Reality Bites

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Tue Oct 23, 2001 11:49pm
Subject: Reality Bites

Written in third person for fun:

“You have 7,27 kroner on your personal account” the friendly synthesized female voice said on the Bank’s automatic line. “Shit” he’d thought, “it’s only a week till I’m supposed to leave for South America – and all I’ve got is less than a dollar of spending budget.” Luckily he’d landed a temp job a week earlier, and his Mother had told him she was going to borrow him 100 dollars a month, so he would get some money to live on while being over there. He had bought a six-month return plane ticket to Sao Paulo a few months earlier, whilst visiting his dear friend John in Edinburgh. And he had been sporadically fretting about the budget for a while after that, but things were starting to look less bleak!

He was staring into the empty white computer screen in front of him, trying to figure out something to write in his next Internet newsletter, to explain why he was going away again so soon. Outside, the Norwegian winter was coming up quickly and was threatening to freeze every known organic life form more or less solid, during the following six months. Even the Sun had been contemplating leaving the country for some time soon, at least most parts of the day. He was not a fan of cold weather, and knew the beaches in South America were going to be fantastic, and he was really looking forward to be able to move around without wearing too much clothes again – but this time around it wasn’t going to be your average plain vanilla holiday trip. He was going to make a difference for some people, people who were not treated right. Volunteering, assisting missionary work, maybe even mild forms of activism were interesting aspects of this next level of the trip – and he felt he needed to do something, something that would mean a lot to somebody. Family and friends had all been wishing him good luck.

Most about the vast South American continent were completely unknown to him, and he knew for certain he was going to suffer making ends meet, and also to have some problems communicating with people. But the confidence in him had grown stronger than ever, and he actually wanted this. After all this is what he had decided a year before to accomplish, that late summer day at the trance music festival in a Portuguese forest, when he was speaking with a traveller called Terrance. That very moment he had decided to complete the transition he had been working on for some time, by chucking it all and becoming a traveller. He had decided to break down and change his life, maybe forever. He wanted to test himself, he wanted to understand the planet, he wanted to involve himself, and he was wishing to become a much better person in the process. Not light tasks for a man of 26 years. This time, he was ready for it and a nine-month backpacking trip wiser. Local Buddhists and other western travellers he had met in India and Nepal the previous spring were all trying to figure out a thing or two as well, and he had been able to ask them what they had seen and experienced in their time.

Tommy’s eyes were now almost completely open. The reality of Brazil was welcome to bite!
Edinburgh mail posted on

Beautiful Edinburgh has a lot of tradition. The magnificent Military Tattoo is on during the Edinburgh Festival every August, and I just missed the whole thing. Well you can’t catch everything that’s happening around the world. But you sure can try, right? The central city itself consists of an old part from maybe a thousand years back, and a 300-year-old new part, with houses built in renaissance style. The Castle towers majestically above the old city and the Princess Street. Spend some time walking up the High Street and Royal Mile leading up to it, there are several narrow alleyways called Closes and quaint shops selling everything from Cartography to Kilts. Edinburgh draw tourists year round, so expect difficulties in finding a room.

I’m here to visit my dear friend John who I met in Goa last February, he guides me around in his town and we spend the evenings catching up and basically enjoying the Edinburgh life. He has an extensive collection of Reggae and African music, which I of course had to copy to my minidisk Walkman. You see; I plan to spend the next winter in Brazil, so I need to update my music collection before I go. It should be possible to get cheap tickets to Sao Paulo or Rio in London, where I’m headed for next week.

Of course the unrest in the world might put a halt to my travel plans, but I hope to find a ticket…

My heart goes out to the people who lost their loved ones in the WTC tragedy last week. Hope they find and prosecute the people involved in this dreadful deed.

Good shall prevail in the end!
All the SolaLuna people I met in Greece, here’s a previously posted message most of you raver guys didn’t receive because of the stupid Topica thing. Posted sometime in September 2001 (I think?)

Hi All, I know I’ve said I won’t publish these newsletters for a while, but I thought you’d anyway like to read about my trip to Greece and the SolaLuna festival, since I’ve been nagging you about it the last couple of months. Here is the story written in retrospect; first of all I went to Berlin.

On the train from Amsterdam, a sunny Saturday afternoon some weeks ago, I met Berlin jazz musician Alex Kuhne. His brother was out of town for a few days so he kindly offered me to borrow his brother’s room over the weekend, for free. That was a very nice thing to do, hotels are expensive. Every other year signs and posters for all kinds of electronic gadgets – infest the whole of Berlin, why? Because of the huge Internationale Funkasstellung, or IFA for short. Some facts: This is a 160.000 square meter exhibition with more than 900 exhibitors from over 30 countries. Which basically translates to: An unknown amount of trailer loads of way cool stuff for geeks like me! I walked around in there the whole Sunday drooling heavily over the latest and hottest in mass-produced wizardry. Wishing I were rich.

The following Monday I caught the train to Prague, and I was finally on my way to Greece! I have never traveled through Eastern Europe before so I was quite excited about that. Prague was a very nice city, or at least the little glimpse I got of it. My 24-hour connecting train to Bucharest through Slovakia and Hungary was leaving after only four hours of arriving there, so my visit got a little bit stumped. Next to me on the train was a happy seventy year old German speaking man from Prague on his way to visit family in Bulgaria, we dubbed this train the “Dauerzug nach Bucuresti”. He messaged his wife a lot on his mobile phone. Finally in Bucharest the next night, I decided to head for the nearest hotel (by then I’d been traveling for about 36 hours), so the brand new Ibis Hotel right next to the train station graciously received 50 dollars from my rapidly shrinking budget. Deluxe backpacking indeed, but the capital of Romania is not the place to rummage around at two o’clock in the morning looking for cheap rooms while carrying everything you own, so the VISA card had to salvage the situation yet again. And I even got to exchange my dirty Ibis towel I stole in London about a month earlier with a clean, completely white, and nice smelling one.

The next day got more adventurous however. First of all I had to find a bank to get the quite impressive amount of 1.5 million Lei I needed for my next train ticket and a quick breakfast. The Immigration Police also told me while I entered Romania the night before, that on the departing border I would have to pay 23 USD for a transit visa, so I had to withdraw some dollars as well. The train came down from Budapest and contained a happy bunch of Hungarian fluro hippies also on their way to the SolaLuna. The train left on time, no problems there. The shit however hit the fan as soon as we got to the Bulgarian border. The Romanian Immigration Police then informed me I should have paid the fee at their office in Bucharest, and that they couldn’t take my cash directly. I had to say goodbye to my newfound friends and step off the train. After about an hour a lady from the office came to collect my money, and I was eventually allowed to leave the country. By then of course the train was long gone, so I now had a teeny problem: I had a ticket for a train on it’s way to Greece without me on it. The next train to arrive at the border post was the Istanbul express. I got on that one instead. Of course my ticket wasn’t valid so the conductor wanted some compensation. He flat out asked me how much money I had on me. I had eight dollars, and 1600 Czech crowns which nobody outside of the Czech Republic dared to accept. He took 3 dollars after I’d told him I needed to eat something later that day. But I had to get off this train at the first station behind the Bulgarian border; I wanted to use my ticked on the next train towards Greece. I got off the train and headed for the ticket office, someone was shouting something at me as I was crossing the tracks. The ticket lady made it clear in broken German that the train to Sofia would be leaving in about twelve hours. A man came over to help, he said he was a taxi driver, and that the train does a big detour on it’s way. He said it would be possible to overtake it via a shortcut, and for me to catch it further down the line. He wanted 50 dollars for this service. The next train to Sofia was in about 23 hours so I decided to take his offer rather than loosing a day, and perhaps spending the same amount in a hotel anyway.

But first I had to get my passport stamped, I didn’t want to get in trouble on the next border too. The Bulgarian border asshole started yelling something about how I was supposed to sit on the train while they collected my passport, and asking why the hell I was standing there in his office. The fine of jumping off the train like that, apparently was 60 dollars. But I had no money left, only five dollars and my trusty old 1600 Czech crowns. I somehow was able to talk some reason into the guy, and he accepted my last five dollars. This part of the world is indeed corrupt! My taxi driver Giorgio it turned out was really a nice guy; he had been working as a construction worker in Dusseldorf the last few years, and spoke perfect German. He told me that most people around there speak only Bulgarian and Russian, so I counted myself lucky to be able to make some kind of conversation with him in my school German. The taxi was of course his own private car, but at least it was a fast one. We drove southwards into the rain, playing tapes of traditional Bulgarian folk music, and I really loved the stuff. We had a small party in there while lightning struck and played on the horizon in front of us. When we got to my point of intercepting the train I actually had to wait for it for more than an hour. The reunion with my hippie friends on the train was a laugh. Wherever did I reappear from after over three hours of having to get off the train?

The last train ride to Alexandropolis went very smoothly, but the heat started to get a little bit hard to take, guess it was around 30 centigrade there in the middle of the day. Somebody had brought a little cassette player so we made a party in the restaurant car. The restaurant guy also joined in the dancing, but the conductor wasn’t too pleased about it. After about another 24 hours since I came back onto the train, we finally reached our destination. Everybody ran to the ticket office for the boats, and we had to wait in line for a long time, and then wait for the boat to leave at 8 pm. By now there were almost no non-SolaLuna people in sight. Mainly colorful dresses to be seen around there and many people with dreadlocks. The general feeling from all of this was fantastic and exciting!

The first person I met on the boat was of course my good friend Snille from Oslo. We had a lot of catching up to do since I hadn’t seen him ever since I left for India eight months earlier. He had brought another pal from Oslo too, Marius. The boat ride to Samothraki took three and a half hours, and we decided to share a room in the port town instead of trying to make our way out to the campsite that night. We actually never got around moving to the camp, we decided we were getting too old and too used to living in luxury to stay in a tent. It wasn’t too expensive either, about 10 dollars per person per night between the three of us; the summer season was on its last legs. We had fish for dinner that night, and got drunk on Dutch Amstel beer (!). Our hot shower later became very popular among friends at the campsite.

Festival time! On a paradise (yet stony) beach! Samothraki is a small island, situated in the northeastern part of the Aegean Sea. The island is 22 km wide and 12 km long and it’s only 35 km off Turkey’s coast, which was in fact visible from the beach. This island was just beautiful! And the spot they had found for the Main stage was magical to say the least. The water was warm and very clear, you could see about ten meters under water (well I couldn’t because of my near sightedness), and there were almost no waves so it was possible to dance in the water too. Behind the stage the Fegari, the highest mountain of all the Aegean islands, stood up as a majestic backdrop to the central action on the Main stage. During the night the full moon hovered the Fegari until about 3 am when it went down behind it, and in the morning the sun shone its red warm light on our cold bodies… It actually got quite cold at night. The Main stage acts played mostly Trance, in good old Goa style! And the Alternative stage played everything from Jazz to Techno, I even heard they had a strip show there one evening!

The party went on for five nights, but I gave up after three. It’s quite impossible to keep up till the end when you’re not doing drugs. I spent the last few days on the island by just staying in the port town. The boat trip back to Athens was long, about thirteen hours. And when we finally got there, there were no taxis or busses to transport people to central Athens or the airport. Me and a girl from the boat shared a pirate taxi to the airport. I had almost no money left for a ticket by that time, but luckily I was finally able to exchange my trusty old 1600 Czech crowns, so I was able to get a flight back to Amsterdam via Rome. When I arrived at my apartment later that night, I was told it had been rented out to someone else while I was away. A real bummer indeed. I later also decided to quit my meaningless call center job, and probably move on.

Next stop Edinburgh, Scotland.

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