IT’S COMING TO AN END

This feels unreal! Not only my time in Ghana is nearly over – after having successfully worked on all six inhabited continents, my entire Walz is facing its end. For the first time, this farewell does not mean taking off towards another new place with another unknown path ahead. Instead I will return home – back to the known, back to routine, back to university. Back to boring? However, this post shall not focus on what will come – it shall tell the story of what happened so far.

Inside Accra

First of all, let’s talk about work. I was put in charge of my office’s main architectural project – a large, almost extravagant, residence. When I started, nothing more than drawings existed. Now they are erecting the first columns and slabs. It is an incredible feeling, seeing what you envisioned coming to reality! I might have not had an influence on the architectural concept anymore, yet I was involved in the coordination and harmonization between the different parties and fine tuning of the design. Turns out, even while being constructed, people still come up with new changes. This large responsibility combined with such close collaboration with the engineers was and continues to be a challenging and at the same time very instructive experience.IMG_20190925_090259-big

Free evenings and weekends left me a lot of time to make friends and explore the place. Unintendedly, my friend group ended up consisting mostly of other “obrunis” (= “the ones who came over the horizon” = foreigners/ white men). Guess it’s simply easier to make friends with people who are also new to a place… Anyway, we got quite a hand on the popular ways to spend evenings like a regular salsa night with free lessons, a bar to participate in a pub quiz where we placed first last week, or where the best beaches are for the weekends. A few highlights were the “Africa by Design” exhibition at Ghana club organized by a friend of my boss or “Chale Wote”, a massive, busy, colorful, noisy, creative, crazy street art festival, or just last weekend a huge Afrobeats music festival called “As Promised” with lots of songs we knew from the radio performed live.IMG_20190824_201948

Outside Accra

Some weekends I also left Accra and explored the surroundings. A very early trip took me east to “Wli” – the tallest waterfall in western Africa, where we hiked from the bottom all the way to the summit and enjoyed the view over the mountains and across the border to Togo. On the way there we stopped twice and fed two different kinds of monkeys from our hands. Oh and also our car broke down and had to get it fixed – just don’t ask…DSCF4334

Shortly after that I visited Cape Coast and with it two of the most prominent slave castles (Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle) from which the European colonizers organized the slave trade. Standing in the dark dungeons and imagining the cruelty that has taken place here centuries ago, is a powerful experience.DSCF4504

I am glad I also made it into another country: For one weekend I travelled to Togo. I had forgotten my yellow fever vaccination certificate, but luckily my argument “If I didn’t have the vaccination, I wouldn’t even be allowed into Ghana.” seems to have been quite convincing at the border. Either that or it was the bank notes handed over… All in all, it was a lovely weekend! Togolese people seem to be even nicer and friendlier to me than Ghanaians, but that’s maybe just the perception of someone who doesn’t understand the language (note to self: improve your French skills). Lomé is also a very beautiful city: laid out along the beach and quite humble – with simple houses, sand roads and kids playing football everywhere. I was also beyond surprised, considering the fact Germany was a former colonizer, to be shown two big monuments (erected post-independence) honoring the German-Togolese friendship.

[NO PHOTOS TAKEN IN TOGO]

Just recently I flew to the north of Ghana (with a plane so tiny, it only had 2+aisle+1 seats in each row) where I visited a friend in a smaller town called Tamale and we continued together to “Mole National Park”. On the safaris through the park – famously known for elephants – we saw monkeys, warthogs, antelopes, termite hills, huge lizards, a crocodile and… no elephants (During raining season they are harder to find for the tourists, as they find water everywhere). However, it was a great weekend. Not to forget that on the way I could also visit the oldest mosque in all Ghana (possibly West Africa?) built some 500 years ago.DSCF4923

Leaving Accra

Undoubtedly, even compared to the different places that I have lived at, Ghana has confronted me with the biggest unfamiliarities. Yet as I already mentioned in mylast blog post, I have gotten used to it surprisingly quickly. Over the past months I have become even more accustomed. I will miss shopping whatever I need conveniently at a red light. Buying snacks that haven’t been carried on someone’s head will simply feel wrong. I hope I can take some of the openness, helpfulness and friendliness with me when I get back.

Unfortunately there are also some habits or customs that I hope I did not adapt. First and foremost there would probably be the extensive use of plastic and especially its careless disposal into nature.

Yet overall, I will miss Ghana and the Ghanaian way of life a lot! I will carry the Black Star in my heart with me…

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Done.

Due to all these exciting adventures, I completely missed the 9th of August! “What is so special about this day?” you may ask. Well, when I began my journey, I did not only set six continents as my target, I also had another guideline:  Following the traditional rules of a Walz, I prescribed myself a minimum duration of 3 years and one day (another idea was earning enough to be able to live off my own skills, but let’s not talk about that…) and you guessed it: I started my first job of this journey on August 8th, 2016 in Finland, so on August 9th, three years later, I officially completed my Walz in Ghana and can successfully return home. And with me I bring so many emotions, thoughts and memories…

Indescribable feeling.

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HELLO WORLD – I AM STILL ALIVE!

I admit, lately it has been a little quiet here on my blog again. When in Tokyo I could easily blame this on the heavy workload, in Melbourne I certainly did not have that excuse. Work consisted of a 38 hour week and overtime was rare – my life finally found its way back into an organized pattern. I enjoyed having free time again and quickly found great friends to spend it with. And Melbourne is a great city to live in: It’s big, but not too busy; it’s got a great mix of historic buildings and hideously beautiful mid-century or postmodern architecture; it’s got a great culture of small, local stores to balance the commercial CBD; most of it is covered in beautiful graffiti; not to forget it’s got the largest tram-network in the world. I biked to work; I went to trivia and board game nights regularly with my friends, went to the beach in summer, explored Melbourne’s museums and nightlife. All these factors contributed to the fact that from day one I didn’t feel like I was in a new place – I felt like I had returned home.

 

A word about travels

Cradle Mountain Shortly after I arrived to Melbourne, Christmas holidays were around the corner. After weeks of uncertainty about what to do, I planned a trip to Tasmania together with a fellow intern. So we spent two days together containing a lot of hiking (Cradle Mountain National Park), feeding kangaroos (Trowunna Wildlife Park) and some relaxing on the beach (Freycinet National Park). When he returned to Melbourne I was left with exploring Hobart and its surroundings (MONA museum, Port Arthur, Mount Wellington, Taste festival, finish of the Sydney Hobart Yacht race) and spend Christmas day on a beach for the first time of my life (acquiring a nice sunburn).

Happy 2019After Tasmania I flew to Sydney. It took me quite a few days to figure the city out. When originally I expected a vibrant metropolis, I had to understand that Sydney consists of nothing more than the opera house and lots of beaches – both of which are of great quality though! So naturally the highlights of this visit were: New Year’s Eve with a magnificent view of the opera house and harbor bridge (which landed me a clip in local TV) and celebrating my birthday on the beach eating a kangaroo burger (two more “firsts” in my life).

Tourists taking PicturesTogether with a friend I made in Sydney, I then planned a trip to the Outback. We booked a 4 day organized trip and were able to see the magnificent heart of the continent including Uluru, Olgas, King’s Canyon and Alice Springs. In the middle of summer we had temperatures high up in the 40s °C during the day and “cool” nights of just below 30°C. The benefit though: No flies (Whoever has been to the outback will understand what a great benefit this is).

Parliament HouseAfter this extended Christmas trip I mostly stuck to living the Melbourne life. Only one more time I travelled to Canberra to see the other “heart of the continent” (politically). Yes, I went there “even though I didn’t have to”, as surprising as it sounds to many Australians. It was certainly a nice experience to see the planned capital city and Parliament House, but two days were definitely long enough.

 

A word about work

This is a difficult chapter for me to write. As much as I adored the office both for their projects and the people, I did struggle with the fact that the majority of my tasks consisted of building models. This has to do with the fact that the definition of an “intern” in Australia is different to how I experienced it in other places. By Australian law, an intern is only allowed to do supporting work and his role is mainly observant of the office procedure. (If the intern does essential work that would otherwise be carried out by an employee, rights, duties and salary of a regular employee must apply) So after Tokyo, again I felt like I was not developing my skills – and frankly bored sometimes.

Modeling with wine

There were two notable exceptions though:

NMBW submitted two projects in three categories to the Victorian Architecture Awards. For that purpose, I was given the task to prepare architectural drawings (plans, sections, elevations) for the submission and later again for the presentation to the jury. Also I went to the event where all participating architects presented their projects to the juries. Highly interesting!

The University of Melbourne is developing a “new student precinct” – a huge reorganization of a part of its campus including the erection of several new buildings and altering many existing. NMBW is in charge of four buildings at the same time which arguably constitutes the biggest project of the office’s existence. When a deadline was getting closer I was asked to help and became a member of the project team for about two months. The great benefit of this intense time was that I was able to thoroughly learn how to use Revit – a “new” software that is currently taking over architecture world. (It’s not that new after all, but NMBW has been the first office I worked with, that uses it).

 

So Melbourne did have its ups and downs for me but after all I enjoyed it a lot! I guess I can be glad I wasn’t the happiest with my work because otherwise, what would have stopped me from simply staying forever?

 

In the meantime I have moved on and am writing this article from another continent. I will go into greater detail about this in another post soon…

ROAD TRIP PICS

Oct-12

Today we got up super early to leave at 4am again. We had a long way to go – 12h. But it was one of the smoothest drives I’ve had so far. In the afternoon we arrived at the border and I finally reached my county of destination: Chile!

Shortly after, we safely arrived in Arica, CHL. We strolled through the city center and had typical Chilean street food for dinner. We ended the day with a beer at the beach.

Oct-07

Today, I continued traveling together with my Argentinian friends. It was a day full of ups and downs:

Taking the short 6h-ride too easy, we left late, at 7am. On the way, we planned to visit two touristy sights. Pretty fast we arrived at the first, the church Las Lajas, which is built on columns in the middle of a valley. Together with the volcano of Ometepe, it was one of the first things on my “to visit” list for this trip and it was  totally worth it – beautiful!

Then we arrived at the border at around lunch time. A big mistake. Being super crowded, it took us 3h to cross – the longest border crossing I’ve had so far. Back on the road, we found out that the “Mitad del Mundo” park where you can take pictures exactly at the equator – our second destination – closed before we would arrive. Sad and in regret about leaving late, we thought about new plans. We decided to do this sight tomorrow in the morning instead.

Eventually we arrived safely in Quito, ECU. Even without passing by the “Mitad del Mundo” park, I am currently for the first time in my life in the southern hemisphere!

On our way looking for the hostel, another misfortune happened: I opened the driver’s window and it wouldn’t close anymore. After being weak for the entire trip, the window’s motor seems to have finally given up entirely. Luckily we found a hostel where we could park the car secured in the courtyard. Planning to go to a mechanic in the morning, we worried our plans for tomorrow would fail again.

To forget about all of this we went out. It was lots of fun! We just came back and asked the receptionist about mechanics and she reminded us that tomorrow was Sunday and therefore there wouldn’t be anything open. After thinking about it for a moment we decided to simply “roll with it” and to always look for secure places to park the car and to not let this ruin our trip.

Let’s see how this goes!

Oct-06

Today, my two Argentinian friends and me traveled from Cali to Pasto, COL, where we arrived safely. On the way we para through gorgeous mountain landscapes again. Here in Colombia, I feel like every day the landscape becomes a bit more beautiful than the day before. I highly recommend road trips in Colombia.

Arriving in Pasto, we had some time left for strolling through the city center. After Cartagena it’s the first city I’ve actually visited. It’s a nice city, which feels smaller than it is and it’s little touristy. I am just a little surprised how cold it is here, after passing through desert-like temperatures all day long.

Initially we planned to stay with a friend of the girls, but unfortunately he canceled on us. After a desperate search via couchsurfing and airbnb, also considering sleeping in the car, we ended up in a cheap hostel.

Tomorrow we will continue together crossing into Ecuador.

 

Oct-03

Today is a day of two good news:

1) My office in Chile understands my situation and is willing to give me one week more for finishing my travels.  That will be enough to make it all the way down!

2) We got our cars out! Although we started very early today at 8:00am, it still took us until 4:00pm that we were finally free to go.

It felt great to be reunited with my car and I directly started my long journey southwards. In the remaining 2h of light I made it to El Carmen de Bolívar, COL, where I arrived safely. It is a cute little town, where only main roads are paved. All secondary roads are mud roads – and in this time of the year, called rain season, the word “mud” is to be taken serious.

When I arrived, for the first time on this journey, I had zero internet despite being inside a city. As I was relying on having it, I arrived totally unprepared. Luckily a woman from a restaurant helped me out with describing me the way to the only hostel in town by giving the most accurate and useful route description I’ve ever gotten. She knew the entire city better than any GPS.

Tomorrow I’ll try to get up early and will hopefully be able to make it all the way to Medellín. I could prepare myself better this time with researching a hostel already… Or I could simply again rely on having internet there…

Oct-02

Bad news: We did not get our cars. The container ship only arrived today at 5am, and it took until 3pm that it was all unloaded. We could prepare some things before that, but with the big chunks we had to wait for the ship to be all cleared. That didn’t leave much time until the closing time of the customs office.

We were a group of three – my container partner, a French father of 6 who’s traveling in an RV, and me. We were sent to so many places and rushed there by taxi or by foot, it felt like a gigantic treasure hunt and was actually quite exciting. Also, we got to see the city center of Cartagena. Just the fact that we didn’t finish today was a little disappointment.

Tomorrow we will for sure (that’s at least what they said) get our cars. But it is now obvious as never before that I won’t make it by car to Chile until next Tuesday. I need to talk to my office down there to see whether there is a little flexibility left or whether I’ll have to temporarily park the car here, fly down and get it later.

Sep-28 to Sep-30

First of all, I want to apologize to everybody who I promised to that I would write a blog article every day. I could have foreseen that there is no internet on remote tropical islands. I hope no one has reported me missing yet. So far, Interpol doesn’t seem to be looking for me, as I was still able to cross a border (though I think at that specific border crossing, Interpol would have had to send a pigeon to reach them).

From the beginning: Thursday morning, my container partner and me were picked up at our hotel in Colón and taken to the harbor Puerto Calí. From there we were taken by boat to an island called Naranjo Chico, part of San Blas, PAN, where we arrived safely.

It was a beautiful island with palm trees, surrounded by clear blue water and coral riffs.  A travel agency’s brochure couldn’t have pictured it prettier. We directly went snorkeling and when we were asked whether we wanted to stay one day longer, we agreed – under the condition to leave very, very early on Saturday, so that we could make it all the way to Cartagena in one day (and night), where we wanted to have the full Sunday to explore the city before dealing with getting our cars on Monday morning.

During the morning of the next day, we realized that – as beautiful as it is – there is not much to do on a tiny island. Even the boat tour we added wasn’t really worth it – except that we swam with starfish. But as I might have had a bit too much rum the night before, it maybe wasn’t the worst idea to have another day to recover.

This morning, we left the island by boat, but apparently the definition of “really, really early” is a bit different here. When we expected 6am (sunrise), we were told we would leave at 9am and didn’t start before 9:30am. The boat ride was sunny and calm… For a while. Until we left the San Blas Islands and got into rain. The waves weren’t big at all, but the tiny boat jumped up and down and the rain drops felt like hail on the skin.

Eventually we arrived safely at Puerto Obaldia –  the last town of Panama, which has no road connection – where we had to stamp out of Panama. We arrived at 2:55pm, the immigration office was open until 3pm. Luckily, the captain and one passenger knew the officers, so our bags didn’t have to get checked and we got our stamps although it was already way past 3pm by what time.

We continued to Capurganá, COL, where we arrived safely at 4:10pm. The immigration office closed at 4pm. Without entrance stamps in the passport we cannot continue. Also, the last boats to Necoclí or Turbo – cities WITH road connections and busses to Cartagena – had left already. This is why we are stuck here now. Maybe sometimes “European early” does have some advantages.

Tomorrow we will still have enough time to arrive in Cartagena (if nothing goes wrong), but we won’t have a full day anymore to check it out before we have to work on getting our cars out on Monday.