Monday, February 20, 2012

A Case For Cheap Souvenirs


I’ve never been much for the kinds of souvenirs so many people buy. Hard Rock cafĂ© t-shirts. Eiffel Tower snow globes. Mexican or Moroccan or Vietnamese hats that people think are funny when they wear them onto the plane for the flight home, but then realize before first beverage service that not only are they not funny, but that their five bucks would have been much better spent on an in-flight beer, which tastes infinitely better and will not end up under a heap of other crap in the back of their closet.

I’ve always preferred to take home more personally creative items. To wit: I’ve got a Bacardi bottle filled with Puerto Rican sand and a Cruzan Rum bottle with sand from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Totally cool mementos, and way cheap as the local booze on any Caribbean island can be had for a fraction of what you’d pay at home. Plus of course I got to personally empty the bottles on the beach before copping sand that probably shouldn’t have made it through customs.

I had these souvenirs displayed on a shelf for a while. At the moment they are in a closet somewhere.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Maps Are No Fun


I’m not big on planning ahead. Or planning at all for that matter. Some might call me disorganized. I say I’m advennnnturous. It helps that I have the concentration span of a five-year-old at Disneyland after a breakfast of strawberry compote and whipped cream, but even if I know which country I’m in, traveling on the fly is a way to see things I’d otherwise likely never see – a forested temple, for example. A way-out-of-the-way village. An interrogation room.

I’d made it fine so far on my 2007 trip around Indochina, biking through Thailand and across Cambodia without a map. (I might have gone a few miles out of the way on occasion, missing a turn here or taking a wrong turn there, but if everything goes smoothly your stories in the end aren’t very good, are they?) Tomas, on the other hand, had a map – several of them actually, that he rotated through the handy-dandy clear plastic pocket on top of his handlebar bag. (This was back before the prevalence of iPhone GPS apps made it easy for your typical backpacker to not come back with any good stories.) Tomas and I had been traveling together since Trat, near where the Thai coast runs into Cambodia; we’d gotten split up twice in the Khmer Kingdom, once on our way out of Sihanoukville’s Wat Leu (I ended up going thirty miles out of the way that day) and again on our way out of the rarely-recommended coastal town of Kep, where we managed to lose each other somewhere along the fifty-meter gravel driveway of our guesthouse (he went one way around the barn in the middle of the path, I went around the other side and poof!).  Stephan had been on the road well over a year and had ridden thousands of miles with dozens of other fellow cycling travelers. He said he’d never lost anyone until he met me.