Paddling down Orange River

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Orange River is the longest river in South Africa, and together with classmates from Cape Town, I paddled through parts of it, having South Africa on one side, and Namibia on the other.

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The trip started with 10 hours in a bus, without air condition. It became quite warm, but luckily the sun had started to set when we got there, so together with the hot humidity it created a comfortable temperature in the desert area. Just after we had crossed the border, we were allowed out of the bus, and sat down around a campfire with the group and the crew of guides that would take us 70kilometres down the river that we would paddle the following days.

All of the five days spent at the river started early (usually around 7AM) and were mostly spent paddling, with only short stops to catch the breath and gather the group, except for our lunch breaks which luckily were a bit longer. After the breaks we went on until the sun set and we could make a camp and have dinner while telling ghost stories and sing songs around the campfire.

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The paddling trip was tough, and was by some people described as a fantastic hell. All the meals were prepared on bonfires, and all night were spent outside in the wilderness among spiders, scorpions and bigger animals. It was a trip where everyone got to show their true side, as some helped more, and encouraged others to paddle on, but it was an experience which made everyone grow closer to each other. I think that this, until now, is the best trip I have ever done in my life. Even though everyone agreed, when getting home, that they were glad the trip was over.

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A City for the Rich

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Dubai is a place where you can do anything, as long as you have the money for it. It is a city which is run by people from India, Phillipines, Pakistan and other Dubai 1foreigners but financed by the rich oil Sheikhs. In this city there is never a crane and construction worker that is free, and it is the city that has grown the fastest in the world, from being just another dessert town which was rich with oil recourses, to a city where only the best is good enough. It is the city where you can find the only seven star hotel (Burj Al Arab), the highest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), the only indoor skiing slopes and shops that are open 24/7.

 

I had planned on going here on a budget, just walking around and taking pictures of everything, going windowshopping and doing couchsurfing. The reality on the other hand, was that I probably spent more money in this city than I have done on my whole trip so far. First of all, it is not possible to walk around outside in Dubai when it is at its warmest, second you have to take a taxi everywhere you go, third there are so many things that are tempting to try and buy and then like I mentioned earlier accommodation is really expensive. Dubai is a city where a lot of people have to have a stopover when going on long flights, and if possible I would reccomend anyone who goes here to stay three days, and no longer. I stayed one week, and felt that this week is the time when I learned the most about culture in my whole life, as all the people I got to know were pretty much from different countries, because the women had to dress differently, sit in different metros, people could not show emotions (showing the finger, shouting, kissing, being drunk could all result in a month of prison and deportation), I could not greet the Muslim women I met directly with e.g an handshake, everyone called me “sir” and “Mr. Augestad” and one needed to have a license from the government and the company where one worked to possess and drink alcohol in private, and it was not allowed, by law, to eat or drink anywhere where one could be observed by other people who were fasting.

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If I was to write a few keynotes to the things I did in Dubai it would be that swimming on the beach was like being in the dead sea, where the water was warm, shallow and the body would automatically float because of the high amount of salt in it, the fountain show was a nice but a little over rated, the indoor ski resort small (but it was amazing to be snowboarding in minus 3 degrees when it was 45 degrees outside), the 6 hour safari tour through the dessert is a must for people who are being there for the first time, on the monorail to the palm, one could only see appartments that all looked the same, the ride to the top of Burj Khalifa was fully booked for many days ahead, and the distances between most things was pretty big (there was no main street, or actually no shopping streets at all). It was a very special city indeed, and just like Las Vegas, I want to have a lot more money when I will come back there next time. Money is a synonym with fun in Dubai, the city which rhymes with buy.

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Hunger and Thirst in Oman

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My travel route from Dubai(UAE) to Muscat, via Sohar (Oman)

As soon as I had found a couchsurfer host in Dubai(who unfortunately couldn’t host me that night), I left all my heavy things and valuables at his place, and took only my tent, camera, a small backpack with passport and 200 UAE Dirhams (ca 300NOK) for a camping trip to Muscat in Oman. The reason for not taking more with me was that I had earlier been talking to a Spanish guy who had gotten all his things stolen while sleeping on a bus in Oman. 

The driving itself took only about 6 hours, but because of the border control it took 7 hours to go to Muscat and almost10 hours to go the same way back to Dubai. 
It was a beautiful ride through desert and some beautiful mountains dividing Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The only problem for me was that it was Ramadan at that time, so the only time it was possible to get food and water was between 2 and 4 at night, which was called “Iftar” (the eating time during Ramadan). At my hostel they only served breakfast those couple of hours, which I managed to miss the night before I went there, so I did not have any food for the whole trip to Oman. Luckily I had brought a big bottle of water for my trip, so I managed to keep my consciousness in the 45 degrees celsius during daytime, and the 38 degrees we had at night time. 
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As the time went by I felt my body get more and more weak, and at the end I felt so tired that I only managed to sit and wait for the bus and sleep the whole trip back to Dubai. 
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After practically wriggling and sweating a whole night in my tent in the desert, I went back to the bus station area in Muscat to search for food and water.  After walking around for almost two hours in Muscat, I realized that absolutely every place where it was possible to get food and water was closed, and I started to become afraid since I had been eating nothing the last 35 hours, and been drinking only about a liter of water that I brought from Dubai and half a liter of water I got from a fellow French traveller that I met at the bus station (which was not nearly enough for walking and sleeping in the heat). 
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At the time I felt really stupid doing this trip just to get some more stamps in my passport and to save some money by not sleeping in Dubai (where accommodation is really expensive), but afterwards I feel like it was an experience I would not want to have been without. 
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Istanbul; The gateway to Asia

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When I first came to Istanbul, I was surprised how overwhelming the city was. With a population of 12 million people and all the tourists who where there during the high season it felt like it was a New York of Eastern Europe. I don´t want too sound too cliché, but I must admit that I have fallen a bit in love with Turkey. 

Everything is cheap, people are really friendly and are offering to help (without wanting money afterwards, like in Bulgaria) and there is a lot to see (such as the great mosques, the Turkish dervishes and the catacombs), try (haggling at the spice & silk market, ride the hot air balloon and go up the Galata tower) and taste (Turkish delight, Turkish coffee and real kebab).

The first day I spent walking around looking at the touristy things on the European side, when I heard someone call my name. I then turned around to see a friend who I was studying with a few years ago in Norway and her boyfriend. We were both surprised to see each other in the second biggest city in Europe, and decided to have some beers by the view of the hostel rooftop and go to a couchsurfing party afterwards. There I also met people I had gotten to know in a hostel in Serbia, and I also found someone who was willing to host me the last nights in Istanbul. This guy lived on the Asian side of Istanbul, which was perfect as I then got to take the ferry over, and have someone guiding me through the part of Istanbul which I had not yet seen.
 
I feel like four days was not enough for such a huge city, and wish that I could use my whole three month Turkish visa to stay here in Istanbul.
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Rather bus than train in Eastern Europe!

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I must say that Sofia has been the biggest disappointment of my trip so far. After walking for 4 hours through the city center, I felt like there was not much more to see, so I decided to take the day bus to Istanbul. My reason for going by bus instead of train (which would be free with my interrail ticket) is that the trains here are not even comparable to the trains I am used to in Norway and West-Europe. The night train to Sofia had no lights in the whole train (the conductor had to use his cell phone when he was looking at the tickets), the train was overbooked, so there was noise and people in the coupés and hallways and the bathrooms were flooded with urine, which could be smelt through the whole train.
 
The 10 hour long day bus that I took had the standard of an international long distance flights, where there were two stewardesses who handed out snacks and drinks, there were bathroom breaks every two-three hours, people had their own individual screen with TV, radio, games and music, and the customs took less than half the time of what it did with a train. For me this whole bus trip has been more like a sightseeing trip through nice scenery, where I slept well and I read books while watching MTV the rest of the time.
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A Turkish trailerstop where they keep their chickens in the backyard and grill them in the restaurant in the front. This is also where I met my monkey friend above.