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October 31, 2006

Cameron Highlands

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PALAU PANGKOR, MALAYSIA - After several days trekking around the cool (and rainy) Cameron Highlands, Pete, my new partner in crime, and I have migrated back to sea-level for some beach time on Palau Pangkor before we continue our pilgrimage Northward on this, the Asian leg of my adventure. I expect to be in Thailand a week.

October 25, 2006

Kuala Lumpur

Petronas TowersKUALA LUMPUR, MAYLASIA - I feel I'm slowly wading from the shallow end of the pool toward deeper waters. Kuala Lumpur is far less orderly than sparkling Singapore to the south, though the Islamic skyscrapers rising out of the jungle are a testament to how modern the city has become.

I've spent the last few days here touring around, riding the subway and meeting people everywhere I go. We very nearly shook hands with the current Prime Minister but got distracted by a free (and delicious) buffet and missed the opportunity.

Before I got here I'd never really contemplated Malaysia. I always new it was here, but never gave it a second thought. I'd never considered that actual tigers live in the countryside or that the Petronas Towers (tallest buildings in the world until 2004) existed in an Islamic country. It's a world away from home and I like it.

I've teemed up with a few other travellers, we've all agreed that we're ready to get out of the city and into a less urban environment.

October 21, 2006

Singapore - The 'Mer'-Lion City

SINGAPORE - The Statue spitting water is of a Merlion: a sort of fish/lion that guards the city and is supposed to make a great photo with the skyline in the background.

The last couple days have been a perfect trial run for Asia. Singapore is all of Asia crammed into one tidy, orderly, modern, first world city. I've been feasting on Indian, Chinese and Malay food and culture and am now frothing at the mouth to actually get to some of these places. For me, Singapore has been an appetizer, a sort of teaser of what's to come.

My only real complaint has been the constant haze. I haven't seen the sun since I got here here and it's starting to make my throat itch. It makes terrible looking city skylines. I hear Kuala Lumpur isn't much better.

In other news, one of the comments on a previous post reminded me that I've recently passed my one year travelling anniversary. Geez, that seems like a long time. At this pace the trip will last another year. The Indian Ocean, off the coast of Perth happens to be the furthest you can get from Toronto on the planet earth.

To say that if you dug a hole in your backyard (from Ontario) straight down that you'd reach China is a myth. You'd actually emerge somewhere in the Indian Ocean with Perth, Australia as the closest bit of land. At some point on the Cargo ship as I rounded the corner of Australia I hit the half-way mark.

From here I'm no longer moving away from home, but rather towards it. Homeward bound.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to meet some people at the legendary Raffles Hotel for the customary, over-priced, experience of drinking a Singapore Sling, at the bar that invented it, before I hop on a bus bound for Malaysia.

October 20, 2006

Baltrum Trader

The CrewSINGAPORE - We were more than 400 km south of Australia, somewhere in the Southern Ocean, weathering a strong gale. Giant waves were regularly coming over the bow and no one could venture outside. Even though the ship was pitching and rolling more violently than any of the crew could remember - the, always cheery, Filipino crew managed to drag out their Karaoke machine and the Polish officers started on their vodka shots and I tried 'em both. It didn't seem as strange as it sounds when one of the crew suddenly appeared in drag; his red dress allegedly a requirement for anybody celebrating a birthday at sea.

Most of the voyage was dreadfully boring, some of it was interesting and sometimes is was just plain fun. I'll always remember my time on the Baltrum Trader; I'm happy to have done it, but will probably never have the urge to again. It was one of those random travel moments that can never be fully explained and will never occur again.

Singapore and most of the South China Sea are currently covered in a thick haze; something about farmers in Borneo and Sumatra burning forests. In any case, we could barely see the front of the ship for the last few days of the trip - A perfect cloak for us as the Straights of Malacca are notorious zones for trouble with pirates.

It's a relief, after so much effort and criss-crossing of Australia to finally be in Asia. From here it's simply a long, relatively inexpensive, trek to Europe. I won't have to worry about crossing any big bodies of water for some time now.

October 06, 2006

Goodbye Australia

Route MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - The thing with travelling around the world without using air travel is that you inevitably have spend time on buses. A lot of time. This latest bit by bus actually ended up costing more money than a flight and took me two days longer. I suppose the upside is that I saved two nights accommodation.

In any case, I'm here. I've made it to the bottom of Australia and I fully expect this to be my last day in the country. I'll be meeting the Baltrum Trader at The Docklands this evening. Customs and Immigration are making a special trip to meet me there and see me off.

It'll be approximately 12-days before I post again; hopefully from Singapore. In the meantime you can read what it's like to sail as a passenger aboard a freighter ship here. More specifically, I found these two accounts online here and here. They detail what it's like to sail aboard the Baltrum Trader specifically.

October 02, 2006

"Plan B" Becomes "Plan A"

BV Baltrum TraderDARWIN, AUSTRALIA - I've finally found a boat; my ticket off this continent, though it didn't play out like I expected.

Darwin, for all its talk of being culturally diverse and 'on the doorstep of Asia' seems to me to be completely cut off from everything North of it. My only hope of sailing out of Darwin was with a private yacht; an opportunity that I wasn't able to find in my time there.

Due to my inability to get myself across that tiny stretch (600km) of sea, I'll likely be adding 10,000 km to my trip as I backtrack overland, then take the long way around Australia (via Perth then through the Indonesian archipelego) by cargo ship.

I'll be sailing to Asia as 1 of only 3 passengers aboard the BV Baltrum Trader; A 200m long container ship that's scheduled to leave the port of Melbourne on or around Oct 8th. It's next port of call will be Singapore, where I plan to jump ship and start the Asian leg of my circumnavigation.

Anyone who's at all familiar with the geography of Australia will quickly realize that Melbourne is back where I came from. Darwin is in the extreme North-West of the continent and Melbourne, in the extreme South-East. This last month has essentially been a 6000km dead end. Such is life.

Now all I have to do is cross this country one last time. I have three days before I need to check in in Melbourne. I smell another epic Greyhound bus ride.