Peter Steyn's Travel Escapades ------------------ Round-the-World 2005/6/7
This blog reports on my travels which started on May 11, 05 from Hong Kong to explore Eastern Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, New York, most of South America, Guatemala, Mexico, Hawaii...then Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, all of Central America, Mexico, Alaska, Seattle. Then Laos, Thailand, Burma, Japan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, South Africa. Then Iran, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia: www.globerovers.com | www.globerovers-magazine.com
Friday, October 03, 2014
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Thanks to YOU!
SCROLL DOWN FOR "27 MONTH REVIEW" AND PICS ON DAILY POSTINGS
Thanks to all of you who followed my blog as I explored all these amazing places, and a million of thanks to those of you who stayed in touch via SMS and emails to support me. This long trip was certainly no holiday. Darn, if I wanted a holiday I would have booked into the 5-star Le Meridien Bora Bora in Tahiti and everyday relaxed by the infinity pool. My exploration of 65 countries in 27 months was a mission to digitally capture some of the most amazing places on earth before they change too much - watch for the receding of the many glaciers I photographed in Alaska and Patagonia (Argentina), the destruction of the rain forests I roamed in the Amazon..... I conquered several active volcanoes and many other dangerous excursions. I'm truly glad to be safely back home and I truly appreciate the support you gave me on the road...a road which often was very lonely where nobody understood my English (or my Spanish and Russian) and where roads sometimes came to a dead-end. During times like this it was such a relief to open my email and receive words of encouragement from those who cared enough. Thanks and God bless!!! Below...pics of me on location:
LEFT: High above ancient Shibam (Manhatten of the desert), Central Yemen. CENTRE: Close-ups of the Fur Seals, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. RIGHT: Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, USA
Monday, August 06, 2007
Round-the-World in 27 months - in Review
The past 27 months has been the best time of my life! I went through immigration 210 times - which means 105 countries. However, as I visited some countries more than once, the un-duplicated number of countries I visited is 65. These countries are in Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America, Central America, South America, Africa....and the best region: Asia! (Foto to right: Iranian Qashqai Nomad lady who claims to be 120).
Herewith the countries I visited and the 5 star ranking for each, based on as little, or as much, I have experienced. Length of visit is often strongly correlated with a more positive ranking - but not necessarily. A higher ranking means a more positive evaluation with 5 being a great place to visit and 1 = dull
If I had to choose just 5 countries out of these 65...it will be: Iran, Yemen, Nepal, Costa Rica, and Argentina....and rounding up the top ten would be Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, and South Africa (see more top 5 lists below).
Top 5 lists:
Most Amazing Overall: South Africa, Iran, Yemen, Ecuador, Nepal
Best Wildlife: South Africa, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bolivia
Most Bizarre: Bangladesh, Nepal, Yemen, Belarus, Azerbaijan
Most Beautiful People: Brazil, Armenia, Iran, Colombia, Argentina
Most Cultural: Nepal, Burma, Japan, Iran, Syria
Most Dangerously Exciting Outdoors Activities: Hawaii Volcanoes (USA), Volcan Conception (Nicaragua), Himalayas (Nepal), Sunderbans (Bangladesh), Mountains of Northern Yemen.
Best Food: Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Burma, Argentina
Friendliest people: Most of Asia....Rudest people: Most of Eastern Europe.
Whats Next: Good question....I am dying to start an executive office job again...stearing many offices around Asia....or maybe I'll start a wildlife conservatory on Palawan Island, Philipines, or maybe I'll head off next week to Central Asia to explore Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan...nah.....I know what I'll do....I'll take over Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.....put my picture on the front of the mighty Wall Street Journal....and then book a seat on the next Russian mission to the ISS (International Space Station). Yeah...thats what I'll do. Let me go call Rupert. Wanna go along?...write me at peter(at)petersteyn.com
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Hong Kong, CHINA
After two failed attempts to depart from Yerevan, Armenia, I eventually left and landed safely in my hometown Hong Kong - a long flight via Dubai and Bangkok on Thai Airways.
I'm glad to be back in Asia...there's no place like Asia and the Asian people. Within the next two days I'll post some final thoughts on my travels over the past 26 months.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Northern, Western, Eastern, and Southern ARMENIA
The country-side around Armenia is truly pleasant. Small villages, mountains, rivers, and dotted with several ancient monasteries dating from between the 6th and 16th centuries. One of the greatest monasteries, in my opinion, is Geghard - named after the Holy Lance (holy spear) which pierced the side of Jesus after crucifixion. The spear itself was once kept here but has been moved to the treasury of the cathedral of Mayr Tachar in nearby Echmiadzin. I climbed the surrounding high hills with spectacular views of Geghard...and did the 5km lonely road hike to Geghard twice in 4 days....why...because of the cherry, apricot, and plum trees along the scenic way. Towards the north, I explored the Debed Canyon near the Georgian border - did a lot of hiking and visited the monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat. Also did the town of Dilijan and the remote monasteries of Haghartsin and Goshvank. Could not resist the village of Ashtarak with old churches and monasteries around the Karagh Gorge. Towards the south, in the shadows of mighty Mount Ararat (where Noah's ark docked), I visit the stunning setting of the Khor Virap monastery. Also spent time at Lake Sevan and impressive Sevanavank monastery.
Armenia is a delight, so are its people. The scars left by years of Soviet occupation are evident most everywhere around Armenia. The Armenian people, as well as the Georgians to the north, are less tainted by the Soviets mentality than those in countries such as Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary....sure you know what I mean!
I'm sad to leave the Caucasus region. I really enjoyed Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, and disappointed that I did not spent a lot more time in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Maybe...maybe... one day I'll be back.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Yerevan, just a little north of the Turkish border, and a hop, skip, and a jump north of Iran, is the capital of Armenia. Sure you knew that. With slightly more than a million people, Yerevan is dotted with cafes, an impressive Republic Square (Hanrapetutyan Hraparak), and a majestic Opera House. Several Soviet structures abound but not worthy any discussion. Ok, Yerevan has nothing really to offer! Except - the people are such fine human beings - you would never believe they served 70 years under Soviet rule!! Beauty abounds (oh those proud noses, sharp features, dark eyebrows, and piercing dark eyes).
Other than the people - the beauty of Armenia lies in its rural villages, mountains (notably snow capped Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark docked), and the ancient monasteries. The land here is dotted with extremely well preserved monasteries dating from between the 6th and 13th centuries. Most of them are located in spectacular settings - atop mountains, some surrounded by oak plantations, some by the shores of a lake, and others in quaint corners of little villages.
The country has a very old and rich history - packed with horror such as the Turkish genocide - the forcible deportation and massacring of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the government of the Young Turks from 1915 to 1917 - yip, the gruesome era of the Ottoman Empire! More than two million Armenians perished!
Welcome to Armenia! I'm in for a treat.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Kazbeki, Northern GEORGIA
I'm exploring the mountainous area around Kazbeki, Georgia, in the Northern Caucasus region. Kazbeki is a small mountain town along the Georgian Military Highway en route to Russia. From here its a couple of minutes drive to the Russian border which takes you into the troubled Chechnya region of south western Russia.
The mountains are impressive, still some snow and glaciers around even though its mid summer. Pretty stone villages such as Gergeti, monasteries and churches. One of the main reasons I came here, is to photograph the little impressive church of Tsminda Sameba, perched high on top one of the nearby mountains behind the village of Gergeti. It's quite a hike up the mountain but the lush vegetation and sea of colourful wild mountain flowers made the hike very memorable. The mountain air is fresh, the sun is blazing, and I could easily set up home, right here, right now. I'm off to enjoy Georgian food and then continue my hiking around the mountains.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Arrived this morning on a 17-hour train ride from Baku, Azerbaijan. Not that far...but slow trains and a huge delay at the border. While I had wonderful sunny weather in Azerbaijan....its raining and windy in Georgia....I am not happy about this!
Over the last few years, Georgia went thru some major turmoil with clashes between police and protesters during which time many people were killed. Peace now prevails and its very calm and safe on the streets.
From what I have seen so far....Georgia has truly beautiful nature, but it seems to me it was also used (as Azerbaijan) as the dump area of the Soviet Union....and as with the rest of the entire ex USSR, the Soviets had no respect for people's lives and the land. The result - huge areas are industrial wasteland! Dump areas for old trains, old army tanks, old everything. But, as I said, there is incredible beauty here in Georgia, and that is what I will explore over the next two to three days. The mountains here are majestic, so is the culture, the people, and their age old traditions. The Georgians also have their own unique way of writing which is something of a mix between Indian, Burmese, and Thai...its full of curly characters.
I'm off to explore...rain or shine.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
A 4-four flight on Baltic Air brought me safely into Baku, Azerbaijan at 3:40am this morning. Azerbaijan (previously part of the USSR) lies on the shores of the Caspian Sea to the east, Georgia to the west, Russia to the north, and Iran and Iraq to the south. Quite an amazing place from what I have seen so far and people are very friendly. Its sunny and hot! Will write more later once I have explore the area.
Please come back later for more writings n Azerbaijan...I'll have more time to write over the next 3 days.
Till later...from Baku!
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Eastern Europe - In Review
I have now been to every Eastern European Country, including the Balkans and the Baltic States - a total of 19 countries. The only exception is little Macedonia which required that I get a tourist visa before reaching its borders. This was making life way too difficult for me and I wasn't prepared to spend the money and time on Macedonia. Here's my thoughts on Eastern Europe:
1. Lots to see and do...architecture is enough to write a few books about!
2. English - what's that? Few people speak it.
3. Most women (more so the closer you get to Mother Russia) are bottle blond, brunet, or beetroot red haired. Ditto for beer bottle in the hand! The closer to Russia (i.e. Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, and of course Russia) the more you see people walking the streets drinking beer.
4. Girls - the higher the heels, the more exposed the belly, the more likely you're walking around in Eastern Europe - again, the more closer you get to Russia.....
5. Many left-overs of the Soviet Era! Grumpy people (more so the older generation) - often plain rude behaviour, cold customer service, sterile atmosphere, soviet architecture. Atheism is still widespread.
6. While most people earn meager salaries (especially in Albania, Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Russia, etc), here is no overt signs of poverty as I have seen across South and Central America, Middle East, Asia and Africa. On the contrary, poor little Albania must have the highest per capita Mercedes Benz ownership in the world. Other luxury cars abound in many of these poorer countries - apparently only among those with the right connections, and those with "illegal" sources of income. Well, there seems to be many of these!
7. While language barrier was a huge problem for me in this region, I think even if I spoke all Eastern European languages, I probably still will rank Eastern Europe as the least friendly region! Belarus may be the exception. I just love the Belorussian folks!
8. Eastern Europe is not as cheap as you may think! Darn, I should have been here 10 or 20 years ago. Come now before mass tourism and the European Union increase prices further.
9. Communism is largely dead...except for Moldova and Belarus where Lenin statues still cries king! Ok, count in Russia too.
10. In my opinion, this region has the most beautiful people in the world!! Just gorgeous!
11. The many wars, in particular WWI and WWII almost totally destroyed most of Eastern Europe, and its people. Its amazing how these countries - and its people - bounced back and rebuilt their cities and their lives. The Holocaust - probably the most tragic event in the world's history and affected almost every Eastern European nation!
12: My favourite countries: Belarus (the people), Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Montenegro ...oh...they're all great to explore!
13. In Summary:
The Good: the food, fruit, beer, wine, beautiful people, nature, architecture - so much history
The Bad: the wars, beetroot coloured hair, higher than expected prices, soviet left-overs....
The Ugly: The most ugly thing in Eastern Europe: Those unfriendly, explosively rude older women behind the train and bus ticket windows! Not every country, and not every ticket counter.
I'm glad I traveled so extensively through this amazing region. While I still would love to see Macedonia, I have no intent to return to Eastern Europe any time soon. Adios!
Monday, July 09, 2007
A long trip from Minsk, Belarus through Vilnius, Lithuania...but I am safely in Riga, Latvia. The weather...another cloudy, cool and somewhat rainy day (5 days in a row now here in north Eastern Europe). Locals are wearing jackets and scarfs...and its the middle of summer! Thanks goodness I don't live here.
So far I have been to a few towns around Riga (up to 100 km away from Riga) and I've been quite impressed. Lovely landscapes, majestic castles, palaces, and fortresses. Being in the middle of summer (though its really cool and often windy), the forests and parks are bright green - you need to wear your shades man!! Every town has its old center and they all compete on which is the prettiest. By the way, in the Baltic States people always ask: "Which do you prefer: Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), or Vilnius (Lithuania)" ...well, I've been to all three and here's my ranking: 1) Riga 2) Tallinn 3) Vilnius. Riga is among my top worldwide old cities! When you walk around the old part of Riga, its like you're alive in a children's story book - you know those with the little fairy tale towns, and princesses, princes, white horses, elves...oh what am I saying - I don't like fairy tales! Gimme wild Africa.
Tomorrow I'm done with the fairy tale towns of Eastern Europe. While it has been a great journey, I have never been a great fan of European civilizations. So, tomorrow night just before midnight I'm flying Baltic Air from Riga to Baku (Azerbaijan) next to the Caspian Sea, north of Iraq and Iran (arrival time: 03h40). After a few days around Azerbaijan (where I'll have to speak Russian and Turkish again ;-), I'm heading west towards the Black Sea to Georgia and then down to Armenia. The next few days will again test my endurance. Till later.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Back in Minsk, BELARUS
I'm back in the capital city, Minsk. Since I arrived, I saw the opera, AIDA in the Minsk Concert Hall, and also attended a spectacular ballet performance (Bolero) in the Palats Republici. The ballet was a stunning performance with an excellent troupe, orchestra, choir, and sopranos. I had the best seats in the house and paid a mere US$7. And.....I saw the resident Circus - in their permanent venue next to the river. A lovely old domed building in truly old circus style. And the performance - just like you remember it from your Grade 1 story books! Complete with clowns, acrobats, the ladies walking with pythons, the dancing girls, the band, the jugglers, and ending off with the lions show - such a cliche - but I wanted to go back in time to the old time circus. No better place than Russia or Belarus to still get that old time circus experience.
Ah Minsk...I have so much to write about this city. While this is a true dictatorship State, a communist regime lead by the idiot Lukaschenko, on the surface at least, it doesn't look or feel that different from Russia or any other Eastern European country. There is no visible police force staring at you. Their are no tanks on the streets. There is the KGB...and they do track your moves - I am told. And, its a very clean city. Streets are wide, buildings are grandeur, and - its sterile. Its like the role model for Singapore and over to....Bangladesh, please send your Minister of City Hygiene for a crash course in how to create a clean city.
Citizens can't freely move to another area i.e. rural to city. They need to get registered in the new area which is difficult. The result is that many people live "illegally" in their own country. Want to travel abroad - you need your exit permit. Want a friend from oversees to visit - he/she needs a visa, mandatory local Belorussian insurance, and register with the local police. If Lukaschenko decides to build a new library, he takes 5000 Roubles from every citizen - whether you like the new plans or not. All land is state owned and farmers live and work in communes run by the State. Only State sponsored religion is allowed - anything else is banned. Want to openly criticize Lukaschenko tonight - you'll be in jail before breakfast. This is a one-man show who is protecting his interests to the expense of all citizens.
I can see only Caucasians on the streets - no Blacks, no Asians, no Indians....no people other than Caucasians.
Every night I take a 45 minute minibus ride to the apartment where I am staying. I first go to the local supermarket and then come home to prepare dinner for my friend/host who normally works till late at night. It feels like I am living here.
I am really impressed with the Belorussian people. They are hands down the most friendly people in all of Eastern Europe - not that the competition is tough! If only they could speak at least some basic English - but that is as scarce as chicken teeth.
The beer bottle in the hand is the national emblem of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. As the sun heads for the horizon, the young heads for the parks, the town squares, oh anywhere will do, with the beer bottle in the hand.
I got registered with the local police today - thanks to Natasha who was so kind to spend half her day to take me through this stupidy of registering foreign visitors. So now I can hopefully leave Belarus without any problems. Next, I'll spend time in northern Belarus and then - Riga, Latvia, which will complete my visits to the Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia.
After Riga...I'm heading south into Central Asia. Life is.......goooooood.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Village of Mir, and town of Nyeswizh, BELARUS
The little village of Mir, 85 kilometers southwest of the national capital Minsk, is known for its well preserved late medieval castle. The construction of the castle started during the 15th century in the Gothic architecture style. Building of the castle was completed by Duke Ilinich in early 16th century. It has been in the hands of several private families, including those of the famous Duke Radzivil. However, during WWII it came under the dominion of the Nazi occupying force and served as a ghetto for the local Jewish population prior to their liquidation.
Nyeswizh, one hour drive from Mir, has lots of historical buildings, including a magnificent castle and fortress. Laid back small town life prevails and as the sun sets (22h30), the youth congregate in the squares and parks for their daily ritual of beer drinking and cruising.
Oh....is my writing getting boring now?! Something better happen soon or I won't have any amazing stories. Ok well, this is Eastern Europe - not South America or Asia where I had lots more to write about.
I'm off to Minsk!
Monday, July 02, 2007
Hrodna, Western BELARUS
I am in the beautiful town of Hrodna (aka Grodna) in the far west of Belarus and my host is a 23 year old Belorussian woman. Lucky to be shown around the area with her by my side. Met up with a few of her friends and had some great Belorussian food. I really find the Belorussian people friendly and caring.
Hrodna suffered little during World War II. Many of the old churches survived the many other wars in Hrodna's history, in particular the destruction by the Nazis, however, in the late 1950's the huge XIV Century "Garrison Catholic Church" was criminally destroyed by they Soviets in their effort to stamp out religion.
Its a pretty town and certainly worth a visit - but make sure you meet up and stay with the locals to get a real feel of life in this part of the world.
Torromow I'm heading south east to the town of Mir and Nyasvizh, and later back to Minsk.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
My Lonely Planet guidebook's introduction of Belarus starts with:
"Few people consider venturing into this hermetically sealed Soviet time capsule, notoriously ruled with an iron fist by its moustachioed megalomaniac, Alexander Lukashenko. ...here the KGB still listens in to phone calls and people keep their politics to a low whisper - you will feel as if the Cold War never ended. Westerners cool enough to come here...(blah blah)".
Brief history lession: In 1919 Belarus became the "Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic". It merged into the Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921. In 1921 Joseph Stalin became the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. He started a policy of Russification to protect Byelorussia SSR from Western influences. In 1953 Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev continued with this policy. After seven decades as a constituent republic of USSR, Belarus declared itself sovereign on 27th July 1990 and attained independence in 1991. Since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko is leading the country.
I'm supposed to register with the police within 3 days of arrival, but honestly I don't have time for that and hope I can eventually leave - a free "unregistered" man.
Minsk is a beautiful and stunning city with the most amazing Stalinist Soviet buildings and statues I have seen in any city. Food is good, beer is "rough" and there's no local wine industry to talk about. The people are what make Minsk special to me. These are the friendliest and most helpful people I have come across anywhere in Eastern Europe, including Russia and the Baltics.
Over the next 8 days I, will criss-cross Belarus - from the west, maybe south, and up to the far north to spend some time with the family of my Minsk based Belarus host. I'm sure I'm in for an unforgettable treat. And, if I get caught by the KGB for not registering....I'm minced meat.
I think I already love Belarus! Few Western tourists here!