Take Me To Your Leader

4 11 2008

“What are all these people doing in my garden?” (Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and President Ahtisaari of Finland in Helsinki)

Today, millions of Americans will cast their ballots for the next president of the U.S. – and more people around the world will be watching than probably ever before.  For one of these two men, his life will change forever. Never again will he be able to book a last-minute sell-off to a 3-star all-inclusive in Acapulco; never again will he be able to engage in a beer-drinking contest at Daytona Beach and in future he will send the Secret Service down to the swimming pool to spread his towel on a sun-bed at the crack of dawn.


And, for much of his life, like most world leaders, he will be disrupting the travels of people all over the world!


I was connecting through Cincinnati-Louisville airport during the run-up to a presidential election. Our turbo-prop commuter aircraft had closed its door and was taxiing towards the end of the runway when the engines stopped and we came to a halt. The pilot announced that the president’s aircraft, Air Force One, was on final approach and under federal law all aircraft at the airport had to shut-off their engines and remain where they were.


We watched the blue and white 747 land on the neighbouring runway and only once it had taxied clear were we permitted to continue on our way.


That was nothing compared to the greeting I got in Bangkok during the APEC Summit, however.


High security is nothing new at airports, but finding yours surrounded by tanks and sand-bagged machine-gun nests raises the eye-brows of even the most seasoned of traveller. The annual APEC Summit attracts the leaders of the nations who border the Pacific Ocean which means not only the U.S. president but also those of Russia, China, Japan, Australia and Canada amongst others. Once I had fought my way through the usual hordes of passengers, friends, family, police, security – and this time also military – and managed to check-in, I heaved a sigh of relief upon entering the sanctuary of the departure lounge…although the presence of trigger-happy soldiers even in here was actually a little less than comforting.


Taxiing for take-off, we raced straight past a line of official aircraft on the far-side of the airport. Beside Air Force One sat the equivalent transport of all the other leaders – and a small army of armoured vehicles and soldiers.


A few days later my ability to navigate through Kuala Lumpur was restricted by the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference when I found myself opening the terminal door to an Iranian minister and his impressive entourage. He nodded his appreciation before being shuffled into a large black Mercedes with the Iranian flag flying from its bonnet all accompanied by a motorcade of cars and motorcycles. Of course, all of these were minor inconveniences compared to my return trip when the highway connecting Kuala Lumpur to its suburban airport was closed while the leaders of the Islamic nations were shuttled en masse back and forth and I was deprived of 4 hours sleep to beat the roadblocks!


Sometimes though, the presence of a world leader goes completely unnoticed such as when I discovered I was sitting opposite a former Canadian prime minister on the Toronto subway. There was no red carpet, no official press corps, no brigade of security with earpieces and lapel pins, no coterie of assistants and, as I was on my way to a meeting, thankfully they didn’t shut down the system while he travelled.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Writes and Wrongs

19 08 2008

All penned-in:          The military prison – Paramaribo, Suriname

My name is The Adventure Blogger and I have a problem: I am a pen thief.


Actually, I only liberate them from hotel rooms along with the odd envelope and perhaps a few sheets of stationery (and maybe a bar of soap, a map or two, a sewing kit, shoe cloth, and shower caps that I never use. And a face cloth once…but that was an accident). It’s not as though I hide the flat screen television in my garment bag, the TV remote in my backpack or wear the luxuriously plush bathrobe beneath my raincoat as I sneak Michelin man-like towards the lobby’s revolving door. But I do have a penchant for pinching pens and pencils.


What particularly worries me is that I don’t need these pens and have so many that I don’t even use them all. It’s not even as if I carefully preserve them in a documented collection.  Instead, I have a pot on my desk that overflows with all sorts from plain old biros to more stylish stylos. Clearly, my thievery is a sickness.


I suppose that by light-fingered experience I have become somewhat of a connoisseur and can spot an especially good hotel pen all the way from the trouser press. Sometimes, the least likely examples are the best and write better than even the finest pen in your local stationery supplier.  They’re not quite Mont Blanc, but they certainly put your average Bic to shame.


My current favourite is from a hotel in Perth, Australia. It is brown with a faux-metallic tip, a plastic push button on the top and a combination pocket-clip/release. It is singularly unspectacular and would be right at home chained to the counter-top of your local tax office, but it writes perfectly. Fortunately, I discovered its merits on the second day of a recent stay and three of them had somehow found their way into my bag by the end of the week.


My pot contains pens from all over the world and although I am often tempted to use the more exotic examples just to impress – like Cairo, Nairobi or Kuala Lumpur – I am always concerned that a vacationing house detective will spot his purloined wares, clamp a heavy hand on my shoulder when I least expect it and cart me off to the nearest penitentiary.


By way of rationalisation of my nefarious ways, I always remind myself that if they weren’t meant to be ‘borrowed’, they’d be chained to the desk as the TV often is to the credenza. In addition, housekeeping carts are always overflowing with boxes of pens for replenishment which only further proves my innocence…although this rationale ignores the fact that the same trolleys also contain stacks of towels, bedding and rolls of toilet paper which are generally not intended to be souvenirs.


Even that tacit assurance doesn’t prevent pangs of guilt however, or erase the feeling that staff are tsk-tsk’ing me as I return to my room. I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself that by spreading these items throughout the world like pollen from a blossoming flower, I am actually helping to publicise that property and thereby assist in their marketing efforts. It would be a good argument, except that I never actually allow anyone to borrow them and therefore my promotional activities are restricted to myself and my non-travelling pot.


So, next time you’re staying in a hotel and find the pen missing when you go to write on your postcard, check at reception to see if The Adventure Blogger was there just before you!



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 45

30 06 2008


Never get dressed in the dark


I do not consider myself to be a dandy or a slave to fashion, but I do generally take an interest in my appearance and at the very least like things to match. This is particularly true when flying. My practicality prevents me from completely sacrificing comfort for sartorial elegance, but I do believe it is important to look respectable especially when presenting oneself to immigration authorities.


During a series of flights to Malaysia that had me flying via New York and Dubai in one very long day, I had taken great care in selecting my wardrobe. I wanted apparel that would not only be comfortable for my 28 hours of non-stop travelling, but would also provide me with some degree of presentability for my examination by various security and immigration officials enroute.


Very early that morning, I got dressed, tip-toed out of my home and headed off on the journey that would entail two taxis, four airports, one train, four countries and countless time zones before I’d arrive at my next bed. I checked in at the airport, cleared security and boarded my first flight. Shortly after take-off I kicked-off my shoes to enhance comfort. I bent down to tuck them safely under the seat in front of me and recoiled in abject horror.


My socks didn’t match. One was blue and the other black. I was to travel some 10,606 miles with odd socks. I was mortified. Everyone in the aircraft was staring at my fashion faux pas. The flight attendants were muttering behind cupped hands. Other passengers were moving away from me. Would the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia even allow such a visual disgrace to set foot in their countries?  


Upon arrival at my hotel at the end of my odyssey, I discovered that my unspeakable blunder was actually twice as bad as I had at first imagined, for, in my luggage, I found a second identical pair!


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

Rebel Without A Pause

28 04 2008

I derive a certain spine-tingling thrill from breaking rules, scorning authority and just generally being a rebel, which is why I stood in the elevator grinning from ear to ear, having slipped past the vigilant concierge with my bag of junk food in full violation of the lobby sign that emphatically stated “No outside food in the guest rooms”.


A glamourous life of spectacularly tasteful crime clearly loomed. I could envisage a future spent abseiling from art gallery ceilings in black spandex or relieving state depositories of their entire gold reserves accompanied by vertically-challenged circus acrobats.  There was clearly no stopping me now - until my room card wouldn’t work and I had to sheepishly return to the front desk clutching my illicit food and bashfully request a new one.


Every hotel and hostel has its rules and regulations. Many make perfect sense - like not smoking in the rooms, or refraining from throwing furniture off the balcony into the swimming pool. But the sign in the elevator of my hotel in Kuala Lumpur had me stumped.


It was a small, engraved plaque fastened to the wall just above the floor buttons. It depicted something akin to a medieval projectile: a peculiar oval-shaped object with little spikes around the outside, with a line drawn through it. My elevator-mate, observing my quizzical gaze, explained that it referred to the durian - a popular fruit whose odour is so offensive that it is banned from most hotels and public places throughout Asia.


Clearly, the gauntlet had been raised: I had to have one - and in the illegal seclusion of my hotel room too!


In the nearby market I quickly located the stinky-fruit stand. Disappointingly, it looked rather innocent. The seller instantly rumbled me as a curious tourist rather than a connoisseur of his tropical wares and offered to let me try it right then, instead of going to the bother of actually buying one. Somewhat disappointed that this was cheating and would deprive me of the naughty pleasure of noxious fruit smuggling, I nevertheless shrugged my shoulders and agreed.


No sooner had his large knife penetrated the skin than the smell of victory reached my nose. My nostrils twitched. Imagine taking some very dirty and well-worn socks, stuffing them with a wretched quivering mass of rotten mouldy-onions, stirring in some turpentine and adding a hint of death - and you would be close. I suspected that its character-building scent was illegal under the Geneva Convention.


Not content with permanently damaging my olfactory senses, a small bit of its flesh was then offered on the end of his knife.


I grinned nervously, the sweat beading in my hairline. This was a living breathing Fear Factor without the bikinis or prize money. It slid onto my tongue and sat there before I quickly swallowed it whole, successfully managing to circumvent all taste buds. I smiled and nodded that it was lovely, although in fact cowardice had ensured that I discerned nothing more than its slimy consistency.


I returned to my hotel obediently devoid of durian but wondering if my nose would ever truly be durian-free again.


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008