Category Archives: Thoughts

Annual review 2014

Every year at the end of December I complete the Annual Review exercise. I first got an idea for this tremendously useful annual ritual from Chris Guillebeau’s blog. This is the fourth time I’m doing the exercise: I’ve reviewed 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014; the 2012 review was even published on this blog. Below is the (somewhat abridged) review of 2014.

1. The first part of the review is to ask myself these two questions: What went well this year? and What did not go well?

What went well in 2014?

Looking back, 2014 was probably the most amazing year of my life. I spent the whole year literally on the road continuing my Round the World trip that I started back in July 2013. During 2014 I visited 29 countries, many of them for the first time. A whole list of incredible experiences happened on the way, of which the most memorable were:

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The more I examined my data, the more inescapable became my conclusion that tourist attractions are an unplanned typology of structure that provides direct access to the modern consciousness or “world view,” that tourist attractions are precisely analogous to the religious symbolism of primitive peoples.

Dean MacCannell

On letting go

I’ve been thinking these last days about the importance of letting go.

One thing that caused this reflection was of course the loss my camera in the middle of October. To be fair, on this 500-day 39-country trip I have lost an uncountable number of physical objects. I forgot my fancy eyeglasses in a hotel in Los Angeles. I left my favourite winter jacket in a hostel in Adelaide. My big rolling bag broke several times – the wheels of the first bag broke in Tokyo, I bought a new one in Australia, this one broke in Fiji and Nepal and so I finally I bought a new (current) one in Andorra. I lost t-shirts and shoes and gloves and socks and underwear too many times to remember. I’ve lost or broke headphones at least six times (Bolivia, Chile, USA, Australia, Barcelona, Romania), lost or broke iPhone cables and chargers many times – first time in Peru, which rendered my iPhone inoperable for a month, other times in Nepal, in Armenia, in Italy.
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Trip update

Several important developments have taken place on my trip. It pains me to even write it, but let’s get the worst out of the way first. The most unfortunate news is this: my beloved camera is dead. Like an angry god the Atlantic ocean in its utter cruelty has decided to devour it. On the idyllic island of La Gomera in the Canary archipelago a treacherous wave sneaked on me from behind. Some drops of water got onto my camera. But salty water, as I now know all too well, is deadly for electronic microchips. And so several seconds later the life of my camera was over. Trying to dry it did not help. I sent it to the repairs shop and the verdict has already been pronounced to me. Cheaper to buy a used body than to salvage this one with uncertain results. Ah my wonderful 5D Mark II, I will love you forever.

It was a strange coincidence that when our small plane was landing in La Gomera, I had this distinct feeling that my trip is nearing its end. La Gomera is so remote and so rugged that it really does feel like the end of the world. Little did I know that this little island really would spell the end of something I so treasured.
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It is a momentous time we live in. Turns out, history has not ended! As is shown by the complex events in Ukraine, the endless surprises of Sochi Olympic games and even by the sudden and innocent switch between the Estonian Prime Minister and EU Commissioner, history is alive and well and will continue spicing up our existence.

I am by now in New Zealand after spending a month in Australia. Australia is truly magnificent, but at times it shows a traveller its less friendly side, mostly in very simple comfort questions. You are asked to check out at 9:30 in the morning (what?), you have very limited access to internet – no free wifi even in expensive hotels, and even paid wifi is very slow. For example a new critical update for iPhones is 1GB large – forget about downloading it in Australia! Because of this limited web access every time I published a post on the blog, it seemed like a giant triumph of will.

All this threw the chronology of my journal in quite a disarray. I will continue publishing some experiences from Indonesia and further on as I went, but I might also make some sudden posts from the present moment, as I did with Sydney Mardi Gras.

Of course there is also the second reason why I am late with updating the blog. Australia and New Zealand have been so intense and so interesting that it seems life just sucks me in like a hurricane not leaving time for anything else really. I have already accepted that there is no way I can sleep as much as I’d like to ever. Sleep seems simply a criminal waste of a critical resource. I have no time to read books, to watch movies, to meditate – all these activities I thought I would be doing in abundance on a round the world trip. Nothing like that.

This is what I’m missing the most on this trip – time. And it is the main lesson of the trip. You suddenly realise how valuable time is and how little we have of it. That’s why it’s so important to concentrate our attention on what truly matters.

There is another lesson I learnt from this trip. It is that you always have to DO that what you want to do. Even if you are tired, you’ve no money, you’re in a hurry, you’ve no more strength, you’re not sure – DO IT ANYWAY. You painfully regret afterwards the things you did not do, the people you did not meet, and almost never the things you actually did, even if they did not go quite as you would have liked. Looking at the list of expenses on your bank card statement, I am always surprised by how small they look several months after the facts. And I regret not having done more.

20 most powerful experiences of the trip in 2013

My trip around the world kicked off on 5 July 2013. In half a year on the road I have crossed two oceans, visited 17 countries and gone through thousands of kilometres on a plane, on a boat, on a bus and on foot. And it’s only the beginning! Right now I am in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where I am doing my annual review for the year 2013 and making my plans for 2014. Here are the 20 brightest experiences of the journey so far.

20. A football match at 3850 metres
Only the most particular circumstances can force a lifelong tennis fan to take part in a football match. Such circumstances transpired on the island of Amantaní on Lake Titicaca, at 3850 metres of altitude. When having run just a couple of metres you feel like your throat has been scorched with fire. And we won that match against a team of young Brits!

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Pink tide

Leaving Latin America, I want to comment on a phenomenon that seems to be sweeping this part of the world. It is the so called pink tide, the simultaneous occurrence of a left swing in the politics of the most countries on this continent. It is pink of course because bloody red is somehow appropriated by the communists, whereas the socialists can be safely painted in pink. Latin America has been under robust American control for many years, belonged to the immediate American sphere of interests. But especially in the most recent years, after the end of the Cold War, the situation here changed radically and one after another pieces of the domino fell as socialist or left-wing presidents won elections.

There are 12 independent countries in South America. Today there are left-wing governments in 9 of them, and Michelle Bachelet just won the first round in presidential election in Chile and is likely to win the second, making it 10 out of 12.

This is how it looks:

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Life on the road

My journey started exactly a month ago, on 5 July. Here are some observations on the everyday life on the road during this month.

One of the loveliest aspects of life on the road in Latin America is of course the chance to practice Spanish.

In Yucatan and Guatemala to understand what people say was actually very easy – I guess the reason was that Spanish was not native for many of them. It’s a good way to get into the groove.

In Peru, especially in Lima, I realised in my first days that I had almost no idea what people were saying – so fast and so particular was their speech. But over time I got used to it. In Arequipa, Cusco and Puno things were a lot easier – a lot slower pace, a lot easier to understand and to speak. It is of course the best way to improve your skill, to immerse yourself in the language.

In Latin America they use a lot of words and expressions which are understandable, but to which I am not used: disculpe to say excuse me, con mucho gusto! to say you’re welcome, any young man is addressed as jóven, generally any person at any moment is addressed to as amigo. It’s fun and it makes you feel like you’ve touched a living language.

Money matters
Major mixing of banknotes and coins in my purse: euros, dollars, quetzals, nuevos soles, pesos, bolivianos, laris, and even some Estonian sents as a memento…

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The Why

Exploring various materials about round-the-world (RTW) trips, I realised that probably the first question that needs to be answered, RTW 101 so to speak, is the question – why. Why am I really doing this trip?

I must say that over time as my feelings about the trip ebb and flow, or I’m lost in the minutia of preparations and research, I feel at times that I’ve lost track of exactly why am I doing this.

I guess the most important reason for me of what I want to achieve on this trip is to push my boundaries. Not necessarily in the psychoanalytical sense – I mean, overcoming myself to do the very thing I abhor. (For an introvert and HSP like myself, I don’t need to go very far to get to a wildly uncomfortable situation – an evening of working the crowd will do!)

Rather, pushing the boundaries for me signifies this rare pleasure which you experience when you crack some new code, use some new opportunity you weren’t quite aware of, and – yes – touch down with your feet in a new country. So it’s less getting a task done and more getting to a revelation. And by definition where the revelation will come from is unknown and unknowable until it does come.

I guess the dream of a RTW trip also means the dream of freedom, not being bound by a 9-to-5 rhythm, by any rhythm really, by any obligation. The dream of boundless discovery.

Freedom does not mean emptiness. And so the dream is also to use the time to write, to photograph, to conceptualise, to reflect, to self-define.

Main story

I am often surprised by the type of stories that fill our media. Petty scandals, local incidents, elections without choice – all this noise crowds out entirely the things that really matter. I think the main story of our time, the story for which we do not know the ending, or even the way it will develop until its climax, is the story of the climate change. That’s the main story.

Quite a few of my friends adhere to a rather surprising belief, one that says that humanity is bound to find some sort of a technological solution to the climate change. As if the humanity simply cannot lose. To me, this sounds a bit like magical thinking. We are so used to stories that are told in the movies, where we enter unimaginable difficulties only to miraculously come out on top at the end, that we cannot help but project the same narrative onto our common reality, where the major difficulty actually is coming up. I do believe that humanity’s creativity and inventiveness are amazing, and therefore that we will see various ways of combating climate change that we cannot imagine today. However I am also rather pessimistic about humanity’s ability to be altruistic and to abandon the narrow interests of particular groups in favour of the common good. I think that type of reaction only kicks in in view of an imminent danger. But the climate change may provide opportunities to deny this danger for a long while. And as we remember from the famous analogy, the frog will boil provided you increase the temperature only gradually.

That is not to say that this is the only challenge that the humanity is facing, only that it is the single one that characterises our times. There are major global issues that are not however unique to our time. One such challenge is clearly the food crisis, which refers to the fact that a major part of the world’s population is starving, all the while the richest countries consume endlessly. I also think that the major antagonism in the world is between the rich and the poor, and the difference has never been more acute – including within the richest countries.

Another challenge is of course that the natural resources of the planet are limited. In particular there is certainly a limit to fossil fuels, although in the light of climate change that perhaps is not such a bad thing. In any case, the research for alternative sources of energy will only really take off once there is a real need for them and the players opposing these new alternatives lose the enormous political influence they have today, controlling politically the United States, Russia and the Gulf.

I do think that at a certain moment the whole global economic model built upon ever increasing consumption and so-called GDP growth will come to a halt, as it is simply impossible to endlessly grow population while also growing the consumption per capita. Unfortunately this may come in a violent way, as the current paradigm simply does not foresee an exit strategy.