Understanding Language

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When you travel around the world, you have to learn to communicate with a huge variety of different people. Many of the people you encounter will use different languages, will have different values and beliefs, and may express themselves in unfamiliar ways.

When I was in Bulgaria, for example, I learned that the locals shake their heads from left to right to signal “yes”, and up and down to signal “no”. Imagine how confused I was trying to order food in a local cafe :).

Auto-translators don’t always work so well. See the wonderful English translations of this Bulgarian menu:

As I traveled, I tried to keep our limitations to communication in mind. A language barrier was, of course, a problem here and there, but I always seemed to manage to communicate simple things like asking for directions or ordering food, no matter where I was. More complicated communication, however, requires much more than a common language. It requires a common understanding.

So how can you manage this communication problem?

I felt like I had learned a lot about communication when I went through the orientation process to become a point of contact for the Venus Project. I listened to Jacque Fresco’s lectures about the inadequacy of language and people’s limitations to communication and realized that this language problem was not only a problem for travelers, it was a problem for all people, regardless of whether they ever encounter a foreigner.

After digging a bit into this topic, my understanding was that we could improve communication if we:

 

  1. Understand our limitations to communication-

– Understand that many words and sentences can be interpreted in many different ways, therefore the people you speak to might not interpret what you say in exactly the way that you interpret it, and vice versa.

– Understand that our different degrees of background knowledge about any particular topic limit our ability to discuss that topic.

 

  1. Try to understand each other better while communicating-

– Think about a person’s background and why they may be saying what they’re saying.

– Think about their intention to communication.

– Try to be understanding rather than emotional and defensive, even if you disagree with whatever is being said.

– Keep calm while communicating and try to stop your emotions from getting triggered by any particular words or phrases.

 

  1. I also considered the idea that a better-designed (less abstract) language with words based on physical referents would help people communicate properly.

 

This video might give you a better understanding of what I mean:

The above video was made by Tio (TROM), but after its release, Tio spent a year researching this topic and working on a book on language; as a result of his work, his thoughts on this topic evolved and he no longer agrees with this part of his own documentary :).

And I have to say that after reading the TROM book on language, the same thing happened to me. I realized that the ‘solutions’ that I previously had in mind were really just patchwork to a massively complex problem. I didn’t understand how much of a problem it was, actually, until after I read this book.

What I understand to be Fresco’s solution to our current problem of language and communication does not seem to be sufficient. Just because words are based on a physical referent doesn’t mean that the people using those words have sufficient background knowledge (/the same cultural context) to be able to communicate properly. It works with engineers and physicists because they share similar background knowledge and cultural context.

But the world is so complex and dynamic that this could never be achieved in an idiotic society that’s pushed and shoved by consumerism, irrelevant information, pseudoscience, etc. The only way to make a saner language is to create a saner society, because language is all about the context. If the context is insane and unscientific, the language will mirror that; if the context is based on science/a scientific way of thinking, the language will mirror that.

If you’re interested in delving into this topic, I highly recommend this book. In the book, you can find tons of interesting analogies, pictures, videos, and interactive tools that help you easily understand the complex topic of language and communication. In the end, you will even get an idea of how to create your own language, as that is what Tio started to create.

Before I read this book, I not only didn’t realize how important this topic was, but I also had no idea how interesting it is.

Thanks again TROM for creating such interesting, relevant material and making it trade-free ;).

Bothies: a trade-free shelter!

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Ever heard of trade-free accommodation? Well here’s one example: UK mountain bothies!

My friends and I recently took a trip to Scotland, where we spent several nights sleeping in mountain bothies. Bothies are remote buildings that have been renovated by the Mountain Bothy Association (MBA) and are open for those in need of shelter.

What?

If you hike or cycle to a bothy, you are welcome to open the door, step inside, and sleep in it. You don’t need to pay any money, sign any agreement, work on a farm, or trade anything for the use of this accommodation.

How does this work?

Most of the buildings are owned by a person who no longer has much use for the building and has agreed to allow the building to be used as a bothy. Two bothies are owned by the MBA itself. Maintenance work is done by volunteers and financed by donations and voluntary membership subscriptions (you do not have to be a member in order to use the bothies). This allows 100 or so bothies to be kept wind, water-tight and available to the public.

What are they like?

Most bothies do not have running water, beds, electricity, kitchens or toilets (but a shovel is always provided :)), so you should be prepared with your own camping gear when hiking to a bothy (bring your own sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camping stove, etc.); in other words, bothies are simple shelters- four walls and a dry place to sleep.

A bothy may not sound like much, but these four walls can be a life-saver for a lone hiker crossing Scotland in a brutal storm (which there seem to be a lot of!).

This trade-free shelter was extremely helpful and convenient for my friends and I when we traveled through Scotland. As we hiked, we encountered storms, were drenched with rain, at times we were attacked by swarms of midges, and other times we were cold and uncomfortable, but once we reached the bothies, we felt safe and cozy. We were able to warm up, hang up our wet clothes, escape the midges, change, cook food, and have a good night’s sleep. This can be very important as Scotland is prone to very wet and windy weather!

In the bothies, we met a number of other hikers who were all very friendly and happy to share not only the bothy space, but also some stories, information and even some tasty food.

What I love about trade-free things is not just the “free” aspect of them, but the way that people behave in such places. I could never expect this kind of kindness and openness from strangers in the lobby of a hotel, let alone, inside of a stranger’s hotel room :).

Some people have argued that “a bothy is not really trade-free because somebody else pays for it.”

-If you say this, then you don’t understand the “trade-free” concept.

 

The point of a trade-free ‘thing’ is that it is trade-free for the people using it.

 

In this case…

Of course, the bothy still needs resources to be built and maintained, so most-likely it is built and maintained using some kind of trades. That doesn’t mean that you need trade in order to build and maintain bothies, that just means that you need some resources to build and maintain bothies, and unfortunately, almost all resources are controlled by some kind of trade (usually money). As a result, it is very difficult to make a trade-free ‘thing’ out of 100% trade-free resources. But I don’t think we need to stress about this too much because we have to start somewhere!

Let’s compare this dilemma to waste and recycling.

Let’s say a group of people are concerned about the build up of waste on our planet and they want to do something about this. So they say,

“let’s make musical instruments out of recycled material! This won’t solve the entire problem, but if we at least start making some cool instruments out of plastic bottles, maybe this idea will catch on and more people will start making more stuff out of recycled material, and maybe, if this is practiced by many and for long enough, this can solve our waste problem, or at least make it better than what it is today. But in order to do this, we can’t just make cool recycled instruments, we also need to scream about the problem! We’ll make instruments out of recycled material and tell people that waste and pollution is a problem!”

-So these people are alleviating the waste problem through creating something, but more importantly, they’re spreading awareness (education) through their project, in order to attempt to influence others to also work on alleviating the problem. Culture and society change gradually, through problem solving.

Now let’s say someone comes along and says that they’re not really making musical instruments out of recycled material because the tools that they’re using to create these instruments are not made from recycled material.

Is that really true?

No! Fuck no!

A sugar-free donut is sugar free because it doesn’t have sugar in it, therefore, the person eating the donut will not eat sugar. It doesn’t matter if there’s sugar in the oven it was baked in or if it was once coated in sugar, so long as the finished product is sugar-free.

Musical instruments made from recycled material are still made from recycled material regardless of what tools were used to make them.

Open source software doesn’t have to be created using open-source software for it to be open-source. If it’s made on a proprietary operating system, that doesn’t stop it from being open-source.

A trade-free shelter is a trade-free shelter because the people using it don’t have to trade anything to use it. It’s still a trade-free shelter regardless of what tools or trades were involved in building and maintaining it.

Get it?

One more thing!

I know guys… mountain bothies are not going to save the world :D

These kinds of trade-free wilderness huts can actually be found in many different countries around the world, they’ve been around for a while, and they’re not all that special.

The Mountain Bothy Association has probably never heard of the trade-free movement, doesn’t label itself as trade-free, and probably doesn’t talk about for-profit remote shelter (or for-profit anything) as a problem.

Nevertheless, they still do a great deed for hikers and cyclists in need of shelter and they are a real example of trade-free accommodation that exists even in this profit-driven society.

 

Read more about the MBA here.

Update on my life :)

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Hey guys, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog so this is going to be a long one :).
I would like to backtrack a tiny bit, and also explain what’s happened to me between this past winter (living in Siberia/ice biking/ice diving) and now (I’m currently in the UK).

 

Let me backtrack a bit…

My goal, since the last time I quit the “job-game” was not really to travel around the world, it was to do something more meaningful and important with my life. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, that could be, but I knew that I had to separate this goal from any means of making money (in other words, I needed to minimize the amount of time I spent trading my time and energy for money). So I lived off of my savings and didn’t search for another job, I traveled a bit and looked for something more interesting and important to do with my life.

I ended up joining the Venus Project (TVP) as a volunteer point of contact for the Russian speaking team and I also started this blog. Later, I found out about TROM, started volunteering for them, and I also decided to write a book about my life story, ideas about the world, TVP, TROM, etc.

This past winter, I isolated myself in a small village on Lake Baikal to concentrate 100% on my book. I rented an old house for about $5/night and managed to live on about $10-20/week of food. The house didn’t have running water and it was a bit chilly when it got down to -37° outside, but I managed to keep myself warm with hot tea and the right clothing. I woke up each morning, got straight onto my laptop and started writing. I’d write for 4-5 hours before I finally got so hungry that I had to drag myself away from my computer. I cooked (mostly cabbage and buckwheat), ate, wrote some more, then took a break by riding a bicycle on the frozen lake.

I loved this :). I had a bike with spiked tires that allowed me to explore every corner of the southern end of Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. I rode this bike over crystal clear, cracked and sometimes bubbly meter-thick ice, I found enormous icicles, climbed mountains and watched the sun set over the frozen lake.

Then I came home and wrote some more :).

My Book

I wrote about 150 pages while living in this village, which I estimate to be about 2/3 of my book. This is what I’ve written about so far:

-Hawaii (2017): Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai

-Road trip through the East Coast (2017)

-Traveling through Russia (2017)

-My story with TVP and TROM

-Childhood

-Troubled teenage years

-Driving across the US (3 times) to Whistler, Canada

-Traveling the West Coast of the US and Canada

-Backpacking Mexico

-Living with Mormons in Utah

-Backpacking Australia

-Living in NYC

-Backpacking Europe

-Living in Switzerland

-Backpacking Italy and Turkey

-Living in Sydney

-Studying ‘International and Global Studies’ at Sydney University

-Quitting university, traveling through New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, sailing in NZ, hitchhiking across the US, traveling to Mexico and back to NZ

-Back to Sydney University (2012)

 

That’s where I finished writing, but after 2012, there was a lot more traveling. I still want to write about: Thailand and Cambodia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Morocco, Outback Australia, South Coast Australia, Lake Tahoe, St. Maartin, Aruba, Gili Trawangan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Hawaii 2015, Eastern Europe, Slovenia, Austria, Russia, Nicaragua (2017)… and then we’ll see if I leave it there or bring it back to today. I never know how my writing will unfold until I’m in that moment :).

Throughout my traveling stories I also write about the problems I’ve faced with society and the things I have learned about the world. Some subjects include climate change, sustainability, trade and other global problems; I will tie these subjects together with TROM, TVP and ‘trade-free’.

I would have stayed in that small Russian village to finish the entire book if I didn’t have bigger plans ahead.

Change of Winter Plans

I left the village in late February, when my buddies Alfie and Nico flew in to Irkutsk for an ice diving adventure. You can read about that here if you missed that blog. We spent about two weeks learning to ice dive and taking underwater (and ice) photos and videos, and another two weeks or so filming the beautiful spots that I had explored while bike-riding on the frozen lake.

Luckily, I didn’t have to spend any money on any of this, since this trip was sponsored by the companies my friends were filming for. Actually, I even got paid for it because I was their fulltime translator, guide and dive “model.” And translating an entire diving course from Russian to English is not as easy as it may sound…

So, Alfie and Nico flew out at the end of March and I had new plans:

Get to Spain!

Tio, the founder of the TROM project, had organized a meet-up for TROM volunteers in the north of Spain in May. This would be the first ever TROM meet-up and there was no way in hell that I would miss such an event, so I planned the next part of my life around that.

Unfortunately, the ice-diving gig didn’t pay a whole lot and my savings account was looking a bit skimpy (after over two years with no job), so I had to figure out a very cheap way to get from Siberia to Spain (9,000 km).

I packed up all of my stuff and bought a one-way railway ticket from Irkutsk to Moscow ($60, 4-day train ride, about 5,200 km closer to Spain), then I hitchhiked from Moscow to Spain. I had a fun time hitchhiking as I met many people along the way, visited friends and saw some new places. I filmed some of the rides I caught hitchhiking and posted these clips as Instagram stories. You can view some of them as “story highlights” here.

After about two weeks of hitchhiking, I made it to Spain! There, I finally met Tio and about 10 other TROM volunteers. We rented a house overlooking the sea and the cute little town of L’Estartit, and spent the next three weeks getting to know each other, bouncing around ideas, and just having fun.

TROM Meet-Up

We went swimming, hiking, running, played music, watched documentaries, filmed some videos, had BBQs and talked a lot. One night, we took Tio’s telescope to a beautiful lookout and observed the craters of the moon, the storm lines of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. It was absolutely amazing. Then we watched the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea and walked back ‘home’ down L’Estartit’s beautiful bushy, seaside hills.

Everybody I met in this meet-up was inspiring in one way or another. They were all so bright, enthusiastic and interested in this world. This was the first time I met so many people that were on the same line of thinking; meaning that we could all have interesting conversations without having to explain simple things or fight against “normal” (fucked up) values. The 12 of us were from 9 different countries, so that was interesting as well.

 

Tio

Everybody in this meet-up was inspiring, but Tio struck me on a whole other level. I had read his story before- that he struggled throughout his life as he worked on TROM and TVP. He had always worked for free, so most of the time he didn’t have enough money to support himself, but he kept on going- researching, learning, writing books and articles, making videos and important tools- putting them all out for free, no matter how shitty of a situation he had to live in.

He couldn’t afford his own place, so he lived with his parents who didn’t understand a thing about what he was doing. I knew all of this before, but when I saw the room that he worked and lived in, I just felt like my heart shattered a bit.

It was a small, stuffy room with a bunk bed and a gaming chair, but not enough space for a desk. Instead of a desk, he used something that resembled a music stand. There was no air conditioning and heating was extremely expensive, so it would get very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Sometimes, the neighbor’s dog barked non-stop, making it almost impossible to concentrate. He spent most of his time in this room, just hopping between sleeping in the bed and working in front of his computer (working like 15 hours a day).

Tio explained that this was actually a much better room than the one he had spent most of his time in. For most of his years, he lived and worked in an even smaller room in the same house, where there was a bunk bed and no space for anything else. It was even stuffier than his current room and he got extreme back pain from having to work from within this bunk bed.

He made TROM Documentary from the set up you see below (computer pinned to the ceiling above the top bunk)-

From these extremely uncomfortable conditions, he managed to write, review and design dozens of books, create a 14-hour long documentary, customize a trade-free computer operating system, create a documentary website, a music website, and countless of other useful tools such as curated news, curated videos and more– all for free! So that others can use them trade-free! (Not to mention all the stuff he did for TVP when he volunteered for them…)

You might think, “oh but maybe he just doesn’t mind living in such a place”- but that’s not true. He hated it and all he wanted to do was move out, but again, he couldn’t afford living on his own because his only income came from donations and that wasn’t enough for his own place.

So naturally, I wanted to help him. I didn’t have a whole lot of money left, but I still had some. Spain was quite cheap, so if we rented a place together, it would only cost about 150-200 euros a month each. That was affordable for both Tio and me. I figured that if I bought nothing else but very cheap food, life in Spain would cost me only about 300 euros a month. So I decided to stay in Spain and rent a flat with Tio.

 

I wasn’t sure how well we would get along while living together or how long I could manage to legally stay in Europe, but I decided that I will help him no matter what, whether he liked me or not and whether I could physically stay in Spain or not. I had enough money for my portion of the rent for the next 6 months, so I wanted to use that on a shared flat regardless of whether I could actually live there the whole time or not.

So at the end of May, everybody else left L’Estartit and I stayed with Tio and looked for a place to live. It wasn’t so easy to find, since this town is dominated by mass tourism in the summertime, but after a few weeks, we managed to rent a great (and cheap) apartment thanks to Tio’s sister. This apartment had plenty of space for a comfortable “TROM office” with a big desk :).

Life in L’Estartit

Tio and I spent over a month living together in this nice apartment, being together almost 24/7. I talked to him about everything, and I felt like every day that I got to know him, I liked him more and more. He’s so fucking smart, so hard-working, and so humble; his work is extremely underappreciated, but this doesn’t get him down. He’s extremely passionate and has a deep fascination with the world. I love his appreciation and love of science. I think it’s sad that so few people understand and appreciate the significance of science, yet Tio not only appreciates it, but grows my curiosity for it, and inspires me to want to learn about everything. He’s so interested in everything.

Tio’s also very creative and helped me enormously with my website. Almost everything you see now on my site- from the style to the photos of my crap and me, to the polaroid theme- was all his idea and creation. I think he spent more time working on my website than on his own :). We both put a ton of work into my site while living together and finally managed to release it the day before my flight out of Spain.

I had to leave Spain because my Schengen visa expired in mid-July. I didn’t want to leave but I didn’t really have a choice- by law, I can only spend 90 days in the Schengen zone out of every 180 days. So after 3 months in Spain, I have to spend 3 months outside of Europe before I can return for another 3 months. That’s the kind of bullshit society we live in, you can’t just live on Earth without being subjected to tribal laws.

I didn’t know where to go. I wasn’t going to go back to Siberia, since that was so far away, and I haven’t had a “home base” for about 12 years. I considered going to Cape Cod, Massachusetts; I’ve never been there before but a friend had told me that this place was a gold-mine for making tips in bars and restaurants. I thought that perhaps this could be a good opportunity to re-stock on money. But the more I thought about going to some random American tourist location, to slave for some restaurant and serve food and drinks to East Coast vacationers, the more I just wanted to kill myself.

I tried to be strong and convince myself that going to Massachusetts was a good idea, but one day, I just broke down as I was looking at a map of Cape Cod on Craigslist :D. I just started crying at the thought of walking around aimlessly, looking for restaurant work. Tio noticed this and stopped everything he was doing, calmed me down and started looking for solutions.

“The main problem is money,” he concluded, “if you have enough money to live on, you don’t have to go to the US. You can stay closer, finish your book and then sell it. After three months, we can solve the visa issue, now let’s figure out what else we can do about this money problem.”

I felt extremely disappointed in myself for breaking down like this. The last thing I wanted to do was stress Tio out about money, he already stressed a lot about his own money situation since he barely makes enough to cover his living costs (even though he works over 12 hours a day, without any long breaks, holidays or weekends). The one thing I wanted to do was help him with this money situation and now I was failing at that myself.

Why did I do that? In the past, it was quite easy for me to just pick up and go, find a job somewhere, save money, quit, then move on. What’s so different now? I don’t know. I still don’t know, maybe it’s that I really want to finish my book, or maybe it’s that the last time I worked in a restaurant, I told myself that this will be the last time I ever work in a restaurant (although I say that every time I quit a restaurant job :)).

Then Tio came up with another idea- to make a fundraiser for my book. He said that he would help me with everything, all I had to do is explain my story on video and send him some nice footage. I agreed to give it a shot.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out what my other options were.

‘The UK is outside of the Schengen zone… I can’t work there legally but I can stay there for 6 months without a visa… I have a good friend in Bristol- Kristina, she visited me in Siberia last summer and I distinctly remember her inviting me to her place :)’

I called up Kristina and she told me to come to Bristol and not to worry :). I looked up flights and found one for only 15 euros! I booked that flight then started working on my campaign video. I realized that I really don’t need that much money and that if working in a restaurant makes me want to kill myself, then I shouldn’t do it (at least not until I finish my book). I would love to have a few thousand euros so I could feel “safe” for the next few months and concentrate on my book without stressing, but maybe I don’t need that much. If I just eat rice and cabbage every day, I can (maybe) survive on $300/month. So if I have $1500, that’s 5 months. Maybe I can finish my book in 5 months. After that, we’ll see, I’ll figure something else out.

I was still a bit disappointed in myself (for being so weak :)), but I felt like I was doing the right thing. Tio, again, helped me enormously by putting together this video:

We worked on the video all night, didn’t sleep at all, but managed to finish it just a few hours before my flight to Bristol. Once in the UK, I was able to release my new site and fundraiser. And don’t worry, I didn’t leave Tio to pay the rent for the entire apartment all alone, I left my portion (although he tried to refuse it and now says that he will give it back to me :P) and another TROM friend of ours (Aaron) moved into the house before I left, so it’s still affordable.

The UK

Theen… (I told you this will be a long blog, right? :D) about a week after my arrival in Bristol, Kristina wanted to go on a road trip to Scotland with me and another friend. I told her that I would love to see Scotland but that I was broke as hell, but can probably still afford it if we do this trip the cheapest way possible. Most people don’t actually enjoy traveling “Sasha style” (the cheapest way possible) but Kristina and her friend Millie were happy to camp, couchsurf, and cook all of our meals, so this was still affordable even for me.

We spent 10 days driving around Scotland, hiking, camping, seeing some beautiful places and staying in some bothies (small huts you can sleep in for free). The trip was really fun despite the fact that the weather wasn’t ideal (I don’t think you can ever get ideal weather in Scotland for 10 days though :)). It rained quite heavily the first few days, and when it didn’t rain, we were attacked by huge swarms of midges (small flies that bite like crazy). There were so many of them in northern Scotland that we couldn’t even hang out outside without walking or running.

We did some beautiful hikes regardless and didn’t pay for a single night of accommodation even though we slept indoors for more than half of our trip. It was great to experience trade-free accommodation, both through bothies and couchsurfing. I’ll write a separate blog about bothies soon.

London

Once we returned to Bristol, I needed to deal with getting a new US passport (don’t ask :D). So I stressed a bit about getting together all of the documents and paperwork I needed for a new passport, and then I had to go to the US embassy in London.

The bus tickets between Bristol and London were cheap and I took the opportunity of being in London to meet some very nice TZM people and to go to the Museum of Natural History- which was awesome.

Bristol

So! I got that done and came back from London a few nights ago and now I can finally figure out what to do with my life :D. I will definitely come back to Spain as soon as my visa allows me to (early October). I raised 765 euros through my fundraiser so far, which is very nice, thank you so much to everybody that donated! -That will probably cover about 2 months of life on Earth. I still have maybe $1000 in savings. -So that’s 5 months altogether before I hit absolute zero in my account :D.

Maybe I can finish my book in 5 months. Maybe not, but I think it’s worth a shot. I think I will try to concentrate on it at least until I hit absolute zero (or negative since I do have a credit card! :D). For some reason, I feel like that’s the right thing to do, so that’s what I’m going to do. I just have 3 more blogs that I want to publish (one on bothies, one on language and one on TVP, TROM and trade) and then I will get back to my book. Fuck the money, I’ll just eat rice and cabbage :D.

If you would like to help me out, you can donate to my fundraiser here. Please also feel free to share my campaign video– I think that might help too :).

Thanks again to everybody, and enormous thank you to Tio and Kristina for your amazing amazing help, I don’t know what I would do without you guys!

 

 

Whew that was a long one! :D

Ice Diving in Lake Baikal

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*Diving photos by Alfred Minnaar

Scuba diving is an expensive activity- it requires tons of training, heavy equipment, infrastructure, and more. So you may be asking, “how the hell does somebody like small Sasha, who travels around the world on less than $500 a month, possibly become an ice diver?!”

Here’s the explanation + some information about ice diving in Lake Baikal, Russia:

Personal Story

I have a friend named Alfie. We met in Whistler, Canada, 12 years ago (2007), right after I finished high school and drove across North America on my own. Alfie’s from South Africa but also left home to travel at a young age. We got along straight away because we were both nothing but dirtbags back then :)

We were both dead broke and just lived to have fun- to snowboard, explore the world and seek out adventures. We both left Canada after 2008, but stayed in touch over the years. I kept on traveling and Alfie eventually found himself a job scuba diving in Indonesia.

In 2014, Alfie invited me to Gili Trawangan to do a divemaster internship. He never asked me if I knew anything about scuba diving, he just said, “we need some help in the shop. If you can come to Indonesia and work with us for 3 months, we can certify you all the way up to divemaster for free.”

I was located in Australia at the time and had about $1800 in my bank account, no job and no working visa. I had tried one intro-dive years before but I didn’t know a thing about diving or have an Open Water certificate… So it was pretty hard to refuse Alfie’s offer.

I checked some flights, did the math and bought a one-way ticket to Indonesia, then spent 4 months learning how to dive and helping out in the dive shop.

Learning to Scuba Dive

Every time we splashed into the water, the world above became irrelevant. The underwater world was so different; it seemed peaceful, quiet, yet colorful and alive. We explored underwater landscapes and admired the vivid sea life- fish, coral, turtles, octopuses, cuttlefish, eels, stingrays, nudibranchs, and much more.

We did 2-3 dives almost every day. I felt strong, healthy, and excited, yet absolutely exhausted. After a day of diving, I’d collapse into my bed and dream about the underwater world. Then I’d wake up and my dreams would merge with reality. It was like being in Avatar. 

In those 4 months of non-stop diving, I managed to get the following certificates: Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver, Divemaster and Nitrox. We did deep dives, drift dives, night dives and even chased after little sharks every once in a while. Between dives, we just had fun with our group of international scuba friends. Back then, none of us, including Alfie, owned a smartphone or shoes. 

I left Indonesia when I was down to about $50 in my bank account, bought a flight to Australia and found a cash job in an ice cream shop. I made enough money to buy a flight out of Aus before my tourist visa expired, then lived and traveled in Sri Lanka, Hawaii, Europe, Nicaragua and Russia. I didn’t do much diving in the last 5 years because diving is usually expensive, but I did manage a few fun dives with friends every now and then.

Lake Baikal

I came back to Russia (my country of birth) in August of 2017 and took the railway from Moscow to Siberia. When I saw Lake Baikal, I decided that I wanted to stay there for a little while. I had been traveling for over 10 years at that point, and now I wanted to slow it down, read, write, and watch the seasons change. I also wanted to see Lake Baikal in all of its beauty- to see it freeze and melt, to drink it, breath it, swim in it, and explore the world above and below its frozen winter crust.

I noticed a dive center called New Dimension in a lakeside town called Listvyanka. I did one dive with them in October, then found out about ice diving. I didn’t have enough money for an ice diving course, but this dive center said that I didn’t need one to ice dive with them.

‘Perfect!’  ;)

Alfred Minnaar

Meanwhile, between 2014 and 2017, Alfie managed to not only buy shoes and a smartphone, but a camera, computer, and underwater housing. He also learned to take great photos and successfully grew his reputation as an underwater photographer using Instagram and some good hook ups on Gili T.

As soon as I found out that you could ice dive in Lake Baikal for relatively cheap, I immediately contacted Alfie and told him to buy a plane ticket to Russia.

His response was, “it looks nice. I will try. I’m low on money… Have to buy a new camera… It’s complicated…”

So he didn’t come in winter of 2018 and I tried my first ice dive on my own, which was an interesting experience. You can read about it here.

The Real Story

After my “discover ice diving” experience, I trolled Alfie a little bit in an attempt to convince him to come to Lake Baikal and take ice diving photos :). I wasn’t expecting much, I just wanted to have some fun diving, take a few cool shots and show Alfie the lake… But Alfie managed to take it up a notch :D  Not only did he buy a plane ticket to Russia, but he also found two sponsors for the trip: Poseidon Diving Systems and Delma Watches.

And here’s the funny part that shows that Alfie is still as much of a dirtbag as me :D  – Alfie contacted Poseidon and Poseidon contacted their dive connection on Lake Baikal, which was a dive shop called Dive Center Sval. Poseidon asked DC Sval if they could help us out a bit… “maybe just give them some extra gear or some advice about the lake…”

Andrei, the owner and instructor of DC Sval, agreed.

Then Alfie contacted a popular adventure sports videographer named Nicolai Deutsch and pitched him this trip, basically making it sound like Poseidon is sending him on this big one-month ice diving adventure in Russia. Nico liked the idea, sorted out his visa and bought a flight from Germany to Russia.

Then Andrei, from Dive Center Sval, decided to ask Poseidon some very important questions, “are these guys certified ice divers? Are they certified to dive in a dry suit? Have they dived in cold freshwater before?”

The answer was, “no, no, and not really…”

Then Andrei found out that there were three of us: Alfie, Nico, and me (photographer, videographer, and dive “model?” :D ).

“Alright,” said Andrei, “that means not just gear and advice, that means a full ice diving course. For three people…”

That was clearly a lot more work for Andrei, but he was willing to do that for Poseidon because he works with this company and has a lot of respect for their gear.

However, soon after, Andrei also realized that not only did he have to give all three of us a free ice diving course, but he would also have to drive us around to different dive sites, dig new ice holes for us and participate in the making of these underwater photos and film clips.

Andrei’s wife, Olga, explained that Andrei enjoys training people to see progress and results, but what he absolutely detests is publicizing his own face.

…And soon after our arrival, Andrei found out that not only did he have to give us gear, tanks, ice diving courses, drive us around, make new ice holes, and take care of us under ice, but he also needed to be the “star” of all of our film clips and photos! AND his face might end up on the cover of a magazine! :D

Ice Diving Course

Once we started the course with Andrei at Dive Center Sval, I realized how dangerous it was to ice dive without proper training.

Andrei took us through all the vital elements and procedures of ice diving: making a “mine” in the ice, using safety line signals both above and below the ice, learning how to use a dry suit, controlling the equipment, organizing the dive, rescue diving procedures under ice, and much more.

Andrei warned us about gear malfunctioning in the cold, but I didn’t think that this would happen very often. It turned out that I was wrong. One of our regulators froze up and free-flowed almost every dive. This was probably because the three of us always took too long to get from the warm hut (or car) to the “warm” (1-degree) water. Remember, freshwater will not be below freezing, so it is warm compared to winter air temperatures in Siberia. Your equipment freezes when you spend too much time outside in the cold air, so your job is to get from warm air to “warm” water as quickly and efficiently as possible, of course, while being organized and following safety procedures.

Dry Suit Diving

The greatest challenge for me was the dry suit. Whenever I had to put it on or take it off, I felt like Jim Carrey in the movie, Ace Ventura. You know, that scene where he came out of a rhino.

By the end of the week, I learned that I had to dance to reggaeton to get the suit on without assistance.

Diving in a dry suit is much more challenging than diving in a wetsuit. There’s a layer of air between your skin, the suit, and the water, so when you descend, the air pressure decreases and the dry suit squeezes onto your skin. If you don’t add air to the dry suit, it will compress your body like a vacuum package. When you ascend, the air in your dry suit expands. The higher you go, the more it expands and the faster it shoots you up to the surface. Going up too fast is dangerous because the air in your lungs also expands as you ascend. In ice diving, there is an added danger of hitting your head against the layer of ice on the surface.

You have to release air from your suit to stop yourself from ascending uncontrollably. Air can get trapped at the feet, where there is no release valve. If this happens, you have to change your body position to move the air bubble up to your shoulder. You must learn to control that air bubble!

Our first day of diving was not under ice, but just at the edge of the frozen lake, where Lake Baikal meets the Angara River. I felt a bit shaky at first, since this was my first dive in one year, and diving Lake Baikal is so different to diving in the tropics. Within the first 10 minutes of diving, air got trapped at my feet and started pushing me upside down. I changed my body position as Andrei instructed, but got nervous and somehow choked on water, then shot up to the surface. I started doubting my own diving skills then, thinking, ‘maybe I am not an experienced enough diver to pull off this ice diving shoot…’

Andrei met me on the surface, calmed me down, took me back underwater and showed me how to gain control of my equipment. We did buoyancy exercises and learned how to control that air bubble. Once Alfie and I felt comfortable, we went for a short swim around the ice.

I am so grateful to have had Andrei as our instructor :)

Diving Under Ice

The next day, we jumped into our first mine. I felt more comfortable with the dry suit this time, but I ran into new trouble- claustrophobia.

Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world (1.6 km deep) but its depth does not change gradually, so when you dive Baikal, you either dive extra shallow (2-3 meters deep) or you dive a wall that drops down to over 100 meters beneath the surface.  

Our first official ice dive with DC Sval was in shallow water topped by 1-meter-thick ice. I knew I was in safe hands with Andrei and his divers, but it was a psychological challenge to calm my mind while floating in the 2-meter space between thick ice and the ground below. The water was crystal clear and the ice was enchanting, but at one point an overwhelming fear came over me-

‘the space between the ground and the ice is so tight! I can’t maneuver easily! I lost sight of our exit! There’s a meter of ice above my head!’

I knew that the worst thing that a diver can do is panic, so I looked down at the ground, breathed in steadily and calmed down my mind.

‘It’s all psychological. Feel the rope, move slowly, don’t panic. Breathe. Take a look at the exit. Breathe. Admire the ice and the beauty of Lake Baikal- that’s what you’re really here for, isn’t it?’

I calmed down and kept on diving. After the dive, my dive-buddy Dima said:

“when you dive in the tropics, you dive to have a look at the underwater world- fish, turtles, sea-life, and beautiful reefs, but when you dive Lake Baikal, you dive to look inside yourself.”

I kept this in mind when we dove the 120 meter drop the next day.

Diving Lake Baikal

The challenge of diving Lake Baikal comes from the conditions- freshwater, cold temperatures, and steep vertical drops. I’ve dived many vertical walls in warm saltwater and after over 100 dives in Indonesia, I never thought I would have a problem with buoyancy, but here in Lake Baikal, I felt my body plummeting down the side of the 120-meter wall. This time, I kept Dima’s words in mind, “when you dive Lake Baikal, you dive to look inside yourself.”

‘Be calm, be rational, be strong. Control your body- use your lungs. Control your mind- never panic. Control your equipment. Remember your training.’  

Andrei explained that people lose half their brain when they’re underwater. They panic and lose the ability to make easy, simple decisions that would save their lives. This is hard for people understand when they’re sitting on their couch, but underwater, everything is different.

So to be a good diver you have to learn to think underwater. Your brain has to function the same way below the ice as it does above the ice- and this takes tons of practice and training.

I got it together that time and had a great dive with Dima down the side of the wall to a small cave. I was surprised at how much light there was coming through the thick, snow-covered ice in Listvyanka.

Alfie and Nico tried out their camera equipment for the first time under ice.

Apparently, Alfie couldn’t hold his buoyancy either and was bobbing up and down like an Open Water student, which is crazy because he’s had thousands of dives!

I thought ice diving and Siberian winter was going to kill him actually :) Coming from tropical Indonesia, Alfie was absolutely exhausted after every cold dive; he slept a lot and was on the verge of getting sick. Nico, on the other hand, came from Germany and seemed to handle everything quite well- from the dry suit, to his buoyancy control, to the cold.

So we didn’t get many underwater photos from that first dive, but we got some great video footage and some pretty cool “above the ice” photos and videos.

Getting these shots was actually very exhausting. Andrei and I had to walk around with steel tanks on our backs for about 30 minutes, right after an ice dive. Our dry suits froze in the cold air and we tried not to slip on ice as we walked around the mine feeling like robots.

Diving Bolshiye Koty

Andrei arranged for us to dive in two freshly made mines in a town called Bolshiye Koty, about 20km away from Listvyanka. We paid about $100 to have each new mine made for us (because making a mine is a huge amount of work) and another $100 for a guide to safely take us over the ice in a vehicle. There is no road going to Bolshiye Koty so the only way to get there is via ice in the winter, boat in the summer, or the Great Baikal Trail.

The drive can be dangerous even over 2-meter-thick ice because you can run into huge ice cracks and sections of ice that become unstable from methane bubbles. And as you can imagine, stopping a car on ice is a bit slipperier than stopping one on land. Andrei said that he had found many dead bodies in Lake Baikal, so he was extra cautious during this drive.

The Bolshiye Koty dive sites were spectacular. The first mine was next to huge, crystal clear blocks of ice, sections of clear, cracked ice, and mountains on the shoreline.

We jumped in the mine and admired the ice cracks from the underside, then dropped down to a staggering canyon. On top of the canyon was a cross that was put there by Andrei himself, in memory of his best friend.

Each dive was usually only about 30-minutes long and we only did one dive per day. Doing more than one dive wasn’t really an option since our equipment would freeze in the cold air between dives. The air temperature was “pretty warm” while we were there (around -12°C) but that was still cold enough to freeze our equipment in a matter of minutes.

Usually mines are about 2 x 2 meters, but we asked to make one 3 x 1 meter mine to have more space for half-half shots like this one:

So for our second dive in Bolshiye Koty, we jumped into this mine:

It was a tiny bit frightening to dive into an ice hole in the shape of a grave, in what seemed like the middle of no-where in Siberia… But totally worth it ;)

Après-Dive

Between dives, we ate salo (pig fat) on bread to keep us warm, and after the dives, we drove back to our cabin in Listvyanka, unpacked and undressed, then hit the banya ;)

Banya is a Russian sauna where you warm up and unwind after a cold day. In the banya, there is a hot sauna as well as a room temperature area where you can hang out and enjoy some food and drinks.

There is also an interesting sauna ritual that I believe only exists in Russia :) -Hitting yourself or others with a bouquet of dried leafy branches. This is meant to open up your pores, improve blood circulation, and let the heat seep deep into your body. Both Alfie and Nico got a hell of a banya beating from Andrei and his friends :D

Andrei said that both the salo and the banya are an essential part of the diving experience in Russia:

“salo helps you survive, banya helps you revive!”

After a few more days of diving and a lot of help from Andrei and his crew, Alfie and Nico got enough underwater footage for the film clips and photos they were sponsored for, but now we needed some land footage.

Olkhon Island

I wanted to bring the guys to the village that I lived in this winter, around Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. I had spent the winter biking all over the frozen lake in that area so I knew exactly where to film and stay for cheap or free. But there was one dilemma- car rental. We needed a car because we had a lot of gear but none of us had an acceptable license. Nico is German but has a New Zealand License, Alfie is South African but has an Indonesian license, and I am Russian but I have a Hawaiian license.

So rather than renting a car, we made a deal with a friend of mine who had a 4WD and wanted photos of acroyoga :)

– We said that we will pay for his gas, food, and accomodation, and take acroyoga photos with me wherever he wanted, if he would drive us to and around Olkhon Island.

He agreed!

This must have been one of the most random deals I ever made with anybody, but it allowed us to see most of the best sites on the island, get some great video footage for Nico’s film clips, and some pretty cool acroyoga shots while we were at it :D

I suppose this is one benefit to being “Jack (or Jill) of many trades, master of none” :D

This blog is already very long so I will leave it at that and share the video footage with you once Nico is finished editing.

Expect them to be awesome!

 

Enormous thank you to Andrei, Olga, Dima, Vanya, Aleksei, and everybody else at DC Sval!

If you’re looking for a good dive center on Lake Baikal, you can contact them here or here.

And of course big thank you to Alfie and Nico for coming out to Siberia and taking these great photos and video clips. And to Anton for all of your help!

Much love and aloha ;)

On the Road Again

Uncategorized

I’ve returned my bicycle, packed up my backpack and I’m ready to hit the road again tomorrow! I think there are few people in this world that get more excited than me about being homeless :). I love the feeling of stuffing everything into a backpack and just going in one direction. No bills, no rent, no responsibilities. Another reason I should never have a child :D

It’s been a very productive month and a half here in this small village by Lake Baikal. I’ve managed to write about 140 pages of my book, which is probably about 2/3 of the way there and a lot more than I expected to do in a month and a half. That shows me how valuable it is to set your mind on the things that you really want to do. I have to leave now because my buddy Alfie is flying in from Indonesia to do a big ice diving adventure :D Very excited for that.

I’ll be in different areas around Lake Baikal for the next month, then I’m off to Spain to meet the guys from TROM! Yaay :)

 

Below are a few screenshots of the rough draft of my book- just some of my past struggles with money and some funny moments-

2008

2010

2012

Eastern Indonesia, 2011

book, Uncategorized

I have about 115 word-doc pages of my book written now and I’m up to the year 2011, which means I only have about five more years to write about! That might take me a while though, since those five years were kinda crazy :D

I’ll share one of my favorite adventures with you now. This one starts off after I quit university for the fourth time and traveled through Indonesia from Bali to Komodo National Park by myself at age 22-

*this font is what I wrote back in 2011

The default print is my narration of the story. Italics are my thoughts at the time. Hope it makes sense!

[… Chapter 13]

I decided to keep on going east, where there were no tourists. I wanted to catch a bus to Bajawa, which was the closest city to a number of interesting looking native villages. There weren’t many busses around, however, and I ended up catching a ride with a tour guide for the same price as a bus. It was that cheap only because the guide was going there anyway.

The drive from Labuan Bajo to Bajawa was incredible, it went through big lush green mountain passes, weaved around the side of the ocean and up and down colorful hills. It’s no coincidence that the Portuguese colonizers called this island “Flores.” The jungle was covered in flowers!

We stopped at the guide’s mother’s house, in a small village in the mountains on the way to Bajawa. She gave us some snacks and a fresh cup of coffee, then the guide explained some things to me,

“When I was kid, there was no road here. If you want go to Labuan Bajo, you walk for four days on this path. Now the path is road.

Things change too quickly here in Indonesia. Look at my mother, I gave her a cellphone so I can call her, but she don’t understand. I call her and it rings but she don’t know how pick it up. I explain but she don’t get it.

Environment is changing so quickly, but the people’s minds can’t keep up.”

I thought about this. I suppose that’s why there’s so much garbage everywhere you look. 30 years ago, the only garbage these people had were banana peels and coconut shells. It wasn’t a problem to eat a banana and throw the peel anywhere you want, but the people’s minds didn’t change when Western companies replaced those bananas with snickers bars and the peels with plastic.

After another four or five hour drive, we made it to Bajawa.

There, again, I could not escape the constant attention. Every 20 feet I walked in a public area someone would yell ‘bule’ (white skinned tourist) at me. The thing that bothered me the most was that I felt like I could not relate to anybody. I was always on the other side, always the ‘bule,’ never another human being. It seemed like everybody just wanted something from me, that I could not talk to another human being on a straight and honest level, and that nobody could be trusted.
I was angered by this and did not want to give my money away to anybody. Because of this, rather than paying for a tour or even a motorbike ride to the traditional villages, I walked. I walked for 20km and reached the village of Bena- where they asked me for money to enter the village…
It was an interesting looking village. The houses had thatched roofs and there were graves in the front yard. There were also big stones and little thatched-roof shacks and umbrellas on their territory.
The next morning, I woke up feeling fed up. I decided that I should no longer venture further east to my next destination, Kelimutu (the volcano with three different color lakes), because it was too frustrating to deal with the people here.
I decided to spend one more day in Bajawa, visit one more traditional village or see the hot springs, then head back to Lubuanbajo and eventually back to Bali (from where I could fly).
However, I felt like it would be a shame to leave these traditional villages without learning much about the people and their ways. I read a small bit of information in my guide book and tried to find more on the internet but was quite unsuccessful. Then I decided that it may be worth it to pay for a tour as long as the guide was very knowledgeable. There were several one-day tours available and also an over-night tour where you can sleep in one of the traditional villages.
The over-night tour seemed ridiculous to me- paying over $100 to sleep in someone’s house is not what I would call a meaningful experience. If you are paying to be a guest, you are still very much on the other side, and still learning very little. Finding an intelligent, English-speaking guide for a one-day tour also seemed unlikely, I got the feeling that these ‘tours’ were actually more just expensive methods of transportation rather than enriching guides.
So I walked again. I walked until my feet ached and then flagged down a bemo (minivan). I asked where it was going, looked at my paper map and said “okay, take me there!”
I was dropped off at a vibrant market; walked around it for about 15 minutes and then bumped into a young girl who started speaking to me in English (this was surprising because most people around Bajawa don’t know a word of English). After about a one-minute conversation, she invited me to visit her village. At first, I was a bit skeptical, thinking that maybe she wanted something from me as well, but she seemed very nice so I decided to trust her.
This was (and still is) a truly amazing experience. Right when I had had it and was about to give up on Indonesia, I was accepted and brought into the other side.
My friend’s name is Asry. She showed me her village, introduced me to her family, fed me and invited me to sleep in her house. Really funny and ironic isn’t it? Her and her family are the traditional Ngada people, from the same background as the people of Bena and Wogo, the villages people tour and pay big money to sleep in.
The entire family is very kind to me, they accept me and tell me that I am a part of their family. They feed me enormous amounts of food and ask for nothing in return.
On my second day in Mala Nusa (their small village), I was invited to a huge family celebration. This was something I never expected. Asry’s family dressed me up in their traditional black cloth and told me to carry the gift for the party on my head- it was rice in a traditional basket. When we arrived, swarms of people surrounded me! There were about 200 people at this party and I think that most of them had never seen a white person before. They dressed me up even more, adding a yellow band, beads and a headband to my outfit. Then they crowded around and observed me, making comments about my nose and white skin. No one except Asry knew a word of English, but it was easy enough to understand what they were talking about.
They gave me rice and grilled meat, then commented about the way I eat. They were surprised that I liked rice and that I could eat with my hands. It was a bit difficult to pick up rice, but I didn’t really have a choice, since there were no utensils at the party.
After they fed me, they sent me to not only watch the traditional ceremonial dance, but to participate in it! They shoved me into a circle of people in the middle of the ceremony and I tried my best to copy their dance moves. Luckily, it was an easy dance, just some foot shuffling and long hand motions.
I snuck off the dancefloor somehow, then the drum circle got louder, as did the powerful yells to the ancestors, and the animal sacrificing began.
Asry led me to a small room in the middle of the big house that this party surrounded. The room had a small door and was elevated above all the other rooms in the house. Asry explained that this was the spiritual room, where the family prays to their ancestors. The door is small so that you give respect by bowing your head when you enter.
Next, I hear a scream and loud banging drums- a large pig was sacrificed outside. I looked out and saw its neck split open and blood dripping into a bucket.
Asry explained that this party was a celebration of the building of the new house we were sitting in. This house will be the “main house” of a small village, the place where family members meet, have celebrations and pray together. Animals are sacrificed on this day and their blood is smeared onto large sheets of metal which are then placed on top of this elevated spiritual room to create a special trapezoid-shaped roof. The blood of the sacrificed animals is an offering for their ancestors.
Asry left the spiritual room and I sat there with 10 very old people that gave me more rice and grilled meat.
‘I sure hope their ancestors don’t like human blood.’
I knew it was crazy to think that they might want to sacrifice me too, but I couldn’t fully get that thought out of my head, especially since I had only met Asry two days before this ceremony and everything seemed so wild! The banging drums, the black cloths, the yells, the dancing, the blood!
But at that point, I figured that if they did want to, it was already too late to do anything about it now, since I was god-knows-where and outnumbered by about 200 people.
I laughed about the fact that if anything like that did happen, nobody would ever find me!

Yeah, these were still the days before I had a smartphone.

The second animal I saw being sacrificed was a dog. The tribal leader gave it three smacks on the head and it fell dead and was hung from a rope tied to a large wooden pole. A few minutes later, they tied a second dog to this pole while the dead one still hung in the air. As you could imagine, the living dog was absolutely shitting itself.
I did not see whether the second dog was sacrificed or not. I saw it tied to the pole for several minutes, panicking and emitting so much fear that I could practically see it, then a man untied the chain and lead it away.
This made me wonder more about fear. Manu told us that fear attracts spirits. Fear is powerful. Maybe they didn’t actually kill this second dog but were using its fear to attract the spirits of their ancestors!

I’m not saying that I believed in all this stuff, by the way, I just thought it was interesting to try to understand other people’s perspectives.

Asry’s family cooked and ate every part of every animal that was sacrificed, including the dog. During this celebration, 30kg of rice were cooked, everybody ate A LOT and each family unit took home a goody-bag of rice and meat in the same traditional basket they came in with.
Later, they put up the thatched-roof shacks and umbrella-like structures that I noticed in Bena. These structures are called ‘ngadhu’ and ‘bhaga,’ and they commemorate the male and female ancestors of each family unit.

No one attempted to sacrifice me during this party, so I ended up living in Asry’s village for over a week. I felt honored to be there and to have this experience.

Asry’s house was made out of bamboo. It didn’t have running water, a kitchen, much electricity or much furniture, but it was nice and cozy, especially in the mornings.

Each day I would wake up slowly as faint sunrays shined through the misty air. Sometimes it felt a bit damp and chilly in the morning, since her village was in the mountains. The smell of smoke, fire and coffee filled the air. I stretched out my arms, took a deep breath, then slowly made my way to the family room. There were always six or seven family members crowded around a fire inside the house in the morning. Somebody would always hand me a fresh cup of home-grown coffee, the best coffee I had ever had. Then I would sit quietly on a small stub of wood, sipping the coffee and getting lost in my thoughts and the crackling sound of the fire.

In the day, Asry and I walked around the village and met with more family members. They were all so nice and they fed me A LOT! They showed me their cows, their pigs, gardens, rice fields and coffee plantations. They showed me how they made their own knives, their own furniture, weaved clothes and crafted many other products.

Asry’s family also took me on a motorcycle trip to some hot springs. On the way, we stopped at a Virgin Mary shrine, where the family members prayed to a Mary covered in their traditional black cloth. This was always awkward. I assumed that the family would believe that I was evil if they knew that I didn’t believe in any religion, so I explained to Asry that I just had my own religion, but she translated this as, “Protestant.” I decided not to argue.

Almost everybody on the island of Flores, including all of the people involved in these tribal ceremonies, considered themselves to be Catholic. During the big celebration where Asry’s family sacrificed animals for their ancestors, they were also displaying pictures and cards of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Since I knew that the locals were Catholic (and not Muslim), I didn’t think too much about what to cover my body with in these hot springs. I brought a towel and a bikini, nothing else. And once I had nothing but my bikini on, I noticed that every woman in the springs was in pants and a T-shirt and that every man was staring at my body. It was awkward but a bit too late to turn back now, so I just went in while everybody stared at me as if I was naked. I was kind of used to getting stared at at that point anyway.

I decided to leave Asry’s village after her brother and cousin drove in on a cargo truck and invited us to go on a road trip with them. They were delivering heavy equipment between Bajawa, Maumere and Larantuka (the eastern end of Flores) and were happy to bring family and friends along.

Seven of us squeezed into this giant truck- Asry, her brother, three of her cousins, me and for some reason, a five-year-old kid.

I don’t remember who’s kid he was, but I don’t think that he was the child of anybody in our truck. That didn’t seem to be so important to them though, since everyone in the family took care of all of the children. I would even get confused from time to time because Asry would sometimes refer to her uncles as her “father” and her aunts as her “mother,” even though her mother had died and her father was living with her. It was interesting to see a different perspective of the idea of a family and how to raise children.

According to the map, the drive between Bajawa and Larantuka is only about 400 kilometers, but since the road was not well maintained and weaved around like crazy, going up and down big mountains, the drive took several days.

It was a beautiful drive, nevertheless, and Asry and I had front row seats in this big truck. We drove through flowery mountains, passed by black volcanic beaches, rice terraces and lush jungles. We took breaks by the ocean and stopped to eat rice and curry in local eateries.

I remember walking into a busy lunch shack in a small village somewhere far east; we sat down, had a look at the menu, and all of the sudden the entire place turned silent. I lifted my head and every single person in the lunch shack was staring at me.

Everywhere I went, I was greeted with excitement and curiosity. Since I was now with Asry and her family, people didn’t seem to attack me for money like before, now they wanted to give me stuff instead!

We slept in the houses of Asry’s aunts and uncles in other villages on Flores. Their family members took us in and fed us until we could barely move.

October 7, 2011
Now I am in Moni, a small village below Kelimutu, the volcano with the tri-colored lakes. Tomorrow I am meant to see this volcano (leaving at 4:20AM to watch the sun rise above it!).
I am not sure exactly what will happen next, but I feel that it is time to leave Indonesia and move on to new lands…Plus, my friend is calling me to join him on his yacht in New Zealand on a two-month sailing trip!! So as long as they let me back into Aotearoa, I shall soon be writing of grand adventures in open seas.
I hope that you can now understand that although I am not in university, I am learning more about international and global studies than I ever have.

Right, so all of that Caveot font about Indonesia was originally written for my mother’s birthday in October of 2011. Not sure if that was a good birthday gift, now that I think about it, I probably scared the shit out of her more than anything else. My poor mother…  

I did the short and easy hike up Kelimutu the next morning, watched the sunrise over the three different colored crater lakes (blue, green and black), then made my way all the way back to Bali. The trip back to Bali was much easier now that I knew a bit more Indonesian and I felt like I could communicate and relate to the local people better. I took buses back and made some stops along the way. I rented a motorbike in Mataram, Lombok, and drove around the south of the island by myself, then I took a ferry to Bali and flew out to my next adventure: a two-month long sailing trip around the North Island of New Zealand…

For the Love of Ice Bubbles

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I accidentally rode my bike into a giant ice crack today. I realized I was in it only when I was about a foot deep in ice water…distracted by staring at an amazing ice cave. I kept peddling and didn’t fall into the lake. Whew. And my big fluffy winter boots are so thick that my feet didn’t even get wet :D But one of my breaks fell off and the other one froze. I’ve owned bikes with no breaks before but here it’s more of a challenge since there’s not so much friction between my boots and the ice that I’m riding on.

In other news, I’ve been head deep in my book. I’ve basically been doing nothing else but writing and bike riding as a break. I don’t even shower and I barely eat anything because I don’t want to waste time cooking, eating and cleaning it up. Today I had an onion sandwich :D Yea, raw onion on bread. Little bit of oil, salt and pepper. I don’t recommend it, to be honest.

It’s been a rough couple of day though. I’ve basically finished the first part of my book, which explains the past two or so years, and now I’ve gone back to write about my childhood and teenage years, which were fucking nuts. I cried a lot the past two days :) But after crying I always laughed at myself for crying, and then I felt good. It’s like therapy, I recommend this to everybody. Write a book about your life- it doesn’t matter if anybody reads it or not, just write it and you will learn so much about yourself. I used to think that it was just my teenage years that made me live this traveling lifestyle now, but no- it was everything.

I feel really tired, both physically and emotionally. Drained, actually, is a better word. It feels good though, like I’m draining all the shit from my life- all the bad stuff, all the stuff I’ve left behind and thought I would never come face to face with again. I brought it all back up, and then I drained it into my book and out of my life. Now I can fill myself back up with good things, like my love for ice bubbles :).

I believe that this is real art- the beauty of ice bubbles frozen in a crystal clear lake. Not this crap that they sell in art galleries for tens of thousands of dollars.

Lake Baikal- in winter

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Just a small update :)

I moved into a little house in a village called Sakhyurta, located less than 2 km from Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal. I pay 300 rubles ($4.55) a day for rent here. I found this place by coming here in December and looking for a room. I asked anybody I saw in this village and eventually came to this house. You would normally only get a room for this price, not an entire house, but the landlady offered me this small house because it is the house of her mother, who happens to have a broken leg at the moment and is not living here. It’s a bit chilly sometimes and there’s no running water, but I realized that I actually save a lot of time by not having to shower and change clothes all the time. I don’t sweat much, since it’s cold outside, so it’s not a big deal. I will wash off in a banya once a week or so.

I’m going pretty good with my book so far. I’ve reorganized and edited the first parts. You can find the old drafts here: 1 2 3 4

I’ve finished writing about my next big adventures on Molokai, Lanai, Kauai and the East Coast of the US. I decided not to put them out as blogs yet because I want to concentrate on writing for now and blogs take too much time because photos take too much time. So I will deal with them later. I’m almost done with writing about my trip through Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway, then from there I will take it back the beginning of my life and go on from there. Seems like a weird order but I think it will make sense when you read it. Don’t expect this book anytime soon though, because there is A LOT to write and I’m only planning on staying in this village for one more month.

I also rented a bicycle with spiked tires for 350 rubles a day- and I think this is one of the coolest things that I have ever done in my life! :D Now, when I take a break from writing, I don’t just take a walk in the park, I ride a bicycle on top of Lake Baikal! :D

I’ve always loved riding a bicycle, but this is on a whole new level :D It is, by far, the best way to see Lake Baikal in winter.

Some photos came out nice, but I don’t think that I would ever be able to share the excitement and adrenaline that I feel when I’m riding this bike full speed on a piece of opaque ice and all of the sudden, it turns crystal clear and for a split second, I feel like I’m falling off the edge of a cliff or a 1.6km deep lake :D And then I glide smoothly along the glass, following shapes of endless ice cracks.

And then I stop the bike. And I’m alone. In the middle of the lake, no one in site. Hundreds of meters from land. Hundreds of meters of water beneath my feet. I stop and I listen. I feel the vibration. The lake cracks and howls. She plays drum n bass. I feel her. The boom! She’s my whomping playroom.

Traveling is Cheap

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So here’s the total amount of money I spent traveling around Mongolia for one month* This includes everything: transportation from “home” (Irkutsk) to Mongolia and back to “home”**, all transportation within Mongolia (going from northern Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar, Lake Khuvsgul, Gorkhi Terelj National Park, to the Gobi Desert, many places in between and back to Ulaanbaatar and the north); all food, all accommodation, horse riding, motorcycle and quad riding, seeing beautiful mountains, hills, boulders and lakes, a trip to the Khongor Sand Dunes, the Yolin Am Canyon, Mukhart Shivert and White Stupa. Plus much more :)

Grand total= $323

 

Here’s the breakdown (in USD):

Transportation:
$38

    • We mostly hitchhiked, which is free, but we also paid for a bus, train, taxi, or a dead sheep van here or there. Clearly, public transportation is cheap in Mongolia. Read my blogs and do the math yourself if you don’t believe me! :P

Food/drinks/groceries:

$84

    • What’s in the magical bag of groceries that cost less than $10 almost every time and lasted for so many days? If you want to make your money last long, you can’t be too picky with what you eat. Don’t buy pesto if you’re not in Italy, don’t buy fresh tuna fish if you’re not by the ocean. Figure out what the locals eat and go with that. We bought things like noodles, rice, bread, onions, cabbage, garlic, and other random grains and vegetables that I don’t know the name of. Some Russian products, like buckwheat, are also cheap in Mongolia. Less than $1 for a kilo, which makes 5 hearty and healthy meals for 2 people (100grams of any grain per person per meal is plenty). We also bought things like oats, dried fruit and nuts for breakfast and hiking. You can go with cheap nuts like pumpkin or sunflower seeds instead of your expensive almonds and hazelnuts. When we bought food to cook in a hostel, we often went for beetroot, since it’s super healthy and super cheap, but is heavy and takes a while to cook (meaning a waste of your camping gas).
    • Basically, we looked for cheap and healthy (plus long-lasting and light when hitching/hiking). I often buy stuff that I’m completely unfamiliar with just because it seems to fit the category. For example, we randomly found a big bag of dehydrated soy meat for about 50 cents. It was perfect- very light, full of protein, quick to cook, could be added to almost any meal and it didn’t need to be refrigerated. We even soaked it in water one day, put it on a stick and BBQed it on a fire like chicken. Delicious!
    • We could have gone even cheaper if we wanted to, completely getting rid of anything unnecessary. Our bag of groceries sometimes included cookies or sweets, jams, juice, alcohol or spices. -None of that stuff was necessary and most of it is unhealthy but, what can I say, we had a lot of fun :D It’s up to you to figure out the right balance between funds, fun and necessities.

Accommodation:

$79

    • We paid for accommodation for 13 out of 30 nights. Accommodation ranged from 0 to 8 USD and included anything from camping to couchsurfing, to sleeping in family homes and yurts, in a train, Airbnb, hostels, motel-like yurts and cheap hotel rooms. You can see detailed examples in my previous blogs.

4WD Tour to the Gobi Desert:

$100

    • So we caved in and spent a third of our entire budget on a three day 4wd ride to the Khongor Sand Dunes in the Gobi Desert. It was worth it, but now that I know the situation better, I would prefer to try to hitch a lift to the dunes instead. I mentioned in this blog that we met a guy who managed to do that even in November. We also later found out that there are some buses that go further into the Gobi Desert to villages like Gurvantes, Servei, Noyon and Bulgan; so that could be another option for those who want to save some money and travel off the beaten path. I don’t have much information about those buses (besides the map below), but if you make it to the local Dalanzadgad bus station, I think you could figure it out ;).

Miscellaneous (shower, gas, souvenirs, speaker):

$22

    • There will always be some kind of extra stuff to buy. Here, again, it’s important to find that balance between funds, fun and necessities.
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Total: $323

    • If we hadn’t paid for that Khongor Sand Dune tour, the total for the entire month would have been around $230.

 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip: