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Welcome to part 4 of my mini-series about Kenya and The Masai Mara. Click here to go to part 1, part 2, and part 3. After our exciting hot air balloon trip, I went to the Maassai village in the Mara. This was my last day in the Mara. I had spent two nights in Lenchada Tourist Camp in the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. And when we were asked if we wanted to go for a visit to a real Maasai village, I was the only one in the group who was interested. So, I got a private tour for a few hours.  WELCOMING MAASAI  A young boy from the village picks me up, and after a short walk just outside the fence that surrounds their little village, I meet up with Sammy, who would be my guide for the tour. A group of eight tall slim young Maasai men stood in a half-circle in front of me, singing, dancing, and jumping. They all wore their attractive colourful Maasai shuka – an African blanket they traditionally wear as a sarong. It's thick enough to be used as a light blanket for chilly mornings and afternoons. Each Maasai does not wear the exact same colours, but most of them wear red because it symbolizes their culture, and they believe it scares wild animals away.  JUMP JUMP JUMP They jump high, straight up in the air. Later I learned that the higher they can jump, the less dowry they pay to the woman's family before marriage. The young Maasai men then invited me to join the dance. First, they draped me in a red shuka – and had a laugh watching this pale middle-aged, slightly overweight Scandinavian dude trying to jump. In the moment, I felt I did pretty good but looking at the pictures, I can see that I barely left the ground. So, it would be expensive for me to get married in this culture. ONE BIG FAMILY In this village, there were 20 families with 200 people from the same grandfather. They do not intermarry in their village. As mentioned, they are a semi-nomadic tribe that stay in the same place for around nine years, and they move to another place when the houses are eaten by termites. They are polygamous – which means that the man can marry as many women as he likes (or can afford). SIX FACTS ABOUT THE MAASAI PEOPLE Here are some hardcore facts about the Maasai people.  1. Most Famous African Tribe The Maasai is an ethnic group living in northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best-known local populations internationally because they live in or near the many game parks of the African Great Lakes. And then we know them for their distinctive customs, dress, and beautiful jewelry. The men very often also have a distinct tall and slim frame. More on that later 2. Population There are around 2 million Maasai people. 1.2 million are in Kenya and around 800,000 in Tanzania.  3. Language The Maasai speak the Maasai language, Maa – but except for some elders living in rural areas, most Maasai people speak the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili and English. 4. Body Modification The piercing and stretching of earlobes are common among the Maasai as with other tribes, and both men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes.  5. Tall People They are considered one of the tallest people in the world. According to some reports, their average height is 6 ft 3 inches (190 cm).  6. When a Maasai Dies They typically don't bury people in the ground when they die – as they feel that it ruins the earth. They instead have a "scavenger burial" where they cover the dead body with oxblood or cattle fat and leave it in a bush for the wild animals to eat. The deceased is considered a good person if they are eaten on the first night.     A LOOK IN THE HISTORY BOOK The Maasai tribe has not had an easy life. According to Maasai belief, the tribe originated in northwest Kenya, just north of Lake Turkana. As they are semi-nomadic, the Maasai tribe lives off the land. After a few years in one place, they move to the next area to survive. Before the European settlers arrived, the Maasai people owned almost all of the most fertile lands in Kenya. But their man-made spears were no match for armed British troops, so the Maasai tribe lost the battle for their best land in 1904 and signed their first agreement with the Europeans.  While their land was some of the best in Kenya, the Europeans were not content and further fought to get more. So, in 1911 a small group of Maasai signed another agreement giving up even more land. Despite not being fully understood, these Maasai were tricked into signing away valuable land. A total of around two-thirds of their land was lost, resulting in devastating consequences for the Maasai people. POLYGAMY AND LION KILLING Back in the Maasai village, Sammy told me more about Polygamy in the tribe. Sammy has four children and only one wife, but his father has eight wives. And eight mothers-in-law.  This is when I meet up with a group of other young men from the village, and they did a dance for me. They mostly dance during celebrations like initiations when a group of young buys hit puberty. They normally do the dance when they celebrate that the boys are old enough for circumcision and then go into the forest for a couple of years – and, according to Sammy, finish up with killing a lion.  According to Wikipedia and many other sources, it's a common misconception that each young Maasai man is supposed to kill a lion before he can enter adulthood. They say that lion hunting was an activity of the past, but it's been banned in East Africa and that lions are only hunted when they threaten the Maasai livestock. But according to Sammy, it still happens. So, in other words, when the boys are around 15, they are circumcised and then go with a group of 30-50 boys and two elders from the village out into the forest and stay there for a couple of years. This practice is done every few years with boys from the same age set. Here, they learn how to be a Maasai warrior, how to hunt, jump, sing, make fire, and about herbal medicine, and according to Sammy, end up killing a lion.  Another young man, the 24-year-old Augustus, highlights that they don't do it just for fun; it's a tradition. Sammy mentions that he indeed has killed a lion, and sometimes, the experience can go both ways. The lion can kill you, or you can kill it. After you kill a lion, there is a celebration back in the village.  Genital Modification Sammy and Augustus mentioned circumcision. This happens to both girls and boys to initiate them into adulthood. This ritual is typically performed by the elders, who use a sharpened knife and makeshift cattle hide bandages for the procedure. The boy is expected to endure the operation in silence in the male ceremony. Even expressions of pain will "bring dishonour upon him".  Any unexpected movements of the boy can cause the old Maasai with the sharp knife to make a mistake in the delicate process. This can result in severe lifelong scarring, dysfunction, and intense pain. So, don't make a sound, don't move, and don't even make a funny face when an old guy from your tribe chops off the tip of your penis without any kind of sedation. Ouch! If that doesn't prove you're a man, nothing will.  But for the Maasai, circumcision is a crucial public celebration of manhood.  THEY LOST 400 COWS The singing and the jumping were taking place just outside the fence that is built to protect their cattle at night from wild animals.  As we enter the village, Sammy tells me something that breaks my heart. Until recently, they had 500 cows in the village but lost 400 cows due to the drought. Let me just pause it first to put into context just how big a deal this is.  The Maasai people believe that cattle are the gods' gift to them. They are semi-nomadic and move with their animals across the plains of Kenya and northern Tanzania, setting up home where they find the best grazing sites. Their cattle are the wealth of the village, units of currency, givers of milk to live, and on special occasions, meat and blood. Their lifestyle concentrates on their cattle which make up the primary food source. Amongst the Maasai the measure of a man's wealth is in terms of children and cattle. So, the more, the better.  During the drought, there was not enough grass for the cows, and with that, no food for the Maasai, as they don't grow any plants. As we continued walking, Sammy pointed to the field where I could see a dead cow carcass lying. It was indeed a sad sight.  The Maasai graze the cattle in the park at night which is a risky affair. We would see herds of cows heading to the national park for grazing during our nightly game drives. The warriors would lead the cows to greener pastures. However, there were light rains on our days there, which may be a good sign that there may be grass soon.   MAKING FIRE The Maasai then teaches me how to make fire the old traditional way. They have a piece of flat wood (which he called the sandpaper tree) and a wooden stick. They place the wood on a machete on the ground and start spinning the stick with their hands and the tip of the stick in one of the holes. Three guys are sitting on their knees and take turns in spinning the stick.  Surprisingly fast, smoke starts building from the friction point between the hard and the soft piece of wood. Sammy is standing ready with a handful of dried grass and cow dung – and at some point, they tip the glowing part first on the metal of the machete and then into the dried grass and dung.  Sammy blows into it and the smoke is building. When we see fire, he puts it on the ground and says, "so, now we make barbecue".  They only make fire once every few years and keep it burning around the village. They also "borrow" fire from one house to another. And then (of course), they ask me to try too… Did I make a fire? Well, naturally, I had a lighter in my pocket. THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE SAVANNAH I get invited into Sammy's family's small hut made of wood and cow dung. The Maasai have to use readily available materials and indigenous technology to construct their unusual and interesting houses (Manyatta). They are built by women and take two months. We enter the small house and take a seat in the main room, which is only 3 by 4 meters (10 by 12 feet). It serves as a bedroom, living room, and fireplace for the entire family. In the middle of the room is a fireplace, what functions as the kitchen where they cook.  DO THEY LIVE LONG LIVES? As I'm sitting on the dirt floor of this small hut, smelling the smoke of the fireplace in front of me, it seems very primitive. And I can't help thinking about how childbirth was given that they are so far away from hospitals and doctors.  It's like Sammy is reading my mind and tells me that they have a medicine man and a midwife in the village. Sammy also tells me about natural medicine and even says that there are very few maternal deaths.  And then he tells me that his grandfather lived till the age of 122 years and his grandmother till she was 118 years old. According to Sammy, many Maasai people live for more than a century. I was a bit perplexed. Sammy was even more surprised when I told him that life expectancy in Denmark is 83 for women and 80 for men.  After my visit, I did a bit of research on life expectancy among the Maasai people. Was it true that they live as long as Sammy's grandparents did? And no. According to a few different websites I've looked at, the average life expectancy for the Maasai people is the lowest in the whole world. The average male lives to the age of 42, and the women until the age of just 44.  Sammy was off when he said most people live up to 100 years. Or maybe his family just was lucky with his grandparents getting very old. CHEERS IN THE LOCAL BREW They offer me to try their local brew, which contains some of their herbal medicine and honey. I take a sip. It tasted good, and then Sammy and his brother (sitting next to me) told me to finish the cup. A little part of me is thinking: "What is this?" and "how is it made?" But I want to be polite, and what is the worst that could happen? So, bottoms up, Palle! I gulp down every drop, and they seem surprised and impressed.  They also have a little guest room in the hut, and Sammy promised to host me. So, now I have a free place to stay when I'm back at the village. I better go back there before they move so I can find them.  FULL OF CONTRASTS As we walk around the village, it's like going back in time. They are people who stick to the old traditions and refuse to bow down to western modernization.  But at the same time, a lot of them are walking around with smartphones. It's a funny contrast to see. They make fire the hard way with sticks, sit on the dirt floor around a fireplace inside a little hut made out of wood and cow dung – but also have smartphones where they take selfies and engage on social media. The young man called Augustus ask me for my WhatsApp number. THE RADIO VAGABOND LANGUAGE SCHOOL: MAA It's time to learn to speak a few words in their local Maasai language, Maa.  Hello (supa)Thank you (ashe-oleng) Goodbye (olesere) How high can you jump? (E ging mabaa) Are you on WhatsApp? (Iitiyi WhatsApp?) You can hear the pronunciation on the podcast – sent to me via WhatsApp from Augustus in the village. FRIENDLY WARRIORS The Maasai tribe is often described as one of the world's largest (and last) great warrior cultures, but Sammy tells me they don't have any fights or conflicts with the other Maasai villages. In fact, they help each other a great deal. I paid a small fee to visit them, and at the end, Sammy asks me if I feel like giving a small donation to the village. The only cash I had left in my wallet was meant to be my tip to Dennis, our driver. But after spending time with the wonderful people and hearing about the hardship they are in right now with losing 400 cows, I give Sammy all I had, and as we're heading back home to Nairobi later in the day, I tell Dennis that he has to stop by an ATM so that I can get cash for his tip.  SAY YES TO A MAASAI VISIT If you ever go to The Masai Mara and are asked if you would like to visit a Maasai village, say yes! It was interesting, and they are such friendly, open, warm people.  While many African tribes have lost their traditions over time, the Maasai tribe is well known for its strong traditions, unique culture, and red tribal dress. The Maasai tribe truly is an inspiration as they stand firm in their traditional lifestyle – but still, they don't go overboard and have smartphones. AND THAT ALL, FOLKS That's almost the end of this four-part mini-series about what to see in Kenya and especially the Masai Mara. Again, thank you to Scenery Adventures for making the trip possible and to all the people I met here.  My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.   EMAIL FROM A LISTENER I received an email from a listener. David from the UK.  Hi Palle, I've travelled with work and vacation to perhaps 40 countries in 40 years, but with family illness, BREXIT, a career change, and then Covid, like many, we became rather stuck in a rut over the past few years.  I am married to a Dane, and we will be relocating to Denmark later this year. As part of our plans to shake up our lives, we are looking to get back on the road soon.  Yes, I enjoy your series vicariously, but it triggers thoughts and ideas of what to do next and provides the motivation to use our 4000 weeks on this planet wisely.  As an example of how you have affected change, our week-long trip to Croatia at Easter will now include a detour to Montenegro... because why not! The podcasts are a perfect length, and the production is first-rate. I also find your honesty refreshing. Keep up the good work! Best wishes David My reply: Thanks, David. Great to know that I have inspired you to take a detour to Montenegro. I promise you that you will not be disappointed.  The Montenegro episode was number 175, and if you haven't heard it, you should listen to that one too – after the rest of this one. Maybe you will be inspired too, like David and his wife. 
Welcome to part 3 of my mini-series about Kenya and The Masai Mara. Click here to go to part 1 and part 2. I decided to splurge and go on an early morning hot air balloon safari – very early the morning after New Year’s Eve. I wanted to see the beautiful sunrise on the horizon of the savanna with exotic animals below me. So, after our game drive, I spoke to Francis who would arrange pickup for me just four hours after we entered 2022. Francis mentiones that the balloon will launch at 06 in the morning and take one hour. On landing we will be welcomed with a champagne bush breakfast. There will be plenty of room for take-off and landing, and he assured me that we would not disrupt any animals during the flight. He also told us to keep warm because it would get chilly. There would be no guarantee that we would see any animals as this was not during the migration season. It’s something that is not included in the package. It’s available as an extra option at 450 USD /408 Euros per person. So, it’s not cheap. This is how I justified the extra expense: In ten years, I would be able to remember the experience but not the price tag. After the briefing, Francis mentioned that he would pick me up at 4.20 am. This would not be an easy feat. For the first time since I was three years old, I had to go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve. THE RADIO VAGABOND LANGUAGE SCHOOL: SWAHILI Meanwhile, let’s learn to say a few words that will impress the locals when you get here. As you heard in the previous episodes in this mini-series, Kenyans have English as one of the two official languages. And since you probably understand what I’m saying now, let’s have a quick lesson in the other one: Swahili. You can hear the pronunciation on the podcast. Hello: Jambo Thank you: Asante sana You’re welcome: Karibu Okay: Sawa Don’t worry: Hakuna matata Note that no one says that in Kenya unless you are a tourist. The more common term is “Usijali” Friend: Rafiki Goodbye: Kwaheri   OTHER INTERESTING FACTS: DANGEROUS ANIMALS Shane, who you had met the two previous episodes, also took us through the most dangerous animals. It’s not lions but much more elephants and hippos. A lone male elephant is very dangerous. Hippos are also animals to keep away from. We added a third one in our previous episode when we were chased by an angry rhino. It is always to have an experienced driver with you as they know the signs of danger. Therefore, Shane says, do not try to self-drive so that you do not put your safety at risk. THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE I was picked up at 4.20 as Francis promised on the first day of the year. We drove for about an hour on the bumpy roads (what he called a Kenyan massage) and we went on the savannah in the middle of Masai Mara. We signed a few papers as the team got three hot air balloons ready. The birds were chirping in the morning and the air was crisp and fresh. The experience began at the launch site in the heart of the Masai Mara National Game Reserve. It was still dark, but you could hear animals grazing close by and the occasional lion roaring in the distance at his early morning kill. There was a lot of activity as the Balloon Safari crew team were bustling around the balloon basket and “the envelope” (as they called the balloon itself) laid out flat on the ground ready for inflation. As we checked in at their security desk (the hood of a Jeep), we could hear the fans start and in the pre-dawn light I started to see the billowing of the envelope as it inflated and flames from the hot air balloon burner-test lit up the darkness. With the first glow of sunlight flickeing across the skies, the hot air balloon filled and gently rose. Our Russian pilot, Sergei Nosov gave us a pre-flight safety briefing. He took us through all the safety aspects and landing procedures. The basket was big and could fit twelve people in four compartments and the pilot in the middle. With the basket still lying flat on the ground, we’re asked to climb in and lay down – on what looked like shelfs that would become walls to our hips when we stand up as we went airborne. Next to me were two Norwegians, Regine and Christian. Regine was a frequent traveller too – with more countries under her belt than me. The pilot then blew more hot air in the balloon and slowly the basket with us in it stood up. When it was standing upright, he told us to stand-up, and the adventure began. We slowly took off and gently glided with the wind over the plains of the Masai Mara, the silence, beauty and magnitude were breath-taking! Flying high up above the Masai Mara is the ultimate safari experience. Against a backdrop of a stunning sunrise, there’s really nothing quite like it. The view from a hot-air balloon flight in the Masai Mara was unparalleled and the experience unforgettable. Sure, the idea of waking up at the crack of dawn the morning after New Year’s Eve sounded less than pleasant the previous day but the rewards of embarking on this high-flying adventure outweighed the inconvenience of setting the alarm clock for 3.45. It was magnificent. LET’S GET HIGH At some point one of the other passengers asked Sergei how high we can go, and he just said “Well, let’s find out”. He started the burners, and we went up and up and up. Got into the clouds and kept going up. Then above the clouds into the sunlight. He told us that we were 1,500 meters – almost 5,000 feet above ground. At this point Regine felt it was too much for her so she sat down in the basket so she couldn’t see. I must admit I also felt we were too high above ground – as if it would mean any different falling 200 meters or 1500. Then Sergei slowly took us down again and in the last part of the flight we saw a group of lions having breakfast. Well Regine and Christian did but I couldn’t spot them, so after the landing we drove over there and saw them up close. On the way back we saw another male lion just walking around allowing us to take picture of him. He also just had his breakfast and there was a big chunk of meat just waiting for the hyenas to come and get.  Then it was our turn to have breakfast, and wow – when Francis told me about that he wasn’t overselling it. There was everything you could wish for: champagne, fruit, fresh bread, coffee and even a cook making your omelette just the way you like it. A DREAM JOB With my senses and belly full I went over to Sergei Nosov, our Russian pilot from Balloon Safaris Ltd for a chat. He started working here fire years ago and describes Kenya as the “Ballooning paradise” because of the open plains and beautiful places. Sometimes it’s windy but they always have the skills and expertise to steer the balloon. They fly above the clouds from time to time and not too frequently but also, the level of clouds also changes. It is magical during the migration, and you can see thousands of animals coming from The Mara to Serengeti in Tanzania. The price of hot air ballooning is high, but it is worth every penny. I also chatted with Regine and Christian who said that it was “better than they expected”. They loved seeing the lions from above. It was such a unique experience although Regine felt that we went too high. Overall, it was an exciting thing to do. They have been on a longer trip throughout Kenye and after this, they will be visiting the Giraffe Manor as they have been in the waitlist for long. We explained about things to do in Nairobi in our previous episode. DISCLAIMER The trip to Masai Mara was made possible by Monica Musungu from Scenery Adventures but everything I’ve said in this episode is completely my own opinion. In the next post I’m visiting a Maasai village and get a glimpse of what it’s like living in a semi-nomadic tribe. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.
THINGS TO DO IN NAIROBI In the last post, I was talking about Shane and Monica who I met in Nairobi. They both gave us tips on all the amazing stuff there’s to see around the country, but there’s also a lot to do in the capital. VISIT THE KAREN BLIXEN MUSEUM The museum is located in the town Karen at the Ngong Hills slopes just outside Nairobi. It was owned by Danish author Karen and her Swedish husband Baron. It became more famous after the renowned “Out of Africa” film. It’s open to the public and you can enjoy guided tours and lots of materials to buy. You can learn more here. DAVID SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is one of the largest and most successful orphan elephant rescue centres in the world. They have successfully cared for 282 elephants and here, you can also get to adopt a calf (baby elephant). NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK Nairobi National Park is a few minutes away from the city centre. You can see rhinos, zebras, giraffes, baboons, wildebeest, and many other animals against a backdrop of the city skyline. Learn more from their website. BOMAS OF KENYA This is a cultural village representing the 42 tribes of Kenya. If you want to learn about the ethnic tribes and history of the country, this a tour that you should not miss. You also get to learn about the clothing, dances, and economic activities of each tribe. You can also try diverse Kenyan cuisine at the Utamaduni Restaurant. Learn more here. THE GIRAFFE CENTRE The Giraffe Centre is run by the Kenya non-profit organisation, the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, whose main purpose is to educate Kenyan children about their environment and wild animals. They also give visitors and opportunity to come into close contact with the world’s tallest animal. I went there and spoke to Daniel Mutua the educator who shared lots of information about this majestic animal. When visiting the centre, you will get some pellets, walk on the platform, and get ready to feed the giraffes. David mentioned that the pellets are made from dry grasses, molasses, and corn. These act like snacks for the animal whose main food is grass, leaves and water. Kenya has three subspecies of giraffes: Maasai, Rothchild and the Reticulated, and in the late 1970s there were only about 130 Rothchild giraffes left on the grasslands of East Africa. The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife was founded in 1979 by the late Jock Leslie-Melville, a Kenyan citizen of British descent, and his American-born wife, Betty Leslie-Melville. They began the giraffe centre after discovering the sad situation on the deteriorating animal population. However, from the centre’s efforts, today there are over 300 Rothschild giraffes which are safe and breeding well in Kenyan parks. Twelve of them are in the giraffe centre. The difference in the three species is notable on body spots and the animal habitats. Each giraffe has a different personality just like humans ranging from gentle, kind, playful and so much more. At the centre, they know them by name and by their characters. Inside the Giraffe centre there is the Giraffe Manor Hotel. Its resident herd of giraffe will poke their long necks into the window before retreating in the wild. You get to dine with the lovely animals. VISIT KICC On a clear day you can see Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro from the rooftop of the tallest building in the city. The KICC (Kenyatta International Convention Centre) Tower is an icon and a landmark for Kenya. It is a leading facility in the meeting industry in East Africa. I went up there and I got amazing views of the stunning city. It was a bit cloudy so I couldn’t see the two biggest mountains in Africa, but I still saw a lot. I spoke to two of the four people that I met on the tower, and we had a great chat about the best and the worst about living here. SOME TIPS ON SAFARIS Choose a good car: The type of vehicle you use is very important. If you are in the 4-wheel drive normal vehicles, your viewing experience will be normal. For a spectacular experience, go for a higher wheelbase and a lot of window space. With this, you will have a 360-degree views. You will be driving for long hours a day and you need a comfortable vehicle. Choose a good package: Check a trip and package where you can enjoy a lot of time in the wild as much possible. Choose carefully and look at the itinerary and their professionalism. Your guide and the company you choose has a great influence on your overall experience. When it comes to the great migration, splurge a little bit more if possible and it will be an unforgettable experience. GAME DRIVE IN MASAI MARA Then we’re off on the first game drive in the Masai Mara. It’s one of the places with the highest photographic potential in Africa and the world. We saw lions throughout the park, and elephants, giraffes, a variety of gazelle species and zebras. Two cats that can be a bit tricky to tell apart are cheetahs and leopards. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the leopards (one of The Big Five) but many cheetahs. The rhino is another animal that is part of the Big Five which is not easy to spot. The Masai Mara shares its border to the south with the Serengeti in Tanzania. It’s a huge area – 1,510 square kilometres (583 square miles), so it’s good to have an experienced driver, like Dennis. He’s in constant radio contact with the other drivers giving each other tips on where the animals are. OUR MEETING WITH A LONE RHINO I’ve been on safaris before and never seen rhinos. But suddenly, Dennis spotted one. Standing alone grassing on the savannah close to a waterhole with no one around him. We were also the only van there, and to be honest I think that this was so rare that our driver didn’t go straight on the radio to alert the other drivers. Instead, we drove slowly on a circle around him. Not too close, I think around 30-40 metres away from him, and we all stood up in the van to start taking pictures. I decided to shoot a video – and I’m glad I did because what happened next was unbelievable and I’m happy I caught it on film. The rhino saw us and wasn’t happy with having his quiet time interrupted, so he came charging at us. Full speed ahead right towards us. Here’s the video. Thank God, Dennis saw it because he drove off before it was able to slam into the side of the van. And according to Dennis he would have. It would also have made a big hole in the side of the car and would have been life threatening for the people sitting on that side of the bus. Dennis also told me that he’d never experienced anything like this in his many years of doing game drives here in The Mara. DISCLAIMER The trip to Masai Mara is made possible with support from Scenery Adventures. You can find all their different packages and prices on their website If you want to have a scenic adventure with Monica and her team, you can book and pay online, and they take care of you from the airport and back. They can even help you fix your visa to Kenya. In the next one we’re going hot air ballooning high above the savannah as the sun is rising. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.   See pictures and video on  
Welcome to this mini-series about Kenya and Masai Mara. This is part 1 On December 31st, I was excited to go to Masai Mara. I went on a 5-hour drive from Nairobi, Kenya, to Masai Mara National Reserve (often referred to just as The Mara). I knew that the game drives would start early in the morning, and I would not be partying too hard for New Year. The two-night/three-day safari trip was partly made possible by Scenery Adventures Ltd, which is owned and operated by Monica Musungu. Scenery Adventures does inbound and outbound travel. They take visitors to Congo, Tanzania, Seychelles, Egypt, and many other places. I got to know Monica when we were in Berlin in March 2020, just as the Corona pandemic was beginning to rear its ugly head. We were both there for a big travel event called ITB, which was canceled days before the event. As we had our tickets ready, we decided to travel anyway and that’s how our paths crossed. MEETING THE TRAVEL CAMEL I also met Shane Dallas who I knew from the travel industry, and TBEX, which does conferences for travel content creators around the world. Shane is the conference director of TBEX Europe, Asia, and Africa. As I’m the co-host and producer of the TBEX podcast, Travel Matters, you can say that we’re colleagues. Shane has been traveling worldwide for years – calling himself and his travel blog “The Travel Camel”, but when he came to Kenya, he fell in love with the country and his wife, Maureen. He’s been living here for a number of years with her and their daughter. He knows a lot about this country, but he’s originally from Australia. It has been nine years since he went back to Australia. He is probably getting away from all the poisonous snakes and spiders. However, he misses his family, friends, cricket, and rugby. I asked Shane to give me some insights into what Kenya means to him. “Kenya is complex with more than 40 tribes, and each has its food, customs, and activities. I love it”. That morning, I finally met Dennis, my driver, in Nairobi for the next few days. We got on the van with an open roof which would come in handy when we went on game drives in the park. That way, we could stand up and get a good view of the wildlife for taking photos. We were a group of 7 or 8 – a few from Kenya, and besides me was a guy from San Francisco. Not only was I going on game drives, but I also decided to spend a little extra time by visiting a Maasai Village and then start 2022 by going on a hot air balloon safari over the savannah early in the morning on January 1st. Here are some facts about Kenya FACTS ABOUT KENYA How Big and How Many People At 580,367 square kilometers (224,081 sq mi), Kenya is the world's 48th largest country by area. It is slightly smaller than Ukraine and a bit bigger than Spain. With more than 47.6 million people, Kenya is the 29th most populous country globally. Kenya is the World’s Leading Safari Destination Kenya has been recognized by the World Travel Awards as the world’s leading safari destination for 2021, a position it has held for seven years now! The country has 50 epic national parks and reserves home to diverse wildlife, including the renowned Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffaloes). Official Languages There are more than 69 different languages spokenKenya, but they only have two official languages, English and Swahili. English is widely spoken in commerce, schooling, and government, and you can totally get by here. The English level on the street is very good – even though they do have a local dialect that can be a bit hard to catch sometimes for a western speaking ear. The Flag The flag is a horizontal tricolor with black, red, and green from the top and thinner white lines. The black stands for the country's people, the green stands for the landscape, the white lines represent peace, and the red in the middle symbolizes war. And then what is most unique of the flag: a Maasai shield and spears in the middle – and it symbolizes the defense of all the things mentioned in the colors. All in all, it’s a cool flag. Religion Most Kenyans are Christian (86%), with 54% Protestant and 21% Roman Catholic. Islam is the second-largest religion, with 11% of the population. Famous Proverbs from Kenya They have quite a few sayings, but here are a few of my favorites: ”Because a man has injured your goat, do not go out and kill his bull.” ”Do not slaughter a calf before its mother’s eyes.” ”A hyena cannot smell its own stench.” And the last one is a twist of one I’ve heard many times where I come from … that “a captain should go down with his ship”. But Kenyans have a saying that goes like this: ”A sinking ship doesn’t need a captain.”   THINGS TO SEE IN TWO PERFECT WEEKS IN KENYA I also asked Monica and Shane about their recommendations on what to see in two perfect weeks here in Kenya. These were some of their recommendations. TURKANA It is Kenya's largest county by land area in the north-western part of the country. It’s bordered by the countries of Uganda to the west, South Sudan to the north and there is a a 27 km border with Ethiopia just north of the amazingly beautiful Lake Turkana. I’ve been told that a trip to Turkana County needs guts and a passion for lengthy road trips. It also needs an adventurous heart and gallons of water to live through the harsh, dry climate. Overall, Turkana is an idyllic location and is well worth a visit, according to Monica. SAMBURU Both Monica and Shane recommended Samburu. The Samburu National Reserve is a game reserve famous for an abundance of species of animals such as zebra, ostrich, giraffe, and many more. The reserve is also home to a population of close to 900 elephants. The park is 165 km² in size and is situated 350 kilometers from Nairobi, just on the other side of the majestic Mount Kenya. With peaks of 5,199 meters or 17,057 feet, it’s the second-highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. AMBOSELI And speaking of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, just south of the border, you find the Amboseli National Park – another one of Kenya's most popular parks. TSAVO Tsavo West National Park is located in the south-eastern part of Kenya and covers an area of 9,065 square kilometers. It’s ”sister park”, Tsavo East National Park a little bit north, is one of the oldest and largest parks in Kenya at 13,747 square kilometers. Both parks are between Nairobi and the east coast of Kenya. And there are a few places worth visiting on the east coast – or as Monica calls it “The Big Side”. EAST COAST Mombasa, that’s also known as the white and blue city in Kenya. It is the country's oldest town and has about 1.2 million people. It is the second-largest city, after the capital Nairobi. Other places to visit are Diani Beach, Malindi, and Watamu. LAMU Shane agrees that the east coast is wonderful, and he moved there just a few days after our chat with his family after having stayed for years in Karen, Nairobi. But he mentioned a small island even more north just off the coast called Lamu. Old Lamu Town gives you a sense of stepping back in time. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are many activities to do there, including snorkeling, mangrove tours, visiting the Gedi ruins, beach walks in Shela, show races, donkey rides, etc. KISUMU Kisumu is a port city situated on Lake Victoria. Here there are beautiful lakeside views at Hippo Pint and Dunga Hill Camp. You can also visit the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary to see impalas, zebras, cheetahs, and more wildlife. You can visit the Kakamega Forest National Reserve to hike or see wildlife. Another interesting thing to do is to visit the 44th US president Barack Obama’s village in Nyangoma, Kogelo. WESTERN REGION Western Kenya has tea plantations, and forests and is home to the largest lake in the continent. You can visit the Mr. Elgon National Park, Saiwa Swamp National Park, Kakamega Forest reserve and Lake Victoria. You can also see the famous Crying Stone of Ilesi, which is a stone that resembles a person in tears. NAIVASHA Naivasha is a town in Nakuru county, and it is known for its beautiful flamingos and large population of hippos. It is home to over 400 bird species. Lake Crescent, Hells Gate National Park, and Lake Naivasha are must-visit for travelers. NANYUKI Nanyuki is a town in central Kenya is a great gateway to Mt. Kenya and includes several trails. You can visit Mt. Kenya National Park, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and hike the mountain. As you probably see, there’s a lot to see and do in Kenya. You can also just reach out to Monica and the team at Scenery Adventures. Tell her I said hi. THE WEATHER Kenya lies on the equator and has a pleasant, tropical climate. The daytime temperatures average between 20° and 28°C (68° and 82°F), but it’s warmer on the coast. Kenya is too close to the equator to experience a real winter and summer. But there is both a dry and wet season. The hottest months are December to March, and July to September are perfect for a sunny holiday. ARRIVING TO MASAI MARA We arrived at 2 pm in Narok town and at 4 pm to Masai Mara and Lenchada Tourist Camp – our home for the next two nights. It was raining heavily when it got here and having lunch. At the Mara, you experience the Big Five and many other animals. The Mara is run by the Massai community who you will see from the entrance to the camps. In fact, our camp was guarded by about seven Maasai warriors at night.  The Maasai who are pastoralists, do not fear wild animals and they seem to coexist with them. You will often see them with their large herds of cattle looking for grazing grounds within the conservancy. We stayed in a tent and there was a bed and a concrete floor and a bathroom. There was no electricity in the tent, and you would only charge your phone in the evening. The best time to visit is in the peak season is from July to November, during The Great Migration where there are about two million animals. During peak season, you also get a lot more traffic with many more cars. Although this was around new year, I would still get to see some animals. And our evening game drive was no disappointment. Stay tuned for part 2 of this mini-series where we get “attacked” by an angry rhino. My name is Palle Bo and I gotta keep moving. See you.
It’s a sad week for the world, Europe, and especially Ukraine – as Russia invaded the country in an unprovoked attack yesterday morning. So, I thought I would share a conversation I had during a walk with Ksenia from UkraineToGo. We walked through the beautiful city of Kyiv when I was there at the very beginning of my journey, in August 2016. This was at a time when Ukraine also was at war with Russia after they invaded Crimea. As you will hear, it was a love/hate relationship with their big brother from the east. On one hand, we talk about some very popular toilet paper with Putin’s face on them and on the other hand, a big monument called the Arch of Friendship – celebrating the friendship between the two nations. I wonder what the people of Ukraine think of that monument this week.   I wonder what kind of history is being written this week and in the coming time. To be honest, I don’t see how this is going to end. That sanctions are going to make Putin think “this was a mistake; I pull my troops out”. Not likely. That the world and the Ukrainians just accept that Russia takes over this beautiful big European country with proud people that love their freedom and democracy. No, I don’t see that happening either. What I fear the most, is that it will end very bloody and escalate to even more countries. I feel so bad for the Ukrainian people who just want to live in peace. But also, for the regular Russian people who didn’t make this decision and will be suffering from what happens with the economic sanctions imposed by the world. All in all, this is a horrible situation.
काठमाडौंमा स्वागत छ WELCOME TO KATHMANDU Before going to Nepal, I’d been told that this country has some very friendly people – that show a genuine interest in who you are and where you’re from. And that was the case already in the taxi on the way from the airport to the city. In the car with Basu Rimal, he asked a lot about where I was from and what it was like there. He told me that he had been to Scandinavia. “I’ve been to Norway and Finland, but not Denmark yet. Scandinavia is really nice, I really liked it but it’s very cold.” Basu works in tourism and has a tour company called Nepalaya Treks And Expedition, where he does trekking in Himalaya. YOU DECIDED ON NEPAL In last week’s episode, I asked you where we should go. And there was a big majority in the votes that said that we should go to Nepal. Thank you all for being so active in saying your opinion on The Radio Vagabond on Facebook. I’m here with a good friend from Denmark, and we’re staying in a guest house called Ambassador Garden Home in a vibrant lively area called Thamel in the heart of Kathmandu. Thamel have the biggest tourist market in Nepal and the biggest business hub with a ton of guest houses, restaurants, shops, and bookstores. Obviously, I found Ambassador Garden Home on LANGUAGE IN NEPAL Nepal has 122 major languages. Nepali is the most common spoken by 78% of the population either as first or second language and has official language status. But the other 121 languages are all recognized national languages. PATAN DURBAR SQUARE Patan Durbar Square is situated at the centre of the city of Lalitpur, around 10 km from the city center of Kathmandu in Nepal. This square is one of the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, which are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The Durbar Square is a marvel of Newar architecture. The square floor is tiled with red bricks. There are many temples in the area. There is also a bell beside the main temples. It’s a stunning and lively area. NEPAL EARTHQUAKE In April 2015 the square was heavily damaged by the big Nepal Earthquake.  The earthquake struck near the city of Kathmandu in central Nepal. About 9,000 people were killed, many thousands more were injured, and more than 600,000 structures in Kathmandu and other nearby towns were either damaged or destroyed. The initial shock registered a magnitude of 7.8, with the epicentre only around 77 km (48 miles) northwest of Kathmandu. And two large aftershocks, with magnitudes 6.6 and 6.7, shook the region within one day of the main quake. Here is a YouTube video shot right here when the earthquake hit. 7 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT KATHMANDU Big City in the Valley Kathmandu is the capital city and largest city of Nepal with a population of 1.5 million in the city, and 3 million in its wider urban areas across the Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu is the 17th highest capital in the world Last week we were in La Paz, Bolivia – the highest capital in the world, and Kathmandu is also up there. Standing at approximately 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level it’s number 17 on the list. City of Glory Kathmandu is known as Kantipur which means the city of glory. The rich ancient culture and diverse religion make this city as the city of glory. UNESCO Hot Spot Kathmandu valley is full of cultures and heritage sites. It has seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Kathmandu Valley itself was accorded the status of a World Heritage Site in 1979. The World’s Biggest Mountain is Close Mt. Everest is 240 km away from Kathmandu and is seen from Kathmandu valley. Never a Colony Even though this country lies in between the two big countries India and China, which was ruled by the British, Nepal was never a colony and never ruled by any foreigners and other countries. Kingdom Nepal was a kingdom ruled by the Shah family 1768 to 2008. The beginning of the end for the kingdom was when the Crown Prince killed his father the king, his mother, brother, sister, and many other members of his family in 2001. ROYAL MASSACRE I’m visiting the place where it all happened. Narayanhiti Palace is now a museum, and used to be the royal palace. This is where most of the royal family got killed by the Crown Prince on the 1st of June 2001. Here’s how the official story goes: The Royal family gathered on a Friday, as they usually did on Fridays for a family evening. The king, the queen, their kids and a few cousins and close friends. In total 24 people were invited. After dinner, the Crown Prince Dipendra was in the pool room playing pool alone while drinking whiskey and smoking a cigar containing a mixture of hashish … as he often did. When his brother Prince Niranjan and other family members noticed that he was starting to sway back and forth and had difficulty standing, they suggested that he went to bed. While he was in the bedroom, he made several phone calls to his girlfriend, Devyani Rana. She later said that she noticed that his voice sounded a little weak and very slurry, so she called his assistant and asked him to go and check on him to make sure he was okay. He and another assistant went into Dipendra’s bedroom and found him lying on the floor. They helped him undress and then he went into the bathroom and started throwing up. He then turned to his assistants and asked them to leave the room and called his girlfriend one last time and said to her: “I’m going to bed. Goodnight, we’ll talk tomorrow.” But he didn’t go to bed. After this call, he put on an army uniform, and armed himself to the teeth with an MP5 machine gun, an M16 assault rifle, and a Glock pistol. And left the bedroom. He then started walking back to the pool room where the family and friends were chatting and having drinks. At this time, his father King Birendra, was sitting at the pool table, entertaining the guests with a story.  Dipendra reached the pool room and stood at the door. First fired one shot from the machine gun toward the ceiling. Conversation stopped and they all looked towards the door in disbelief. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, SON? Dipendra then pointed the gun at his father, the King and shot and wounded him. Witnesses later told that the King just looked at him and said, “What are you doing, son?” – before he fell to the floor. Dipendra then opened fire again and killed half of his family in that one room. His mother and his brother managed to escape into the palace grounds. But Dipendra followed them and shot them dead too. In the massacre, he killed his father, his mother, his younger brother, his sister, and other close members of his family. In total nine members of the royal family was killed, and five others wounded. At the end, Dipendra turned the gun on himself. He didn’t die intently and while coma at the hospital, he was crowned king – according to rules of succession. But died in hospital three days after the massacre without regaining consciousness.  WHY DID HE DO IT? No one really knows why he did this. Some say that he wanted to depose his father and install himself as king – bringing the monarchy back to absolute rule. Others say that he was put up to this by his uncle, the king’s younger brother, who wanted to be king himself. Some say that he was angry at his family because they wouldn’t let him marry the woman that he loved – Devyani Rani who was a member of a riveling dynasty. And then… some say that he didn’t pull the trigger. He was described as an always smiling gentleman and a modernist who would be for democracy in Nepal. Much controversy and conspiracies surround the circumstances of the massacre. Even today. Many questions remain unresolved. Questions like the apparent lack of security at the event; the absence of the Prince Gyanendra, Dipendra's uncle who succeeded him. Also, the fact that Dipendra's self-inflicted head-wound was located at his left temple, despite him being right-handed. And the fact that the investigation only lasted for two weeks and wasn’t very thorough. It didn’t involve any major forensic analysis – despite an offer by Scotland Yard to carry one out. But according to a government-appointed inquiry team the Crown Prince Dipendra was named as perpetrator of the massacre. I’ve put a link to a video from Journeyman Pictures where surviving family members tell their eyewitness accounts of what happened. NARAYANHITI PALACE MUSEUM The visit to the Narayanhiti Palace Museum was absolutely fascinating! It feels like walking through the history of Shah dynasty of Nepal. Everything inside the palace makes you seem royal. Larger than life pictures and paintings of Royals of Nepal, and lots and lots of mirrors can be found on every place you look. You will get a lot of steps walking through each and every part of the museum and I encourage you to do so if you want the best experience. Entrance fee was 500 Nepalese Rupee (bit more than 4 USD, bit less than 4 Euro). You must hand in cameras and phones as photography is strictly prohibited. So, I don’t have any pictures from the visit. They also told me that I couldn’t bring my microphone – even though it was clearly not a camera. So, since I don’t have any pictures from the visit, you’ll have to go yourself when you’re in Kathmandu, and don't forget to look for the bullet holes! WEATHER IN NEPAL What about the weather in Kathmandu? Well, the wet season is warm, muggy, and partly cloudy and the dry season is comfortable and mostly clear. I’m here in December – in what is called “The cool season” and normally lasts for two months, from early December. And I could feel it was a bit chilly when I arrived. In Nepal, there are different climates according to altitude: the sub-tropical climate with a rainy season in the southern flat strip, the temperate climate in the low mountains, and finally, the cold mountain climate in the peaks of the Himalayas. In the summer monsoon from June to early October they get a lot of rain. SWAYAMBHUNATH STUPA – MONKEY TEMPLE The Swayambhunath Stupa (also called Monkey Temple) is one of most interesting places in the Kathmandu Valley, when it comes to architecture. And when they call it The Monkey Temple, there’s a reason for that. Hundreds, if not thousands of monkeys run around here. And they are not shy. As you can see in the main photo of this episode, a monkey walked past me and pushed me a bit as I was doing some recordings while leaning against a wall. The Stupa itself is a perfectly proportioned monument in the middle that rises through a whitewashed dome to a gilded spire, from where four iconic faces of the Buddha look out across the valley in different directions. Above the stupa are thousands of prayer flags, with mantras, which are said to be carried to heaven by the Wind Horse. The site was also shaken severely by the 2015 earthquake, but the main stupa only got superficial damage. I’LL BE BACK My three-day visit to Kathmandu was coming to an end. Sitting in the airport I knew one thing: I’m doing an “Arnold” when I say that I’ll be back. And this is not something, I say every time I leave a place (but often). In this case it’s something, I know for sure. And when I do, I want to find a nice little quiet place in the mountains and stay longer. I want to be able to wake up and have my morning coffee with a stunning view. And spend some time getting close to the wonderful people of this country. And get some quality time with the people I already met, like Basu, and most of all someone, you didn’t hear speak in this episode: Ajay. He appears briefly in the interview episode, I made here with another traveller, Robin when I was here. Robin is this young German backpacker, who met Ajay on a previous trip. Ajay was his tuk-tuk driver, he invited Robin home to meet his family and this time Robin was back. Ajay lives a bit away from Kathmandu and took time off from work to show us around his capital city. Since then, I’ve been in regular contact with Ajay, and he is one of the reasons, I really want to come back here. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.
¡HOLA BOLIVIA! In this episode, we’re going to La Paz in Bolivia. First, we’re going over the city in what is called. ‘The most spectacular public transport system on the planet’. Then we’re going to what is called ‘The most dangerous road on the planet’. And then we finish the best way possible by flying on a 1.5 km zipline more than 400 meters above a valley. EXPLORING BOLIVIA I arrived at La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, at 10 pm but unfortunately, everything was closed. Luckily, I found a street vendor where I bought water and snacks. I was exhausted, and I was looking forward to sleeping. I arrived in one of the tiniest and crummiest apartments that I have been to on my journey. I would be spending the next three nights there. This is the eighth-highest city in the world, 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level. One thing I noticed was that the air was thin, due to the high elevation, and it was easy for one to get out of breath very quickly. I also felt that it was cold, so I had to bring out the jacket that I hadn’t worn in a long time. If you are reading this – and are a bit of a geek, you might say, “Hang on, Mr. Bo… La Paz is not the capital of Bolivia. That’s Sucre”. Well, yes and no. Let’s just get some facts straight. INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT LA PAZ La Paz is the De Facto Capital of Bolivia It’s the seat of government and the legislative and executive capital. The constitutional capital of Bolivia, Sucre, remains the judicial power. A Remarkable Location La Paz is in west-central Bolivia 68 km (42 mi) southeast of Lake Titicaca. The 3rd Most Populated City in Bolivia With an estimated 816,044 residents, La Paz is the third-most populous city in Bolivia. Its metropolitan area with a population of 2.3 million makes it the most populous urban area in Bolivia. The Illimani Mountains are an Incredible Backdrop of The City Overlooking the city is the towering, triple-peaked Illimani Mountain. Its peaks are always snow-covered and can be seen from many parts of the city. Highest Capital City Globally At an elevation of roughly 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. It is one of the Seven Wonder Cities In May 2015, it was officially recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities. This was a project aimed at highlighting the greatest cities.   MY CABLE CAR La Paz is also home to the largest urban cable car network in the world – and it’s really something special. It’s called “Mi Teleférico” in Spanish, which translates to “My Cable Car”. It’s an aerial cable car urban transit system and the first line was opened in 2014. Now the system consists of 26 stations along ten lines. One more line and extensions are in construction. Based on its master plan, the completed system, which is being built by the Austrian company, Doppelmayr, is intended to reach a length of 33.8 km (21.0 mi) with 11 lines and 30 stations. While other having urban transit cable cars (like the Metrocable system in Medellín, Colombia) works as a little extra add-on to existing transport systems, La Paz is the first to use cable cars as the backbone of the urban transit network. Before My Cable Car, it was both expensive and time-consuming to move around the city in the chaotic traffic with both environmental and noise pollution. Each line has a maximum capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour, each car seats ten passengers, cars depart every 12 seconds, and the network is open 17 hours a day. It moves around a quarter of a million passengers per day. And then it’s crazy cheap! A ticket is only 3 Bolivian Boliviano or less than 50 cents, and the locals can get it even cheaper using smart tickets. The system connects La Paz to the neighbouring city, El Alto, where I’m heading right now with my friend Alex. The two cities are separated by a steep slope about 400 m tall (1,300 ft), which were previously only connected by winding, congested roads. Now we’re floating high above this, and we get to see La Paz from a different angle. My Cable Car has become a must-visit for all travellers, and not only is it good for the locals and the environment, but it’s also now a major tourist attraction. While in El Alto, we found a market where we found some fried chicken. See what it looked like in this video. DEATH ROAD At 07.30 the next morning, I was heading to Death Road with my friend Alex. I could see many people on mountain bikes while waiting on other travellers at our rendezvous spot. Yungas Road, also known as Death Road (Ruta de la Muerte in Spanish). It was named in 1995 as it was the world’s most dangerous road. There are reports that nearly 300 people were killed on this road every year until 1994. So, Death Road got its name because of its high death rate. Some people say that the name comes from Paraguayan Prisoners of War that died during the construction of the road back in the 1930s. Now it draws about 25,000 tourists per year and is a major La Paz tourist attraction. We were out of breath when climbing up because the air was very thin. However, the views were worth it. We then went downhill to 1,100 meters. We went through many types of climates as this was a rainforest.  The first half of the tour was on a paved road, and the other half was on gravel. Unlike the rest of the country, traffic here is on the left side of the road, to allow the driver to have a clear view of the distance of their outer wheel from the edge of the road. We were there in an old smaller Nissan bus, and I felt relatively safe. Looking down on one instance, we could not see anything as we were in a cloud. It was interesting to move through the different microclimates on the road. It’s 64 kilometres long and with the steepness, amazing scenery, and infamous reputation it makes mountain biking down it a must-do day trip for adventure-seeking visitors to La Paz. The guide, Noel said in his safety briefing: “We will be descending on bikes for 63km – 32km of asphalt and 31 Km of gravel road. Back then 200 to 300 people died here per year. Drivers prefer to take the new road”. I had a friend who did it not that long before my visit, and he had an accident here. He went over the edge and if he hadn’t grabbed onto a branch of a tree, it could have ended much worse. He was a bit of a daredevil that day and had driven ahead of the group. So, he had to hold on to the branch for a few minutes until the rest of the group caught up and managed to get a ladder down to him. He broke his collarbone and was hospitalized. But lived. With that in mind, I chickened out on the mountain bike and decided to do the trip on the bus. The other excuse I gave myself was that I didn’t know if I would be in good enough shape, plus the thing with the thin air. But come on. It’s a 64 km ride (40 miles) but it’s almost all downhill with only a few small parts uphill and a couple of flat ground. So, it’s really not that tough. Looking back, I regret that I opted for the bus. I should have done the bike, and besides, I don’t know which option was more dangerous. Being on a bike with good breaks or being on an old bus that I had no control over. The thought of riding a bicycle with a vertical drop beside you seem more dangerous than it really is. If you take it nice and slow if you don’t push yourself (drive like a maniac), and if the equipment is good, all will be well. We went on the trip with a company called Gravity Bolivia and they seem very professional. They have good mountain bikes with very good breaks. Also, their guide, Noel gave the riders thorough safety briefings. Here is a video from the founder of Gravity Bolivia, Alister Matthew about the Death Road ride. And here’s a video I shot from this day. ZZIP THE FLYING FOX At the end of Death Road, we had another adrenalin rush waiting for us. It was Bolivia’s best zipline experience that consisted of three sections that lasted for a combined 1,550 meters (5,100 feet). As we were flying more than 400 meters above the stunning Yungas valley, we reached speeds of up to 85 km/h (52 miles per hour). One time with the legs first and twice in what they called a ‘Superman position’ which was face down and headfirst. This part is run by ‘Zzip The Flying Fox’, and here is their Facebook page and their website. Bolivia was an amazing experience so far. There will be more from this South American country in a future episode. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.   LETTERS FROM EL SALVADOR One of my recent episodes has become the most downloaded episode ever. It was the first episode of this season and was from El Salvador. After that, I got three emails from listeners in that small Central American country that you shouldn’t skip. The first one is from Juan Cortez: Hi, there, I am a newcomer and certainly like your podcast. I envy your globetrotting and your stories. Thank you for putting in a good word for my country, El Salvador. Good and safe travels. I'll keep listening. Juan Thank you, Juan. Glad you liked the episode and to have you on board as a new Radio Vagabond listener. You have a lot of catching up to do, so start listening. Another short one from Maria Rodriguez: I’m glad that you visited El Salvador. My country is so beautiful. I hope you can go again and visit Surf City at the beach. Maria Oh, I did. In fact, I was in El Tunco right at the time when the World Championship of Surfing took place. I have more to share in an upcoming episode. And the third message from a listener in El Salvador goes like this: Hola, my name is Tom Cornelius. My wife and I have lived in El Salvador since May 2017. We came as missionaries and decided to stay. Your story is good and touches many of El Salvador’s high points. But even after 5 years, we have not explored the many natural beauties so near to us. I hope that you were able to visit Lago de Coatepeque, one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen in my 69 years. You're correct about the coffee, I love visiting different coffee fincas, or farms, I always buy from these. So many things to see and do. Always inexpensive and always a treat for the senses like the many thermal hot springs. I hope you continue your travels and continue to enjoy the natural beauty that you encounter. Dios te bendiga, Tom Bless you too, Tom. Yes, I did visit Lago de Coatepeque. And I totally agree… it is stunning. To those of you who don’t know, it’s an almost circular round lake that is in what used to be a volcanic crater. I did a day trip from San Salvador to Santa Ana, and this is where we stopped for lunch. That’s also something I will share in an upcoming episode. Juan, Maria, and Tom. Thank you to all three of you for reaching out.
Welcome to an interview episode of The Radio Vagabond. We’re talking to digital nomad expert Marisa Meddin from Atlanta, USA. I know that you guys listening love to travel and hear about adventures in far-away places. But a lot of you are also interested in the nomadic lifestyle. How is it even possible to sit on a beach somewhere in the world with your laptop and do your work? Well, that’s the picture often portrayed… that we sit on the beach with the laptop and an exotic cocktail within reach. Try to Google “Digital Nomad” and go to the image section. This is not the case. Rarely. Our guest today, Marisa Meddin, has a company with two partners that helps you become a digital nomad – so you also can travel the world. And they taps into that image by calling it Beach Commute. If you are interested in that, you should listen. Also, you should hit PLAY if you want to hear some great travel stories – like the time, she got invited to a wedding in Egypt and said yes to the invitation. Marisa Meddin has been a nomad for six years (a little bit longer than me at the time of the recording) and in this episode, you can hear how she became nomadic and how she makes it work. We're also going to be talking about communities, making friends and romance along the way, what it's like being a solo female traveller, and then she will share her thoughts about the good and the bad about living this lifestyle.   USEFUL LINKS: Marisa also hosts a podcast about being a nomad, called Digital Nomad Experts. And if you want to hear the interview with me on that podcast click here. The company she co-founded is called Beach Commute and you can also find them on Facebook. Follow Marisa on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.   All-in-all there is so much information, tips and tricks in this episode. Now listen and enjoy. My name is Palle Bo. And I gotta keep moving. See you.
In this episode, we travel to Dubai and meet the world at the Expo 2020 Dubai. From cancelled Cruises and great lessons and connections from the travel world. WORLD EXPO DUBAI I am back in Dubai for the Expo 2020 Dubai. My friend Jason spoke warmly about the event, and I was convinced. If you don’t remember, Jason is my Couchsurfing host from Connecticut, and he was also the main organizer of the CouchCrash I had the pleasure of attending a few years back. For the last 40 years (since 1982) Jason has attended every single World Expo and spoke warmly about the experience. I’d heard about the event, but I booked my trip and added it to my list when I heard that it was going to be in Dubai. I’ve always seen Dubai as a place that strives to do everything bigger and better, so this could only be over-the-top amazing. My trip was up to a good start. After the expo, I had planned to go to Cape Town via an exciting cruise. It was an 18-day cruise from Dubai - Oman - Seychelles - Madagascar- Mauritius - 3 places in South Africa - Cape Town. However, after many changes, the organizer decided to cancel the cruise altogether. Although I was disappointed, I just had to look for an alternative and decided to spend some more time at the expo. FACTS ABOUT EXPO 2020 DUBAI Before we walk through the expo doors, let’s start with some interesting hard-core facts about Expo 2020 Dubai: EXPOS have been held every five years Expos have been held every five years (more or less) across the globe since the first World Fair was held in London in 1851. Expo 2020 Dubai takes place from the beginning of October 2021 to the end of March 2022. Yes, it was postponed for a year because of the pandemic but kept the name Expo 2020 Dubai. This is an excellent fair that typically attracts more visitors than the FIFA World Cup and Olympics put together. The organizers in Dubai expected that a whopping 25 million people would visit the event despite concerns about the pandemic’s impact on global travel and tourism. Expos connect minds World Expos are a global gathering of nations to find solutions to the pressing challenges of our time. Dubai won the bid in 2013, beating competition from Russia, Turkey, and Brazil with the theme ”Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.” Brand new metro station The site is located in the Dubai South area, and they even made a dedicated metro station. The station is equipped to carry as many as 44,000 passengers per hour, per direction. The station is called Expo 2020, but after the Expo's six-month run, the station will be renamed District 2020. The area of the expo is the size of 800 football fields The area of the expo was 4.4 km2 or 1.7 square miles, and that is around 800 football fields. That is a large area to walk but provides good exercise for people as they move from booth to booth. However, Expo Explorer trains were available with stops at the thematic districts. You could also rent Expo Buggies or jump on the free busses called People Movers. The expo had the world’s biggest screen The ground was divided into three central thematic districts (sustainability, mobility, and opportunity). In the middle was Al Wasl Plaza. Al Wasl means “connection,” and this was Dubai's historical name. There was a huge 360-degree dome that turned into the world’s largest projection surface at night. It was almost as wide as two Airbus A380s placed wing-to-wing, taller than the leaning Tower of Pisa, and it was made from 550 tons of molded steel. It also weighed as much as 25 blue whales. Under the dome, there were also live performances. A few days after my visit, Alicia Keys performed with a white grand piano. Find a video with a clip from her performance here.   AUSTRALIA PAVILLION I started exploring the different pavilions at the expo. My first stop was Australia. The Pavilion highlighted the country’s diversity, ingenuity, and contribution through 60,000 years of innovation and indigenous connection to land, sea, and sky. They called it ‘Blue Sky Dreaming, ’ and they aimed to condense the aspirations and achievements of their nation and harness the Australian spirit of optimism and ideas. It was spectacular and celebrated Australia embracing openness, diversity, harmony, creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration. Visitors enjoyed a series of immersive and dream-like exhibition experiences inspired by aspects of the Australian landscape, culture, and invention.   MEETING THE WHOLE WORLD One hundred ninety-two countries were represented at the expo. Therefore, it felt as you could meet the whole world at Expo 2020 Dubai. And in that sense, it’s the biggest Expo ever. But my friend Jason told me that this one seemed less visited than other expos. I can only imagine how big the expo was in previous years. He mentioned that previously, you had to wait for 45-minutes to get to each pavilion, and here it only happened a few times in peak hours. VISITING MY HOME COUNTRY’S PAVILION Next to the big Australia Pavilion, there was a smaller country, Denmark. Of course (as a proud Dane), I had to check that out. Just outside the booth, I found a stand selling typical Danish hotdogs, which tasted different from how they do at home. I was there with Kim, an American friend, and I persuaded her to try one. Kim and I sat at a table outside the pavilion right next to a Viking Ship made out of LEGO Bricks (of course). There was also a Troll that you may know from the DreamWorks movies. “Trolls…?” Yes, they are also Danish. Inside there was a small shop with some typical Danish design products and furniture. It was good to taste typical Danish Lakrids by Bülow (delicious Chocolate Liquorice). There was also a small exhibition from Maersk, one of the world’s biggest container shipping companies. Upstairs, we found a rooftop bar and restaurant showcasing delicious cuisine and drinks like Carlsberg beer from Denmark. Here is a fun fact about my country.  Denmark is officially one of the happiest countries in the world. The Danish flag dates back to 1219 and is the first flag to be acknowledged, and no matter where you are in Denmark, you'll never be more than 52 km from the ocean. The rooftop restaurant is run by “Restaurant De 2 Have” – in English, that means Restaurant “The Two Oceans”. Usually, they are found at the very top of Denmark in Skagen, where the two oceans (Skagerak & Kattegat) meet. I left my “home,” and as I was passing the El Salvador Pavilion, I caught a glimpse of the biggest and maybe most impressive pavilion of them all, the UAE pavilion. I did not expect them not to show out, and it was shaped like a falcon in flight and looked phenomenal from the outside. CAMPUS GERMANY The German Pavilion was designed as a center of knowledge, research, and human interaction. It resembled a university, and therefore, they branded it as “Campus Germany.” As I was going through the building, there were many interactive things to do. As visitors, we got an entertaining, surprising, hands-on digital experience as we discussed global warming, sustainability, and innovation. It was different, interactive, and memorable. Check out this video about the German Pavilion. Expo 2022 showcased the newest inventions, and the German Pavilion excelled in this. For me, there were three big WOW items. First, seeing their whole glass building go dark to light for energy efficiency. Secondly, they had an elevator that went sideways, and lastly, they had a personal-sized and computer-driven plane. I managed to have a word with Annika Belisle (Head of Communication at Campus Germany): “The idea was to take people on an education-based journey. We want the visitor to feel like they are in a university. They enroll and go through thematic areas, and they end up in a graduation hall. Throughout their journey, they have an opportunity to learn about sustainability, innovation, and ideas from Germany.” WHAT HAPPENS AFTER MARCH One of the most exciting places that I visited was a big building and exhibition called the Sustainability Pavilion. It had more than 1,000 solar panels on 18 so-called “energy trees” that captured energy from the sun. This helps generate more than 4-gigawatt hours of alternative energy per year, which is enough to charge more than 900,000 mobile phones. Another exciting thing to see was the Mobility Pavilion that included the world’s largest passenger lift that could carry more than 160 people at a time. The Dubai Exhibition Centre, a gigantic conference zone for exhibitions, dinners, and concerts, was equally impressive. The center can be divided into nine halls that can host between 300 to 20,000 people. Yes, everything is just bigger in Dubai. As I looked at all these impressive buildings, I couldn’t help but think about what will happen to this space after the expo is over in March 2022. I learned that they would not tear everything down, and few of them will even stay on as permanent exhibitions. The Sustainability Pavilion, Mobility pavilions, Al Wasl Plaza, and the Dubai Exhibition Centre will remain after the Expo ends. What happens to the other parts? Some of the buildings might be converted into office spaces, and some might be taken down. But there will be a whole new district that will come to life next October. A smart, future-ready city called ‘District 2020’. The sustainability and the energy-saving are at the heart of the concerns of this exhibition. 90% of the material used during the construction process will be reused or repurposed to build public buildings. These actions are targeted to decrease the carbon footprint, water, and energy consumption. JAPAN PAVILION I’ve saved one of the best ones, the Japan Pavilion, for last! Before we went inside, I was given a bespoke smartphone that would keep track of what I showed interest in when I was in the building. I could hear different sound effects with headphones depending on where I was in the room. At various times, I would be given a choice to go through different doors. For example, when four doors suddenly appear and the question “what’s your favorite season of the year?” popped up, I chose “Summer”. That choice customized my visit and showed up later on a screen. The final round room had video projection all around. In front of me, there was specific info that the smartphone around my neck had collected. We were asked to run around, and then the space was filled with extraordinary, ultra-fine mist that helped visualize three-dimensional art. This was an immersive experience that played on all senses. When I came out (with my head still spinning), I was greeted by Aiko Ikeno, Secretary-General from the Japan Pavilion. “We are very happy that this was an immersive experience. The whole story is that we are different; we can all make a better world. In the end, we are living in the same world although we have different choices. This whole experience shows you that you are thoughtful and can contribute to a better world. If we work together, we can combine our varied ideas and innovate. In Japan, we have a long history and culture that we want to share. We share a bit of Japan in this whole experience. We have a distinct identity in Japan, and we hoped to showcase that. NEXT STOP: JAPAN The next World Expo is in 2025 in Osaka, Japan, and the focus for that Expo will be designing a future society. I spent four days at Expo 2020 and only saw a fraction of everything that was on display. I’m actually glad that the cruise got cancelled. If that hadn’t happened, I would have seen even less. Now I’m fully sold on going to Osaka in Japan for Expo 2025. And I plan to spend at least a week there. Remember to see the pictures of this event on, and also, you should watch a YouTube videofrom one of my favourited YouTubers, Lost Leblanc. I’ve also linked to that in the note section in your podcast listening app. I hope you liked this episode and if you did, please share it with someone you know that might be interested in a World Expo. LETTER FROM A LISTENER This week, I have a message from “Down Under”. I got this one from Nikki in Sydney via Instagram: Hi Palle, I just listened to your podcast this week. I’ve been following your journey for the last year – a lot of that time I’ve been in lockdown in Sydney, so it’s been a breath of fresh air to hear your stories of travel and adventure. And so inspiring – giving me the confidence to make a plan. The end of this year when my youngest child goes off to university, I’m working on making all my work remote, so my husband and I can travel. I wanted to say thanks – keep doing what you are doing! Also, I really hope to meet you one day out there! Nikki Hi Nikki Thanks – and that sounds like you’re about to do what I did in 2016. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the transition to becoming more or less nomadic. Good luck – and yes, maybe we’ll meet somewhere in the world.
In this episode, we have an interesting conversation with a public speaker, stand-up comedian, quizmaster, magician, mind reader, DJ, genius dancer and arguably one of the most entertaining things to come out of Wales since Tom Jones. His name is Eddy Jenkins but on the cruise ship we all know him as "Cruise Director Eddy". Hear how he travelled to nearly 100 countries and what it’s like working on a cruise ship.
BONJOU FROM THE CARIBBEAN This week I'm going to take you to three different islands in the Caribbean. We will visit an independent UN nation Saint Lucia, then head over to two autonomous islands that are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. CRUISING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC In August 2021, I explored Saint Lucia through a 12-day cruise with Celebrity Cruiselines. I was still traveling through the pandemic and knew that this would impact the cruise. There are stark differences between how we traveled back then and now.  For example, we all had to be fully vaccinated and present a negative COVID test. Instead of having a buffet lunch option during lunch, we had someone serving us lunch. However, we didn't have to wear a mask on the ship. There were also some excursion restrictions for some destinations that we visited, and I noticed that the itinerary had changed quite a bit. The original plan was that we would travel to six UN nations, and since I am one of those travelers that travel intending to visit every country in the world, this was one of the main attractions for me. I knew that this trip would see me mark my "visit 100 countries" goal.  However, that didn't happen, and I was a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, I made peace that things will not always go according to plan during a global pandemic. If you listen to the podcast, you will notice that I have touched on this in previous episodes. And sometimes, plans change during travel, and we have to accept, find solutions and move on. When you're on a cruise like this, the cruise line offers a few different tours or excursions on the port days. And because my trip happened in August 2021, we had to book a trip with the cruise line for some of the stops. That was the only way they would let us off the ship.  This is obviously to curb the spread of the virus and make sure that we only traveled with other fully vaccinated and tested people. And that was the case with Saint Lucia. DAY TRIPPING IN SAINT LUCIA I made my way through the checkpoints on the pier in Saint Lucia, and I managed to book a tram trip around the port city, the capital of Castries. The little yellow trolly train is run by a local company here in Saint Lucia, called Hibiscus Train. But then nature intervened. A rain cloud quickly came in and covered the melting hot sun almost instantly and we were almost left soaking wet on the pier (when we were sweating from the heat only moments before). Island life, hey. I grabbed a poncho and took shelter in a nearby building and waited for the downpour to subside. This kind of flash rain is a regular occurrence on these islands, as a quick cooling intermission to break up the heat. We travelled on a tram, well train, well, we weren’t on tracks, so it was just a type of car dressed as a locomotive. It had a little roof thank goodness, so we had shelter from the rain. After a tour around the city with a few stops, like the cathedral The Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, we ended up at the exotic Vigie Beach, just on the other side of their tiny airport. Saint Lucia was so beautiful and the people are so friendly. Here are some interesting things that I learned. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT SAINT LUCIA It is a small capital built on reclaimed land. Castries is the capital and largest city of Saint Lucia, the island country in the Caribbean. It's a small city in a small country, and the urban area has a population of only around 20,000 inhabitants. It is built on reclaimed land and has undergone several restorations after fire destruction. It is one of the smallest countries in the world. Saint Lucia is tiny, with 616 km2 (238 sq miles). It is number 178 on the list of 193 UN Nations. It is smaller than Micronesia and Singapore and only slightly bigger than Andorra. The population of the country is only 184,000. It is the first country to be named after a woman. It's the first country in the world to be named after a woman – Saint Lucy of Syracuse. It's one of just two countries in the world to be named after a woman. The other one is Ireland. Saint Lucia gained its independence in 1979 It gained its independence from Britain in 1979 after ownership of the island was swapped seven times between France & Britain in the 1800s. After 1979 it also became a member of the Commonwealth. You can still feel a bit of Britain here. For example, they love playing cricket, driving on the left-hand side of the road. And English is still the official language even though 85% of the population also speak Saint Lucian Creole. It's hard to take a picture without their famous UNESCO landmark. Saint Lucia is home to the Pitons mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As the island is small, it's hard to take a picture anywhere in Saint Lucia without the two mountain peaks visible. There are 21 different types of rum in just one region. Like many destinations in the Caribbean, rum is big business in Saint Lucia. And the Roseau region just south of the capital is home to 21 different types of rum. Over 70% of the island is covered in rainforest Saint Lucia has it all, from stunning beaches to mountain peaks, and then most of the country is covered in rainforests.    MEETING A FELLOW TRAVELLER ABOARD THE CRUISE Most cruise lines in the world often have a team of people planning these excursions. On the Celebrity Cruise, I met Austria-born Jennifer Weiner, the Destinations Manager for the cruise. During our time at sea, Jennifer presented and shared relevant information with us on the big theatre on the ship. I got chatting with her and when she told me that she's been to almost 100 countries (partly because of her job), I just had to sit down with her with my microphone for a chat about her travel stories and her life as a globetrotter. She told me that she caught the travel bug at a very young age: “When I was little, I was envious of kids who were sent far off to boarding school. I saw it as an adventure, so I begged my mother to send me off, but she wanted me close and said no. I think this was an early indication of my desire to explore. But then at age 17, I studied in Rome for a few months, which really kickstarted my wanderlust.” She went to study business after that, but her heart was always in travel. “After attending business school in Austria, I studied at a travel institute and became a travel agent. I started travelling a bit but soon realised the benefits of the job didn’t allow me to travel as much as I wanted. A friend told me about cruise ships and then I get on cruises with my grandparents. During one cruise, I thought to myself that the teams working on the ships looked like they had a lot of fun, so I applied, and the rest is history.” Through hard work and serendipitous moments, she found herself working as a Senior Destinations Manager in Celebrity Cruiselines. She also mentioned that taking a cruise is one of the best ways to get to know a destination. You also get to meet with many people and learn about different places in a relaxed setting. For me, going on a Caribbean cruise like this and visiting many exotic destinations is exciting. Then imagine having that as your job, as Jennifer has. She tells me that it’s a dream job but also hard work. “It’s a lot of work, especially now that I am a manager. I don’t get to get out as much as I used to, but I try to give my team as much opportunity to get out as possible.” She continues that about 40% of her travel time is dedicated to travelling to her favourite continent, Africa. OUT OF AFRICA It's funny that Jennifer mentions Africa and especially Kenya and Uganda. Because this episode was edited it in my Airbnb apartment in Nairobi, Kenya. And in just 2 days I'm going to make it to my 100th country when I travel to Uganda on Friday morning. I was telling Jennifer about my future (now current) plans to visit Kenya and Uganda soon in the future, and she recounts some funny stories of her time in these countries. “Kenya is one of my most favourite places to visit. There’s just something about it that holds a special place in my heart. Maybe because it was my first African country, but I just fell in love with it immediately. I love sleeping in a tent hearing the wildlife so close. In Uganda, I had a few close calls with gorillas in Uganda but overall, I love it.” She tells me more great stories about her visit to Uganda, particularly about the time she stroked a wild cheetah. Jennifer been cruising for 9 years now – and has visited 98 countries so far, and it was interesting to hear her stories. ARUBA, OH I WANT TO TAKE YA After exploring Saint Lucia by tram trolly, we got back on the ship and spent the night cruising to another island in the Caribbean. In the morning, we arrived at the Netherlands Antilles in the south westernmost part of the Caribbean Sea. More specifically, to the first of the ABC Islands – and this is the island you probably most know from the beginning of the Beach Boys song, Kokomo. Yes, Aruba, also known as ‘One Happy Island’. The other two ABC islands are Bonaire and Curaçao. Unfortunately, Bonaire wasn’t a stop on this cruise itinerary – so we only travelled from A to C. I meet Mario Arends at Aruba Tourism Authority. He’s their Cruise Manager and was kind enough chat with me about his home island. “Aruba is part of the Dutch Caribbean Islands, which originally included the 6 islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten) knows as the Dutch Antilles. In 1986, Aruba separated from the Antilles and became an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010, Curaçao and Sint Maarten did the same.” Mario also tells me about the democratic government of Aruba and how it remains autonomous within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And how the pandemic has hit the tourism industry in Aruba which accounts for about 80% of the island’s GDP.  Aruba is a relatively small island, and there is so much more to do than just visiting the beautiful beaches. You can do nature hikes, visit the nature park and do some cultural activities. Here are some TripAdvisor picks. SWINGING CURAÇAO The next day, we arrived at the 2nd of the three islands, Curaçao. It still uses the Dutch Guilder (the currency used in the Netherlands before the conversion to the Euro). I found my way to the oldest still operating pontoon bridge in the world, built in 1888. It spans 167 m (548 feet) from Punda to Otrabanda across the harbor of Willemstad on the island of Curaçao. This permanent bridge is hinged, floating on the water and swings open several times a day when boats need to go through. It is surrounded by beautifully coloured houses on each side. It’s called Queen Emma Bridge, but the locals call it the Swinging Old Lady. We walked across the old lady to the other side to a pink building called the Blue Experience where I was told they sell the famous Curaçao liquor. Unfortunately, it was closed (due to the pandemic) so instead, I walked around the area and found a group of guys on the pier laughing and telling jokes in a language I didn't understand. They were speaking Papiamento and one of the guys even taught me how to say thank you – macha dankie. MEET A TRAVELLING WELSHMAN IN THE NEXT EPISODE I do have a little bit more from the cruise in the next episode when I have an interesting conversation with another avid world traveller. He’s been to 96 countries and is also a part of the Celebrity Cruise team. I see him all the time, and almost always on stage holding a microphone. Here's how I introduce him in the next episode: He's a public speaker, stand-up comedian, quizmaster, magician, mind reader, DJ, genius dancer and arguably one of the most entertaining things to come out of Wales since Tom Jones. His name is Eddy Jenkins but on the cruise ship we all know him as "Cruise Director Eddy". You really don't wanna miss that conversation. Coming in a few days in your podcast feed. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.     A TOUCHING LETTER FROM A LISTENER I always love getting reviews, comments and emails from listeners and followers. And this week, I would like to share a very touching letter from listener, Kenneth.  Hi Palle Bo. It's a great podcast you're producing, and I just got this from Spotify. He then attached a picture from Spotify that said: “My favorite podcast of the year is The Radio Vagabond” and that he's streamed a whopping 5.482 minutes. That's more than 91 hours! But this is not what blew my mind. It's what comes next in his email.  You have been a big part of my personal journey. Unfortunately, it's a journey I'm still on. In May I was hit by stress-related anxiety. The serious kind. To get through this hard time I started listening to your podcast. I've had it in my ears on my long daily walks and it has helped me control my thoughts and in this process, I'm still in – because listening to your exciting podcast, I've been able to focus on something else. In other words, your journey has been a big part of my inner journey and will continue to be that in 2022. It's been a tough battle for me and I hope I'm back to 100% soon. I want you to know that you are one of the people that has helped me to where I am today with your podcast. And for that, I thank you so much. Merry Christmas and happy new year. Keep up the good work. Kenneth    I can't even begin to express your email's impact on me, Kenneth. When I started this podcast in 2016, my goal was to give you tips, tricks, and ideas for your next trip. It was to let you follow my journey and maybe inspire you with my somewhat different life choice. Also, I was hoping to entertain you along the way. But if someone had told me that this podcast would be playing even just a tiny part in the recovery of stress-related anxiety, I would have said, "yeah, right." And your email came at a point where I was thinking, "I'm spending 3-4 full days just editing one 30-minute episode. What's the point? Is it worth the many hours of work I put into this"? But after reading your email, I got the motivation back, and for that, I thank you. Also, thank you for sharing, Kenneth. Get better soon. Keep me posted.   This episode is supported in part by and produced by
I met up with my old friend Dave Brett in November, when we were both visiting World Travel Market in London. Dave is a solo adventure travel blogger and we've met several times here and on conferences around the world. We even went on a press trip together to Sri Lanka a few years ago – you might remember him singing on the bus in one of the episodes from there. So, it was about time we sat down and recorded a chat about travelling and how he works as a travel writer. Read his blog post from the slow train trip in the Pyrenees that Dave talks about in this episode – and see the YouTube video he made on that trip. Be sure to check out Dave's Blog, Travel Dave UK where he's travelling the world, one adventure at a time. His globe-trotting adventure travel blog featuring travel tips and advice, travel stories, travel videos and travel photography that will inspire your next trip abroad, and help you plan it too. To read more, please visit his ”About Travel Dave Page”. Follow Travel Dave UK on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
BIENVENIDO A SAN SALVADOR The first leg of my trip in El Salvador is the capital San Salvador. I take a walking tour and connect with warm Salvadorans, indulging in coffee and pupusa. El Salvador's airport is around 40 minutes from the capital, the biggest city in this incredibly interesting country. I arrive in the country in the afternoon and spend the first night in the airport hotel because I don't want to arrive in the city after dark. This was a mistake. There isn't much to see, and I could have gone directly to the city. I get up bright and early and climb into a “chicken bus”. This is a convenient and cheap way to travel in some countries. Travelling from the airport to San Salvador is only 61 cents.  #DontSkipElSalvador El Salvador is great, and you shouldn’t skip it. With fewer tourists than in other Central American countries, you have more space to explore. I considered skipping my visit to San Salvador because this is a country with beautiful nature, which was what I was here to see. I discover there is a lot to see in the capital and decide to go and I am happy I made that decision. Though the adventure and beauty of El Salvador remain in the countryside, you get to explore both the city life El Salvador has to offer as well as the picturesque beaches and villages in more remote areas. When I get to the city, I hail a taxi – and have yet another conversation in broken Spanish. He takes me to the hotel I booked through I chose a small, wonderful little place called Hotel Santa Elena. EL SALVADOR SAFETY CONCERNS Many people say El Salvador is a dangerous place, another reason I nearly steered clear of San Salvador. Marked as red on Travel Risk, El Salvador is the fifty-first most dangerous country in the world. It's all about using common sense, a local, Edwin, tells me. Pickpockets aren’t a risk, but dark alleys and isolated areas should be avoided. FREE WALKING TOUR IN SAN SALVADOR As you know, I love embarking on free walking tours when I get to a new city. A walking tour is a great way to get a two- or three-hour overview of a city and bookmark some places you want to go back to and see more of it. Edwin E. Carrillo is the owner and operations manager of EC Tours El Salvador, a company he started six years ago that offers walking tours of San Salvador, volcano tours, hikes, and more. They were the first company to offer free walking tours in Central America. Post-tour, I speak to Edwin and Estefany Hernandez from EC Tours on the third floor of a parking garage. The garage overlooks Plaza Morazan and the big, beautiful building holding the national theatre. What started as an Airbnb for Edwin quickly became a booming business. He noticed that tourists would stay one night and leave the next day. Deciding that the visitors needed to see more of this fascinating part of the world, he started the walking tours to add value to his Airbnb guest's experience. He noticed that they would stay longer. EL SALVADOR IS THE LAND OF VOLCANOES El Salvador lies in the pacific ring of fire, an area with the most seismic and volcanic activity on the planet. There are around 170 volcanoes in this small country alone, 6 of which are still active, the most active being the Chaparrastique stratovolcano. There have been 26 eruptions in the last 500 years. With an eruption that happened in 1976, lava gushed from the volcano. The structure of the city was influenced by volcanic activity. San Salvador itself was built on at least 20 meters of volcanic ash. Due to the unstable foundation skyscrapers cannot be built and wiring can be seen everywhere. No underground building activity can take place. If you find the ground shaking beneath you, Estefany tells us not to be scared. Tremors are registered every day, and earthquakes around once or twice a month. Just another day in El Salvador. The fit and brave can even hike up one of the oldest and highest volcanoes in the country, the Santa Anna volcano which last erupted in 2005. On top of the crater, you overlook a greenish sulphur lagoon. This is something I do later, so stay tuned as I hike up there in a future episode. 6 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT EL SALVADOR: El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. It has an area of just over 21,000 sq km which is about the same as Wales and slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. Most densely populated With a population of almost 7 million people, El Salvador is the most densely populated country not only in Central America but in all of the Americas. No Caribbean coastline It’s the only country in Central America without a Caribbean coastline. The El Salvador weather is tropical. The rainy season is from May to October and the dry season is from November to April. The national dish is the famous pupusa. A pupusa is a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling, like cheese, refried beans, different meats like pressed pork or chicken... Or a combination of them all. Dollars and Bitcoins The currency used in El Salvador is the United States dollar. But when I was there in June and Juli 2021 the progressive young Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s experimented in making Bitcoin an official national currency alongside the U.S. dollar. But just about a month ago in December 2021 it was clear that the experiment failed when more than 90% of Salvadorans said that they want dollars, not bitcoins. Bukele who looks more like a rapper than a president with a cap on backwards said in a speech at the Latin America Bitcoin and Blockchain Conference in November, that the answer is more bitcoins. So, we probably haven't heard the end of that.   THE HISTORY OF THE SALVADORAN CIVIL WAR From the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the Salvadoran Civil War from 1979 to 1992, fought between the military-led government backed by the United States, and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups. There is a lot of history behind this war with many people losing their lives. During the war, it was dangerous to live in El Salvador, particularly on the north side of the country. After many years of unrest, peace prevailed, and El Salvador became a democratic country. THE UNIQUE WARMTH OF SALVADORANS I quickly discovered Salvadorans are extremely friendly and welcoming. Asking Estefany what makes El Salvador unique, she agreed and believes that the people are what makes El Salvador unique. Salvadorans will always try to help you, even if they must try to speak in broken English. A HOSPITAL SENT TO THE WRONG COUNTRY & THE HEART OF JESUS We pass the Rosales Hospital, a big building built more than 100 years ago in Belgium. The metal parts of the building was then sent to be rebuilt in San Salvador. But someone at the office in Belgium made a mistake that probably got them fired. Someone had the building sent to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. And remember that this was way back in the 1890’s – before the Panamá Canal.   Estefany tells us that El Salvador had so much money that they were bringing materials and buildings from other countries. We visit the church, Basílica Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Sacred Heart of Jesus). This was built in 1913, and again, this basilica was not built in El Salvador but also brought from Belgium. COFFEE IN EL SALVADOR  El Salvador is world-famous for its coffee. Cultivated in the western part of the country, it is made from mixing two different arabica beans. Despite its small size, El Salvador was once the fourth largest coffee producer in the world. Estefany, like many others, claims that El Salvador has the best coffee in the world. The hybrid coffee is made from two different beans, Pacas and Maragogipe. Using the two different beans, they create the Pacamara coffee they’re famous for today. What sets this coffee apart? While Estefany highlights the essence of chocolate in its flavour, Edwin explains that coffee grows in altitude. The coffee is grown in mineral-rich volcanoes. Good weather, good soil, and good fruit make for the perfect coffee. I’m not going to decide who makes the best coffee, as I need to keep favour with other famous coffee countries. But I can say, it is amazing. CORA-CORA-CORA The official currency of El Salvador is the US Dollar. Walking through the market we could hear venders shouting “cora-cora-cora”. Estefany explains that this is their way of saying “quarter” (25 cents).   BITE INTO A PUPUSA AND GO TO HEAVEN This is not an exaggeration. People say the food is so good because it comes from techniques and recipes that date back hundreds of years. As I’ve said, Pupusas are El Salvadore's national dish. Estefany pointed me to a restaurant on the square, and I went and got a few pupusas. As I took the first bite, it was almost like my brain exploded. It was just so good. And then they only costs a few cora-cora-cora. THE BAD SIDE OF EL SALVADOR When I asked Edwin what makes El Salvador bad, he jokes that the pupusas make you fat – and points at his belly. On a serious note, Edwin tells me that there are gangs in El Salvador. But like many other countries, you need to avoid certain areas. You don’t hear about anything happening to tourists because Salvadorans protect the tourists. That’s all Edwin can say. Estefany’s response? It can get very hot during summertime. That’s about it. This country is great, so #DontSkipElSalavador My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.
3D/BINAURAL AUDIO In parts of this episode, I used a special recording technique. Some call it binaural audio; some spatial audio and I normally just say 3D audio. This technique creates a three-dimensional audio effect that brings out so much more detail and depth than regular stereo (where the sound comes from only left and right). So, put on your headphones and give this episode a listen to get the full experience.   Levántate y brilla desde Colombia Well, before I landed in Colombia, I had a few difficulties boarding my flight in Madrid, Spain. I wasn’t in a hurry to get on the plane as I already booked my seat online. So, to avoid standing in line, I just sat around until there were hardly any people left. That turned out to be a mistake – and something that would almost make me miss my flight. This is the story we’re starting with. Only so you can learn from my mistake. And there’s a solution to my problem and a great travel tip at the end of that. PRE-FLIGHT TURBULENCE Prior to arriving at the airport, I made sure that I had everything in order. I got my Covid test, filled out all the immigration forms for entering Colombia and was pretty sure that I has everything sorted. But then when I got to the gate (as one of the last people to board) I was asked for a return ticket or an onward ticket as proof that I wouldn’t overstay my visit in Colombia. And I didn’t have any of that. I told the boarding gate official that I had visited the website of the government of Colombia and followed the steps described and nowhere did it say that I had to have a return or onward ticket. He said he was following orders, and that I had to buy either a return or onward ticket – right then and there. Then, when he saw that I was one of the last in the line and he was about to close the gate, he just casually (without any empathy) said: “I suppose you cannot fly, sir”. And then he spoke in Spanish to some of the other passengers in a similar situation. I was totally stressed out and quickly got on to desperately buy a ticket anywhere out of Colombia so he would let me on the plane. At the same time, worried that he would give my ticket to someone else. To be honest this is such a rookie mistake from me. I’ve experienced a similar situation before in my time as a nomad. I guess I’ve just gotten a bit rusty during Covid… RADIO VAGABOND TRAVEL TIP #1 Not all, but some countries, do require that you have an onward ticket. Why is this?  Well, countries want to make sure that you don’t overstay the set amount of time you can be in their country. It’s also to prevent illegal immigration and also because they want to confirm that you have enough money to actually buy a ticket and leave the country. Honestly, these are all very valid reasons. The airlines are held responsible and are required to check for proof of onward travel. They don’t always ask so you could be lucky and board without it. But my advice is don’t take that chance and end up like me: frantically trying to book an onward ticket on your phone just as they are closing the boarding gate. ALL ABOARD…? I went on Skyscanner and searched “Medellín, Colombia to anywhere” looking for the cheapest ticket. As I was stressing out trying to enter my credit card details on my phone, someone asked me if they could hotspot my phone just as the boarding gate official was asking me if I have checked a bag. Like he’s in a rush to get my bag out of the plane – as I’m obviously not going to fly. And then he gets in an argument with the other passengers for the same issues as me which was adding to the already tense mood. Finally, my onward ticket to Panama got confirmed as I approached the tiny General of the Boarding Gate Republic. My heart was racing. I didn’t want to get told that my onward ticket was somehow invalid and that I wouldn’t be able to board my flight. Thankfully, he accepted my onward ticket and my ticket to board the flight, and I was off, not without exchanging a few terse words in his direction for the way the situation was handled. RADIO VAGABOND TRAVEL TIP #2 There are ways to avoid getting in a situation like this. If you don’t know where you want to go and when you want to leave, you can find an airline that will let you refund and get your money back.  An easier option is to use Onward Ticket which allows you to “rent” a ticket for $12 which is valid for 48 hours. They send you a confirmation to show to the airline and then this onward ticket is cancelled once you have arrived.  NOT SO FAST, PALLE When I eventually got on the plane and strapped my seatbelt it was 5.02 pm. Then 6 hours later, I was back inside the terminal… Ice in the flight engine delayed our flight. We were asked to disembark a few times and had to wait for ages in the airport. This, of course, impacted my plans upon arrival, including arranging my meeting with my Airbnb host in Medellín. I was expecting us to fly at around midnight. That didn’t happen. We waited another 5 hours before we were airborne. It seemed as though I would never reach Colombia… TOUCHDOWN IN COLOMBIA...FINALLY We eventually arrived at 09.30 and went through immigration – without them asking to see an onward ticket. Go figure. The good news was that I didn’t arrive in the middle of the night like I was worried about. But the driver (that my host Rob had sent) did. He’d been waiting for me since 3am. Juan Pablo, the now slightly annoyed driver, only spoke Spanish and my Spanish definitely has room for improvement. So, one of the first things I did after I got settled in my apartment in Laureles in Medellín was to look for a Spanish class. I found Alejandra and we ended up doing 3 one-ton-one classes every week for 3 months – even after I left Colombia. She’s a really great teacher and makes it individual for each student. She knew I had a passion for producing podcasts, so one week my homework was to do a 2-minute podcast about Medellín in Spanish. You can listen to it after this week’s episode. Drop me a line if you’re looking for a great Spanish teacher. I’d love to connect you with Alejandra. 7 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT COLOMBIA MEDELLÍN IS THE SECOND-LARGEST CITY IN COLOMBIA After the capital Bogotá, Medellín is the second-largest city in Colombia. As of September 2019, the population of Medellín is about 2.5 million people (3.7 million in the metro area) and covers a total area of 381 square kilometres (147 square miles) and is 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) above sea level. It’s located in the central region of the Andes Mountains in South America. MEDELLÍN IS KNOWN AS THE CITY OF THE ETERNAL SPRING That might be because the weather’s typically a perfect 70-75 °F (22-23 °C) no matter the season. So, flowers on balconies and terraces, in gardens and parks, on sidewalk café tables, bloom all year. It’s also known as “Capital of the Mountain”, and speaking of flowers it also has the nickname “City of the Flowers”. CABLE CARS ARE USED FOR MASS PUBLIC TRANSPORT Unlike expensive, touristy cable cars in other cities, the MetroCable here is a regular part of the city’s public transport system. And this was something they did before any other city in the world. So, while you’re cruising up high, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with locals heading home after work. Medellín has an incredible skyline dotted with skyscrapers, grand colonial buildings, and colourful homes. And it looks extra good when you’re zipping over the scene in a cable car. And Lonely Planet describes the Medellín cable car system as “possibly the least expensive but most comprehensive and photogenic city tour in the world.” BIG OUTDOOR ESCALATOR Medellín is surrounded by mountains so getting public transport to the steepest corners of the city isn’t easy. So, the city planners got a bright idea: They decided to build an outdoor escalator. The Comuna 13 neighbourhood is on a steep hillside – and before the people living here had to climb the equivalent of 28 stories to get home from the city centre. Now, the journey takes six minutes, and the views get increasingly impressive as you glide up the hill. MEDELLÍN AWARDED THE MOST INNOVATIVE CITY OF 2013 The Urban Land Institute awarded Medellín “the Innovative City of the Year award” in 2013. Tramways, cable cars and the outdoor escalators were a big part of this, but also the city’s world-class art galleries, libraries, and public spaces. Later, in 2016, Medellín won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, a sort of “urbanism Nobel prize”. Medellín got this because of its transformation into an outstanding liveable city. MEDELLÍN IS NOT A DANGEROUS CITY ANYMORE Twenty-five years ago, Time magazine dubbed Medellin “the most dangerous city on earth”. It was here that Pablo Escobar had his Medellín Cartel – a powerful and highly organized Colombian drug cartel and terrorist-type criminal organization. Escobar and other drug lords lived like princes. Judges and policemen were assassinated on a daily basis, and ordinary people disappeared overnight without trace. You might have seen Narcos on Netflix that tells the story of the life of Pablo Escobar and the rise and fall of the Medellín Cartel. By the way, it’s important to say that this is fiction and according to the locals only partly a true story. Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, yet still many people to this day think that Colombia and especially Medellín is a dangerous place to visit. But since then, the city has been transformed. Obviously, it’s a big city and not without problems; but it’s really not more dangerous than any other big city. FROM MURDER CAPITAL TO NOMAD HOTSPOT So, Medellín went from the murder capital of the world to a hipster holiday destination and a digital nomad hotspot. VISITING COMUNA 13 Comuna 13 is famous for the outdoor escalator but just as much for its amazing street art. Local artists are responsible for the colourful murals. Back in the day, Comuna 13 was the most dangerous district in the most dangerous city in the world. And it actually only got worse after Escobar was killed. The real violence in Comuna 13 only started after his death in 1993. The power vacuum created a bloody battle between left-wing guerrilla, right-wing paramilitary groups, and local street gangs. They all wanted to take control over Comuna 13, and between 1997 and 2002 the murder rate in Medellín tripled. The district was divided into zones of guerrillas and the paramilitary. There were ‘invisible borders’ everywhere, and if you crossed one, it could mean the difference between life and death. If you had said just 15 years ago that you were going to Comuna 13, people would have thought you were crazy. And that’s where I’m going next. Still today, it is not 100% safe, but this district is on the road to recovery. One of the positive influences is the Comuna 13 street art. TOURING COMUNA 13 I signed up for a 2.5-hour tour of Comuna 13 to experience the urban art, dance, and hear some amazing stories see the transformation of this district with my own eyes. For years, Comuna 13 was considered one of the most dangerous areas in Colombia but today it’s an awesome example of change. My local guide, Laura, works for Zippy Tour and lives in the area and we ended the tour at the house she lives in with her family – way up the hill of Comuna 13. Before the tour started, Laura asked us not to give the local children any money as there are more than enough opportunities for them to earn money and giving them a ‘hand out’ will not incentivise them to take these opportunities available to them. And many of them will use the money to purchase drugs as drug use remain a problem in this area. “We’ve been doing tours here for the past 5 years. We want to show people the beauty of Comuna 13 and the stores behind the art, the community, and the history of violence that has been transformed in recent years. Unfortunately, our tour business has suffered due to Covid-19 but we are so happy to still receive tourists despite the situation.” LIFE IN COMUNA 13 Laura has lived here in Comuna 13 her entire life. Her parents got married when they were very young. “My mother was 15 and my father was 18 when they got married because back then there was an agreement between families who had many children. For example, my father had 19 siblings and my mother had 21 siblings. It was a way to get them out of the house quickly to become financially independent.” Her parents were very poor and couldn’t afford to buy land or a house. But at the time – around the start of the 1980s – the government began giving free land in Comuna 13 which her parents acquired.   So, Laura has fond memories of living here when she was a girl in the ’80s. And the invisible borders I was talking about earlier first came later. So, she didn’t see any dead people in the streets, the quality of life when it comes to health was very bad. “The situation was bad, but the community made it a pleasant place to live. They held fiestas and concerts, and I have fond memories of growing up here.” Laura explained that it was like a forgotten part of the city. It was just poor people living here, so it was like the government didn’t care about them. Laura told us that as a girl, she never once saw any police presence in the area ever. So, the locals decided to create their own illegal security protection group called the Popular Militias. They started out well, taking care of the community and protecting the children from nefarious activities at night. However, over time, the Popular Militias began to become dangerous and everything changed when Pablo Escobar died. Yes, everything would change when Pablo Escobar died in 1993. At the time Laura was around 11 years old. And as we talked about earlier, this was when things turned really bad here in Comuna 13. When Escobar was at his peak with the Medellín Cartel he recruited a lot of young people in Comuna 13. “Escobar’s cartel began recruiting young people from poor neighbourhoods around the city, including here in Comuna 13, to work in their organisation. Often, this included crimes such as kidnapping, torture, assassinations, local terrorism, and drug trafficking. Escobar even offered 1 million Colombian pesos for every policeman killed, which of course made many poor and disadvantaged people eager to get involved in a life of crime. It was easy, fast money. Escobar was responsible for arranging the killing of 657 policemen in Medellín.” And as you might remember, the hunt for Pablo Escobar ended when he was shot on a roof in Comuna 11, not far from here. “The government thought that once Escobar was dead, things would be better. This was not the case. Many people and crime organisations wanted to take control and the violence spread rapidly throughout the country. Many criminal syndicates joined forces and urban warfare was rampant. Many innocent people lost their lives.” During that time, the government had many operations to get law and order brought to Comuna 13. They all failed. So, in October 2002 they did a more drastic operation. Operation Orion was “the largest urban military operation ever to take place in Colombia” and lasted for four days. WARM COLOMBIAN HOSPITALITY We continued to Laura’s home and had cold beer on the balcony with a stunning view of Comuna 13 and Medellín. On the way, we saw a lot of amazing street art and was witness to several dance acts. Even though a part of it was on the escalators, it was still a lot of walking uphill. I chatted to Laura and found out more about life living in Comuna 13 and sharing a home with so many siblings and family members. Before I put my microphone away and enjoyed the view and chats with new friends, Laura had some final words about her country. “Colombia is more than coffee and Narcos. Colombia has so much to offer both locals and visitors alike. We have a beautiful paradise filled with wonderfully warm people.” Amen to that, Laura. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you. COVID-19 TRAVEL and TOURISM RULES FOR COLOMBIA For the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions and tourist regulations, please visit the official website of the Colombian government. Make sure the Colombia is open for tourism before booking your trip.
A warm hello from sunny Florida, USA. The glorious thing about the CouchSurfing community is that you get to make friends all over the world. In fact, the community is so warm that you also get to meet their friends (and friends of friends), too. When I CouchSurfed through Connecticut I got to know Jason and the ConnectiCouch crew. When I came to Florida, I asked him if they knew of anyone’s couch I could crash on when I’m here. The answer was “Yes, you absolutely must meet Cynthia when you’re in Florida!”. So, after making contact with her we arranged to meet at the beautiful Lake Wales, smack in the middle of Florida. She lives close by, and I told her I would wait for her on a lakeside bench. When I arrived, I saw a woman sitting on a nearby bench wearing a South African cowboy hat. Something told me this was Cynthia. Of course, it was her. We exchanged warm Florida greetings and I immediately put her to task by asking her to tell me some interesting facts about where we were.   INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THIS PART OF FLORIDA 1. LAKE WAILES WAS A BEACH  Cynthia tells me that when the dinosaurs were roaming the earth, the area that is now Lake Wales was actually a beach, so the geology of the region is very unique from the rest of Florida. 2. WALES TOWN/WAILES LAKE The town of Lake Wales is spelt differently from the actual lake of Lake Wailes. In the 1800s the town was served and given the name Lake Wales. Then, in the early 1900s when the area was plotted, they named the lake, Lake Wailes.  3. RURAL  30 years ago, the town only had 10,000 people and one traffic light. Today, they have around 18,000 people and a few more traffic lights. 4. CENTRAL Lake Wales is very centrally located. It is about an hour south of Orlando and close to four hours from Miami. Each coastline is about an hour east/west. Cynthia wears a necklace that is a world map as a reminder of her spirit of adventure. She has travelled to 117 countries so far, all 50 US states, and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. We were talking about cool it was to meet up at the suggestion of our mutual CouchSurfing friends.  “For me, CouchSurfing isn’t about the couch it’s about the people you meet along the way. I have been blessed to meet over 1100 people in person. I have been CouchSurfing for a long time, and I am actually one of the CouchSurfing ambassadors for the United States, together with Jason and three others. We really believe in the power of community and connecting the world one person at a time”. ROLLING UP SPOOK HILL After our lakeside chat/meet ‘n greet, Cynthia and I got into our cars and headed for Spook Hill, a famous attraction in this part of Florida. Spook Hill is a gravity hill, an optical illusion that makes viewers believe that cars seemingly roll uphill, defying the laws of gravity. When I got there, I could see with my own eyes that the hill goes up.  “Wow, it really is big and definitely is going up,” I said. “Is it?” Cynthia asked with a knowing grin. The sign at the foot of Spook Hill tells the story of the legend (next to a drawing of a ghost): “Ages ago, an Indian Torn on Lake Wailes lake was plagued with raids by a Huge Gator. The town’s Great Warrior Chief and the gator was killed in the Final Battle that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its north side. Later, Pioneer Haulers coming from the foot of the old army trail atop the ridge above found their horses laboring here… at the foot of the ridge … and called it Spook Hill. Is it the gator seeking revenge or the chief protecting his land???” And then the sign says: “Stop the car on the white line, place it in neutral and let it roll back.” I did just that. I stopped at the white line at the bottom of the hill. I placed it in neutral and low and behold…it rolled back. Really spooky. Or could it be just an optical illusion? Check it out for yourself on this video. COUCHSURFING Let’s talk a little bit about CouchSurfing. I’m sure most of you know what it is but for the uninitiated:  It’s an online platform called where you can either host or stay with someone. No money changes hands: you pay with a little gift, a dinner, or simply by telling a story, singing a song or being a great guest. Usually, you don’t really spend the night on a couch. In the 50+ times I’ve CouchSurfed, I’ve only slept on a couch once. And that was a big one – on a blueberry farm in Maine.  The most important thing is that you get to meet amazing locals and as a host, you get to meet some interesting people from around the world. It’s such a great platform. (COUCH)SURFING THE PANDEMIC WAVE Obviously, it’s also been tough for CouchSurfing during the Pandemic. Recently, they have had to ask users in their home market USA to pay a little bit to keep the platform alive. The community has grown very rapidly since it started. When Cynthia joined in 2007, there were roughly 100,000 people on the site. She knew almost all of them either through direct contact or by four degrees of separation. They used to have aviators on the site displaying how each member was connected.  Since then, the community has grown so big that we have unfortunately lost the sense of a close-knit community. With more traffic to the site and the growing demand, it is also impossible to expect the site to run for free. She tells me that she heard, they have about six servers in India: that is A LOT of data which costs money. As an unpaid CouchSurfing ambassador, I asked Cynthia if she could talk a little bit about this. “As soon as we introduced payment on the site, it of course changed the nature of the experience and divided the community as many people felt it lost its spirit. On top of this, the pandemic has negatively affected the CouchSurfing community due to travel restrictions and social distancing. So, the site is undergoing changes at the moment. I hope that the CouchSurfing community will come out of this stronger and better. And I still believe in the core mission of the initiative: to connect the world.” It’s really not a lot to pay to keep the CouchSurfing community alive, it’s only around $15 a year, which, for what it gives you, is really nothing.  MULTITALENTED CYNTHIA Cynthia and I chatted a lot about her background and how she was ended up securing a full-ride scholarship to an exclusive school in Kensington, UK. Well, a step further than exclusive... her teacher was a member of the British parliament and she got to meet then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Our conversation meandered from school and travel, the past and the future. Even about her travels to Swaziland (Eswatini), and both Antarctica and the Antarctic – and the funny restroom situation they have on the expeditions there. This is definitely an episode you want to listen to. Cynthia is a really remarkable person and it was so fun chatting to her and getting inspired by her ambitious and warm spirit. We even talked about plans for her to travel again when the travel restrictions ease a bit. This episode was recorded in August 2021 and Cynthia actually did get to travel to the Balkans in September. She visited eight countries in four weeks, including six new countries, bringing her Country Count to 123. And we are actually seriously talking about doing a trip to Kenya and Uganda soon. So, who knows if there’s going to be a “Podcast 2.0 from Nairobi”. You can follow Cynthia on Facebook as Cynthia Globe (Globetrotting LadyLawyer Cynthia). My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See ya.   COVID-19 TRAVEL and TOURISM RULES FOR USA (AUG 2021) This episode is from August 2021. For the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions and tourist regulations, please visit the USA’s official travel state website. Make sure the USA is open for tourism before booking your trip.
Uma recepção calorosa from Rio de Janeiro My first Sunday morning in Rio gave me the quintessential Brazilian experience: chilling on a packed Copacabana beach listening to traditional samba music performed by a group of local friends sitting around a breakfast table. It didn't seem like these people were an organised band, and they weren't doing it to make money from tips. I just got the feeling that they were doing it for the love of samba. How can you not have a smile on your face when you find yourself experiencing this beauty on the world's most iconic beach only a few minutes’ walk from where you stay? What a city! The night before, I also got to hear some Brazilian samba. I teamed up with a friend of mine, Shannon from Los Angeles, and asked some locals where we could find a unique samba experience. SATURDAY NIGHT SAMBA We were given insiders information on where to find a tiny samba bar known only to locals. When we arrived, we couldn't believe just how authentic this place was. It was a small bar – kinda like a bodega. The band was not on a stage; they were just sitting around a table with their instruments and drinks. The place was packed, and we were standing around their table in a circle. It was a truly unique experience. After the band put down their instruments in favour of their drinks, we stepped outside onto the street and walked a bit until we came across another very local place where they had a karaoke night. It didn't have any windows, so people walking by could hear the not-so-great 'singers' attempting their versions of famous songs. Shannon's face lit up, and with a big smile, she said, "Hey Palle, let's go in and get a drink". The thing is, Shannon "Sangin' Diva" Pearson is a professional singer. She began her professional career at the age of 15, doing studio work around Los Angeles. Over the years, she's had the privilege of sharing the stage as a backing singer for artists like Natalie Cole, George Duke, Stanley Clark, Al Jarreau, Patti Labelle, Chaka Khan, Evelyn Champagne King, Sean "P-diddy" Combs, Kelis, Leona Lewis, Katy Perry, and many others. She's also appeared on TV shows like Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel, America's Got Talent, and even How I Met Your Mother. As a solo artist, she's performed all over the world as Sangindiva Shannon. And now this singing diva was about to have her Brazilian debut in a not-so-fancy little karaoke bar in Rio de Janeiro. The people in there had no idea what was about to happen.  Shannon was almost jumping in her seat and smiled like a kid in a candy store when she was flipping through the song folder to pick a song. She then went up to the lady controlling the show and pointed at a song. When it was her turn, we all sensed that this was a professional from the second she was handed the microphone. She connected instantly with the sleepy people in the room with her presence. She then belted out a loud "Hello from Los Angeles California!". And then the music started: Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Unlike other karaoke singers, she was not looking at the screen for the lyrics. She was looking at the audience, dancing and spinning around. The people on the street stopped and looked in awe of what was going on. It was like they were looking and thinking, "Wait a minute, didn't Whitney pass away a long time ago?". We ended up staying there for hours, and Shannon kept going back on stage again and again… Check out Shannon's outstanding performance below. ESCADARIA SELARÓN OR SELARÓN STEPS The following day, I met up with Shannon on Copacabana beach, and we were both still high on the musical experience from the night before. We strolled along the beachside, taking in the sights and sounds of this splendid place. We then slowly headed to the next beach over, Ipanema. We found ourselves at the 'hippy market', a lovely little flea market kitted out with artsy items such as musical instruments, brightly coloured shirts, hats, and curiosities.  We then headed up to Escadaria Selarón, also known as the Selarón Steps – a world-famous steps attraction in Rio de Janeiro and the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claimed it as his "tribute to the Brazilian people". In 1990, Selarón began renovating the steps that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbours mocked him for his choice of colours as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colours of the Brazilian flag. It started as a side-project to his main passion, painting, but it soon became an obsession. He was constantly running out of money for the project, so he sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhausting work, but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of steps in tiles, ceramics and mirrors. There are 215 steps, measuring 125 metres long, covered in more than 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. It is considered an iconic tourist attraction of Rio de Janeiro, with travellers from across the globe visiting it every day. The steps have been featured in many famous magazines, newspapers, travel shows, documentaries, commercials, and music videos.  National Geographic Channel, American Express, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Time and Playboy are just some of the media outlets that have featured the iconic steps. The steps have also been featured in many music videos, such as Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams' Beautiful. Snoop and Pharrell are not here today, but halfway up the steps, we met a young local couple with hip-hop names: Biggie and Dou. They were relaxing at a pop-up bar that was selling the iconic Brazilian drink, Caipirinha.   "There are so many amazing things to experience when living in Rio. Us locals are very warm and inviting. The stories are true: we listen to samba and dance every day of our lives. Plus, we give the best warm hugs." I sampled a Brazilian hug from Dou, and they weren't wrong. When I asked about the crime aspect of the city, they said that it is like any city in the world: as locals, there are certain places to avoid at night. Using common sense, they said, is key. Shannon and I ended up having quite a few Caipirinhas. It was a fun weekend with a friend I met on Nomad Cruise 7: a two-week "floating conference at sea" from Spain to Brazil. NOMAD CRUISE I hopped on a cruise ship in Spain with 500 other digital nomads and aspiring entrepreneurs from 42 countries for a two-week networking conference across the Atlantic. I met up with old friends from previous Nomad Cruises and made new friends along the way.  On Nomad Cruise 7, I met Tarek Kholoussy, founder of Nomads Giving Back, who has a corporate background in Wall Street. He was working for Goldman Sachs when he decided to get out of the rat race and become a digital nomad. On the cruise, Tarek gave a talk about his journey and goals: one of which was to create a social enterprise. At the end of his talk, he publicly announced the launch of Nomads Giving Back. A few days after we set foot on land, I pulled Tarek aside in a café in Porto de Galinhas on the east coast of Brazil for a chat. This was before I arrived in Rio. DITCHING CORPORATE FOR SOCIAL Tarek told me he always had a passion for social causes thanks to his entrepreneurial heart, but his background had always been corporate. He joined Nomad Cruise to pitch his Nomads Giving Back concept to the nomad community: to inspire nomads and travellers to give back to the communities they visit.  From his inspiring talk, he was met with overwhelming support from the nomad community, including the founder of Nomad Cruise, Johannes Voelkner, who suggested they collaborate.  "Every digital nomad realises just how amazing our lives are having the opportunity to travel the world and experience things many will never the chance to. And it becomes more meaningful when we are able to engage with local communities we travel to uplift and help develop. The aim is to make this global world feel like a close-knit community helping each other along the way." BACK IN RIO WITH NOMADS GIVING BACK Jumping back to the present in Rio, I met up again with Tarek who found the first project here for Nomads Giving Back. They teamed up with the philanthropic organisation/school Solar Meninos de Luz situated in a favela close to Copacabana. Tarek tells me that the idea for this first NGB-program is inspired by the power of the Nomad Cruise conference, where attendees learn how to improve their digital marketing skills (among many other things). Tarek and the Nomads Giving Back team decided to use some of the funds collected at the fundraising dinner on the ship to create a digital skills program for students who would not otherwise have access to it.  Many digital nomads earn their income from digital skills, and Tarek and the team sought to pay it forward by channelling donations to advance digital skill learning among disadvantaged youth here in Rio de Janeiro. Tarek and I caught up again to talk more about the new project. We both realised how fortunate we are to live a nomadic lifestyle and how much we have always wanted to give back to the communities we visit. "Digital nomads are mostly entrepreneurs working light without the backing of large corporations, so we don't have deep pockets. But there are so many other ways we can give back that doesn't require loads of money. Being a nomad is about freedom of choice, and part of that is defining what is important to you. For instance, in one night at the charity dinner on Nomad Cruise 7, we raised thousands of Euros." "Over and above, nomads are volunteering to help with their skills and talents: like the website and branding and business development. This shows the power of the nomad community and the power connecting through the same principles and values." Solar Meninos de Luz has spent nearly 40 years serving their local community. We were given a tour by Manu, a former student of the school and the perfect ambassador for the program. In fact, she came here when she was only three months old. "We have been here for 27 years doing a great job at educating the local community, with a holistic approach. We have 420 students, 115 volunteers, and 113 employees working in the school. We also provide over 1,200 meals every day as students arrive at 7am and leave at 6pm, so we provide 3 meals to each student every day. It is a lot of hard work but we love what we do here." Manu tells us that the school relies on public and private funds and donations to keep the facilities running.  We walked around the school and met some of the students. We were then treated to a nativity themed music and dance performance by the students. It was really great and so lovely to see the kids singing and dancing. Then an adult choir came onto the stage and gave an incredible performance. MORE ABOUT SOLAR MENINOS DE LUZ In walking distance from Solar Meninos de Luz is the Copacabana Palace, one of Brazil's biggest and most luxurious hotels. It was the location of a fundraising event I was attending for the project. The luxury of the place is quite the contrast to the favela up the road. But that is both the charm and complexity of this historical city. Solar Meninos de Luz is a philanthropic organisation that promotes education, sports, arts and culture, basic healthcare, and professional training support. It was founded 34 years ago and have assisted over 5,000 locals. Famous Brazilian author Paolo Cohelo who wrote The Alchemist (1988) and The Pilgrimage (1987), among many others, is a major long-time sponsor of the school. He donated his villa, which is now part of the campus and serves as the library. After months of planning, the Digital Skills Program officially launched a few months later. Nomads Giving Back were able to teach things like content marketing, SEO, and Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn Marketing. The 14 students learned how to think strategically, generate their leads, promote their personal brand, effectively use each social media platform, and much more. Upon completion, they were able to implement what they learned to start and grow their own business or better prepare themselves for job opportunities.  MIT MASTERCARD BLEV KOPIERET Out of nowhere, I received a call from my bank back in Denmark informing me of suspicious activity on my Mastercard. Apparently, some dick in the USA tried to draw $400 from my account. So, my Mastercard was blocked for security purposes, but thankfully your dapper Danish vagabond travels with a spare Visa, so my samba-licious adventures could continue. I later found out that my card was copied by someone moving close to me with some kind of electronic device that copied all the info of the wireless function on my card. Maybe it happened at the market on Sunday, where I was close to a lot of people. Since then, I've gotten a new wallet where my cards are protected in a metal case. SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN Sugarloaf Mountain is one of Rio's most iconic attractions. It is a beautiful peak that rises 396 meters high and presents a bird's eye view of Rio de Janeiro from the mouth of Guanabara Bay.  The cable car trip up is a sensation, and the panoramic views from the peak are absolutely breath-taking. The original cable car was built in 1912 and then rebuilt in the '70s and again in 2008. I planned to meet up with a few digital nomads for a hike on one of the hills. Then, we planned to catch the cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain to enjoy the sunset. We made it to the summit just in time to watch the sunset. And boy, was the hike worth it. And as the sun was setting with a stunning view of Rio de Janeiro, it's also time to let the sun go down on this episode. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See ya.      FLASHBACK EPISODES WITH TAREK You should also go back to the archive and listen to the two episodes I recorded with Tarek to learn more about his story. It's genuinely fascinating.  SUPPORT SOLAR MENINOS DE LUZ If you would like to help support the continuous education and development of the youth in Rio de Janeiro, visit their website to find out more. SUPPORT NOMADS GIVING BACK Join the community of nomads giving back by visiting their website to find out how you start your giving back journey today. COVID-19 TRAVEL and TOURISM RULES FOR BRAZIL (OCT 2021) This episode was recorded when Brazil was open for travel. For the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions and tourist regulations, please visit the Brazilian government's official website. Make sure Brazil is open for tourism before booking your trip.
SUNRISE ON THE BEACH Welcome to an episode from Sri Lanka. This is a rerun and a mix of two of my episodes from here. I visited the island in 2019, just before the pandemic shot the world (and Sri Lanka) down. Now that everything is slowly opening again, I wanted to remind you of the beauties of this country and its people. As you’re joining us in this episode, we’re staying at a hotel called Pigeon Island Beach Resort at the eastern part of the island. It’s literally on the beach just north of Trincomalee. The next morning I got up at 5 am so I could go to the beach facing east and record a time-lapse as the sun was rising. Much to my dislike, eleven young men were walking into my shot. Then I realized that they were pulling a rope. They were dragging a net full of fish out of the water, and I went over there and helped them pull it for a while. Someone later told me that when tourists do that, they share a few of the fish with the people that have helped them. I didn’t stay to the very end, so I never got my fish, because I needed to go and get ready for the next day of exploring. I want to go back and spend at least a week at Pigeon Island Beach Resort. Especially when I saw that they have a Scuba Diving Centre, and it’s just been too long since I’ve been scuba diving. But the itinerary didn’t give me time for that, so I guess that gives me another reason to come back to Sri Lanka. FACTS ABOUT WHERE WE ARE The highest point in Sri Lanka is Mount Pedro, reaching 2,524 meters above sea level. With over 400 waterfalls, Sri Lanka has perhaps the largest number of waterfalls of any country in the world, in comparison to its size. Bambarakanda Falls is the tallest waterfall in the country, with a height of 263 meters. There are 22 national parks and 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.   CONTROLLING BULLS IN A FORREST NEAR HABARANA It was time to head down to Habarana 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Trincomalee. This is where we’re staying tonight and also where we’re going into nature. When we get close to Habarana, we leave the paved road and on a dirt road get to a small clearing in the forest. We about to go deep into the forest on small Bullock Carts. Four people in each cart with two white bulls dragging us. I was in front with the guy steering the cart and controlling the bulls. He had commands for left, right, stop, and go faster. The bulls seemed quite lazy, but he was sitting right behind them, and if he swung his leg just a little bit, he would give them a gentle kick in the balls. And that would make them go fast. Halfway he gave me control of the cart and jumped off. So, there I was, controlling a bullock cart on a dirt road in a forest in Sri Lanka. Now that was a first for me. And no, I didn’t kick any balls. WATCH TOWER AT THE RICE FIELDS We still had a bit of a walk to do before reaching our destination. On the way, we saw a tree hut close to a rice field. This hut is used for keeping guard at night and scaring animals that might away with firecrackers and drums. We crossed the river in a double-paired canoe – kind of a catamaran that they use for fishing. The river wasn’t that wide because it’s dry season right now. In the wet season, the water level will rise a couple of meters and makes the river much wider. We’re heading towards the small village where we will experience a traditional authentic Village Lunch and get a local cooking demonstration. We also go on an elephant safari and see herds of elephants in the wild. And then after a bit more walking, we got to a small house with a grass roof. Inside was a smiling Sri Lankan woman about to cut a coconut in half with a big knife.  AUTHENTIC VILLAGE EXPERIENCE I get to taste a bit of the coconut milk, and then she starts grinding the inside of the coconut. She’s using a piece of metal at the end of a stick she’s sitting on. The desiccated coconut falls on a banana leave.  It looks so easy, and yet we can see that she was very skillful. She has done this a million times before.  Especially after Joanna and Viola from the group tried to do it, we realized that they just didn’t have the same touch.  We go outside where there’s a big rock. Here she puts some chili and salt and starts rubbing with another stone the size of a loaf of bread. She adds the desiccated coconut, onion, and lemon, and rubs some more. This coconut paste was scooped back to the banana leave and was to be a little part of the meal that awaits us.  This coconut paste was to be a little part of the meal that awaits us. The rice and the chicken drum stick curry had been cooked over a fire outside the hut. And there was so much delicious food on this authentic Sri Lankan buffet that we were eating with our hands.  There was so much delicious food on this authentic Sri Lankan buffet that we were eating with our hands.  On the way back to the bus, we sailed a bit more in the catamaran canoes, following the river on to a lake.  Visiting this small village in the forest, having the authentic Sri Lankan lunch prepared like it’s been done for centuries in a small hut with a grass roof, eating with our hands was truly an experience.  ELEPHANT SAFARI But the afternoon was about to get even better: We were going on an elephant safari. For the next couple of hours, we were driving around a big area where close to one hundred elephants were roaming freely – like they are supposed to.  We’re in Minneriya National Park, best known for its large herds of Elephants – generally well over 100 elephants at a time nearby area of the Minneriya reservoir. It’s situated in the south-central area of the island and comprises of grasslands, thorny scrubs, and many valuable species of trees. Apart from elephants, species of deer, wild boar, water buffalo, and jackals are some of the wild animals found, along with a variety of avifauna that abounds the park. PALLE ON THE SOAPBOX: DON’T RIDE ELEPHANTS  If you’ve followed me for a while, and especially heard my episode from Chiang Mai in Thailand, you will know how I feel about elephant riding.  You should never ever do that. The elephant back is not built for it, and it’s just plain cruel to do so, in my opinion.  A guy from the company that did the village experience and the elephant safari gave me his business card when we were having lunch. I noticed that it said “Elephant Riding” on the card, and I asked one of our guides if this was something they still do. He went and asked him and got back to me and said that they stopped doing this more than a year ago. They just had more business cards. To me, that was a valid explanation, and I understood. I accepted that, so we went on the elephant safari. As I’m editing this episode, I visit this company’s website and see that they still have Elephant Riding on the site. If they have stopped it, and of course I expect that they did, I find it weird that they didn’t remove those pages from the website. That’s why I won’t mention the name of the company here – as I usually would until I know for sure that they have stopped elephant riding. If you go to Sri Lanka – and please do because this is a fantastic country; do the elephant safari, do the village experience, but do your best to make sure that you don’t do it with a company that does elephant riding. Be responsible as a traveler.  It might be a cultural thing, and I do respect the Sri Lankan culture and that they have to make money off the tourists, but I simply can’t support something that is cruel to animals. So I would never go riding elephants, I wouldn’t go to bullfighting or go swimming with dolphins (like I did in the Bahamas before I knew better).  All this is my own genuine opinion.   THE ANCIENT CITY OF POLONNARUWE The next day we start at another place here in Sri Lanka with a name that’s difficult to say but worth visiting. The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms.  The Chola dynasty first established Polonnaruwa as their capital in the year 993. Today the ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned archaeological relic cities in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the Kingdom’s first rulers. And as a fun fact, it was used as a backdrop to the Duran Duran music video Save a Prayer in 1982. It’s a beautiful place that also holds some beautiful statues. SURPRISE AT HOTEL SIGIRIYA  The next day we were going to lunch when some surprising turned up in the outskirts of a forest.  The lunch was to be had Hotel Sigiriya – with a magnificent view of the iconic Sigiriya rock, that we were going to climb in the afternoon. And boy, were we in for a surprise.  First, we stop at the edge of a forest with several tuk-tuks are waiting for us, decorated with flowers and balloons.   After a short drive, we get to a luxury hotel and are greeted by local musicians and dancers that take us to the back of the garden, passing the pool area. We are greeted by local musicians and dancers that take us to the back of the garden. Here we could experience how they prepare the traditional food that we were having for lunch. It’s in the style of a traditional Sri Lankan village that we saw earlier. I asked the general manager of the hotel, Suresh, to explain where we are. “We’re in the center of the Cultural Triangle, at Hotel Sigiriya, with a nice pool area, where you can see the Sigiriya Rock while you’re dipping.”   He tells me that 90% of people visiting Sri Lanka come to this part of the island, even though it’s not near the coastline. They come for hiking, bird watching, and to see the Sigiriya Rock. Also, it’s quite normal to see elephants crossing the road here.  CLIMBING SIGIRIYA ROCK  In the afternoon, we were hiking up to the top of Sigiriya Rock – also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It holds an ancient rock fortress and is nearly 200 meters (660 ft) high. This unique Rock Fortress or “castle in the sky” is a massive monolith of red stone. It got the name Sigiriya or in English: “Lion Rock” because the entrance to the climb to the summit is reached between the paws of a lion. It was a bit tough but so worth it to get up there. For me, this was the highlight of the day. I felt I was at the rooftop of Sri Lanka, walking around the ruins with an astonishing view as the sun was slowly setting. DISCLAIMER: This trip was made possible by Sri Lanka Tourism, but the content is with my own direction and genuine opinions. LINKS:  Sri Lanka Tourism UNESCO about Polonnaruwa Hotel Sigiriya UNESCO about Sigiriya Rock
Hey from The Big Apple I started my adventure in the Big Apple sitting in a park in Brooklyn on a Saturday morning watching small kids and grown-ups playing football – yes, as a European, this is what I call the game where someone kicks a round ball with their feet.  I'm waiting to meet up with my friend Scott Gurian. Even though we'd never met prior, we do consider each other friends.  Scott is a fellow veteran travel podcaster and one of the best in the business. He's the guy from the Far from Home podcast you must have heard me talk about many times here on the Radio Vagabond travel podcast. Scott planned to spend his Saturday with me in Brooklyn, Queens, and New York showing me around some interesting places in his hood while we chatted and got to know each other. Scott lives in nearby Jersey, just across the Hudson River, so we're Close to Home for Scott today. As we walked over to Scott's car — a nice big new Toyota — I immediately joked that it was very different from the small, old car that played a big part in the first season of his podcast. FAR FROM HOME Scott participated in the Mongol Rally and drove a tiny, beaten out Nissan Micra stick shift across Europe and Asia about five years ago for an epic 18,000 mile (29,000 km). He did this crazy adventure from the UK to Mongolia with his brother and two friends – and after that, he decided to drive back in the same car. The first season of Far from Home is outstanding and got me hooked on the podcast long before we knew each other. I highly recommend listening to it if you haven't already. Also, watch a few clips of his journey to experience the trials and tribulations first-hand. Naturally, he has so many memorable stories and anecdotes from that trip, so I wanted to find out which stand out most in his memory. "Oh, so many. Driving across Iran with my brother and two friends (as Americans and Brits) was amazing; the friendliness of the people was memorable. Also, travelling through 'untouched' countries in central Asia like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc., was excellent. Seeing Cappadocia in Turkey with its hot air balloons was also amazing. And, of course, Mongolia is incredible with its vast open spaces and extraordinary scenery. It took us about seven weeks to travel from the UK to Mongolia, so as you can imagine, I have many incredible memories from that trip." Scott wanted to see more of the world, so instead of flying back to Europe (like any sane human would), he decided to drive back to explore more countries and regions, like Siberia in Russia. THROAT SINGING IN SIBERIA In one of the episodes of Season 2, Scott visits the remote south Siberian Republic of Tuva to learn about the traditional instruments and the ancient art of throat singing. He even attempts to throat sing himself! Read more about this visit and see photos and videos here. "Russia is such an enormous country with so many different regions home to vastly different cultures. Tuva was a 12 hour journey out the way to visit and it is so unique. It is close to Mongolia so the Tuvans look very similar to Mongolians." HALLUCINATING ON AYAHUASCA IN PERU In another episode, he meets a medicine man who invited him to attend a hallucinogenic healing ceremony where he drank ayahuasca. All while holding his microphone. Have a listen to the episode by clicking here. CLOSE TO HOME Due to the pandemic, Scott hasn't been able to travel overseas. But he is content as he tells me that living in Jersey, there is a lot of adventure that awaits in and around New York. He started cooking and even home-brewing to keep his itchy travel feet scratched. Scott was due to meet me at AfricaBurn – the South African Burning Man just outside Cape Town when lockdown hit. Scott stayed in Jersey, and I was stuck in Cape Town for a while (so be sure to listen to my Radio Vagabond South African travel adventures). We were supposed to travel a bit of South Africa together, but alas, it was not meant to be. SCOTT GURIAN'S NEW YORK TRAVEL GUIDE One of the cool things about making friends worldwide is that they can show you places you usually wouldn't visit. Because I had visited New York several times before, Scott wanted to take me to places few tourists would know about. Here is a list of Scott's unusual but must-visit places in New York Scott took me to: DUMBO A part of Brooklyn is called DUMBO aka "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" is a trendy neighbourhood to walk through Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT MUSEUM In an old subway station, you can visit the New York City Transit Museum. Move further down and see some 100-year-old subway cars. WILLIAMSBURG Williamsburg is a hipster neighbourhood that is cool to stroll through. QUEENS MUSEUM OF ART Next to where they hosted the World Fair, you find Queens Museum of Art, where the Panorama is now housed – a scaled model of every borough in the greater New York area in the 1960's. THE CITY RELIQUARY The City Reliquary is a not-for-profit community museum and civic organization located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s really cool and weird – and connects visitors to both the past and present of New York. We walked around Brooklyn for a bit and found the iconic Instagram spot with the bridge in the background. You might remember it from the gangster movie 'Once Upon a Time in America' poster. Then visited a place with a lot of food trucks called Smorgesburg. As far as I know, this word comes from the Danish smørrebrød, and then Americans started saying it like the Swedish Chef from Muppet Show. Unfortunately, we didn't find any Danish smørrebrød at Smorgesburg. Another thing we couldn't find after that was… Scott's car. After a slight ordeal trying to locate his car, we eventually found it after getting help from the police. Even locals can get lost in New York. Go figure :) TAJIKISTAN POLICE Our polite encounter with the NYPD reminded me of Scott's experience with the local police in Tajikistan on his trip. I asked him to talk about his experience. "There is a lot of corruption in central Asian countries like Tajikistan. Our British friends in another Nissan Micra got pulled over by some traffic cops who actually aimed their radar gun at another car, and then tried to say it was them who was speeding. My brother's and I stopped too and heard that they demanded $100 which was a month salary here and crazy. Specially since they weren't speeding. It was clearly a scam, and we didn't want to give in to the bribe/corruption stigma. After a long time, we eventually settled on handing over a bottle of vodka, and we were back on the road." Scott secretly recorded the entire encounter that you can listen to in its entirety in Episode 16 of Far from Home, Season 1. Scott tells about more traffic cop encounters he had in central Asia. Most of the time, the cops were polite and never gave them any unnecessary issues. We exchanged stories about the amazing people we get to meet on the road. Scott paid particular mention to the wonderful Iranian popularity he experienced. Thanks to Scott for taking me around the New York area on a beautiful Saturday. I hope to team up with him soon to do some travelling together and collaborate on future episodes of both our podcasts. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving.   NEW YORK FLASHBACKS If you want to listen to more of my travels through New York from previous visits, simply follow the link: The Radio Vagabond Travel Podcast in New York. COVID-19 TRAVEL and TOURISM RULES FOR NEW YORK (OCT 2021) This episode was from the end of August 2021, when New York was open for travel if you (like me) didn't travel to the country from Europe. Please visit New York City's official website for the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions and tourist regulations. Make sure New York is open for tourism before booking your trip.    
OM SUASTIASTU FROM BALI Before I tell you about drinking the world's most expensive coffee made from beans that have passed through a cat and pooped out, let's kick off this week's episode with an Balinese language lesson. THE RADIO VAGABOND LANGUAGE SCHOOL: BALINESE I always try to learn a few words and phrases when I visit a new place. For today's The Radio Vagabond language school lesson, we'll learn essential Balinese phrases: Hello: Om suastiastu  Good morning: Rahajeng semeng My name is Palle: Wastan tiang Palle Thank you: Suksuma I’M IN BALI, BABY Bali is an island province in Indonesia, so obviously, they speak Indonesian, but they also have their own language – Balinese. Despite practising the basics above, I still managed to mess up suksuma (thank you) when I met Putu, our local guide. Luckily for me, Putu was a good guy and didn't make me feel silly. FUN WITH NAMES Putu explained a few funny things regarding people's names on the island of Bali. In general, Balinese people name their children depending on the order they are born, and the names are the same for both males and females: The firstborn child is named Wayan, Putu, or Gede. The second is named Made or Kadek. The third child goes by Nyoman or Komang. And the fourth is named Ketut – like the old wise Balinese man in Eat, Pray, Love (which translates to" little banana") So, what do they call their fifth child, you may ask? Well, they simply start over again and name him or her Wayan, Putu or Gede. Anyway, together with a few friends, we asked Putu (a firstborn) to take us around to some interesting places in Bali. But before we explore, let's learn more about this beautiful island. 7 FACTS ABOUT BALI DIGITAL NOMAD HOTSPOT Bali is a small, well-known beautiful island in Indonesia (Southeast Asia). The capital, Denpasar, is the island's largest city and home to the international airport. But the most well-known Balinese places are probably Ubud (in the centre of the island) and the beach town of Canggu (on the western part of the island). Both are hotspots for digital nomads like me. HINDUISM IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY Bali is the only Hindu-majority province in Muslim-majority Indonesia. 86.9% of the population are devoted to Balinese Hinduism. BALI IS A SMALL ISLAND Bali is 95 miles (153 km) from east to west and only 69 miles (112 km) from north to south. It has a population of 4.3 million people. TOURISM IS VERY IMPORTANT Pre-Covid, they had almost 6.3 million tourists stop by every year. Tourism is the beating heart of their economy, as around 80% of the island's economy depends on tourism. As you can imagine, it's been a tough couple of years for Bali during COVID. The 6.3 million visitors in 2019 dropped to less than 1.1 million in 2020. NEW YEAR'S EVE IS QUIET Unlike almost everywhere else in the world, there are no big parties on New Year's Eve in Bali. The day is called Nyepi, and it's a day of silence and meditation. The whole island shuts down, and no work, travelling, or even noise is allowed. When I heard this, I thought, "What…? That's what I experienced as I (sort of) remember a big New Year's Eve party here". That's because Nyepi is not celebrated on December 31st but mainly in March. BABIES NEVER TOUCH THE GROUND In their first few months, Balinese babies are thought to be connected to the spirits and to stay connected, and they should not touch the ground. When they are about three months old, the infants finally touch the ground, and their family holds a big celebration to mark the occasion. THEY ONLY HAVE TWO SEASONS It's moderate throughout the year, and Bali has only two seasons: the dry season (April to October) and the wet season (October to April). MONKEYING AROUND IN BALI Putu picked us up in Canggu. He had a great sightseeing adventure in store for us, including a visit to the cat poop cafe (well, not really, but kind of). More on this later. On the way to the coffee farm, we passed the cultural centre of the island: Ubud. We drove past the famous Ajuna Statue, which Putu explains is part of the Hindu religion. We talk about how tolerance is a major part of the island culture. We made our way to the famous Ubud Monkey Forest, which is a forest filled with, you guessed it, monkeys. The guidebook tells me not to carry anything in my hand as the cheeky monkeys will likely come and take it from you. I held my podcast microphone and was a bit worried that they would steal it from me and take over this podcast. BALINESE HUMOUR Back in the car, we chatted more about the funny name situation on the island, and Putu decided to tell a joke.  Let me set it up: Four people get on a plane. One is from Paris, one is from Denmark, and the other two are from Bali, named Putu and Made. "The Parisian drops her perfume but doesn't mind because there is a lot of perfume in Paris. Then, the Danish drops his chocolate but also doesn't mind because there is a lot of chocolate in Denmark (apparently). Then, Made drops Putu out the window, but doesn't mind because there are many Putu’s in Bali…" I love Balinese humour, even though I don't always totally understand it. Like, when Ketut told a joke to Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love… that Ketut cannot fly on an airplane because Ketut has no teeth. Julia Roberts seemed to get the joke. Somebody, please write to me and explain that joke to me. Speaking of jokes, a few cat poop jokes coming up: COFFEE LUWAK (AKA CAT POOP COFFEE) We eventually made it to the coffee plantation that makes the world's most expensive coffee: Coffee Luwak – or Kopi luwak. It is made from partially digested coffee cherries that have been eaten and pooped out by a shy cat-like creature called the Asian palm civet. Then, hard-working coffee farmers go through the cat poop and dig out the coffee which they use to make Kopi Luwak. No wonder it's the most expensive coffee in the world. At the plantation, we met our female guide, who is probably called Putu or Kadek but goes by the name Monica, who tells us more about how the Luwak Coffee is made. "They eat any kind of coffee bean, as long as the quality is good. They don't chew the bean, so it passes through in its entirety." As she was talking about the process, I couldn't help wondering how in the world they thought of taking coffee beans out of cat poop and use them to make coffee. Even thought, I REALLY want my coffee in the morning, there are limits. "The first time this process was accidentally discovered was in Sumatra in the early 18th Century. The farmers realised that a lot of their coffee beans were disappearing, and they soon found them again in the poop of the Asian palm civets roaming the grounds. The farmers used the poop beans to make coffee and discovered that it had a unique taste thanks to the intervention by the civets." The part of the coffee plantation that is open to the public has a cage with a few Asian palm civets, a beautiful café area with a stunning view, and a few coffee plants. Monica tells us that there is a bigger area outside this part with many more plants and that they harvest every six months. But Luwak Coffee is not seasonal and is available all year round. She then takes us on a tour of the plantation where we ate fresh coffee beans (from the plant, from the plant, I promise…). "We clean the beans three times and then roast them. In the roasting process, the soft skin of the beans burns away, leaving the quality bean. Each roast takes about 45mins per kilogram". PERCOLATED POOP TASTING After we toured the farm, we were served ten small cups of coffee. One of them was the very special and super expensive Luwak Coffee. Is it as good as the price tag indicates? Yes! It was really good... even if the beans had been inside a cat a few hours prior, probably. GET PURIFIED IN HOLY (BUT MAYBE DIRTY) WATER Our next stop was the Hindu Balinese water temple called Tirta Empul Temple – in Balinese: Pura Tirta Empul. Tirta Empul means 'Holy Spring' in Balinese. The temple compound consists of a bathing structure, famous for its spring water that Balinese Hindus consider holy, so they go here for ritual purification. Putu explains: "People come here for healing. There are 14 different water streams, and each has a different function. Like, one is for the heart, the other for the skin, etc. You must go through each water stream in order. Before entering the water, you must pray and bless your body for healing. Once you are in the water, you must give a gift of a flower to the statues."  There are so many people lined up to go in the holy water. For most of the time, Tirta Empul is believed to be a source of clean water for ritual bathing. But, according to a report in 2017, authorities were investigating reports of water pollution and health risk at the Tirta Empul Temple.  So, if you go in, try not to drink any of the water. Until the next time, my name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.    BALI FLASHBACK If you want to hear more from Bali, go back and listen to episode 184 where I spent a few days at an amazing place called Fivelements Resort.   PODCAST RECOMMENDATION If you like this podcast, I'm sure you will love the podcast called Far from Home. It's by Scott Gurian – a New Yorker who travels around the world to some far-away places totally off the beaten path. Like when he went to a wedding in Kazakhstan. Listen here.   COVID-19 TRAVEL and TOURISM RULES FOR BALI For the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions and tourist regulations, please visit Bali's official tourism website. Make sure Bali is open for tourism before booking your trip.
Meet Mark Wolters of the Youtube channel, Wolters World. For 12 years he's been giving us honest travel advice on different places around the world. If you're going somewhere there's a good chance that he's done a few videos from the place.
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