Friday, August 29, 2003
Friday Aug 29, 2003
Last night alleged arsonists ran wild in Caulker. There were two over night fires. One destroyed a palapa hut near the Lazy Lizard bar at the split -- fortunately the bar survived. The other fire was more serious: it destroyed a rather large place called the seaside Cabanas. A number of cabanas, a bar (where I had a pint yesterday), the office, and basically the entire operation was completely levelled.
And I slept through it, waking only when the power went off, and then falling back to sleep.
Heather, at the place I'm staying, told me about the fire this morning. I wandered down to see the smoking, black remains of what had been a very nice place. Barb, the ex-pat Canadian manager, looked stunned. Her job, and the jobs of at least six others, evaporated overnight. The fire must have been huge, as the cabanas filled a city block.
Today I am heading back to Belize City (at noon) and then Brent and I will head to San Ignacio.
More from there...
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Another day of doing less than nothing. I finished one book and have just begun another, Pete McCarthy's "The Road To McCarthy." He is a very funny Brit writer...
This is the last full day here. The to-do list is blank. I think I will sweat, wander the beach, drink mango juice, and read. Tough life.
Tomorrow, I head back to Belize City and then in the evening, Brent and I will head west to San Ignacio. We will be staying up that way for a couple of nights. It will be another chance to see Pandy and Ivan and Katia. Plus work on Brent's cooking show.
There is little exciting news from home, though it looks like Canada Post has delivered some money. That will make the creditors happy!
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Caught the 1:30pm boat over yesterday. Took a room at a joint run by an ex-pat Vancouverite. I spent the day doing very little, other than grocery shopping. Went down to the Split Bar to watch the sun set. Hit the sack around 10. Overnight there were several storms... and around 7am all hell broke loose. There was a lightening strike very close by, perhaps the telephone tower. It was close enough to make the room shake like a bowl of jello.
While the rain poured, I found the classic Cheech and Chong film "Up in Smoke" on one of the satellite movie channels found on the TV in my room. It was a good way to pass the time, laughing at Sgt. Stedanko and the heavens rained down.
The itinerary today: nothing. I went for breakfast (I feel like I live here, as this is my third visit) and now I will do a little emailing before heading to my hammock to read all day. Tough life!
Until the next report... go slow!
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
A lazy Tuesday morning. I've been working on some business stuff from home -- going to need work when I get back -- but I'm finding that the energy level is low.
I'm planning to change my return date today, although that will mean extending the audio gear rental (damn!). However, it should be free to change the flight, so the extra costs will be minimal.
This afternoon I head to Caye Caulker for a couple of days. This will give Brent and Roh a chance to hang out together and me a chance to read in a hammock. Life is tough.
Next report from Caulker!
Monday, August 25, 2003
Belize City, Belize
Just arrived back in “The City Without Pity” this morning.
The film workshop I attended as a teacher/soundperson/shooter… it was great to work with a group of young Belizean’s who were, for the most part, totally into making their own films. The group was a microcosm of Belize: Latinos, Caribs, Garifuna, and white folks. The leader of the workshop, Katia, is Quebecois.
The workshop started before we arrived – the groups worked on theory and creating their scripts from Wednesday through Friday. Brent and I arrived Friday night and I stayed with Katia and her husband, record producer Ivan Duran.
On Saturday, the attendees were split into 2 groups, and each went off to shoot their films. Brent went with one group, I went with the other.
We shot a drama about suicide with 2 actresses and a small crew. Locations included a cemetery and Katia & Ivan’s house. It was a hot day, and a long one too. We finished around suppertime, confident that we had captured some great images and performances. The students made some mistakes in lighting, but for the most part we guided them.
Sunday was edit day. Brent edited our project, The Last Call. We started at 9am and were finished about 12 hours later. There were some minor problems, including one student who did not contribute – but we had a young woman who more than made up for him. Luwana will be a big force in Belize one day. She is well beyond the maturity level of your average 16 year old.
The film looked great and we were quite happy. I spent the day checking the progress of the edit and shooting behind the scenes footage and testimonial interviews with the participants. We were holed up at a local hotel and it was quite comfortable.
Downstairs in the other edit room, things were going badly for the other group. Their film was about a little boy selling oranges… and the trials and tribulations of a free market economy. However, the editing went slowly due to an editor that lacked skill in cutting drama. Katia had to jump in to re-cut the entire project. While we were wrapped at 9, they continued until after midnight and ended up with only a rough first cut.
It was a great experience working on “our” short film: it was inspiring to see people “get” the medium, and have the desire to tell their story. There is a lot of hidden talent in this country and it was great to be a part of discovering it. Another workshop will be held next year (#2) and I would love to be back for it. I will attempt to post a streaming copy of the film (5:30 long) when I return to Vancouver. IF I return!!
Brent has to work this week, and I have the luxury of my first break since arriving here on the 12th. I am pooped! Tomorrow I will hop on the water taxi and hit Caye Caulker armed with only a book and a few Hawaiian shirts.
Friday night we head to the Cayo district to shoot Brent’s cooking DVD…
Some pictures at www.homepage.mac.com/dougmurray then select "Belize Aug 2003" page!
Friday, August 22, 2003
Belize City, Belize
Just a short entry today: we've finished the Mennonite project -- principal shooting -- now. Drove up from the south of the country after 2 days in Placencia. Amazing place -- sooo tropical. We met some resort owners and stayed at Brent's boss's seaside house. Very nice.
Francis Ford Coppola owns a couple of resorts in Belize, including one in Placencia -- the Turtle Inn. Very expensive ($500 US/nite) but very charming and beautiful. We toured the place with the Mennonite who built it (Eric Loewen) and even got to see where FFC's private villa. Sweet!
On the way back, we passed the landing strip, and guess who we saw in a loud Hawaiian shirt and a big grey beard? Mr. Coppola himself. There is a chance we might get to see him in 2 weeks when we visit his other resort.
All is going well, and it continues to be a great experience.
Monday, August 18, 2003
Belize City, Belize
Just made it back to Belize City after visiting several Mennonite communities in the north and west of the country. Things went well, and we are back in Belize for only one night before heading out again for another three nights and four days. We will be visiting more Mennonite communities in the west and south of the country.
So far, it’s been quit eye-opening: visiting colonies that range from strict (no rubber tires on tractors, no music, conservative dress, no electricity) to fully modern (long haired youth driving up and down the main drag on their motorcycles – doing wheelies the whole way).
We visited a small border crossing between Blue Creek Village, Belize and La Union, Mexico. This is a water crossing, and we visited it twice. The first night we stopped at the shack that is the Belize customs house… when no one took any notice of us, we continued a couple of hundred meters to the water’s edge. Once parked, we walked to the Hondo River and called out in the darkness for someone to come fetch us. From the Mexican side, someone yelled out and flashed a flashlight. Soon, a Mexican was paddling a small, long boat to our side to fetch us.
We hopped in, and a few seconds later, we were standing on Mexican soil. There was no Mexican immigration officials to be seen, although we’ve heard that during the day, you are asked for BZ$1 by a soldier. The boat is BZ$2 each way, but we arrange to pay when we return, which will be after about an hour of swilling Corona and eating real Mexican food.
The return trip goes without any problems, until we drive up to Belize customs. The customs guy and a cop are pissed off: they want to know why we didn’t check in. After a bunch of “yes sirs,” and “no sirs,” we are on our way.
The next night, we attempt the same crossing, and make sure our departure from Belize is noted. After more excellent beer and food, we return to Belize and are on our way. Pictures to be posted in Sept.
And that’s all for now… stay tuned!
Saturday, August 16, 2003
Belize City, Belize
Rain, lots of rain. After extreme (my definition) heat, the skies opened up last night and unleashed a torrent of the wet stuff. This has cooled things off and quieted things down. Nice.
We've spent the last couple of days visiting Mennonite communities for the documentary. One community, Spanish Lookout, was a carbon copy of small town Manitoba. And the more I get to know the Mennonities, the more I discover that they are unlike my preconceived notions. They are funny, down-to-earth and anything but a closed society. They're actually pretty cool.
Today we are heading up north to the Mexican border. There are more Mennonite communities there (Blue Creek) and we're planning to stay up there until Monday.
There are four of us: Brent the cameraman, Karla the researcher, Bruce the director, and me as the audio guy. A throwback to the old days! It's get fun getting one's hands dirty.
There will be no internet available in Blue Creek, so this will be my last dispatch until Monday. And, I must run off to the station to get ready to hit the road.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Much to tell from yesterday, and I hope to have my Mennonite stories (!) posted tonight. Today I am heading to Channel 5 to meet with the rest of the production team for the documentary. It is hot and humid!
More to come!
Monday Aug 11, 2003
Vancouver, BC, Canada
It seems like I’ve been packing since I unpacked 2 weeks ago. Indeed, with Brent’s requests – can you say mule? – I have been running around a lot picking up this and that and the other thing. Add this to the special gear that I need for the shoot in Belize. At the same time, I have been lining up more work with the CBC and in the print world. Nothing confirmed, but lots of potential.
I slept in this morning, playing the “snooze” game with my alarm clock. And then enjoyed relative peace and quiet. Outside it was raining, inside, I was doing laundry. Got to get those 5 t-shirts ready for the tropics!
I had to pick up a few more things – a new journal being one. I dropped off a large box of stuff at the post office. More stuff for Brent. Popped into a travel store called the Travel Bug and chatted about travel. And I basically waited around.
Lorne offered to take me to the airport on the condition that we chow down at a new eatery on The Drive called Memphis Blues. Ribs, pulled pork, brisket: it is a heart attack haven. I chose a brisket sandwich, but it was huge. After eating sushi earlier and a large smoothie recently, I had no room left for cholesterol laden death grub.
At the airport, things went smoothly. But I almost left my passport behind when I stopped to fill out an American customs form. There is still a lot of time before my flight – nearly 2 hours, but I have to clear US customs as soon as I check in at the counter.
I explain to the US Customs guy that I am going to Belize to work on a documentary. He wishes me luck.
Security confiscates my zip-ties, saying that they could be used as handcuffs. Riiight.
The first of three flights is short. 50 minutes on a bumpy Dash 8 to Seattle. There is free beer and snacks, so the flight is nice.
In Seattle, I sit at the bar waiting for my next flight which is 2 hours away. On the TV is Wee Man from the Jackass show. He is hosting a silly effort called 54321. It’s another run of the mill extreme sports shows. But it fills the time nicely. The Sam Adams beer goes down nicely.
I am tired.
Midnight: Tuesday Aug 12, 2003
I am now on a Continental jet bound for Houston. Talk about no room. The seats are very narrow and there is little room for my arse. As the president of the airline spouts off on the TV monitors, I hope that his own furniture at home is arse binding like the plane seats. Worse, there is a loud gum-chewer beside me. But the combination of beer and the late hour allows me to fall asleep.
I wake up with leg cramps due to my crushed legs. The guy ahead of me has fully reclined, and my knees are firmly wedged into the seatback. Part of the problem is that I have stuffed the pocket the seatback with reading material. I shift and fall asleep again.
We’re approaching Houston now. This is great! I never sleep on flights, but I managed to make it through 90% of this one. The approach takes forever, and is quite bumpy. At 6:15am we are on the tarmac. There is a long wait to deplane, as the flight was completely full. In the terminal, I seek out coffee and a quiet spot to kill time before my next flight. I have to wait so long, that the next flight hasn’t even made the departure screens yet. Finally, it does, at 7:30am. I have 2 hours to go.
After a second venti dark roast and something approaching breakfast encased in grease from a joint called Bubba’s, I still have lots of time to wait. I have been to Bubba’s before – in April – and disappointed. Next time, I am going to try the lardy temptations of Harlon’s BBQ. It looks all bad, but it can’t be worse than Bubba’s. God love Texas! And that nice statue of the elder George Bush. Yuck… I waste more time fighting with an internet capable pay phone that doesn’t work very well.
In the duty free store I am tempted by the world’s best rum, but end up grabbing some Wild Turkey for Brent. Only US$19 for a litre.
Finally I am on the plane to Belize City. It is jammed and I swear the seats are getting smaller on each successive flight. There is no way my arse could be expanding at this rate! Thankfully, for my arse, there is only one meal served. A wee turkey bunwich and chips. And a packet of mayo that is actually bigger than the bunwich. Perhaps it is actually a mayo main with a side of bunwich.
I read as we fly roughly over Mexico. We decent and are told that we are on final approach. Again, this seems to take forever. When we land, we land hard.
They open doors at both ends of the plane, so for me, being stuck in the last row, this is a bonus. I am outside in the humid tropical air in no time. From the tarmac, I can see Brent waving to me from the viewing gallery. Wasn’t I just here?
Inside the terminal, I am one of the first at customs. I am asked my purpose (I wish I knew!) and I reply that I am working on a documentary co-production with Channel 5 here in Belize.
Just past the Customs man, there is a Latin fellow holding a sign that says “Douglas Murray.” After getting my stamp without any difficulty, I walk towards my name. A large white guy joins the Latin guy. It turns out the white guy is the Belize Film Commissioner, Emory King and the guy with holding my name is his driver. They welcome me and tell me that they are here to meet me and help me through the second customs post where my bags have to be examined. Once I claim my bags, we basically blow past customs. Outside, Brent is waiting, and then we all head to Belize’s best restaurant (Indian) for a big meal and slow service.
I get to know Emory – a jovial joke-teller who has been here since he cracked up his boat offshore about 50 years ago. He is 72 and full of tales. It is nice to be a VIP in this country. Emory even picks up the tab. For four, it is only BS$100.
Brent drops me at his house and I unpack and kick back. His girlfriend Roh gives me a call to make sure all is good. It is indeed. I hang out with the cat and watch pirated satellite television.
In the evening Roh makes soup. Brent and I watch our respective Pandy stories… then some bad television… and then… crash.
It has been a long journey!!
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
3:17pm local (8/12/03)
After flying all night to Belize City via Houston (nice statue of Geo Bush - barf!) and Seattle, I am here. I was welcomed at the airport by Brent and the Belize Film Commissioner. With his assistance, we were out of customs and into a great Indian resteraunt in no time. It's good to be a V.I.P.
Brent had to go back to work, so I am chilling at his place for a few hours. Nothing eventful to report so far. But we begin shooting the documentary tomorrow...
Monday, August 11, 2003
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Somewhere in the Baltic Sea
Heading towards Poland
The alarm sings its horrible wake-up song. Beep-beep-beep! It is a sound that I don’t think I will ever get used to. Who is the demented human who devised the hell that is the alarm clock?
6:00am, the digital numbers cheerfully tell me. Our schedule has us pulling into the Polish port of Swinoujscie in just a few hours. The trip must have been uneventful, as I slept solidly throughout the night.
The shower is small and cramped, but the water is fresh and hot, so I can’t complain. It is an odd thing to be taking a shower on a boat. But this certainly beats what the poor folks who don’t have cabins are going through. Curled up on the floor in dark rooms, they save a few bucks by enduring a night of discomfort. True, many of them simply cannot afford cabins – but still, spending all night on the hard floor of a Polish ferry is not something that sounds like a good time.
I have brought my small travel radio with me, but I am able to pick up only static. This is probably due to being encased in the steel confines of the ship. For fun, I fire up my mobile phone. I was able to get service until I went to bed last night, but there is no service this morning. We are probably too far from land. Testing this theory, I glance out the porthole and see nothing but blue sky and water.
I feel the ferry rolling slowly from side to side now. It is almost comforting, and I am thankful that I have never had to deal with seasickness. Iron guts, I have. Once, in Nova Scotia, I was in the most God-awful storm off the coast. The little boat I was on was tossed like a garden salad. And while I thought I was going to die, my innards remained calm. It was then that I knew that I could take anything.
We all meet in the ferry restaurant and are treated to a wonderful breakfast buffet for only 50 Danish Kroner. As we chow down on the standard breakfast selection, Poland comes into view. And so does Germany. Swinoujscie is right on the German-Polish border, and from the ferry, our eagle border freak eyes can see the vista between the two countries.
Getting off the ferry is difficult. People trying to cut in front of each other and a back-up due to Polish customs and immigration. It is around 8am, and we were originally hoping to see the border between Poland and Germany up close. Unfortunately it looks like we may not be able to. We have to drive clear across Poland today, and the only way to get to the German border is to take a ferry across the harbour. The closest ferry is apparently for locals only. The other ferry is several kilometers away.
A bald, smiling officer greets us and stamps our passports in record time. As he is doing this, we are treated to the site of a couple of dogs humping away. It is made more entertaining because the humper is humping the humpee’s leg.
We drive to the local ferry in hopes that we can get aboard. And, we do! There are no signs saying that this is a local ferry, and no one seems to care. It is free as well. This border expedition is starting off in fine form.
When we arrive at the land border between Germany and Poland, we park in a rather large lot that is filled with many horses and horse trailers. There is a steady stream of folk crossing the border in both directions on foot. And a few crossing with bicycles. No cars. The border here features a wide vista made of raked sand. On either side of the vista – at least 10 metres across, there is a low fence. It is not very intimidating, nor should it be, considering that this border will all but disappear in a year or so. We are only about a kilometer from where the border enters the sea. I am hoping we get to see this, as it is a rare sight to see a beach divided.
There are the requisite frontier warning signs. We all take pictures of these. Since we’re ahead of schedule, we decide to make a quick dash to Germany. I slow things down because of my Polish visa. The papers are in order, but visas always tend to bog the proceedings. By the time I get into Germany, Anne and Mike have already crossed the street and are in the line to return to Poland. Behind me is a not very pleased crowd of Polish workers who are now queued up to get into Germany, thanks to the Canadian with his damn visa.
We immediately cross the road, and head back into Poland. We get in line quickly, heading off a large group of Germans that are rushing towards the passport control area. This popping in and out of Germany – for literally moments --must look very silly on the computer screens of the border officials. They say nothing. I wonder why they allow only bikes and people to cross here. There is a nice 2-lane road, and traffic could easily cross. I’m sure it will next year.
I have now pissed off a large group of Germans as my visa once again brings the line to a crawl. German officials stamp me out of Germany and then I have to wait at the Polish booth. There is a delay as they deal with the visa – a long delay. The line of angry Germans stretches as far as the eye can see – Holland, I think.
After finally crossing, I hear half the German nation sigh a breath of relief. Or was it disgust?
Back in Poland, I take some more pictures of the border installations as Peter, our driver, tries to get us all back in the van. This must be like being a father with 8 crazy and uncontrollable kids.
In the van there is dissention. Some of us want to check out the beach border (me), and some of us don’t. In situations like this, the only way to decide is by voting. And, using democracy, we change our itinerary to include a quick visit to the beach.
Peter drives in the general direction of the beach, following a road that parallels the border. When we near the water, the road we are on comes to an end in a large parking area, surrounded by woods. There are a couple of small campervans parked here. And, upon further investigation (namely, spotting a huge H painted on the pavement) we deduce this to be an old helicopter-landing pad.
We walk through the brush along sandy trails. This used to be the old Polish-East Germany border. I wonder what it looked like back then? How severe were the frontiers between former Warsaw Pact members?
The trail leads to a large sand dune, and suddenly, we are at the border. The sandy vista continues to back to where we crossed earlier and to the water’s edge. There are barbed wire fences on both sides of the vista, but they are more rusty than threatening. Polish and German border markers can be seen in both directions. Sitting on a sand dune only 20 meters away, are a pair of German border guards. They are watching us from their van, probably wondering what the hell we are doing. There are no Polish guards to be seen.
We wave to the German guards and follow the Polish fence as it undulates with the sand dunes. There is a bit of a turn in the direction of the vista when we get closer to the water. The beach is quite wide, and the fences bisect it and continue out to the water. There are frontier warning signs that we ignore. The fence is quite rusty, and probably won’t be here once Poland is part of the EU (and the Schengen “no borders” agreement).
The beach fence is pretty cool, and we all shoot plenty of film to capture this. Is it a strange sight because beaches are usually though of as happy fun places, and an ugly barbed wire fence is quite the juxtaposition. My photos of this fence will be placed online soon. But, for an example of such a border, check out Brian Rose’s Lost Iron Curtain site. Scroll down to the 10th picture on this page: Lost Border.
Back in the dunes, we strike up a conversation with the German border patrol. They are friendly, but will not let us take pictures of them (to hide their identity). They are friendly and walk right up to the Polish fence. They explain that most of their work involves stopping criminals from sneaking across. As we say goodbye, we hear the two stroke motorcycle engine of an approaching Polish guard. The Germans head back to their van, and we start heading towards the helicopter pad.
Back at the ferry crossing, we are stuck in a huge queue. It looks like we will not make the ferry being loaded, but the 2 boats seem to make the trip quickly. As we get closer to the front of the line, a ferry worker glances at our license plate and freaks. NO! He yells. Playing the role of stupid tourists we offer our confusion as to what he is saying “no” to, even though we know that this must really be a local ferry and he has discovered our foreignness. Playing dumb doesn’t work.
Pointing out that there are no signs saying locals only doesn’t work.
Pointing out that we came over on this ferry doesn’t work.
In fact, it appears that the only word he knows is “NO!” And he will not even enter into an argument.
We are kicked from the queue and are forced to drive 8km to an alternate ferry. Traffic is light, and we make good time. The alternate ferry is also free, so we fail to understand why one is for locals only. Pain in the ass policies left over from socialist times, no doubt.
We’re headed east on and stop in Swidwin for lunch at the Restauracja Bajka. Bajka is Polish for fairytale, and the food sure is! I order Ruskie pierogi, Cena (a black current drink) and tuck into my first real Polish meal on this 3rd visit to Poland.
Back on the road, we continue our long journey east to Kaliningrad, Russia. We pass the little red flats of Chojnice. There is some money here: new lights, roads, and cars. We are south of Gdansk, where Solidarity first took hold in the shipyards. This used to be Germany at one time, and Gdansk was called Danzig.
I am sitting in the front of the van and Hans Peter is driving. We engage in a great discussion of modern European history. He tells me that to learn about modern Europe, you must study events from one of two starting points. 1920 or back in the 1800’s. All the movement of peoples and the effects of wars and crumbling empires fascinate me. You’d think that none of this would ever happen again, yet, is the EU not just another empire? Is the US not engaging in imperialistic strategies? Think of the massive changes just since 1989. And not just in Europe. History is happening all the time, but always, it seems, in the background. Only when you look back do you see it.
We stop for a snack and coffee break in Czersk. I have no Zloty for the bathroom or for snacks. Dilemma: use the credit card for water and snacks? The amount would be so small. In the end, Hans Peter saves the day by putting my goodies on his card with the gas purchase. As we are not spending much time in Poland, there is little need for Zloty. The gas station has a cute bear logo, and a large stock of porn and booze for the trucking crowd.
Later, we are flying down the Ebling – Koenigsberg highway. Koenigsberg was the German name for Kaliningrad city, the capital of the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. More history is here: Kaliningrad - Wikipedia.
The highway was originally built by Hitler. More info is here: Elbing-K?nigsberg Autobahn. The highway has overpasses that are built for 4 lanes, even though the road is 2 lanes. We follow it as far as we can. We pass the last exit, but continue to head north to see where it will go. Old German Autobahn ends. We continue! There are new-looking destination signs that are crossed out. We think that maybe this highway to Russia will once again be re-opened at the border. We’re curious about the border too… and are determined to follow the road all the way to the frontier. Unfortunately, as we continue, the road conditions worsen. Then, only a few miles from the border, large piles of sand block the road. We can go no further. If time permitted, we might walk to the border, but it won’t happen today. This section of the highway is noted on some maps (but with a road closed symbol) but not others. My map book in Vancouver shows it as a functioning road on both sides of the border, but without a border crossing. If we had made it to the Russian border, this is what we would have seen.
We turn around and head back through a tiny village that sports a massive empty factory. One of dozens that we will see. The power lines dangle from pylons, the windows are broken, and it has been left to rot.
Further down the dirt track we are on, we come to a small river that has a dam and some sort of generating station. There is a car parked there, but the whole installation looks abandoned. It might have been a power station for the abandoned factory.
A small bridge crosses the river, and it has a very old warning sign that shows the symbol for “no tanks.” The weight of a tank would probably destroy the bridge. This reminds me of being in Bosnia in armoured personnel carriers – and crossing bridges that had a weight tolerance of less than half the APC weight. The Canadian military guys thought this to be hilarious.
We are in the Braniewo area, just south of the Russian border. And we’re lost. We find some friendly locals and ask them how to get out of here. They show us the way. On the way back to civilization, we pass a massive military installation (with numerous radar dishes). This would be Polish, and they must be keeping track of the Russians.
8:45PM. We’re at the Polish-Russia border. Again, this is the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, not Russia “proper.” It is still 100% Russian territory. We come to the divided village of Szczurkowo, Poland. The Russian half was flattened long ago. The houses are distinctly German in style. The road is terrible and there are no controls to be seen. A young boy heads in our direction, probably wondering what the hell we are doing. We wave at him… and explore the border fence. This is rather boring, so we drive off to the east, along a road that parallels the border. As we continue, we see that the Russian border markers (about 2 meters tall and red and green striped – with a lovely plaque attached) are coming closer to the road. There is no barrier fence and a visit to the Russian frontier is very tempting.
Despite the worries expressed by some of the group, Harry, Mike and I walk across a bit of scrubby field to the border. Nothing can be seen in Russia, other than the trees. I wonder if this is some sort of purpose or plan. So far, from the Polish side of the border, we have seen no signs of life on the Russian side.
The three of us get brave. There are Polish and Russian markers facing each other. I walk to the Polish one, and look to see if there are any Russians lurking about. Between the two border markers is a small white marker that denotes the actual border. I touch it with my finger. Then I run around it, effectively entering Russia illegally. The others do the same. We giggle like schoolgirls.
Back in the van, we are continuing our long journey across Poland. We’re tired and hungry. I have a hunk of kolbasa in a nameless village.
Many hours later we arrive at our destination: Augustow, Poland. The Hotel Warszawa is a nice place, and after checking in, we all take a beer in the pub. On the television is an English language movie. In Poland, rather than subtitling, they dub films. But they only use one voice for all the characters. It is brutal.
It is 2:22am by the time I pull the covers over my head. Another day of border chasing has come to a close.
Saturday, August 09, 2003
Wednesday, July 9, 2003
The alarm goes off at 7.
The alarm goes off at 8.
The alarm goes off at 9.
Rapping on the door alerts me to the fact that I am still a bit jet lagged, or in my elderly state, I need more sleep. Peter’s knocking continues until I mumble some sort of retort to his call for breakfast.
After a shower and a feed of cheeses, meats, and breads, I dive into a bowl of muesli yoghurt. I busy myself with last minute preparations, the never ending quest to book my Belize flight, email a confirmation to the folks I’ll be working for in Belize, and eat some more. Peter has a bunch of things to do today, so that means Mike and I will head into Copenhagen. Mike wants to see Tivoli, a big amusement park in the centre of Copenhagen. I fancy something with less walking. Perhaps I will stay on the train all the way to Malmo, Sweden. Actually this is not possible, as the S train does not go to Sweden. The airport train does – so if you miss the airport stop, you end up in another land. Cool!
11:15am: We are stepping off bus 303 at Oelstykke Station. Then, aboard the train to Copenhagen we decide to go our separate ways: Mike will check out Tivoli while I will hire a bicycle and zip around town. Later, we must meet up with the rest of the border freaks at another of Peter’s favourite watering holes. I am tired of walking around Copenhagen, simply because I have done so much of it. It’s one of those things: are you wasting a vacation when you want to just chill out and do nothing? Or is it a waste to feel obligated to do touristy things. Ah, the big dilemmas of traveling.
Outside Central Station, I find one of the rental bike racks. It is a simple operation, and similar to retrieving a shopping cart in Canada. Stick a coin in and off you go. The bikes are plastered with advertising and feature one speed and hard rubber tires. No matter, it is still a kick to be able to cycle Copenhagen. The only bike in the rack has super stiff steering – it probably hasn’t been oiled since Copenhagen was founded.
As Mike heads to Tivoli, I take off at an angle down a busy thoroughfare. My bike is the equivalent to a shopping cart with a bum wheel.
My first goal is to find a replacement bike. After checking out numerous empty racks, I finally find one – and I am now set to ride to my hearts content. Unfortunately it is a hot and muggy day, and I turn in to a hot and sweaty tourist. After a bit of this, I return to the main square and whip out a book. I spend the next hour alternating between people watching and reading. And I feel no guilt what-so-ever.
I meet up with Mike after returning my bike to an empty rack. It is snapped up immediately. Mike and I hit a grocery story and buy some food for lunch and some snacks for the ferry. After we meet the other border freaks at the pub, we will be headed back towards Nyhaven and the ferry to Poland.
The store has a great selection, and the bananas sport barcodes. We fill up our baskets and then head back to the main square to eat. I am drinking a beer with my lunch. An elderly Chinese woman comes up, and gestures that she wants the bottle. As it is still half full of beer, I gesture that she can go away. She walks about 20 feet away and is joined by a young boy. A minute later, he is gesticulating that I should finish my beer and give him the bottle. Soon, this escalates into a war of the wills. I become extremely possessive of my bottle and determined to keep it until the last possible second. Finally, after been stared at and likely cursed in Chinese, I give in.
Mike and I walk towards the bar where we are supposed to meet the rest of the group. We stop for ice cream (Magnum bar #1) at a 7-11 and then enter the bar. We are the first ones, so we order a beer and a napkin to wipe the ice cream from our chins.
Suddenly, familiar voices are heard: it is Anne, Harry and Peter! We all exchange hugs and start chatting away about what we’ve been up to since the last border expedition. We’re waiting for our newest member of the group, Hans-Peter.
When Hans-Peter arrives, he orders another round for us, and then picks up the tab. Again! What a guy!! He knows a lot about modern European history and he fascinates me with his stories.
On our way to the ferry terminal, we stop and see what is supposed to be a big deal in Copenhagen: the statue of a mermaid on a rock in the harbour. I decline to tell everyone about the one that resides in the harbour in Vancouver.
There is a line-up at the ferry terminal, so I walk around exploring and taking pictures. It is around 9pm.
Finally the ferry begins to load, and we pass through Danish customs control. I had not expected to get a stamp or go through customs before Poland.
The ferry reeks of oil. On the car deck, in the pub, even outside – the pungent smell is inescapable. The sun is beginning to set as we cast off. The group of us is standing outside, watching Copenhagen slip past. We’re only 5 minutes behind our scheduled departure.
We pass the Oresund bridge (one of the longest in the world) as well as a row of huge windmills standing out in the sea. With the sun setting, it creates a beautiful scene. Pictures to be posted soon!
The Polish ferry features a bar with a hot tub and lots of Polish women. They are very different from the Danish women – more stylish and less earthy. It’s like Denmark is the land of milkmaids and Poland is the land of models.
There is a duty free shop on board, but there isn’t anything too exciting to buy. After a snack it’s time to crash. I’m still hungry – so I make some sandwiches from the leftovers from the meal in the square earlier. I wonder if warm 6 hour old salami is harmful? I also struggle to keep up with my journal. And I spend more time texting people back in Canada. The content of the messages usually has to do with beer, the book McCarthy’s Bar, and beer again.
The cabin is small, and I am sharing with Jesper. He has the top bunk, mainly due to my fear of rolling out of bed in the middle of the night. There is a sound system built into the wall which features four audio selections. All seem to be Polish dance music.
I set my alarm for 6am and drift off to sleep, and all night I dream that I work at an oil refinery.
Tuesday July 8, 2003
I rise early and jump on Peter’s computer. The big challenge for the day, if you can call it that, is to book a flight to Belize in August. This is for work, and it will see me traveling down there to work on a couple of documentary projects. In order to make the purchase, I must transfer money from one account to another, pay my visa, and pull a few other financial miracles. Using a PC again reminds me of how blessed I am to be a Mac user. After multiple crashes, encryption problems, and blue screens of death, I give up. Anyway, its time for one of those big Danish breakfasts of cheese, cold cuts, and heavy bread. Three more reasons to love Europe.
After breakfast, we take the bus to Oelstykke’s train station and board the S train for Copenhagen. We stroll around, Peter, Jesper, Mike and I. It is a beautiful day and the beautiful people are filling the cafes in Nyhaven, the trendy beautiful people area of the city. I snap a large number of photos of signs, musicians, and buildings. We climb the big round tower in the centre of town.
The Jazz Festival is on, and the plan is to visit a local venue for some music and beer. But a few thousand other beer and music fans have the same idea, and we are denied. We stroll around some more, taking in the beauty of Copenhagen.
Peter takes us to one of his favourite watering holes, Gulliver’s. It is here where he watches footie with his mates. The bar is totally English as is the bar staff and clientele. I make two amazing beer discoveries named Black Pearl (a black ale that could be the evil twin of a Guinness) and a lighter pint called Kostrizer. My handwritten notes sum these tasty offerings with one word: yum.
As the day gets late, we visit a restaurant that I last was at in 2001. It is called “Broadway” and serves Turkish fare. The best thing about Broadway is that not only is the food good, the prices are cheap – even by Copenhagen standards. 49DKK! Which is about $10. And Dandy Dolma too.
Back at Peter’s, I am dealing with Travelocity and Visa. Still trying to resolve the Belize trip issue. I am also fighting fiscal fears – that I am living a lifestyle way beyond my means (stupid thinking, I know). I discover the wonders of SMS or Texting – and slowly hammer out messages to folks back in Canada. 10 cents per text is much cheaper than calling home.
I wrestle with whether or not to bring my video camera along on the actual expedition. I know that if I bring it, it will seriously impede my enjoyment of the trip. And if I shoot in a professional style (ie: taking time to shoot video that doesn’t look like holiday videos) then I will seriously impede my border mates. I decide to leave it at Peter’s. And anyway, why bring something along that could be stolen? Both the laptop and the camera will be safe in Oelstykke.
We close the day with discussions of what will be and a few cocktails. My room at Peter’s is his wife’s art room. It is adorned with art. In the 2am darkness, I notice that the ceiling has glow-in-the-dark stars and the clock radio beside my bed projects the time on the ceiling in devil red numerals. I feel like I am on a drug induced trip as I drift off to sleep.
July 7, 2003
I am paying the price for not editing the Great Central European Border Expedition 22 months ago! Without an injection of cash, its hard to commit time to such a huge project: chopping 20 hours of footage into 1 hour. It sounds easy, but believe me, it is anything but!
So, that leaves me at Jesper’s place, with all the GCEBE footage burned to a dozen disks. In preparation for a evening get together at Peter Hering’s place (he is the expedition leader), I have decided to put together some of the footage. I spend the day on it, hacking through all the events that made up Day 1. After several hours, I have a rough, though long, day one video. The GCEBE was 11 days. This is going to take a while.
There is still no internet at Jespers, which is probably a good thing. Though I am in the middle of setting up some shoots back in Canada, and access to email would be nice. When Jesper comes home from work, I am still hammering away at the video.
We head over to Peter’s place in Oelstykke (Ølstykke). I will be staying at Peter’s this evening, so I am loaded down with my million-kilo bag, video gear, and laptop. It is great to be back in the company of my two borderfreak friends again.
As we sit and talk excitedly about the big event that is just days away, we are joined by Hans Peter Nissen – another Danish borderfreak and Mike Kaufman from the USA. We look over maps and then take a look at my videos. Hans Peter orders and then pays for pizza. What a great guy!
The beers flow as we flip through Peter’s collections of previous border expedition pictures. It is unbelievable to think that we’re about to start our third! We’re all very excited, though it seems weird that the rest of our border mates are not here yet. It won’t be a real expedition without the likes of Rolf, Harry and Anne.
It is quite late when I make my way to my room. Sleep comes easily.
Friday, August 08, 2003
Only a weekend seperates me from the next journey to Belize. I leave Monday night (8/11) and arrive the next afternoon. I'll be down there for nearly a month, and will be able to do something that I haven't been able to do in Canada: make some $! Talk about a slow production year! Yeesh!
I was just thinking about all of the traveling that I have been able to enjoy in the last two years: NYC, Ireland, most of Europe, Central America... and Australia before that. It amazes me still. I love it so.
I have not forgotten to post the notes from the Baltic Border Expedition. I am still behind, but I hope to make head way this weekend. And there will be the Belize updates as well.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Here is a PDF map of the trail.
I found some pictures of the trails that we did... and a shot of The Chief. I only shot a few photos... this link will take you to some that are just as good.
Sunday, August 03, 2003
Yesterday I was producing a story on the world's only pro female bronc buster! We were out in Abbotsford BC, where it was hot and dusty and I swear I had been transported to the Canadian prairies.
Kaila Mussell is 25 and is a pretty cool woman. She's in a sport where there have been no women for 60 years! And she competes directly against the menfolk. We were able to get right down to where the gate is that she launches out of on a bucking horse. The power of the horse is incredible, and it makes you wonder why anyone would care to do such a thing.
It's a hard life for Kaila (from Chilliwack, BC). Now what she is a pro, she has to go to various rodeos to compete and get better. And she generally rides once per rodeo -- only for 8 seconds, if she doesn't get bucked off. Unfortunately she did yesterday. So far this year, she has been to 60 rodeos -- driving all night to get to the next one. Sometimes sleeping in her car. Sometimes bunking with people. Rarely staying in a hotel, as it costs money, and there isn't a lot of money at this stage in her career.
But she has focus and grit, and will do very well in the years to come.
And that is how I spent my Saturday.
Friday, August 01, 2003
Tonight I met a man named Bart Simpson who used to live in the house where I now live. No shit.
It's a mad mad mad mad mad mad world.
If you're wondering were tales from the GBBE are... well, they are coming, but slowly. Time is an issue, but so is accuracy... and some of the locations need to be confirmed before I publish them here.
In a little over a week I will be headed to Belize for work. Yet another trip. And the last one for a while.
Keep checking often!