The first thing to report is the spellbinding montage of my last trip, three months through Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Very much worth checking out.
I made these pages years ago but don't know where to put them. This is the process of making cheese in Switzerland and here are some funny pics of my photogenic Hungarian friend, Anita. It is testament to her kind, open-minded Hungarianosity that she doesn't object to the world seeing them (i.e. she doesn't know I am doing this). Below are photos from home: my finger, my personalized credit card, and my beard.
Oct 1, 2009 (Writing from Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)
About 20 years ago I was in Ubud and I took this photo of these three little kids below. For some reason I had an extra print made and have always kept it in a drawer. I am in Asia for 3 months and I thought of going back to Bali so I had the idea to bring it with me to see if I could find them and give it to them.
I found all three kids and gave them the photo. They were pretty shocked to have a foreigner show up with a 20 year old photo of them! They all went to put on their best clothes and I took another photo of them outside the house in the same place. You have to click here to see it. If I just showed it without a click there would be no drama!
Another story: my first day on Bali I met an old woman on the street in Kuta who gave me a flier for her cooking lessons and massage class. Kuta is the debauched Las Vegas of Bali, the kind of place where all day long a foreigner hears, "Hello, massage?" and in the evenings, "Hello, sexy massage?". I wasn't interested in massage. Instead I pressed her immediately about my favorite Indonesian dish from the island of Sumatra: "You know rendang?". Rendang is a "dry" curry, meaning that it has been cooked so long that the flavors have soaked into meat completely, in this case, coconut milk and a variety of spices.
She nodded confidently, unfazed by my subsequent questions about preparation. I said I would think about it and later that evening I went looking for her home to confirm for the next day. I found the street and was close, but couldn't find the exact place. A neighbor girl saw me and came out. I said I was looking for Maria Magdalena(!) Suddenly, in a flourish a very effeminate man came bounding out behind the girl and gaily asked, "You want massage, darling?"
I explained that I was interested in the cooking class. The girl asked what I wanted to learn, I said rendang, and this stopped the man in his tracks as up to this point he had been gazing at me with a hungry smile.
"Rendang?! We are from Sumatra!" He summoned the girl to the kitchen and almost immediately a skillet was brought out with rendang and a spoon thrust at me to taste, as if they had been waiting for someone to ask. It was really good. Fantastic, even. Sometimes people cook it too quickly and the meat isn't as tender as it should be, but this was excellent.
Noticing my appreciation, he (verbally) pounced. "That woman," he hissed, "She's not even from Sumatra". He became more boisterous, building to a crescendo (there must be a Spanish bullfighting word for this) and then the final insult: "She's from Java!"
Finally, as if it was impossible to have any more equivocation about the matter, he locked his eyes with mine and summarized in a lower, more gender-appropriate voice: "You come here tomorrow."
June 4, 2009 (Writing from Novi Sad, Serbia)
In fact, I am feeling a little melancholy myself with all of this rain. (Actually, Novi Sad means "new plantation".) I am midway through a two month sojourn in Europe. I travel almost exclusively by hitchhiking. I always do when in Europe and anywhere else I can get away with it. I should write a book about hitchhiking. The best title I can think of thusfar is "The Worst Hitchhikers Have the Best Tans". Photos and text of the trip here.
Feb 20, 2009 (Writing from Medellin, Colombia)
On my birthday last week I was awoken at 5am by a guy (I hope it was a guy) hacking phlegm so loudly that I am sure everyone in the hostel was as perturbed as I. It was infuriatingly typical of how inconsiderate other travelers can be. I don't sleep well in the best of times, and on the road there is always something or someone that prevents me from sleeping well: squawking chickens, yapping parrots, barking dogs, fighting cats, pesky mice, hungry mosquitoes, honking horns, yakking Argentines, loud snoring, ringing phones, church bells, alarms, buzzers, construction, traffic--the list is endless. On those rare occasions where I find a hostel I can sleep well, I will usually stay an extra night no matter where it is. I mean, just look at this photo here. In this Brady Bunch construction in my hostel, there is a faucet hanging over my bed. My head a foot away from a faucet!
But no need to sound like an old crank for the good news is that I am flying back to USA on Monday on The Mother of All Cheap Tickets, only $140 one way from Bogota to Orlando on a new route with JetBlue. I really need to pat myself on the back with this one as I knew how to do the research and made it happen.
My new goal in life is to see how long I can go without taking any more buses. They have shortened my life span, I am convinced. In one stretch this month, for 7 out of 8 days I was on bus journeys of at least 8 hours a day on windy mountain roads. Brutal. (And in a rush to get up to Colombia, before I got here I stayed in 13 different towns in 16 days. Also brutal.) I will argue about this until I am blue in the face that the greatest danger to travelers in South America isn't a thief or a kidnapper, but a bus crash.
As of today I have been gone 12 months and 12 days, about half of it in South America.
Jan 15, 2009 (Writing from Copacabana, Bolivia)
This trip feels finished. I've been to Peru before and I don't relish revisiting the same places, which I will do tomorrow. Since it is my last night in Bolivia I splurged on a fancy dinner: salad bar, chicken soup, trout with garlic sauce and lemon cake. Cost? 32 bolivianos, about US$4.50. Bolivia's a cheap country. I never pay half that much to eat dinner. To put it into perspective, my dinner tonight costs the same as my room with bathroom and shower. That is also a "last night in Bolivia" upgrade. I'd categorize the previous place I stayed as Truly Miserable as opposed to tonight's Just Plain Sad.
I should splurge more often as all of this bottom feeding leaves me rundown. I'm fried. I'm over 11 months on the road now. The high altitude doesn't help. I've been at 3800-4100 meters for most of the last three weeks.
My present wheezy condition can be traced back to Christmas Eve when I became brutally sick from some sort of food poisoning. I was on a three-day tour of the southwest: the Uyuni salt flats, colorful lagoons with more pink flamingos than you can count, soaring mountains, etc. etc.
Most of the group got sick. We suspect the girl helping her father on the trip didn't boil the water enough for our tea.
Making a balloon animal for a scared kid and me in my cold weather clothes
Subconciously I probably think that if I ever got really sick I'll hightail it to the nearest airport and get real medical care if need be. However, this once-every-few-years illness disproves this notion. I could barely move. I hike to the bathroom and am utterly exhausted. It's debilitating physically and mentally. I can't say I've been 100% ever since.
I'm getting out of this altitude. In a few days I'll be on the Peruvian coast where I will feast on the greatest thing about Peru: ceviche.
Brutal Food Poisoning Redux. Can't wait!
Dec 21, 2008 (Writing from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
I cooked this. Hold your applause, please
Due to reasons, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in a supermarket in the hostile-sounding town of Resistencia, a city on the great plain of northern Argentina. Supermarkets in Argentina and Brazil commonly sell individual-sized wrapped portions of cheese and ham for people to make their lunches. However, I could tell by looking at the packs that the number of slices and the size that the weight wasn't right. You simply can't fool Kent Foster when it comes to sliced cheese weight. You just can't. I brought some packs to a scale and indeed, they were all 30 grams overweight. The Mother of All Outrages. A young guy with three colors of hair had been watching me do this. He took them and went behind the counter to re-weigh them with the new price. He didn't have a uniform, but I guess he worked there. I thanked him and he asked me where I was from. When I said United States he suddenly became serious, even grim. He looked around and said darkly, "There are
I was caught off-guard. "Huh? What? Where?"
"Saenz Peņa," he said more quietly. It's a small town about an hour away.
I didn't know what to do with this information, but the look of disappointment on his face was proof that I was letting him down when I said, "I'm just a tourist."
As fate would have it, the next day when I left Resistencia, the bus made a stop in Saenz Peņa. We were there for maybe five minutes, but I managed to defuse a few bombs, infiltrate local networks of evil and thwart imminent thermonuclear devastation. Thank me later.
It was a Herculean day of hitchhiking to get here. I went from the dusty, windblown settlement of Susques in Argentina up to the Paso de Jama border at 4800 meters where I was promptly abandoned by my truck driver while I went inside to immigration. Worse, the Argentines wouldn't stamp my passport until I found a driver, but they were thin on the ground, only 2 cars and a full Buenos Aires-to-Lima(!) bus.
As fate would have it, two Frenchmen were in the same predicament as me, but they were going the other way. They had a scary, glow-in-the-dark, inhuman skin color. It was something between orange/red and the black of exposure. I thought I might eventually look like them, but hitchhiking is the only thing I have an unbending faith about and I never think I am in a hopeless situation.
It did appear hopeless, though. The high desert surroundings were absolutely bleak, with hardly any vegetation of note (although there must be some hidden as I saw lots of llamas). As if to prove that this was a place to die, right after I arrived, a Peruvian woman from the bus had succumbed to altitude sickness, became hysterical and collapsed. She was dragged off to a medical care station that exists for this purpose. A few people from the bus might have given me disapproving looks as I was wearing a jacket with a Cuban Red Cross patch on it--but just for decoration. Sometimes I dread getting into Seinfeld-esque situations like this, but luckily in this case there were qualified people to tend to her.
On the Salinas Grandes, Argentina
My skin was literally sizzling in the intense midday sun. Hitchhiking in the remote desert, at very high altitude, is anxiety-inducing. I'm not a big fan. Out of nowhere, however, appeared an Austrian couple (who knew of a friend of mine) in a rental car and they brought me to here, San Pedro de Atacama, the driest place on earth. In practical terms it means it's a good place to wash your clothes as they'll dry fast.
From here I hitchhiked about 120 km to Chuquicamata for a tour of the world's largest open pit copper mine. Other than that, I have been pretty lazy the last few days.
I finally got my Bolivian visa. I'd like to say I turned the Kent Foster charm all the way to 11 and the Bolivians were dazzled into giving it to me, but it was more of a matter of diligently researching my options, making phone calls, and not wearing shorts (I was denied entry into the embassy in Asuncion for this reason).
Tomorrow I'm off on a three-day tour to Uyuni, Bolivia and the endless salt flats. It should be great.
Dec 3, 2008 (Writing from Asuncion, Paraguay)
I always tell anyone who will listen that these are the Latter Days of my traveling, especially the epic journeys, but now it is officially the longest trip I have ever had, nearly 10 months.
First time in Paraguay. Often you get a feeling for a country when you go get its visa. In the case of Paraguay, I went to the consulate just across the border in Foz de Iguacu, Brazil. It wasn't a busy place. Who goes to Paraguay?
The friendly official there invited me to sit down in his office, humored by my attempt to speak Spanish though only Portuguese was coming out of my mouth.
When I showed my American passport he murmured something and got out his cell phone, touched a few buttons, set it on the table between us, leaned back in his chair and the song "You Can Do Magic" by 1970's pop band America started playing. Even though I live for surreal moments like this, I didnt want to sit silently across the table and have him gaze boldly at me while the lyrics, "You can have anything that you desire...and you know
you're the one who can put out the fire..." in the background. It was so odd that I didn't mind when I saw that they made a mistake in my visa, that it expires two weeks before it was issued. (At the border they were less amused.)
My visa was "only" $45, whereas like a wave of Africanized bees, southern South America is being swept up in "reciprocity", the policy of charging Americans what we charge them for a visa.
Even though it is bad for their tourism, I understand the frustration. I had the genius idea (and really, the State Department should keep me on retainer for nuggets of wisdom like this) of defraying costs by letting Coke or McDonalds or whomever sponsor visas. So, when you get a passport stamp it says, "This visa is brought to you by Walt Disney" and it has Mickey Mouse ears on the stamp. When Condoleezza Rice reads this (I am pretty sure this is her homepage) she will slap her forehead and exclaim, "I had eight years in Washington DC; why didnīt I think of that?" Besides, it plays into the idea everyone already has about America, including us co-opting the name "America". Paraguay is in America, too.
Brazil started this trend, charging $130, then it was Bolivia, Chile, and starting Jan 1, Argentina. In the case of Brazil, Americans pay more than double anyone else. Europeans donīt even need visas. I sit at the border while nearly all other nationalities waltz past me. They literally waltz, though I could have sworn a Korean couple broke from the norm and did the foxtrot while I filled out forms.
Before Paraguay I was in the sublime Iguazu Falls on the Brazil/Argentina border. Before that, in Sao Paulo and Taquarituba, resting up at Fabio's and at Nancy and Robert's. It is a good thing I didn't start my Brazil trip in Sao Paulo or else I might have never made it out of the state. I went to Rio de Janeiro for 9 days, too. The weather wasn't great, but I made the most of it and saw lots of soccer. I am going to make a big Brazilian section on my website if I can ever find a non-infected computer with Photoshop on it.
The Bolivian embassy here in Asuncion has pulled out all the stops in preventing me from getting a visa, the topper being that they want a letter from the national police of USA (we don't have one) showing that I don't have a criminal record. So, I doubt I will go, but I donīt know what to do now.
In a Brazilian supermarket
Sep 16, 2008 (Writing from Aracaju, Brazil)
I have never traveled so slowly in my life: 4 places in 3 weeks. It's OK. I have resigned myself to the size of this country and will not worry about what I will miss. So what can I say I have learned about Brazil in these 3 weeks? Only a couple of things:
1-For women, a one-piece swimsuit must be a very serious crime and possibly subject to the death penalty. I don't think I have seen anyone younger than the elderly wear one. And I will spare you the photos of the elderly in thongs.
2-Brazilians don't eat. Well, they eat an OK-sized lunch, but I dont get the feeling that other meals are of any importance.
A Brazilian friend of mine was telling me that when she was in Italy for a birthday party the host fussed over the food and fretted about whether the guests would like it. As she says, "Brazilians don't care about food. At a birthday party here the only two questions are: 'Who is the DJ' and 'Are there enough drinks?'"
It is surprisingly hard to find a place to eat dinner. Partly it could be because it is less safe to be open at night. But OK, when in Rome, right? Accordingly, I appear to have lost quite a bit of weight in the short time I have been here. It goes well with my stunning good looks and my modesty.
Aug 29, 2008 (Writing from Recife, Brazil)
It was a pretty last minute decision to come here. I saw the amazing deal Condor had to offer, $300 one way from Frankfurt, and then I set the wheels in motion to try and extract a visa from the Brazilian embassy in Budapest, Hungary as quickly as possible before the price went up.
The embassy, in turn, went to every extreme to make it difficult to get the visa. They kept inventing more hoops for me to jump through. I could imagine the brainstorming in the back room ("Next time let's say it is a requirement that he has to have a photo of him wearing a pink tutu while getting a proctology exam!") In the end I had to manufacture fake documents and bluff my way.
Visa finally in hand and with a week before the flight, I naturally did what anyone would do: hitchhike to Romania and Ukraine.
I wonder how many Americans would hitchhike in Ukraine with less than $25 in local money, a USA flag on their backpack, drinking the tap water, with no arranged place to stay, no guidebook, and no map--but that's how I roll!
July 15, 2008 (Writing from Tienen, Belgium)
I was hitchhiking on the German-Belgian border when a couple of young Belgian guys picked me up. After I got in the car the guy in the passenger seat turned to me and said, "OK, now we take all of your money and rape you."
I thought of clever answers only later, the best being: "I have that feeling every time I change my dollars to euros."
In one week I was at the airport in Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Zurich--but didnt fly out of any of them; I was just checking for flight deals.
The news for now is I have finished a big Philippines section.
I am also working on this page of links. Have a look-see!
June 20, 2008 (Writing from Haderslev, Denmark)
My left big toe has been numb for the past two weeks. It might be my new shoes. I gave away my shoes in the Philippines and then went a month with only sandals, but in Europe it just seemed a good idea to invest in some footwear. My shoes feel fine, but for some reason my big toe remains numb even if I go without shoes for a long while.
So, after Philippines my friend, Peter, flew into Bangkok from Budapest and we made a quick tour around Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. My idea of a good time in Bangkok is to do such things as visit the foreigners in prison and go to the nausea-inducing Anatomy Museum in the Siriraj Hospital, but since it was Peterīs first time it was best to stick to the highlights and we had a good time.
From Asia I flew to Cairo, Egypt for a week and now Europe.
Maybe the most interesting thing I did recently was meet two Colombian prisoners in Cairo. (Itīs fascinating to visit foreign prisons. Really.) No photos, unfortunately, or there would be one of an enormous Egyptian woman in a New York Yankees baseball cap. She was also visiting the prison. I learned that my friend, Rocio, who facilitated the visit, is an expert in deftly passing bribe money. The things you learn about your friends in prison!
Right now I am painting my friendsī house in Denmark and teaching some tennis to their daughters.
March 3, 2008 (Writing from Siquijor, Philippines)
I was in Hong Kong for a few days before I came here and at the airport upon my departure for the first time in my life I couldn't sweet-talk my way out of the onward ticket requirement. In the end it is going to cost me about $35 after refundable ticket fees, which is still worth it, but the fact that airlines insist on onward tickets more and more cuts into my style of travel. I'm Mr. One Way Ticket! How dare they! Whatever became of serendipitous travel? Even though the answer is straightforward enough, bogus Photoshopped e-tickets showing future connections, it's a shame this is the demise of an era--just as new airlines are starting that sell one-way tickets for half of round-trip prices.
Filipino lechon baboy--delicious very!
I came to the Philippines to play basketball. (I came also to play tennis and in fact I started this trip with two tennis rackets and a can of balls, but I had to abandon them after I realized how untenable the idea was.) I knew Filipinos were crazy about basketball and I thought I could find some people to play with. And here in Siquijor it is basketball and tennis heaven. This lazy burg (probably very broadly defined) has only 20,000 people but there are several nice tennis courts and in the center of town is Capital Square, a roofed structure open on its sides for tropical ventilation with a wooden, dusty (re: slippery) basketball court.
It was easy to get a game because Filipinos are some of the friendliest people on earth. I was literally straight off the boat and had just approached the court when someone came to shake my hand and invited me to play. Would the opposite be true for a Filipino in USA? Highly doubtful.
I am taller than everyone, so I was asked if I could dunk. That was before they saw me play. By the end, someone said to me, "It is good (for someone your age and condition) to get some exercise."
When a deflected pass jammed me on the thumb, ending my day and the next few, it was a sign of my frailty to them, but I was still invited to come play again. When it does heal I may switch to tennis. There's a court directly in front of the hospital. I'm covered.
January 6, 2008 (Writing from California)
Forget the fact that I haven't written in a while. I had been traveling for the last three months. Big surprise, right? The real news is that I finished TWO big sections, my 2007 trips to Japan, South Africa and Europe and my 2005 trip to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. So what, you say? Just check them out. I dare say my photos are worth interrupting your busy, busy lives.
Small world moment of 2007: at Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa I ran into a former co-worker, Carolyn Bang, from about 10 years ago in Silicon Valley. It reminded me that last time I was in South Africa on two separate occasions I ran into people I knew from college. And it was also in South Africa that I first met this guy and then again in Hungary.
Going from 27C Cape Town to falling snow in Munich was a shock. Ran around Europe a little, hiding from the snow and cold when possible, then I finally acted: 59 euro flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul on Corendon, then 182 dollar flight from Istanbul to Kathmandu on Air Arabia. Deal!
But then my semi-annual affliction of buying plane tickets I don't use hit and I got crazy-sick in Istanbul. I decided to buy a ticket back to Amsterdam and then I decided just as impulsively to go home for the holidays.
August 5, 2007 (Writing from California)
Ah, the innocence of Russian youth
It was only on my third day at the camp when I heard for the first time, "Kent, I love you," from one of the girls in my group. It always sounds nice to hear, even if I knew what would follow, which was usually something like, "Can you drive me to Newport Beach?"
Yes, it is the summer camp for foreign teenagers again. This has been my third year. It will be my last. The problem, aside from the insane workload (literally a 24/7 job for 52 straight days), is that while 95% of the kids are great and I like to spend time with them, the other 5% are chronically problematic and drain all my time and energy.
A couple of notes:
The camp director told me that on one student's homestay application there was a request to have a black host family in Compton because rapper Tupac Shakur was from Compton. The student was from China.
Both the funniest and most disturbing thing this year happened when a colleague was doing bed checks late at night. She opened the door and the two 16 year old Italian girls were totally naked. They complained, "We can't get on the Internet!"
June 3, 2007 (Writing from Switzerland)
I should be writing from Zanzibar, Tanzania, but I simply missed my flight. I then bought another cheap, nonrefundable ticket to Japan on the internet--and not one hour later broke a tooth while eating an almond. I was determined not to miss another trip so here I am with this ugly half-tooth, eating on the right side of my mouth for the past month.
I am in Europe because I was sitting in Kumamoto, southern Japan when I got an email to come to Munich, Germany to take over as a tour guide at the last minute, so I literally bought a ticket that day to fly from Fukuoka to Frankfurt the next day, immediately race to Munich and then start the tour the next day. I was so out of whack that I had to stop myself in the Frankfurt airport from bowing and saying, "Arigato" after asking a question.
It was a one week tour of Munich, the Salzburg area and the Bolzano, Italy area. I did my best not to let the jet lag take me over completely despite the Fukuoka-Taipei-Hong Kong (plus a 9 hour layover)--Frankfurt--train to Munich route.
I fly back to Fukuoka tomorrow (same 9 hours in Hong Kong!), then I hitchhike over 1500 km to get back to Tokyo in time for the weekend flea market shopathon and then back to USA the next week. Tired days ahead...
If you are keeping score at home, in the last 20 months I have been around the world twice, 2/3 around the world once and halfway around the world once. It is too much.
April 21, 2007 (Writing from California)
Two big new sections on the website! Around the World 2006-2007 and Around the World 2006.
As always, be sure to be seated when viewing these pages as its power tends to weaken the knees.
in my room
January 10, 2007 (Writing from Calcutta, India)
Sick on the overnight train to Varanasi. At least I had the top bunk.
India! What the heck am I doing here?! It is my third time in India. I come here every 6 years because I need that long to forget. I have been to Burma, Thailand, and Malaysia since I wrote before. I flew here with Druk Air (Bhutan's national airline) for about $158. Looks like India will be the last destination as my money is running out and then I will need to be creative to find a cheap way to get home from the other side of the globe. Taking an overnight train to Varanasi tonight...
November 21, 2006 (Writing from Bangkok, Thailand)
While in Germany I bought a ticket on Excel Airways(!) from Manchester, England to Banjul, The Gambia for 73 pounds including taxes and credit card fee AND ticket pickup fee, which is about US$140. (Please, hold your applause...no really, thank you, thank you, please take your seats.) So I am a genius, right? Alas, no. I am going to throw away the ticket because I found out after the fact that both The Gambia and Mali, my ultimate destination, want $100 for visas, which is reason enough for me to boycott their countries. The Gambia just changed their visa requirements for Americans a couple of months ago.
Barber shop in David, Panama
Instead I bought a $336 ticket on Condor to go to Bangkok, and now I am headed to Burma for $60 one way on Air Asia.
October 24, 2006 (Writing from Panama City, Panama)
I am poised to see the Canal tomorrow and then I have to begin going back to San Jose, Costa Rica quickly because I have a flight November 2 to Frankfurt, Germany for the astounding price of $225 one way on Condor. Yes!!! That's what I paid for the other flight on this trip, too. I should make sure every flight I take is $225.
Nothing dramatic to report. I had to bribe the Panamanian border guard $5 to be allowed into the country. It was a little tense, but I managed to get in.
October 12, 2006 (Writing from Granada, Nicaragua)
The most memorable moment of the trip thusfar was 2 weeks ago in Guatemala when I was hitchhiking with a Finnish girl of Vietnamese origin. We had met a few days earlier in Belize with another traveler, a British guy who got a tennis scholarship to a university in Alabama when he was discovered by the coach while playing on the Central African circuit in Botswana (I swear, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.)
Guatemalan dancing queens
Anyway, the girl and I were hitching on a remote stretch of road when it began to rain heavily. We sought shelter under an awning for a tiny shop that didn't sell much of anything. Some curious kids nearby came to check us out and the mother of one of them encouraged them to dance for us. One was 15 and another maybe 12 and their clothes were soaked through. They commenced gyrating their hips like no prepubescent teens I know, and as innocent as it was, it still felt odd to take photos and video of two young girls in wet clingy clothes as they danced during a rainstorm.
Actually, now that I have permission to divulge this, really the most memorable moment was a week later: a visit to an illegal abortion clinic in Honduras. It turns out my Finnish friend was pregnant (not by me) and since she has a fierce independent streak, she decided that this was no time for motherhood. In fact, I will never meet a less affected person about being pregnant. It only bothered her in that it cost $370, which is about what she had spent her first two months hitchhiking through Mexico.
The actual visit was kind of anti-climactic (easy for me to say!) as it was quite Western/modern, but it felt odd to be in this clinic that was supposedly famous throughout the region despite abortion being illegal everywhere in Central America. We also wondered how rich this doctor must be to earn $370 for about 15 minutes of work.
After such excitement, the trip feels kind of slow and plodding. My intention is to continue to Costa Rica and Panama and pray for a cheap flight to USA or Europe. Or, wouldn't it be cool to hitchhike from Panama back to California?
September 4, 2006
I had been agonizing about whether to go east to Europe or west to Asia and finally decided to go south to Mexico. I fly one way tomorrow to Cozumel ($225) to see Jose's wedding and then have a vague idea to head south along Central America. The emphasis is on vague because I am not so excited about it, Latin America not being one of my favorite parts of the world. Maybe this trip will change my opinion.
August 21, 2006
This is my quasi-pseudo-faux diary I kept during the English camp, which just finished:
Recently my boss said to me with an unsmiling face, "I hate you more and more every day."
Well! How about that for a reference! Fortunately, I knew she meant it in jest, as she was referring to my tan that grows darker and darker since I am often on the beach for my job.
I think she meant it in jest.
I am working at an English summer camp on the Long Beach State University campus for European and Asian teenagers, generally 15-17 year olds from about 16 countries. It is a unique living situation in that nearly everyone lives in two large adjacent dormitories on campus. I had this job last year, too.
At first glance, this job sounds like the opposite of work. On a recent typical day I played tennis with a co-worker in the morning, had an uneventful staff meeting for 10 minutes, then hung out at the beach with the surf camp kids. In the afternoon back on campus I played ping pong with the kids for hours.
After a long buffet dinner I had some lightweight tasks and a stroll around the area in search of evil outsiders. Soon enough it was time to call it a day and I chatted into the night with the other activity leaders.
My camp roommate, Mike
On the other hand, underneath this surface, the same day I had to deal with 40 upset surf camp kids because the chartered bus to the beach was late, they didn't like their sack lunches and they want to do all kinds of things they aren't allowed to because they are against the rules, rules that are stricter than where they are from. It can feel like a prison for everyone at times. I work two straight months without a day off.
I am friendly with the kids and talk to them a lot, but it means that they feel more comfortable to vent their many frustrations to me.
Often I am compelled to do things I'd rather not have to do, like lecture my floor's Vietnamese kids on the necessity of flushing toilets as well as the toilet paper.
I am on-call almost the entire day and sometimes I have to stay up until 2am to enforce the curfew--then breakfast the next day is served only from 7-8am. I always wake up for it because, inexplicably, I can't sleep.
It is interesting to see firsthand how increased immigration and adoption have changed the face of Europe. We have a Tamil-Norwegian, a Tamil-Swede, a Chinese-Swede, an Azeri/Iranian-Swede (who was kidnapped as a child for several months) a Vietnamese-Russian, an Armenian-French and a Serbian-Dane, but the melting pot first prize goes to a Tanzanian-Finnish girl who lives up in Lapland! Perhaps more interestingly, all but one of these are girls.
Maybe this bringing together of cultures isn't always for the better, such as when I introduced the Armenian-French student to my Turkish colleague and after some small talk she said, "Hey, maybe your grandfather killed my grandfather."
Thankfully there has been no big drama thusfar at the camp, only issues that don't arise much in my conservative country, like a French girl complaining that her 14 year old Swedish roommate is always walking around their room naked.
It is amazing how many 14 and 15 year old European girls here have tattoos and piercings and dress sexy. There's an exotic 15 year old French-Martinique girl who has the lead in this year's title for "Least Clothing". (The competition is formidable.) She always has the tightest pants/shorts and a sizable tattoo that starts at the side of her belly button and descends downward to a place that will get us staff arrested if we ever see where it ends.
When we sorted through all the kids' applications, I spotted one 14 year old Spanish girl's email as sex_girl_69@hotmail or something like that. Her parents have to sign these, too, so they must be aware. It would be my worst nightmare to send my 14 year old girl to America and notice that on her application; I could never be a father.
A 14 year old Russian, my colleague, and a 15 year old Norwegian
On the other end of the innocence spectrum, there is an adorable 14 year old girl from a remote part of Norway, half Chinese and half Norwegian. (She does have her belly button pierced and said that her 15 year old sister has her tongue pierced because "she thinks it's sexy". It is OK with 32 year old mom because she has the same, though not at that age.) She has a chaotic homelife of half sisters, step sisters, an unliked father and others to the point that when I asked how many people live in her house, it took a good 15 seconds for her to come up with a number: 10. Despite this she seems impossibly serene and good natured.
The first time I met her she needed help using a phone card to call home and later I asked if she was successful. I thought her English was shaky since she took some time to answer, but she replied in her angelic voice, "I was talking with my stupid sister".
The Norwegian group has 32 girls and one very bored boy.
There was a funny incident on one of my first days here. We had three 16 year old Indonesian girls who were supposed to be at a homestay nearby but they complained about that so they were brought here to the school campus, but they complained about here, too, and they managed to weasel their way out of the program altogether and stay with their uncle whom they thought lived close to LA.
What they didn't know was that their uncle didn't really want to be burdened with them and he lives quite a distance from LA. He was upset that he had to come 2 hours to pick them up. When he got here he loved the campus atmosphere and said it was a shame that such a program didn't exist when he was younger and if it was too late for him to stay for this summer!
At that moment one of the interns interrupted the conversation to say she needed the master key because two naked Italian girls had locked themselves out of their rooms.
The wide-eyed uncle pleaded, "Let me stay!"
May 14, 2006
3 scorpions in 3 weeks in my room. Not happy about that.
I'm getting ready to go to Long Beach for the summer to work in the English camp like I did last year. Long Beach has amazingly perfect weather. The only problem is that it falls during the second half of the World Cup, and I am a HUGE soccer fan. In fact, I once planned to quit a job the day before the World Cup started so I could be sure to see all the games. I hope it portends well that my boss is Brazilian.
I finished my China pages, I am happy to announce, and I added some new toilet pix, too. Next up, an update of Japan.
April 22, 2006
I just got home. This is the second time that on my first day home from a trip I have had a little scorpion in my room, except this one was in my backpack and didn't bite me.
I didn't have a chance to update this since I left Cairo, so quickly: I stayed in the United Arab Emirates for 5 or 6 days and got crazy sick with the flu in Dubai so I impulsively and maybe irrationally bought a ticket on Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok for $290. I was in Bangkok for 10 days or so and flew to Macau on AirAsia for $60 and then Hong Kong and then for the last month I went up the east coast of China to Beijing. I took two domestic flights on Chunqiu (Spring) Airlines, both for $36 because it was as cheap as the overnight train.
I flew home on Air China for $450, paying $35 more than if I had gone with China Eastern because I could get United/Star Alliance miles out of it and now I should have enough to get a free round trip ticket to Africa from Europe. Yes!!
And I ate two donkey sandwiches there.
All alone on the Great Wall of China
March 1, 2006
After nearly one month of self-imposed exile here in Cairo, other than a quick trip to Hurghada, I have been tethered to the computer, building this website of artwork from my friend Bruce Abrams.
It gave me the time to throw the newest thing on my site, too: Life During Wartime: The Balkans, 1994. Not that it was worth waiting 12 years for!
I am flying tomorrow to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, (near Dubai). $132 one way from Alexandria on Air Arabia.
February 11, 2006
My birthday is two days away and it looks like I am spending it at Bruce and Rocio's here in Cairo, Egypt, which is luxury living for me. I left home 2 or 3 weeks ago and flew to cold Europe, and I have now thought to turn this trip into an experiment to see how cheaply I can fly around the world and with the most obscure airlines. So far I flew from LAX-Munich for $289 on Lufthansa (OK, not obscure, and in fact I paid a little more than if I had flown Air Tahiti Nui to Paris or Air India to Frankfurt--both decisions I would have regretted if it weren't for the frequent flier miles).
I then flew from Munich to Cairo for 69 euros ($85) on Hapag Lloyd Express and am presently in deep contemplation to fly from Egypt to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on Air Arabia.
We'll see. In the meantime I am calling embassies and travel agents here and seeing if a sub-Saharan Africa trip is feasible. It's not looking likely.
December 25, 2005
I am really falling behind on updating my website. I'd rather not have this "news" page at all, but until I can find the time to sit down and do it right...
From Sept-Nov 2005 I was in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. I flew to Denmark and I hitchhiked to the Romania/Moldova border visiting friends along the way in Germany, Austria and Hungary. Hitching in Romania was a slog. I never got stuck, but it is slow going on the small roads. At the Moldovan border I was stopped because I couldn't walk across the border, so a policeman flagged down a car and got me a ride through.
I stayed some days in Chisinau, the capitol of Europe's poorest country, then went eastward to the Trans-Dniester Republic, a self-proclaimed "country" no one recognizes, yet they have their own border controls, currency, police, laws, etc. I liked the retro Soviet feel and the capitol, Tiraspol, is the quietest I have ever seen. (Bizarrely, I saw a Plymouth Prowler with California license plates. It was a Moldovan emigrant to Stockton.) I went on to Odessa, Ukraine, up to Kiev, got sick, and on my deathbed contemplated my next move, which became flying to Baku, Azerbaijan--of course!
I had left my guidebook to the Caucasus back in Budapest (note to self: I owe Peter $10), I was so sure I had changed my mind about going, but I figured since I was in the neighborhood...actually, my feeble mind was in a battle royale between going home and buying a laptop or running around the Caucasus and going home nearly penniless.
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia were very much worth visiting, but I didn't spend too much time traveling in any of them, which was a mistake. Russian is still the lingua franca, and my Russian is pretty awful. At least I know the numbers, more or less.
The day I left the Caucasus I was hitchhiking from the Georgian border into eastern Turkey on the Black Sea. It was a long, exhausting day of miscommunication, rain, not having local money, etc.--nothing so usual--but it was punctuated, so to speak, by a truck I was in that blew a tire. We had been going very fast and I was nearly falling asleep when I heard and felt the explosion and then saw my driver fight to control the steering wheel. It was scary and I was shaken by the experience, so it was fortuitous that I found very cheap flights from Trabzon to Istanbul and a few days later from Istanbul to Amsterdam.
I housesat in Holland for a week and was able to relax and see the Dutch for what they are: geniuses. Whenever in the Netherlands I always feel mentally and physically inferior. Quick anecdote: I was sitting in a bar in Amsterdam--which for many of my friends IS the story--and the CD in the stereo was skipping. The bartender takes out the CD, reaches under the bar and pulls out a clear bottle of alcohol without a label on it. He pours it over the CD and wipes it with a towel. If I was in any other country, at this point I would have challenged the guy. "You're going to kill your stereo!" I'd be protesting. But I realize the Dutch generally know what they are doing, so I didn't say anything, and neither did anyone else who saw this. He puts the CD back in and it plays perfectly and no one thinks anything of it.
I found an amazing deal to get (near to) home: Frankfurt to Las Vegas, one way, US$175. Frequent flier miles be damned, I am a big fan of flying obscure airlines and on this trip I flew Icelandair, Aerosvit, Atlasjet, Pegasus International and Condor. Yes!
I am home for the holidays and then in January, assuming my jury duty doesn't get out of hand, I am departing, but at the moment no idea to where. In the meantime I am working on my beard in case I go somewhere cold. As it fills in it has transformed me from first looking Grizzled Homeless, then American Taliban and now I am on the verge of Quaker. If my jury duty is for a mass murderer, it might become House of David.
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August 12, 2005
I just finished working in a summer English camp as an activity leader for foreign teenagers in Los Angeles. Among other things, we went on excursions to Las Vegas and San Francisco as well as to some amusement parks in the LA area.
The most memorable day was on the way to Las Vegas. Our bus broke down between Baker and Barstow--the middle of the desert--in 115 degree midday heat. We all got off the bus and I checked out the engine in back with the driver. As he explained to me what the problem most likely was, out of the corner of my eye I noticed that most of the girls had taken their shirts off. Some had their pants off. It was surreal to be stuck in the desert with a dozen teenage European girls in their underwear. The many passing truckers were very appreciative as they honked their horns in one continuous barrage of noise. Since I was ultimately responsible for all the students I am glad that we didn't spend too long stranded out there; I didn't want to spend the afternoon fending off truck drivers. As I later told our bus driver, still in disbelief, "It ain't like driving around the Shriners, is it?"
Next week I am going to Europe. A friend is getting married in Austria and I am thinking of going to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan if it is safe. Also, now that Ukraine is visa-free, I am contemplating returning there and maybe getting a first look at Moldova, too. I always have big Eastern Europe ideas, but every time I get to Hungary I bog down and hang out with my friends instead.
As I always try to do to maximize my freedom, I bought a one way standby ticket. In fact, I don't even know to where I am flying until the day before I want to go (this odd arrangement is courtesy of www.airtech.com) Sometimes I think I have too much freedom in my life.
I'll come home when I get cold.
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June 25, 2005
Last year I felt poorer than I ever have before, starting the year off in debt, and yet I managed to go to Europe, Asia and Africa on 3 different trips! It is quite an accomplishment, especially in light of the fact that the dollar is on its deathbed, but I got a lot of cheap flights and I stayed with lots of friends. (MANY thanks to all the people who let me sleep over for extended periods of time in their homes and intrude on their lives, among them the Jessens, Rochus, Wiesenbarts, Zimmermanns, Moors, Lustenbergers, Nagys, Szabos, Sonja, Zsuzs and Tamas, Ada, Bruce and Rocio, Waldine, Tibor, Alice, Hanne and Greg--and I hope I didn't fail to mention anyone.)
In the spring I went to Europe for no particular reason. I took the Foreign Service Exam in Budapest, caught up with some long lost friends in Switzerland, and I paid a visit to my favorite dentist in Romania whom not only refused my money, she let me sleep in her office for two nights! Can you imagine an American dentist allowing that? I tried to get a photo of her working on me while smoking a cigarette through her smock, but she wouldn't go for that. If I could have made that happen, it would be the first thing you saw front and center on kentfoster.com.
I was disappointed to discover that my favorite border in the world, Nagylak/Nadlac, between southeastern Hungary and Romania has been totally cleaned up and is a sterile place now. In its heyday it was an unbelievably chaotic, wild west place where anything went and the mess included gypsies, prostitutes, thieves, shady people, bribery, dust, heat, etc. I once got a ride here from a Michael Jackson roadie who was driving a truck to Bucharest for a show.
In the summer I went to Japan to help a friend out in his dog guest house for a while. It is a regular, rustic kind of mountain guest house where people bring their dog(s) and they sleep in the same room together, eat in the restaurant together and so on. The fuzzy photo below is a picture of the cashbox being left on the table in the middle of the restaurant, unattended. Japan is that kind of place.
In the fall I decided to do a serendipitous trip in the vague direction of heading around the world. I was hoping to get one way flights and hop from place to place with no fixed plan, though one way flights these days are hard to come by. More accurately, they are hard to come by where they don't cost the same as an unrestricted round trip. The journey became an experiment and I liked the idea of trying to fly on the most obscure airlines possible.
I started with a one way flight from Los Angeles to Paris for $249 on Air Tahiti Nui (perfect!) It was a standby flight and luckily I was the last one on the plane. This was particularly so since they only fly a few times a week and I would have been stuck in LA for who knows how long otherwise. Then with the good help of Madame Rochu in Paris, I got a one way ticket from Paris to Marrakech, Morocco, for 110 euros ($140) on a new airline, Atlas Blue. Great deal, but my backpack went to Montreal instead.
Morocco wasn't the best of times. Right after the backpack fiasco I had what can best be called severe bowel trauma on a toiletless wretched public bus to the coast. It could have gone spectacularly bad, but I was able to avert a catastrophe. Nonetheless, it scarred me mentally for the rest of the trip, the fear that my bowels were out of the realm of self-control.
Soon after I slipped down some cement steps at a port and went straight into the Atlantic Ocean, camera in hand.
The next day I stepped on a bee.
That was all within the first week. Later in Fes I struggled mightily to control myself and not kill two little boys that harassed me all over the medina.
I was unable to find a cheap way to get out of Morocco. I thought of flying back to Paris with Atlas Blue, but they insisted they don't fly to Paris. I insisted I had flown with them to Morocco, but they simply dismissed this with a curt, "No". When I protested, they said it must have been a codeshare.
"I have a photo of me standing in front of the freaking aircraft with a huge ATLAS BLUE on the side!!!!!"
This evidence was summarily cast aside with another maddening, "No."
Not ready to spend time in a Moroccan jail for firebombing their corporate offices, I decided to do the ballsy, true traveler thing and take the ferry to Spain, bus it to Malaga and just show up at Pablo Picasso airport and see if I could get a cheap last minute ticket out. Lots of risk in doing this, but it is what Young Kent Foster would have done.
At the airport I discovered that Spain doesn't have the same system of last minute flights like much of northern Europe has. I made too many assumptions since there are thousands of such last minute flights TO Spain. Even Turkey is set up with last minute travel agents in the airport, but Spain, no.
Disheartened, I gabbed with a travel agent who said that she did have a cheap flight tomorrow to either Duesseldorf or Frankfurt for 79 euros ($105) with a company called Aero Flight. Cha-ching! I like the fact that it was a new, unknown company with a strange name.
I went for Frankfurt.
Frankfurt is the world epicenter for cheap last minute flights. I gleefully went upstairs to the Reisemarkt and saw an endless row of travel agencies with their deals posted on the walls behind them. I checked them out and was disappointed that everything was more expensive than I thought, as they were all for package deals. I just wanted a one way flight.
I stopped in front of one agent and asked her if only package deals could be had. She said, no, but most people wanted that. "Where do you want to go?"
I said, "What do you have?"
Travel agents HATE being asked this as they think I am playing games with them. They just want to hear a place and two dates and nothing else. But this agent was different. She sat with me for a long time as she showed me the options on her computer screen, and when she found a deal too good to pass up, she was nearly as excited as I was. 39 euros ($55) round trip from Frankfurt to Marsa Alam, Egypt--including all taxes! Is that not the Holy Mother of all Deals?! It is a 4.5 hour flight each way. I'm still blown away by that.
On the plane none of the cabin crew I asked knew where Marsa Alam was. None of them could even pronounce it correctly. They were all going onward to another place and no one had ever been there.
I ended up at an airport quite literally in the middle of nowhere towards Sudan on the Red Sea, 70 km from the nearest town. I was the only one off the plane that wasn't on a pre-arranged package tour. There existed neither buses nor taxis. All of the police in all its forms I had to deal with (uniformed, plainclothes, unknown) didn't want to let me out of the area, but I said I would be fine as I walked way out to the main road and tried to hitchhike, which is not exactly legal nor especially safe.
I ended up getting very lucky and got a couple of long rides up north to Hurghada where I caught a late bus to Cairo.
I had done some research and schemed about using Air Arabia and maybe Daallo Airlines to see Ethiopia and Sudan on my way to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and India, but the prohibitive cost of visas for Americans these days made it hard to figure out a good route, and then the whole thing became moot when I found out my dad was in the hospital and I had to fly home just before Christmas.
My dad was fine by this spring so I went to Malaysia, Singapore and Japan for 2 months on a courier flight and some hocus pocus. Asia has always been my favorite part of the world. I have been to Japan 6 times now and Malaysia at least 10, I would guess.
The most memorable aspects of the trip revolved around hitchhiking. In Malaysia, on the same long day, I had a ride with three gay guys (one ended up vomiting), a religious zealot, and one driver, not 10 minutes after he picked me up, was in handcuffs and in the back of a police truck! We had stopped at a police checkpoint and I guess he was someone they were looking for. A plainclothes policeman in a funny loud batik shirt told me, "Your driver was arrested for an offence." I didn't stick around to get any details. I walked away as fast as I could after they let me go.
In Japan an older woman picked me up hitchhiking for a half hour ride and as I got out of her car she gave me 10,000 yen--about $100--and told me to get something to eat! I tried to refuse it but she insisted. On another day no less than four different policemen came by to see what I was up to with this whole hitchhiking thing. Most of the hostility they may have had towards me was mitigated when I went into me-no-speak-Japanese mode, which absolutely stumps them. One ended up driving me 20km(!), one wrote down my passport info, and one drew a map as a way of telling me not to stand on the highway, as if I was an idiot that needed this instruction.
It is now late June. I just got home and I am ill, tired, and jet-lagged.
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