Where the Magic Really Happens

Since most of what we’ve been doing for the past couple weeks is A) very similar to what we’ve done and written about during other stretches of time in Guatemala, and B) is boring as sin to read about, I thought I’d write for a while about what is, for lack of any exciting adventures, the most travel oriented thing we’ve accomplished lately. Which is planning our next trips.

One of many proud moments in Thailand

Despite what you may have heard, or I may have very coolly insinuated, I’ll have you know that we actually do plan our travels. Sure, I know it sometimes looks like we end up in these random, out of the way places with no rhyme or reason as to what brought us there or what our intentions may be. Not the case, my friends, not the case at all. In fact, you’d probably be surprised at how much thought, planning and research goes into one of our trips. Whether we actually end up following those plans, of course, is another matter entirely, but if we do end up straying from our original goals I can assure you it’s not for lack of information. I know, I know, isn’t true backpacking supposed to be all spontaneity, lack of scheduling and off the cuff decisions? Theoretically, yes, and we’ve certainly met many a traveler who follows these lofty edicts with a reasonable amount of success, given their particular temperament, I suppose. In our personal experience, however, we’ve found that spontaneity usually leads to hotels with no vacancy, lack of scheduling to a three day wait for the next ferry, and off the cuff decisions to legions of missed buses. Besides, it’s been a while since one could seriously characterize our travel style as traditional backpacking. We enjoy our laptops too much for that, and have developed a serious disdain for dorm rooms.

Anyway, all that aside, the most important thing is that we actually enjoy the planning process. That’s right, even though it may run contrary to the customary spirit of backpacker travel I have to admit that, for me at least, planning our travels is practically half the fun. Whether we actually end up going to a particular place or not, those initial moments of fascination when it first occurs to me that, you know what, we could go to, say, <insert random location>, then rush down to the library to fill my arms with guidebooks that promise to motivate, inspire and enlighten every bit as effectively as getting drunk and watching seventeen hours of Discovery channel during primate week. The thrill of possibility, the allure of an exotic name, the imminent draw of obscure and distant locations known only vaguely through books, movies, hearsay or unsubstantiated flights of imagination, well, much like disinfectant at the Y, these are things I simply can’t get enough of. From there I do my best to distract Laynni from her reading, usually by offhandedly blurting out the name of some seemingly random country, occasionally earning her grudging attention, eyes narrowed conspicuously in warning, at which point I jump at the chance to blurt out a few ideas, most of which she shoots mercilessly down (your ears burning, Iran?), as I watch carefully for those rare and precious couple of names that may just result in a pensive “hmmm”, and, voila, we’re off to the informational races.

A sad moment for a former technological marvel

For her part, Laynni first needs to know, are the flights feasible, and then, if the general concept is tempting enough, I get to watch in amazement, spellbound as she actually, physically sets her reader down for something other than to sleep or flee from a confused and indifferent scorpion, and sets about getting herself hopelessly hooked into that sticky web of internet surfing and mysterious time loss known as the world of online travel blogs (not mine, though, since, as you can see, there is rarely any useful information to be had there). It can be incredibly addictive. It’s like the ultimate mental freedom – the opportunity togo anywhere we want, and do anything we want, all without the distasteful tasks of actually getting there, or doing things. Because I can assure you that “last year”, “next time we visit” or “we’re considering it” are all far preferable times than “right now” to find yourself halfway up the side of a volcano,  or four hours into a nine hour bus ride, or pinned naked and helpless between Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

So, armed with only the most superficial combination of facts, ideas and traveler’s myths, I eagerly embark on a quest for knowledge designed to ultimately determine if the destination in question will in fact end up being our next great adventure, or if it will simply fade back into the oblivion that is my long term memory, forgotten and disregarded like Tara Reid. So there I find myself, giddy with anticipation as I crack open the book the guidebook that promises answers to all manner of fundamental mysteries, with a crowded host of questions rattling around in my brain like a set of eight-sided Dungeons and Dragons dice, questions that would normally be dull and ordinary but because they involve some exotically foreign place they suddenly become as suggestively stimulating as Chevy Chase’s men-only trampoline club, or an unexpectedly damp towel.

Mmmm, try my coconut

More often than not we start with a particular long distance hike that manages to meet our three key criteria:

Is the scenery spectacular enough to make me gag on my Snickers nougat?

Will we be able to find a bed each night that has never been slept in by a member of a classic automobile club?

Will there be pizza at the finish line?

From there we do our best to construct a three to four month trip around the hike, researching nearby attractions, convenient places to recover and roving Vampire Literature Anonymous meetings.

We usually have a few starting points to work with:

An overall theme – hiking / sightseeing / relaxing.

Which season we are looking to fill – fall / winter / spring (summer is reserved for ball tournament sunburns, beer on the deck at Waskesiu and being chided by the dentist for only coming in once a year).

Our price range – Super cheap / “we’ll ignore the cost…for now” / London.

Don't mind me. Heh, heh...heh, heh.

Thus equipped with these rather meagre criteria we usually start with the basics:

What is it known for?

What are the highlights?

When is the most popular time to visit?

And, most importantly, are people going to think we’re cool if we go there?

At that point, if it has passed the “General Overview” test, we start looking for a little more detail:

Flights

Will I have to sell any of Laynni’s internal organs to afford the flight?

Is there any way to get there without flying  Air Canada?

Will we have to layover in Houston?

Will we even have to see Houston on the in-seat flight map?

Weather

Will it be warm enough to leave home without a couch blanket?

Will it be too humid to dry underwear by hanging it from the door knob?

Will there be too much rain to work on my fire juggling badge?

Trekking - "sometimes it's not shitty"

High Season, Dry Season, Festivals and Infestations

Are there going to be really fun things going on at that time of year?

Will we actually take part in said things? Or will they just mean longer lines for the ATM?

In low season is empty hotel syndrome a risk (finding yourself stuck in actual conversations with bored hotel owners)?

Activities

Hiking – day hikes or multi-day treks? Need a guide? Is there a healthy local admiration for thin hairy calves?

Biking – real bikes or cruisers? On-road or off? Do they supply orange helmets, or only shitty ones?

Diving – are the dive shops persuasive enough to actually make us dive?

Culture and Day to Day Living

Will the people welcome us with open arms like Syl at Ave H Pawn Shop?

Is anti-inflammatory cream readily available or will I need to bring a whole case from home?

Do the people believe that all aspects of their lives are affected by the restlessly vengeful spirits of their ancestors? Or Republicans?

If one were to, say, sodomize a stray dog in front of a deep fried papaya stand, would he lose his place in line?

Ill-conceived in Paris

Things to See

Great views? (such as Lago de Atitlán, the Himalayas, Jessica Alba’s bathroom window)

Intriguing cities and towns? (such as Marrakech, Hanoi, Gotham)

World famous monuments? (such as the Pyramids of Giza, Macchu Picchu, Wilt Chamberlain’s leather couch)

A guy who can put a pole across his ass, wrap his dick around it and do deep knee bends?

Seahorses?

Hotels

Do they have wifi?

Big enough beds so we need not worry about accidentally touching each other during the night?

What about laminated business cards? I really like laminated business cards.

Costs

Will our average daily budget make my scrotum retreat ever so slightly?

How does the price of beer compare to bail on your average Public Urination charge?

What costs more – an erotic massage or double pack of paper towels?

What elephant in the room?

Transport

How far apart are the places we want to go?

Is the bus system even the vaguest bit logical, or is it Africa?

Are the main underground lines denoted in funky blue, or puke yellow?

Will I get picked on if I ride the subway in my cape?

And thus it is that every few months or so we find ourselves seeking the elusive answers to these questions, taking full advantage of our golden age of travel technology and the significant number of resources it provides for those hoping to vicariously experience the world while remaining within easy reach of their bag of Doritos and stained couch pillow. Guidebooks, movies, tourism websites, personal travel accounts and the opinion of people who know some people that they are pretty sure went somewhere near there, or maybe watched a show on OLN about it, but either way said the food looked gross, but that the women had pretty rockin’ breasts.

Take that, Africa

Now, for the very first time outside the unfocused pandemonium of my mind,  I present to you:

The 2012-13 Finalists

Slovakia

Great Wall of China

The Milford Track

Dubrovnik

The sauna in John Tesh’s basement

In Bruges

Tafraoute, Morocco

A shitty Balinese kecak fire dance

El Camino de Santiago

Lago de Atitlán

Trans-Siberian Railway

The island of Madeira

Creepy, even by Bolivian standards

An unpopular Portuguese brothel

The hard ground and horse urine smell of a Mongolian ger

Rome

The Great Barrier Reef

Frankfurt

The A&W drive-thru on Idylwyld

Non-American Samoa

Boquete, Panama

The Muppet Show

Bagan, Myanmar

A Dracula themed t-shirt shop in Sighisoara, Romania

The Galapagos Islands

A Cuban free speech rally

Twin Cities Greater Metropolitan Area, Minnesota, USA

Comments, suggestions and travel companions welcome.

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