A Travellerspoint blog

March 2007

A Tale from Nowhere

Off the beaten track in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

sunny 26 °C
View Tanzania 2005 on GregW's travel map.

In my job, I spend a lot of time sitting around on airplane and in airports with not much to entertain me. So I tend to use that time to read. I just finished reading a book called Tales from Nowhere: Unexpected Stories from Unexpected Places, a collection of short stories that explores travellers' visits to places that are off the beaten path, places that both make us lonely and free us at the same time.

That got me thinking about the most off the beaten path place that I have been. I suppose the most likely passport stamp that I would have that other North American or European travellers wouldn't have would be Mongolia. However, probably the most obscure place I have been was broken down on the road between Stone Town and Kendwa on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania.

20050207 1.. Marker.JPG

I wrote about my trip from Stone Town to Kendwa back in 2005 when I was in Tanzania, but didn't mention this story. There's two reasons for that. The first is that my blog entry was all about how crumby a day I was having, and this brief interlude of interest didn't fit into the theme. The second reason, and probably more important, was that I didn't know at the time what would stick with me. Often when I travel I find myself thinking one thing about a place during the trip, but years later find myself remembering other things. Now, when I think of Kendwa, instead of thinking about the crappy day of dull spice tours and van breakdowns and broken swimsuit trunks, I think of different things.

I remember trying durian fruit, and having my pee smell like rotting garbage for the next two days. I remember a beautiful french girl staying at the same resort as I, and her tiny red bikini. A better man would have hit on her, instead of I just watching her from afar.

But most of all, I remember the experience I had waiting for that new van.

I was in a van that was on it's way north from Stone Town towards Kendwa. About half way there, the van started making all manner of strange and not healthy sounding noises. We pulled over at some small town garage to have the van looked at, and the van was pronounced dead. We would have to wait a couple of hours for a new van to arrive.

There was myself and a couple from Poland in the van, and we disembarked and hung around the garage waiting for the new van to show. Soon we were surrounded by a gaggle of small children. The woman from the Polish couple actually spoke Swahili, and that amazed the children, who spent most of the time giggling and running away, then approaching close again. They were especially taken with the Polish woman's blond hair, which a few of the braver ones actually touched (at her invitation).

We gave the children some gum, but apparently they had never seen gum before and were unsure what to do with it. We tried to teach them how to chew the gum, but they refused. The van driver explained to us that the only other white people these children would have likely seen would have been doctors, and thus they were suspcious of anything given to them by whites, as it was most likely medicine and thus not very tasty.

Finally the new van arrived, and we set out on our way north again. The children laughed and waved and said goodbye. It was such a nice experience, because so often in Arusha and Stone Town, people approaching and interacting with you are doing so because they are trying to sell you a tour. It was nice not to be the "target" during an interaction for a change, and to let yourself be fully open and unguarded in interacting with the people.

Posted by GregW 05:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Goodbye to the Left Coast

Living liberally in Seattle, Washington, USA

overcast 8 °C
View Work Trips 2007 on GregW's travel map.

On Monday, March 12th I flew in to Seattle from Toronto, and after a full day of work, was tired and didn't feel like doing anything elaborate for dinner. So I just wandered across the street from my hotel to the Subway sandwiches for some dinner. The man behind the counter had an eyebrow ring and a tattoo on his neck. Someone with a tattoo on their neck wouldn't be able to get a job in a Subway back in Toronto. But out here, on the left coast, it's all cool, man...

The Pacific coast of North America, encompassing the states of California, Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia are often sterotyped as liberal, laidback and alternative, at least compared to the eastern coasters in New York, Boston and Washington D.C. (the other Washington). This is a sterotype that has a certain amount of truth, whether it is drug decriminalization in Oregon, gay politicians in British Columbia or tough pollution restrictions in California.

Whether the liberal bias is true or not, Seattle is not helping it's case with one of it's art installations.

In the area of Fremont, just down the street from a massive art installation of a giant under bridge troll...


Is a statue of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bloshevik and head of the communist USSR from 1917 until 1924.


Why, you ask, is a statue of Lenin, communist leader, placed in a public square outside a fast food Taco restaurant? The statue was created by Emil Venkov in 1988, it stood for less than a year in Poprad, Slovakia before being toppled in 1989.

Seattle resident Lewis Carpenter bought the statue as part of a business venture to open an eastern European restaurant in Seattle. He died before his restaurant got going, and his family donated the statue to the Fremont business district to display until someone buys it. Asking price: $150,000.

That's the how - but I know what you are really wondering is the why. I'll leave that to the Freemont Chamber of Commerce to explain, as written on the plaque accompanying the statue:

Lenin in Freemont: Right or Wrong?
The presence of this sculpture has evoked a wide range of responses. If art is supposed to make us feel, not just feel good, then this sculpture is a successful work of art. The challenge is to understand that this piece means different things to different peple and to learn to listen to each other and respect different opinions. From an artist's standpoint, all points of view are valid and important.

Art Outlives Politics
The sculpture is placed here in the Artist's Republic of Freemont, as a symbol of an artistic spirit that outlasts regimes and ideologies, and as tangible prrof that art does outlive politics.



And with that, my entries on Seattle end. On Tuesday we had a client meeting that went well, and on Wednesday we completed our work and I caught a flight for the last time back to Toronto. I said goodbye to the 8 people who I have been working with for the last two months, and that's all. It's sad to say goodbye to people you have been working with over the past two months, sharing a office with. But that is part of the consulting gig - always moving on.

And so I move on. And new adventures await, some place new...

Posted by GregW 11:20 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

Fine dining, assuming the rotation doesn't make you queasy

Sky City Restaurant, Space Needle, Seattle, WA, USA

sunny 6 °C
View Work Trips 2007 on GregW's travel map.

John Graham Jr. was born in 1908 in Seattle, and must have admired his father very much, because he followed his father's footsteps and became an architect. His father was a famed architect who designed many of the buildings in Seattle. After graduating from Yale in 1931, John Graham the Junior developed quite a career designing shopping malls across America. In 1961, he was hired to design a mall in Honolulu called the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Looking around, he said to himself, "gosh, there is a nice view in every direction. Wouldn't it be great if someone eating at the restaurant could get all these views, instead of just one view." He then put on his favorite record of 1961, "Tossin' and Turnin'" by Bobby Lewis and watched as the record revolved around and around at 45 rpm, and it suddenly hit him. "THE RESTAURANT SHOULD REVOLVE!"

The next year, he returned home to Seattle, where they were just starting to build their Space Needle for the 1962 World Fair. Looking at Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains to the west, the Cascade range to the East, Lake Union to the north and Mount Rainier to the south, he thought to himself, "I could save a lot of work if I just reuse that tacky revolving restaurant design I used in Honolulu last year..." And thus was born The Eye of the Needle, billed as the world's first revolving restaurant (despite the fact that La Ronde in Honolulu, designed by the same architect, was already spinning in the South Pacific).



As a relatively seasoned traveller, I like to think that I am beyond the point to be wowed by tourist sites. I've seen Niagara Falls too many times to even be thrilled by it. I've been up the Eiffel Tower, but how can that compare to sitting around in a cafe on a side street in Paris. I'm there to experience the "real" place, not the place where one is most likely to run into other tourists.

Thus, I could (and did) easily cast aside the experience of being atop the Space Needle in one of my past entries on Seattle. It was touristy and crowded and not really that indicative of the place that I was visiting. It was not a place, much like Toronto's CN Tower, that locals bother visiting.

Upon booking a reservation for four at the Sky City restaurant, the new name of the revolving restaurant atop the Space Needle, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

Every so often in one's experiences, though, one is taken aback by the joy of an experience that one would think they would just detest. An example of this was a trip I made to Vancouver back in 2002, when my friend said, "I've rented a stretch limo for us to cruise around in tonight!"

(An aside - Sarabeth and Kathryn - I swear, I am going to mention you in my blog very, very soon. Just stick through this one small story, and you'll be featured prominently).

Now, I'd been in a limo before, back when I was a teen-ager and underage drinker and heading to prom. But frankly, as a 34 year old I was pretty sure I was beyond the point of being impressed by a limo, and was pretty sure I would just be rolling my eyes and sighing all night.

But a strange thing happened as we cruised around in our stretch limo, listening to banging rock and roll music and drinking imported beers. I started to really enjoy it. What I thought would be a tacky and embarrassing experience became something that was absolutely and totally fun.

And thus it was at Sky City on Wednesday night, revolving around at 1 revolution per 47 minutes looking out at Seattle at night, eating very pricey seafood and drinking very pricey beer and having an absolutely fantastic time.



Myself, and three co-workers, Trebor, Sarabeth and Kathryn had booked a 6:15 reservation at the revolving restaurant. I wasn't expecting too much. But soon we were having a good time, laughing and enjoying appetizers. And then the first card appeared.

Kathryn and Sarabeth, the coolest people on the planet enjoying the coolest dessert on the planet.

The Sky City restaurant revolves, but the windows stay still, and so any item left on the window still will soon recede from you and start approaching your fellow dinners. As we sat there, a card appeared on the window sill.

"My name is Laura, and I am from San Francisco. Where are you from?" We grabbed the card, and quickly wrote down our information.

Sarabeth - Washington, DC
Kathryn - Louisville, Kentucky
Trebor - Princeton, NJ
Greg - Toronto, Canada

More cards followed - "What's your favorite song?" "What is your favorite animal?" "What's the best advice you've ever received?" (the answer to that was "you don't want to date me, I'll just end up hurting you." Unfortunately, I didn't listen. But it was really, excellent advice.). All the cards were written by children, and all were obviously having a great time.

Dinner was very good (though the price was quite high - YIKES), but the key item was dessert. The signature item of Sky City, dating back to the days of the 1962 world fair, is the Lunar Orbiter, a hot fudge sundae presented in swirls of dry-ice Seattle "fog."


And so I found myself quite enjoying what I felt I shouldn't have. It's not hte first time that's occurred recently - the same thing happened during my "all-inclusive vacation" in Panama. Perhaps I'm growing, learning to accept more and be less judgemental of experiences.

But then again, perhaps I'm just getting old and searching for better ways to justify my desires for comfort.


Posted by GregW 19:46 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Where’s a Federal Air Marshall When You Need One?

High Attitude, high tension from Seattle, Washington to Reno, Nevada

View Work Trips 2007 on GregW's travel map.

The two drunks were sitting across the aisle and one row behind me on the flight were getting louder, and I was starting to question the wisdom of the flight attendants who had served them the double jack and Cokes (with not much in the way of Coke). I’m not positive that trying to reason or argue with drunk people is a very good idea, so I just looked out the window and tried to ignore the constant stream of swear words. However, another passenger decided to take a different approach, and the man sitting two rows behind me finally told them to be quiet.

“Why don’t you come over here and shut me up,” one of the drunks asked, his tone suddenly nasty. “Now, why don’t you shut up and f**k off.”

This was not going to be the best flight I’d been on.

  • * *

I take a lot of flights, but usually take them at very specific times to very specific places. The Monday morning and Thursday night flights are mostly full of people travelling on business, and most often pretty frequent flyers. Add to that the locations that I am flying - Newark, Seattle, San Francisco or Atlanta are large metropolitan areas with lots of business going on. On those early Monday or late Thursday flights, you pretty much get a plane full of people who have done this before, do it regularly, know what to do and aren't likely to be taking much joy in the process of travelling from point A to point B.

Occasionally, though, I fly on days other than Monday and Thursday or to locations that are more known as tourist destinations rather than places to work. Such a flight was my Wednesday night flight from Seattle to Reno. I was going down to Reno to spend a few days working, but there was a large subset of the plane that was going down to Reno for fun. Reno is the second or third largest city in Nevada (depending on whose stats you use), and in addition to the obvious draw of Nevada's legalized gambling and sports betting, the self-proclaimed "Biggest Little City In the World" is also only 35 km from Lake Tahoe and some amazing Nevada and California skiing.



Given those draws, the better portion of my mostly empty Alaska Air flight was filled with kids going skiing and grandparents going gambling, and to be expected of those going on vacation, they were already starting their good times with a few drinks at the bar.

As has become almost expected as of late, our departure time came and went, and we soon learned that we would be delayed 2 hours, meaning we would not land in Reno until 12:30 in the morning. I, having a full day of work ahead of me on Thursday, took the time to read quietly and do mental calculations in my head of how much sleep I was going to get. Some of those going on vacation, though, took the opportunity to imbibe even more alcohol.

Finally we boarded our flight, and I took my seat in an empty row near the front of the plane. In the row ahead of me sat a man who was dressed in clothes that immediately made me think protestant minister, and I assumed that he was going to Reno something more akin to work rather than the sinful pleasures of gambling. Across the aisle from him were two youngish (i.e. my age, so we'll call them youngish) men who were happy and loud, obviously mostly drunk and loud enough that the entire plane soon knew that they were from Victoria, Canada, they had been delayed 7 times today in trying to get to Reno, they passed the time of their delays by drinking, and their plans were to gamble tonight and ski tomorrow.

A few rows back a man boarded with a wild beard and hair down to the small of his back. He stumbled to his seat with bloodshot eyes, and collapsed into his seat in a bit of a heap. This amused the youngish Victorians to no end, and soon enough the more rambunctious of the two had moved to sit down beside the wild man with his wild hair. As the flight progressed, and the two drank more and more double rum and cokes (easy on the coke), they got louder and louder, more foul with their language and nastier with their tone.

Now, I'm pretty thick skinned and have no expectations of comfort on flights, so I did my best to ignore the two and read my book. Some of the other passengers didn't take the disturbance in stride though, and soon there was a few heated exchanges between cranky, sober passengers telling the drunkards to shut up, and the drunkards, cursing the sober passengers, laughing manically, and then trying to make friendly conversation with their tormenters, which just seemed to irk people even more.

There was one exchange between the drunken Victorian and a man who I can only describe as looking like Willy Nelson, if Willy Nelson had his nose chewed off by a mountain lion. He looked like the kind of guy that you wouldn't want to mess with, the kind of guy who lived in the mountains and wrestled bears for fun. But the drunken Victorian, who looked a lot like a guy who worked in an office - not exactly in fighting shape, certainly not to take on a wild, frontier man - was not deterred.

Finally, the protestant minister look-a-like sitting in front of me rang his call button, and whispered something to the flight attendant when she came by. We landed, and things were heating up in the cabin between the drunken Victorian and Willy Nelson, when the captain came on asked everyone to take their seats as security was boarding the plane.

Two Reno airport cops boarded the plane, and the protestant minister look-a-like pointed at the wild haired guy with the bloodshot eyes, the drunken Victorian who had been talking smack to Willy Nelson, and his rather surprised friend, who admittedly was a little loud before the flight took off, but had been pretty quiet most of the flight. The more drunk of the Victorians cursed, and the cop, putting on his best "respect my authority" look, told the Victorian he'd better, "watch his language, son," which was especially funny to me because the cop and the drunk were about the same age, though I didn't laugh. Laughing didn't strike me as an especially bright thing to do in the tense atmosphere of the plane.

The cops escorted the men off the plane, the one quieter Victorian looking somewhat dumbfounded and sheepish, but the other two (the wild man and Willy Nelson's tormenter) looking defiant, which I chalked up to either complete drunken ignorance or some sort of misguided stand against the man. Either way, I didn't figure that the Victorians would be doing much gambling tonight.

I, it being almost 1 in the morning, wasn't interested in doing much gambling either. I just wanted to get to my hotel and fall into a comfy bed and sleep. Sometimes the most taxing thing about travelling is the fact that you sometimes have to share a tight space with other people...

Posted by GregW 18:56 Archived in USA Tagged air_travel Comments (5)

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