Life Beneath The Waves – Deep Eddy

My coworker and friend Brent gave me a CD last week that he recorded with his band. The album was called ‘Life Beneath The Waves’. On its cover, we the viewer see a scuba diver from the underside. The sun is showing just above the water.

I asked him if he could sign it with “Happy Travels” and he did.

I listened to it on the way back from work today. The album’s namesake ‘Life Beneath The Waves’ came on. And throughout the song, the melody and lyrics touched me like few songs do. It sang about not wanting the big house, the big car. It sang about how it’s nice to just be free beneath the waves. That song put a big, fat smile on my face all the way home. I had to play it on repeat.

I’ve spoken about my diving trips to friends. Often times, they have no interest in it or just can’t relate to the feeling one gets being 30 feet underwater, seeing a different world go by. I feel sad that many won’t ever experience this world because they either have no interest or are too afraid to try it.

Why I love World of Warcraft

I enjoy playing World of Warcraft. Why? Because it allows me to travel even when I’m not travelling. I am in Azeroth, Kalimdor, Outlands, exploring lands far away, seeing exotic creatures and having adventure along the way. There is a feeling of freedom I can gain while I lead my more mundane life.

A Map for Saturday

All those years ago, before I started my first year-long Round-The-World journey, I watched “A Map for Saturday”. It was a documentary about the journey of a backpacker through his RTW trip and the people he meets, their experiences, and life on the road. It opened my eyes and prepared me (somewhat) for my own journey.

Re-watching it after my own journey made me nostalgic. It confirmed many things but I also felt some things were exaggerated. I guess it all comes down to perspective.

Cleaning up after getting home

I have a ritual which I enjoy doing every few months; go through all my things and downsize. This is part of my ongoing efforts to be a minimalist; buy what I need and fight temptation as much as I can for things I want.

I’ve already downsized a few times and I’m at a point where I just can’t get rid of anymore unnecessary things I’ve accumulated over the years. But I did finally throw away my shoes from my first RTW trip. They had holes in them and keeping them for sentimental reasons just meant that space will be taken up. I have to learn not to be too attached to a material good.

But my REI 55L backpack and NF Borealis backpack are still with me, dirty but perfectly functional.

LIFE is a struggle.

Sitting here, listening to “Comptine d’Un Autre Ete”, a song from Amelie, reading an article on CNN Money about people struggling financially in America:

I ask myself, what is it all for? Kids, houses etc.

Life is such a struggle. The strongest survive and live on. It’s not just the animal world.

Sick of paying “Stupid Tax”

By “Stupid Tax”, I mean losing money by not doing things efficiently. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

1. Bought a $100 plane ticket in Brazil that I cannot use (Sao Paulo – Porto Alegre) because I had to change my plans for the visa application. The embassy needed proof I am leaving Brazil. I couldn’t buy a bus ticket online (Porto Alegre – Montevideo) so I bought a plane ticket out (Sao Paulo – Buenos Aires). In hindsight, I should have done more research on “onward tickets” and realized how stringent embassies can be.

2. Paid $150 to get out of Galapagos early. But I didn’t know I’d be “Galapagos-ed out”. That cruise really gave me all I wanted and I would’ve been spending $100-150 for a day or two doing day-tours or dive trips to pass time so maybe I ended up saving money.

3. Found out the $172 ticket I paid for Lima-Cusco could’ve been $92. So I lost $80 there. But I don’t know if this was because I booked it outside of Peru. I’ve read prices are lower if you are booking in Peru itself. Computer IP address tells the airline websites if I am in Peru or not. (edit: After speaking to a Peruvian Airlines rep, I don’t think there is much difference between $92 Class M and $172 Class H. Apparently there’s a little more flexibility with re-booking tickets with Class H but certainly not worth $80 more.)

Expenditures like these irk me.

How I feel at the start of every trip I take

It always takes me a little while to get used to the whole backpacking thing all over again. It doesn’t matter how much traveling I’ve done in the past.

Initially, I always feel a little homesick, a little turned off by noisy hostels (they were blasting music in the next door attached-bar until 11 pm), and a little anti-social (I need space to acclimatize to my surroundings). Once I’m well-rested and adjust to my surroundings, I start getting into a groove. For me, it’s important not to start off fast. Some people are ok with packing their first day with a ton of activities but I need to take it slow. I need to feel my way about my new surroundings. Sitting in a public space and just people watching and reading my guidebook and looking at the map of the city. Visit one or two sites a day, taking my time through them. Eating light. Finding out where the supermarket, banks, public transport stations are. Long-term travel is a marathon, not a sprint.

Planning for South America

The last 2 weeks have been spent planning my upcoming trip to South America.

Most of the trip is pretty straightforward except for the Galapagos Islands cruise and my stay in Brazil.  I’ll elaborate more on this later.

Where as I traveled in Europe, Africa, and Asia mostly using ground transportation, I will mostly be flying around in South America. If I had more time, I might have taken it slower and stopped by all the unknown smaller towns between the major cities. Each bus ride between major cities in, for example, Colombia, takes around 12-20 hours one way. I may not have minded 5 hours but 12-20 seems a bit longer than I’d like. Moreover, the cost of long distance bus rides are about 50-60% of a planet ticket for the same route,  which takes a tenth of the time. It’s a no-brainer to fly in South America most of the time. (But I will be traveling via bus for a few legs of my journey through South America.)

TIP: Don’t rely on Kayak to research plane ticket prices. This is because ever since they were bought my Priceline, they will show a low price initially but when you hit “Select”, they will look again and give you messages like “Sorry, this price isn’t available anymore. It is now $xxx.xx”. I used and prices shown are what you pay.

Back to Galapagos and Brazil.

I’ve read that the best way to experience the Galapagos Islands is with a cruise, which is usually offered in the 5-day or 8-day variety on various classes of boats ranging from economy to luxury. Now, to get the best prices for these cruises, it is recommended people fly to the Galapagos Islands (most people land in Isla Santa Cruz), take the bus to Puerto Ayora, and look for last-minute cruise deals there (alternately, you could do the same in Quito or Guayacil on the mainland but you may not get as good a deal as you would in Puerto Ayora). I also read that the longer you can spend waiting in Puerto Ayora, the better the chance of you scoring a great deal. We are talking about a 20-30% difference in price, which is considerable when you realize the price of an 8-day cruise can range from $1500 to $4000, depending on which boat class you pick. I personally have chosen to travel to Puerto Ayora and take my chances. It is the shoulder season after all. I don’t know if I would have the same luck traveling during peak season (June to September).

As for Brazil, it’s World Cup year. Which means most places (and I’m just referring to “lowly” hostels, not fancy hotels) mark up their per-night price about 500%, starting June 12 and ending July 13, which is when the WC starts and ends. Yes, 500%! US$20/night turns into US$100 for a DORM BED. So my plan is to spend about 2 weeks prior to the World Cup in Brazil when all the prices are normal, and then spend a few days staying in a city which is hosting a match, for the purpose of experiencing the atmosphere.  And let’s not even discuss the battle for a place to sleep, even at those prices. After messing around with alternate itineraries and doing a ton of research using my Rough Guide, Wikitravel, Hostelworld, and, I was fortunate enough to secure accommodation in Sao Paulo (and at a much better price than originally thought, which I can’t confirm until I actually get there in June, so I’ll keep you posted). On June 12, I will get to be in Sao Paulo as host nation Brazil open the 2014 World Cup by taking on Croatia in Sao Paulo itself. I will then leave Brazil shortly after. I will write about the details of my “escape from high prices” route out of Brazil when I’m there. Also, it’s probably better to fly around Brazil. If you wonder why, open Google Maps and check out its size. Flights are relatively cheap, plenty of time will be saved, and your butt/sanity will thank you for it.