Apr 07

The SB Travel Guide

When I’m bored, which happens a lot, I like to peruse travel sites such as Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. You see, I’ve lived all over the United States, and I’m not content to park my ass in Idaho for the rest of my life. I want to get out and see stuff.

Does that mean I’m going to sign up for the first package tour to come through my e-mail? Oh, hell no! My travel philosophy is very similar to Mojo Nixon‘s. One of the truly great American prophets, Nixon had this to say back in 1999:

I like the local place. I like Billy Bob Bubba Junior’s burger place on the edge of town with the B sanitary rating. Local promoters will ask me where I want to go eat, and I’ll say, “I wanna go eat at the place where your drunk uncle goes to, that your mother doesn’t like.”

So today I’m sharing a few travel destinations on my bucket list. As of this writing I haven’t been to any of them, but I hope to change that one of these days. Flight prices are based on what I found today at Kayak departing 7 May (a Tuesday) from Boise Airport (BOI) and returning the following week. If you were to actually do this, however, I recommend taking a longer vacation. Many of these destinations take up to two days to get to, if not longer.

Tirana, Albania

The Albanian capital is still a bit off the beaten path, but it’s nowhere near as hard to get to as it was 35 years ago. Back when the Enver Hoxha regime was in power, Tirana was right up there with Pyongyang in terms of mysterious, remote cities. Pyongyang would be interesting too, but the whole point is to get away from guided tours. In North Korea, you don’t have a choice.

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Even the 2T has better nightlife than Pyongyang.

Anyway, in sharp contrast to Kim Jong-un’s stomping grounds Tirana is said to have a very vibrant night life. According to Wikitravel, Albanians “are very hospitable towards foreigners,” and crime rates are quite low. Once I have my druthers, I’m definitely going.

From BOI to Tirana (TIA): Fairly straightforward. $1,458 with layovers at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Munich (MUC).

Other places to consider: Ljubljana, Slovenia; Sofia, Bulgaria; Skopje, Macedonia; Podgorica, Montenegro.

Bangui, Central African Republic

The more astute among you know I’ve already written about the Central African Republic here. From my standpoint sitting here in Idaho Africa seems very remote, and Bangui seems remote even by African standards. I wouldn’t be terribly interested in going on safari there or anything like that (although I understand the region is well-suited for such things). Like most other places, I’d want to hang out with the locals and see what they do to spend the time.

The problem with the CAR is that’s it’s constantly in turmoil. I mean, constantly. The government there was overthrown by rebels less than a month ago. I’d want to go when it’s a bit safer, but when that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

From BOI to Bangui (BGF): “No matching results were found.” Wusses. I know Air France has a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Bangui. Looks like that would be 687,500 Central African francs, which is, um, around $1,360. Add another $1,204 from BOI to Paris – with a layover in San Francisco (SFO) – and that’s $2,564.

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Nothing like burning an entire flight going backwards.

Other places to consider: N’Djamena, Chad; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Timbuktu, Mali.

Rabbit Flat, Northern Territory, Australia

Speaking of remote, few places are as out of the way as the Australian outback. In the outback itself, there are places even the locals consider remote, particularly in the interiors of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Rabbit Flat is one such place. Hundreds of miles away from any significant settlement, Rabbit Flat is not much more than a roadhouse on a long, seldom-traveled road. I understand the roadhouse closed down, too.

Ah, who cares? There are times when I’m feeling my inner Ted Kaczynski and just want to get away from it all. I very much doubt I’d stay in Rabbit Flat for very long, but the trip there and back would certainly be an adventure.

From BOI to Rabbit Flat: No airport to speak of there, so I’d have to fly to the closest city of any size, which would be Alice Springs (ASP). $1,815, with stops in San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX), and Sydney (SYD). That, plus a 375-mile one-way trip on roads that make Nevada 318 look like Manhattan. I’m sure they aren’t giving those away.

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Regardless, that’s gonna be a long-ass trip.
Image credit: Nachoman-au

Other places to consider: Coober Pedy, South Australia; Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Svalbard is the mirror image of Rabbit Flat. While the Australian outback is excessively hot and remote, Svalbard is excessively cold and remote. How remote? How about 78° North latitude, well north of the Arctic Circle?

Although officially part of Norway, Svalbard has also been occupied by the Soviet Union and later Russia for decades, which makes for an interesting cultural mishmash. In Longyearbyen, the capital and largest city, the sun rises in April and sets in November, with only a few weeks a year experiencing a normal day and night cycle. Temperatures rarely go above 45° F.

Who’s up for volleyball?

From BOI to Longyearbyen (LYR): Kayak wusses out again. $922 from Boise to Oslo (OSL) with stops in Denver (DEN) and Newark (EWR). Then on Scandinavian Airlines to LYR, $467. Total: $1,389.

Other places to consider: Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada; Nuuk, Greenland; Belushya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, Russia.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

Many people (myself included), find even simple words in the Welsh language difficult to pronounce. How about this one? Apparently it sounds like this.

Located on the island of Isle of Anglesey just northwest of the Welsh mainland, the town has the distinction of being the longest place name in Europe. I suspect no one on the local train misses the station.

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“Yeah, that place.”

From BOI to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-whatever: Northern Wales is apparently lacking in sizable airports, so I looked eastward into England, specifically Liverpool (LPL). Evidently LPL isn’t big enough either, as Kayak directed me further east to Manchester (MAN). That’s $848 with stops in different locations each way (but not through London, go figure). A rental car or train ticket would probably put me a bit north of $1,000, which would make this my least expensive international trip.

Other places to consider: Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta, Andhra Pradesh, India; Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, South Africa; Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand.

Thermopolis, Wyoming

The seat of Hot Springs County, Wyoming, may not strike you as all that special. Indeed, I suspect it’s like any other town of its size in the western United States (around 3,000 if you’re interested). It’s still somewhere I want to go, perhaps because it was once mentioned by Daffy Duck.

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Another great American prophet.

Unlike the other places I mentioned today, I have concrete plans to visit Thermopolis in the near future. It’ll probably be May or June. I want to make sure winter is truly done and over with around here before I make the trip.

Besides, it’s much closer than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

From BOI to Thermopolis: I suppose the closest commercial airport is in Cody (COD), but I’ll be driving this one.

Feb 20

History Wednesday: Bokassa’s Royal Mess

Today’s journey takes us to the 1970s. It was a magical time of polyester, cocaine, four-on-the-floor beats and, um, Ted Nugent. Like many eras, its downfall was marked by a riot in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

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Not pictured: taste and decorum.
Image credit: Daniel Hartwig

But powder blue leisure suits weren’t the decade’s only atrocity. Located in (oddly enough) central Africa, the Central African Republic became independent from France in 1960. Since then its history has been pretty much FUBAR, even by African standards. On New Year’s Eve 1965, a military coup d’etat led by Col. Jean-Bedel Bokassa overthrew the original government. Bokassa then proceeded to go through the normal post-coup routines: suspend the constitution, dissolve the legislature, promise elections at some undetermined point in the future, enact a “Mitch Miller only” policy on government radio, blah, blah, blah. He also criminalized unemployment for people between 18 and 55 and banned tom-tom playing except on nights and weekends, apparently because excessive percussion creates unrest.

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Miller’s alleged involvement remains controversial.

But Bokassa was just getting warmed up. In March 1972 he declared himself president for life. By 1975 former colonial power France had become Bokassa’s main supporter, a foreign policy decision they would come to bitterly regret. French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing infamously referred to Bokassa as a “friend and family member.” During this period Bokassa was also openly chummy with hall of fame nutty dictator Muammar Gaddafi, even going so far as to rename himself “Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa” and convert to Islam to impress his Libyan buddy. Bokassa’s Islamic conversion lasted only a couple months though, as he converted back to Catholicism when it became apparent Gaddafi wasn’t going to help bankroll his country and – more importantly – his bling.

Of course, this was all par for the course in 1970s Africa. Bokassa needed a new angle. So in December 1976 he took his despotism to the next level. Apparently dissatisfied with a candy-ass title like “president for life,” Bokassa declared the CAR a monarchy with himself as emperor. Inspired by Napoleon, in December 1977 Bokassa had himself crowned sovereign of the renamed Central African Empire in a garish ceremony which cost the country more than its entire annual budget, with much of the tab picked up by Bokassa’s BFFs in Paris. Leaders from all over the globe were invited to the coronation. A grand total of zero attended.

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Not pictured: taste and decorum.

Now considered utterly batshit insane by pretty much the rest of the world, perhaps even more so than the fabulously daffy dictator Idi Amin in nearby Uganda, Emperor Bokassa became steadily more unpredictable. Rumors of cannibalism were rampant. Bokassa had long been suspected to personally participate in the beatings and torture of political prisoners and others, but his alleged personal participation in fatally beating elementary school students protesting against paying for government school uniforms (conveniently manufactured by a company owned by one of his wives) was the final straw. In September 1979 French special forces invaded the country’s main airport in the capital city of Bangui and quickly overthrew the erstwhile emperor while he was visiting Gaddafi in Libya. Central Africans celebrated with a good, old-fashioned statue toppling.

That’s right, things got so bad that the FRENCH took it upon themselves to get rid of the guy.

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But in fairness the French can be pretty badass when it suits them.

Several years later, because he had served in the French Army for over 20 years prior to joining the CAR Army, Bokassa was granted asylum and allowed to settle in the Paris suburbs, much to the embarrassment of the French government. Bokassa’s close relationship with Giscard d’Estaing became a campaign issue during the 1981 French presidential election, contributing to Giscard d’Estaing’s loss to Francois Mitterrand.

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“If Mobutu calls, I’m DEFINITELY not here.”

Bokassa returned to the CAR in 1986 and was immediately arrested. Found guilty of most of the charges against him, he was sentenced to death. However, several commutations allowed him to be released after only five years in prison. While he lost his power, his crazy never went away. Towards the end of his life Bokassa claimed to have secret meetings with Pope John Paul II and declared himself the 13th Apostle.

So what does the Central African Republic think of Bokassa now? While many remember him as a crazed dictator, incredibly in December 2010 CAR President Francois Bozize rehabilitated the former emperor, posthumously overturning all of his convictions. Calling Bokassa “a son of the nation recognized by all as a great builder,” Bozize then presented Bokassa’s widow Catherine with a medal. Indeed, given that the CAR has been in almost constant turmoil since Bokassa was deposed, perhaps some really do remember the “good old days” of the empire.