Sunday, March 28, 2010

Never give up

As Winston Churchill said. Never give up, never! Check this link : Never gave up! and stop saying that you can't do that and that...

Have a wonderful life. Enjoy and smile. Da las gracias, abraza mas y regala sonrisas.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cycling at Näsijärvi lake on a beauuutiful sunshine

My bike at Näsijärvi lake

It has been sunny and warm days and when I'm looking out from my window I can see people skiing and walking on the Näsijärvi lake in a beautiful sunshine. Most of them are heading to a rock "Siilinkari", which is about 1 km off the shore on the lake. I decided to bike to Siilinkari, because it was such a beauuuutiful day again and snow is still hard after the freezing temperatures during the night. The frozen lake looks like a salt flat in Bolivia!

Biking near the Siilinkari - rock on Näsijärvi lake

I managed to cut the maps of Swedish coastline into 9 pieces and to protect them from the sea water I covered them with transparent self-adhesive film. What a tedious job, but had to do it! Finnish coastline is still waiting, but I don't have any energy to do it this week. I'll attack Finnish maps next week...

Southern part of Swedish coastline on my floor

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Preparations for summer

I have started already the preparations for the long kayak trip during the summer. Interviewing the persons, who have been doing long sea kayaking trips, writing the list of the items to take with me, ordering and buying missing gear, testing critical equipments, checking every item and preparing these for the 3 months trip.

It's going to be a real physical and mental challenge for me. The longest hiking trips I have done so far have been 1 month. I just need to split the route into shorter manageable legs. 2 months at Swedish coastline and 1 month at Finnish coastline. Most probably I have to paddle Swedish coastline alone, but hopefully will get company for the Finnish coast. The Swedish coast needs to be split into west coast (from Norwegian border to Malmö), southern east coast (from Malmö to Stockholm) and northern east cost (from Stockholm to Haparanda). This will be further divided into 9 smaller units (9 separate maps covering the whole Swedish coastline). Thus I can follow how the trip is proceeding by looking the number of the map currently in use.

On this trip there will be different challenges than in my Latin America trip. No need to worry about earthquakes, landslides, volcano eruptions, traffic accidents, tropical diseases, dangerous animals, guerillas, robberies, thefts, murders, etc...

Now I need to check the weather forecast and try to avoid strong winds, storms, high waves, cruise ships, boats, ferries, strong currents, tides, slippery rocks, hypothermia, etc...

Hmmm, maybe I should stay at home...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Back at home

When I was at security check at Paramaribo airport, security officer asked me where I was coming from. When he heard I'm from Finland the next words from his mouth were : "Jari Litmanen". Indeed football seems to be universal language, I replied "Clarence Seedorf", because they were playing together at Ajax Amsterdam and Clarence is from Suriname. And I saw him smiling. This was the end of my security check. He just waived me to continue forward.

I was boarding to "Audrey Hepburn" MD11 plane and after 8 hours landed at Schiphol airport at Amsterdam. Schiphol is very large and busy airport. It's fifth largest airport in Europe after London Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Madrid. The airport is home to 582 different companies and employs over 65 000 people! It's a gateway to 262 global destinations and every year about 100 couples get married at airport and jet off to their honeymoon right after the service. THIS IS LARGE SCALE TRANSPORTATION BUSINESS!

The difference to airports and local carriers on Caribbean is enormous. When flying from island to island by LIAT, the stewardess of the flight knew at least half of the passengers and they were changing the news and gossips before and during the flight like good friends. E.g. on the flight from Antigua to St. Kitts, there were one person, most probably airport staff, waiting for the ride. They gave him a seat from the cockpit, because flight was already full. The athmosphere were cozy and relaxed and flights short.

I noticed the same small scale friendliness on countries and cities / villages. The more smaller the country was the more cozy it felt and more friendly the people were and the more safer the country was. The same applied to cities and villages. As a general rule this applies, but there are exceptions as well. Buenos Aires and Montevideo were extremely pleasent for such big cities.

I miss that small scale business, which is providing service much more personal and humane than those large scale global companies, who are just thinking how to grow even bigger and how to maximize the profit on short term.

Less is more!

And it was wonderful return back home. Now I'll enjoy leisurely life...

Monday, March 15, 2010

My travel gadgets

There are some travelling gadgets, which without I won't travel. This is my 5-top list of mandatory items for my travel:

1) Lock

This lock saved my valuables through the whole journey. Without this one I would have lost money and valuable items at many places. This is the best lock I have faced so far. It has a long metal wire, which can be extended to the lenght you need to have. You can lock your bag e.g. to table or chair or you can just minimize the length of the wire and use it like "normal" lock to lock your bag. This lock was breaken by the TSA authority in the USA in the name of national security screening process. They have the right to break the logs from the checked baggages on the airports, if they see it necessary. And they are not responsible of compensating the broken locks at all!!!! I was flying from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Nassau, Bahamas, but via Orlando. I didn't know anything about TSA and it's rights. When I was complaining th broken lock, they just say the right to broke it is written in the internet pages of TSA pages.

This is ridiculous. How could I know that TSA authority exists and they have somewhere internet pages where you can find one sentence about this one. And the flight was even international between Dominican Republic and Bahamas.

I just want to stay as far as possible from this country and it's paranoid attitude about the security. Hopefully I don't ever need to visit USA again.

The lock was not even mine. The good friend of mine borrowed this lock to me, when I was discussing this trip with him. He has been using it on his travels and hiking trips. He just said it is the best lock he has used ever and he haven't been able to find the similar lock since he bought this one years ago.

If there is somebody reading this blog and knows where I could find similar lock, I would be grateful. I need to find similar lock for him or compensate this by some other means.

2) Large bag

This large bag is just perfect. When it's empty it will pack very small, but it's extremely large to store my bigger backpack as well as my smaller backbag at the same time. This large bag is useful for 3 reasons. Firstly when your backbags are thrown to the roof of the bus/car, it's keeping all the dust away from your backbag. Secondly this large bag is easy to lock and therefore backbag is safe inside e.g. on the roof of the bus. In the hotel room you can put everything into the bag and just lock it, without taking your valuables every time into the safebox. Thirdly during the flights it protects your backbag, which has always stripes, which are not allowed. Your backbag should be tightly packed and all stripes tighten.

This is just perfect (and it lasts your lifetime guaranteed by the manufacturer) !!!!

3) Canon IXUS digital camera

I have my big and heavy SLR-camera as well, but I like to travel light. Canon IXUS is such a small and light camera you can take it to anywhere. The quality of the photos is very good and this is excellent camera for the long trips. If there were water - and dust resistance model, then this would be a perfect. On kayaking trips I need to have watertight cover for this camera.

4) Notebook

The latest add-on to my mandatory travel items. My Asus EeePC is great. It is small, light and it has everything I need. Wireless connection, SD memorycard slot to directly transfer photos from the camera to the notebook and long-lasting battery (up to 8 hours). And it reminds me from the Finland, because it is white and I bought a blue cover for it (Finnish flag is white-blue and these are the colours of the Finland). They refer to blue sky, white clouds, blue water in thousands lakes, white snow and white trees, birches. Finland is all about nature, and is one of the most beautiful places on our planet :) No kidding, just come to see and visit it during summer time and winter time, it's magical.

5) My travel mate "Masa"

He is just awesome. Small in size, but what a teddy bear he is... I got him when I was suffering from the cancer. I promised to him, if I survive we will be together the rest of my life. And so we have been... I follow him everywhere he wants to go. He has been on top of Aconcagua, in the Base Camp of Everest, travelling through whole New Zealand, uncountable hiking trips all over the world, on the mountains at Himalaya, Andes, Alps, etc..., on many kayaking adventures. He has even his own passport, which was made to him at Kathmandu, Nepal. Now he has been travelling through the Latin America via 35 countries.

He is wearing the "double-twist" jade jewel on his neck. He got this jewel at New Zealand and it's symbolizing eternal friendship. Maories, which are aboriginals at New Zealand, have four different shapes on their jade jewels. Double- or Triple-twist symbolizes eternal friendship for them. So we will be friends always and experiencing this world together...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My lucky day

Today I was lucky at Paramaribo. It's sunday and I decided to rent a bike and have a look around the Paramaribo and it's surroundings. It was a hot morning and it got even hotter when I started biking around 10AM. I biked Kleine Waterstraat street towards the downtown and passing it via Waterkant and Saramaccastraat near the waterfront. I took the Van 'T Hogerhuvsstraat, which leads you out of the city towards the huge bridge, which crosses the Suriname River and take you to the countryside. The bridge is roughly 1 km long and it's steep. I was struggling with my bike to get to the top, but when managed to climb there were pleasent down-hill leg waiting and giving high speed ride to the other side of the river.

Bridge over Suriname River

I was continuing for awhile and took the first small paved road to the right. And then it happened!

I was biking bemused and wasn't observing my neighbourhood. Suddenly my brains realized and my heart started to bounce wildly. I stopped the bike, because I nearly drove over the huge snake, which was coming to the road from the grass. I took couple of photos after which the snake turn around and went back to bushes. There were roughly 2 meters of the snake visible on the road and the rest were hidden to grass. It must have been at least 4-5 meters long.

When I returned the bike and showed the photo, they said I have been extremely lucky to see Anakonda. Boy I was scared, when such a giant was just meters away from me, but anyhow this turned to be my lucky day...

First 2 meters of Anakonda on the road

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Part I of this trilogy is nearly over: 4 months in Latin America, time to wrap it up

Writing this blog at Paramaribo

It's time to summarize my travel through Latin America and head back to sweet home. What have I encountered and experienced during these 125 days through 35 American countries (including USA) ?

- I took 0 anti-malarial pills during the trip and so far haven't had any symptoms of malaria
- I was afraid once (1 time) (see below)
- I was having sauna 2 times (at La Paz, Bolivia and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)
- I studied spanish 3 weeks with fabulous teachers
- I was travelling 4 months, it has been long and tough but rewarding and amazing trip as well
- I was talking with only 5 Finnish people (at Quito, Ecuador and Georgetown, Guyana)
- I bought the map of La Recoleta cemetery at Buenos Aires at 6 pesos. (e.g. Evita Peron is buried there)
- I did snorkeling 7 times (at Galapagos and Antigua)
- 8 hours was the longest delay of flight (Insel Air flight from Miami to Curacao). I had connecting flight to Valencia, Venezuela, where I arrived at 3AM in the night searching a hotel room, because I didn't had any reservation to any hotel. That was not the most safest and pleasent experience. My advice is to avoid Insel Air if possible, 3 flights out of 4, which I flew with them were delayed. Insel Air is based on Curacao.
- 9 blocks was the distance of my family's home from the spanish school at Heredia. There are no street addresses in use in Costa Rica, but the address will be told like: three blocks south from the Hospital, two blocks west towards the Jose Duarte park, opposite of the Domino's pizza restaurant, chalet Esperanza :)
- I visited 10 islands at Galapagos and saw how evolution works in practice... Impressive!

- Longest bus ride was 15 hours, thanks Ticabus for safe and enjoyable ride

- I flew alltogether 45 flights with 17 different carriers (KLM, Mexicana, Copa, Avianca, Tame, Lan Peru, Star Peru, Lan Chile, Aerosur, LAN Argentina, TAM, Air Caraibes, Caribbean airlines, LIAT, JetBlue, American Airlines and Insel air) and visited 35 countries in America (not Canada and Cuba).

- The cheapest accommodation was 8 USD at Mexico and most expensive 175 USD at French Guiana.

- I took 2184 photos and couple of videos as well. Check some of those videos from here.

- I wrote 44 blog posts (including this one).

At bus in Curacao. Benches were like from the park and the bus broke after 1 kilometer drive :) We had to wait another bus to pick us up...

I have seen the most perfectly shaped bottom on this planet at Cayenne, French Guiana. When this bottom was combined with long brown gazelle legs, it was just perfect. I have tasted the godly coctail, bushwacker, at Paramaribo, Suriname. The secret part of this coctail is ice cream, which just gives it the soft taste under the palm trees, when you feel the warmth of the subtropical climate on your skin still at dusk. I have had a chance to be taught spanish at Heredia, Costa Rica by the most professional teacher I have seen so far.
Was I afraid during the trip through the countries, which were rated the most dangerous? I would lie if I would say no. The amount of shotguns visible at San Salvador, El Salvador is just unbelievable. You can't prepare yourself to meet people who are carrying M15 shotguns at shops, petrol stations, bus stations, everywhere. The most scary moment I had in Guatemala, when I was going to Tikal. Tikal is in the middle of nowhere, in the jungle and I took a taxi to take me there late in the evening. It was dark and rainy when taxi driver stopped 40-50 kms before Tikal on the last village and said to me: "At this time you can't get anymore accomodation at Tikal. These are the last hotels, where you can stay overnight". When I insisted to drive up to Tikal, he left the car and went to ask from somebody. When he returned he took off all the signs of taxi and started quietly drive on dark and rainy road towards the jungle. I realised he went to ask, if it is safe to drive to Tikal at this time, because there has been robberies and murders on these remote roads. At that time I just wished if I could have been somewhere else, but fortunately we arrived to Tikal at 23:00 safely.
I remember, when I arrived late at St. Kitts airport and took the taxi to my hotel. Taxi driver was pastor Samuel Bradshaw, from pastor Taxi service. When he heard I was first time at St. Kitts he drove slowly through the streets of Basseterre and explained to me every building on the way. His accent was a bit hard for me and I understood roughly half what he said. Anyhow the taxi ride was pleasent sightseeing. God bless Samuel.

I remember the hospitality of the Riverside Retreat accommodation at Orange Walk, in Belize and the owner's story of his son, Raul, when we were talking in the morning at the terrace with the breakfast.

The picture of funeral procession at the street of Haiti will stay at my memories forever. It was just like from the James Bond movie, Live and let die. There were players playing the drums and trumpets and lots of people were walking to escort the body on his/her last trip.

I can't forget the great service and athmosphere of Calibishie Lodge in Dominica and lovely owner's Linda and Chris from Belgium. If you have stress at work and want to relax and spend some time at lovely Dominica island, this is the place!

I even managed to learn some spanish, which was one of the reasons why I made this trip. I'm grateful to my teachers at Heredia, Buenos Aires and Montevideo as well as other students at my class. Discussions were great and opinions sharp and diverse. A mi me encantaron las classes de discusion.

Now I have a family at Costa Rica and Montevideo and I had a chance to share with them many unforgettable moments. Hopefully we will see in the future!

I'm going to miss the athmosphere of "collectives", vans, which were full of passengers and the reggae music was played loud. Young girls and boys were singing at the same time when watching those music videos from the screen at the front of the van at Grenada and St. Vincent.

Restaurant with sea view at Curacao

I have seen so many countries and places, have met great people and have experienced so much. There would be dozens of stories to be told, but I'll keep them on my own. Now I know where I want to return and experience more... I have got a very good overview of Latin America and it's countries, people, culture, nature, food, touristy spots and less traveled paths. If I would need to quickly categorize these countries I would do it in the following way (Sorry, this is just my own classification for myself based on the experiences I had during this trip. Don't use this as basis on your own decisions, do your own list and visit these countries by yourself (This list is my propaganda)).

Countries I definitely would like to visit again :
- Belize, Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay, Suriname, St. Vincent and Grenadines, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic

Countries I could visit again :
Guatemala, Nicaragua, French Guiana (with my driving licence), Guyana, Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Bahamas

Countries I don't want/need to visit again :
- Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Venezuela

As Bob Marley said "I don't need to have home as a material somewhere, I have home in my head". When I close my eyes I can be at the Subte in Buenos Aires, at golden beaches of Galapagos islands, at the top of the Maya ruins in the jungle, sitting on the beach restaurant at sunset on Caribbean, etc... The whole Latin America is my home from now on and it's all in my head and my memories. This trip was one fleeting moment on my path, but I'm sure this has been written into the stars, it was part of my destiny and I just had to do it right now and this way.

Short part of the travelled path
When I was coming to Paramaribo last night I felt like coming home. I said to taxi driver and hotel receptionist the same and I wonder how some places just feel cozy and home, although you haven't spent much time there. Although I have to say goodbye to Latin America, it will always be part of me and with me in my heart. Me doy las gracias a ti, Latinoamerica. Nos vemos y buen suerte!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hot chocolate at Curacao

Having breakfast at Curacao's airport. Just landed a few minutes ago from Valencia, Venezuela. I'm on the way to Paramaribo, Suriname, from where I have a flight back to Finland next week. I just counted I have visited alltogether 35 countries in America during this trip.

Now I'm pretty dead, wake-up was 4:30AM this morning and I have all day to be spent at Curacao, before flight departure at 19:00 to Paramaribo, where I'll arrive at midnight. I suppose tomorrow I'll take easy and just relax and sleep away my sleep debt. These early morning flights are awful, wake-up at middle of night, no breakfast and painful waitings at the airports.

However Venezuela was chaotic and non-organised country. Traffic was awful, payments in hotels, airports everywhere were mystery to me. Why on earth my passport number is needed, if I eat lunch at hotel's restaurant? It was sad to notice people are living like in a cage. Every house was rounded with huge walls and on top of the walls were electricity wires to prevent unwanted visits to homes. This is not a pleasent place to live.

Bahamas, which I visited before Venezuela was like middle Caribbean island. Neutral, nothing special at least near the Nassau. It might be different on more remote islands like Exumas. And it was cold, 22 degrees and I was shivering, because my body has already used to much higher temperatures. Fortunately temperatures are higher at Venezuela, Curacao and Suriname. I'm waiting the return to Finland a bit worried, it's freezing temperatures there...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dominican Republic and Haiti

Santo Domingo and Dominican Republic proved to be what I have heard and expected. Lovely colonial centre is full of historical buildings, small and lovely restaurants, evenings full of Bachata and Merengue music... I wish I could have more time to spent here, my heart is aching to leave this beautiful country already tomorrow, but my flights don't wait. I even managed to find sauna at my hotel, Hotel Palacio, and it felt heavenly to have a chance to have a sauna after 8 hours bus drive from Haiti back to Santo Domingo.

I visited Haiti and it's second city Cap-Haitien on the northern part of Haiti. It was long 8 hours bus ride from Santo Domingo to get there, but I'm glad I decided to visit Haiti. I met the most kind and loveliest people during my trip over there. Of course Haiti is poor and poverty is visible at the villages and citys, but it's quite similar than in Nepal, where I have been many times. Both countries are listed as among the world's 50 poorest countries list by the UN. Although TV and media is showing only news about the natural disasters, violence, armed soldiers entering Haiti and poverty, the reality is not that black and white. I have learnt already that I don't believe the view media is giving us, because it's always the propaganda of others. You have to see and experience by yourself to get understanding and feeling what kind of place our world is to live.

Countryside of Northern Haiti

News doesn't tell you about the beauty of the nature in Haiti, the amazing people and the friendliness I encountered there, I have not met anywhere so far. I didn't felt unsafe during my trip, there were not signs of earthquake in the northern part of Haiti. Of course there were doctors and nurses from other countries still helping patients, who are still at hospital. There were UN forces (MINUSTAH) from Chile and Uruguay around Cap Haiti.

Jose, UN soldier from Chile

I met Lucian Body, with whom I had long discussions about Haiti and the people. He is the one of the most helpful and kindest people I have met. He has been working as a chef at Bahamas and Dominican Republic, but is now unempolyed at his hometown Cap-Haitien. His aunt were killed by earthquake at Port-au-Prince and his nephew and uncle severiously wounded. His uncle lost both of his legs. He is happily married and proud father of 3 months old daughter, Carjioly, which I met, when he invited me to his house. If there are somebody reading this blog from Haiti or somebody who have connections over there and would need a cook / chef, please contact Lucian Body. He can be contacted via Mont Joli hotel. I will recommend him for his extraordinary hospitality and friendliness. He can speak fluent english and good spanish in addition of French/Creole.

Lucian and Carjioly Body at their house

During the couple of days I encountered both ultimates on my trip. On wednesday I was relaxing and lying on the sandy beach of luxury Marriot hotel at St. Kitts and Nevis reading Dominican Republic & Haiti Lonely Planet guide book with rich and wealthy American tourists. On Friday I was on northern part of Haiti at Cap-Haitien and saw the streets full of mud, garbage, shelters where people were living. The contrast were enormous, but on the other side the contrast of people as well. At Haiti I was facing such a friendliness and kindness which is outstanding.

View to river at Cap-Haitien

Street at Cap-Haitien

Only two countries to go, Bahamas tomorrow and then Venezuela :) I'm really looking to finish this trip and head back home...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

4 countries to go

Sail ship at St. Kitts

After Antigua, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis next island to be visited is Hispanola. First Dominican Republic and then Haiti... There are only 4 countries left on this long and tough trip. Dominican Republic -> Haiti -> Bahamas -> Venezuela. Hoping there are no nasty surprises anymore at the final stages on my trip and I can get safely to Parbo at Suriname, where I'm flying to home with loving KLM.

I think I have seen enough sunshine, beaches and sea for awhile. Let's experience them again on the summer during the kayak trip...

Hispanola next...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Money can't buy life

These were Bob Marley's last words to his son, when he died at the age of 36.

Bob and his 7 sons

Today I visited Bob Marley's home in Kingston for last six years of his life, which is nowadays a museum. There were one thing Marley was hoping to see: Black, White and chinese people living peacefully together.

As Marley was half white and half black, he said:
"I don't have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't dip on nobody's side. Me don't dip on the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me dip on God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."

Bob Marley's house and museum

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain...
Hit me with music... hit me with music now".
- Bob Marley

I recommend for anybody this lively museum, you can see even bullet holes in he walls, when Bob was tried to be murdered at his home by the 6-7 gunmen.
P.S. For all the Finnish people : If you are in trouble and need some help at Antigua just use this phone...

Phonebooth at Antigua