Splette's Travel Blog
  • Complications
  • July21st

    I lost it. Again. What? Well, usually it starts with something simple such as a towel that put somewhere in my dorm room on the hostel for drying and forget when checking out. This time the first item I lost was my Kenneth Cole body wash. Left it in the shower of my nice hostel in Washington DC. Now, several months later the list of lost items has grown considerably:

    • Lens cap of my camera (quite expensive for a piece of plastic)
    • Insanely cool Adidas SL72 sneakers
    • Favourite blue Urban Outfitter shirt with the Japanese flag
    • New Ray-Ban sunglasses I bought only 2 months ago in Knoxville
    • NIKE hoodie that my gym mates Mai and Aixiao gave me
    • Useful Swiss-made universal travel adapter

    …and three socks (needless to say, each from a different pair)

    The only item I ever lost and found again, of course, is entire value- and useless: an oversized safety pin that I used to fix the broken zipper of my jeans. I lost it one of the many times I slipped and fell during the Santiaguito volcano expedition. My fellow explorers Loreen and Rene found it during our return trip and I got it back. The jeans in turn were shredded to pieces by the many falls and I parted from then voluntarily.

    Farewell beloved Adidas sneakers

    Adidas SL72

    Adios, my insanely cool raccon eyes

    Ray-Ban sunglasses

    Good bye my dear dark-blue NIKE hoodie. I will miss your sweaty smell...

    NIKE hoodie

    Update: In the meantime I lost more stuff: swimming trunks, ear phones

  • July20th

    This is one of those stories that make traveling fun. After over three weeks in Guatemala it was time for me to move on to El Salvador. I booked a Pullmantur bus to the capital San Salvador. The bus trip turned out to be surprisingly comfortable with a free meal, soft drinks, snacks, the obligatory Richard Gere movie (‘Hachi: A dog’s tale‘) and free WiFi throughout the entire trip, yeah! You have no idea how happy it makes me to be able to email and blog throughout my bus ride. Hours pass like minutes. And this trip took an hour more than expected. Or did I enter a new time zone? Around 8:30 pm we arrived in zona rosa of San Salvador. Nope, that’s not the gay area. But it is the safest zone in the city. That’s relevant when you realize that El Salvador is currently the country with the highest murder rate in the entire world, 80 times higher than Germany! So, unlike some other bus stations I had seen during my travels there was nothing to worry about right here in front of the Sheraton Hotel in zona rosa. A bunch of taxi drivers were awaiting us. I asked how much? ‘Five Dollars’ (by the way US dollars are the official currency in El Salvador). I had no idea what a realistic taxi fare would be but figured that down the street prices might be lower than here in front of the Sheraton. I said no and started walking away. The taxi drivers though managed to change my mind. Only 5 steps of walking and the fare had dropped to $3. Fine. My driver spoke no English but who cares. First, I had to withdraw some cash. When changing my Guatemalian Quetzales to Dollars at the border I got ripped off by about $10. During the bus trip I had looked up nearby ATMs of Scotiabank online and the closest was still too far to walk, so the cab had to get me there. The driver asked if he should wait and I said yes, because this place looked deserted and I didn’t see any other taxis around. I withdrew a few hundred Dollars (they are, without question, the most useful currency in Central America) and got back into the car. The driver was talking on the phone with someone. I asked the guy to bring me to my LonelyPlanet-guided choice of accommodation for tonight. He didn’t know of any ‘Casa Huéspedes de Australia’ though, so I gave him the address. We drove for about 5 min; the area looked dark and industrial, not very much like the neighborhood with restaurants, parks, and a major shopping center around which the hostel was supposed to be located. How strange… Then the driver indicated that he is going to take a shortcut – at least that is what I understood from his Spanish-speaking and hand-waving – and turned into a small and pitchblack side street. Oh no, that couldn’t possibly be the shortest way to the hostel. I had studied the map and the hostel is very close to a big boulevard. That was the moment when I got a little nervous.
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  • June24th

    Revised itinerary – cheating my way to Guatemala

    I’m on my way to Guatemala. By plane! Violating my self-set goal of not using airplanes to advance my itenerary. But well, I had to. Already a month ago, I had decided to not cross the Mexican border by bus for safety concerns. To be able to re-enter the US a second time in April, I had bought a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Mexico city. But as always my plans changed again and I stayed in San Francisco for a little longer. Eventually I had to fly from there directly to Guatemala skipping Mexico altogether to meet Marissa, my long-term couchsurfing friend (she surfed mine, I surfed her’s). Marissa is going to accompany me for the next three weeks in Guatemala. Finally, I got a temporary travel companion again. She also a Spanish teacher. So, there is a slight chance that poco a poco I might pick up a bit of Spanish along the way…
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  • June4th

    Evolution of itineraries

    The sharpest amongst my visitors (Sampath was first) will have noticed that my current route significantly deviates from my initial plan. The reason was simply the weather. Backpacking in the cold is no fun (I didn’t take any photos of Montreal because I was afraid my fingers would quick-freeze and fall off instantly) and after a seemingly never-ending winter in the North (New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Fredericton) I arrived in Chicago in late April and is was still cold two out of the fours days I spent there. Enough. I changed my plans: visiting Oak Ridge National Lab and friends in Tennessee for a week, I decided to move further downwards and visit New Orleans, Austin, TX (what a nice discovery), Albuquerque, NM (an unplanned stop over), Flagstaff, AZ (lots of craziness and a great travel companion), Sedona & the Grand Canyon (just wow), Las Vegas (ridiculous, decadent, fun). As I hoped there was great weather all along the way and I finally arrived in San Francisco now. I have no regrets about my change of plans. On the other hand I missed Minneapolis, Yellowstone National Park, Vancouver, Portland and Seattle. Another time…

    PS. I have updated all maps on the website accordingly

  • June1st

    An adult bed bug. (image: United States Department of Health and Human Services)

    Cimex lectularius

    Well, thanks very much for the advice but too late. I got bitten by bed bugs all over my legs. I haven’t caught any of them but I know it was them. There are no mosquitoes here and I have no allergies etc. It started with an itch, now I got red spots all over. Not sure where this first started. Maybe the weird hostel in Albuquerye, NM or the otherwise very nice, shoe-disappearing hostel in Flagstaff, AZ. Either way, I hope I won’t be carrying them with me all over the Americas…

    The last time I remember to be bitten by bed bugs was in the infamous Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong in 2003.

  • May28th

    Have you seen these shoes? Let me know...

    Adidas SL72

    I’m at a very nice hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona, ready to see the Grand Canyon. Unlike the last hostel in Albuquerque this one has a nice international atmosphere. Late last night I was doing some work (SciStyle). When I went to bed I decided to leave my shoes outside the room in consideration of my roommates and for the sake of air quality… My German roommate had done the same with his black Nikes. When I got up at 6:30 am (!) they were gone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. From all the things I expected to get stolen during this trip, my 9 months old smelly sneakers were the last thing I had in mind. Looks like Adidas sneakers are more popular than Nike. 🙂
    I loved those pair of blue Adidas Originals with white stripes. But I was planning to buy new ones, soon anyway. I still got my gym shoes, so I won’t have to hike the Grand Canyon in my flip-flops.

  • May25th

    Illegal immigration is a big issue here in the United States. Most of the immigrants are from Latin America and get into the United States by crossing the border to Mexico. The border is 3169 km (1969 miles) long, difficult to secure and much of the area is desert (Wikipedia has more information on the border and illegal immigration to the U.S.).

    Recently I met a boy from Mexico who illegally crossed the border twice. I found his story so fascinating that I asked him for an interview.

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  • April14th

    That is only the first of many questions I have been asked when re-entering the U.S. after my month-long stay in Germany. When passing U.S. immigration, besides leaving your fingerprints and a photo, you also have to answer a few questions about the purpose of your trip. If your answers don’t add up to a convincing story, you get the ‘special treatment’. No, not that special treatment but a complimentary Q&A session at the Customs and Border Protection. According to their website the CBP is the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the United States.

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  • March6th

    After Toronto I went back to New York. At the border my concerns about my 90-day visa waiver turned out to be justified. I did not get a new visa waiver when I entered the US. Therefore I will have to leave the country within a few weeks. There’s also news from Sony about my laptop. They replaced the screen. But they managed to break the harddisk. Apparently now all my data on it is lost (I got backup of the most important stuff).
    So, I made the decision to come back to Germany for a little vacation and relax from all the chaos. I’ll need to reinstall all my software and finally take care of my taxes. I will be flying to Berlin in a few weeks and also spend some time at home. I probably won’t come to Heidelberg though. I’ll let you know when I know the exact travel dates…

  • March1st

    As usual (during traveling in general / me traveling in particular) unforeseen things happen. My plans change on a daily basis but then again that’s part of the fun…
    First, my almost new laptop broke which is why I am mostly offline for the moment, relying on the occasional free wifi to go online with my trusted Android. Getting the laptop picked up for repair would deserve a blog post on its own… In short, I spent much time on the phone with some nice but clueless kid in a call center somewhere in India. The phone connection wasn’t good and after endless spelling of my not-so-short surname, address, serial number of laptop, model number, date of purchase, phone number, etc… the guy suddenly asked: “You are from Germany. May I ask you a question, sir?” That’s after he asked my a dozen questions, so I was confused. “Do you know a band called Rammstein?”. I reply yes and what follows is another half a dozen questions about their popularity in Germany now and back then, their songs and especially the lyrics (“Du hast…”, “Du hast mich…”, “Du hast mich gefragt…”). Remind you, all this chit chat on a hotline where conversations are randomly recorded and reviewed for quality control purposes. Anyway, the laptop will be gone for a few weeks which feels like cold withdrawal to me…
    Second, my U.S. SIM card doesn’t work in Canada. Pretty harmless, especially since I rely a lot more on wifi (that’s easy to find just about anywhere) than texting/phone.
    Third, my credit card. When I shipped off the laptop at some FedEx, I forgot my credit card there. I realized that about an hour later. Thankfully, someone gave it to the manager and I got it back. Lucky me. However, since that incident the card is declined wherever I try to use it. No good. Did someone go on a shopping spree with it? Need to call VISA and find out…
    Four, might have some bigger impact on my plans. My visa waiver for the US is expiring sooner than expected. I got a three months waiver when I entered the United States. But I was hoping when I leave the country and go to Canada, then come back to the US I would get a new waiver valid for another three months. Apparently not. For certain administrative purposes the US and Canada count as the same. Now I have two options: cut my trip short and move on to Mexico (skipping Chicago, Vancouver, California etc.) or to leave the country by plane for a short ‘vacation of the vacation’ and then come back to resume the journey.