Posts Tagged ‘Ferry’

A Hiking Trip

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

The sun rose lazily over Lake Baikal, chasing away the demons of uncertainty from the night before. Matthew and I had arrived in the city of Irkutsk, now over 40 kilometers away, late morning the day before (09/08) and spent hours trying desperately to get some information via the internet on the Great Biakal Trail that supposedly stretched for over 500 kilometers of the lake’s shoreline. We checked out some hotels for that night, but, finding everything either full or expensive, we had opted to take a taxi from the dirty, soviet Irkutsk to the confusing tourist villa of Listvyanka.

Listvyanka sits at the mouth of the Angara river which drains Lake Baikal north into the Arctic ocean. It was dark by the time we arrived, and we had no idea where the trail actually began. We walked the roads and paths around the northern end of town, eventually settling on a path that followed the shore for about 100 meters, before climbing into the hills overlooking the lake. An hour or so of wandering in the dark woods and we admitted we’d have to wait ’til morning to clear our minds and show us the way out. We camped late that night on a grassy ledge that sloped precariously toward the 20-foot high lakeside cliff.

Matthew had woken a bit earlier than I and had pumped some water from the crystal clear lake. He had also talked to a few British tourists down the beach a ways who also had no idea where they were going, the only difference was that they had a guide. I woke groggily and helped him prepare breakfast. Over bowls of hot oatmeal we went over what we knew about the lake and the trail. The lake itself is considered the oldest lake in the world (between 25 million and 6 thousand years old, depending on your views) and contains 20% of the world’s freshwater—more than all 5 great lakes combined. Along the banana-shaped lake, a dozen or so little towns nestle between the frigid waters and the majestic peaks of the surrounding mountain ranges. We would be hiking from Listvyanka, near the southern tip of the lake, along the inside curve past two little lake-side towns—Bolshiye Koty and Bolshaya Kadilnaya—ending up at Bolschoye Goloustnoe, a slightly larger town where we could get a bus back to Irkutsk. If we timed it right, the trip would take four days getting us back to Irkutsk on Friday with our train leaving later that day.

As we sat eating and basking in the morning sun, alone until the pack of British tourists we had seen earlier traipsed past us with their guide. The one Matt had talked to earlier told us we were on the right path and we rejoiced. We packed up and were soon on our way, loaded down with food and camping gear, enough, we hoped, to last us those 4 days. It was an easy hike for the most part, but neither of us were in good shape after several weeks of immobilizing train rides. We each had 50 pound packs on our backs, no hiking boots, not enough water, and Matthew was starting to show signs of a cold or flu as we left. Not a good start for a journey of 55 kilometers over rough, mountainous terrain in the heart of Siberia, but we were not faint of heart and we plunged on.

The trail wound its way beside the deep blue lake, but Matthew and I could only enjoy it when we stopped from time to time to catch our breath. An hour or so in, we passed the British group, but other than that we felt we were going extremely slowly. Our lack of water along with Matt’s disease did not make for easy going and the constant up and down of the cliffside trail didn’t help either. We made it to Bolshiye Koty late that evening, found it to be significantly smaller than we had expected and found only a closed shack with “Museum” written on it, a few houses, a ferry terminal, and overpriced soda on the shelves of the only magazin (shop) in town. We moved on, made it out of town just as the sun was setting, and, after a grueling hike up a little hill, eventually found a place flat enough to sleep that night.

Unfortunately, it was also a place apparently frequented by horses, as their droppings surrounding the site attested. We were feeling a bit ambivalent about the day. I had a dull, dehydration-induced headache and Matt was not looking extremely healthy. We lit a fire to encourage ourselves and I tried my hand at my first campfire-cooked meal. The rice was underdone, which I intensely dislike, so that did nothing to lighten my mood. Later that night, when I woke to the frightening sound of horses pawing and neighing right by my head in the pine-darkened forest, I wasn’t so sure about the whole hiking idea.

Leaving Morocco

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

On June 24th we left Morocco. Our ferry trip was much calmer and nicer than the trip down, because we were allowed to wait to have our passports stamped until we got to Spain. We made it through customs after a nice drug-sniffing dog checked our car. Nice to know we didn’t accidentally pick up any drugs. Then we were back in Spain… for a few hours.

We stopped that late afternoon in Gibralter. Driving through the streets was a bit challenging, but I had been there before so at least we didn’t get horribly lost. We stopped at Europa point, a rather boring lighthouse, but the view is pretty neat. You can see the coast of Spain across the gulf and there, across the strait, the mountains of Morocco, garbed in mist, rising up in the fading sunlight.

At the point there was what must be the only open space in Gibralter (the entire area is mainly just a small mountain). In that area was a game of cricket! We were a bit excited because we had hoped to see some cricket in the British Isles, but had failed. So, we watched the game, were utterly confused, and after something undecipherable happened the game ended and we wandered away feeling as though we had witnessed an amazing event but had no idea what it was. Like looking at a piece of modern art and knowing that it means something, but you have no way of knowing what that is.

We headed up The Rock to try to find some Apes (Barbary Macaques, actually, but they’re called The Gibralter Apes). We did. About three quarters of the way up, we came around a sharp corner and there on the rock retaining wall were two Apes, sitting there looking mysterious. Just a bit further down the road was a pull-off point where even more Apes were cavorting about, eating the food the other tourists (there were about 5 of them) were feeding them illegally. We did not feed them illegally, although at one point I opened up the back of the car to get my hat out and a large, female Ape swung around the corner of our car, grabbed a black plastic bag and ripped it open. She seemed quite disappointed to find laundry detergent inside and was not hard to chase off with my flip-flop.

After hanging out with the Apes for a while, we descended the mountain. I spent the rest of my British Pounds (four of them) and we departed heading toward Granada.

We arrived at Granada late that evening, after having a bit of difficulty finding the right part of town using a map and a bit of dead-reckoning navigation on my part. Our time in Granada was short, but very nice. We hiked the second highest point in continental Spain with Kevin and Evan (who did quite well at a long and arduous hike). It was a lot of fun with spectacular views the entire way up.

Our second day, we visited the Alhambra (made better for me by the fact that I had been reading Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra on the trip) which was quite worth the visit, pictures will portray it better than I can, but if you ever get the chance, you must visit it and leave yourself plenty of time. If you can, have a picnic in the Generalife gardens. We didn’t, instead we had spectacular paella prepared by Wendy.

The entire time was flavored by our interaction with the Mayers who made us feel so welcomed and whose company we enjoyed greatly.

Ferry to Fez, Friends, and Frisbee

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

We awoke the morning of the 17th, accompanied by the figures of large beasts looming out of the mist. After some corn flakes and left the cow pasture. Ten minutes later we pulled into a terminal in the port town of Tarifa, about an hour before our ferry’s scheduled departure.

After presenting our passports and paperwork, we began detaching the roof box from the Passat. To avoid the additional €30 fee for vehicles taller than 2.5 meters, we moved the roof box into the car, snug inside the cavity formed by folding the seats and jostling the food, sleeping bags, and backpacks. David and I jumped atop the box, contorting ourselves into the meager remaining space. Their seats pushed forward, Ziegler hugged the steering wheel and Shenk kneed the dash. We must have looked comical to the border guards: four young men crammed with their earthly possessions into a vehicle like a band of migrants or gypsies.

We parked and were on one more boat. We did not see much of the Strait of Gibralter, spending most of the 45 minute trip queued to have our boarding tickets approved and passports stamped. The inefficiency of having a single desk serve all the boat’s passengers amused me. By the time we disembarked, the line to the desk still stretched half the ferry’s length. It was no cabaret show or disco club. We docked in Africa and began made small talk with two Moroccan men in car alongside us in the ship’s cargo hold. They offered their support for David Beckham and Barack Obama until we entered the border checkpoint.

A steady stream of men “welcomed” us to Morocco, each expecting money for their trouble. Over the next hour and a half we found the necessary vehicle tax documentation, lost track of that documentation, payed a man a couple Euro to return our passports, offered another man some cigarettes (that we had had found in Amsterdam), and refused to bribe several other men. Of the latter group, one man was ambiguously identified only by a name tag that read “2007.” We spent most of that time trapped in our car, waiting for anyone to gesture us 10 feet further.

After the final gesture out of the checkpoint, we drove a bit into Tangier and repositioned the roof box. David left to use an ATM around the corner for local currency, dirhams. Fifteen minutes later he reappeared with a local man, money, a Moroccan map, and a story of following the man to three different ATM machines around the city.

A little driving south and we made it to Fez in around 6 hours. We chose the scenic route and witnessed authentic Moroccan life in boys playing soccer outside rural villages and ridiculously overloaded straw trucks bouncing over crater-like potholes. Just outside the city we found a mo-ped operator more than happy to guide us into Fez’s medina, the old town, and specifically a hotel. Apparently, these guys target tourists to recruit business for hotels and shops for a cut of the profits. This advertising method seems quite effective for tourists wandering a completely foreign city. Our friend finally understood that we weren’t interested in a hotel but not before leading us to the city’s single McDonald’s, our designated meeting place with the Showalters. We looked around the nicest Micky-D’s I’d ever seen, until Seth and Peter Jon arrived on foot and rode with us back to their house.

It was an exuberant reunion to be welcomed by the entire Showalter family outside their apartment building. Each of us studied under Jon in at least one Rosedale class, and my family and I have close ties with their family. We lugged a few suitcases to apartment 8 before Jon drove Shenk, Ziegler, me, and the boys to a nearby dirt lot to join an Ultimate frisbee game with both children of English expats and Moroccan youths. A young man, a member of a university Ultimate team, had introduced the sport several years ago. The sport gained popularity despite the man’s return to the States, until now when a group plays once a week. The three Rovers greatly enjoyed refreshing exercise and teamwork. The group even taught us a new, more exciting way to play. Instead of stopping play to throw off to the other team after a score, they would never stop, reversing directions after scoring bur having the length of the field to drive. The game was too fast-paced for us to pay much attention to things like my skinned knees from the lot’s pebbles and Ziegler’s torn blister from running barefoot. We played numerous, exhilarating matches until returning to the Showalter’s, tired but satisfied. We had made it to Africa.

Matt

On a Boat

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Our ferry ride from Stockholm left Thursday (05/28) at 1745 from the main port. We had visited the ferry port twice on the preceding two days, first just after they closed and second while they were opened and we purchased our tickets. We had spent our day downtown and had a bit of a rush to get through the crowded city streets to the port in time for our 1645 boarding time. We did make it, however, and, exactly at 1645 checked in and were ushered onto the boat.

Our room was on the 8th deck and was about as small as a railway cabin. Just enough room for four fold-down beds, a corner toilet/shower room and a tiny desk attached to the wall. We got all our stuff in, including our foul-smelling bag of dirty laundry and Matt began washing his stuff. We had hoped against hope that there wouldn’t be a fourth person in our cabin, for his sake. David and I went out to explore the ship and Matt kept washing.

The boat was huge. It looked like a cruise ship. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but I’ve seen a few in harbor and this looked almost exactly like one of those, except it was a bit smaller and didn’t have a climbing wall. It did have a spa, a casino, an arcade, two restaurants, a fast-food joint, a night club, a disco, and free (but slow) wifi. It also had three decks of rooms and two decks of car and truck parking.

I got back to the room and checked in on Matt who was soaking wet, had his shirt off, music playing in the shower and had the bathroom full of clothes hanging off the the two bed ladders he had wedged above the sink. He said our cabin-mate had showed up and greeted Matt with an expectedly shocked expression, dropped off his stuff and left.

Dan and David showed up a few minutes later just as the captain of the ship was making an announcement in Estonian. Not long after our cabin-mate showed up again and introduced himself as Rauno and, after we had apologized for the smell in the cabin, we all sat down and talked. As we talked, one-by-one each of us would disappear into the shower for a few minutes to wash ourselves and our clothes and, within a few hours the rooms scent had improved drastically and we were all much cleaner. We had learned quite a bit about Rauno, as well in his very good, although not perfect English–he said he has never learned Swedish or Norwegian so gets plenty of practice speaking English.

Rauno is in his mid thirties and works as a carpenter and cabinet-maker in Sweden and Norway for seven or eight months out of the year, with a visit home every few weeks. He has a family in Voru, Estonia, a wife and two little girls who live in a small, two-room apartment and he has been in the process of building a house for the past 5 years and expects to be done with it by the end of the summer. He is a pleasant, peaceful fellow. Soft-spoken with short, thinning hair, a ready smile and a gentle demeanor.

Over our shared peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and his drinking yoghurt–delicious, real yoghurt with live cultures–we learned about his work history. Back when Estonia was under Soviet control, Rauno studied welding in the state university. After graduating, however, he was unable to find a job and so he began working at a logging camp. For several years he drove a 25-ton Soviet, treaded tractor pulling a large rake. His job was to follow after the clear-cutting of the loggers and rake all of the branches into rows to be collected and mulched. He said he hated that job. The cabin of the tractor was open to the air and temperatures could hit -20ºC and he was dropped off in the middle of the forest at the beginning of the day and picked up at the end.

After working as a logger for long enough, Rauno said “I looked around and realised that this is a s**t job. So, I told my boss ‘I quit’ and didn’t come back the next day.” After that, he picked up some jobs as an electrician before finally settling into carpentry around the time Estonia joined the EU. Rauno told us about how work is unavailable is in Estonia and how great it is to be able to travel to other EU countries where there is work–in his case Sweden and Norway. He said that for the past several years he has had to find work outside Estonia and, while that’s not ideal for him and his family, he is willing to do it and is very glad for the work.

From all he told us he is a hard worker, willing to do almost anything to get a job done right. When we explained to him what we were up to and how we were living on the road, he told us about working in Norway right before Christmas when he and two of his friends worked in a house 500 meters away from the outhouse, with no heat and the only source of water next to the outhouse. He said they went weeks without showers, we could sympathize, although it hasn’t gotten quite that bad for us.

During this entire time he seemed completely unfazed by the fact that we were washing our clothes and had then hanging all over the room, even helping us set up the ladders to make a great drying rack. I felt a bit self-conscious for imposing on him so greatly, but he truly did not seem to mind and seemed to enjoy hanging out with us as well. After a few hours we had finished washing our clothes and ourselves and we all dispersed to hang out throughout the ship.

It was nice to get a bit of time to get out of each others hair, and on a ship that big there was plenty of space. David found a quiet corner and read for a while and Matt got on the internet and got some personal correspondence and photo uploading done. After I had been doing a bit of reading in our room (Dune by Frank Herbert), Rauno walked in and we started talking. He asked me about the book I was reading and I described it for him then asked him what type of reading he does. He said he doesn’t have a lot of time to read, but when he gets time, he’s in the middle of a book on Yoga by an Estonian guru.

The subject of Yoga got us talking about religion and the bad parts and false parts and real parts. He believes in God but dislikes the word God so he calls Him The Absolute. He also doesn’t really appreciate most organized religions, but believes that all of them have some good in them, particularly when it comes to moral law. I discussed the origins of morality and the origins of sin, the origins of the world and the end of our lives. He seemed to have an almost Christian view of the afterlife, but the method for getting there is through conquering our will through our own means. In a way his faith was Christianity without Christ. Doing good, loving your brother, living a good life, trying to not sin so you can get to heaven, but without Christ or the Holy Spirit. He seemed to be very thoughtful and seeking and I enjoyed our conversation and hope I left him with a bit of understanding of the religion I’ve embraced.

Rauno and I talked until after 2300 and he went off to find a friend of his to try to get a ride to his hometown the next day and I went to find Matt and David to see what they were up to. That evening at 2330 was a cabaret show in the nightclub involving lots of glitter, crazy costumes and top hats. David, Matt and Rauno went and watched at least part of that. According to David and Matt, “The show was laughably ridiculous, especially since it seemed like it would have been better suited to Las Vegas than Estonia.”

In the meantime, I started working on the website. When I got up after a bit to borrow Matt’s room key to go get a snack of some jørdnotters–delicious and relatively cheap salted, roasted peanuts we had found in Stockholm–I found Matt taking pictures at the ship’s dance floor and soon joining in with the dancing. The music was live and performed in about 15 different styles by a group of 4 guys and a synthesizer. The event was quite a spectacle.

Anyway, I returned to the computer and spent the evening working on pictures, maps, etc. for the website and doing a bit of chatting with my homies and Rachel. Since we had the free internet readily available, we decided to make the best of it so I ended up staying up quite late getting quite a bit done (you may have noticed around that time a number of improvements to the site, if anyone was keeping track). That evening I felt like a fly on the wall of the ship’s nightlife.

I was sitting in the little fast-food area–which was open 24 hours a day–so I could see people coming and going through that area. At about 0100 there was a group of about 5 drunk truck-drivers sitting around eating burgers, hotdogs, and fries and talking in Swedish. After about half an hour they left and for the next hour or so I was alone with my headphones in listening to Flight of the Conchords and enjoying the quiet. Then, a shriek of anger, three people yelling and a man, sobbing loudly threw open the door to the sundeck and stormed into the drizzly night. A few minutes later three people–two who appeared to be a couple and another girl, apparently his friends–followed him rather timidly on deck. Some quiet murmuring outside and they returned with the angry fellow meekly holding the hand of the previously unattached girl. They disappeared down the hall and all was quiet again.

At 0130 the last glimmer of the sun finally disappeared from the horizon and, except for the distant thudding of a drum, the thrumming of the engine and the slight whistle of the wind, the night was quiet. At 0240 my peaceful evening was once again shattered by three of the same truck drivers from before, but this time they were more drunk and, therefore, louder. They ordered another round of fast food and beers and laughed and spoke slurred Swedish to each other for another half hour, then disappeared again. At about that time, the two couples with the anger issues from earlier came back, although they had apparently solved their issues and seemed rather drugged on a combination of beer and hormones, they left shortly after arriving. The sun began to glimmer again at about 0245.

I kept working and listening, now to several NPR podcasts from before we left. 0300 came around and the disco drums grew a bit quieter and fewer people passed up and down the stairs and the sun grew stronger just over the horizon. By 0330 I was nearing the end of my work on the slow internet and appreciating the quiet of the evening, then the largest and hairiest of the truck drivers stumbled into the cafeteria, placed his order loudly, and stumbled over to a table with a burger and another beer and apparently enjoyed them. After him, a man and his two Estonian women in way too-short skirts came in, ordered drunkenly, and, with an excessive amount of making out and feeling up, joined the truck driver to eat their meals and drink their beers.

I went to bed at at 0400 having accomplished a significant amount and rested comfortably the rest of the night. At 0930 we all woke up, packed up, said goodbye to Rauno and made our way to the car. We were separated at the packed elevator and Matt, who took the next one ended up on the wrong floor. David went to move the car while I went to hunt Matt down. Before I could find him, however, I found a lost looking Estonian man who begged me in German for help opening a locked door to the car area. I couldn’t help him open it, but I did show him where another door was. I went out, talked to David, got my passport (Matt had his on him) and told David to go ahead and drive out because the trucks were waiting for him to get out of their way.

While David did that I went hunting for Matt and found him just a few minutes later. We walked off the pedestrian ramp, at every point looking for a way to get back to the car before customs, then walked through customs without stopping (Thank you EU!), made our way to to the ground where we found ourselves separated from David by a high fence. We motioned to him and after a bit he drove out to us. Matt and I hopped in and off we went.

This was the longest boat ride of my life and, although there were several portions of it that made me slightly uncomfortable–mainly the entertainment and several of the other passengers–I enjoyed the ride.

Daniel Z