Monday, November 28, 2011

Final preparations

I must be feeling ambitious or crazy, or maybe I have to be both to do what I'm doing. One day I'll be impatiently excited and dreaming of proving myself on the road again, the next day I'm sad thinking about leaving Alkmaar. I came back here not knowing what to expect, and it's true I haven't really done much here to be honest. I now understand why Savannah and the parents want to stay over here. I really like Alkmaar. I'm not ready to settle, but I definitely prefer to be here right now than back in Vancouver.
It feels like a calm before the storm these days and I don't want to bore you with the details of me sitting around online all day, reading, or just visiting with the family I have here. I realize I did miss these guys, even if they are all strange. I helped Sandra with her Master's thesis, I still have some of my ex-Korean students asking me for help with their English homework, and Savannah is almost finished her first draft of the first book of the trip, so I feel like I've been reading a lot of other people's writing lately while neglecting my own.
Today I was in The Hague to get my Cameroonian visa. It'll be very interesting going back to Africa for a second time, but under completely different conditions. I think it's a bit like bungy jumping a 2nd time. I thought it was scarier because I knew what I was getting myself into. This is a bit like that. I know what to expect, and it's not so much the fear, but it's the anticipation of very harsh conditions again. Bad food, bad roads, bad beds, language barriers, and all the corruption and hassle. The hardest part of any trip is getting started, the most critical is being properly mentally prepared. So on that note I'm thinking of myself right now as trying to get all my laziness out of my system now so I can do a complete 180 and go into manic travel mode 24/7 once things get started.
Things have been far too easy the last couple of years and this will probably be an over compensation. As an example, just to get to Chad, I will leave Alkmaar Dec 11th on an evening train to Frankfurt, Germany where I will finish the night in the airport before flying to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I will spend a 2nd night in a row in an airport before meeting up with James for our final flight to Chad together, finally arriving after 36+ hours in motion. His trip in from Texas won't be any easier so at least we'll start off equally messed up. Maybe that's why nobody goes to Chad on holiday, it's torture just to get there! We'll get to know James more as the trip progresses, but it's probably best to let him tell it himself. He's in love with Chad and is the creator and driving force behind ChadNow, his own nonprofit organization specializing in Chad. If you're interested in Chad pics, news, travel, etc I recommend you go to his website and check it out. You won't find a better one on Chad in the English language.
(This is also permanently linked on the side of the blog for ready access in the future.)

Some of the unique challenges to this trip:
1. I'll be alone for most of it. As I said before, I'll be with James for the first month in Chad and I'm thankful for the company to start. The whole family was together through most of Africa last time so to be mostly on my own this time will definitely be a challenge.
2. If all my ambitions are realized then I should get into 7 countries on this trip, most of which are new to me and only 2 of which have reliable ATMs. Safely having enough money on hand is going to be tricky... (I won't admit yet where I intend to go, to keep it slightly more exciting, to spare you the effort of trying to talk me out of it, and in the event that I completely fail, you won't know :p)
3. I am also going down there without any guidebooks. The idea being mostly to wing it and truly test myself. I suspect I'll run into a few people here and there and be able to use theirs.
4. My French is somewhere between non-existent and horrifyingly terrible.

I will attempt to couchsurf as much as possible this time around as well which should be a very valuable resource. I am also hoping to go with an even lighter bag than normal as well. I'll still have my backpack but ideally I'll have it nearly empty (pretty much clothes only) so I can feel even more mobile and free. I wish I could go with just a tiny bag. I really admire and respect travellers that can go with nothing more than a small daypack.
As an interesting related aside. I just read a Yahoo news article saying that the Mercer report that ranks world cities put N'Djamena, Chad as 3rd to last (just before Bangui, and Baghdad). Chad as a country has also been ranked the 2nd-most failed state in the world for the last 2 years (behind only Somalia) in the Annual Failed States Index as well.
I can't get the link to work but go to:
Not that I particularly believe it, but maybe that does tell us something....

Saturday, November 05, 2011


There are always complications. Always. Travel is like and accelerated version of life and most of your time is actually spent overcoming complications with bursts of tremendous joy and wonder mixed in.
Ok, that's my philosophical thought for the day. There are indeed complications but for the moment they don't actually have much to do with me. I have been busy the last few days helping with moving over here as Kees, Savannah, Kees' mom and my parents are all moving into a bigger place so they can be together or at least have a central base instead of being scattered all over the place. My first thought is that this will probably lead to all sorts of domestic disasters as it is the equivalent of having something like 3 1/2 generations living in there instead of 2, with Kees' mom being the same age as my grandmother and Kees of a closer age to my parents than to Savannah's age. I've declined the invitation to live with them full time at the moment, but for reasons I'll get into a bit later.
The first complication in this plan is that not all of my parents came back. Just over a week ago I drove over to the Weeze airport (just across the German border) to pick mom and dad up after their flight over from the UK where they had been on a couple day stopover to give dad his first look-see of the country.
So there I was, waiting in this little airport after a 2 hr drive to get there barely on time to pick them up and I see dad come out of arrivals escorted by airport security. Eh?!?!?! Mom popped out a second later dragging her bag and rolling her eyes. She broke away long enough to come over and tell me that dad had been flagged in the computer and wasn't being allowed to enter. She then got yelled at and disappeared into an office and I was left to wait and wonder.
45 minutes later and the news had not improved. Mom finally returned to say she had to book a return flight back to Vancouver for dad because they couldn't let him in and there was no way to resolve the issue as it was an alert put out by the Dutch, not the Germans saying don't let him into the Schengen area (which is the border-free countries of western Europe mostly, though expanding east). So he was held there for a few hours waiting for the next flight back to the UK where he was again interrogated (unnecessarily, as the UK is not part of Schengen and they really can't justify not letting him in) before being let go to get to his next flight back to Vancouver.
There is of course a reasonable explanation for this and it's not terribly surprising. The parents were busted back in July when they left from Amsterdam to head home for the wedding. They had overstayed in the Schengen zone and were reprimanded when they left. Apparently dad's name got into the computer and onto the no entry list. Technically we are only allowed to enter the entire Schengen zone visa free for 3 months at a time, followed by a 3 month departure before returning. But it's actually 3 months total within a 6 month period. Anyway, I've looked into it off and on for years and generally there is not even a solid consensus on how exactly to interpret the rules, or how penalties/punishments are enforced. Most visitors have no idea the rules and accidently overstay all the time. Immigration generally doesn't check in detail your dates if you are from a non-European Western country anyway.
So they were busted, and now dad is busted and was told to take up the issue with Dutch Immigration to see what the deal is. Penalties vary. So anyway, mom is here and moved into the new place and dad is currently in the Seattle area working on the company plans. The company plans are moving forward anyway and things are so far looking pretty good. We haven't actually set anything up yet though since it was supposed to be his thing and he's not here. So we're waiting on a response but getting everything ready and coming up with backup plans also.
There is a bit of a deadline of organizing stuff because my help runs out soon also.
My 3 months will be up soon in Europe, so I have to leave and fortunately I've been offered very interesting plans (which I then let get out of control as usual) for what to do next. One of the things I did during my side trip to Antwerp was also go to Brussels and get a visa for Chad. I will go down there to assist James (aka firework James that we met in Cairo in Jan 2009) in making a documentary about the country while he's checking out some stuff for NGO work. Or something like that. For me it pretty much went like this:
James: "Hey Ammon, want to go to Chad with me?"
Ammon: "Yep, when?
James: "December for a month, I'll be, blah blah blah........"
Meanwhile I was already making plans for what else to do while I'm down there ;) I've since decided to stay in Chad for a month with James, then have an additional month in the region then fly to Ethiopia. I'm on Ethiopian airlines anyway so I've arranged an additional month stopover there as well, thus putting in my mandatory 3 month leave before going back to Europe. Don't ask me what I'm doing after that as I'm still working on a few more ideas and I have to figure out this Africa thing. It will be exciting. Guaranteed. So don't lose all faith in the blog stories just yet...