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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shit Happens-- Even In Happy Go Lucky Thailand: Bangkok Airports Closed Down

Thailand's welcome mat rolled back in

Last night Roland drove his friend to LAX. His friend bought a home and a business and is moving abroad, to a smiley, peaceful country we visit all the time: Thailand. When they got to the airport they were informed that there are no flights being allowed into Bangkok and that both its airports are closed. There are rumors of a military coup as protesters seem to have forced the government to have fled to Chiang Mai way in the north. Protesters say they will keep the airports closed down until the government resigns. The government says it won't resign. Government supporters are threatening violence.
Thailand’s tourism minister, Weerasak Kohsurat, said the government would soon begin flying thousands of stranded tourists out of the country using military bases near the Thai capital.

Tourists would be flown by Thai Airways to Singapore or Malaysia for connecting flights, The Associated Press reported.

Government officials also said Thursday they would allow commercial airlines to use one of the military airports, U-Tapao.

Used by the United States military during the Vietnam War, U-Tapao can handle only a fraction of the daily average of 100,000 passengers who flew in and out of Suvarnabhumi International Airport last year.

U-Tapao’s terminal has the capacity to hold 400 people and the parking lot has about 100 spaces. The airport is about 120 miles from Bangkok, a two-hour drive.

There have been a couple of explosions and some gunfire at the main international airport and a few injuries, and thousands of stranded tourists. Normally, Thailand is one of my favorite places to go for a vacation. Reports from stranded tourists all seem to agree on one point: the airlines are hopelessly unhelpful. Tourists seem unsympathetic with the protesters-- or at least with their choice of tactics. I'm sure glad we picked nice peaceful Mali this year. Meanwhile, Roland's friend was offered a flight to Taiwan and one night free in a hotel and the best wishes of the airline that the airports will be open by Saturday. It could be worse; he could have been in Mumbai.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Would Rate Mumbai, India As A Safe City To Visit Although It Wasn't Today

Gates of India on the right, Taj Mahal Hotel on the left

The first time I was in Mumbai, then called Bombay, was 1970 and I was so happy to be in India after driving for months and months and months across a far less hospitable western and central Asia. I was on my way to Goa in my trusty VW van. I only stayed in a hotel once in the whole 2 years I was on the Indian subcontinent and it was at the very end of the trip. In Bombay I slept in my van right at the Gates of India in the shadow of a hotel I came to stay at many times years later, the Taj, sight of some of the worst of today's violence. It usually gets rated as Mumbai's most luxurious and prestigious hotel. Last time I was there Roland was taking a shower when there was a power blackout. There was no electricity, of course, and something very odd happened. The water in the shower turned to sewage. [A similar thing, although it was thankfully a sink and not a shower and there was no contact, happened to me at New Orleans' best hotel, the Windsor Court, but they gave me a coupon for two free nights to assuage their embarrassment. The Taj knew no embarrassment and we were forced to walk up and down countless flights of stairs several times.]

Today Islamic terrorists dealt a severe blow to India's tourism industry by attacking the Taj, the Oberoi and several other top of the line tourist spots, killing an unspecified number of people-- looks like over 100-- and holding others hostage. The situation is still fluid as I write. Americans and Brits were especially sought out among the hostages and then shot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Ready For Senegal

I'm getting ready for my trip to Senegal and Mali. It was a bit of a hassle getting the Mali visa-- which sat on the desk of someone at the DC Embassy for a few weeks-- but there's no need for a visa for Senegal. The Malians charge $131. The Malians also insist on a Yellow Fever vacination so after unsuccessfully pleading with a doctor to just give me the form that says I got one without actually shooting me up with whatever poisons the vacination is made from, I did get the shot. And I made reservations to rent a 4WD vehicle and a driver and made some reservations for hotels and a flight from Dakar to Bamako and I'm very busy running around buying food bars and hand wipes and silk sheets and an ergonomic backpack for my trek in the Dogon Country. But a friend sent me some music from Senegal today that I thought listening to that would be an even better way to get ready for my trip.

I'm a fan of Malian music, especially of Ali Farka Touré, the bluesman who died a couple years ago. And I have an intro from a friend to meet Bassekou Kouyate whose music sounds great. But I don't know anything about the music of Senegal, other than the world-renowned music of Youssou N'Dour, of course. Djele Lankandia Cissoko plays Kora music from Casamance. It really appeals to me and I'm hoping I can find some live music like this in Dakar.