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Been There, Done What?

A place to accomplish the 2W1P in China.
A popular travellers' dilemma is: How do you count the countries you've been to? At the first glance it would seem the simplest question - just count 'em, man! But when you start to look into the matter you'll very soon notice different people have a very different number and kind of trip prerequisites one has to meet before the visit counts. Typically for many people airport stopovers don't count. Some of them might allow them as a visit, if you walk outside the airport building. Some say you have to spend at least one night or use money there, others even argue that if you don't remember e.g. your childhood trip any more, it can't possibly count. And then there's the infamous 2W1P rule which refers to the minimum number of toilet visits during the trip. I'll let you figure out the abbreviation yourselves.

It's a controversial issue, a mixture of snobbery and competitive nature of some traveling people, like someone has well put it. Some people undoubtedly are 'box-tickers', who choose their destinations so that they can visit as many countries as possible with the least amount of trouble, while others say you have to actually live there before you're 'allowed' to say you've been there. All-inclusive resorts look, smell and taste about the same all around the world - you can visit one without actually seeing at all the country you're supposed to be in, yet people tick the country off their list when they've stayed in one. Talking about senses, a Lonely Planet author Jane Ormond has put it in a very lovely way in an article that prompted me to write this entry:
I’ve decided I can say I’ve been somewhere when I can recall it in all five senses – when I can hear the subway, smell the bus fumes, picture the rain-drenched pigeons in doorways, taste the bagels and remember the feel of the dive bar’s resident labrador’s ears.
According to the discussion on the matter, you can also break it down to levels of being: At the lowest level you just set your foot on the turf. At the mid-level you see at least something, like you might on a business trip. At the highest level you plan your trip carefully, stay longer, experience must-see's and carry out your plans.

In my opinion, of course it is always the better the more you get actually to spend time in a place, preferably see more than one or two places at the time, talk to natives, eat local food and so on. But as soon as you start setting conditions to what counts as a visit, you're in trouble. For example, 2W1P is easily accomplished during a relatively short airport stopover. Leaving the airport? You mean if I step outside the building and walk around that tree over there it counts as visit? I find it intellectually untenable to create imaginary rules where you have to jump through a set of hypothetical hoops in order to say you've been somewhere, when the most straightforward and undisputed interpretation is binary: Were you there or were you not?

The person in this airport photo is in Vietnam.
That means that the airport stopovers count. Driving a car in Germany and crossing over the corner of France without stopping counts. Former countries count (East Germany + West Germany + Germany = 3). Train trip through Switzerland without setting your foot on the station platform during the stops counts. Walking around the three-state-boundary mark where Sweden, Finland and Norway meet counts as three. Laying for a week on the same spot by the compound patio pool chugging down Gin & Tonics at a characterless all-inclusive hotel some- or anywhere counts. Just entering a country counts. How else could it be? You're not anywhere else at the moment, you're there!

Sure, box-ticking and all the competition among some travellers might turn the discussion about the issue foul-tasting. If you want to compete, there's always the option to create lists with your preferred set of preconditions: countries where you've stayed overnight, countries where you've driven a motor vehicle, countries where you've got laid, countries where you've hopped naked on one leg a bouquet of daffodils shoved up your derrière while howling at the moon... But it's not an issue of competition. It's just a list of countries where you have been to, and for that the binary approach is still the simplest and most intelligible way to deal with the question.


LOTR: The Orc Mound

In New Zealand we found this little book on Lord of the Rings filming locations. Of course we had to find some use for it. As we visited the both islands on our trip, we drove past quite many of the locations described in the book, and also stopped to visit some of them.

In addition being 'just cool' to visit real places where they had filmed Lord of the Rings movies, the guidebook also provived really amazing New Zealand nature sights, some of which we certainly wouldn't have visited without the book. The other great thing was getting to witness some genuine movie magic; how some really simple locations had been used really creatively to create an illusion of Middle Earth.

One of the places we went was the so called Orc Mound from the second film Two Towers. 'Surprisingly' the place where the Rohan riders had piled and burned some dead orcs didn't look exactly the same, but the spot was easily recognizable. The place was merely but a small hill next to a thick forest wall (which didn't at all look like Fangorn inside) on private meadow, quite close to the sand road nearby.

There was couple other places used in the filming nearby too. More photo vs. screenshot comparisons to come...


Sex, Drugs & Geocaching

Looking for a geocache in Edinburgh. The GPS device took me to the banks of Water of Leith, the river flowing through the city. The place was nearby the centre of the city, yet far away from the traffic noise. Dusk was falling when I approached the GPS zero point on a foothpath from the upriver direction under thick canopy of trees, and in the distance I saw something like a small ancient round temple, with columns and all. Inside there was a statue of a Greek goddess Hygieia. This mysterious building is about 250-year-old well-house made to protect the St. Bernard's Well, the water of which was famous for its healing powers.

The GPS told that the geocache was hidden next to the well-house, down the footpath closer to the river. I stared in awe this phantasmagoria of historical architecture, ancient deity and magical water and was just about to descent the stairs to the riverfront when I happened to peek down across the stone railing. I saw a huge pair of bare breasts. I gasped and pulled my head back. Think! Think! Nah, look again! I thought, and I peeked down again. This time I saw also the rest of the lady and a guy next to him. They were snogging passionately on a bench.

Well-House of St. Bernard's
Just my luck, they're getting lucky, and I can't find my geocache! I tried approaching the cache site from another, the downriver direction - maybe the cache would be just next to the lascivious couple, but out of their visibility. No way, soon I realised that they are practically sitting on the container. Discouraged, I sat on another riverfront bench nearby and thought of what to do.

Then a man with his young son came from downriver direction, walked past me straight towards the well and the naughty couple. I had some hopes that maybe the smooching couple would stop because of them, leave, and I could find the cache. No way - the father came back to me, horrified, and told his 9-year-old got more than a eyeful of something inappropriate. I told him I had a kind of a problem with the lustful huggers too, and had a nice chat about geocaching with them. The man said they actually had found the cache earlier, since the well is their favourite place, and they come here often. We left these naughty people finish whatever they were up to.

Water of Leith
At the next day noon I came to St. Bernard's Well again. This time there was a man sitting on the same bench eating his lunch here. I really didn't feel like waiting him to leave, and I was leaving Edinburgh soon, so against all the principles of geocaching I told him about the hobby and that I was here to look for a hidden container. He was politely interested in geocaching, and finally having a chance to go search that bloody cache, I managed to find it in a matter of seconds. As I signed the cache logbook the man, having already finished his lunch, casually rolled a joint of weed and started to smoke it. I placed the geocache back to its crevice, and the reefer-man left the magical well with me. At the street we shook hands and parted.

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