After 5 continents, 22 countries, and well over 40 000 miles, we have now finally, and sadly, come to the end of our journey.
Just as we'd hoped when we set out, we've seized a rare opportunity to see the world as most people never will. Along the way we've witnessed the marvel of nature and, upon it, the dramatic influence of humanity and its ever-changing melee of creativity, compassion and individualism.
In doing so we have had one hell of a ride. We've been shown hospitality and generosity by people who could hardly afford to. We've been exposed to far flung cultures and societies and had our sheltered paths crossed with the lives of extraordinary individuals whom we otherwise would never have met. We've travelled through time and space; gained hours and lost days. We've had dinner in the morning and breakfast at night. We've surfed with dolphins and dived with sharks. We've sprained our ankles, bumped our heads and left more than a toe nail in Tahiti.
We've witnessed the relics of forlorn generations, a living history of mankind, etched into stone, carved out of wood and built ground up from blood, sweat and tears. We've seen the greatness and the sorrow that religion can achieve. We've met politicians, musicians, poets, soldiers and asthmatics. We've experienced how the past can dictate the future, but also how quickly things can change, when there's a collective will.
We've been to Modern and Ancient Marvels of the World. We've seen hundreds of UNESCO World Heritage sites, taken 30 000 photographs and know first hand the splendour of a Patagonian sunrise. We've travelled through forests, wastelands, deserts, lakes, mountains, valleys, and remote jungle villages in Laos. There is no doubt in our minds - this Earth is an incredible place.
Of course, we've also seen the other side; the ugly side. The selfishness, the pollution, the corruption, the killing, the needless suffering and the never ending greed of human beings. We've been prodded, pushed, yanked, laughed at, sworn at, shouted at, over-charged and under-served. Just as we've developed a new way of looking at the beauty of life, we've also grown eyes in the back of our necks. Although we're more open minded, we are certainly also more cynical. It's a sad truth, that in this incredible world we live in, there's much to be sad about.
However, as we weigh up the overall outcome of our journey, the sum of all the parts, we are absolutely convinced, and very happy, to conclude that anything is possible. Where there's hope there's a future. Because whatever you believe in, be that a world with no God, a Christian God, a Muslim God, a Buddhist God or a one-eyed elephant God with four arms, one thing is for certain. Good things can, and do, happen.
Death is a part of life, and life is a part of death. People suck; people are amazing. We just need to keep looking at the future, and remind ourselves to look out for each other. Despite being so very big, our planet is only very small.
So, as we shove our backpacks into the back of our closets and settle into our Swedish future, one of flat-packed bookshelves and social welfare, tax brackets and drinking songs, smoked herring and cobbled streets, we can at least look back at this eventful part of our lives and say, 'we did it'. And, what's even better, we did it our way.
To all those who have helped us along our journey, we are truly grateful. For all the floor space and cups of tea, for your kind words and everything else, our deepest thanks.
Over and out.
Our Travel Video. 8 months in 8 minutes. (17.5 Mb)
Jul 8, 2008
After 5 continents, 22 countries, and well over 40 000 miles, we have now finally, and sadly, come to the end of our journey.
Jun 30, 2008
After a long time on the road and many compromises of comfort, a precious fortnight in Bermuda has been a breath of fresh air. Fresh, clean, luxurious air.
Instead of flea ridden hostels we had 300 thread count sheets, instead of egg fried rice we had medium rare NY strip steak, and instead of cramped midnight bus rides we enjoyed pleasantly tilting afternoon sailing. All together the most sophisticated way possible of easing ourselves into the upcoming end of our trip.
In the hospitable embrace of Mere's family, we caught up with the long lost humidity, sunshine and salty breeze of our former home country. After a few days of helping to clean coolers and pierce lawns with tiki torches, we attended the much anticipated wedding celebrations of Charlotte and Andrew, along with 150 other dressed up well wishers, including many from abroad.
First, two days before the actual wedding, a delightfully intoxicated rehearsal dinner. Then, in the exquisitely presented palm garden of Old Walls, between the delectable looking bridesmaids and a row of highly perspiring groomsmen, the beloved couple held a lovely ceremony.
Everything happened the way it was meant to be. The string quartet didn't miss a note. The guests laughed in all the right places. And the sun peeked through the clouds just in time for the big moment.
The evening wore on with the customary wedding traditions - great speeches, a gut-busting roast beef buffet and, much later, a glowing bride doing the worm across the dance floor, in full wedding attire. There were tears of laughter and tears of joy.
Beautiful women accompanied handsome men, as dozens of waiters, photographers and DJ's expertly facilitated one hell of a party; one that had been no less than a decade in the making. To their many happy years ahead, congratulations to Charlotte and Andrew.
We hugged our friends and family goodbye, and headed once more to the airport, this time going home.
Next, the final leg of our journey.
Sweden, here we come.
Jun 9, 2008
Tearing ourselves away from the blissful remoteness of Itacaré, our new found surf Eden, took a whole lot of restraint.
Under the watchful eye of shaggy haired surf instructor Joel, we had for several days battled the regular swells with eager enthusiasm. In waters crowded with teenagers who carved waves like others carve Christmas turkey, Mere impressed the locals with some kick ass rides of her own, standing up for longer than most of the real pros on the beach.
Memories of Itacaré
So leaving was tough. Like an stubborn pensioner who won't eat anything but his favourite schnitzel every day because he, well, likes it, it is tricky to deliberately seek out change when the status quo is so comfortable.
Likewise, we've found that one of the major problems with travel is that you stumble upon places you like so much you don't really want to leave. 'Why should we leave here?', 'Can't we can stay for the rest of our journey?', one of us would say. 'No can do', would be the reply. 'It's the price for discovering parts of the world you never been to before'.
Fortunately, as has almost always has been the case, we soon found something equally different and interesting. São Salvador da Baía de Todos os Santos (or just Salvador, for short) is a rustic colonial city on the Bahian coast. It's the third biggest in Brazil (and the original capital) as well as the home of Afro-Brazilian culture.
As we experienced for ourselves, this was a very special and very strange place. Under the cover of darkness, on the cobble stoned streets, several million party animals would ceaselessly keep the spirit alive. If New York never sleeps, Salvador never even frickin blinks. Because a blink would be a 1/100 of a second of precious party time lost and that, by Salvadorian measures, is utterly unacceptable.
As if it's programmed into their DNA, these guys dance, sing and drink till the last man drops. And by the next morning the city street cleaners have swept away most of the mess, ready for the party to resume once more. We were told that Brazil is the party place of the world. And that Salvador is the party place of Brazil.
Last night, for instance, we meandered through another pumping street party, one that has raged for several days in honour of St John. Being the only gringos around, we huddled by the nearest makeshift bar, and sought solace in the fruity alcohol on offer. Like parents at a house party, we were the gooseberries in the corner, but even so we had fun as we observed the madness from the side lines.
We watched as every able bodied man, woman and child met in the city squares next to the church, to devour char grilled kebabs, cocktails and rub butts to clashing sound systems.
Later, when we tried to find a late night snack, we had very strange experience. We had wandered away from the inferno of the main party, to a quieter patch of drinking venues. There we noticed a very old bouncer standing idly by a large blue wooden door, selling tickets for 1 Reals each ($.50), to enter his special little show.
We paid the man, if mainly out of curiosity, and walked up a few dusty steps and through a brick arch. There, we entered the lion's den, the eagle's nest, the inner sanctum of the nuttiest nuts we have ever seen.
It was a single large room in a roofless building, the size of two tennis courts, with no more than a dozen patrons scattered along the periphery, all sitting uneasily in bright yellow, beer-sponsored furniture.
As if directed by David Lynch the room had a few heavily stoned characters gently swaying in the middle of the dance floor, occasionally bumping into each other since they had their eyes closed. On stage 5 drummers banged giant bongos, as if they had done nothing else for the last few days.
Two red-eyed Brazilian Rastas stood on stage and chanted the same three lines over and over again, at an uncomfortable volume. The lead singer himself, a man who must have past 70 many years ago, wasn't even on stage, instead passed out across a speaker next to the stage. When he came to, he staggered up to join the rest of the band and continued this never ending loop.
The only bar staff was an 80 year old woman, who every ten minutes would conga her drunken way across the room to clean the same empty plastic table she had just cleaned ten minutes ago. Whoo-ow, people! What the hell is this place? You know where this is. It's Sunday night in Salvador.
We lasted only a little while. Just in time before we too would have been sucked into this black hole asylum, and been forever banished to the scary dance floor, we left back to the normalcy outside the building - coconut juggling 8-year-olds, weed dealers and tired looking prostitutes.
Salvador is also the home of Capoeira, the unique Afro-Brazilian martial art. Once a combat technique practiced by African slaves - it was reprimanded and so the slaves ingeniously disguised it as a dance instead. As such it has survived and evolved ever since. Go to any beach in Brazil and you'll see two things.
1) an ostentatious display of fleshy bodies, some pert, some flabby, but all ungracefully stuffed into their childhood swimwear.
2) a number of highly disciplined Capoeira warrior dancers in all white; standing on their head, doing overhead flips on the spot, and dancing their impressive dance of discipline and rhythm.
As unfit foreigners, however, the closest we ever get to Capoeira is Caipirina. And, hey, that's not bad.
We also had the pleasure one night of going to an intimate performance of Virginia Rodrigues, a famed Brazilian vocalist. We cramped into a tiny little theatre and watched as she delivered some powerful and classic songs.
Our only gripe was that old Virginia had in her accompanying trio of musicians a highly overzealous percussionist, who went absolutely crazy on the cowbell. Yeah, seriously, the cow bell. Had Christopher Walken appeared from a booth and demanded a little more juice, it would not have looked out of place. Oh well.
Today we wrap up our South American leg of our journey, taking a flight via Sao Paulo to Miami, where we are rendezvousing with Nonnie, to go to Bermuda. Indeed, some have it good.
Thank you Brazil, you very crazy place. We've had a blast.
Jun 3, 2008
Our lack of updates from Brazil tells you everything you need to know - this is a country where lethargy, apathy and outright procrastination are taken very seriously.
As Cachaça-blurred nights wear on, and Brazilian friends congregate for another round of cocktails, the muted background bossanova gently soothes the hangovers from the previous night. The humidity forms small sweat drops on everyone's temples and the sweet breeze from the ocean never stops. This is a place for doing not much.
Regardless of age, gender, race or social standing, people here appear oblivious to any other worldly worries than what faces them at that particular moment (which most of the time seems to be - which drink shall I try next?). And what an enviable dilemma that is.
Of all the countries we've been to so far, this, by a long shot, is the most multi-racial country. Had you awoken from amnesia in the streets of an average Brazilian city, it would take you quite a while till you figured out which country you were in. There is no single common denominator for what a Brazilian looks like. Black. White. Tall. Asian. Fat. Short. Slender. They are all mixed into one. Perhaps the way they act would be the best indicator - a swagger in their step and a confident smile. Alternatively, the surface area of their bikini is another reliable indicator. They don't waste much lycra around here.
After spending a few lazy days on the decks of charter boats and in the womb-like hammocks of our Paraty posada, we continued up the coast, to take in the splendour of Rio.
Wedged in the hills between the airport and downtown, in the cosy suburb of Santa Teresa, we hung out in accommodation favoured by a mighty strange breed of artists. Denise's Place doesn't advertise, instead relying on word-of-mouth in the international artists-in-residence circles; from what we could see - conceptualists on sabbatical.
And boy does it bring in an eccentric crew of weirdos. Over black coffee in the china white breakfast room we met Bruno-the-balding-film-maker, Yaan-the-horse-riding-photographer, Anna-the-silent-philosopher, Anja-the-installation-artist and Carlos-the-topless-drug-user, all of them very androgynous and intense. Still, they made for a pleasant change from the reserved holiday elite of our past few hotels.
For local sights, other than, of course, Praia Copacabana and Praia Ipanema, we visited the impressive 'O Cristo Redentor' (Christ the Redeemer), a statue that at 40 meters and 700 tons took nine years to complete (in 1931). It's famous for being named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (of which we've seen two others along our trip - The Great Wall of China and Petra, as well as three other worthy nominees - the Easter Island Moais, the Sydney Opera House and the temples of Angkor Wat).
The Christ statue is also famous for being the spot where fearless Felix Baumgartner (Austrian extreme dude and pioneer of base jumping), climbed and base jumped off in 1999. The day after our visit three other morons tried to copy Felix - one died on the scene and the other two have still not been found.
To see another side to Rio we went on a memorable tour of one of the many favelas, the infamous shanty towns made from garbage, plywood and bricks. With 1 in 4 people in Rio living in one, this was a rare opportunity for us to see life away from the glitz of the beaches. As it happened, it was also a rare opportunity to see organized crime, open drug dealing and smiling ten year olds carrying sub machine guns.
In pouring rain we hiked up narrow, irregular stairways through randomly evolved wooden shacks, up the steep mountain side, to the top of the Santa Marta favela. We met drug dealers, drug users but also a large number of decent, friendly, hard working people, who just happened to live there. Sheila, our local guide, explained the complex intricacies of this peculiar Brazilian society - a world where people live so closely together that local crime is remarkably rare. Amazingly, a feudal structure is adhered to, even in the way people steal electricity or trade their shanty 'houses'.
The next day we had a chance encounter with Thierry, a French Antiques dealer who paid too much attention to his Cachaça and too little attention to his Antiques shop ("I have had more than 46 businesses in 10 years" he said in between shots of booze). Still, Thierry was a gem. Both funny and smart. And, as it happened, he was our gateway to meet Mohammed - a French Algerian street artist who invited Sami to help with a graffiti mural. Nice.
Mo and Sami at work
Since a few days back we're in Itacare - a tiny, hidden fishing village perched on the coast of Bahia. We're surfing beautiful beaches and kicking back over fresh fruit salads. And, of course, a few too many moreish Caipirinias.
After more than 6 months of constant lugging of luggage and fleeting visits, this is a breath of fresh air. As we write this, from a hammock on our veranda, we're faced with a panorama of the beach, with dozens of long boarders zig-zagging the tubular Atlantic waves.
Tomorrow we have another surf class. Till then our hosts are under strict instruction to top up our drinks should they run dangerously low.
In the words of our drunken friend - Salut maintenant.
Rio from above
May 23, 2008
In order to make the connections we'd planned on, we reached the frigid border of Bolivia several hours before sunrise. We rubbed each other’s backs and wore all the clothes we had, including socks on our hands, as we shivered in wait for the first officials to show up and give us the necessary entry stamps.
Two hours later it was still so cold that the ink in our ballpoint pen was frozen. Only once the sun had risen and we had cursed the low temperatures of high altitudes, could we fill out the immigration forms and proceed.
Our first Bolivian destination was the Salt Flats of Uyuni, a mind altering 10 000 square kilometres of bright white, ancient lakebed, an area so evenly flat that allegedly satellites are calibrated as they pass overhead.
As gringos race around in 4x4 jeeps, hardened locals make their living here, painstakingly scooping 6 centimeters of salt a year, for which they earn a measly few cents per kilo.
With 70% of locals living under the poverty line, Bolivia is by far the poorest country in South America, a reality emphasized by the fact that it took us three whole days of travelling before we even saw our first paved road.
That’s why, making our way north through the country, we bumped, rattled and jittered along some of the worst roads known to mankind. Semi dry riverbeds have been the best highways, with crowded, geriatric buses rarely averaging above 20 miles an hour.
To make matters worse, public transport around here is largely an unpadded affair. In addition to this discomfort, our stunt driver on one of the ‘river roads’ also chose to experiment with some daring shortcuts, at one point with the whole bus screaming in fear of toppling over. Later, as we could just about see our remote destination on the horizon, the bus spluttered to a dead halt, having simply run out of petrol.
The next day we visited a phototastic dessert train cemetery, a barren outdoor showroom of rust and dust, where for more than a hundred years outdated Bolivian locomotives have come to die.
After this we made our way to La Paz, a capital that resides at an exhausting altitude of 12 000 feet - more than a third of Mount Everest.
The air is so thin that every few minutes one needs to take a couple of extra breaths, just to make up for the lack of oxygen. The simple task of walking a few floors upstairs requires several breaks, to stop heart palpitations and embarrassing wheezing. Any sustained activity, such as climbing steep city streets, feels like running a marathon.
But for all the useless roads and lack of oxygen, Bolivia is beautiful. Breath taking, as it were, in many ways. The landscape is dramatic, the culture is vivid and the people are very friendly. They are also very short (ten bucks says no Bolivian will ever play in the NBA).
The traditional skirted lady with platted hair and bowler hat can be seen in almost every doorway, selling peanuts, chewing coca leaves and generally looking fetching. Propaganda and graffiti is all over, with most surfaces covered in either a face of Evo Morales (the first ever indigenous president of South America) or hand painted murals for everything from spark plugs to fruit drinks.
National politics are notoriously complicated. Bolivia is featured in the Guinness Book of Records for its 188 coups d’etat in 157 years.
In response to becoming an increasingly popular travel destination, the streets are lined with tourist shops selling an abundance of ubiquitous trinkets – colourful textiles and pan-pipes, as well as daring novelties such as hairy llama fetuses.
Even the tackier side of things is done with style. Che Guevara merchandise, for instance, have been sold in every country we’ve been to so far. But Bolivia actually has a good reason (the CIA executed him here in 1967).
The day before yesterday we headed for the La Paz airport, at the ungodly hour of 4am, to catch a flight to Sao Paulo. Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out like we had hoped. Flying in Bolivia wasn’t one of our wisest decisions.
A word of advice if you’ve ever thought of flying with ‘AeroSur’ - don’t. Because within a space of a very frustrating 12 hours we had experienced 4 airplanes, 3 mechanical failures, 2 cancellations and one emergency landing.
On the first flight, from La Paz to Cochabamba, we evacuated our plane on the runway, to facilitate ‘necessary engine repairs’ (which meant a that small man on a tall wooden step ladder appeared and literally took the jet engine apart).
For the second flight, we never even made it into our actual plane, but instead got a ride with another airliner going our way.
Then, in Santa Cruz, we waited for 4 hours as a gaggle of mechanics tried to 'secure' the door of the third plane, to the plane. When they’d fiddled and banged the door and scratched their heads, and seemed reasonably satisfied that the job was done, an announcement was made that we could board the plane.
Ten minutes after take off, as we’d just cleared the clouds and were about to indulge in a small packet of peanuts, we heard some loud clunks from the fuselage. Aw, shucks, the plane door was loose. The captain executed a dramatic u-turn and the stewardesses started putting trays in the upright position. Uh-oh.
From our small window we could see thousands of gallons of jet fuel pouring from the wings, being hastily dumped in preparation for the sudden emergency landing. Although strangely beautiful, this is a sight no air passenger ever wants to see.
The plane was silent. We banked towards the very airport that we had just left. Everyone held someone’s hand, even if it was a stranger’s.
We hit the runway a little too fast, bounced precariously a few times and then let out a collective sigh of relief. Then, in that well trained tone of voice, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, the stewardesses casually requested that we remain seated until the captain turns the seat belt sign off. Bing.
A little while later we’d been given consolatory Subway sandwiches and small plastic cups of Coca Cola. It’s amazing how a free snack makes you forgive someone nearly killing you.
Finally, after one more failed attempt at securing the loose door, we were allocated another plane to take us the remaining way to Sao Paulo. We did not object.
According to common safety projections, the average lifespan of a Boeing 727 jet is about 30 years. Ours was 27 year old (we looked it up on the internet). Once upon a time it had been owned by United, but had switched hands several times, eventually ending up in the outback of Bolivia, a place where air safety requirements are clearly liberal enough for operators to inherit such elderly hand-me-downs.
As of last night we're in Brazil, our visit to Bolivia only as short and sweet as its people. Despite our near disaster it was well worth the time and effort.
To explore Brazil, as well as celebrate being alive, we’ve made it to Paraty, an adorable little coastal town, for what promises to be a highly lethargic beach bonanza.
And what could be better than that?
May 22, 2008
The happiness we felt in our first week as fiancés more than compensated for the sadness we felt having to leave Argentina.
We’ve had a great time, and would have loved to stay longer. But as we have limited time left, we had to push on.
As one last thrill, however, to further celebrate our metaphorical leap into engagement, we got into the pimped out, natural gas powered roadster of a coco leaf chewing teenager and went to a nearby lake for our first ever (and quite possibly our last ever) bungee jump.
Other than the slight head ache that lingered for several days after the jump, it was nearly as good as the brochure had promised. After a nerve-racking drive from Salta, our teenage driver parked by a custom built metal ledge on a concrete bridge. Before we had time to say ‘No way, this is crazy’ we had had our shoes taken off and a greasy haired and bearded ‘extreme sports dood‘ had attached us to some scary equipment.
As we waddled towards the edge of the daunting metal structure, ankles bound together as if we were on death row (which, judging from the 25 meter drop below us was not entirely inaccurate), we listened one last time to the fool proof instructions (‘jump’). Then, after a few seconds of fighting every Darwinian instinct in our bodies, we jumped.
Lunging forward in slow motion, we felt the wind in our hair, and then the top of our heads splash into the cold lake below. As we recoiled and continued to bounce for what was a very long minute, we felt the entire 3 litres of blood in our bodies suddenly gather in our heads.
The upside down support boat appeared and we returned as red-faced heroes to the applause of a gathered crowd of local kids. In the car going back we concurred - we’re glad we did it. But we don’t need to do it ever again.
And with that, our time in Argentina was over. We don't know what was more beautiful - the people, the culture or the scenery.
But one thing's for sure. One day we'll be back.
May 17, 2008
8 years. 4 months. 22 days. That’s how long it took for Sami to get down on one knee.
His hands were sweating, his heart was pounding, and his left middle toe (on which he had secretly worn the engagement ring for 7 hours) was just starting to regain its original shape.
The day had been perfect. The mighty waterfalls of Iguazu had made our jaws drop ever since breakfast, a natural wonder so incredible that our trigger fingers had made small dents in the top of our cameras.
In the dense jungle around the border between Argentina and Brazil, we’d seen birds, animals, and, of course, the thundering water falls. We’d seen them from multiple angles, each one more impressive than the last. We’d hiked to the top, gotten soaked during an exhilarating boat ride and dried off on a small rocky beach.
Then the ultimate moment arrived. As the Iguazu National Park neared its closing time, and the rangers gently started prompting visitors towards the exit, Sami took the opportunity to ask what he’d intended to ask Meredith for a very long time.
Toucans sat in the trees, a troop of yellow butterflies fluttered by and the sun made a perfect red-orange backdrop in the sky. If there was ever a good time to ask anyone to marry them, this, without a doubt, was it.
Sami took Mere’s hand and subtly cornered her against the railing by a perfect panorama of the falls. He looked her straight in the eye and only slightly fumbled his words. First, he explained how much he loved her. Then, it went something like this:
Sami: You know, Meredith, before I knew you, you didn’t mean anything to me. Then I met you, and you meant something special to me. And now that I really know you, you mean everything to me.
Mere: (slightly suspicious) Yeah…
Sami: For the last 15 years you’ve been my friend. For the last 8 and a half years you’ve been my girlfriend. And my best friend.
Mere: (blushing, eyes tearing up) …Sami …what are you doing?
Sami: (blushing, eyes tearing up, slowly getting down on one knee)
But I don’t want that anymore…
Mere: (slightly shaking) Sami…
Sami: (crying) For the rest of your life, will you, please, be my wife…?
Mere: (crying) …Yes!
And there we stood, freshly engaged, our eyes watering nearly as much as the falls behind us.
Cue the violins. Slow camera pan out. Frosted edges. And tight embrace - long enough for a troop of Israeli backpackers to squeeze pass and, in turn, congratulate us.
Then, after another few minutes of hugging, gazing in to each other’s betrothed eyes and intermittently laughing and crying in disbelief, a ranger appeared and politely asked us to leave. Rather grateful for this external intervention, we quickly took the public bus back to our hostel.
We took a cab to the fanciest restaurant in Iguazu, where three local keyboard players serenaded us for the best part of two hours, with an array of Sinatra covers.
Perhaps it was fate. Perhaps it was a sign of what’s to come. Or perhaps it was just the many circumstances of May 14th 2008. Whatever it was, it was everything we wanted.
Best wishes to you all, from two very happy fiancés.