MICHA.ELMUELLER

 

Backpacking Israel

 

For two weeks of March I was backpacking in Israel. I flew there from Berlin and met up with some friends in Tel Aviv. I think this is the shortest vacation I had since a couple of years, but my work life constraints me in these terms now. Still, it was nice to travel again. Being able to float around, staying here and there, talking to people, taking photos, reading books, thinking about stuff.

Israel has been on my travel wishlist since a while now. Such a unique country; I’m never really sure how to grasp the whole Jewish culture. It seems like some mix of culture, religion, country, tribe. And the political situation makes for a very unique mindset of the people and their view on e.g. airport security, life, their country, etc.. If you have the time just read the Wiki article on the Six-Day War, it seems like a story straight out of Hollywood.

One of the things I enjoy most when travelling is to get up early in the morning, walk around in a city, sit down somewhere, get a coffee and breakfast, not doing much, just watching the city wake up for hours and hours, ordering another coffee, maybe read a bit, observe some more…chilling away the entire morning.
In Jerusalem I couldn’t sleep well and woke up very early in the mornings all the time. So I just walked around in the empty old city by myself. On the last day I ended up in the Jewish district at some kind of plaza and stayed there for a while, just watching the city wake up. In Jerusalem the unique thing is that on early mornings many orthodox Jews go to the Western Wall, return home and then go to work. It was somehow nice and calming to just sit there and observe this scenery.

There were some memorable conversations which stand out. One was with a woman of about my age. She studied at about the same time I did. I talked with her about the way the Israeli war with Gaza in 2014 affected her studies at university. The war had a major effect since her exams were always postponed due to attacks and she always started learning anew. That was quite a unique perspective.

The other conversation was with an 18-year old girl at a hippie gathering. She was very, very much full of life. I think I now understand why people tend to age slower when surrounded by young people. When I asked her about what makes up her mind she got quite emotional and talked about making art in order to feel like being alive. The things she said subsequently and that whole manner of having the immediate, very pressing urgency of creating something was a character trait which reminded me a lot of myself a couple of years ago. In the subsequent days I thought a lot about this conversation.

We visited a number of cities, with Tel Aviv standing out to me. What a vibrant city! Full of life! Seems quite similar to Berlin in the summer. Restaurants and bars halfway on the streets with loud non-mainstream music, many young people, alternative vibe, interesting people.

Israel is such a small country and travelling around in the Bus is cheap and easy. Wherever you go, it’s never far. We at most had bus rides of 2-3 hours. We also hitchhiked for a bit, which was really easy (even easier than in Germany). I was surprised by the Sabbath, which is taken quite seriously. Each week, on early Friday afternoon, most shops, restaurants, supermarkets, transportation facilities, etc. close down until Saturday after sundown.

Other stuff which stood out to me was the West Bank. We went to Bethlehem and I was surprised by the height of the wall, it is much higher than the Berlin wall was. And sadly it’s not just a relic of the past there, but rather an active part of everyday life there.

Besides those bigger cities we were also in smaller ones — Clil was a small, laid back town in the North with a focus on sustainable living. The houses there are off the grid and you can buy fresh homegrown vegetables directly from gardens. We did some hiking there and cooked each evening.

We were also in a town near the Sea of Galilee. A guy in the hostel there approached a friend and me, he said we looked like “fresh out of India” and that there was a hippie gathering at a river somewhere nearby. Of course we went there :-). In the past I have been to similar events in Mexico and Guatemala. It was very nice to attend something like this again. Music, families with children, vegan food, community kitchen, nice conversations, easy to talk to people, a place where you can take some time off from the real world out there.

The co-existence of two different cultures in one country is interesting to observe. It is a bit sad though. There seems to be little assimilation or effort to bring the Arab and Jewish culture closer together. In the majority of cases even schools are separated. It seems obvious that it’s hard for adults in both cultures to live peacefully together when they grow up separately from childhood on.

Another city which we visited was Jisr az-Zarqa, a 100% Arab village at the coast (the last Arab village at the Israeli coast). This felt a lot like being back in Morocco. Jisr has one of the highest (if not the highest) school dropout rates in the country (the criminality rate is similarly bad). We stayed in a hostel there and the host had to calculate 5% discount for us. He took a calculator and did this in a very complicated manner with a lot of intermediate results (instead of calculating “price * 0.95”). I guess it’s hard to see the value of education if most of the people you know don’t see it as well. There are few role models with a good education. Timo currently does his Ph.D. in a niche area of realtime systems on the intersection of computer science and electrical engineering. It’s already hard to describe his research to many people in Germany, but to explain what he does to people with such an early school dropout rate would be so alien to their view on the world that I can’t possibly imagine how they could form any understanding of the subject. I think education is really important to enable these people economic independence and reduce criminality and even though there are now a myriad of tools (Wikipedia, Khan Academy, Duolingo, Coursera, etc.) available, the bigger and more underlying problem here might be that people just haven’t learned to see the value of it.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

One Bag Israel

 

If you’re a bit into travel blogs, minimalism, one bag philosophy, vagabonds, or digital nomads you will soon stumble upon one of those packaging lists where people elaborate on the stuff they take with them when travelling. I like to read those lists, considerations, and reflections. In this post I have compiled one such list for a short, two week backpacking trip to Israel.

In similar lists and reviews I have sometimes read stuff like this (original quotes):

Comment on an extensive packaging list for a trip to Asia:
Thanks for sharing! If you were to look back, would you have taken less?
Answer:
Actually built this over the last year, but haven’t gone on the big trip yet…

I don’t understand how you can compile a list of tips for stuff to take with you or review a product without having actually used it? So, well I have written this post only *after* I actually went to Israel. I have included some names of products in the post, though I did so hesitantly and only for stuff which I found worth mentioning.

  • Map with documents.
    Copy of health insurance, list with addresses of family/friends, copy of vaccination records, biometric photos, international drivers license, address and telephone number of German embassy, pen + some plain sheets of paper, blood donor card (it contains information about the blood group).
    The vaccination records are required by some countries to let you immigrate and even if they don’t require them, it’s still a good idea to have them with you in case of emergencies. Biometric photos can be required for all kinds of things (in India for a lot of stuff, e.g. to buy a SIM card).
  • 30 USD.
    Since a while I always carry 30 USD as immediate cash for emergencies when travelling (e.g. when I can’t find a working ATM). In all foreign countries where I have been to it was always extremely easy to exchange USD to a native currency. I usually also have some Euros in cash with me.
  • A small, watersealed bag with various small items.
    Rope (to make a clothes line), clothes peg, gaffa tape, Sugru (formable glue), power converter, Smartphone + charger, lighter, pocket knife, lock, flashlight (Fenix LD12), backup battery for flashlight, small mirror, case to store glasses, ear plugs, flexible strap (to e.g. attach stuff to the backpack).

    Also I always have some fresh waste bags with me. They can be used for all kinds of stuff: to wrap liquid stuff and prevent it from leaking, wrapping flip flops before putting them inside the bag, as a way to collect clothes from the washing machine, or — of course — as a waste bag.

    Since a while I always have foldable coat hangers with me, they are quite small and it’s easy to hang stuff to dry or just to let clothes gain some fresh air.

  • Large Microfiber Towel.
    Lightweight, dries fast.
  • Something to eat.
    Nuts or a muesli bar (a Cliff Bar usually). Something which can survive heat and being buried in the backpack. I found it calming to always know: I have something to eat with me. For example, if there are no shops open when arriving somewhere I will still have something with me. For long bus rides it’s also comforting to have something small as a backup.
  • Analog camera + 5 films + throwaway camera as backup.
    I separate the used from the fresh films by storing them in two different, small, labelled vacuum bags (Noaks Bags). The films should always go in your hand luggage (see this site of Kodak on why).
  • One long trouser (which I wore), one short one (which it was too cold for), one swimming trunk (which it was also too cold for). Some shirts, sleeves, underwear, a normal jacket, and a lightweight, foldable rain jacket.

    I usually don’t take thick pullovers and instead go for a layered approach of wearing multiple layers when it gets cold. This way I need to carry less stuff. I usually have some Icebreaker merino shirts with me, they are very comfortable in hot and cold climate and they dry fast. Also: wherever I go, I always take long thermal underwear with me. And I always carry a scarf and a hat. Even when it is hot, bus rides or train rides might still be windy. Carrying a hat is easy, it doesn’t have a lot of weight or take a lot of space — but if you’re cold a hat can already help a lot, since your body evaporates a lot of heat via the head.
    I always have two vacuum bags with me (by Nordisk), in which I store all clothing: one for clean clothes and one for dirty ones. The vacuum bags keep them properly separated.

  • Flip Flops.
  • Kindle.
    An eBook reader has an immense value to me when travelling. Sure, books have their pros, the feeling of reading a worn-down, color faded paperback is of course nice. But books also take up a lot of space. In previous journeys I often went through 2-4 books and they were often taking up way too much space. One time I had a book with me and realized after a couple of pages that it wasn’t working for me, I then put it away and went on the sad search for an appealing alternative in Thailand’s outback. The Kindle solves all these issues and I think the pros outweigh the cons.
  • Foldable, lightweight backpack.
    For walking around in the city and not having to carry the bigger backpack everywhere. I use one by North Face (the Flyweight) which has a clever feature: The pouch (in which it is kept in the packed state) is integrated in the backpack in a nice way when it is expanded; it then functions as a theft protection pouch, since it isn’t easily accessible when someone unzips the backpack.
  • Foldable, lightweight blanket.
    I used it for picnics and sitting at the beach.
  • Some medical stuff, band-aid, rubber gloves, something against insect bites.
    I store these things in one vacuum bag as well.
  • Ethnotek 46l backpack + rain cover for it.
  • Bag with toiletries, handkernchiefs, and sun protection.
  • Wallet.
    Two credit cards of different providers. Organ donor card.
  • Passport.
    The most important thing last :-).

That’s it. Not that spectacular, but that’s how it should be. Minimalistic. I quite enjoy that it takes me maybe 5-10 minutes to pack everything up when leaving the hostel. I have reflected over each item and thought about why I take it with me.

And now the list of all the things I should have taken ;-):
I didn’t take my hiking shoes with me, but I should have. It would probably have been best to solely take them with me, but I don’t really like the style of them when walking around in cities or going out in the evenings.

Backpacking South America (Part 8)

 

Right now we are back in Germany and look back on a wonderful time. There were also negative events during our holidays — we nearly got something stolen three or four times, strange remarks on World War 2 directed to us, tourist agencies overly stirring the fear of criminality for marketing purposes, or nasty ways of trying to get money from us — but I barely mentioned them here. I feel that the good parts of such a journey should — and do — stand out more. There were also a lot of small incidents when I had to chuckle. I remember one particular time when we were getting breakfast in a peruvian upperclass hotel (i.e. not really “upperclass” and quite cheap) and I noticed that the forks, knifes, etc. were a wild mixture of pieces from different airlines imprinted with labels such as “LAN Airlines” and little plane logos :).

Back in Germany I am amazed by how much the landscape and culture here differs from Peru. I am currently in the south of Germany and the summer, the dense forests, and the wide fields amaze me. Today I had a longer train ride through this rural landscape, mostly along the Danube river. This amazed me a lot and I spent most of the time just looking out of the window. There is so much beautiful countryside here! I would love to show some foreigner from e.g. Peru around. I would probably take them on a walk in the nature along the Danube, which is so full of green and sprouting vegetation at the moment. I would go on a hike to an alp hut with them and eat a cheese platter there. I would take them to an original German brewery restaurant with thick and tasty beer and rich food. And I would take a long train ride in a rural area with them and visit some old town district. There are so many details when living here which are different to the cities which we visited. On the first day back in Germany I saw a kindergarten group doing a leisure trip on a nice summer day. On a secluded train station in the middle of nowhere they were waiting for their next train. Each kid held hands with another kid and they were lined up in pairs. Two very enthusiastic ladies were looking after the whole group. To me this feels like something very characteristic to this country and it was quite nice to have this kind of “welcome” here.

Nevertheless, it needs time to get accustomed to being back here. On our trip we tried desperately not to get into contact with other Germans, but here they are just around everywhere! Furthermore I can now safely keep my mouth open when showering, I can now actually use zebra crossings again and in cars I need to remember that there are safety belts. Pleasantly, the noise level in cities here is very low, especially compared to large cities like Sucre or Lima. Lima is actually so disturbingly loud that there are “horns forbidden” street signs. Besides the constant horns triggered by vehicles there are many other factors which increase the noise level. For example, the streets in many areas are so bad that passing buses trigger the theft alarms of cars which are parked on the street.

Another thing which for me is the overall conclusion of all my travels that gets affirmed more and more with each country which I visit, is how similar people are everywhere. It really is quite strange, that a peruvian man of my age who had a totally different upbringing, education, and lives in a very different cultural background, has the very same longings and goals in life. It is indeed very easy to relate to somebody in this different culture and I think that the western media and news reporting oftentimes yields a different impression of the world.

I shot the photos in this post with the same throwaway camera that I had with me on a couple of journeys before (they can be found in older posts tagged with throwaway camera). They are all analogue and I quite like the grainy, unsharp, somehow washed out look of them.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 7)

 

We have spent some time in Lima now. I was very surprised by how much the Barranco and Miraflores districts have a modern and metropolitan feeling to them. I think these districts could as well be placed somewhere in North America and one wouldn’t be surprised to find them there. Other districts or the city center, on the other hand, are much poorer and do represent more of the Peru which we have seen so far. It was a nice time in Lima and we had a very pleasant last evening there when we met up again with two guys whom we got to know in Iquitos (Tom and Yash).

Besides Lima we have spent some more days in the mountains. Yash had told us about the city of Huaraz and got us interested, thus we took a long distance bus from Lima to Huaraz. This is one of those bus rides where the view is quite nice and it is worth taking a day bus. There is a lot to see during the whole trip, driving along the coast was very interesting as we saw some more of the peruvian deserts and huge sand dunes. This is definitely another side of the country and I was once more surprised by the variety of landscapes which this country has to offer. I feel that it was a wise choice to take a couple of weeks for visiting this country (we have been to Peru now for around six weeks). To me the below excerpt from the book Marching Powder is exemplary for some other travelers which we have met.

Paul, an Australian, interrupted Jay.
“So, where exactly are you from again?”
“It’s hard to say, really”, sighed Jay. “I’ve been travelling for some time now. I don’t feel like I belong to any one place in the world. I’m really from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, if you know what I mean.”
“How long have you actually been on the road?” asked Giles, a longhaired backpacker from the UK.
“Oh, approximately thirty-four days,” replied Jay, nodding his head proudly.
Paul raised his eyebrows.
“A month, you mean?”
“Well, it’s not really a question of chronological time,” said Jay, sounding defensive. “I don’t measure things in that way. I’ve done more than ten countries during that time and it’s impossible to measure any cultural experience in terms of number of days. It’s more of a personal growth thing…” His voice trailed off as though he were allowing the thought to linger for dramatic effect. As an afterthought, he added, “Besides thirty-four days is more than a month, isn’t it?”
“How can you ‘do’ ten countries in thiry-four days?” said Giles, using his fingers to indicate the inverted commas around the word ‘do’.

Rusty Young, Marching Powder
 

In Huaraz we discovered a very nice off-the-beaten-track hostel, in which we stayed for a couple of days. Though technically it is not really in Huaraz since it takes a taxi drive of about one hour into the wild. And then there it is: “The Hof“, an eco-hostel with a focus on sustainability, located in the midst of an amazing view, surrounded by steep, uninhabited mountains and glaciers. There were only a few people in the hostel (or looking after it) and we quickly got to know them. Meals were served family style, whilst sitting around a table together, and in the evenings we would talk until late at night and drink whiskey or play poker. A sweet puppy dog was also around and oftentimes eager to play. I liked this chilled back atmosphere a lot and it was a nice place to calm down after having been to Lima. Also, places like this seem to always attract interesting people. There is no internet connection at the place and electricity is scarce (i.e. only available if the sun shines on the solar panels) — a reason why there is no refrigerator and thus only vegetarian meals. It is also possible to do volunteering at the place; for 4-5 hours work a day one is provided with a place to sleep, bathroom facilities, and food. I can easily imagine how one can get stuck at a place like this whilst travelling. My highlight was the hike to a nearby lagoon and a pizza night, where for the first time in my life I fired a proper pizza oven and made a pizza in it. Mhmm!

 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 6)

 

We have left Cusco in the meantime — after three weeks! I don’t know there the time went, but I enjoyed the time here very much. One thing which impressed me a lot there is the Greenpoint restaurant. After eating in this (vegan) restaurant a couple of times, we got to know the owner and some people in this environment and became friends with them. At first I thought this was just a single restaurant with a couple of people working there. But as it turns out there are around 70 people working in the environment of the restaurant! There was much more going on than I had glimpsed at first. The main reason why there are so many people involved is because they make practically all their ingredients by themselves — vinegar, kombucha, vegan chesse, the bread for burgers and sandwiches and appetizers, sauces, jam, yoghurt, milk, …. A reason is to guarantee high quality and to be sure where stuff is coming from and how it was made. That it is nevertheless possible to operate a very reasonably priced restaurant amazed me a lot. Furthermore, they offer cooking courses where it is possible to learn how to prepare any of the meals from the restaurant. I find this amazing, it is a very transparent way to operate a restaurant for people to be able to see how things are prepared. Also there was no resistance at all to pass on recipes or knowledge. To me this is in stark contrast to “average” restaurants where you can’t dare to ask for the recipe of e.g. a certain sauce.

As a next stop in Peru we have come to the city of Iquitos, which is located deep in the peruvian jungle. Iquitos is the largest city in the world which is accessible only by plane or boat. There are no streets to the city, the airport is very small and the boat takes a couple of days along the amazon to get there. This “endless jungle” makes quite a nice view from the airplane. Since the city is hard to access, a certain culture has established there. For example, there is a lack of cars, since it is much cheaper to get a motorcycle there. A fitting quote from Wikivoyage is: “As a city not accessible by road, motorcycles and mototaxis dominate unlike anywhere else. Imagine if an American style biker-gang had taken over a city.” When on the road you are always in a bulk of motorcycles and mototaxis and sometimes one can’t help but feel like part of a biker-gang when driving around. The vibe and culture here is completely different to the Peru that we have seen so far — which was so far only the mountain region. In fact, when first driving through the city I thought I was back in Thailand: palms everywhere, very hot and tropical, much humidity, a lot happening outside on the streets in the evening, open houses without windows, many many motorcycles and bikes. And insects of course! They usually seem grotesquely oversized and there is a tick too much of them everywhere. Furthermore there are so many fruits available here of which I have never heard before — aguaje, cuma-cuma, cocona, …. So it is possible to get quite unique juices and jam here and it was a joy to try different things.

In the last days we have done an extensive jungle tour here by which I was very impressed. It was very interesting to see this different side of Peru and our visit in this city was quite worth the effort of getting there. First of all, Iquitos is situated right besides the amazon river. I always thought this is “just” a long river, similar to the ones in Europe. But I was quite mistaken and indeed very impressed by its dimensions. I think this is one further thing which one has to experience to really grasp the dimensions (like e.g. Machu Picchu). The amazon river here is about 1.5 km wide and 4-5 meters deep. In Brasil the river gets even wider. When moving in a boat it sometimes feels as if one is on a sea, rather than on a river. From the city we drove up the river for about 2 hours and then into a sidearm for a while. There we reached a small lodge in the jungle where we stayed for three days. Each day we made explorations with our guide — a native of 30 years who got born in the jungle, grew up here, and has lived here all his live. The last time he visited a city was ten years ago. During our excursions we experienced a lot of the jungle environment, went for walks in the jungle, did piranha fishing, swam with wild dolphins, etc.. Our guide even catched a wild alligator from the river. Crocodile Dundee style. The walks in the jungle were extremely interesting, experiencing this kind of fauna and how its conditions are opposed to anything remotely comfortable. There are so many layers of plants in it: the ground which is muddy everywhere, ponds of water, rotting trees, all kinds of plants competing, huge trees, palms, etc.. And all of it is so dense that you need to make a way with a machete. And when turning around you are oftentimes unable to determine where you just came from. Everything just gets back to its previous state so quickly! It is very exhausting to walk around and there are myriads of small (and large) animals that want to bite you. This is such an uncomfortable environment for humans that in my opinion a “jungle walk” is something you do only once. Overall our stay in Iquitos and the jungle was a very unique and enriching experience. The effort of getting there was very well worth the effort. I was very surprised by how much the culture and mentality here differ from the mountains.

I have heard that there are three regions with distinct mentalities and culture in Peru: the mountains, the coast, and the jungle. The coast is the last region which we are missing and the city we head to next is Lima — the peruvian capital which is located at the coast. So I am looking forward to find out how this hypothesis holds up.

In the meantime I have read another book: the infamous classic “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis. Valerie got me interested in reading it, she had it on her reading list since quite some time and read it a couple of weeks ago (I guess the book is even more interesting to psychologists). During that time she always mentioned stuff from the book to me. I had seen the movie some years back and liked it a lot, so this got me interested in reading the book as well. The book was a very tough read though. Some chapters are quite disgusting and very violent and it sometimes was hard for me to read on. But I guess this is the overall literal genius behind the book: creating emotions such as arousal, disgust, and empathy in the same chapter. I am looking forward to rewatch the movie now and found it interesting to read up on literary analysis and interpretation after having finished the book.

 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 5)

 

We are in Cusco (Peru) since what now amounts to, I think, over two weeks. At first we only wanted to pass through quickly, but somehow ended up staying here. I like it when this happens unexpectedly because one is surprised by a city. The same happened in Sucre and La Paz. My first impression of Cusco was along the lines of “too many tourists, better pass through quickly”. But as it turns out there is a broad variety of alternative offers and activities around here. It is very easy to get lost in discovering interesting stuff around. For example, there are many many vegetarian/vegan restaurants around here. Even though I don’t live strictly vegetarian it is still very interesting for me to visit such restaurants. There are usually a lot of ingredients involved which are uncommon in other restaurants (Tahin, Seitan, Kombucha, etc.) and this usually results in interesting dishes. Around here it is e.g. possible to find vegan cheese plates (the full deal, with grapes and wine, made from nuts fermented with Kombucha) or Tamales made from a certain type of sweet, large sized corn which is very common in Peru. Our culinary explorations culminated in an extensive vegan cooking class, which I enjoyed very much. We got to know a number of people around here and this yielded interesting conversations as well as a hike into the peruvian mountains with camping, bonfire, etc..

In the last days we visited Machu Picchu, which is surely the most popular activity in Peru. We had originally excluded this ancient Inca city from visiting, due to our assumption that this is probably the most touristy thing one can do in Peru. But as we met more and more “non-touristy” backpackers along the way we decided differently. Quite often we were told that “Yes it is the most touristy thing, but it is also really worth a visit”. There are also a lot of locals visiting and we finally decided to do it as well. However, getting to Machu Picchu is another story. Foremost, you can’t “just” go there, since only 2.500 people are allowed in each day. Thus you need to get a ticket on time, since tickets might otherwise run out. Currently, this does not seem to be an issue. Well, at least for Machu Picchu — the neighboring mountain Huayna Picchu, which is said to provide a nice overlooking view on Machu Picchu, is sold out until August (it its limited to 400 visitors a day). A next challenge is getting to Machu Picchu without spending all your money. Aguas Calientes is the city just below Machu Picchu where everybody needs to get. Most people spend a night in this city and visit Machu Picchu the next day. There are expensive trains to Aguas Calientes, but no streets. Since visiting Machu Picchu is the sole purpose of the city, prices are much higher (2-3 times) than in other peruvian cities. In order to get up to Machu Picchu (the site is on top of a steep mountain) you can either take an expensive bus with queues of >1 hour or do the free option and take a steep walk up the hill. In the end we did Machu Picchu in a cheap way by walking everything which was walkable. We took a cheap bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica and from there walked to Aguas Calientes along the train rails. We then spent a night in Aguas Calientes and walked up to to Machu Picchu very early in the morning the next day (and later that day the whole way back to the cheap bus).

So in short, Machu Picchu was worth the visit. It really is quite impressive. This was actually an Inca city 500 years ago and when being there it also feels like one. There are temples, prisons, upperclass houses, lowerclass houses, plazas, agricultural sites, etc.. One can easily imagine how the city must have been pulsating and flowing, even though everything is deserted now. Furthermore, the location high up the mountains between other, surrounding mountains is superb and very impressive. The photos of this monument cannot convey the dimensions of this ancient city and I think one needs to be there to be able to grasp this.

 
 
 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 4)

 

In the last weeks we have been to La Paz for some time, among other cities. I was surprised by the city, as I had anticipated a different vibe. In fact we found a modern city with a wide variety of alternative offers. Stumbling into an alternative market at night or eating at a vegan community kitchen, for example. The city has a very unique architecture, it really looks like it was build in a huge dent in the ground (photo at the bottom of this post). This means the houses are all on a steep slope. Our hostel was deep down in the dent and especially at night this was a unique scenery, since the slope was illuminated by countless houses and street lights.

It is very notable how many people we see with the South America Lonely Planet openly running around the city. I have been critical to the series in the past, but during the last weeks I have become even more critical. Since we have one of their guidebooks with us as well I see firsthand what this kind of mainstream backpacking inflicts. Travelers who would normally never have visited certain places do now, blindly following the “travelling bible”. This leads to the effect that once nice and secluded villages get overthrown by tourism within a few years and there is only little left of the original charm. I really hope that some of the really nice and secluded villages in Mexico never make it into one of the editions. I am sure this would otherwise spoil their magic.

In the last week I got more and more bothered by cities which are very touristy. We are currently in Copacabana and this is a sad example therefore. So many boring tourists. They all seem to have the same uniform, the obligatory Lonely Planet with them, visiting the same places, doing the same things. I feel that India and Mexico are countries where tourists like that just don’t emerge. Maybe this is due to the reputation of these countries. It makes me miss the vibe of those countries.

In the meantime I have finished three further books. The first was “How to write a Short Story” by Christopher Fielden. Whilst travelling I went through some creative writing material of mine that dates back some years. I was surprised by the quality of it and decided to hand it in to some competitions. Whilst researching, I stumbled upon the aforementioned book and read it. It contains a number of writing tips and insights into the short story/flash fiction scene. This has encouraged me to actually submit two stories to competitions. Besides that there were still things which I couldn’t identify with in the book. My most critical point is that the author suggests to do market research when writing stories and adapt the story material based on that. This is a different approach than I have to writing stories. For me, the trigger to write something is never a competition, it is always a personal experience or an idea that I aim to put into the best story I can write. Doing market research and adapting a story for a certain audiences contradicts my attitude. Nevertheless, the book was a worthwile read. It was quite entertaining and funny, especially since the author includes own short stories and details the work he put into them and how he adapted them based on the feedback of competition judges.

The second book which I finished is “Marching Powder” by Rusty Young. I got to know about the book after skipping through an old “Rough Guide to Peru” which lay around at a place where we stayed. The book mentioned the infamous San Pedro prison tours and after some research online I found this blog post. This was more than enough to get me interested in reading the book. The book tells the autobiographical story of Thomas McFadden who got imprisoned in La Paz (in the San Pedro prison) for international drug trafficking. Read the above mentioned blog post if you are interested in more details about this very unusual and infamous prison. The book is for sure my most favorite book since quite a while. It grabbed my full attention after I had started reading the first page and I am still flashed after having read it. Very thrilling. Reading the book was an experience as I imagine reading “The Beach” whilst staying in Thailand on Koh Phangan must be. I knew all of the cities, had been to most of them by now. Though, opposed to The Beach this book is a biography and not a work of fiction. I could relate to culture specific things he wrote and was totally stunned that all of this had happened here where I was, just a brief time ago.

The third book which I finished was Eric Clapton’s autobiography. I think the book could have been a lot better, since he plays his achievements a bit down and often not even mentions them (similar to Stephen King in his autobiography). Nevertheless it is a very honest autobiography and he mentions a lot of incidents which take a lot of courage to admit. After having read the book I started listening back to some of his songs. He describes how they came to be and I could relate to a lot of his creative process and motivations. In my opinion, Wonderful Tonight, My Fathers Eyes, Layla, and Tears in Heaven are songs in a totally different league than an average hit song. This is timeless music which is going to stay. The book also made it clear to me, once more, that at some point in the future I need to look more deeply into The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Grateful Dead.

There are a lot of things about the Bolivian culture which I like and we have met countless friendly people. But the macho fuss in this culture really disturbs me. I have already written about the sexism which I observe when we as male/female interact with Bolivians in Part 2 (I mentioned various examples there). But a couple of days ago the most outstanding incident in this direction occurred. We were eating at one of the better restaurant and the waiter handed only me a menu. He then continued to describe the various specialities of the day — again only to me. He didn’t recognize or interact with Val at all. I don’t know what the reasoning behind this is…that I decide what to eat for her as well? Thus, after getting a second menu, we made it deliberate that she ordered our menu and asked for the bill. The waiter, however, was stubborn and handed the bill to me — as experienced in countless other Bolivian restaurants before. I feel it hard to deal with this kind of sexism, since it is so deep in the culture. It saddens me whenever we experience something like this. I have not experienced anything similar in any other country.

 
 

Backpacking South America (Part 3)

 

To me, one of the most interesting things when travelling is to discover food. After having been to Thailand, I started to love Tamarind, Thai Tea, and Singha Beer. In Bolivia there have been a couple of similar things so far. The Cherimoya is a fruit which I have tasted occasionally in Germany, but it is very hard to find there. Here, in Bolivia, it is everywhere. And it tastes awesome! We also have a lot of fun buying random things in Supermarkets, which are not available in Germany but seem to be popular here — Fanta with Papaya taste for example (wuah…) or a wide range of sweeties which one cannot possibly have imagined (see photo below).

 
 

A while ago I started reading on the digital nomad scene — travelling around and making money working over the Internet, e.g. as a developer or designer. Within the scene one can find a lot of tips on how to live “on the road”. One repeating tip is a product called Sugru. From the product description: “…mouldable glue that turns into rubber. We invented it to make fixing and making easy and fun.”. Basically you get a couple of small packages in different colors. After you open a package you have time to form the glue. If you have created a desired form, you leave it to itself and after a couple of hours it hardens. If you just type “Sugru” into the image search of your favorite search engine you will find a lot of examples how it can be utilized. My favorite one is “How to make any toy LEGO compatible!“, though there are a lot more examples that have way more practical applications. I have a pack of Sugru with me and have been looking for an opportunity to try it out. Finally, I found one and recently used it to fix a shower in a cheap hostel. Basically the shower head needed to be held in the hand since the wall mount had been broken. Thus the shower head could no longer be attached to the wall. Sugru to the rescue!

 
 

On another note, I have started to occasionally contribute to Wikitravel in the last weeks. Adding some content here and there or fixing mistakes. In the last weeks I have utilized Wikitravel a lot and read many pages. After having actually been to the cities and checked out some of the stuff, some outdated information came up. I find contributing there to be actually quite rewarding. I would like to write a complete article about a village or city which does not exist there yet. It bothers me a bit that in the past I have been to a number of cities which don’t have an article, without having taken this opportunity. But maybe we will find an uncovered village in the next weeks.

I have finished another book in the meantime: Consider Phlebas by Ian M. Banks. This is the first book from his Culture Series. Hardcore Science-Fiction, artificial intelligence, interstellar wars, and space ships. I got interested in reading the books after having read that Elon Musk named various SpaceX facilities after things from the books (more details). I liked the book a lot, though I was a bit disappointed by the ending. But overall it is very well written and thrilling. It reminded me of the Ender Series, though the universe and the characters differ in a lot of ways. I am eager to read more of the Culture Series, from what I hear the first book is sometimes considered the weakest.

So, after an awesome stay in Sucre we went to Cochabamba. But we both didn’t feel comfortable in this city. Maybe this was due to two succeeding holiday days. There was very little going on here, many restaurants, markets, shops, etc. were closed. Very few tourists or backpackers. This seemed to bring out even more of the negative kind of people that plague tourists and backpackers. I haven’t yet gotten asked that unfriendly and penetrative to buy e.g. flowers. Neither have I yet been insulted when kindly declining. There were a couple of nasty experiences and interactions and we both were eager to leave Cochabamba. So currently we are heading to La Paz and I won’t switch on my laptop for a while, mechanical hard drives are mostly not laid-out to be operated on +3000m and data corruption can get a real problem (your warranty may even expire if you take your laptop above 3000m). SSDs are not affected. The issue seems to be caused when the thin air in high altitude is unable to further support the read/write heads of the hard drive. Thus they might scratch the delicate disk surface and damage them. So yes: Laptops can get altitude sickness as well.

 
 
 

About Me

I am a 28 year old techno-creative enthusiast who lives and works in Berlin. In a previous life I studied computer science (more specifically Media Informatics) at the Ulm University in Germany.

I care about exploring ideas and developing new things. I like creating great stuff that I am passionate about.

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