Archive for July, 2009

Strap In – You’re Officially In Eastern Europe

Friday, July 31st, 2009

So Turkey was technically Asia after all. Now I’m in Bulgaria which is completely Eastern Europe. You will enjoy a sharp decline in the prices here as well as the validity of stereotypes. The funny thing was, going through the country side of southern Bulgaria was very hard. It was hard in the sense that it was the hardest place I’ve ever been to peg where you are. On the third sentence (this one) I’ll say what I actually mean; When you are in Bulgaria, it feels like you could easily be in Nebraska, Italy, Colorado, or even Mane. The landscape here is just so non-unique. And it changes very quickly.

You could pass through a small town that grows grapes in their front yards one moment and then be in a rundown city center the next town that looks almost war torn. You might then find yourself somewhere else in same hour that looks like the outer San Fransisco Bay Area.

I am now in Varna which is on the Black Sea coast. It is a major Bulgarian tourist hot spot, but not for foreigners. I think thats the magic trick to low prices is not having a huge amount of international tourist demand. For instance, I ate on the beach a huge pile of Muscles for 4 Lev, which is equal to $3. Mind you the whole grilled fish was the same price, and you can get a 3 liter (thats right) bottle of beer here for about the same price.

It’s crazy cheap here and although it has a reputation for being dangerous, it is far from it. There are, on the other hand, tourist traps in other towns that are designed for foreigners where the streets are lined with Ferrari driving mobsters. Those are about 2 hours away from here. Here is very funny. After traveling for 20 hours by bus, I randomly found a hostel that you could never actually “Find”, you would have to stumble upon it. I doubt it is a legal organization myself seeing as it is run by an English guy who doesn’t write anything down.

Everything is hectic and micromanaged by him. Everything is cash driven and micromanaged by him. It’s a big trip actually. He walked me to the ATM and told me how much to take out. Then he looked and saw that I still had my small backpack full of valuables and said “oh you wont want to cary that around all night. Give it to me and I’ll protect it tonight. You can get it tomorrow morning.”

What? You want me to hand over my bag? With my i-pod and laptop (valued at $600). And my Camera (valued at $300) and my Eurorail pass (valued at $1,300) and lets not forget my passport (valued at $10,000 on the black market). Thats a lot of value and you want me to hand it over to a “hostel owner” that I just met. But he didn’t want me to miss the nightly group of his hostel goers who were headed to the beach to enjoy some free beer (a ingenious promotion of his). “You don’t want to miss out. You know? That’s what hostels are all about. Getting to know good people. And mine is not a cold one. I wont have any loners at mine.”

Traveling is all about trust. Sometimes you only get an instant to judge whether you can trust someone or not. Sometimes you have everything riding on it. This time, my gut was right. That night I slept on a air mattress without any pillow or sheets. That is the name of the game at this hostel, disorganized. But it was amazing.

Back to the food. If you ever go to Bulgaria, get some sea food. I am sad to say that the single dish I had last night was without hesitation, better than anything I had in Turkey. But there are good foods in Turkey. Though the Kebabs are disappointing, the Chai (tea) is not something to miss. In addition, the rice is amazing in Turkey. It’s a blend of white rise and wild. The tomatoes are amazing in Turkey as well. They are served with the Turkish breakfast which consists of : sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, a boiled egg, toast and jam, and a huge slab of fetta cheese.

The other things that is surprisingly good in Turkey are meatballs and rice putting. Thats it.

The stereotypes about Eastern Europe are not warranted at all. The only accurate stereotype is the women being beautiful. I think the more accurate assessment is that they are all petite. Some of them have beautiful faces, but all of them tend to turn heads from a distance. And to make things more interesting, in Bulgaria only (and India) “Yes” is shown with weaving your head side to side and “No” is expressed by nodding your head up and down. So when I asked my waitress for another Sprite, she smiled and weaved her head side to side. I thought she was being cute with me and sarcastically saying no, but this was not the case; I am was in Bulgaria.

The ice cream here is that of the best in the world as well. Weird…. Right?

I’ve just learned that the “free wifi” here is actually the bar’s from down the road. WOW

I’m hearing the ethos of this hostel as I’m posting this message and I’ll have some great inside details soon!

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My Letter to Bank of America

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

“On what grounds do you find it ethically sound to keep charging me a $10 fee every month even though I have replenished my account to well over the $1,000 minimum balance? This is your one and only chance to reverse this fee and apologise for the petty nickel and diming act that you call banking.

I’m in Turkey at the moment, livid to see that you keep charging me these grotesque fees. People haven’t been doing banking this way for a long time and you (not the employee that will answer this communication, but the upper management who control the policies) should be ashamed of the complete abuse of trust that you use in your customers.

You should make money the honest way, through sound and prudent investments that are made possible BY YOUR CLIENT’S MONEY. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you and don’t forget who makes YOU possible in the end.

If my needs are not met, my next communication will be an inquire as to how to close this account and transfer the funds to a real bank who appreciates their customers.

Alex Rothaus”

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Being Deaf for a Week

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Ok, not being deaf, acting deaf for a week. As Patrick would say “Since you can actually hear but can’t talk, you are technically a mute!”

Were I left you last, I was about to board a 4 day 3 night cruise from Olympus to Fettiey. I spent the next 4 days in a closed environment. The same people were sealed on this boat for a considerable amount of time. My results were interesting though probably not surprising once you read them. For starters, as said before, silence is contagious.

I found that the boat as a whole ended up being a quiet bunch, but particularly quiet when the deaf group was in the same area. If we were in the distance, I could hear them being louder, but still not as loud as I would have expected. It’s almost as if the other 10 passengers didn’t want to make us feel like we were excluded by talking around us. Funny thing was, the 3 real deaf people would have full signing conversations across the dinner table during every meal, so they didn’t feel left out at all. They just went about their life like normal (which it was).

Since I couldn’t sign, I chose to look stoicly out into the Mediterranean, acting uninterested in the three other’s conversation.  Or I would look intently and watch their hands, pretending to get something from the conversation.  I was posing to be the quiet one of the group (if you could ever in your most open heart believe that).  I was living a lie, and doing a terrible job of it (I thought).

Sometimes when the captain was giving important information out, I pretended to read his lips as I stared diligently at the centre of them.  When an ice cream boat drove up to ours, I surprisingly got a whole lot better at reading lips, even from a distance.

I’ve been told more than a few times that I tend to have a good balance of people and place in my posts.  I feel that sometimes the balance is tipped by a particularly beautiful place or person.  I think its only fair that I try and describe my setting for the first time in over a week:

I’m on a boat in the Mediterranean.  The water is very warm and very blue.  It’s hot as balls here and there isn’t a whole lot to do but get tan, swim, and swim some more.  It feels like you are in a Nautica commercial.  The food on the boat is surprisingly bad.  It’s bland and always the same ingredients, most of the time without even a guester of doctoring it up to make it appear to be different. The land around us is completely arid and occasionally has ruins, but our captain is not a tour guide, he just drives the boat.

That’s about enough of the setting, well almost.  We slept out on the roof of the boat all three nights under the Turkish stars.  Every night there were so many shooting stars you would think that the crew took the money they should have spent on food and a proper cook and bought 70 or so stars for the trip.

Speaking of eating, Stacy chews loudly and with her mouth partially open.  I’m not picking on her to be mean; I’m illustrating a point.  Chewing with your mouth closed is feat that is effectively done with the aid of hearing.  She is profoundly (completely) deaf and without hearing the subtle noise yourself, it is impossible to keep your mouth shut all of the time.  I know what your thinking “No, I was raised right, that’s why I don’t chew with my mouth open.”  Wrong, your jaw muscles are naturally more relaxed than what society suggests they should be.

If you don’t believe me, put in your ear phones and have a meal (take your time).  Blast some music and talk to a friend so that your not fixated on the task of beating my point.  Don’t worry about understanding your friend over the music, just talk.  Then ask your friend how loud your eating ended up by the end of the meal, you savage!

I did happen to do something productive on the boat.  I did a Scuba Dive on the second day.  Luckily I had two books full of dive logs and certifications to prove that I wasn’t some crazy deaf guy who didn’t know what he was doing.  I was amazing, as soon as I showed everyone the papers, that was it. No extra tests, no lack of trust.  Sure they may have given me the very most experienced diver on the boat as a partner, but the truth of the matter was, once under water, there was no difference between hearing people and deaf people.  In fact, the deaf people are better off because they can sign back and forth to each other as much as they like.

Everyone was great.  They didn’t treat me like I was stupid or slow, but they didn’t ignore me or try and take advantage of me.  You could sea collective honor in helping me.  A fulfilling sense of sympathetic pride in all that I had accomplished (pretending to be deaf ?)

I want to say that a communities humanity is judged based upon how they treat their members off all sorts and sizes.  I will say that this would would be a better place if we all treated each other like we couldn’t hear.  Maybe that’s the point.  We can’t hear each other, not in the literal sense of, but in the sense of taking the time to understand your neighbour.  When you can’t hear, the would around you gets very Japanese (read my posts on getting directions in Japan).

Really it’s an illusion though.  Deaf people are no different than you and I.  You would know that if you just hung out with a few for a week.  We think that they are disabled, but really they just can’t hear.

By the way, if you ever want to get knocked out by a deaf person, just call them disabled.  They hate that shit.  They also hate Helen Keller by the way because she said in an interview that, given the choice of gaining back one of her two lost senses, she would rather have hearing than sight.  That she could live without sight.  “What the fuck would she know about either!?” Said Dana :)

When we got off the boat, we spent one night in Fetteiey, a charming port town.  while walking around the town, Dana looked up and smiled at me as she set one foot into the street.  She was distracted by my amazing looks (probably not). A car came wizzing bye.  I a moment of importance, I grabbed her arm and yanked.

All those times I had been catching keys before they had hit the ground (after dropping them) had began to make sense.  All the times I could anticipate the fall and correct my stance and reach down with my peripheral vision began to make sense.  All the years that I didn’t place base ball and didn’t play video games to finely tune my hand eye coordination were void.  It was life saving time.

I pulled and luckily Dana weighs a measly 110 pounds.  I snapped her back like a child, thank God she wasn’t some 6 foot Nordic gal.  My life didn’t flash before my eyes.  My week with Dana didn’t flash before my eyes, but if I didn’t act as quickly as I had, she would have been dead.  She stepped out at the last second.  The car wouldn’t have had time to slow and she would have been pizza.

To be fair, she wouldn’t have crossed without looking unless she was with a hearing person who could warn her.  Her guard was down; she was chewing with her mouth open.

It was the first life I had ever saved.  It felt good.

The next day we went to a town called Pamukkale.  It is known for it’s mountain sized calcium deposits and springs that flow from them.  The place looks like a giant ice mountain, but is actually flowing with warm water and the air temp around us is in the high 90s.  It’s an amazing place where you are not allowed to walk on with shoes.  You quickly understand why when you see that your bare feet mixed with the ultra fine graininess of the calcium causes for a perfect grip.  Even at a steep incline, with a river of water flowing down, you simply couldn’t slip here if you tried.

Tomorrow we are going to Ethesus, one of the 7 wonders of the world apparently.  A place that has so many ruins, it makes Roam look like a half assed side show.  This will be the last I see of my deaf friends for this trip.  But some of them live in California and I hope to see them again when I return.

I’ll leave you with one last anecdote.  Over the 7 days I’ve been with the bunch I haven’t been the best student.  I still get my R’s and T’s mixed up in the signing alphabet and I only have a few vocabulary words.  In the same 7 days, Dana would get frustrated in this fact more than a few times.  She would let little slips of her voice come out when no one else was around.  These were unicorns in the world of a deaf person.  You just don’t talk for fear of how it might sound (not being able to hear your own voice often leads to a distortion in it.)

But every time I heard he voice, It was beautiful, so one day I told her so.  She smiled at me and soon after just talked.  She told me that I was the only hearing guy she has ever talked to after he hearing went (other than her brother, who still has a lot of his hearing.)  She said “Your lucky your too stupid to learn to sign.” But I think she’s the lucky one.  From my own stupidity, she was able to open up and do something that she probably thought she would never do again.

I thought that I would be the only one to learn over the last week.  I thought that it would be business as usual for them.  Just another hearing guy, learning a bit about their world that has always been and will always be.  But I left a mark.  For the first time in my travels I didn’t just do all the taking.  I left a mark.

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Comfortable Silence

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Stacy, Patrick and Dana.

Stacy’s the loud one of the group. You can still hear her making slight noises as she holds her breath in concentration. It’s a slight hum. The same hum we all make and neglect to hear over the rest of our polluted world. She’s Braun-full in the way she walks at over six feet and red curly hair. Patrick is even taller at 6 foot 3 or 4 and a full build. He’s got dramatic eyebrows and a piercing at the base of his bottom lip, just above his chin. He’s all business, almost even intimidating until you give him a reason to smile. Then he cracks a biting one that would make your best look like a frown. Think of Jack from Will and Grace, but brighter. These smiles are spread liberally through his conversations. If Patrick absolutely needs to speak, he’ll do it softly and just enough for you to understand his over pronounced facial expressions and lip sinking. Then There’s Dana. Standing 5 foot 4 she looks just like Kate Hudson. She is completely silent. Unless you make her laugh, then you get a taste of the past.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am currently traveling with three deaf people I met at the bus stop in Cappadocia. As fate would have it, the two of our buses were combined at the last second and gave us a chance to sit together and talk all night. That is, write and lip sink to each other. But I have to say, sign language is extremely quickly learned if you are immersed in the three. It’s been 2 days now and I’ve stopped talking myself. For someone who loves to hear the sound of his voice as much as I do, not talking is incredible. An experience that I never thought I would get the chance to do.

It is like cheating as you learn a new language. We both speak the same language, but it’s just a matter of transmitting it to each other. For instance, they are way better at reading lips than me, but they can not rely on that completely. I can make up sign language as I go and they will tend to get my drift because they have been following the context. If we just jumped in the ocean and look at each other, they can sign me “cold” and I will understand it intuitively. If they tried to say “cold” when we were in the middle of a hot day, I would be lost. Context is everything in sign language.

It’s a great look into their world because when I am talking to them, people think I am deaf as well, because I am not making any noise. I get to see how people react to it and in Turkey, people are VERY respectful but not treating us (them) like they are idiots or anything. People love to watch us sign, but they don’t form a awkward crowd or anything. Sometimes they get free admission into places which is nice as well.

They don’t have the gift of voice inflection so they have to rely heavily on facial expressions. This means that when they speak, they have over pronounced emotions with their face. That is, unless I am just traveling with an extremely lively bunch!

Dana and Stacy are from a deaf family. It is passed on in their genetics generation over generation and deaf people tend to mary each other. Patrick is the only deaf one in his family. They are all teachers for the deaf in San Fransisco and are out for a month traveling around Croatia, Turkey and Serbia. Patrick (age 27) went on a 1 year round the world trip alone just like me 4 years ago. Stacy (age 30) loves to travel too and Dana (age 26) says she would go around the world alone if she wasn’t a girl (not because she is deaf) (who did I already mention looks just like Kate Hudson!)

Back to hanging out with these guys. Like hanging away from the tourists in a country makes you cringe when you see tourists again, I now cringe when I hear people breaking the sweet silence, even when it’s my own voice. I realize how obnoxious they can be and how much noise pollution we really have out there in the world. Ya that’s coming from me, the loud ass.

I can now enjoy the long forgotten whisper of a coke being poured into a glass. The slightest gulp of air being held when lip sinking and the demi silent moan of someone bearing down when leaning over. Isn’t it a tragedy that it takes their loss for me to appreciate what I have? I enjoy the silence, that is the silence of voices. I can move into the other world back and fourth as I please. I can also hear the sound of the waves crashing.

Dana began to lose her hearing when she was 6 and by the time she was in middle school she stopped talking to here friends on the phone. She can still hear high frequencies like a whistle blowing. Patrick was born with some hearing and is now profoundly deaf (completely) in one ear and almost in the other.

We let Patrick do the negotiating for the 4 day cruise from Olympus (where we are right now) to Fettiay. When he came back, he wrote on a piece of napkin to me “the guy thinks we are all deaf, so he’s giving us a discount because of it. You have to act deaf when we show up and pay.” I wrote back. “I’ll act deaf for the whole cruise!”

It’s a perfect opportunity to get a real different experience; a look into how someone else lives. I never thought I would like the silence so much. It’s like an all day functional meditation. I strongly suggest you take the chance, it you ever get it.

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Living in Caves

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Today I went on a full day tour of the Southern Cappadocia region.  Thanks to Cary Johnson and his generous donation, I was able to have a full day of fun.  We started out by going down into an underground city that was built over a thousands of years ago.  It was designed as a backup city for when invaders came through.

The ironic part of this city is that it has been conquered by 5 cultures over the years.  This means that the second, third, fourth, and fifth culture slaughtered the previous generation in order to have a sanctuary of their own.

This city goes down 20 stories into the ground and housed over 10 thousand people in its hay day.  A true site to see.  Come to think of it, all of Cappadocia is a sight to see as the generations of cultures have carved their history and homes directly into the mountains.  There are so many sights that it is easy to get used to them.

Next we went to a city in the mountains, carved again, only this time partly by man and partially by nature.  Over thousands of years, the wind, water and sand have carved these hills and passage ways to look like a desert version of a ice bar.

We had a full day of fun and heat and the pictures wont do justice.

Thanks Cary!

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Black and White

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Only two nights after I had made it to Istanbul, I decided on a whim to go South East to the town of Gorame which is in the Capadocia region of Turkey.

Turkey officially sits on both the European Continent and the Asian one. In fact, the greater Istanbul is split by the two continents and for only a dollar, you can get a ferry across the Mediterranean channel to the Asian side. There is a famous place to eat in Istanbul where you get a fish sandwich served directly from a boat swaying back and fourth in the channel. The boat has been converted into a huge grill. You Pay $3 and get the sandwich which is a half loaf of French bread (wide loaf) Cilantro, Onions, and a Butterflied fish fillet that has been cooked to perfection just seconds ago. To add a little liquid to this sandwich, there are huge bottles of Lemon Juice and salt shakers. Apply liberally and you’ve got possibly the best sandwich ever.

There are lots of little gems in the town when you know what you are looking for. It is also easy to pay way too much for something similar. Baklava is also big in this area. A flaky desert pastry, dripping in liquid sugar and filled with bits of pistachio nuts. All of this was grand, but it was time to see more than just the famous city. I decided to jump on an overnight bus, last second, at the suggestion of Jonathan, my now traveling buddy. The bus bay was full of state of the art beasts. Getting out of the bay was terrifying, as they drove these 60 seater’s like they were mopeds. They cut in line and snaked about each other liberally.

On the bus, we met a very kind 40 something accountant named Akmed (Be prepared because the names only get better). We talked with him for ages about everything from the local history to the fact that many people in Turkey believed that Michael Jackson was a Muslim. He said that on of Michael’s songs had some Islamic connotations and that makes people believe that the king was Muslim.

One of the subjects that was a little tricky was when he asked us what religion we were. He was a very liberal guy, but when Jonathan brought out the Zoastrianism (the 5000 year old religion that Jewdao Christian faiths are based on.) (Yikes, I think I just offended everyone but the Hindus and the Buddhists with that last parenthetical sentence) It got a bit dicy. Johnathan quickly said, “But I am young and have a lot to think of before I decide. Akmed said “But many people don’t believe in religion, but believe in God, are you one of those?” This surprisingly liberal statement was part of why Turkey is so unique. They are a Muslim nation, but still drink quite a bit as an example to their complexity.

Here is Turkey summed up in an easy statement: “Turkey is blatantly complex.” It doesn’t take long to know that there is a ton under the surface to everyone here, and that you probably won’t figure them out anytime soon. The people here are all very beautiful, humble, and deep. You get frequent chances to talk for hours with them as they will invite you in for Chai (tea) without any ulterior motive. Chai is the proper name for tea, even though in America we would refer to a certain type of tea as chai tea, to them we would be saying “tea tea”. Their tea, by the way, is incredible.

Later in the bus we talked about America and Akmed’s fondness to Obama. He, as do everyone else in the world, was not a fan of Bush. As we spoke, a bow tied young man was walking up and down the isle of the overnight bus, serving us and everyone else with chai, water, and the occasional twinky.

Early that morning at 4:30 am, I woke up while the bus was still moving through the dessert. I saw something that made Turkey worth it. I saw something that I have never seen and never thought I would. I didn’t even think it was possible. As the twilight began, the sky was a pale white. It wasn’t partly white, it was completely white. In the foreground were clouds that didn’t catch any light due to the curvature of the hills and mountains. They were completely black. Close to road were hills that began by being black, but as the seconds rolled on, they became more and more white. In amazement, I thought my rods (or cones, not sure which one anymore) in my eyes had stopped working. Never did I think that it was even possible, let alone beautiful.

Within 30 minutes, the sun had peaked its face over the hills and the sky had ever so gently turned apricot. This was markedly not peach as I would grow to find that Capadocia had tons of apricot trees that wildly in both senses of the word. Capadocia is a high dessert that hundreds of years ago was used by the Christians as safe haven. There are thousands of cone shaped caves that poke out of the land here that the Christians cleverly chizzled into their homes. It is now a huge tourist attraction for both foreigners and Turkish.

When we checked into our hostel, we ended up getting into a 3-4 hour conversation with the owner of the hostel. He was a little less fond of America and thought that Obamma was no different than Bush. He told us that he could see that Obamma was lieing during the elections. He was, on the other hand, very interested in our third travel buddy (who tagged along by inviting herself from the hostel in Istanbul) who was an winy, worried, and negatively attitude-ed Austrian girl. We joked with the hostel owner saying that we would sell her for 3 camels. He didn’t think it was funny at all. He was very interested in this proposition. Even though she was carrying around an extra 100-150 pounds, he was very attracted to her.

Though he was not rude or touchy, he was very aggressive charming in his intent. I can understand why they don’t let women traveling alone on the night buses sit in the back of the bus. This culture is very segregated for the women at times, but from what I have seen, it seems to be for their benefit.

The next day, we rented mountain bikes and went cruising around the greater Capadocia area. By cruising, I mean either barely getting up steep hills, or bombing down them at a rate of speed so fast that my 21st or 24th gear on my bike was still not enough to get any sort of traction while peddling.

We went to an open air museum that was a waste of money seeing as we went to a random cave that proved to be much better and completely deserted. There was a man at the second cave that was there to charge the 2 lira (66 cents) to get in. Inside of the cave we found many rooms that were guarded with giant rolling stones that were designed to be implemented in case of an attack. These were something straight out of Indiana Jones. They must have weighed 4-6 tones each.

We we got outside, we chatted with the man who guarded this cave. His name was, yes, believe it or not, Borat. He was 47 and very kind, but with a tragic past. He has lost one wife and 3 children. He also recently received brain surgery in Istanbul, so he wears is hair like a toned down mow hawk to draw attention away from the huge hook shaped scar that covered the left side of his skull. He was very kind and gentle. As we offered him a cookie, he promptly ran off for a few minutes and came back with chai. This is the type of hospitality you will find in rural Turkey, even if it is a tourist spot.

As we eventually left, we were getting back on the road only to hear Borat whistling at as from across the canyon and giving us a huge wave of his arms. He was just saying goodbye one last time.

Later we wanted to do some off-roading on our brand new, shinny, full suspension, rented mountain bikes. We turned off of the road and headed for the dried up river bed. As we mad our way down the hill we saw a black horse. Promptly after that, 4 of the largest dogs I had ever seen came charging towards us, growling and barking in a deep boom. We figured that the beasts were too big and fast to out run and the terrain wouldn’t let us even turn around if we wanted to. We stopped and stood still.

In true doggy form, the beasts slowed and eventually sniffed us as we had gone silent and given them a poor thing to chase. They looked like a cross between a crème Lab and Grate Dane. Around their necks were the absolute most intimidating things. First a sheep skin to protect the dog and then what looked like an our turned bear trap to fend off another. These were the most evil dog colors I have ever teen. Jagged and rusty spikes that were 4 inches long each pointed outwards.

When we got to the bottom of the hill there were two local men that we chated with. It turns out that the dogs were their sheep herders, but I would have guessed bear herders by the looks of the callers. We got back on the road and saw some wild apricot trees, so we decided to pick a few. It if were a day later, they would be rotten, but today, they were perfectly ripened and heated by the summer sun.

We got back to the main town of Gorame after 6 grueling hours, but it was way more than worth the effort. Tomorrow we may take a bus to the underground cities that lie 60 miles away. Then after that, I will make my way down to Olympus, which is a town situated in the south on the Mediterranean.

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Istanbul

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Welcome to where the east meets the west. This place feels like a fulcrum point of ideologies, cultures, and essences of existence. This place is very Islamic which makes it feel Middle Eastern, but at the same time it is very western in its own ways. When someone speaks English, they have usually mastered it. They will speak without any discernible accent much of the time.
One of the leaders converted the characters in the language to English, so you will find yourself reading a sign and thinking that you have forgotten how to read. You will quickly snap back into it and realize that it is Turkish.

Here is where there have been numerous empires and civilizations over the aeons.  The people here give a new meaning to soothing.  If you say “thank you” then you will hear a sweat and delicate “you’re welcome” without accent.

Speaking of swine flue, yesterday I hung out with 4 English guys and girls, one of which had just recovered from it.  The next morning, I felt a little under the weather, but I think it is a typical cold.

Here in Turkey, I have met many more adventure packers than anywhere else in the world.  Two 19 year old American Girls who had been living in former Yougoslovia just for fun and then decided to jump on a bus last night to Bulgaria at the last moment.  Two Scottish 18 year old guys who sleep out in the streets or bushes because it is more of an adventure.  I know that it is a classic case of a small set of people that I have spoken to.  If you meet 4 beer backer groups in a row, then you would assume that that region is full of them.

Did I just introduce a new Backpacker?  Yes; the adventure packer is the Rock Star of the traveling community.  Truly and authentically fearless, they make me look like a complete tourist. When I say I don’t have a plan, I mean it, but not exactly “NOOO” plan.  I kind of induce chaos in a controlled manor at times.  Is that possible?

An Adventure packer is summed up in the next few statements.

“I could just get a bed in the hostel, but that’s boring.  I thought I would find a place behind a Mosque or something. ”

“Do you want to go to Asia tomorrow?  I thought it would be a good day trip.”

“So I thought I would go down to Africa, brought some string, walkitalkies, and a mirror because I know it must be dangerous.”

“We had to renew our visas so instead of doing all of the paperwork, we thought we would just jump on a bus that night to the next country to get stamped and go back.  Hitch hiking of course.  We don’t really have any money.”

These backpackers are ultra spontaneous and completely fearless.

This is the golden age of backpacking.  These are the types of people who end up in Jail, but talk their way out.

An adventure packer is basically a Fate Packer (ME) on steroids with a death wish.  Well, maybe not a death wish, but they do seem to taunt fate at times.

Pushing over to the less attractive end of the spectrum are the vagrant packers.  I met a vagrant packer in training in Inverness (Scotland).  He had been traveling for 3 years, held jobs as a Scuba Dive Instructor, AND, a sky dive instructor, among others.  He just got done camping for 3 weeks and thinks that the complete and total goal in life is to be able to live abroad indefinitely, switching countries as you please.

Vagrant packers are always runing from something, as they don’t see any value in where they come from.  This vagrant packer in training carried multiple weapons on him at all times as well.  He had three pocket and hunting knives on him as we ate breakfast in the local Mall.

I think that this type of Backpacker is about as attractive as the beer packer.

And while we are on the subject of backpackers.  In case I never managed to mention these few: the Senior Packer and the Lonely Planet Packer.

The Senior Packer is the guy or gal who is covered in grey hair and leathery skin.  Traveling alone, they often have their original backpack from 1972 that they used on their first trip though Europe (probably as an adventure packer).  It is unclear weather they have remained a vagrant packer for the last 40 years or not, but you can see that there is less bright and shiny in their voice than there used to be.

The Lonely Planet Packer is best summed up in one phrase : “But the Loney Planet Says….”  This is the reference to the wolrd’s most popular guide book: Lonely Planet.  There are aditions for every country and region of the world.  This book will take care of everything from Where to stay, what to eat, and even what to think. It is really a chance to micro plan every adventure out of your stay. Lonely Planet Packers often refer to the book as “The Bible.”

By now I have been abroad for 5 or so months.  My backpack has become very comfortable indeed.  I have really gotten used to climbing up stairs with it on as well as walking long distances in it.

I’m thinking that I will be doing 2-3 weeks in Turkey and rushing through Bulgaria and Romania, but that could all change tomorrow.

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God’s Country

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Making my way further up the country, I looked outside my bus window and saw the most beautiful sight.  Solid green, not mostly green, Solid green mountain ranges.  We split down the centre of these massive primary colours for about half an hour.  I said to myself, “self, this is the best part of Scotland yet, but your just driving past it in a stupid bus.”  It was a weird feeling, at this point I could use a car.

I arrived in Kyleakin, a small town just on the outer border of the Isle of Skye.  It was a ghost town compared in Inverness.  I walked into my hostel which was also the local shop and pub.  I checked into my room which was a 6 man dorm and would prove to be my private room for the next two days.

It felt like one of those gas filling towns in the middle of California, on the way to and from Northern and Southern.  There were a few locals sitting in the shop/reception who looked bored.  They couldn’t have been older than 24.  I asked them where all the cool things were on the Isle of Skye, thinking that they would set me in the right direction.  They said in the kindest tone “Hey man, there isn’t much to see here.  If I were you, I would just turn around and leave.”  It wasn’t a mean or exclusive tone at all.  It was a concerned tone.  They were all very nice, but they hated where they lived.

I poked a little bit more and the lady from the front desk kept on walking by my table and dropping all sorts brochures.  She really meant well.  All of them meant well, but they didn’t actually know anything about the island.  They didn’t know what to be proud of.  They thought I was looking for Disney land, but I was looking for Scotland.  I suggested that maybe they were taking for granted the natural beauty around them and they agreed.

I checked into my room and it was empty.  I sat down on my bed and thought for the first time on my trip “What the hell am I doing here?”  This, very importantly, was not the fabled “what am I doing on this round the world journey?”  It was just a gut feeling that I needed to get out of town, and quick.  “Maybe I can just ditch my reservation.” I thought, making it the first time I have considered letting a hostel have my money without staying in their bead, pissing in their shower, and shitting in their sink (Just Kidding about the second one).

I thought, “well hell, the best part of this island is the freaking bus ride into it?”  For the first time since my newly found mantra of Fate Based Travel, I began to doubt it.  I thought that this excursion would be a complete miss.  I couldn’t get any direction from the locals, and the hostel was completely empty, so I couldn’t get any info from any backpackers either.  At this point I could use a friend.

Soon after that, I saw the Belgian boys who I had met in the previous hostel in Inverness.  The ones that hiked for 5 days in Kilts.  I ran out of the shop and greeted them.  “Are you guys staying here?”  “No, we just rented a car and are traveling around the island for two days.”

“Take me with you!  I can pay you money!”, I said in an anything by shy tone.  The looked at each other and said “we would, but our car is full.  If we had any extra space, we would.”  Shit balls, no luck.

Sometimes you just have to believe though.  Luckily the hostel had free internet and I used the power of The Google to sort myself out.  This along with some of the brochures lead me to The Old Man of Storr.  This was a site about an hour away that was a wonderful hike.  I eventually figured out how to make the three bus connections to get there, still without a plan or a friend.  I am fine with traveling alone, but hiking alone is just stupid.

During my first bus leg, I met a girl who was a geologist.  Apparently, much of this land has not been surveyed.  She said that there were a bunch of geologists temporarily living on the island for the next two months.  She looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was here to hike.

On the second bus leg I was on it alone with another local gal that was trying to get a ferry out to an even further out island for a 1 week fiddling convention.  She said she loved the outer islands, but they can be hell as far as the weather goes.  This along with the complete lack of like minded people, trumped my idea to go out to the outer most islands.

I thought that the third bus would have to have some people who were on their way.  Finally there were about 6 other people who were headed out for just that reason, to hike.

I started by speaking to the two girls in the front of the bus.  Though they were friendly, I didn’t get the sense that they wanted to have a third.  I got off the bus and just started hiking behind the group of 4 that were at the back of the bus, but they had a snails pace, so I charged forward with the endorphins being released.  There were the occasional couple passing back and fourth on the trail, so I felt that I would be safe enough if I twisted an ankle or something.  And any point that I thought it was getting hairy, I would just turn back. A lot like my wondering in cities strategy, just go strait and when you want to go home, go strait back.

I got up to The Old Man of Storr, the rock formation that the site is named after.  Though not crowded, there were plenty of people around.  I asked someone to take my picture, fearing that they would take a terrible one.  Of course, it was one of those touristy pictures that they manage to cover up all significant scenery with your half chopped face.  It only took me half an hour to get up there.  I thought to myself “what am I going to do with the rest of my day now?”  I wanted to push onward, but I didn’t have anyone to go on with.  At this moment, there were two Polish guys who were taking some pictures with some very nice cameras to my left.  I asked them to take a picture for me and I came out great.

They asked me if I was going to hike onward and I said “Yes, but I’m alone, so I don’t want to fall to my death without anyone blowing up a piece of the mountain to avenge my death.”  They laughed and said in a boasting voice “why don’t you just come along with us?”  They was actually Peter, the older of the two.  I smiled and said “Sure!”

Sometimes it takes till the moment of truth until Fate Based Travel delivers.  In the same breath, a streak never tastes better than when you are starving.  We set off to make the 4 hour extension loop around and to the top of the mountain.  As we made our way, we met up with the 4 people who I had passed earlier.  Two of them Swiss and two of them French, they were about 18-20 years old.

They asked us if they could tag along and the Polish guys said “Of Course”.  In the course of 20 minutes, It went from lonely, to party.  We pressed on with a sketchy map.  We got to a point where we had to hop a fence to go any further.  Then there were mountain ranges, only these ones had punctured the green blanket.

I’m not even going to try and describe the scale of beauty that I was walking though because I’ll surely fail and offend.  But I will say that at no point were we truly sure that we were on the right path.  We just looked into the mud for human foot prints to make sure that people had been that way.

Within less than an hour, the 2 Swiss and 2 French were ready to turn back, so they did and we pressed on to adventure.  You’ll have to understand that the Polish guys, Peter and Charles, were very funny.  Within the first few minutes we had met, they made a joke about killing me and eating me as soon as we got out of sight from the crowds.  They were the perfect hiking partners and I wouldn’t have ever found them unless I was up on a particular ridge at that exact moment.

We kept going and Charles announced that he thought we were on the wrong mountain.  He pointed to the one across the valley and said we should have turned left about an hour ago.  Peter laughed and said ” Charles, be serious!”  Charles said back “I am.”

I looked at them as said, “Well, we can always go back and find that left turn.”  We all decided to keep going forward and just see how far we could get, since going forward at this point was actually turning back toward the car park(parking lot.  Please excuse my international vocabulary).  We got to the top of our mountain that was long and thin and it ended up being very flat on the top and covered with squishy, bouncy, grass.

The fog was rolling in periodically as we kept climbing up to the summit.  There were several rams and sheep making noises at us as we walked bye. Eventually we got past a bolder on the top and saw two other people.  Simultaneously, we all said “HUMANS!”.  Which must have been a shock to the couple enjoying their sandwiches.  We were at the top and the fog had thickened.  There was nothing to see.

It was still magical to see all of the green around us in the low light.  You could feel how high you were as the winds blasted up the face of the mountain.  Eventually the fog cleared and we made our way down to an outcropping that looked like a diving board.  Peter was the first to go out on the ledge, a 1000 foot drop below.

I began to get the feeling that I did when I went Bungee jumping in New Zealand.  Fear.  That gross feeling of your stomach turning inside out.  The acids curling inside only blocked my the rush of adrenalin your body produces to give you the strength to save your life.  By now I was out on the ledge on all fours.  This time with no safety harness, I hugged the strip of land.  I couldn’t see over the edge yet.  Peter and Charles, said in a concerned tone, “Ok that’s far enough.” but I had to see.

I inched out, but by bit and looked over the edge, a thousand feet below.  even lying flat and a 4-5 foot wide strip, my body prepared to die.  Vertigo began to set in.  The dizzy spinning feeling began to take hold.  The Canyon would echo but I hadn’t the breath to play it as an instrument.

It was far enough.  I inched my way back and we carried on.  Slowly but surely making our way down the mountain, we made it to the bottom where a stream had soaked the land for a thousand years.  It felt like a trampoline and there was about 3 inches of movement.  Shortly after that, the ground grew to soup and my shoes instantly soaked to the bone.  I had been warned about this part of the trek by the Polish guys earlier but didn’t care.  We eventually made our way to the road that was lined with a barbed wire fence.  I hopped it and just at Charles was making his way over, a man on the side of the road started yelling at us.

“Get down off that fence this instant.” in a wonderfully Scottish accent.  “What do you think you are doing?  Use the freaking gate, that’s what we put it there for. That fence costs money you know?  If I catch you doing this again, I’ll call the police.”

I reply with “Sorry.  Wait, there’s a gate?  Where?”  He realized that we didn’t even see the gate and this defused his anger.  To tell you the truth, the moment I said sorry, I could see his face change to less than angry.  I just thought of the way someone would respond to sorry in America.  It wouldn’t defuse an angry person. It would be responded it to with “Sorry, Sorry doesn’t Cut it!”

I had missed my first bus back into the local town, so the Polish guys gave me a lift in their 1997 Mercedes Benz to the local town where I could catch the next two buses back to my hostel.  Before they left we all had fish and chips as well as deep fried Haggas and ate it down in the small harbour of Portree.  Yes, Haggas is still amazing when deep fried.

It turned out that Peter was Charles’s English teacher from a decade ago in Poland.  These types of funny friendships tend to tickle me.  But it was indeed the Polish who affirmed my belief that Fate Based Travel is infallible.  I truly had my doubts though earlier.

By now if you have been following my blog for a while you might have heard or noticed the tone of Fate Based Travel before a few times.  This blog serves many purposes, but one of the best ones is my attempt to take my short term memory and slap it onto paper while the ink of my brain is still wet in an attempt to construct something that is memorable and shareable forever.

It is this blog indeed that I will use as a road map for my first book “Fate Based Travel.”  Because any great thing should be written about and shared and every man should write a book.  Follow me in this blog on the surface and be prepped for a book that digs deep into select journeys and things that I have learned along the way.

I’m not claiming to be talented or professional and I’m not declaring this as a new career path.  Far from it, I think that published authors who can make a living at it are about as rare and hopeless as rock stars (I hardly can read myself :) .  I just feel that it is the best souvenir you could ever have.

If No one reads it, I’ll just have kids and make them read it.

Below are some pics from The Hike and Below that are some videos.  Forgive me that they come in a bunch of seperate ones.  Since my computer got the virus, I havent been able to edit any films together.  I ironically can’t see the films once posted online too, but still can do the posting.  It’s a flash problem on my computer.  Lame!

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2100682&id=24501923&l=9f88d8a174

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Inverness

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

For whatever reason, my second attempt at the free WiFi worked swimmingly compared to the complete failure earlier today.

I’m in the Highlands now, God’s country. This is the stuff out of Highlander and Brave Heart.  Unfortunately though, my hostel at first glance was full of name dropping, unemployed, USC MBA Film graduates.  As obnoxious as it gets :)

Luckily I ran into a patch of Aussies (who are lovely when abroad) and Kiwis (who are lovely everywhere).  From here you can see lockness in a day trip which I plan to do tomorrow.  Also, you can make it out to the isle of sky which is not only stunning, but a gateway to the outermost islands in Scotland which are supposed to be the best of the best (quite literally).  I’m up very high on the map by now.

I have an official third fear on my trip.  Midges are a swarm of gnats that bite.  Once they lock in on someone they follow them until they are all full.  You are pretty much fucked at that point though.  Midges will fly into your ears, mouth, eyes, nose, and your freaking dick hole if they are lucky enough to catch you with your pants down.  Midges rank third on my list of traveling fears behind an airline losing my bag and firstly, bed bugs.

It has been a little bit of an adventure trying to figure out how to get out to the outer islands of Scotland.  Each place I get to, the info gets a little more accurate, but the story changes about as frequently as the weather here.  Speaking of weather, Scotland must be famous for their gun metal coloured clouds.  So far the sky has remained cocked and ready to rain at almost every moment, but has been kind to me :)

This isn’t the easiest place to travel, due to the lack of proper info, but that leads to a better experience overall.  You really have to earn it.

In my room are 5 stinky Belgian boys who have just finished a 5 day hike from one major city to here.  They impressed me because they wore kilts the whole way.  Which by the way, are very expensive.  An authentic synthetic one is about $300 while an authentic wool one is $600.  This is because they are made entirely by hand.  I asked them if they got cold and they said that the design was perfect in all weathers.  “It keeps us warm in the cold, cool in the sun, and dry in the rain.  It’s expensive, but a true honour to wear when walking in these lands.”  That last bit almost made me want to cry as how impress I was in their maturity.  “It’s an Honour to wear in these lands.”  This attitude was about as far away as I would ever get from a culturally disrespectful and blind beer packer.

It seems that the further away from civilization that you get, the more extereme of character you will meet.  This, as one can imagine, is a complete thrill.

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Scotland is Lovely

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

On a whim, I decided to go to Scotland over Ireland. It was just because the price of the airline tickets were less. Before going, several people who had been told me that there wasn’t much to see. When I told them that I would be there for a little over a week, they gasped and looked confused. I was determined to prove them wrong.

Flying out of Luton airport to Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-buruh, not ed-in-burg), It took three hours in the airport versus 55 minutes in the actual plane. Little did I know that I could have just made a 6 hour bus ride instead. The Luton airport experience was one that I can do without repeating.

Here is what I knew about Scotland before I came: It is supposed to be beautiful, cold, and rainy. This is where golf was invented. And in my travels, I’ve never met a Scot that was anything shy of spectacular. The last part was what made me happy to learn that the flights to Ireland were too expensive. Upon arriving in Edinburgh, you take an affordable public bus that snakes it’s way form the airport into the heart of the city. With every turn, you see a more and more impressive structure, until finally you get to the heart where I distinctly remember the audible “WOW” that came out of my mouth.

This place is stunningly beautiful. The dramatic architecture in high contrast to the bright green grass that lines the flowing parks is incredible. Did I mention how stunning this place is? There are about 5 to 8 obvious things that you will want to see in this city alone just by having a walk.

Scotland is a fiercely prideful nation with a strong military heritage (says the museums). I found that the people here are light hearted and soft spoken. I have to admit that I am a sucker for Scottish accents. It’s chilly here, but not too bad at all. I walked around in a t-shirt all day (confused at why people had such big coats). A little info about the country, it’s not officially a country at all. Its part of the UK, but as far as I am concerned, I’m in a completely different country.

Speaking of weird, when you go to a bank here, you will get pounds out of the ATM, but I might be printed my the bank that you are withdrawing from. Thats right, multiple sources of the same currency. Weird? Yes. Think of the possibilities.

One of the places I went today was a 200 foot high monument to a famous writer and poet with the last name of Scot. This monument had a spiral stair case that was so vertical and narrow that if you fell, you could easily roll down the entire thing. It was vertigo educing in fact. And you were guaranteed to hit your head on the ever narrowing ceiling. Just my type of place.

By now if you haven’t been wondering if I tried Haggis, shame on you! Haggis is the most famous of local dishes that is made of everything from lips to “but holes” from the sheep cooked in it’s stomach. It’s one of those fabled dishes that I had never even seen, let alone tried. I thought back to all the well know foods that I had already been eating back home for years and only had the thrill of eating a purer version from the source (sushi, curry, etc.), but haggis, that’s a whole new frontier. I’ve heard a lot about how taste it is and then a little about how nasty it was. My suspicion was that it tasted great but has a bad reputation due to the ingredients and preparation style.

Surprisingly enough, It’s easier to find Nachos in this town than it is haggis. This proved to be a little bit of an annoyance, but eventually I found a place. I ordered the dish and expected something grim and graphic to appear in front of me, but texturally I was surprisingly let down. It looked like a big plate of ground beef. It actually looked like if you turned a meatloaf into the consistency of rice or couscous.

The flavor was lovely, and the texture was rich and hearty like comfort food. It tasted peppery and salty, but not over doing either one. I would suggest that everyone try this dish at least a few times before they die. Need I say I was a slight bit disappointed by the lack of foul nature found in this dish?

As always, I spoke to some people in my hostel to get some bearings of where I want to spend the rest of my time in Scotland. Tomorrow I leave for Inverness (the main hub for people who wish to explore the highlands of Scotland). From there, I will be visiting some of the less traveled spots which are said to be beautiful nature spots. Can’t wait!

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