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100 Countries?

A number of people are aware that I had a travel goal of qualifying to join the Travelers’ Century Club (TCC), not that I really had any intention of actually joining. This was more about motivating me to get out of a travel rut and visit some new countries than anything else. In November last year I finally hit 100 “countries” but it doesn’t seem all that significant. The TCC’s country and territory list is claimed to have 324 entries (although at least 329 entries appear on their list) compared to the 194 United Nations’ member (and observer) states. While I can agree that some places deserve to be recognised while not being a member state there is a lot to disagree with on the TCC list so it hardly feels like I’ve made it to 100 countries and territories.

So what’s wrong? I think the problem lies in their “Enclaves/Continental Separation” rule. It states:

Continental land areas having a common government or administration but which are geographically discontinuous either by reason of being separated by foreign land not under their control, by being located on separate continents, or by being separated by a natural body of water shall be considered as separate territories provided their population exceeds 100,000. Multiple fragments separated by the same foreign country shall only count for one territory.

There are places where this works fine but there are also a number of cases where it is plainly stupid. Joking aside, from an Australian context listing Tasmania as separate from the rest of the continent because of Bass Strait makes no sense at all. Canadians would also recognise the same situation with Prince Edward Island classified as being separate from Canada. This is potentially made worse than Tasmania because PEI is virtually surrounded by Canada and is so close that it’s connected via a bridge. Additionally Newfoundland-Labrador isn’t included separately (even though it was only admitted to the Canadian confederation in 1949) because Labrador shares a land boundary with the rest of Canada, and Québec is culturally different from the Anglophone part of Canada but that clearly doesn’t count.

Dividing Egypt, Russia and Turkey into two continental areas seems arbitrary and a case of padding the list, as is dividing Indonesia into island groups. Separately recognising overlapping Argentine, British, and Chilean Antarctic claims results in three countries from one landing but it doesn’t recognise visiting a base of a country that doesn’t have a territorial claim that predates the Antarctic Treaty.

It would be easy to just dismiss the TCC list and go with the UN one but then that would diminish places such as South Georgia, that while a British Overseas Territory is in another hemisphere to the UK.

In the end I think I’ve visited somewhere between 71 and 103 counties and territories so maybe I have at most 29 to go and I should just keep visiting new countries.

Iguaçu Falls

Brazilian platform

Over flying the falls

Interesting encounters with the customs service

On my recent trip I had two interesting encounters with the customs service, firstly in the USA and then Australia.

Firstly the USA. While it’s not unusual for border protection in the USA to seem to act strangely I think they out did themselves this time. For the first time I was entering the USA via ship and at a territory (US Virgin Islands). This necessitated a face to face meeting with a customs agent on the ship. Nothing overly unusual there but I needed to bring a paper copy of my ESTA and fill out a I94-W form. I had thought the the ESTA had consigned the I94-W to history but it appears not if you are traveling by ship. Also it seems that the customs service doesn’t do mobile data as you need to appear with a paper copy of your ESTA. No idea how they determine that it’s legit but maybe that’s why they need the I94-W too.

Now in theory I’m in the USA and the ship continues its journey to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You would think that customs in US Virgin Islands was sufficient but it would appear not as now we go through the passport check and the usual photograph and finger print fun and games. At least we do until we’re running late and then it reverts to a simple flash of the passport. Not sure how this is securing the borders, if they thought the finger print and photo was necessary for some but not all foreigners.

Next up Australia. I’ve just returned to Australia via Perth Airport. I have an e-passport so I can use the SmartGate and it looked like it might be quicker, queues for both the kiosks and the agents. Anyway I queued for the kiosk. On inserting my passport it asks if I’ve been to Africa, Caribbean, Central or South America. Well I’ve been to them all on this trip so what next? Well now it presents a list of countries and regions asking if I’ve been to any. Clearly a Yellow Fever test. I scan the list while the system nags me about answering the question. I spot an Argentine province I’ve visited so answer yes. SmartGate tells me I need to seek out the information desk. On obvious sign where that is so I head to the agent line before all the people arriving from Bali or Dubai descend on it. Get to the agent and present my form, passport and immunisation booklet, which he ignores. Only question asked was whether my travel to Brazil (country most time spent in) was business or pleasure. I’m now waved through and the next person wants to know about the food I’m carrying. Clearly they happy with my answer as they notate my card and I proceed to collect the checked bag. Now onto the next queue where I think the positive answer to both the “have I been to Africa, Caribbean, Central or South America” question and the one about “have I been in a wilderness area” would get some further questions. Apparently not as I’ve waved through to the exit unlike the 3 people in front of me. Got to wonder why those questions are there if no action (or even questions) is taken.

Blurb photo book of the Land of the Ice Bears cruise

Beware the Vikings
I usually use Picpress to create photo books but they don’t provide a way to share a preview of the book online so I’ve created one for the Land of the Ice Bears cruise using Blurb. It has the added bonus of creating an iPad version but I lose the lie flat binding. Anyway I’ve created the book and now just need to wait for my physical copy to arrive to see how it really turned out. Meanwhile I continue going through the images to create a book for Greenland.

Blurb also provide some code to access the preview so I’ve embedded that here to see how that works 🙂

Polar Bears in Svalbard

Just came back from a spectacular cruise with Lindblad and National Geographic Expeditions around Svalbard (the island group north of Norway with the closest permanent settlement to the North Pole).

While a documentary series like the BBC’s Frozen Planet can give you some sense of the beauty and fragility of these places there is nothing like actually being there, feeling the chill wind, the sound of glaciers calving, the smell of bird cliffs, etc. It also provides an opportunity to witness some magnificent sights such as a polar bear drama we witnessed.

In the distance we spotted an old male polar bear lying on the ice. As we drew close we discovered that he had company. Initially we thought that the female bear and cub close to him were waiting by a seal breathing hole but no they were lying there watching the male bear (although strictly speaking Mum was watching the male bear and the cub was watching Mum). The male was lying on what appeared to be a pillow of snow but that too proved to be incorrect as suddenly he pulled a baby beluga whale from the snow. When he did the great reveal and started eating it she challenged him but he saw her off (and her confused/frightened cub). Walking in the far distance were two more bears who nearly instantly changed direction and started to come in our direction. First a young female came to challenge, perhaps indicating how hungry she was and then a young male. Both were scared away by the old, scared male but they all then set up camp not far from him (and us in the ship) to watch for another opportunity. I have no idea how it ended as we moved away while the old male was still eating with his audience of 4 other bears.

Another lazy day in Longyearbyen

Last full day in Longyearbyen before the NGE cruise begins and of course it’s raining. Not that is a problem as Basecamp has a nice cosy loft area where I can sit with my iPad and listen to the rain. Somewhat glad that I didn’t do a cruise today to one of the Russian settlements as it probably won’t be a whole lot of fun.

Of course the weather changed again and while it’s still brisk the low cloud and rain have passed so it’s back to “pleasant” and wandering around town weather. Went down to the harbour and noticed the signs warning of aggressive Arctic Terns. Sounded a lot like Adelaide’s aggressive Magpies. I saw some at a safe distance so I escaped without a welcome from them. There was a Greenpeace ship in the harbour, no idea why as I’m blissfully news free (well mostly, still trying to keep up with the TdF via twitter 🙂

One last restaurant to try tonight, the one at the Radisson (I’m passing on the pizza joint, although it’s probably excellent).

Svalbard

Well I made it here and it’s warmer than I expected, a balmy 6C! The intermittent drizzle is a bit annoying but it didn’t stop me from walking up to the western edge of town and back taking photos. Being ultra careful with the D3s after the disaster in the Baltic but it was hard to keep it dry and take photos, especially given I had left its rain jacket in the room. It would be good to be able to add some iPhone photos but that requires the app which hates my self signed cert 🙁

Riga

Dzintarinš children’s folk dance troupe
Visited Riga on the National Geographic Expeditions Baltic Cruise. What a charming place without the crowds that would be present if it was better known (Hi Brugge 🙂

The tour started with a walk through the Art Nouveau district.

Then we got to experience a folk dance performance by the Dzintarinš children’s folk dance troupe. A great group of kids who obviously enjoy what they do.

I spend the afternoon just wandering around, quite an enjoyable way to spend a pleasant autumn day.

Sunrise on Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour
Thanks to Mark Williams taking some very impressive photos of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge early one morning from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair I decided to go have a look during the week of the APAN meeting in Sydney. Glen Turner and I took a taxi over there before dawn and waited for the sun to rise. I am still amazed by the D3’s ability to take hand held photographs in next to zero light.

Dubai

Towards the Stars
I returned from the beauty of Oman to the hotels and shops of Dubai. These guys don’t do things by half. A ski slope at Mall of the Emirates and the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. The problem with Burj Khalifa is getting far enough away from it to get it all into shot 🙂

It hadn’t been opened as yet when I was there so I was restricted to walking around it and gazing up rather than looking out from it (although I did fly past it on the helitour from Burj al Arab so I got some perspective).

I need to look for another chance to drop by Dubai and do the tour to the observation deck (and maybe even stay in the hotel).