Aug 162016
 

With 195 of the 196 countries in the world visited now, I’d like to think I’ve learned at least a little bit about different places. Sure, some of these trips have been less than 24 hours and I’ve only scratched the surface of the country, but even in a short time it’s easy to discover that lots of the misconceptions you might have had about a country before visiting just don’t stand up. So, in no particular order, 14 common misconceptions I’ve recently discovered in my quest to visit every country:

10. Iranians hate Americans. The media in the United States repeats it constantly, and Iran’s government certainly doesn’t do much to dispel this notion. However, it’s hard to wander the streets of Iran for five minutes without someone coming up to you, asking where you’re from, and often inviting you back to their home for tea. I found Iranians to be some of the warmest and most hospitable people I met anywhere in the world, and they’re genuinely curious about how things really are in the United States. Sure, our governments and politicians can be pretty easy to hate on both sides…but on an individual level the vast majority of Iranian people will welcome you with open arms.

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9. Africa is full of disease and hunger. Usually when I tell people who haven’t visited Africa about an upcoming trip, their first questions revolve around what shots/medications I had to get, and how will I find enough safe food to eat. Sure, there are tropical and other diseases that are much more common in Africa (malaria, dengue, even HIV), but that doesn’t mean that walking down the street you’re going to drop dead. Regarding food, yes, there’s not a McDonalds on every corner, but you would be surprised how many places you see KFC! There are, of course, lots of hungry people in Africa, but there are lots of hungry people in the United States as well. …and like Iran, the number of times people insisted I come back to their home and join them for a meal was amazing. People may not always have much, but you’re a guest and they’re happy to share it with you.

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8. People in China are pushy and rude. While it’s true that overall Chinese culture isn’t the same as the west when it comes to queueing this is changing to some degree in larger cities. When people start pushing (such as boarding a plane) it’s not an attempt to be rude, but simply doing what one needs to to not get trampled in a society that views that as a norm. There’s no rudeness intended at all, and firmly holding your ground will be respected.

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7. The Australian Diet Consists of Blooming Onions, Fosters, and Vegemite. In several trips to Australia I’ve never once seen a blooming onion, and all the Australians I know confirm it’s an American invention. As for Fosters, it’s incredibly uncommon and nobody drinks the stuff. Victoria Bitter (VB) is much more the stereotypical beverage and a higher quality beer costs up to $30 for a six pack thanks to taxes. Unfortunately, the vegemite part is true…and is definitely an acquired taste no matter how thinly you spread it and how much butter you use.

…but you can also get kangaroo and crocodile pizza:

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6. Argentina is Nothing but Cowboys, Steaks, and Evita. While it’s true all three play a huge part making up the Argentine identity, there’s so much more to the country. You can’t deny that modern Argentine politics was largely shaped by Peron and Evita, and you’ll find some of the most mouth-watering steaks in the world, but you’ll also find a vibrant international city in Buenos Aires and amazing skiing in the south and west. Oh, and don’t forget the amazing waterfalls at Iguazu and the Casa Rosada at night:

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5. You Can Get By Everywhere in English. While this is more true than it’s ever been, it’s still not universal. In most major world cities you will have no trouble in English (and in most European capitals the quality of English will be astounding) but there are still places where English is extremely limited. In Europe, Spain and Portugal are exceptions, and especially in Brazil you will find almost no english spoken outside the most touristic of places. Similar in China – get off the few major sites and international hotels, and limited to no English. Plus, if you want to see smaller towns you’ll find English much less common. This also goes for Russia and Central Asia outside capital cities. That’s not to say don’t go – most people will be happy to help, and do their best to communicate with you despite the language gap.

4. South Africa is rife with crime. Yes, South Africa is no stranger to both petty and violent crime. Yes, the stories of carjackings and people being robbed at gunpoint on the street are true. However, the same things happen in major American urban centres if you venture into the wrong neighbourhoods at the wrong time of time. Keep to well-trafficked areas, and use the “women, children, and old people rule” and you’ll be fine. The rule means simply if women, old people, and children are out strolling in the area, chances are things are just fine.

Cape Town sunset:

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3. Nigeria is nothing but Investment Scams, Corruption, and Oil Money. Is there corruption in Nigeria? Absolutely, but there’s also amazing beaches and some of the most amazingly warm people in Africa. One day I was sitting on a deserted beach just outside central Lagos, and the next partying at the craziest wedding I’ve ever been to. I found Nigerians to be some of the most fun-loving and happiest people I met in Africa…and they want you to join in the fun! I highly recommend to anyone who has a Nigerian friend they know in the US – try and get yourself an invite and see the real country. It’s an amazing place!

Very festive Nigerian wedding…the theme was obviously pink:

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2. Japan is all Pokemon, Anime, and Cat Cafes. Sure, all three of those things are very modern Japan, and all originated there and have become global phenomenons. At the same time, however, Japan is still a deeply traditional society with traditions and a history that goes back thousands of years. While Western society is certainly very at home in downtown Tokyo (as attested to by Starbucks everywhere), just turn the corner and you’ll find a temple that goes back hundreds of years that young and old alike still visit and respect. I found nowhere in the world where modern and traditional manage to exist side by side quite like in Japan.

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1. The Gulf States are Largely a Vast Desert Full of Camels and People that Despise Western Culture. So, first off, yes, there’s a lot of desert in the Arabian peninsula. It gets extremely hot and dry, and yes, there’s a lot of camels – outside the cities at least. Speaking of the cities, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and especially Qatar and the UAE and littered with enourmous shopping malls full of western brands. Dubai has dozens of Starbucks, Caribou, Tim Hortons, Costa and every other coffee shop known to western man. …and all of them are packed with local men sitting for hours and talking over coffee. Like with Japan, Western culture and convenience have been imported and customized for local tastes. Infrastructure and convenience wise the gulf states are some of the most modern places on earth which in some part is owed to the fact that in many of them (especially Qatar and the UAE) over 75% of the population is expatriates!

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So that’s my list of 10 of my bigger surprises – what has surprised you about places you went? What did you discover that you didn’t expect?

Dec 212011
 

So as I mentioned after well over 15-17 miles of walking the previous day – I still had Sunday to explore Buenos Aires.  I definitely wasn’t up for much more walking, so the plan was to explore the metro system and some other parts of the city.  I especially (being a transit geek) wanted to see the A line of the metro that dates back nearly 100 years and still has the original wooden cars!  This is going to be mostly a picture post, with a few comments.  Also, I’m going to merge this post with my post from the following Thursday.  It was also a holiday, so I spent both these days doing low-key sightseeing.

Decided the first thing I wanted to do was see the Palermo neighbourhood, mostly because I’d heard great things.  It was also the home of the Botanical Gardens and Zoo which I wandered.  A couple of pics, including a Yerba Mate bush:

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Dec 172011
 

I was originally going to make this one post on sightseeing, but then going through pictures I realized just how much I’d seen on Saturday alone and decided to split this into a few different posts.  The cool thing about Buenos Aires to me was what a walkable city it was.  Wide avenues, lots of sidewalks, and tons of cool and unique things to see along the way.

First stop out of the hotel was the memorial to those killed in the Islas Malvinas / Falkland Islands war.  It’s proof the great sense of irony the Argentines have that they placed this directly across the street from the English Clock Tower which was a gift from England around World War I.  The two monuments now stand facing each other, as if to say “this isn’t over yet.”

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Dec 112011
 

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s been due to quite a bit of travel. All-too-quick trip to Minnesota over Thanksgiving, and then just got back from possibly the worst (yeah…right) business trip ever – two weeks in Buenos Aires. Nobody really wants to be traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s just too much to get done with shopping, holiday parties, and end of the year tasks in the office. But, if you have to get sent somewhere in December I’m pretty sure there’s no place better than Buenos Aires. Sunny, warm, great food, great people…yeah, it was definitely a hardship trip!

I’m also in the midst of planning an epic new years trip that will – if all goes well – even top the last two new years in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should be if all goes well a whirlwind two week trip that manages to get another 7 countries visited and should bring my total count up to 107. My goal is 125 by the end of 2012 so hopefully I can get there! This will put a good dent in things.

Since the Argentina trip was nearly two weeks, I think it would be better to break the posts up by theme. Nobody really wants to hear the day-to-day of going to the office and doing work, so I think I’ll skip that part. I’ll break things up into four sections:

I. Roundtrip flights Washington Dulles to Buenos Aires via Panama City on COPA Airlines
II. Hotel Reviews – Le Meridian Panama City and Park Tower Buenos Aires – SPG Luxury Collection
III. Restaurant Reviews
IV. Touring and Sightseeing

One quick teaser pic – the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires