly got a ride right to Halle where I got to reconnect with a former camper from about 6 years ago. I had a great time with him and then rode with him to his home in Brussels. There I spent 3 nights, one with him and his father, and then two nights with a couchsurfer.

A long and crazy day hitch hiking later I found myself sleeping under my tarp behind a shrub next to a dike near a canal running by the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands! Three days walking and camping along the river, canals, wetlands, and forests along the border of the Netherlands and Germany and I was in the city of Doetinchem.

Three weeks as part of my friend's family. Lots of great time spent with good company. A quick side trip to Amsterdam. Easily could have spent the rest of my trip in Doetinchem and loved it. Time flies.

Two attempts later, one long and silent car ride with a nice Polish man who spoke no english, rudely interrupted briefly by German border police looking for drugs, I ended up in Berlin. Two nights and one day spent exploring Berlin and getting to know another couchsurfer. Only four couch surfing experiences in my 5 months traveling so far. All great experiences, but probably not too much more in the near future either. Too much planning required.

Turning south for the winter I got a ride with a business man in a nice Audi. 200 km/hr on the Autobahn makes for a quick trip to Nuremburg. Then I got my first ride with a woman who was alone in a car. Just a short one to a petrol station on the Autobahn, but still a first. A friendly Russian couple on a business trip took me the rest of the way into Prague. Two nights in the old beautiful city. One in a hostel, one with some people from New Zealand.

Two days of seemingly going in circles before I made it to Bratislava, Slovakia. Got to see Jihlava in the Cech Republic while hanging out with a Cech hitchhiker on his way to Brno. Interesting side trip. Lots of time spent at a gas station, sundays are slow. Bratislava is very nice. Not much time for Slovakia, moving on tomorrow. Either Vienna or Budapest.

Brief post, I'll fill in the details later!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Castles and Trucks

I'm using the internet in a truck on the Autobahn and I can see three castles at the moment! Germany is awesome. On my way to Halle.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Looking for Thoughts

I'm not really sure what to write about, so i guess i'll just start writing...

There's a lot of history in Europe. Every town has been around for at least twice the amount of time as any place in America. Down every street you can find old buildings with little shops, bakeries, butchers, and restaurants squeezed together. The cobbled streets wind and bend through narrow alleys. Ruoen in particular was filled with old blocks where the buildings all seemed a bit askew and sagged out over the tiny street. Church steeples and cathedral towers pierce the sky instead of high rises and sky scrappers. The cities often have rather unimpressive skylines compared to the modern american metropolis, but the view of a modest river town with a massive cathedral was enough to inspire thousands of impressionist paintings (and they never tired of painting the same scene either).

You don't find gigantic warehouse stores as frequently as you do in the US. Shopping for food is more often done in smaller grocery stores, corner stores, bakeries, butchers, and open air markets. You can usually find what you need, but they often are only open until 8pm, and if it's sunday outside the UK, good luck finding anything.

I spent just under 3 weeks in France, a more abridged trip than some of the other places. I had about 2 days in Ruoen and then about 2 weeks in Paris. Paris is certainly nice, lots of history, old buildings, plenty to see, and always something going on. I didn't stay in Paris that long because I really liked the city or wanted to see more. I'm not really a city person, and Paris is a city person's city. My reason for staying was simply to spend time with a good friend, and to that extent I really enjoyed Paris. The city is pretty dirty. The streets and sidewalks are littered with discarded cigarettes and dog poop (yea watch where you step in Paris). My impression of Paris is that is a rather gray city. While London was quite green, Paris is mostly concrete and stone. Sure the buildings and monuments are more impressive, and they have some nice gardens scattered here and there. Of course this impression isn't helped by the fact that it was mostly gray and drizzly while there.

For my exit I took a commuter train out to Euro Disneyland. An odd phenomenon where there were more english signs than french and, of course, my old friend Mickey Mouse. I didn't actually spend anytime in Euro Disneyland but instead took a bus a couple of stops and then a short walk to the nearest toll booth on the main road going east from Paris. From here I pulled out some cardboard signs and tried to make my way to Germany. My ride came from a fellow from the UK who had pulled off at the toll parking lot to refill his transmission fluid. He was on his way to Romania (and perhaps then on to Greece, he hadn't decided) and was going right by Frankfurt. Good company and a ride to Frankfurt, can't ask for any more than that! He dropped me off at the airport where I got in touch with a friend from camp who lived in Frankfurt. Fortunately he was up at midnight and lived pretty close to the airport.

Since then I've been enjoying some beautiful autumn weather in Germany and soaking in the german culture through schnitzel, donner kabobs, chiliwurts, and chocolates. There are lots of traditional little towns tucked in the hills and woods around frankfurt. Once again it's been great to hang out with a friend as well. Soon I'll be moving on towards Berlin, and hopefully seeing a couple other friends in the next few weeks.

It's nice to have a mix of time with friends and time alone. Time with friends is always fun. Time alone forces you to meet new people, branch out, and in many cases see or do things you may not otherwise. Sometimes it can get a bit lonely, and there's always an extra level of uncertainty (especially if you don't know the language at all). It's been nice to spend time in just one place as well. While traveling your always packing up, moving, and settling down temporarily again. It can be tiring, but at the same time I get a wonderful feeling when I get back out on the road. Sometimes you get quite comfortable where you are and its hard to move on. But it's great once you stop worrying and just go.

In my travels I try as much as possible to take things as they come and not worry about the future. There so much to worry about: where to go, how to get here, where I'll stay, is it safe, what to eat, do I still have enough money, etc. Those are things people worry about all the time, basically will their needs be met? Of course we often don't even know exactly what we need. On top of that we often think we know how they should be met. I've found it's our worries or our view of how things should be blinds us from other opportunities.

Well thats enough for now, heading out tomorrow, need to get some sleep.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Around and back

It`s been a while and I`m now in France! The keyboards here are quite different from in the USA, so I appologize in advance for mistakes and just shorter posts in general.

My month in the UK was great! I had a lot more flexibility in my travels since distances are smaller than South Africa and there are lots of buses and trains everywhere. I also managed to hitchhike a few times.

After Bristol I spent a night in Bath with my friend, Louis, and his family. There are canals all around the UK with footpaths along them. On a whim I decided to take one from outside Bath heading east. I spent an evening walking, followed by a night under my tarp next to a corn field. The next morning I walked to the town of Deviez where a road runs straight south towards stonehenge. I didnt find a great spot to hitchhike, but got lucky and had a ride within a few minutes of putting out the thumb.

Fortunately or not, Stonehenge is right on an intersection of major roads. This made it easy to get to, but it kind of takes away from the magic of the place when the weekend trafic to cornwall is creeping by. Stonehenge itself is impressive and set in a beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, in addition to the major road trafic, theres also bus loads of tourists. It was worth going though.

Since I got to stonehenge so early I decided to try my luck and head north past devizes to the small town of ashbury. Here there is another series of circles of stones and mounds. The town is actually built inside the circle and you can walk around freely and touch the stones (unlike stonehenge). The stones themselves arent as large or well preserved, but its almost cooler than stonehenge (and more or less empty). If you happen to be heading to stonehenge you should definitely go here as well.

While making my sign at stonehenge some Australians asked me where I was heading. They decided they could take me and so the 4 of us crammed into their little car, luggage on the laps, and drove up to ashbury. They had never heard of ashbury (which is true for most people, even in the UK) and so we spent sometime walking around the stones. Originally this was where I was going to stop and spent the night. It turned out the aussies were heading to Cardiff that night (just west of bristol) and so I continued riding with them all the way to Louis`s place. These were just the first of several friendly aussies I met while travelling around the UK.

Back in Bristol I decided I needed to bus straight north. Louis was getting off work in a couple weeks time and wanted to go to France at that time. So rather than slowly work my way north I just bused all the way to Carlisle with a brief stop in Manchester. Along the way I stayed with the cousin of a friend of Louis in Manchester (not as bizzare as it sounds, I had met everyone invovled in the connection before in London) and then with a nice young family in Carlisle who I found through couchsurfing.

The north of the UK is known as being the industrial center and not known for being especially nice (especially not the weather), but I found Manchester to be quite nice. Its an interesting mix of old and modern buildings with a fairly lively and cosmopolitan feel to it. There were some pretty nice museums as well. I quite enjoyed the industrial museum with their collection of old steam locomotives. Carlisle was also really nice and was home to a mideval castle.

My main reason for shooting up to Carlisle was to see Hadrians Wall. I learned while at stonehenge that there is a path that follow the entire lenght of where the wall used to be. Carlisle falls somewhere near the western end of the wall. From here I set out east towards Newcastle along the Hardians Wall Path. For the entire first afternoon and part of the next morning there isnt actually any wall to see. Instead you get picturesque pasture land and english countryside, complete with cows and lots and lots of sheep. And their poop everywhere ofcourse. The path actually goes through the pastures and fields. England has odd property laws, the queen actually owns all the land and people are just leasing it for a thousand years or something like that. Whatever it is, everywhere you go in the UK you will find public right of ways crossing through fields and sometimes along backyards.

The second and third days of walk were very nice. The wall follows a fault line and there are these large crags that it is perched on. A lot of the wall is still here on these stretches and there are also some archelogical sites at some of the forts along the way. From the tops of the crags you can look out on miles and miles of pastures and tiny villages and see the wall stretching off in the distance. I would definitely recommend walking at least a small portion of the wall (lots of people take buses or drive and take little day hikes).

At night I would find a place to put up my tarp and then curl up in my sleeping bag as the temperature dropped. I slept in a variety of places, in little groves and right next to sections of the wall. I had mostly great weather, some rainy stetches, but I managed to stay mostly dry. My meals consisted of penut butter and honey sandwhiches and granola. Autumn was farther along in the north. The tree were just starting to change and the nights were becoming quite cold.

About 20 miles from Newcastle I came to the A68 which runs north to Edinburgh. I hitched, once again very successfully, and was in Edinburgh shortly after 1pm. My description of my time in scotland is going to be as brief as my time there was. Edinburgh is a beautiful old city, spent a night, hiked a little peak nearby early the next morning, and then was on a bus to Glencoe that afternoon. I wanted to get up further into Scotland and spent a couple days before heading south and Glencoe was a name someone mentioned while I was hiking Hadrians Wall.

Scotland is very different physically from the rest of england. Glencoe was in a beautiful area, right on a loch and squeezed between large, steep, rocky peaks. The ground in Scotland is like a sponge, everywhere is wet and it rains a lot. I got the last bed in the local hostel and then spent the next two days hiking and biking around the area. I had a nice mix of classic rainy scotland and beautiful, clear, sunny weather. Somehow I always managed to get pretty wet though. I was very grateful to not have to worry about setting up a tarp during that time.

After two short days in Scotland it was straight south overnight, a nice day in London, and then an overnight ferry to France! Im in Paris now staying with another friend, Mathieu. Ill save France for another post.

Everywhere I went in the UK I learned about 5 other things that I would like to go see. I saw a lot, but I would love to go back. Especially Scotland, I just barely scratched the surface there. I also never made it to Cornwall! Anyways, cant see it all, Ill just have to return.

Monday, September 6, 2010

UK Brief

I've been in the UK for over a week now and enjoying it thoroughly. I spent a few days exploring London and then met up with a friend I met in the Caribbean. Appropriately we went to the Notting Hill Carnival - a big Caribbean festival held in London, one of the biggest street festivals in the world. Then we traveled back to Bristol where he lives. I've spent about a week in Bristol now. Its a beautiful city placed along an estuary. It's very hilly, with lots of old buildings, colorful rows of town houses, and parks. The place isn't a big tourist attraction, but is very nice and is home to a big hot air balloon festival and a kite festival (that happened just the other day). The city is also actively trying to reduce its carbon footprint by building bike paths, encouraging eco-friendly building, and various other initiatives. It's been fun hanging out here. This week I might get down to Cornwall if the weather holds up, then i'll be making my way north towards Scotland.

Check out some more new photos:
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Days 3 & 4 - Windmeulnek Hut

Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 5 - Journey Out