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Wild elephants on the road

Posted: 2013-03-05 03:27:43, Categories: Travel, Thailand, Cycling, 787 words (permalink)

A wild elephant on the road to Palau waterfall, Thailand. Photo by Sandra Wilke. Sandra and I are now in Thailand and this photo shows one of our most exciting moments during the first two weeks. We were riding a moped back from Palau waterfall in Kaeng Krachan national park, when suddenly two big wild elephants were walking towards us on the road. A Thai man stopped his moped, turned around and adviced us to do the same. We drove back a couple of hundred meters and watched how the beautiful animals walked slowly forwards. One of them decided to return to the forest, the other continued on the road.

A car came from our direction and started slowly driving around the elephant. We followed behind the car together with the Thai motorist. Just as the car was passing, the elephant turned and started again crossing the road. The car and the Thai motorist got through, we weren't sure and stopped. Should we get off from the moped and slowly retreat on foot, or what should we do? Fortunately the elephant decided to stay in the middle of the road, leaving us enough space on the side. Sandra held her nerves well enough to point the camera towards the giant and take the photo.

We started our Thailand tour on the 14th of February by flying to Bangkok and taking a bus to Hua Hin. There we visited Sandra's father, who married a Thai woman after the early death of Sandra's mother, and who is now living in Thailand with his new family. In addition to meeting the family, Hua Hin was a good place to get adjusted to the climate, to try out Thai food and delicious fruits, to spend a bit of time on the beach, to enjoy a Thai massage, to visit a few temples and to get used to the left hand side traffic. The trip to Palau by moped was an exception, mostly we rode our bicycles which we brought with us.

After a week in Hua Hin we spent two days in Bangkok, which was a quite hectic experience after the more relaxed Hua Hin. We cycled once across the whole city from the western bus terminal to our hotel, which we had less wisely booked in the eastern part of Bangkok. After that we switched to public transport and walking. Once we rode motorcycle taxis, the fastest way to get around and an experience in itself. Of the most famous sights we went to see the big lying golden Buddha statue at Wat Pho, but skipped the Grand Palace. The backpacker oriented Khao San area was a bit more laid back, including roads without cars, with food stands on the side and foot massages outside in open air. We also shortly met my old friend Phisit, who kindly invited us for lunch near his workplace.

From Bangkok we took a train north to Phitsanulok and started our cycling tour. We rode first to Sukhothai spending one day around old temple ruins, and from there through the countryside and small towns towards Chiang Mai. Now we are at Chom Thong, near Thailand's highest mountain Doi Inthanon and the surrounding Doi Inthanon national park.

Especially smaller roads have been nice and motorists surprisingly polite. Cars and trucks mostly leave a large safety margin when overtaking us — sometimes vehicles coming from the opposite direction have to cope with a much less space than we do. People are yelling "Hello hello" from their houses when we're passing: the smaller the road the more attention we gather. A few times we've got spontaneous gifts such as bottles of drinking water or a watermelon. Unfortunately the locals' English ability is usually limited to the "Hello" and we don't speak enough Thai to really communicate with them.

Daily high temperatures are constantly over 35°C, and the sun shines strongly. We try to start relatively early in the morning and find accommodation latest early afternoon, leaving time to rest during the hottest time and to walk around later in the evening. Hotels and guesthouses are mostly easy to find, and cost around 400 Baht (10€) for a modern and clean room with air conditioning, less with fan only. Two times we stayed with CouchSurfing hosts, enjoying generous hospitality and learning more about the local culture and habits.

Staying connected in Thailand is quite easy nowadays. Almost all hotels and guesthouses have free wireless Internet. And when that's not available, we can use our one month / 1 GB mobile Internet package which we got for 500 Baht including the SIM card and some talk time. Phone calls with Thai SIM cards are cheap too, even when calling abroad. Roaming fees are absurdly high, so our Finnish and German cards we're keeping out of our phones.

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From library to library on two wheels

Posted: 2011-06-18 14:55:49, Categories: Travel, Work, Ecology, Cycling, Germany, Cyc4lib, Denmark, 641 words (permalink)

Cycling to
Libraries tour approaching the bridge to Møn island. The Cycling for Libraries tour was an experiment on what comes up in the minds of library professionals when they go out and ride bicycles for nine days together. Answer: far-reaching discussions about the future of libraries in the changing world, and a great team spirit as the group worked it's way 700 km from Copenhagen to Berlin.

In the beginning we got to know each other and figured out by trial and error how to travel in a group. We saw beautiful Danish seaside landscapes, enjoyed meals prepared for us by our cook, were warmly welcomed in a local libraries, spent much more time on the road that the organizers had expected, got tired fixing punctured tyres in the rain, felt the bliss of a hot shower and slept side by side on the floor in a school.

After a couple of days the weather became more sunny, daily distances a bit shorter, bicycles were in better shape and also other topics than cycling and survival started to pop up in the discussions. As we didn't have books, documents or Internet in front of us, it was easier to think of broader topics than details. We talked about our projects, library politics, online presense and social changes — and of course about cycling, traveling and other hobbies.

The organizers had prepared for each day a theme, which was announced in the morning briefing. That guided the discussions a little bit, but ultimately it was up to each participant if they wanted to follow the theme, pick some other topic or simply listen to the nature and enjoy cycling. In the evening we were usually too tired and at the same time excited about what had happened during the day, that it was not easy to focus on any common theme other than food, beer and sleep.

A topic I found particularly interesting was the role of libraries as participants in social and environmental issues. One idea which came up was to create a global warming information finding aid: a shelf containing books, dvds and other resources on the topic, including hints what people can do themselves in everyday life. Libraries taking part in the campaign would place the shelf in a prominent place where visitors would easily see it. Different viewpoints should be offered to maintain the reputation of libraries as an impartial and trusted source of information.

Just as media can influence the thoughts and focus of its audience by choosing the topics to write about, libraries have more subtle but similar power through choosing which books and other resources are most visibly presented - including recommendations given by librarians online. Whether or not and how that power should be used is naturally not a trivial question. In any case, libraries can provide resources which give both a broader view and go deeper than a single TV show or newspaper article ever will.

One goal of the trip was to get library folks outdoors and challenge them. Several participants were first time taking part on a longer cycling tour. Accommodation was modest so people were together also in the evenings instead of locking themselves in hotel rooms. Day by day the team spirit grew, people helped each other and made sure nobody got lost or left behind. Everybody made it until the end, and many wrote afterwards that in their minds they were still cycling several days after the trip.

The Kirjastokaista team with their video cameras were with us during the whole tour. Almost everything was therefore freshly documented in detail and a short video of each day's events was posted online every evening. In that way the tour itself was an example of rapid information sharing using modern channels. A half an hour documentary is planned to come out later in the autumn. I'm looking forward to watching it.

Cycling for Libraries

Posted: 2011-05-28 10:49:39, Categories: Travel, Work, Ecology, Cycling, Cyc4lib, Denmark, 341 words (permalink)

Cycling for Libraries logo. Today starts an interesting event called Cycling for Libraries. About 80 library professionals and other people, whose work is somehow connected to libraries, will be spending nine days cycling from Copenhagen to Berlin. The goal is to combine work, fun and healthy exercise outdoors in a new and exiting way. The welcome party was yesterday evening at the Copenhagen main library, featuring a pedal powered ice cream and coffee bar.

Cycling for Libraries is a moving conference, where the main focus will be on the informal discussions between talks and other organized sessions. Hey, those are often the most interesting bits in conferences anyway. There will be some seminars, workshops and visits at local libraries on the way, but most of the time the participants will create the event themselves. I'm curious to see how much of the discussions will be focused on library topics, how much on cycling and how much on everything else. The organizers don't have a clue either, they're also doing this the first time.

For me it'll be the second time to participate in a organized cycling tour. Cycling for Libraries will not be as ecological and down to earth as the Ecotopia Biketour I joined in 2006, but still relatively low on luxury for a professional event. Accommodation will be at campsites, hostels and schools. I like that — sharing the space in a dormitory room or in a tent is a good way to get to know each other.

It's also a great opportunity to get out from my home office. It's too easy to get stuck to routines there, and have too little communication with the outside world. I came to Copenhagen a few days in advance and have really enjoyed my time here. Almost everybody is moving around by bicycle and that gives a special spirit to the whole city. Already on the first day, crossing a canal on a big bridge together with dozens of other cyclists and only a few motorists, I had a great feeling of being part of the community.

Bicycle 40000 km celebration

Posted: 2008-06-26 13:40:50, Categories: Travel, Finland, Ecology, Cycling, 542 words (permalink)

Me, the bicycle and the presents. On Wednesday 18th of June, on the way to Åland islands together with my Lithuanian friend Dalia, my bicycle reached 40000 km. Such a happy moment was certainly a good reason for celebration, so we offered it flowers, a cake which looked like a cycling helmet, and a small bottle of sparkling wine. Well, the bicycle actually prefers chain oil, so we helped it by eating the cake and drinking the wine ourselves. It was a small bottle, so we weren't too drunk to ride forwards after the party. :)

I had switched the cyclocomputer to show the total distance already twenty kilometers before the event. When it reached the magic figure, I squeaked the horn, we stopped and had a photo shoot and party on the spot. Very appropriately we happened to be on the King's Road, and there was a bicycle way next to the main road. People in the neighboring house were surely a bit curious what on earth we were doing, but they were too shy to come and ask.

The bike has now been in 22 countries and although it still hasn't traveled around the world, 40000 km is the equivalent distance. I bought the bike in May 2001 and have been riding it since then except for one year while being an exchange student in Japan 2002-2003 (I had another bicycle there). That makes an average of about 6500 km per year. Roughly half of it has been tours and shorter recreational outings, the other half being commuting and other everyday use. Everyday use includes also plenty of icy, snowy, slushy and rainy days during winters.

It's a year 2001 model of Nishiki Hybrid 601, a fairly standard decent quality hybrid bicycle. The frame, handlebar, brakes, gear shifter levers, front shifter, stand and plastic fenders (!) are still originals. Front fork, rims, crankset and pedals have all been changed once, rear shifter and seat twice. It's probably running about the eight chain and sixth rear cassette now, and the third set of chainrings in the front. It has the third set of summer tyres (not counting the originals which were crappy and quickly replaced) and second set of winter tyres. Brake pads and wires of both brakes and shifters have been changed several times. I have a habit of changing the brake wires once per year or at least every second year, even if they still look okay.

The luggage rack in the back is probably much older than the bike itself. I had two aluminum racks which both broke after about 15000 km. After the second breakdown I switched to a sturdy steel rack ripped from an old touring bike in Romania. Despite being slightly rusty, the current rack will probably last much longer than the previous ones. For touring, I've also added rear panniers, a handlebar bag (summer 2005), bar ends, a mirror (changed twice) and two drinking bottles. Last but not least, the bike is equipped with two locks, the cyclocomputer which shows speed and distance, a small funny horn, a seashell from the Black Sea coast and a collection of stickers from different countries.

Many people have asked whether the bike has a name. No, it doesn't, it's simply an old pal. But I just created a small picture gallery for it.


Posted: 2008-01-28 23:16:29, Categories: Travel, Ecology, Cycling, 482 words (permalink)

On board a sailing boat with a worn out sail in Jaitapur, Maharastra, India. A Californian girl asked in a message on CouchSurfing how to see the world in an environmentally friendly way. As she said, there are eco-tourism companies out there, but traveling IN nature is not the same thing as treading lightly ON it. I've gathered some of my ideas below and I'd be happy to hear some of yours, too.

Be slower, be smarter. If you take your time when moving around and don't have a tight schedule, you probably end up consuming less.

Travel at least partly by foot, bicycle or other non-motorized transport. Not only is the method of transportation ecological, it also gives a positive example for others who see you travel. When cycling in rural India, locals would often ride their motorcycle beside me and ask why I don't buy a motorcycle. I happily answered "Ah, because the bicycle is better!", which often left them a bit surprised. If they were interested, I explained more.

Eat local, buy local. Don't be fooled by eco-labels: vegetables bought from the local market or directly from a farmhouse are probably much more ecological than an imported product in a supermarket marked as "organic". It may be difficult to know how much dangerous pesticides are used on the local farm or how they otherwise treat the environment, but at least I still generally prefer local stuff. The question becomes more complex when the climate is hostile for plant life: tomatoes grown in a greenhouse in Finland during winter might be healthy but their production is certainly not energy efficient.

Inexpensive is often also ecological. Especially in less wealthy countries, being green is still surprisingly well connected with money. Vegetarian food in India is half price compared to a meal including meat. A cheap guesthouse in Cambodia is not going to have superfluous light installations, because electricity is expensive. Even low end hotels might offer air conditioning and hot water, but they are options which you pay for separately. Unfortunately, for proper waste management the rule doesn't apply — cheap places often do poorly, but expensive is no guarantee for better.

Make people think. People often ask why and how you travel, where did you go, what you liked and how do you live back home. That's a splendid opportunity to bring forward some ideas which you consider important. I believe it's best to avoid commenting negatively on others' actions, but rather spread positive thinking and personally set a good example. If you want to be more active, you can of course systematically promote your ideas, write articles and participate in environment related events, but that already goes a bit beyond simple travel.

Thanks to Päivi and Santeri for the private correspondence on responsible tourism which influenced this article. They've also raised the issue of social footprint, which is even more difficult to estimate than the environmental one. I might write about that later.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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