Planned England To Pakistan Bus Route Hits Bump In The Road

PakistanA proposed bus route from England to Pakistan has been delayed due to trouble getting permits, the BBC reports.

The proposed route is the brainchild of Tahir Khokher, transport chief for the Mirpur region of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The route starts in the northern English city of Birmingham, where many Pakistanis from the Mirpur region live, and runs 4,000 miles through Europe, Turkey, and Iran before reaching northeastern Pakistan and ending at Mirpur.

The problem, of course, is the route itself. It runs straight through Iran and continues on to Quetta in Pakistan, which is a popular hangout for Al-Qaeda. The Kashmir region, which has been the scene of conflict between Pakistan and India since those nations were formed, isn’t exactly the safest place in the world either. A recent survey found Pakistan the seventh unfriendliest country in the world, right after Iran.

On the other hand, a trip will only cost £130 ($200), making it an awesome budget travel option for the adventurous.

The Daily Mail quotes a Birmingham Minister of Parliament expressing concerns that the route could be dangerous. There is also the question of whether it would be used as a low-cost conduit for terrorists.

Khokher says the problems with permits should be ironed out within a month. Stay tuned for more news about the 12-day bus ride through one of the toughest regions in the world.

[Photo Pakistani bus courtesy Flickr user ix4svs. One hopes the new service uses better buses than this.]

Wanderu’s Site Lets You Research And Book Bus And Rail Travel

chicken busIf you’re a traveler, then you’re a Kayaker. Not a paddler, but a devotee of Kayak.com, the airline (and hotel and rental car) search engine that makes booking the lowest fares a breeze. If you’re a traveler, then you’ve also probably cursed the fact that a similar site doesn’t exist for bus and rail travel.

We can now count our blessings, thanks to Wanderu. According to Thrillist, this ingenious domestic search engine offers “hundreds of routes, operators, and schedules into a free, trip-aggregating database.” You can even make bookings, which is like a giant gift from the Travel Gods.

As soon as Wanderu or a competitor makes this info available for international travel, budget travelers won’t have anything left to complain about – except maybe the quality of their guesthouse banana pancakes.

[Photo credit: Flickr user DavidDennisPhotos.com]

‘Chicken Buses’ Add Color To Guatemala (GALLERY)

When weathered school buses are retired from commission in the United States, they don’t always end up being scrapped: many times, they find a new life (and a new paint job) in Guatemala and other Central American countries. Known to English speakers as “chicken buses,” because of the likelihood travelers might find themselves sitting next to livestock, these buses can be found throughout the country and are often filled to the brim with locals, budget travelers and goods.

Across the world, many modes of transport seem unique to those of us using them for the first time – and these buses are no exception. An excursion in one of these vehicles can be chalked up to an amusement park ride, complete with drivers racing around curves at seemingly impossible speeds. The inside is as animated as the wild colors painted on the exterior, with people entering from both the front and back doors and vendors hopping on to try and sell ice cream, plantain chips and other goodies. Benches intended for two schoolchildren are crammed with three (or more) people, with others standing in the aisles and sometimes even riding on the roof.

Most entertaining, however, is the bus driver’s right-hand man, the ayudante. This helper keeps track of all the bodies on the bus, ensuring everyone pays a proper fare, organizing suitcases, and calling out the names of stops to people on the roadside. Keep a close eye on this guy, as he often finds the most opportune moments – such as when a bus is tearing around a harsh curve – to climb out the bus window and onto the top of the bus to secure packages.

To check out more of these richly decorated buses and the culture that surrounds them, click through the gallery below.

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[Photo by Libby Zay]

10 Apps To Help Pass The Time On Long Journeys

kindle Backpacking my way through South America, I spent many hours – sometimes entire days – making my way from city to city via bus. Whether you’re taking a bus, plane or train, here are 10 great apps that work offline to help you pass the time.

Kindle

Kindle makes it easy to stay up-to-date with your favorite books, especially when it can be hard to find novels in your spoken language abroad. Just download the app, shop when you have Wi-Fi and then enjoy the books even when you’re without Internet connection. There are over 1,000 books in the Kindle store, as well as hundreds of newspapers, magazines, textbooks and PDFs. You can also sample the first few pages of books before buying, to decide if it’s worth the purchase.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android and Blackberry. Free.Pocket

Formerly called Read It Later, Pocket allows you to save articles, images, videos and other online media to read later, whether you’re on or offline. This allows for hours of entertainment via various media forms, and can help make the time go by very quickly when spending hours on a bus, train or plane.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. Free.

spotify Spotify Premium

A music-listening app, Spotify allows you to stream and listen to thousands of songs, and even listen to your favorite playlists when you’re offline. Simply switch “Available Offline” to the “on” position for any playlists you’d like to listen to when you don’t have an Internet connection. Offline users can also sync playlists containing any songs from Spotify’s selection to their smartphone, with the ability to sync tracks on up to three computers or smartphones at the same time.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android and Blackberry. $9.99 per month.

World Travel Guide Offline Deluxe

World Travel Guide Offline Deluxe is an app that is specially suited for travelers. It allows users to browse information for over 20,000 travel destinations around the world through travel guides, itineraries, language guides and more. Best of all, it can be enjoyed while offline on a bus, plane or train. Research a current destination, or learn more about a place on your bucket list.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. The first 50 pages are free. After that, you can purchase unlimited pages at a low cost. Android users can download a similar app by clicking here.

wordmoleWord Mole

I’m obsessed with Word Mole on long journeys. Not only is it fun, but it exercises the mind. It’s kind of like Boggle in the sense that you need to make words with adjacent letters in order to gain points. However, with Word Mole you’re making words in a garden plot. If you use letters that aren’t touching any other letters, you’ll get a big hole on the board. Because the game is timed and requires some critical thinking, it’s also a good way to get some brain exercise in while killing time.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Blackberry. $0.99.

Flixster

Watching movies is one of the easiest and most entertaining ways to pass the time. Unfortunately, even when a film is showed on public transportation, it is rare that it’s a flick that everyone will enjoy – if it’s even in a language you understand. Flixster allows travelers to browse their Flixster Collections page, a free application where you can browse movies and shows from various sources. If the movie you want to watch offline is compatible, you’ll be able to watch it without an Internet connection.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android and Blackberry. Free.

ben stein Ben Stein: It’s Trivial

The Ben Stein: It’s Trivial app is one of my favorites, as you can spend hours going through over 1,000 trivia questions in the categories of pop culture, sports, natural wonders and random Steinage. The game starts off easy and gets harder as you progress. Furthermore, answers are timed, adding an element of adrenaline. There’s also a bit of comedy, as the game includes quips and wry comments by Stein.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. $2.99.

Adobe Ideas

For art-lovers, Adobe Ideas allows users to “paint” masterpieces on their smartphones. You’ll be able to sketch using vector-based drawing tools, use an eyedropper to color with precision and work with 10 drawing layers. It’s also got some of the same features as Photoshop, for example, drawing over a photograph. Moreover, you can email your creative pieces to work on them again later.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. $9.99.

fruit ninjaFruit Ninja

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Fruit Ninja. It’s perfect for times when you don’t feel like thinking too hard, but want to pass the time. The object of the game is to chop as many pieces of flying fruit as possible by sliding your finger over the phone screen without hitting any spontaneous bombs. Certain fruits are extra points, as is slicing multiple fruits at the same time. It’s simple, but seriously addicting.

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. $0.99.

18,000 Cool Jokes

This app is extremely entertaining, especially on long journeys. You won’t need an Internet connection to laugh your way through 18,000 Cool Jokes, which includes numerous categories, like blondes, bar, dirty jokes, at work, business, foreigners, yo mama, military, travel and many more. You can also browse the top jokes of the day, week and month. To give you an idea, here is one of the cute – and PG – travel jokes from the app: “What steps should you take if you see a dangerous animal on your travels? Very large ones.”

Available on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. $0.99.

Getting to Harar: riding the bus through eastern Ethiopia

Ethiopia, ethiopia, Harar, harar
It’s good to be back in Ethiopia again.
I’ve noticed some changes since my last trip to Ethiopia. More high-rises are going up in the capital Addis Ababa and ATMs have finally appeared. The Internet is faster too, although it isn’t the full broadband promised by the government.
Addis is fun, but my real destination is Harar, a medieval walled city in eastern Ethiopia. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Harar is reached by a ten-hour bus ride run by two companies–Salaam Bus and Sky Bus. I’m taking Sky Bus (“German technology, Chinese price”) which like its rival offers modern coaches, breakfast, and even a TV playing Ethiopian movies and music videos. This luxury can’t change the fact that you’re stuck in a bus for ten hours, though.
For some reason Ethiopians like to start long trips at an ungodly hour of the morning, so at 5:30am we set out through the darkened streets of Addis Ababa. The only people on the streets are a few sad-eyed prostitutes and drunks staggering home, and joggers zipping along during the only hours the streets aren’t choked with exhaust. A homeless man, bulky under layers of rags, grasps a telephone pole and does a series of quick deep-knee bends.
The sky brightens to the east as the buildings thin out and the countryside opens up. Thatched roof huts called tukuls dot the landscape like haystacks. Farmers with adzes over their shoulders stroll to their fields while tiny children wield thin sticks to control herds of goats.
The road is asphalt all the way but modernity creates its own hazards. Increased speed on aged, bald tires leads to blowouts and more than once we have to creep along the edge of the road to pass overturned trucks. One blocks the road entirely. The bigger vehicles turn around back in the direction of Addis, now two hours behind us. My heart sinks. Our driver doesn’t like that option so he steers the bus off road. Thorn trees scrape the metal sides of the bus like witches’ fingernails. We run over several bushes and sharp stones and I’m positive we’ll puncture a tire, but we emerge victorious back on the road and speed along. Not two miles further on we pass an overturned beer truck. Smashed bottles lie in glittering heaps and the tang of alcohol wafts through the cabin.Little else happens and I feel a bit lonely. Last time I did this route I was sitting in the middle of a half dozen college girls who all wanted to practice their English. Harar was taking care of me even before I arrived. This time the woman next to me gives me a friendly smile and a hello as she sits down and the proceeds to ignore me for the next ten hours. That’s a Western trait I hope doesn’t catch on in Ethiopia. I stare out the window. The defunct Addis-Djibouti railway snakes by, its rails slowly rusting under the sun. We pass little villages next to sheer gorges cut into the hard-baked soil. In the rainy season they become filled with raging torrents. Now none of them have more than a trickle.
We stop for a pee break. The men stand behind thorn bushes as the women cross the street and squat behind a low ridge. As I come back to the bus I see the driver throwing out a pile of trash into the field. All along Ethiopia’s roads you can see plastic bags blowing in the wind. The Ethiopians don’t think anything of it now but some day they’ll regret it.
Then it’s another several hours before we stop at Hirna, a collection of concrete buildings on either side of the highway, for lunch at a noisy little two-room restaurant. I look in vain for an empty table until a man waves me over with a hand covered in sauce.
“I’m Kete, want some lamb?” he asks as he indicates a platter of injera bread and a long bone with some meat stuck to it.
I roll up my sleeve and order a cup of rich Ethiopian coffee. All food is finger food here. You tear off a piece of bread and dip it in some sauce, or use it to grab some meat from the lamb shank.
Kete works for an NGO helping children orphaned by AIDS. They provide education, vocational training, and healthcare. I’ll be covering their branch in Addis later in this series. We chat until his phone rings and he’s called off to a meeting. “Sorry,” he shrugs, “work never stops. Enjoy your trip.”
Soon our driver comes through the restaurant clapping his hands to tell us to get back onto the bus. The highway to the east of Hirna winds up and down a series of ever higher hills. The land is drier but people still wrest a life out of it. Ever since leaving Addis we’ve been driving through the Oromo region. The Oromo are the largest of Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups and populate the region all the way to the Somali lowlands. Harar is an island in the middle, separate from but reliant on the surrounding Oromo.
We arrive in the mid-afternoon and park on the main street connecting the new city with the Jugol, the walled medieval Harar. My spirits lift immediately. I say goodbye to Mrs. Silent, grab my backpack, and head towards my hotel. A bejaj, one of the blue three-wheeled motor rickshaws that are everywhere in Ethiopia, sputters up and the driver asks, “Where are you going?”
“Ras Hotel.”
“I’ll take you there for 15 birr.”
“Fifteen birr? It’s only a five-minute walk away.”
He looks confused.
“You’re been here before?”
“Yes, last year.”
He grins and shouts “Welcome back!”
He does a quick 180 and speeds off, one hand still waving.

Don’t miss the rest of my Ethiopia travel series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s City of Saints.

Coming up next: Harar tour: a walk around one of Africa’s most unique cities!