Show Must Go On

I have now written on this blog during such a long period that it is a bit difficult to realize that I am posting the very last entry. How can I find a reflective conclusion, an ultimate morality for this kind of diary? Actually I think we have more or less said everything that was worth being told, hence I’ll try and finally stay brief (probably the remaining non-existent visitors are all tired of reading large essays). One thing I can say for sure is that there is so much more to discover, so many places I’d still like to travel to and that I am keen on learning more from people all around the world. Thus, it was definitely not the last time I have gone to some foreign country, and I hope that also you can find the opportunity and necessary motivation to dare the adventure. To be certain that you won’t be running out of ideas, I’ll leave you with quite a few additional suggestions – some stuff we have not done either. You might wonder that there even more languages I would like to speak, but on a world-scale being fluent in 4 languages is nothing uncommon. In fact, compared to our skills in Europe, the US or South-America, there are lots of regions where it is normal if you master 5 or 6 different languages – regardless of the level of education and the social status …. so long!

Things to do for the next world trip:

  • go to an Argentine soccer game (“de River, por supuesto”)
  • visit Central America
  • learn Quechua
  • trek to Choquequirao
  • ascent the summits of El Misti, Nevado de Cachi and the Illimani
  • do more rock climbing and biking in the Andes
  • go to the south of Chile and Argentina (Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego)
  • stay longer in New Zealand’s nature, enjoying the beautiful landscape
  • play rugby on Tonga and never leave the “Friendly Islands” again
  • dive at great spots all around the world
  • do a Chinese language course in Yangshuo
  • explore South-East Asia
  • take the train from Kyrgyzstan via Xinjiang and Tibet to Myanmar
  • catch up on Persian and Arab countries
  • discover Gabon, Uganda, Sudan and Djibouti, the latter during whale season
  • definitely return to West Africa, and take the opportunity for a relaxing week in São Tomé and Príncipe, a supposedly virgin place on earth
  • spend your holidays on Madagascar, again during whale season
  • travel more using hitch-hiking
  • don’t forget your Euro coins for exchanging or offering them to hosts or locals
  • have a child and take advantage of the “Elternzeit”
  • make street music
  • and of course, buy the GoPro

And great resources we used a lot while travelling to plan our further journey:

Europe and World Review

It is a dream for many people to change the world. Our dream was a bit more humble: We let the world change us. Four weeks have passed since I have returned, for Steffen it is already two months and both of us have made our way back into everyday-life. Especially for me, it was and still is quite hard to settle down again and find some new daily routine. Fortunately, our experiences around the world linger on and surprisingly often, they give us a new perspective on Europe.

There are so many little things we learnt to appreciate anew. Some people say the greatest invention of all times is the wheel, but that’s probably only because you can use it to build a washing machine. It is so great to get really clean clothes, and also to be able to wear different clothes every day! Here you can rely on public transport, you receive change in coins, electricity is available all day and we still get a happiness hormone boost each time we realize that once again the shower is hot. Usually you do not need relationships to get a job but you can rely on your own skills. What distinguishes Europeans from all other nations is how carefully they treat each other. Everywhere else, people are often loud (sometimes Chinese can be quiet if you tell them that it is the convention). They almost never have a bad conscience whether they may disturb others. It is not that they do not help or are rude, they are just a bit mindless ….

Moreover, we are impressed by the cultural richness of our Old Continent. Here, history is present everywhere, even the smallest towns have stories and places whose tradition goes back for centuries, sometimes for millenniums. Also for the small things we have invented sophisticated techniques: in our cuisine, in mechanics or in sports. And it is the amazing readiness to participate and do some volunteering – in schools, clubs or churches – that makes our countries worth living. Nothing compares to that, even China only comes close.

However, we also noted a lot of shortcomings of Europe. The first point is time. Much more often people feel under pressure and act as if they were on the run. Elsewhere people have time for some gestures of friendliness. In a shop, they are not surprised if you greet before you buy, people look into the vendor’s eyes while saying “thank you”, and if you ask for the way, they have one minute for a friendly conversation. And they feel insulted if you – very European – start walking while they are still talking. Europeans always feel that they must seize their time, in other places they are also able to enjoy the moment. One may say that this is the price of prosperity and we will come back to that later. But in general we think that often “being in a hurry” has become an attitude and is not justified by the time pressure, or that one minute of friendly conversation will not prevent you from finishing your work at the end of the day. But maybe it will make your day.

It is a pity that our countries make it so hard to immigrants to feel at home. “You can become American, but as a European you must be born” one Chinese student once told us and we are afraid he was right. In Germany (and other European countries) people ask themselves what a German should be like. No one would think like this in Argentina or elsewhere. They look around and what they see, well, that must be typical Argentine. Our favourite definition of “home” is the following: “Home is the place where you do not have to explain yourself”. Admittedly, things are much easier for European immigrants within Europe, but for all others, feeling home must be pretty difficult. If you have – for instance – a slight Arabic accent even after decades of living here, people will not consider you to be German. Yet the majority of the well meaning people will rather try to make Germany a good host nation to their guests – instead of changing the definition of guest and host. Our nations are not xenophobic in general, but we are not open to let “others” be part of Germany or France. Neither in Malaysia nor in the US they would suggest to “go home” if for example you have slit eyes or darker skin. Not because it would be offensive, but because it is paradox. People are at home there.

And of course, another characteristic of Europe is that it is very rich, or to put it the other way round: why are other nations so poor? Since I came home, so many people have asked this question, and I would like to share some inappropriate thoughts on it. Our opinion about that topic has changed in a way we would never have expected. First of all, for us poverty is more a social phenomenon than an economic one. Lots of people, especially in the underdeveloped rural area, would never call themselves poor because no one in their neighborhood is considerably richer. They rather see what they have instead of what they don’t, and we see no reason to change their view. Elsewhere we have learnt that poverty has reasons. Surely, European trade policy and agricultural subsidies play role. But probably even more important are two other factors. The most important one definitely is corruption. “Corrupt countries you cannot help, not corrupt countries you need not help.” That may be a bit extreme, but it is not so far from the truth. Corruption prevents people from developing entrepreneurship – why should you change anything and work hard if you are stripped off all the benefits? As a second reason, we think that often people lack the necessary attitude to change things. Especially in Africa, the most common phrase was that “one does not have to worry since there is no problem”. But if there never is any problem, then never a solution is required! Sometimes people just prefer being lazy over working (see above), sometime they try to cheat on foreigners or to get rich from development aid. It is not that every poor country is poor because people are idle, but in most of the cases the majority of the problems are home-grown.

We have criticized so much up to this point that you might get the impression we had become evil-minded and cynic. This is by no means the case. We have become much more fond with both the countries we visited and the ones we are living in. We definitely appreciate Germany and France but we are also happy if we meet a tourist or an exchange student from one of the places we have visited. We have talked a lot about problems so far but what we really learnt is that you can love a country despite all its negative aspects. We are more open to new episodes now, more self-confident, hopefully more patient, more tolerant towards distinct opinions, more critical about the media and more proud on our experiences. We learnt that the world is much safer than you think because you can avoid most dangers by obeying the simple rules of thumb – in fact the most dangerous thing in most towns is the traffic ….

We also have found a new way to travel. It is important to know what you can and what you want to visit but yet to stay as flexible as possible. You do not need to solve each problem before you face it but can rely on your capability to learn during the travel. We know we were lucky to be able to finance the whole trip. We had luck with our jobs and our background (actually the biggest luxury we had was not money but having time and being independent). So many people will never have the chance do something similar. Nevertheless, lots of people can but do not dare to try. Some say it’s too expensive, but if you save for some years and do not spend much money on shoes, rent or fashion, you can explore the world for some months. Some say it is insecure but often it is just different and uncomfortable. Some say they do not have the time because they have to study fast and get a job quickly. On the other hand you live for 80 years and will work most of them. Why shouldn’t you invest some months for yourself and your own development?

Statistics and Funny Facts about the World

Average country costs per person per day, regarding everything (accommodation, food, transport, visa and entrance fees) except intercontinental flights:

Country Price Additional remarks
Peru 30 € Including excursions to Amazon River and Machu Picchu.
Bolivia 26 € With the expedition to 6000m summit “Huayna Potosí”.
Chile 29 €
Argentina 39 € Not representative: during the trip we had quite a short stay here but the two longest bus journeys through South-America. For comparison: During my 6 months exchange semester, I had to pay approximately 350 € per months for everything (pension, food, bus, hobbies), yet I was not living in Buenos Aires but in the province.
New Zealand 27 € It was rather a quick stopover at Auckland.
Tonga 29 €
Hong Kong 24 €
China 34 €
Kuala Lumpur 18 € Once more a big thank you to our great couchsurfing host Charles!
Nepal 18 € Including Annapurna Circuit Trek.
India 15 € Our cheapest day here was 0.50 € per person, again also thanks to couchsurfing ….
Ethiopia 22 €
Tanzania 20 € Without the safaris, since they are very expensive but not really meaningful for this kind of evaluation about the actual country.
Zambia 45 €
Togo 24 € Although having travelled alone there, to enhance comparability the values are calculated as if two persons were travelling.
Benin 24 € Although having travelled alone there, to enhance comparability the values are calculated as if two persons were travelling.


Our nationalities:

  • in South-America I could call myself to be Argentine (Steffen already was considered to be Israeli)
  • in Nepal and India we were respected as trained and skilled soldiers from the Israeli military service
  • in West-Africa people believed I was Chadian or Lebanese and talked to me in Arab


Top Ranking & Awards

  • most expensive: Zambia
  • cheapest: India
  • best overall travel destination and infrastructure: South-America
  • greatest visa hassles: China, India and above all Iran
  • best visa policy: South-America
  • most fascinating: China
  • most underrated: Bolivia
  • most overpriced: Zambia
  • most chaotic: India
  • most surprising country: China
  • most surprising city: Lusaka
  • most pedestrian-unfriendly: Kuala-Lumpur
  • highest variety of landscapes: Bolivia and Nepal
  • best weather: Zambia
  • most interesting culture: China
  • most xenophobic: Nepal and Ethiopia
  • friendliest persons: Argentina
  • most welcoming: Tanzania
  • most agreeable: Tonga all the time and Zanzibar during Ramadan
  • most relaxed (in good and bad ways): Tanzania
  • coolest people (in the laid-back sense of the term): Tonga and Togo
  • most intimidating magicians and wizards: Benin
  • craziest place: India
  • best food: China and Kuala-Lumpur
  • best seafood: Zanzibar
  • best ice-cream: Argentina
  • best fruits: Africa and India
  • best accent (when speaking both English and French): Togo and Benin
  • highest ratio of pretty girls: Argentina and Ethiopia
  • and last but not least – worst sports ever: cricket

Back “Home” Again

After 14 months abroad, or to be more precise after living and studying 6 months in Argentina and travelling 8 months around the globe, my world-trip finally has come to an end. From Benin I accomplished the last challenge and went to infamous Lagos, where my flight to Frankfurt (via Doha) left. Despite all horror stories about dangerous Nigeria, I managed to survive my granted 72 hours of transit and eventually boarded the plane alive.

Okay, to be honest Nigeria has been the country where I felt less secure, actually corruption was most visible here. At the border crossing, I “offered” in total 2000 Naira (~ 10 €) to several officers in order to smooth out and grease the gears. Yet being polite and friendly, and smiling, laughing or making jokes with the officials was at least equally important. Due to fuel smuggling, once on the road you see much more burned cars than in an average Parisian banlieue. Probably every kilometer, countless police checkpoints are on the way, and the taxi-drivers have to pay bribes to dubious soldiers who use a frightening amount of weapons: modern snipers or riffles, shotguns, bats and even golf clubs. Sometimes one of them wanted to check my bag – packing my dirty underwear on top resulted to be quite dissuasive and their interest vanished as quickly as it had come. But thanks to the high number of generators (power cuts are extremely frequent here), in Lagos I also had the first hot shower since I left Zambia three weeks ago, and I kept on being the superstar. On my flight there were many Africans, lots of Asians, a few Indians and one European: that was me.

I departed on the 10th September and changed planes at Doha Airport, the most artificial and superficial site I have ever seen. I flew mostly at night (surprisingly on the luxurious Boeing 787 Dreamliner), so I landed at Frankfurt on the 11th September – no terrorist attack nor Chilean putsch this year – and I arrived safe and sound to Germany. The place where the whole adventure had begun more than one year ago welcomed me grey and rainy, which fitted perfectly to my similar mood. Still being conditioned to be especially careful with respect to fake money notes, my first memorable action was to suspect the woman at the exchange office to give me a false 5 € bill (as I had never seen the recently introduced “new” version before). Oh, and soon I was shocked that now I have to pay 1.80 € for a single tram or bus journey through “Darmstadt Innenstadt”.

It is hard to find the words and describe my feelings, everything is kind of surreal. Being away for such a long period, changing your bed every three nights, never having a real “home” (okay, actually I had one at my pension in Argentina and I miss my brothers and sisters there) …. I will surely need some time to settle down and to find new routine and order for my life. It still feels unreal, strange and a bit alien to realize that at least for the next two years I will now live in the same one house and that I will have to study again in order to finish my degree (what a weird, stupid idea!).

I would like to thank each single person who has made this experience an extraordinary one. Whether near or far, may you be family relatives, friends, travel partners or unnamed acquaintances met along the way, all of you are a part of this big puzzle that magically fits together and considerably shaped my personality. I am eternally grateful for that and hope to see you again – no matter when or where – each part of the world could be a welcomed opportunity to discover something new ….

My loyal travel companions from the whole trip are pretty exhausted at the end of such a long journey, and deservedly so!

Two Capitals as Different as They Could Possibly Be

Yes, the last week of my looong journey finally arrived. After visiting the rather remote areas in southern Benin, I went to Cotonou, Benin’s capital in everything but name. Having the main port, it is the economic center of the country and you can really feel the vibrant buzz. Actually there is nothing special here, the only aspect Cotonou offers is an authentic and honest glimpse of a typical African capital, bustling and full of energy. Busy traffic is omnipresent and streets are overcrowded, filled with insane drivers competing for the pole position at crossroads or traffic lights. It is loud and very dirty, a lot of construction work is going on, but all buildings are made pragmatically and just seem to fulfil some practical mean. Except advertisement, concrete, antennas or electrical connections mainly frame and pattern the streetscape.

Even at the lagoon or in the small “vons” (unpaved, sandy paths around the market), it is difficult to find some quietness and take a rest, since the atmosphere is vivid and there is always something going on. Many Lebanese live here, they own restaurants, work in supermarkets or run a tailor business. Although Beninese will tell you that they all practise voodoo, Islam appears to be the most present religion. At every hour of the day, you will see Muslims praying directly on the street. They wash, roll out a carpet towards Mecca, kneel down and apparently don’t care about the pedestrians, vendors, moto-taxis and trucks passing along. Continue reading