Wednesday, March 21, 2018

African Penguins

Me with African Penguin
There were penguins all over the beach in the Cape, and you can smell them. Did you know there's only one species of penguins in Africa? It's the Spheniscus demersus, common name African Penguin or Jackass Penguin; they like to hee-haw. Spheniscus, by the way, means small wedge, probably because when they walk they look like wedges. Demersus means to plunge. Being diving birds, they're little wedges that plunge into the water. These particular species are endangered.

My professor in marine biology said that penguins stink, and they do, because they defecate a lot. Apparently, their guano makes good fertilizer. The professor said they're very oily and if you chop off their heads and put a wick in them, they make brilliant candles. The students were horrified at such a comment.

(Did you know that penguins do exist in warm places too? They go as far North as the Galapagos, which is close to the Equator. I got that question wrong on my professor's test and never forgot it. That was 16 years ago!)

The difference amongst these penguins and the ones I saw in the Galapagos and Chile and New Zealand is that they're more into people. They're not as afraid of them. And to take that selfie, the penguin actually bit my sweater but stopped after awhile. When the other tourists saw that he wasn't mean, they also took photos close to him. I don't think I've ever been so close to penguins before.

Besides being endangered, the African Penguin has only two main colonies: Here on the Cape and on the coast of Namibia.

My host said I wasn't that too impressed with them when I saw them. That's probably because I've seen a number of rafts of penguins around the world.

Nonetheless, I have to admit that when I saw one jump into that water and glide in their like a zipping and zagging submarine, I was very impressed. I even saw one catch a fish swimming in the water. He just opened his beak and chased one and clamped his beak on it. Impressive little creatures.

A Dussie - a gigantic hamster related to an elephant - not a rodent.
Notice it's teeth; those turned into tusks in the elephant.

Me on a run at the beach again.

I found this furry friend by the beach.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

My Days in Cape Town, South Africa - the Lion's Head.

 Me at the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
While flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town, I saw that the mountain ridges resembled the spine of a dragon, and I was in awe. Perhaps the great mountain was really just that: A sleeping dragon, ready to wake. And when it does, the earth will quake and tremble and shatter. Plumes of smoke will rise from the great pits of the black abyss and sulphur and cosmic fire will rain on us all. But for now; the petrified dragon rests in an uncertain peace - the peace the ancient earth inherited when it was born. How long that peace will last though; no one knows. My boxing coach always told me: There's a beginning and an end. But I wonder: Is that really true? 

I told the lady sitting next to me, "The mountains here look incredible." She asked me if I was my first time here, and I said it was. She was quiet and charming and soft-spoken lady, who looked Indian. I thought she was a doctor - because she was reading medical literature.

I came to Cape Town not knowing anyone and not having any plans. I didn't even have a place to stay. Imagine if you did that. Show up to a place without any plans. Not a way to travel for those who need control.

 I sorted it out though and ended up in a hostel on Long Street. Accommodation is expensive in Cape Town; so, I had to go back to a hostel.

My taxi driver told me: "Oh, man, you're not gonna sleep tonight. The noise is gonna be loud and keep you up. This is the party place, man."

And that it was. I was in the center of Cape Town and the rhythm and the pounding beat and the partying and the drugs and the sex and the prostitution filled the air of Long Street. (In fact, Long Street first started as a hub for sailors to meet hookers and booze up.) It was hard for me to sleep, not because of the noise, but more because of the jet lag.

Being back in a hostel meant I would meet new people again. I met the good and the bad.

The good first. I met a Japanese guy named Naoto - who was staying in my room. I was impressed with him because he had traveled for 9 months in Africa on a budget of $4,500 USD. THat's incredible. He was sick of Africa though, because he was tired of African people making fun of him and calling him China man. So, he was moving on to India.
Lion's Head (c) Wikipedia

Before he left though, we hiked up a mountain called the Lion's Head. It's 669 meters high or 2,195. Naoto and I weren't prepared to hike the Lion's Head, because we were originally going to the beach, but midway through - Naoto wanted to hike the Lion's Head and see the sunset from there.

I told the taxi driver to stop. The taxi driver was from Pakistan. Naoto visited Pakistan and told him all about it. The Pakistani driver gave us a discount for it. That was nice.

The problem is that we were in flip flops and had no water. But we chose to climb up the mountain. There were a lot of tourists hiking the trail. They mostly seemed from Germany.

Naoto, random Israeli guy, me
(from left to right). 
On our way to the trail, an Israeli guy caught up to us. He was very talkative and extroverted. He liked Naoto, because he was obsessed with Japan. He told us about all the places he went to Japan, and Naoto was impressed. (In fact, I told Naoto that I wasn't that interested in Japan, because of my experience in Tokyo.) We found out he was a flight attendant, and he was about to quit, because it was too tough for him.

At the top of Lion's Head, we were tired and thirsty. But a bubbly girl saw that I was tired and thirsty and offered Naoto and me water. She was from Southern California and graduated UCLA too. I thanked her profusely. People were staring at us, because we climbed up that mountain in our beach flip flops. But we did it, but we were slow at doing it, especially because the flip flops didn't have a good grip.

We made it down before dark. We didn't have a ride back into town. Naoto found some tourists who gave us a ride back to our hostel. I thought again to myself - Naoto is a good travel partner.

And that was it. Naoto didn't see much of South Africa or Cape Town. He wanted to leave Africa, so that night he was heading off to the airport on his way to India. I told him he was silly for leaving so soon without seeing more of South Africa, but besides being tired of the racism, he also said it was too expensive. (I think that South Africa is expensive, especially with the increasing power of the Rand.) I wished him good travels.

As for myself - there would be more days for me on Long Street and in Cape Town and more people and more places and more food and more coffee and more stories.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Day 257 of Sabbatical and the Ides of March

A clear water pond from a natural spring
from Table Mountain
Today is day 257 of Sabbatical, and it's also March 15th - commonly known as the Ides of March. This was the date that the Roman and Greek gods settled debts. (For the American federal government, the day of reconciliation comes on April 15th.) The most famous Ides is known for the assassination of Julius Cesar.

I think I'm lucky; I don't think I owe anyone anything; in fact, I'm debt free. After paying off my law school debt, I decided to go on a big sabbatical. And now, I'm on day 257; that's eight and a half months from being away from home and not formally working.

At this point, I'm tired of site seeing. I feel like if I go see another site, just for the sake of someone saying I must see it, I'm going to have a site-seeing-bulimic reaction.

I met a Japanese guy at my hostel who also felt the same way. He was traveling Africa for 9 months and said he felt tired too. As a result, I've stayed in Cape Town for two weeks now. I should write more on what I've seen and done.

I'm posting a picture of a natural spring I found at Table Mountain. The water was so clear and there was green algae growing in it with tadpoles. I drank from it, because I ran out of water.

The water tasted so fresh and good. And I'm posting this picture, because I think I need to do more reflection and reading. In East Asian thought - my mother always taught me that clear and pure water represents sound thinking and a clean spirit.

In any event, I emailed someone famous on what I should do with the rest of my sabbatical. I asked him:

"(1) What would you do differently on your third sabbatical?"

He wrote back:

"A. Figuring out what I really was interested in.

"B. Making a plan that made sure I was working on those things."

I guess that's what I need to do next. How do I go about figuring out what I'm really interested in?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Two Nights in Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa
Paul Cook's sabbatical places visited:
from July 1, 2017 - Mar. 11, 2018
I flew for 26 hours and waited at airports for 14 hours to get to South Africa; this included flying from Sao Paolo, Brazil to Washington DC, to Dakar, Senegal to Johannesburg, South Africa. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that when I arrived, that I was tired. I came at sunset, and the sun was an African red - like you see in the movies.

My host Ian let me stay at his place for two nights. I was disappointed his wife Maureen wasn't in. I met them in the Galapagos. I remember that trip well. We saw turtles and sharks and seals and boobies. Also, I was super tired to get on the boat and didn't talk to anyone that morning.

Well, how I met Ian was the same as I met him on the Galapagos. I was fatigued from traveling so much. He let me sleep in and that was nice of him. But because of the jet lag, I woke up several times through the night with lots of energy.

We chatted a lot about South Africa's history and problems and shared our personal stories. I learned about the different tribes and the occupation of Cape Town, first by the Boers then the English.

Apparently, South Africa produced two great leaders. Most of us know about Nelson Mandela, who recently passed away. But there was also Jan Smuts - an Afrikaner (Afrikaners are the Dutch people who settled in South Africa) who ended being an adviser to Winston Churchill.

I learned about the history of the suburb of Gauteng, which is where Johannesburg is located. It means gold mountain. Johannesburg is located on gold. It explained to me why a number of South Africans talked so much about gold. It's a big part of their history.

Originally, the English pushed the Dutch or Afrikaners out of the West Cape - which was near the ocean. The capital of West Cape is Cape Town. Hence, the English wanted the port for control of trade. So, the Boers moved west and thus inland to become farmers. But sadly for them, later, diamonds and gold were found on their land.

As a result, the Boers started battling for control. First, the farmers with their rifles were destroying the English in a shocking and unexpected upset. Can you imagine country folk killing an imperial and trained army?

The British actually thought it'd be a "Tea Time War" to defeat the Boers. Nope.

But of course, the British weren't stupid. They knew they could win by numbers. And after 200,000 - 500,000 troops (accounts differ) were sent in, the Boers knew the war was lost, and they surrendered their gold and diamonds to the English.

(When I worked in New Zealand we had three Afrikaners there and one eventually became my boss. Hearing the history, I imagined all Radley, Gavin, and Sussette in my head and how they would behave in such a war. Sussette is a nurse, and I imagined she would be taking care of the injured soldiers in the Boer War. It's an interesting history - to say the least.)

For lunch one day, I had some wonderful chicken livers. They were in some kind of hot and spicy cream sauce, and they were very tasty.

The second night I bought him Chinese food. We had fried rice and black beans with prawns. Although it was good, the Korean restaurant looked like it was more happening next door.

On the second day, Ian put an itinerary together for me in Cape Town. It was nice of him to spend a few hours on advising what I should see and do.

On the last day, Ian was going to take me to the train station, but I miscalculated the time I needed to be there. Since it was a weekend - the trains ran infrequently and I was going to miss my flight. I called Ian and he drove me directly to the airport. Story of my life: I barely made the flight on time. I thanked him and told him I'd be back.

The flight attendant told me in Korean: "Ahn young ha seh yo. (Hello)" I was shocked she knew I was Korean and more shocked she could greet me in the language.

On the plane, I realized I didn't do much in Cape Town and that was good. I needed a rest from the stress of the airport fiasco, the jet lag, and 40 hours of traveling.

On my flight, I had African beef and corn and greens for my lunch. It was very good. After a long journey, I finally made it to my planned destination: Cape Town. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Incredible Argentinian Hospitality

Argentinian Asado
Before going to South Africa, my friends and I drove to the Argentinian countryside to eat tasty Asado (BBQ). Nacho's friend lived in a Hacienda out there. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentinian doctor who led the Cuban Revolution, once said that Chilean hospitality was amazing. He wrote in his diary: "Chilean hospitality, as I never tire of saying, is one reason traveling in our neighboring country is so enjoyable." Well, I didn't experience that in Chile (when I went with my brother), but I found the Argentinians to be the most hospitable people in South America - and in my experience, the second most hospitable people in the world - only second to the Lebanese.

I was in a farming city - a distance out of Buenos Aires with a couple named Abril and Ignacio ("Nacho"). How did I find them? Remember when that boat almost killed me? Well, as I nearly bled out on the beach, a young doctor cleaned my wound and her boyfriend accountant arranged a ride for me to go to the hospital. They were Abril and Ignacio. (And from their perspective, that's how they met the Los Angeles lawyer on sabbatical, maimed on a beach.)

Setting the table for lunch at the Hacienda
After I got stitched up and I stopped bleeding, I went back to the beach to show them I was well and thanked them. I told them I was going to Argentina on my way to Africa and asked them if they would have me as a guest. They said yes.

My flight into Buenos Aires from Bogota was rough - rough in the sense that I got there at 3:00A. And I had to wake up early in the morning to catch my flight to Bogota. When I arrived into Buenos Aires, I caught a bus to see Abril and Nacho. I just needed sleep. I was so tired. I was running without sleeping for something like 30 hours.

Abril's friends housed me in the city center. Abril and Nacho drove me around the city land marks, and we talked. I understood most everything they said, but sometimes I had difficulty understanding words they said with an accent.

Abril and Nacho gave me a lecture on mate. Do you know what mate is? You'll see Argentinians drinking it from a metal straw out of a cup.
Abril, Nacho, and me (from left to right).
Mate is a tea brewed from the indigenous plants and branches of Argentina that the first people of Argentina drank. Nacho and Abril gave me an entire lecture on mate.

I didn't know it was such a social event. Argentinians will offer mate to strangers to drink. It's for social connection. Now it makes sense, why one guy got offended when I didn't take it. Next time, I will. It's to connect to other people, and I think it works.

I met both Abril's family and Nacho's family. In fact, Nacho made his own asado at his place. My Spanish was good enough to speak to both families. I also noticed the instant connection I made with strangers, just because I spoke their language. Of course, I still need to improve, especially in understanding different dialects and accents. But I think my sabbatical was good move in improving my foreign language skills.

(But I think my favorite family member was Abril's Newfoundland dog. I loved how social he was. Made me want to get a dog.)

I also learned about how closely tied Argentinian identity is linked to the cowboys, the land, and ranching. Americans might think they loved their meat, but I found a butcher on every corner in the city. I think Argentinians have a bigger love for their meat.

Also, their culture is different from Colombia and Peru and Ecuador. They seem to have retained more of their Italian heritage - which can be seen in the salamis and bread in the supermarket.

In South American, Argentina was the most expensive country. Also, it seems like taxes are high for everything, and the people often complain about their corrupt government. This also appears to be a global problem I'm seeing in every country I'm visiting (and also a problem at home too).

In my four days in Argentina, I met over 30 people. That's a lot! And when I came back to Buenos Aires to fly out - an Argentinian stranger paid for my fare on the bus. That was nice of him, except I went to the wrong airport.

I can't tell you how many people started talking to me on the bus in Buenos Aires. Maybe, it's because I'm Asian, and I speak Spanish. In any event, despite having my long distance bus break down on its way to Buenos Aires and going to the wrong airport, I still caught my flight. Thank goodness. I left really early and that helped. Abril predicted a thing or two might go wrong on my way to Buenos Aires. And she was right: Exactly, two things went wrong.

That's it for my 8 months in South and Latin America. It was time to move on. As Che said in Motorcycle Diaries: “I now know, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts, that my destiny is to travel...”

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Who's in your corner? (Escaping Sao Paolo Airport Prison.)

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
I was a prisoner in the international terminal of Sao Paolo Airport. With no visa, I couldn't leave the area, and without a flight onward, I was stuck. I was upset and annoyed and wondered what was going to happen next. Also, the staff at South African abandoned me. They had finished boarding the passengers, and then they abandoned me, despite me asking over and over again to talk to the supervisor. The team leader did not let me talk to the supervisor, and I confronted him later, calling him a liar - for telling me the supervisor would come and never did. When I told him I needed help sorting this out, the team leader stuck his hand in my face and took a personal phone call on his cell. To make matters even worse, the staff at South African kept trying to tell me that Turkish Airlines was at fault (which it was) for not advising me earlier; so they had no responsibility to help.

How would you feel? Not much money left. You're stuck in a place you can't even sleep. And you can't exit. Ugh! Remember; I arrived into Buenos Aires at 03:00AM. It was now about 7:30PM. I haven't slept. I've been awake for 14.5 hours. All this, because of the visa problem that Americans have with Brazil.

Anyways, I was escorted back to the Business Lounge in Sao Paolo airport, and I asked for help. I surprised myself by being a lot calmer than I would usually have been. Actually, (I don't know why), but I was at peace about not making that flight. It's not the first time I missed a big flight. There  was this one time in New Zealand that I missed my flight to Los Angeles, because an airplane crashed in Wellington Airport, delaying my flight to Auckland by three hours. As a result, I missed my Thanksgiving flight back home to Los Angeles. But an understanding supervisor let me board the next day, without having to pay thousands of dollars. Let's not forget when I was put under Russian house arrest - for not paying a bribe. So, by this point in my life - I think I've figured out - it doesn't really do you any good to be upset to solve the situation. But I just had to get out of Sao Paolo International Airport Terminal.

I persistently and politely told the staff at South African to help me, since they were the only ones around. And to my surprise, a senior guy at the Business Lounge was able to coordinate people from United and South African Airlines to help me. He kept asking if I was fine.

I told the United Representative, just send me to Europe then. If it was Turkish Airway's fault, then they could send me to Istanbul. I'll figure it out from there. He tried to send me to Frankfurt, Germany but I just missed the flight. He checked whether he could send me to Lisbon, Portugal. I told him that would be fine, since I had a friend living there currently.

Meanwhile, the South African supervisor just waited with me and kept me company. Even though he later alleged he wasn't doing anything, that wasn't true. He told me he was Argentinian. I told him it was because I visited his country I was in trouble.

Then, I laughed, to let him know it was a joke. I told him in Spanish what I did in Argentina, and told him I was sorry for being stressed. And thanked him. But he had a good sense of spirit and well-being, and kept me company until everything was going to be sorted. Though, I didn't know if it would be. To pass the time, I told him about my time in Argentina and all the different kinds of foods I ate.

The United representative found me something that wasn't going to work and cost a lot. But he was really working hard to help me. So, I opened up my computer and found every route possible to get me out of Sao Paolo. I asked for a paper and pen and wrote down all ten routes on that paper. I liked how he said on the phone: "Hold on a minute. The guy is doing something and writing something for us."

(And I think this is an important business lesson in general. If you're going to complain about a problem, always have a few solutions for the person helping you.)

The United Rep. went back and told him all the options available. After discussing the options with the other person on the phone, the rep. told me that he was going to fly me to Washington D.C.

"Then what?" I asked.

"Then, you'll be flying into Senegal and then into Johannesburg. We just have a problem with Cape Town. We only have a flight for you a few days later. You'll have to stay in Johannesburg for two days."

Excited, I said, "Not a problem." I thought I was going to Europe or Turkey or the Middle

One hour later, I was going to board my flight back home to the US of A. I was going home, at least for awhile. It was strange thought for me to realize I was going back home and leaving South America. No more Spanish. I've been in South America for almost 8 months now.

After the problem was resolved, the South African supervisor left. I gave him a hug and thanked him. I gave the United Rep. and thanked him from the bottom of my heart too. I really wanted them to know I was grateful.

The representative for Star Alliance asked if all had been resolved. I told him it had been.

I thought to myself: Wow, I'm really lucky. I'd like to think of myself as an escape artist, escaping problems. But without the help of other people, I couldn't take that credit.

I emailed my contact in Johannesburg and asked him if I could come for a few days. He said, "Yes."

A special thank you to my benefactor for getting my first class ticket to South Africa. A special thank you to United Airlines - for their awesome service and to Niclos Micheletti from South African Airlines for being there to help me sort out the problem. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trapped at Sao Paolo Airport

What do I do? What do I do? I'm a prisoner here, now. That's what kept going through my head. I'm trapped in the international terminal in Sao Paolo Airport.

The South African staff stopped me from boarding the airplane. I spent a few days in Argentina (which I'll write about later), and apparently, if you stay there - you need to get a yellow fever shot. Not only do you need a shot, you have to wait ten days before you can travel to South Africa. (Believe me, I thought about receiving a shot at the terminal.) But because of the 10 day rule - that would mean I'd be trapped at the international terminal of the airport for 10 days. I don't think that'd be that fun - sleeping on airport chairs and eating fast food three times a day. You'd also not see the light.

I tried arguing with the staff that they needed to show me the regulation of how long one needs to be in Argentina to require this shot. No one could show me this proof. But that didn't mean I was boarding. Nope, they were clear. I wasn't getting on the flight.

Why am I trapped? Because, Americans need a visa for Brazil. But there's a rule that you don't need a visa if you're just transferring, which I was. I was a good lawyer and thoroughly checked the rules and laws of Brazilian immigration. (I may not have been the best lawyer though, because what I didn't check was this Yellow Fever vaccination shot requirement for South Africa - which I never heard of.) And Brazil is really strict about this "only being in the international terminal rule". So strict, that they even had Turkish Airline Captain escort me to the international terminal to sign off that I was definitely flying out of here on another flight. Brazil even made him sign for it.

I flew from Buenos Aires to Sao Paolo - only to transfer to Africa. Apparently, Turkish Airlines was supposed to tell me at Buenos Aires about showing proof of my yellow fever vaccination. But they let me board. And that's what started the Catch-22, which is defined as "a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions." The definition should add that bureaucracies create dumb rules that they don't think about to create these impossible situations.

Anyways, I was a prisoner, because I can't leave the international terminal. I also don't have a flight onward. I also can't afford $1,000 to fly out of here immediately. I'm stuck. This reminds me of another kind of vision of Hell. You're trapped. There's no way out. You can see the people coming and going, but not you. You've come, but you can never leave.

You know what was the worst? That a number of the staff from South Africa - the same ones who prevented me from going onboard - wouldn't help me out of the situation. They said it was Turkish Airlines fault, since they weren't supposed to let me board. But no one from Turkish Airlines is here today, because they're not operating today. (Remember; I said this is like being trapped in a nightmare.)

South Africa said Turkish Airline is to "deport" me back to Buenos Aires. That's pretty harsh: Deport.

Looks like I only have four options:

1. Go back to Buenos Aires,
2. Pay to go back home,
3. Go to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines (maybe on their cost),
4. Stay trapped.

(Sigh). How does this kind of stuff happen to me? It's situations like this that make me want to come home. I've been trapped in Russian house arrest. I almost died in a Turkish desert. And, let's not forget that I could have been killed by a boat propeller splitting open my head or by drowning.

Well, I've been away now for 241 days; that's 7.9 months now. Maybe it's a sign that it's time for me to come back.

I'll let everyone know how things go.