Any More Questions?

Posted by on May 8, 2007 in Pre-Trip Planning | No Comments

I really appreciate all of the emails I’ve received recently from my readers. It’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve answered all of your questions. My, a lot of you are trying to program websites yourselves. My best advice it to keep it simple. Remember that you don’t need as extensive site as this one unless you will have the content. Also remember that I’m a professional designer and have some experience with web programming. You can’t learn this overnight, but you probably don’t need to if you just use a blog software like WordPress.

If you’ve sent me an email and I haven’t replied please try one more time—jumping from country to country and switching between webmail and downloading email onto my computer it’s possible I’ve overlooked an email or two.

Africa Advice

Posted by on Jan 11, 2007 in India, Pre-Trip Planning | 11 Comments

I am still soliciting any advice on Africa, including Egypt and Jordan, for my next leg. You guys know what I like, so let me know if there’s somewhere I just can’t miss. As for animals, giraffes, zebras and hippos are my top 3 so the big cats will just be a plus.

At the moment it’s looking likely that I will fly from Mumbai to Amman, Jordan in February. I’ve been quoted around $265 for the one-way fare, not bad. From there I will head to Egypt and then either fly or overland South. It figures that Bush would pre-bomb the areas on my itinerary. He’s always ruining my vacations with his “war on terror.” Doesn’t he realize that “the axis of evil” has the most interesting sites to see?

Where to in 2007?

Posted by on Dec 30, 2006 in India, Pre-Trip Planning | 4 Comments

With the new year coming up I find myself without a plan. My intentions have always been to follow India with Africa and I still intend to. The only problem is deciding where and how. Most of you know I love planning for trips almost as much at taking them but planning on the road is turning out not as fun as usual. There’s of course, a lack of printed materials at my disposal and I find myself depending on the internet for all of my information. Still, it’s surprising how difficult it is to find out when a good time to go to Tanzania is!

I’ve compiled a list of possible destinations along the East coast of Africa and their weather. The main problem is finding a route that is:

  1. Possible. I’m not sure my mom (or myself!) will survive if I overland Sudan. And I’m not sure I will have an opportunity to get a South African visa in advance so flying there isn’t my best option.
  2. Affordable. I love overlanding but to see a lot of ground in an acceptable amount of time I’m going to have to fly a bit. The only problem is that most routes seem to go through Kenya and South Africa (two countries that are not high on my priority list). Furthermore, Egypt isn’t considered “real Africa” or so I was told by a South African Airways agent. This means it isn’t linked nearly as well with the continent as I’d like.
  3. Comfortable. Who wants to be in Madagascar during the long rains? It’s going to take some planning to avoid both heavy rains and scoarching heat throughout the trip.
  4. Interesting. I want to see some giraffes and zebras but I still really prefer arts and culture. Should I be going to Mali instead?
  5. A Good Deal. Now that South African Airways has joined Star Alliance they’re offering an African air pass. It would also be possible to link Africa on a RTW ticket home. But does either make sense? Most European airlines require one to fly through their European hub to get anywhere in Africa and those miles count. I’ve looked at some airline route maps just to get an idea of what may be possible.

I’ll be speaking to a few travel agents once I hit Mumbai (Bobmbai) in the next week or two. I’m anxious to get to another big city with Western comforts but I’m heading off to Mt. Abu and the Ajanta and Ellora caves first. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about experiencing the present when the possibility of a new adventure lays ahead.

In any case, I think you’ll all be pleased that I’m still the same old Megan come this new year, even if I’m traveling. India is full of psuedo-hippies “finding themselves” by drinking bhang lassis and dreading their hair. I prefer to take my travel alongside some good fries and a fast internet connection.

Those that know me will not be surprised at how long I’ve been searching for a local store that sells the 2007 Moleskine daily planner. It wasn’t released yet when I left back in June or I would have brought it along—I always like my travel notebooks to match nicely. I’ve found this site which tells me where I can buy a Moleskine in person by continent and here’s a list of official dealers, including one in South Africa.

I hope everyone has a fun and safe New Year’s Eve. I’m staying in Udaipur and will be once again celebrating a holiday with Sui, the infamous on and off again travel partner I picked up in Tibet. Moleskine or not, I’m heading South and West toward home in 2007

I’m Off

Posted by on Jun 8, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning, South Korea | 11 Comments

Today is the day! In a few hours I get on a plane in Chicago and fly to Seoul with a brief plane change in Tokyo. I will arrive in Seoul around 7am Friday cst. Of course, it will be time to go to bed there so I have to plan my plane sleeping well. Because I am a complete procrastinator I was up until 4am sewing pockets into shorts, packing and getting ready. This morning I had to make the hard decision to leave my sleeping bag at home. It was taking up 1/4th my bag. After taking that out I was still tight for space—I’m not used to packing for cold climates. If I didn’t need a jacket my packing would be in a much better state. I got rid of one novel but the real space culprit is toiletries and medicine. Although I have resported to using bar soap for my hair in the past I’d prefer not to rely on it so the shampoo and conditioner stay.

Its a beaituful morning in Chicago, everyone enjoy it while I’m cooped up in a plane for the better part of a day. I’ll check in when I get settled in Seoul.

Visa Man Pulls Through

Posted by on Jun 5, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning, Uzbekistan | 4 Comments

I got my passport!!!

I don’t know if I have ever been so happy to see a FedEx man in my life. Thanks for worrying along with me, we can all now let out a sigh of relief.

Voicemail Runaround

Posted by on Jun 4, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning, Uzbekistan | 9 Comments

On Thursday I left a few messages with the Uzbekistan consulate in NYC about my passport. When I talk to an assistant I was told to call back at 5pm to speak with the man in charge of visas. When I called at 5pm I received voicemail again, but this time I had the visa man’s extension. You see, the Uzbek consulate and embassy only publish their main number on their web sites and visa applications.

Both agencies have automatic voicemail systems which you have to navigate. You first select the “visa and consular affairs” extension, which would make sense if anyone ever answered that extension. The embassy in D.C. then goes into an appropriate person’s voicemail. The man at this extension does not return calls at all, but at least you feel like you’ve gotten somewhere. However, the NYC consulate’s system than asks for your extension. If you do not know the extension you stay on the line or press 0. I have tried every combination of staying on the line, pressing 0 and even typing in random numbers in the hope that it is a valid extension to no avail. You have better luck stumbling onto hidden video game codes than reaching an actual person.

On the off chance that an actual human being answers the phone you will hear some static and possibly a utterance in a foreign language. Both stunned silence and loudly repeating “hello!” will bring an exasperated response, but not a disconnected call. But be aware that any time you reach an actual person they will “go to check on something”, put you on hold and ultimately disconnect you. When you try to call back the line will be busy for about an hour and then you will be routed through the voicemail maze again.

Luckily, after talking to the assistant on Thursday I asked for an extension number to call. For anyone trying to reach the Uzbek consulate for visa questions that number is 212-754-7403 x109. Surprisingly, my call was returned Thursday night at 9pm. But, assuming that a consulate would not be calling me at 10pm est, I was not home. A message was left with my mom to call back at 9am est Friday and that’s just what I did. Because I was worried about getting my passport back in time I was prepared with a FedEx account number. Not surprisingly, I was routed through the dreadful voicemail system again but this time armed with x109. I left a nice and appropriate message requesting my passport back because of my impending departure and sat by the phone waiting to hear back from the visa man or his assistant. After two hours past the time I was told to call I tried again, nothing. I continued to call every hour throughout the day and was met with either a busy signal or voicemail.

At 10pm est the visa man answered the phone. Naturally, after calling the consulate about 10 times my level of anger had continued to rise. While I was understanding and restrained at 9am, I was furious and accusatory at 10pm—not a good attitude to take with the man holding my passport hostage. I started out requesting my passport back and was surprised to find that he had no idea who I was. If someone left me 5 voicemails in one day I would certainly pay attention. Visa man insisted that I should have called at 9am when his assistant was around. I explained that I did call at 9, and at 10, and every hour until I finally reached him. He continued to insist that I had not and that there were no messages for him. I politely voiced my concern with his phone system and suggested his assistant talk to the phone company, because there must be a serious problem with their system.

At this point I had a captive audience and I was on a roll. I should have given the FedEx number to him and left it alone but I wanted to know what the hold up was. He told me that he was not allowed to disclose the problem with my application, but that it was just taking longer and he needed another week. I wondered aloud how he could hold my passport for more than the allotted 10 days (in this case he wanted 30!) without at the very least contacting me to inform me of it’s status. Visa man began to get annoyed and went on about how they can not keep calling and calling people and that some of the phone numbers I supplied were not working etc. It became clear that he was trying to contact my school, which I listed on my application. Now, I did just finish up classes and the information is totally legitimate, but there’s no way the school is going to return a random call from the Uzbek Consulate, let alone release any information about a student which is covered under privacy laws. One of my fellow students had complained that her very own mother, who paid her tuition, was not allowed to talk to her teacher without prior written consent.

So, wether the hold up was my college or the Uzbek hotel information I provided, I’m not sure. In any case, I now know that there really is no easy way to beat the system of bribes, extortion and red tape involved in getting a visa to Central Asia. Even without needing a LOI, it seems that you still have to go through an agency to get a visa to Uzbekistan.

At the end of the call visa man agreed to send my passport back via FedEx and to return my $100 money order. Given that it was a Friday night I don’t expect the package to be mailed until Monday. Although I requested it arrive by Tuesday, I still have no idea if it will actually happen. I will brave the voicemail maze again on Monday to check that it’s being shipped, but I am not keeping my hopes up that I will be given a tracking number.

Passport Update

Posted by on Jun 2, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning, Uzbekistan | 8 Comments

With seven days to go I am still waiting on my passport. After phone tag with the Uzbek Consulate in NYC I have discovered that they are holding it hostage. One would assume that the processing time would be 5 days—which is normal—but the Uzbek Consulate asks for 10. Even with 10 days of processing, weekends and mailing time I should have received it by now. From the message I got last night all I know is that they had some “questions.” I am not sure if they were trying to communicate these questions to me telepathically, because they never called me during the 16 days they have had my passport, application and $100 money order. Today I am sitting by the phone waiting for a phone call so I can request to have my passport sent back. At this point I am doubtful that I will be issued a visa, for whatever reason, but at the very least I need that passport to board my flight to Seoul next Thursday.

Hey There, Old Friends

Posted by on May 31, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning | 3 Comments

Welcome back Phase 1 subscribers!

It took me longer than expected to get the email notification working after Me-Go’s redesign, but it is finally back. If you received an email asking you to confirm your request it’s because you were on my previous list of subscribers. Now, of course, it’s possible that you didn’t want to hurt my feelings by unsubscribing last time and that’s okay. Only my immediate family is forbidden from unsubscribing (namely my little brother) so I won’t take it personally if you don’t respond to the confirmation email. Let’s just say that I will assume that you’ve changed email addresses or were eaten by wolves and aren’t deliberately trying to avoid me.

All of my new readers are welcome to subscribe as well. Basically, what it does is email you every time there’s a new post in this blog. As the Phase 1 subscribers know, sometimes on the road the blog can go a week or so without updates. There’s internet in most of the world, but I don’t think it’s reached the Gobi Desert yet! Personally, I prefer to subscribe to blogs, otherwise I will forget to check them. Of course, there is also a RSS feed on the bottom of the sidebar on the right hand side of this page as well for those of you who prefer RSS readers.

The subscription interface is located in the sidebar under the “extras” section. Or you can simply follow this link. You can also unsubscribe there as well. However, if you are in my immediate family and you unsubscribe I will just re-subscribe you, so don’t waste your time, Jason.

If you weren’t checking in because you had not received emails then you’ve missed a lot of the pre-trip planning going on for the fast few months. If that interests you check out the Pre-Trip Planning category on in the sidebar or look through the past few months of archives, also in the sidebar. The basic details are: I’m leaving next Thursday, June 8th and will spend six days in Seoul, South Korea before flying to Mongolia. I’ve worked out a rough route for visa and weather-planning purposes in this post.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy my trip as much as I plan to.

iPod Surgery

Posted by on May 29, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning | 4 Comments

I am a big Macintosh fan. My school didn’t use computers growing up and we were a PC household—my dad liked to build his own computers out of spare parts. When I began college I was exposed to the world of Apple Computer. Most people who know me probably think it was the bright design, but this was back before the iMac came out.

In any case, Macs have been my computer of choice for the last 11 years. When the iPod came out I was in love. It was well designed, matched my white iBook and was something coveted by PC users, but only available to Mac users! Now, of course, Apple makes iPods that work with PCs. My iPod is a 2nd generation model, manufactured in 2002, and it traveled with me all around Asia during phase 1.

Unfortunately, over the years the battery has worn down. At best, it held a charge for 10 hours, but now it’s closer to 2 hours. That’s not very long at all when I’m regularly faced with 24 hour train rides so I decided to replace the battery. Rather than go through Apple, I decided to do it myself for less than 1/3rd the price. Of course, with a device as old as mine there is no warranty to void so I popped off the back cover and got to work.

Replacing my iPod battery

The inside of the iPod is not too scary, but getting the back off took a lot of work. In fact, even with the plastic pry tools provided I managed to draw blood. But what’s a little blood and sweat between me and my iPod? The new battery only charged half way overnight and I was worried that going through a third party dealer was a bad idea. After a frantic email to customer support I realized that my outlet was too overloaded and moved it to it’s own outlet—apparently my iPod is a primadonna, but I guess I would be too if I was that pretty.

Right now it’s playing Sufjan Stevens in an attempt to test the battery life. The battery manufacturer promises to double the life of the original battery, possibly up to 20 hours. If this holds true I will be one happy traveler.

Came in for Typhoid, Came out with Rubella

Posted by on May 25, 2006 in Pre-Trip Planning | No Comments

On Monday I went to Germbusters, my friendly neighborhood clinic for travel vaccinations and infectious diseases. I really just wanted my Typhoid shot because it had been two years since my last one. Of course, I was prepared for the Typhoid shot, plus the consultation and injection fees—which should have been around $100. However, I was persuaded to get the meningitis and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations as well. There was recently an outbreak of mumps in the Midwest United States and it was soon clear that those of us that only got one shot as children required a booster. I was required to have a meningitis vaccination before starting college, but that was over ten years ago! I was due.

Interestingly, the one shot I went in for turned out not to be a shot at all. Typhoid can still be administered as a shot, but it is also now available in a series of four pills to be taken at home. I opted for the pills, because they are the same price as the shot, but without the additional injection fee. At the end of my appointment I walked out $260 poorer with two sore arms, a fistful of prescriptions and a cooled live typhoid vaccine in my bag.

Meningitis shot Live typhoid in my fridge

If you are looking to vaccinate yourself for an upcoming trip be sure to shop around at a few clinics, as prices can vary greatly. Here’s the breakdown:

$56 Typhoid, oral
$89 Meningococcal
$55 MMR-II
$35 Office visit
$25 Injection fee (2 shots)

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