"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I know we're a little past the midway point, but on this New Year’s Eve, some up-to-date RogueTrip numbers for you:

Days Traveled: 177
Months Traveled: 5.8
Countries Visited: 16 (New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, India, United Arab Emirates, Morocco)
Of 16 Countries Visited, Ones That Were Merely Layovers in Airports: 2 (Aukland, New Zealand and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
Total Miles Traveled to date:  35,995
Average Miles Per Day (Total Miles Traveled/Days Traveled): 203.36
Miles Traveled by:
Air: 20,833
Train: 13,391
Bus/Van: 1,771
Days Spent in:
Australia: 34 (19.2%)
Asia: 139 (78.5%)
Africa: 4 (2.2%)
Pages in Passport: 52
Pages in Passport Now Filled: 19
Valuables Lost in Airports or Hotel Rooms: 0
Full or Half-Full Water Bottles Left Behind in Airports or Hotel Rooms: 26* 
AirBnB Reviews: 14
Positive AirBnB Reviews: 14 (sample review: “He is a very good person.”)
Positive AirBnB Review %: 100 (sample review: “He come as guest leave as friend.”)
Photos Taken: 6,578*
Photos Taken That Don’t Include Bill: 37*
Postcards Purchased: 112*
Postcards Mailed: 61*
Postcards Mailed From Same City Postcard Purchased: 0
Bill’s Starting Weight: 215 lbs.
Bill’s Weight Today: 85.5 kg
Haircuts: 5
Most Days Gone Without Shaving: 7**
ATMs That Rejected Bill’s Card For No Reason: 6
Debit Cards Left In ATM: 1
International Phone Calls Successfully Made, First Time Dialing: 0
Number of Times Earbuds Dropped In Toilet/Urinal: 3
Pairs of Earbuds Ruined: 1
Pairs of Disposable Contact Lenses Used: 2
Maximum Months Advised to Wear Disposable Contact Lenses: 1
Packages Mailed to United States From China: 2
Packages Mailed to United States From China Which Could Be Considered “Lost” At This Point: 2
Number of Times A Woman Asked Bill, “How old are you?”: 78*
Number of Times Bill Responded “Guess.”: 78*
Average Age Guessed: 47* (scowls, middle fingers raised)
Highest Age Guessed (i.e., “Most Obscene Guess”): 52 (what the fuck?)
Number of Times Woman Recognized the OCEAN’S TWELVE joke Bill Made in Response to Most Obscene Guess***: 0
Club Sandwiches Eaten: 3

**Nepal trek-related
***Exchange between Clooney and Affleck in OCEAN’S TWLEVE:
”How old do you think I am?”
“You think I’m 48 years old?”
(pause) “52?”

…And some rankings/award candidates at this point in the trip…

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Place) race so far…
3. Nepal - if you’re going to pick a place for your first-ever trek, you could do worse than the Himalayas.
2. Bail, Indonesia - Every place I’ve been to, at some point I ask myself, “Could you live here?” In Bali’s case, the answer didn’t come in words. It came in me dropping to my knees, clutching the sand of Sanur Beach in both of my fists, and weeping with joy. I took that as a “Yes.”
1. China - a month of seeing a good friend and his family, traveling a large swath of the nation, seeing both its urban and rural sides, and accumulating a book’s worth of stories in Beijing, that I cannot wait to write. 

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Packed Item) race so far…
3. Tissue Paper - invaluable in Asia for reasons that should be self-explanatory.
2. Zip-Loc Bags (of various sizes) - a gift from my friends Jonica and Sandy that I never would have thought to purchase myself, these plastic bags have proven essential in a pinch: when I need a separate place for dirty laundry, compiling all the knickknacks and sundries I’ll eventually lose by mailing from China (see above), and most important, for providing me a safe haven for my laptop when it starts raining and thus, providing me peace of mind. Thank you, Jonica and Sandy. Now figure out how your Skype works!
1. 4 In 1 Travel Electrical Adaptor - a gift from my friend Amy that I never would have thought to purchase myself (sense a pattern here?), these adaptors (fitted to fit in a small box which fits in a pouch in my backpack) have made charging the myriad of my electronic devices so easy that I barely even obsess over it at this point. Thank you, Amy. Now figure out how your FaceTime works!

M.V.P. (Most obVious imProvement Bill would implement in a country he’s visited so far…)
3. Garbage Cans - a minimum of one every fifty feet on every public street. I think this would instantly improve a nation's mood by 8%.
2. “Yield” and “Right of Way” signs
1. Toilet Bowls.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performance By A Tourist Attraction) race so far…
3. Angkor Wat - Asia is lousy with temples. Every city in every country I visited in Asia, there were just loads of temples everywhere. I don’t mind admitting, there were some days I felt “templed out” and days where I was convinced some architect was just building “template temples” (that’s a Kaiser NFS joke for the three ex-co-workers who read this blog). But there are temples, there are TEMPLES…and then there’s Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is not so much one temple as a campus of temples, built radically different than most of the temples you’ll see on the continent. Large, mossy, sweaty stones, one piled on top of another that seem both precarious and indestructible, part of the world's largest Lego set. Angkor Wat is beyond compare. I started walking around the “campus” at sunrise and as someone not normally filled with a great deal of spirituality, rarely (if ever) have I felt so peaceful. Recommend.
2. Great Wall of China - a new friend I met in Beijing took hired a driver for the day and we went up to Mutian-Yu portion of the Wall, grabbing McDonald’s before we left the city. The McDonald’s made her sick, and by the time we reached Mutian-Yu she was in no condition to leave the car. So I walked the Wall alone. It defies description. If I hadn’t had someone waiting for me in the car, I would’ve walked it all day. It’s unbelievable. Recommend.
1. Taj Mahal - Let’s just say, the Taj Mahal covers for a lot of India’s sins in how it treats a guest. A LOT of sins. Picturing it in my head stops me in my tracks two weeks later. I stop in my tracks, someone walking behind me bumps into me, they say, “Come on, dude!” in some language, and I turn around and say, “Sorry. I was picturing the Taj Mahal,” and THEY wind up apologizing to ME. Go see that shit. Recommend.

Best Soundtracks to Walk Around Tourist Attractions/City Streets to:
Honorable Mention: Freedy Johnston “This Perfect World” and trying to match the album cover while taking pictures of the Taj Mahal, Angels & Airwaves, and Mos Def.
3. The National - entire catalogue on shuffle walking around Angkor Wat.
2. Simon & Garfunkel - “Best of” album, particularly good for rural/trek scenarios
1. Vampire Weekend - entire catalogue on shuffle, walking any and all city streets.

M.V.P. (Mesmerizing Vocal Performance)
William Norrett (featuring Wei) - “My Heart Will Go On”, Beijing, China

M.V.P. (Most Vexing Person Met While Traveling) so far…
3. Cab Driver in Mumbai, India - Pretended to not understand “That hotel! That hotel!” Followed Bill even after being told there was no fucking way Bill was getting back in cab. Owned a blank look for the ages.
2. Check-In Agent, JetStar Airlines, Darwin Airport - kept interrupting Bill even though Bill was dealing with another agent, not him. Refused to accept Bills explanation that the airline’s website was not working when Bill tried to check in his bag the night before. Snidely said, “Thousands of people manage to use it (the website) every day without incident,” then tried to pivot out when Bill said, “I guess I’m just dumb, then. I guess I’m just dumb.” After Bill had calmed down, apologized, and joked (not to him, again, to the agent he was dealing with), “You’re gonna send my bag to Mozambique or somewhere, aren’t you?” haughtily said, “We don’t do that, sir.”
1. William Norrett, various - Get out of your head, you idiot.

Part of what has been lucky for me on this trip is, every so often there’s been someone there for me. A friend or family member that’s popped up on my journey to give me something to hold onto. Just when I think I’ve been on the road by myself for too long, there’s been someone (or someones, or some family) that have been there to serve as a balance. Thus, the M.V.P. (Most Valuable Player) race so far…
(Four-way tie, listed chronologically)
McDonald/Simmerman/Verdeja - Bali, Indonesia - After five+ weeks riding the rails in Australia, a rougher-than-expected immersion into world travel, Bali was precisely what the doctor ordered. Relaxing, positive, encouraging, and beautiful, I was able to calm myself down with a normalcy I wasn't sure I'd ever see again. Without Bali, I probably would’ve just gone home. But in my week on the island, I got to see monkeys, dolphins, AND I learned how to play “Werewolves”. My host family welcomed me, and on a small level, they saved me. Thank you.
Jenny and Liz Ann - Bangkok, Thailand - Provided a port in a storm at a point I was drowning a little. Bought me a lovely meal at a lovely hotel. Prompted me to shop at Asiatique which was a diversion I never would’ve taken. Talked me a down a bit. Implored me to say “Fuck that!” to things or people I needed to say “Fuck that!” to (principally Jenny implored me on this score). Offered to take gifts back and mail them within the United States - the value of this cannot be overstated. Thank you.
The Gallaghers - Shenzhen, China - Hosted me for a month. Let me crash in their nanny’s room. Fed me. Entertained me. Allowed me to tag along with them on their family vacation to the country. Took me to numerous hot pot meals. Educated me about the Asian karaoke culture. It was (shrug) “All right.” Thank you.
Sue - Bangkok, Thailand - I was not planning on going back to Thailand. I had seen it. What I had NOT seen, however, was one of my good friends in Thailand. So whatever, I’ll see it again. Seeing Sue reminded me of kindness, of generosity, of having your shit together. She inspired me. Thanks to Sue for letting me tag along with her family on her vacation (I’ve intruded on a number of family vacations on this trip) to Chiang Mai, and letting me show her some sights in her own hometown. You need to get out more, Sue. Thank you.

Everyone have a Happy and safe New Year. I fly to London tomorrow. We'll talk soon.


Friday, December 26, 2014


In preparing for this trip, I read an article which advised me to get a new credit card solely for the trip, and to use it as much as possible while traveling. Using a single card would consolidate the receipts, make it easier to track expenses and, if you got the right card, would give reward points I could then put towards future purchases.

Good advice - the card I got has essentially paid for my flight from Portugal to Brazil next month.  (claps hands once) Boom.

But it’s also one of those new-fangled microchip credit cards, which turns out is a little thicker than your father’s credit card. It’s more like a key card Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) would scan in TERMINATOR 2 in order to gain access to the CPU and bionic arm in those glass cases than a flimsy card you’d use to buy Starbucks coffee. When I first got it, even I half-expected to need a security guard with me so we could both turn our keys in our respective locks to "enable" the card's power.

But it still LOOKS like a credit card. It's got a bank's name and MY name on the front, numbers on the front and back and besides, last time I checked, we’re knocking on the door of 2015, here.

No matter. At least once a week during my travels around Australia and Asia, I have offered my credit card as payment for goods or services and the employee has stared at it like it IS in fact the bionic right arm of the Terminator, and I've been forced to assure them, “Yes, it is a credit card.” Often, their skepticism has been followed by them tapping the card against the counter, as if its additional durability is evidence of its fraudulence, somehow. This amused me for the first month or so, until I realized again, y'know, 2014 going on 2015 here.

At least once a fortnight, after the employee has “tried” to use the card - in Australia and Asia this involves shoving the card into a slot rather than sliding it through one, he has frowned so, so seriously, and reported back to me, “Sorry, sir. It does not work,” which is IMMEDIATELY followed with either, “Do you have another card, sir?” or more often, “Do you have cash, sir?” spoken as one word - "Doyouhavecashsir?"

(I’m NOT talking about the various businesses that don’t take credit cards at ALL. Though I’ll still make the “2014, right?” argument in my head, this element of world business is what it is, and thus in countries such as Malaysia and Cambodia I stopped even asking businesses if they accepted credit cards. But that’s a different issue.)

Now, back in July and even August, this sequence of events would send me into a mild panic. Mild panic, my old friend. Mild panic, my chaperone. Mild panic, which tells me my first instinct should always be to blame myself, to do whatever needed to be done to solve the problem quickly and quietly. Had I forgotten to pay the bill? Had I already gone over my limit? Was someone going to emerge from the back storeroom of this bookstore in Singapore, shackle me in cuffs, and throw me into debtor’s prison? Do they have debtor’s prison in Singapore?

The first time it happened, I had only used the card, like, twice, so I was abjectly terrified. I meekly asked the vendor to “try it again,” because I needed to know if I had just embarked on a nine-month trip with a bum card. Was I going to have to deal with this for close to a year? I might as well just get on a plane and go back home. When she tried it again and it worked, my relief was overflowing. With each time for the next few weeks, then, I would stuff my distress deep under my stomach and colon, and meekly request that they try it again. And every time - EVERY TIME - they tried it again, lo and behold, it worked. My meekness lessened with each ensuing instance. Occasionally it took a more senior employee to a)explain the new card’s differences and/or b)do it themselves. But it always - ALWAYS - worked the second time.

So after a month or so, whenever the card “failed” to go through and the “puzzled” employee requested another card or cash, my mild panic had disappeared, replaced by self-assured insistence. “Try it again.” “It works; try it again.” “Do you have a manager?” and every so often the admittedly-snarky “You know this is 2014, right?” This transition in my emotional strength can be summed up in the following Rogue Trip Travel Tip #6 (yeah, I know - it’s been awhile!)


When traveling abroad, if a financial, banking, or otherwise monetary “snafu” arises, do not automatically assume the error is on you. Do not panic, mildly or otherwise.

Although I will assure you, we ARE about to enter the year 2015, and now more than ever technology has made the world smaller, more connected, and capable of greater convenience and financial freedom (though Skynet is gonna fuck that all up soon enough, believe you me! John Connor, stand up!), there are still vast stretches of the planet that may not be able to process and handle such technological ease with, well, ease. Making your way about the world means having to deal with all levels of capability to transact business. Not every corner of the world is modern, still. Now, perhaps it will be revealed the issue IS yours, in fact. But there’s no reason to pre-empt a thorough search for the root of the problem. So recognize that, keep your head, and realize that the business you’re dealing above all else just wants you to give them their money, and will disregard the thorough search to obtain it. They will try to use your mild panic against you so you simply submit and give them cash. "Doyouhavecashsir?" Stand your ground, and simply ask them to “Try it again.”

After almost six months, I’ve almost got this tip down myself. Today in a hotel restaurant in Mumbai, after devouring my first cheeseburger in a month, I scarcely blinked when the waiter returned with my card and said, “There is an error with this card, sir, doyouhavecash?”

“Try it again, please.”

He went to his station and after presumably trying it again, returned. “Error, sir, doyouhavecashsir?”

“No, I don’t have cash. That card works. Try it again.”

“Error, sir.”

“I used it an hour ago at the front desk and it worked there. Try it again.”

“Error, sir.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not using another card. I don’t have enough cash on me.”

The waiter thought, or rather, pretended to think. “We can try the machine at the front desk,” he said.


We both walked to the front desk, where I had paid for my room less than an hour ago. He ran the card while the manager of the hotel watched. Lo and behold: success. He ripped off the receipt and as I signed it, I said, “You knew it would work on this machine, didn’t you?” His look was as good as a nod. “So you know the machine in the restaurant is ‘broken’?”

Another good-as-a-nod. I looked at the manager. “I’m not trying to be a jerk,” I said, “but if you know the machine in the restaurant doesn’t work, you fix the machine. You don’t ask the customer for another card or cash. You fix the machine. Right?” The manager nodded. “Okay,” I said. “Thank you.” I walked away.

Mild panic ran away.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Just wanted to drop a note to thank all of you who check this blog out, and wish you a Merry Christmas.

There have been many, many years in the past where Chrismastime has rolled around and I've told myself, "Enh, y'know, this year I'll just hang by myself. Solo Christmas, Anti-Christmas, Rebel Christmas. I'll do that this year..." And I understand that this year, it's not quite that, really. But all the same...I don't think I'm gonna say that any more.
Have a Merry and safe holiday, everyone. I appreciate all the kind feedback to the stuff I've posted during my journey, and the support and love. As I sit here typing this alone in a hotel room in Mumbai, India...yeah, I don't think I'll be saying that anymore.


A Rogue Trip Playlette in Three Actlettes

(Playlettewright’s note: for all dialogue, please factor in the language barrier - e.g. stammering, repetition, blank looks given to Bill, shrugs given to Bill, etc. The actor playing the role of Bill should realize that Bill has just finished an overnight train ride from Pushkar, India - 19 hours - and thus must show the appropriate build of exasperation during each actlette.)


(An open-air cab, or tuk-tuk, DRIVER pulls up to a guest house. BILL is in the back seat, shouting at him.)

BILL: I do not want to go here! I’ve TOLD you I do not want to go here! We PASSED the place I TOLD you to take me! Take me back there!



BILL: I did not want to go here! I TOLD you I did not want to go here! Take me to the place I TOLD you to take me!

(The cab driver turns around. He indicates the guest house.)

BILL: No! Not here!
CAB DRIVER: “Hotel”? (pointing) Hotel.
BILL: I said “hotel” at the train station. I didn’t know which one. Then we PASSED one, and I said, “Stop here.” “Stop here.” “Stop here!”
CAB DRIVER: (pointing) Hotel.
BILL: I want you to take me to the other hotel! Like I said!

(A “CONCIERGE” emerges from the guest house. He approaches the cab, and shakes hands with the driver.)

BILL: (seeing this, realizing the business deal) Argh!
"CONCIERGE": (to Bill) Hello, sir.
BILL: Hello. I’m not staying here.
"CONCIERGE": You’re staying here?
BILL: No. I want (indicating driver) him to take me to the place I said. Where I pointed!
CAB DRIVER: (pointing) Pointing here.
"CONCIERGE": You stay here.
BILL: (to concierge) Dude! (to cab driver) Dude!
"CONCIERGE": So, you stay here?

(Bill gets out of the cab, takes his bags - his multiple, heavy bags - out. So really, he hoists them out.)

BILL: (indicating cab driver) If this guy won’t take me there, I’ll get another cab.
CONCIERGE: Where you from, sir?
BILL: Argh!

(Bill starts walking. After a beat, the cab driver follows him slowly.)

BILL: (to cab driver) DIFFERENT cab!

(Bill has found another hotel. He enters the restaurant and puts his bags - his multiple, heavy bags - down next to a two-seat table. So really, he plops them down next to a two-seat table. A WAITER approaches.)

WAITER: Room number, sir?
BILL: Oh, I haven’t checked in yet, they won’t let me check in until eleven. So I’m just going to eat breakfast and wait here, if that’s all right.
WAITER: No problem, sir. Coffee?
BILL: Yes. (anticipating what’s coming) Milk coffee.
WAITER: Black coffee?
BILL: No, milk coffee?
WAITER: Coffee, sir?
BILL: Yes. Milk. Coffee.
WAITER: No problem sir.
BILL: (sighs) Thank you.
WAITER: No problem, sir. Buffet?
BILL: (looking over at the buffet) You know what? I don’t think I’m going to do the buffet today. Could I see a menu, please?
WAITER: No problem, sir.

(The waiter leaves, then brings back a menu. Bill looks it over.)

WAITER: Room number, sir?
BILL: Huh? No, I told you. I’m checking in later.
WAITER: No problem, sir.

(As Bill looks over the menu, the waiter hovers.)

BILL: You know what? Why don’t you take care of the coffee, and by the time you come back, I’ll know what I’m going to order.
WAITER: Excuse me, sir?
BILL: Why don’t you go get me the coffee, and while you’re gone, I’ll decide. And when you come back, I’ll give you my order.
WAITER: Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Right now you cannot order off of the menu. You can only have the buffet.
BILL: (sighs)


(Bill approaches the HOTEL CLERK, a young woman. This - a woman working an “official” job-like job - is rare to Bill’s experience in India; aside from the occasional shopkeeper or street sweeper, the vast majority of employees in all areas seem to be men - so Bill smiles.)

BILL: (to self) Ah, right. Maybe dealing with a woman will give me some luck, here. (to clerk) Hi.
CLERK: Hello again, sir.
BILL: (smiles) Yes. Hello again. Could I please have the wi-fi password?
CLERK: I’m very sorry, sir-

(Playlettewright’s note: The actress delivering this line MUST deliver it as if it’s the ONE MILLIONTH TIME she’s said “I’m very sorry, sir.” Thus, it MUST have the perfect blend of automaton and utter lack of sympathy for whatever she’s “very sorry” for…)

CLERK: -but only registered guests are permitted to use the hotel wi-fi service.
BILL: I’m checking in four hours. (re: clock behind clerk) In less than four hours.
CLERK: I’m very sorry, sir, but-
BILL: You’ve already run my credit card. I’ve already paid for the room.
CLERK: I’m very sorry, sir, but-
BILL: (pointing to restaurant) I’m literally going to sit there until you let me check in.
CLERK: I’m very- (even she can’t hear herself say it again) If you want to check in early, for five hundred rupees per-
BILL: (realizing) Oh.
CLERK: Would you like to check in early, sir?
BILL: (stares)

Have a Merry and safe Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

#RogueTripSOTD - 22.12.2014

Pushkar, India - 22.12.2014, 4p

#RogueTripPOTD - 22.12.2014

Pushkar, India - 22.12.2014, 5p

#RogueTripPOTD - 21.12.2014

Jaipur Amer Fort, Jaipur, India - 21.12.2014 - 9a

#RogueTripSOTD - 21.12.2014

Apologies for the sporadic posts...a tourism slogan here is "!ncredible !ndia". It really should be "!ncredibly !nconvenient to get !nternet !n !numerable !nstances"...hopping on a train from Pushkar tomorrow, arriving Christmas morning while most of you readers are still sleeping. I'm hoping to have something word-wise for you then, as I have nineteen hours on a train listening to "The Darjeeling Limited" soundtrack...
Jaipur, India - 21.12.2014 - 9a

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some Langtang National Park Shots...

#RogueTripPlaylette - 16.12.2014


(To his surprise, BILL has just flown through immigration in less than two minutes - no line, amenable immigration officer - check passport, stamp passport, waved through. A pleasure. Now, he sees a currency exchange station right next to where his luggage is to emerge at baggage claim. "Everything's coming up roses!"

Smiling, Bill approaches the currency exchange and takes out his wallet.)

BILL: (pulling out bills) Do you exchange Nepalese-
EXCHANGER: No Nepalese rupees!
BILL: No Nepalese rupees?
EXCHANGER: No Nepalese rupees!
BILL: (his happy mood ruined) You realize this is an airport in a country that BORDERS Nepal, right?
EXCHANGER: (says nothing)
BILL: You realize this is 2014, right?!
EXCHANGER: (says nothing)
BILL: You realize you claim to exchange currency, right?!
EXCHANGER: (says nothing)

(Another EXCHANGER comes over.)

EXCHANGER #2: One thousand rupee bills only!
BILL: (dripping with  sarcasm) Oh, so you WILL exchange SOME Nepalese rupees? You said you didn't exchange any. But you will, huh? Wow.
EXCHANGER #2: One thousand bills only!
(Bill ruffles his Nepalese bills, pulling out one.)
BILL: Well, here's a thousand!
(Bill starts to hand the bill over.)
EXCHANGER #2: That is a five hundred.
(Bill looks at the bill in his hand. Pause.)
BILL: (under his breath) Goddammit. (aloud) Sorry.

(The two exchangers walk away. Bill looks at another exchanger, who has watched the entire exchange.)

BILL: Is there an ATM nearby? (to himself) I can't read this goddamn money.

#RogueTripSOTD - 17.12.2014

New Delhi, India - 17.12.2014, 3p

#RogueTripPOTD - 17.12.2014

New Delhi, India - 17.12.2014, 2p

#RogueTripSOTD - 15.12.2014

Bus on the way down from Langtang, Nepal - 15.12.2014 - ALL DAY LONG THIS GUY WAS ON ME.

#RogueTripPOTD - 15.12.2014

On the way downward from Langtang, Nepal - 15.12.2014, 12n

Sunday, December 14, 2014

#RogueTripPOTD - 14.12.2014

Langtang Mountain, Nepal - 12.12.2014, 3p

#RogueTripSOTD - 14.12.2014

Just a couple pics now to tide you over until I get a)some sleep, b)a hot shower, c)three more hot showers, and d)a mirror so I can shave. But suffice to say, the Himalayas, as a mountain range, is all right with me.
Langtang National Park, Nepal - 12.12.2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

#RogueTrip - LOGISTICS

Just to let the handful of people checking out this blog know...tomorrow (08.12) I will be heading off on an eight-day trek through the Langtang section of the Himalayas. I am not anticipating a great deal of Internet access in the Himalayas - it's really everyone's primary complaint about the Himalayas - so please don't be surprised if there is a lack of posts for the next week or so. Apologies, and thanks again for checking this blog out.

I hope you're enjoying it.

#RogueTripSOTD - 07.12.2014

Kathmandu, Nepal - 07.12.2014, 4p

#RogueTripPOTD - 07.12.2014

Kathmandu, Nepal - 07.12.2014 - 4p

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


So far on this trip (knocks wood), there have only been two moments where I thought I was amidst legitimate danger. One of those moments was in Hong Kong. I blame Couchsurfing.*

*Not really.

To date, I haven’t used Couchsurfing for accommodations, to actually surf a couch (this may change when I return to the States and find myself homeless). But Couchsurfing isn’t only a website where hosts and guests can arrange a place to stay, but also a place on the Internet where people who are strangers in a particular city can arrange to meet and just hang out. It’s a valuable resource for those of us traveling alone, allowing us to meet like-minded souls and break the solitude every once in a while. You meet “friends” at a bar, attend a comedy night, have dinner, and such…

I thought I’d give it a try. Before traveling to Hong Kong, I decided to see if there was anybody posting on the site who was interested in meeting up and doing something during my time there. There were plenty of people; in fact, my host in the city by sheer coincidence was attending a Couchsurfing event at a bar the night. He asked me to tag along, and I had a wonderful time. I chatted with a woman who would later show me the Umbrella Revolution, and I met several people who were interested in taking a hike on the Tai Tam Country Trail the next day. Would I like to join them?

Sounded fun, I said. Sign me up.

The next morning at 11am I met a group of both travelers and locals at the Shau Kei Wan subway stop. There were seven of us: two local men, a woman from Malaysia (who had to catch a plane at 6pm), a Chinese woman, a Polish woman and a Ukrainian woman, both working in mainland China, and me, the elder statesman American (Couchsurfing does seem to be a domain of the twenty-somethings). A jovial group, we first bought water and supplies at a 7-11, where I was gently mocked for buying a large, liter bottle, then took pictures in an urban village, and finally made our way into the Tai Tam Park. Walking past the entrance and up a pretty steep path, we finally stopped at a set of brown, concrete steps that led into a thicket of trees, up the hill.

This was the beginning of the trail. But there was no way to tell where it led, or how far. My mind flashed, as it often does, on GHOSTBUSTERS:



DR. STANTZ: Hey! Which way do these stairs go?
DR. VENKMAN (Bill Murray): (looking) They go up.

One of the Hong Kong men, our nominal leader, pointed at the steps. “Shall we start?” he asked. He was chomping at the bit.

“How long is the trail?” I asked.

He thought for a moment, calculating. “Five hundred meters?” he said.

I looked at the group. While most of the group already seemed impatient that we hadn’t taken off up the hill already, the Malaysian and Chinese woman were already out of breath, the Malaysian with her hands on her knees. They had struggled even with the path from the park’s entrance. I didn’t give a shit how long the trail was; I'd walked every day on this trip. Half of the sights I had seen in eight countries seemed to be at the top of an endless staircase. I had been walking around the continents of Australia and Asia for what seemed like three straight months already. But it seemed like full disclosure was needed for everyone before they signed on. “How long do you think it’ll take?”

More thinking, more calculating. “An hour?”

“Okay,” I said.

“So,” the Ukrainian woman said, impatient, shaking her knees at the bottom-most step, “we’re going, right?” The others made jokes about weak stamina, asking me if I was too old to make it. 

But again, I wasn’t worried about me. Not to be Mister Chivalry, but I wasn’t interested in going on a hike which ended up with a woman in a hospital. I looked at the Malaysian woman, and tilted my chin, silently asking her if she was up for this. She was breathing heavily, she was sweating already, but she was nodding. “Okay,” I said.

And off we went.

And maybe the concept of both time and distance are different in Hong Kong than they are in, say, REALITY, but our “leader’s” sense of both five hundred meters and an hour was, to be charitable, inaccurate. Checking the “Enjoy HK Hiking” website just now, I find that “500 meters” is actually 5.2 kilometers, and “an hour” is 2.5 hours, which I’m guessing is for a dude hiking by himself before his restful three-day weekend ends and he rejoins the rest of the fucking Avengers.

Because it took our group over two hours to reach the midpoint of the hike, and that was a rough two hours. Imagine walking a stair master for two hours. Now imagine walking that stair master in a gym where the heat is turned up to ninety degrees and the sun is blasting on your face and neck. Now imagine walking that stair master with a Ukrainian woman chattering in your ear the entire time. Now imagine walking that stair master in that heat where every ten minutes or so, you think you’re getting to the end only to have the stair master reveal a thousand more steps. This was not a hill, it was a mountain, a mountain with several false endings. This mountain had more false endings than the first LORD OF THE RINGS movie. I don’t know how many false endings the other RINGS movies had; I didn’t bother to see those. Every time I thought we were reaching the peak, where at least the incline would level off, another peak would rise in front of me. It was like the opening credits of THE SIMPSONS, where the city of Springfield just keeps unfolding and unfolding. The steps rising into this mountain threatened never to end.

An hour into the hike, the group had kinda broken apart, walking in clumps of two a few hundred feet apart. Most of the group had ceased joking about stamina (which was fading for all of us) and ceased joking about my water (which was gone, the empty bottle and the lack of garbage cans across the entire continent of Asia mocking me) and begun joking about helicopters. Helicopters, as in the emergency helicopters that were sometimes called to fly to the mountain, swoop in and rescue people. There were phone booths along the trail - about as many booths as garbage cans - and you were instructed to call if you would be unable to get down off the mountain. The other members of the group found this hilarious.

“You think she’ll need the helicopter?”

“Listen, you hear that? Is that the helicopter?”

“Ha ha ha!”

“You don’t wanna call for the helicopter too early. Remember, it’ll cost you money.”

Apparently if you call the helicopter you’re required to reimburse the city.  Good to know, I thought. Goodness knows when contemplating whether or not to save your own life you should consider budget. Looking at the Malaysian woman, I didn’t find any of this funny. I was struggling. She was struggling too, really struggling now. Thin, unmuscled, clearly sunburned, she had to stop virtually every ten steps, hands on knees, mumbling weary, sarcastic comments before hitching up her backpack and moving on. She didn’t have any water. She looked like she was going to faint any second. I kept waiting for her to fall to her knees, but she seemed to steel herself during each pause before moving on. People in the group took informal turns going back and waiting with her, and the rest of us took breaks, but as we climbed the mountain, the breaks became shorter and more impatient. The others wanted to keep moving. It’s not like we were bound by something beyond the Internet. We had all met each other through a website; we weren’t friends or anything. This woman was intruding on everyone's enjoyment.

At one point, someone commented, “If she couldn’t make it, she shouldn’t have joined us,” which caused my annoyance to burst through my politeness. “She had no idea how far it was,” I said. “It was completely underestimated for her.” I looked at our leader. He shrugged. “This is not safe.” I kept repeating, “It’s not safe,” as if trying to make sure everyone knew my complaint was not self-serving, which felt shameful enough. I walked away from the group and waited for her, pointedly looking away. This had the effect of making me seem like a grumpy asshole, but at this point, I didn’t give a shit. I would’ve been concerned had I known her. Having no clue as to what she could take terrified me.

Besides, I AM a grumpy asshole.

Finally - finally! - we all saw the radio tower that represented the peak of the mountain. We were going to make it. Everyone, including the Malaysian, picked up the pace and we got to the top. It felt like a true accomplishment, and as we took pictures of the gorgeous Hong Kong skyline and Victorian Harbour, looked out at Kowloon and the New Territories - holy shit was the view incredible - ate our snacks (and the rest of the group polished off their own waters), and rested, I convinced myself I had been too over analytical once again, too concerned about something that was too unlikely to occur. Lighten up, I told myself. Even the Malaysian woman seemed buoyed by the peak. She smiled at me. She took pictures, had others take pictures of her. It WAS an accomplishment. We had climbed a big, fucking hill. And going back down would be easier. It would all be downhill from here. All downhill from here. It’s an expression, for Chrissakes.

We were ready to go. “Back down should be easier,” I said, starting to reverse our steps.

The leader pointed the other way. “Down is the other way,” he said.

Oh. I looked in the direction of his finger. He was right. The path continued on. We weren't just going to double back. Oh. I shrugged.

“Okay,” I said. “How long will it take?”

“An hour?”

Whatever. It didn’t matter. We were going downhill, now. It was all downhill from here. And we all started off again. Down the hill.

Don’t get me wrong, downhill was tough too. The steps were steep and you really had to watch your step. Every time you caught yourself admiring the view, which was magnificent, your head would snap down to make sure you weren’t stepping off the actual mountain itself. Steep, steep, steep, for step after step after step. But it WAS downhill. For a few hundred meters, maybe a whole kilometer, it took less effort and each step felt like a victory.

Until. Down the hill? A kilometer or so past the midpoint, and to be fair, that WAS a downhill kilometer, it became clear that the entire trip downhill would NOT be that. We had been duped. More false endings. The hills began to rise again. Each hill ended with the reveal of ANOTHER hill. These hills were steeper, if that were possible. You’d get to the top of one, and another would laugh in your face. This LORD OF THE RINGS will never fucking end, I thought. It was almost as bad as when I realized it in the theater.

I glanced behind me. The Malaysian woman had lost her smile. She seemed worse than ever. I looked around. Where the hell would a helicopter even land around here? A few minutes later, the rest of us realized she was at least a hundred meters behind us. This was going to end badly, very badly.

“We should go back,” I said. “She’s not going to make it.”

Everyone else looked at each other, and several gave that blasé shrug you get used to in Asia from people who don’t have the balls to argue with you but who have no fucking intention of helping you. It’s a maddening shrug, and this from someone who’s MASTERED the maddening (shrug). The ambivalence really made me want to throw something, but there had been a garbage can at the radio tower and I had already unloaded my water bottle.

“She’s not going to make it,” I repeated. More shrugs. THIS is why you buy more than one water bottle, I thought. So you can chuck the extra ones at Couchsurfing people. “Fuck it,” I said. “I’ll go back and walk back down WITH her.”

The leader of the group finally spoke up. “It will be just as tough to go back.”  He pointed back towards the radio tower.

I followed his point. He was right. We had reached sort of a canyon. At this point, if we turned around, we would have to go up the steep, steep, steep that we had just descended. We had seen that revealed peak, but from the opposite angle. It would be just as tough to go back.

“I’ll go back and walk with her this way, then,” I said.

They all shrugged again. Assholes, I thought, as I turned and made my way back - my way back UP - the steps so I could at least accompany the woman, make her feel like she wasn’t alone.

I reached her. She was standing still on what was somewhat of a plateau on one set of concrete steps, hands on her knees, seemingly waiting for me.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Take your time.” She doesn't seem as grateful to see me as I anticipated, I thought.

“Yeah. I am.”

“Whenever you’re ready.”


When she was ready, we started again, back down the steep, steep, steep. Every couple of steps, I waited as she made her way down, turning her body almost sideways to keep her balance. Waiting for her, I had time to look around, to see the view, to catch my own breath. By the time we both reached the bottom of one such steep, I seriously wondered whether or not she just wanted to be alone. We were both smiling. Maybe it just takes time, I thought.

The group was waiting for us back where I had left them. We all started off together. It became a consistent downhill. There was less chatter now, except from the Ukrainian woman, and we stayed in a single file. The Malaysian woman was now near the head of the line. Two hours later, we reached the bottom and an hour later (finally, something was only “an hour” later), we all had dinner together. Walking the streets of Central Hong Kong afterwards, the Malaysian woman reminded us she had to catch a flight, so at one corner, we all shook hands, exchanged cards, and bid each other safe travels. I went off and had a couple of beers by myself before finding my accommodation and quickly falling asleep. Good day.

Apropos of nothing, today marks the theoretical midway point of my trip.