Amazon.com Widgets A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care: March 2011 Archives

March 2011 Archives

Failed Hero of the Week: LAN Airways

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A good friend of mine used to write weekly posts entitled "Designated Hero of the Week," in which she would thank someone who had helped her. I always wanted to be designated, but I can't remember ever making it. [1]

It was a great idea that I wouldn't mind shamelessly ripping off, especially because a number of people and organizations deserve to be thanked for invaluable help as we make our way across the globe. But I also think the blog would be well-served by a Failed Hero category, for those organizations that make life difficult, especially when they did not have to do so.

Designating a failed hero this week would be a tough call due to the crowded and competitive field of candidates. There's Air India, which caused us to miss an important appointment by delaying our flight from Tirupati to Hyderabad. That would be unfair, however, as I understand that the unexpected happens, and they did their best to help us out. Capital One has also been giving us a hard time, but the conflict there has been brewing since December (and nothing particularly silly happened this week), so they will have to wait.

Thus, LAN Airways takes the prize this week for being exceptionally unhelpful with our round-the-world ticket. We purchased our OneWorld Alliance tickets through LAN because we started in Ecuador, and so LAN is the only company that can modify the ticket. This week, their call center has suffered from ridiculous technical difficulties, resulting in a week's worth of repeating "Hello, can you hear me now?" to different operators, multiple dropped phone calls and half a dozen slowly-answered emails. The whole process culminated in us having to send our credit card number to LAN over email, an unsecure practice that I normally avoid.

I'm also more than a bit upset that they wouldn't waive the fees for changing flight plans from Cairo to Marrakesh. Technically they're within their rights, as the OneWorld Explorer ticket only allows us to freely change our dates [2], not our destinations. Nevertheless, I had hoped that they'd take the current political situation in Egypt into account and cut us a break, rather than insist on collecting $250. Now I have to see if our travel insurance will cover the costs.

Hidden within LAN's award-worthy lack of performance, however, is a travel lesson for long-term voyagers: put some slack into your budget to account for ticket changes. However well you may plan, the world is almost certain to throw a few obstacles into your path once you've set off. We've been lucky: so far, our problems have been relatively minor, and we gave ourselves more than a little wiggle room when we started out, so we can absorb this cost without having to cut much back.

[1] I would link, but I can't recall if she liked her blog to be publicized.

[2] Within certain restrictions, of course.

The captain just came on the intercom, gave us the normal welcoming speech, and then finished by providing us with the score of today's cricket game.

I suspect that more frequent updates will be given on tomorrow's flights during the big match between Pakistan and India.

I have no idea what Solid Masti is, but if the name doesn't enthrall you, you can always try Lay's Magic Masala.

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To build upon the great Benjamin Franklin, three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and the desire of insects to suck your blood out of your skin. In some countries, biting fiends actually constitute a mortal risk, through malaria or dengue fever. In all countries, they're an annoyance. [1] If you travel around the world, you'll get to observe the methods used by locals to prevent bug bites, be they hippie-approved all-organic tomato-based sprays, incense coils that smoke up a room, or the ubiquitous Off!

The most effective thing we've come across, however, is Detar, a mosquito-repelling lotion that we picked up on our first night in Ecuador. In the war against mosquitos, this stuff is the equivalent of nuclear weaponry: we've saved what's in the bottle, using it sparingly, and bringing it out only in locations with the worst of the worst bugs.

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This stuff is uncompromising. It doesn't smell good. It doesn't contain small amounts of sunscreen, like other repellents often do. Mosquitos, however, feel about this spray like Superman does about kryptonite, Jamie Oliver about fattening fast food, or Charles Rangel about IRS audits. I've actually seen little blood-sucking beasts fly near to Pallavi while she was wearing Detar, hover for a moment, and then dash away like they'd smelled the coming of the devil himself.

The bottle's a bit scary, though, especially if you look at the back of the one we're carrying. The concoction has actually stripped the paint off of the back label, leaving only a handful of partially-intelligible warning signs. Although it's hopefully safe to use on humans, I think these mean that you don't want to pour it in the water or use it on animals that might be used for food. This is probably just one more reason for Greenpeace to disapprove of me.

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 [1] Far in the future, I suppose an insect might evolve who not only bites the victim, but injects some substance that provides a pleasant, soothing effect. Anti-drug zealots will then ban being bitten by these insects, probably imposing strict liability.

An observation on work

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Pleasant environments are not necessarily great for productivity. For instance, it's hard to concentrate on job applications when you have a view like this.

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Anjuna Beach, Goa, India

Seen on the Skytrain

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You're likely to see a sign like this on any form of public transport in the world.

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This, on the other hand, I've only ever seen in Thailand.

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Is it much more difficult to ride a motorcycle than a scooter? I've done a bit of riding in Ko Chang, and I'm feeling a little more comfortable here in Goa, but if we want to ride to any of the neighboring towns we'll need a bigger bike.

The Supreme Court Project

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Travellers are by nature collectors: some collect those little silver spoons, others favor stamps, and some just keep a pocketful of the local currency. I am a law nerd, however, and so when Pallavi and I set out on our international trip I decided to collect pictures of our host nations' highest courts.

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Entrance to the Palacio de Justicia, Buenos Aires, Argentina

It's been fun, and we've learned quite a bit. Over the next few months, I intend to write a series of posts about our experiences visiting international high courts. We've had a pretty good run so far, making our way to about a dozen courts in eight countries. But Supreme Court tourism is a bit of a hit or miss proposition. In Argentina, for example, the Palacio de Justicia is an architectural wonder, with the government providing guided tours in Spanish. In other countries, there were no organized tours, but various administrative officials, guards or other staff went out of their way to show one or both of us around once they realized a tourist had dropped by to look about. Yet other courts appeared to be closed to public viewing, or at least that's what I was informed by polite but somewhat skeptical guards.

We had to miss out a few countries altogether: Canada, because the project hadn't occurred to me until after Ottawa; New Zealand, because we only visited the south island; and Australia, because every Aussie whom we talked to expressed profound bewilderment as to why anyone, given a choice of the many things to see on his great continent, would want to visit Canberra. [1]

A post for each country is on its way. Until I get around to finishing them, however, here is a quick photo album with the courts we've visited so far.

Supreme and Constitutional Courts

[1] Also, we ran out of time. Frankly, I kind of wish we had made it, because apparently there are kangaroos hopping across the lawns of government buildings in the capital. Kangaroos would greatly improve the White House and the Mall.

Here are a few pictures of strange and interesting signs that haven't really fit in any other entry.

An election poster, Lima, Peru (September 25, 2010):

Forgive my cynicism, but I somehow doubt that President Obama actually endorsed Dr. Davila.


A few things I wish I'd learned

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The idea of studying up for a round-the-world trip seems perverse, but now that we're on the tail end of our journey, I do wish that I'd spent a couple of months learning a few skills before we set out.

  • Photography: I didn't really understand how much help a photography course would be until we started using our DSLR. With our old camera, I could write off the inability to take good photos of certain things as a technical limitation. Now I know that my camera is capable of getting beautiful shots of the fireworks at Hoi An, the sprawling neon lights of Bangkok, or the delicate colors of a butterfly's wings in Sydney. The camera lacks an "idiot button" allowing it to take more than passable photos without my involvement, however.
  • Motorcycle riding: Especially in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, motorcycles often outnumber cars. In Ko Chang (where we are this week), motorcycle rental is the most convenient way to tour the island. I haven't driven a motorbike or scooter since I was underage and my parents let me take a (closely supervised) wheel in the Cayman Islands. Needless to say, a mountainous island with relatively sparse hospital facilities is not the place that I'd most like to learn.
  • Spanish: It would have been utterly unrealistic to try to learn every foreign language that we would need on this trip. Southeast Asia alone has a prohibitive variety of languages. Nevertheless, a grounding in Spanish would have stood me in good stead throughout South America. At the very least, I would not have needed a crash course in Spanish numbers from Pallavi prior to my Argentinian poker game.

On the other hand, I'm glad that we learned to scuba dive before we left Texas, as it has literally added another dimension to our travels. [1]

[1] Only those with the most literal minds will think that I'm violating the Oatmeal's style guide here, in that anyone planning on flying is already intending to travel in the directions "up" and "down." (Maybe NSFW. Also, I sort of want that shirt.)

Quito Eats

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The capitol of Ecuador is not one of the notable food capitols of the world, but we had some good meals there nonetheless. I'm afraid we didn't take pictures anywhere we ate, but we did take some photos of a place where we refused to eat: the internet-infamous Menestras del Negro.

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Despite all the gawking Westerners taking photos of its signage, Menestras del Negro lacks a significant web presence of its own -- its site just has pictures of its meals and numbers to call for local delivery -- so I have no idea what inspired the monkey-with-bone-fork "Negro" logo.

Things We've Seen


Things We Like