Body by Yahoo!

yahoo sign

     To keep me off the mean streets of Northern California, I got a three-month job at Yahoo.


     Have you missed me?
     I’ve been quiet for two reasons: I haven’t been backpacking so everything else seems boring by comparison, and Yahoo told me 591 times that my work is confidential and I’ve been scared to write anything about my time there since I’d like to be able to return.
     But here I am. My contract is over, and I’m hitting the road again. I have a Russian visa in my possession—a three-year, multiple entry visa!—and only today did I realize that includes the 2018 World Cup in Russia. (I’ll be active on Instagram in Russia if you want to see some funny, vaguely provocative photos.)
yahoo front

     If Yahoo had a washer and dryer and if they’d let me sleep under my desk, I would gladly never leave campus. Free food, free gym, nice facilities—what’s not to like? On the other hand, as it was, I had friends nearby that I never saw and lived a Yahoo-only existence.


expectant mother parking

     I kept offering to get my colleagues pregnant so they could get these prime parking spots, but no one took the bait. (I guess, “Come meet me under desk A-3771 after work” isn’t very compelling.) The women of Yahoo, they’re very intelligent, I’m telling you.


     My title at Yahoo was Search Editor, but it seems to be an internal game that job titles are opaque and it’s a riddle as to what everyone really does. There is strict confidentiality even between teams and endless reminders to keep it that way. Too much is at stake for loose lips in the hyper-competitive tech world. (I sound so knowledgeable!) I will say that my primary duty at Yahoo (nervously looking over my shoulder) was to improve search results. Vague enough? Whew! That was a close one!
     I say this to people and I can see in their eyes the real question is how I managed to get a job at Yahoo with my skill set, which from all appearances is limited to hitchhiking and dumpster diving, but I’m here to tell you that I’m more than a pretty face, kemosabe. I’ve done a few different things in my life, and it’s no small feat to type 57 words a minute with a phone precariously held in one ear during an interview. I also used to work for a company that Yahoo bought, and I still know a few people here. And I have photos of all of them in compromising positions. Blackmail is a bitch.
     I was more interested in how I fit in with my co-workers. On my team I was a good 15 years older than anyone else, and sometimes it felt like I was Creed from the U.S. version of the TV show, “The Office”: a weird crank with a hazy past best left unmentioned. I’d be overcome with the delusion that they’d want to hear about the time I was in Syria just before the war and then I’d see the looks on their faces and realize I need to do a quick u-turn. As a solitary traveler, it was a nice change to be part of a team, so I tried to make myself useful and it was fun. Yahoo was fun. Working was fun. There, I said it.
yahoo view

     The yin and yang of my Yahoo life: the cafeteria on the right and the gym on the left. I swear, I worked out a minimum of one solid hour every single weekday, more solid hours every single weekend, and yet I weigh the most I ever have in my life. I’d show you a photo, but, um, my camera is broken.


     The food was incredible. Some days would see wild boar or chimichurri turkey legs or wagyu beef hamburgers. Anything on the daily menu where I thought to myself, “Wow, when am I ever going to have that again?” I had to try, which became virtually every meal. Somehow I seemed to be the only one at Yahoo without any self-control, and my weight spiked. How can you control yourself when every meal is an exotic feast and all of it is free? FREE!
     I can safely say that for the rest of my non-Yahoo life I won’t be eating chia seeds and quinoa in comparable quantities. Even in the humdrum snack rooms there’d be drinks that I’d stare at like a just-released prisoner, unable to recognize anything familiar.
yahoo food3

     Suuuuuuushi and mussels!


yahoo food1

     As I recall, this was a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich with grilled mahi mahi.


yahoo food2

     A simple caesar salad and prosciutto crudo. I never looked to see what desserts there were. Let sleeping dogs lie.


     Sleeping is the problem in Silicon Valley, which rivals New York City now for highest rents in the nation. I did it all: couchsurfed at a Nicaraguan girl’s apartment, slept on friends’ couches and spare rooms, and suffered through Airbnb.
     I think I have used Airbnb in California five or six times, and not once have I met the host. It’s all latchkey accommodation on the low end. I don’t mind an invisible host, but there are inevitable communication problems. (Of course, in their reviews of me, I am always a great guy, muy simpatico.) It’s a seller’s market on Airbnb in Silicon Valley. Look at this ridiculous “pod” for $33.
     Eventually I found an in-law room in Sunnyvale that cost $800 for four weeks, an absolute bargain. I shared a bathroom with a surly Chinese girl working at Google who refused to tell me her name. (How I found it was instructive. Instead of answering housing ads on Craigslist, I made my own “housing wanted” ad and found a Vietnamese widow looking for a short-term renter.
airbnb san jose

     For one night I was at this Airbnb in East San Jose: a makeshift “room” separated by bed sheets that I shared with an equally bewildered Indian guy whose “room” was off the kitchen. This was also the nicest place I stayed.


(NOT VERY) PRACTICAL INFORMATION:
     Do you know how hard it is to get a library card in California? They want official proof that I live somewhere, but I am always sleeping around or unofficially subletting and have no paperwork to support my claim. Frustrating. It is easier to buy pure heroin or automatic weapons than it is to check books out from the Sunnyvale Public library.
     I own a smartphone now. Check me out! I was hoping to be the only person working at Yahoo (or all of Silicon Valley?) without one, but I had to have it. A friend upgraded and gave me his Samsung S4 Galaxy. I’m instantly as hooked everyone else, to my chagrin, but the weird part is getting used to being accessible. I might be Creed after all.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something witty on Twitter, check for a non-boring photo on Instagram, and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+.

Witnessing American Football in the California Republic

ticket asian

     Oakland Raiders fans, they come in all styles, and yet, something about this Asian woman screamed trafficking.


     As we draw closer to the biggest sporting event in America, the Super Bowl, which is being played in three weeks less than five miles from where I live and work it is time to reflect upon the experience of seeing an actual American football game. I realize that few things make me sound more un-American than saying “American football”, but how many countries don’t call soccer “football”? Few.
     A friend in town suddenly “remembered” that she had a cousin who worked security for the Oakland Raiders, so she managed to nab passes to one of the hottest games of the year against the mighty Green Bay Packers. (How can you forget something like that? How? It’s like saying, “Hey, I just remembered, Mick Jagger’s my uncle. Want to go to the show?”)
     It’s hard to imagine that I would pay for an NFL ticket in any circumstance. Our passes didn’t have prices on them, but a ticket I found on the ground (ebay, I can’t quit you) with a face value of $120. It costs $35 just to park at the stadium! Food and drink prices were reminiscent of small-town Switzerland.
raiders tarp

     The Raiders have a diabolical arrangement where you have to pay for a “personal seat license” that in turn gives you the privilege of buying super-expensive season tickets to a perennially awful team that is always threatening to leave town. The Raiders have trouble selling out—tons of visiting Packers’ fans had tickets—and instead of copping to the humiliation of showing empty seats in the upper deck of the Oakland Coliseum, they cover them with tarps.


lost a bet

     The most rabid fans sit on the end of the field called The Black Hole, but they are everywhere, really, including Mr. Raider4Life here wearing a rival Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. He said the bet he lost requires him to wear this the whole season.


raiders prices

     I wondered which had the biggest profit margin. So much to choose from! I thought airports were bad, but this is another level. “Cheddar cheese sauce” is illegal in 23 states.


raiders stadium

     As much as you might think it is better to sit at home and watch the game on TV in the comfort of your dungeon while we suffer in the freezing cold and rain, there is something to say for the electricity of being at a live event and seeing the whole field, not a narrow TV screen version. Even in the cheap seats you don’t feel far from the action, and despite the Oakland Coliseum being a cesspool of a stadium, it is exciting to be in the energy of 55,000 rabid fans.


california republic

     The California state flag flying over The Eternal Flame of the Losing Season. (The Raiders lost 30-20. They always lose.) That’s a good-looking flag for a good-looking state. I, for one, am waiting for The Holy Mother of All Earthquakes that everyone predicts in the hope that California becomes an island and we can again be an independent republic. #49states


warriors floor

     My friend’s cousin also let us check out the floor of the Golden State Warriors who play in the adjacent arena. It was a great experience all around; my personal highlight of the day came when I saw former Raider great Rod Martin in the bathroom.


OAKLAND MEMORIES:
     It’s a local sport to pick on the shabby, derelict Oakland Coliseum, but I have only fond memories. I’ve been to at least 50 events there over the years: two Metallica concerts, The Who, Gold Cup soccer, and dozens of Oakland A’s baseball games, including this famous one from the movie, “Moneyball”, with Brad Pitt. (The real-life, less-Hollywood version of that clip is here.) I made over $100 selling those tickets on ebay, too.
     Last thing: I’m on Instagram! For frustrating reasons I can’t make a button yet where you would normally see it on my website, but this is the link. Follow!
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something witty on Twitter, check for a non-boring photo on Instagram, and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+.

The Kent-is-really-a-regular-dude mailbag

     Hello from California! I have no update other than I am eating as if there is no tomorrow. If I am traveling for ten months, being outside a lot, running around a lot, not having my own space, I can tell you I go into full hermit mode when home. And I eat chips and salsa too much. And I desperately need to redesign my website.
     Let’s jump straight to the mailbag:

french statue

     Seen in France.


From Geraldine in Country Unknown:
     You are a self proclaimed idiot. Your blog scream of that.

     This isn’t starting well.

From “homeless and a hooker in america”(?!):
     india over manila..are u on drugs? slums in manila is not that huge and they are harmless and eventually relocated…and then u says makati is not as exotic? u are a very jelous white trash fag..its just that u cant believe that makati and beyond have such an amazing massive skycrapers that im sure your home city have nothing like that…philippines is booming since 5 yrs ago and our economy is 2nd highest in asia after china..so die of envy idiot fag white trash..dont ever come back to manila again..your not welcome here..idiot

     Sounds like someone needs a hug.

From Lucy in Kenya:
     I am not sure whether I loved or hated your blog.

     I’ll seeing that glass as half full! Let’s build on this!

From Silke in Germany:
     Hi, I found your blog as I was searching for some Information about the border crossing at Irkeshtam (Kyrgyzstan). I’ll travel from Osh to Kashgar and further on to Islamabad. Your blog is just great, probably the best I’ve read about traveling… and I simply love your point of view towards female solo travelers :). I always knew that I’m awesome 🙂 and finally somebody admits 🙂 just kidding, but honestly please keep on writing!

     I can’t find my email to Silke so I can’t remember how I responded, but I have never lost my admiration for solo female travelers. I’m on Reddit‘s travel pages answering questions and giving advice, and so many men AND women are anxious and scared to travel, much less to go alone, and this was before the Paris attacks which is making potential travelers nervous. Silke went to Pakistan on her own and had a fantastic time, she reported to me later, with not one problem. Well done, Silke!

From Robert in Hungary:
     Do you drink alcohol at all? It doesn’t come through in your blog entries.

     Not really. I don’t like the taste. I might drink a beer if I am in a crowd just to not draw attention to myself, but then everyone yells at me anyway for being unable to finish one bottle. What’s funny is that I will tell someone this and they will nod, but then they will encourage me to try their “special” local beer. To me, it all tastes the same. I certainly have been able to travel for much longer by not spending money on booze—but I miss out in a way, too.

tiny water

     Who says everything is big in America?


From India in England (she says her name is India; who am I to argue?):
     My friend made me trudge in the pissing icy rain to find that Hashem place (in Amman, Jordan) because she’d read about it somewhere. I was desperately hungry and kept asking why we couldn’t just go to one of the 450,698,216 falafel or shawarma joints we passed on the way. Only once I was full of Hashem’s hummus and fool did my resentment subside and I admitted it was worth the effort 😀

     I don’t give restaurant recommendations willy-nilly, you know. You’re welcome.

From Anya in Australia:
     Loved reading your blog. Like you I had been trekking in Nepal (with husband and kids) and had only flown out a couple of days before the earthquake. It’s kind of weird isn’t it, I’ve been reluctant to show off my holiday photos. I guess I should, the Nepalese really need their tourism. We spent a few days at Peaceful Lodge in Langtang Village because the owner was so nice and cooked lovely food. I couldn’t get over that BBC footage, so horrible and sad.
     I’m not usually to keen to stereotype nationalities, but I have to share this one. My youngest son ordered a bowl of noodles that he found too spicy. He played with it, dribbled into it and left it. An Israeli trekker (who was watching him) took the left overs and put them in plastic bag to eat later in the day!

     Aaaahahaha! That’s a funny story! Thanks for sharing it—although, of course, the guy could have been from anywhere. Of course!

hendrix stamps

     Jimi Hendrix on an official United States stamp! Who says America is a conservative country?


     I had another question from Nigel in England. I dutifully answered, and he wrote back:
     Thank you for your response. It is impossible for me to convey how happy it was too hear from you. It’s as (if) a fictional character spoke to me from out of a book.
     I’m just a regular dude! I have heard from several people who only know me through my website that they are shocked that I would take the time to reply and the idea of meeting me is an inconceivably big deal. I can tell you that everyone gets over it very quickly when they realize I am like everyone else who puts his pants on three legs at a time. I’m no big deal, and I answer 99% of my emails that are written by real people.
     So don’t be shy. If you have something to say, get your pen out and write me.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

What I Learned Traveling Ten Months Around the World

boracay sunset

     Another ho-hum Philippines sunset.


     Greetings from the land of sweet California sunshine! It feels like a long time since I was here, because it has been a long time since I was here. I was away exactly ten months. Last year I was away exactly ten months. Every single year of my adult life I have been at least six months away.
     I am unloading my backpack for the last time, sitting here among the motley assortment of flotsam accumulated on the road: Bulgarian sudoku booklet, Malaysian t-shirt, Turkish toothpaste, Jordanian water bottle, Filipino sweatshirt, German backpack—I am a post-modern Mr. Multicultural all by virtue of doing nothing more than buying plane tickets.
     So what did I learn from being away so long? I learned nothing. NOTHING! I do this all the time. This is all I do. This is all I know how to do. It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day” where the same events keep repeating themselves and like the TV show Seinfeld: no learning and no hugging!
     Wait, this is a good time for an emo Polish pop song from Myslovitz:

     Near the beginning of this trip in the Philippines I was talking with a woman and she asked how many countries I had been to. I said, “About 100,” and she said, “That’s too many!” That’s a funny response, and maybe the correct one.
     Another time while hitchhiking in Europe a Croatian driver interrogated me about my life and concluded, “I can’t believe someone who has lived such a harsh life looks so incredibly young.” HA! I assume he was driving to his eye doctor appointment and running late.
american machine

     Seen in Kathmandu, Nepal.


Quick vignette I never blogged about because I write too much about day-to-day events that bore everyone to tears:
     Two months ago I was hiking in the mountains of southern Bulgaria with a group of people and we came across a walnut tree on the edge of town. We made a stop and without a word being spoken, a guy climbed deep up into the tree and began throwing walnuts to the girls. The girls dutifully sorted and opened the walnuts, instructing me how to remove the bitter soft covering, and feeding me the best ones.
     That’s living off the fat of the land, and that is the difference between Americans and most of the rest of the world. Maybe I should only speak for myself, because I would look at a walnut tree and wonder if someone owned this tree, it the nuts were ripe, if they would be tasty raw, if it was safe to eat the nut, if this breed was edible, if I might get sick, etc. As an American I was impressed with myself that I could recognize a walnut tree.
     OK, so I learned one thing.
over new mexico

     Flying over a mysterious New Mexico landscape.


PRACTICAL INFORMATION
     My flight from Miami to Los Angeles was free, or, I should say, the fact that I sat on a plane with a burning engine between Guam and Manila at 3am to start this trip earned me a $150 certificate from United that I redeemed. The practical information here is to request to fly on defective planes so you can get airline credit. The more burning, the better.
     My next blog post will be a mailbag where I answer very random questions people ask me; if you have any questions for me, feel free to send them to me here or via email or Facebook or carrier pigeon—whatever feels right.
credit card apps

     This was my welcome home: 40 credit card offers from airlines.


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

It’s, it’s, a Belgian Blitz! It’s, it’s, a Belgian Blitz!

     The end is near! Belgium is my last foreign stop before I fly to Miami, Florida, though is Florida really any less foreign? I made a quick visit of Belgium just before the long slog home.

ukraine intl

     I flew from Amman, Jordan to Brussels, Belgium via Kiev on Ukraine International Airlines. Even though I am into frequent flyer miles, I also like flying oddball airlines like this for the experience—if they are cheap. This was a strange plane and an awful, awful flight, a skinny Embraer jet that shook so hard in heavy turbulence for so long I had my recurring dream of living in one idyllic place and never flying again.


Hitchhiking in Belgium
     I wasn’t optimistic about it, but I tried hitchhiking from Brussels airport. I found a bad, yet quiet spot away from any police and threw my thumb out. Surprisingly, a car with diplomatic license plates stopped. That is very rare, and even more so since I hadn’t shaved and was looking grizzled. However, he was going the wrong way. But then another car with diplomatic plates stopped, and this time I went with them into town: two Burmese guys—do I have to say Myanmar? Myanmar has existed for so long now no one will remember it was once Burma—from the embassy. They were a jovial duo, entertaining me by mock-throwing their phones out the window every time it beeped with a message.
     Hitchwiki told me where to take public transport in Brussels to the best spot for heading west to the coast. I needed help from a gorgeous Congolese woman to figure out the ticket system, though I might have heard every fifth word while staring at her. Every time I am in Brussels I am struck that it must be one of the most international (read: least white) places I know; it’s no wonder little Belgium is such a hub for international flights.
     The hitchhiking all went quickly from Brussels: an African-Belgian guy took me to the first highway gas station, then I sat in a disgustingly filthy car thick with cat hair and cigarette smoke from a man with three kids in the back seat, and finally a Chechen guy drove me to Oostende on the coast. He couldn’t believe I was American nor that I was visiting for fun. I had already told him I was from America, but he looked me over and asked, “Are you Syrian?”
     “Nooooo!” I replied. I pointed to the American flag velcroed on my backpack and said, “California!” in the dorkiest way possible.
     He was confused. “You are on holiday in Belgium? Belgium?!” as if it was the most ridiculous idea. I assured him I had no other motives to be in Belgium and he let me out in Oostende, not believing a word I said.
     Sometimes I worry about getting robbed while hitchhiking, but any driver’s smartphone is worth twice as much as everything in my bag combined, and the driver probably quickly realizes it when meeting me. In almost all of Europe the balance is such that the driver is far more worried about you than you are worried about the driver. Whatever the dynamic, so far, so good.
burbling water

     Burbling water in Oostende. What animal could cause such a force?


     In Oostende I stayed at an Airbnb place that cost exactly $1 because the guy simply wanted to have guests. In Gent I stayed as a Couchsurfing guest, but I might be losing my Couchsurfing mojo. Lately it hasn’t been so easy to find hosts.
The Cheap flight—always the cheap flight
     My flight to Miami is with a Belgian-based airline called—ready for this? It’s unbelievably bad: Jetairfly. Ta-da! Is that not the worst name for an airline? Who thinks of these things? I am flying with them because $165 is crazy-cheap.
     I was all proud of myself that I found such a cheap flight, but these days they aren’t the only cheap game in town to cross the Atlantic. Jetairfly, Norwegian.com and Wowair via Iceland are the way to go, among others. Still, $165 including all taxes and a free checked bag is very, very hard to beat.
jetairfly

     I saw this ad in my mailbox, which makes up for the thousand other times I feel getting airline newsletters is a waste of time. I tried and tried to purchase it online, but wasn’t having any luck. I called my credit card company, but they claimed the problem wasn’t on their end. I tried calling the airline even though I knew I would be on hold forever and be a costly international toll call (and somehow you can’t use Skype to their landline). I finally discovered that you can’t buy a ticket with an American credit card, though they never mention it on their website and no one can explain it anyway. What the hell? Luckily I have a friend that trusts me and I used her credit card. (I have a friend!)


Blitzing through the US embassy
     I raced to the US embassy in Brussels just before my flight to get extra passport pages. You must make an appointment online, but then there is wiggle room if you call them and ask for other times. Like anything involving passports, it’s better to do it abroad than home because of the time and cost. If I wanted new passport pages in USA, the cost would be the same, $82, but I would have to mail it away (with insurance and a return envelope) and wait 4-6 weeks or pay an express fee of $32 if I went in person to a passport office in a big city.
     It rankles me that I have to pay $82 for something that used to be free and which takes minutes to do, but come the end of the year, the government will no longer issue extra passport pages. When your passport gets filled with stamps, you’ll have to buy another passport, which is about $140 now, plus photos, plus the interminable waiting time, etc.
extra passport pages

     My new passport supplement. While you are at it, ask for double pages as shown here. I used up my 45 pages in five years, so the 45-page supplement should be perfect as my passport expires in another five years. That said, now I have a massive passport that will be uncomfortable to stuff in my pocket while sweating in the tropics.


PRACTICAL INFORMATION:
     Pro tip: all those mangled US dollar banknotes that no money changer will touch, the ones with the rips, tears, spots, markings, and stains? The embassy will take them.
     For foreigners coming to USA, just because nowadays there are old and new types of banknotes for the same denomination doesn’t mean it’s a problem to use either one. In fact, every banknote ever printed in America is legal tender. Don’t come to USA with anything other than dollars. I have never, ever seen a decent rate for any foreign currency.
     How did I find an Airbnb place that was $1? By doing a search by map, putting my parameters as a place for under $10, and zooming out. You never know what you might find.
oostende

     Oostende architecture. This is all one building.


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Adrift in a Dead Sea; 300 Days Away

     I left sweet California sunshine exactly 300 days ago. Tomorrow, Day 301, I fly back to USA and a couple of days later, back to the Golden State. The end is within sight. I am what we in the travelling community call “tired”. I am becoming weak of mind, body and spirit. General feebleness all around. It is exhausting to run around for 300 days, in case you were unsure.

kent dead sea read

     Having a read at the Dead Sea in Jordan. The salt content is so high that unexpected parts of your body will notice it for you. One kid screamed, “My butthole stings!”


     I flew in to Amman, Jordan at 2:30am, which is the absolute worst time for a flight to arrive, and I flew out of Amman at 4:30am, which is the absolute worst time for a flight to depart.
     Why are those the worst times? It means no sleep on either end and lots of hours at the airport if you are like me and avoid taxis like the plague. And where are you going to go with a taxi? I’d rather hang out at a decent airport—no, I’m not talking about you, Kathmandu—than deal with waking up or checking in to a hotel at some crazy hour. Actually, I don’t feel strong about that statement. I am a poor sleeper in the best of times, so I don’t know how best to carve up the night.
horse on ledge

     This dude at Petra rode his donkey right to the edge of this cliff, and jumped off as if he was in the middle of a flat field. That’s a suicidal long way down.


3 husseins

     King Hussein on the left, King Abdullah in the middle and the King Abdullah’s son on the right. In Syria they often do the same trifecta with Father Assad, Son Assad and Brother Assad.


abdullah rug

     A rug of young King Abdullah in a cave by the monastery at Petra.


kent jordan eat

     A can of hummus, a can of foul (fava beans), and pita bread is much better than it sounds. Check my skin color out. It’s inhuman.


kent monastery

     Sunning above Petra monastery.


kent siq

     Stephen Lioy would like you to know that Stephen Lioy took the best four photos on this page. You can figure out which they are, but a new camera/smartphone is on my shopping list. Feel free to make recommendations.


jd passport stamp

     The Jordanian passport-stamping bastard at the airport ruined my Somaliland stamp just as the Madrid passport-stamping bastard ruined my other Somaliland stamp. Is nothing sacred?


PRACTICAL INFORMATION:
     There is now a Jordan Pass where, in one package, you can pay for your visa and have one day at Petra as well as many other national parks for 70JD (Jordanian dinar). Normally a visa and one day at Petra is 90JD, so it is well worth it, but you have to buy it online before you arrive, and then you will have a few stressful seconds at immigration when they examine the paper as if it is the first time they have ever seen such a thing.
jeep children

     


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Hitchhiking the Aegean Coast in Turkey–Easy!

     Question of the Day: Are there more barber shops in Turkey or pharmacies in the Philippines or stray cats in Egypt?

gamze mustafa

     Gamze and Mustafa picked me up hitchhiking twice, two days apart! Small world.


palamutbuku water

     They took me here, Palamutbuuuuuukuuuuuuu!


     As I showed in the previous blog post, Turkish buses can be state-of-the-art amazing, but I had an itch to hitch. I hitchhiked about 400 miles (650km), all of it surprisingly easy. I even had two Turkish women pick me up once, which no one would expect. As a tactic I didn’t velcro the USA flag on to my backpack as I usually do; I wasn’t in tune with local sensibilities enough to feel OK about waving the flag.
     The longest stretch was the last, 350km from Fethiye to Izmir. The day before 100 people were killed in Ankara in a bomb blast, mostly Kurds. Two of my drivers thought it was the work of the government. One of them was Kurdish. I wondered how well Kurds fit in when they are in western Turkey (where the jobs are) and so I asked if he had an accent when he spoke. He said people knew instantly when he opened his mouth that he is from the east. I asked if Kurds had distinct facial characteristics, and he lifted his sunglasses to show a formidable caterpillar eyebrow, plus he said Kurds have big noses. My nose was bigger than his. Maybe I have some Kurdish in me.
turkey road sign

     I’ve had such a long run of fruitful hitchhiking, so many good years, that I’m long overdue to be robbed or maimed or I don’t know what, but no, in Turkey it was all rainbows and unicorns.


     From Marmaris I thought of making a day trip 70km out west to Datca (pronounced “datcha”) and Palamutbuku, but I was pleased with myself that I checked out and didn’t let inertia take over as the area became my favorite place in Turkey.
     The fact that I made the right decision was made easier by my traveling light. If I had a lot of baggage, I wouldn’t have done it, or, since I was surrounded by British at the hotel, I should use their expression: “I couldn’t be bothered.” It’s the white flag of surrender for traveling when you start saying that too much. This is why you pack light, why you don’t have a bag with wheels because they add too much weight, why you don’t want to be overweight in any sense.
     I got a ride halfway to Datca with a guy working at a remote hotel, and he left me in a desolate place, but then a kind young Kurdish couple picked me up, Mustafa and Gamze. Gamze was spellbinding, a raven-haired beauty with olive skin, full eyebrows and a dazzling smile. They squeezed me into the back seat next to a plastic bag bursting with colorful, interesting-looking lingerie until Gamze noticed it and became embarrassed, quickly snatching it away and tucking it under some other bags.
     They were not only going to Datca, but 20km further west to Palamutbuku, which is supposed to be the most beautiful place on the peninsula, so I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. This is why you pack light, why you…
palamutbuku feet

     In Palamutbuku I sat at the end of a pier like a Turk, voraciously eating sunflower seeds while dipping my feet in the brilliant Aegean Sea. The water was crystal clear perfect, if a tad chilly. Well, I found it chilly. A Central European would find it very pleasant and a Norwegian would be scalded with third degree burns.


     The receptionist at my pension in Datca was impressed when I told him I hitchhiked everywhere, but his mood darkened when I told him a Kurdish couple took me. He went off on the Kurds, saying, “They do all the bad jobs: sell drugs—any mafia business…all crime!”
     He went on. I patiently listened. I proposed that maybe it would be better if the Kurds had their own country, a Kurdistan in the southeast where they are a majority. He shook his head. “No, they are too smart. They don’t want to be independent. They get everything free from the government: housing, school—they get everything! They don’t pay taxes!”
datca sunset beach

     Cheesy yet quaint scene at one of Datca’s small beaches.


turkish breakfast

     When Mustafa and Gamze took me the second time, they invited me to a Turkish breakfast at a pretty place by a river with ducks and eels, both fighting for food thrown their way. The quality of the food was impressive. I don’t even eat tomatoes at home, but here they have a full taste, just like the honey—and how did I manage to exclude the sublime tahini from this photo?


blue lagoon sign

     A photo of a photo of the Blue Lagoon is more dramatic than being on the ground, but it’s a beautiful spot ringed by mountains and the water incredibly clear. What a location! Now how can I get rid of all the people?
     I hitchhiked in the dark from Oludeniz back to Fethiye with a guy who said he was a technician. I told him I was swimming at the Blue Lagoon and he said that’s where he is a technician, to keep it clean, I presume. It was amazingly clean and clear, just like Palamutbuku, but tons of people use the water, so how can that be? Communication between us was too hard to pursue this.


oludeniz sunset

     Oludeniz sunset


oludeniz town

     The mean streets of downtown Oludeniz. Every other restaurant touts their “full Scottish breakfast” as scads of British are about, engrossed in their beers and Rugby World Cup. The British are unrivaled masters in drinking and sports commentary.


harrools

     Had to do a double-take when I saw “Harrools” of Oludeniz.


vegas oludeniz

     Oludeniz might have an identity crisis.


PRACTICAL INFORMATION
     Sirin Pension in Fethiye was only 10 euros for a room including breakfast. Booking.com
     In Datca I got a room at Thetis Pension for 40 lira (US$13), as reasonable as I could find. Well, I found it reasonable. A Central European would find it a bargain and a Norwegian would book the whole hotel just because they could.
     In Izmir I stayed at an Airbnb place for $11, a great deal. Airbnb sends an email before your visit encouraging you to get to know your host, but often that is the last thing I want to do. If I want to get to know my host, I use Couchsurfing. I feel zero responsibility to hang out with my host, unlike CS. If we have a nice conversation and get along, that’s great, but I have no obligation to make time to socialize. That said, I always chat with my hosts, if they are in the mood.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Deep Diving into Turkish Mass Tourism

     Turkey was a last-minute impulsion. I bought a ticket to Izmir on the Aegean Coast only the day before I flew out. I figured I would visit Ephesus and then improvise everything else, which is my modus operandi anyway. My idea was to visit all the places on the Aegean Coast I have heard about, but when I saw the first, Kusadasi, I was so repulsed by the crowds, the congestion, and every business catering to tourists that I had to rethink everything, a challenge for my feeble brain.
     I’m surprised how busy southwestern Turkey is. Apparently the season peeters out at the end of the month, so for now the climate is perfect, just on the hot side of warm, and the exchange rate pretty juicy for us white-trash Americans, three lira to the dollar.

genuine fake

     I paid with a genuine fake 20 euro note. I figured they wouldn’t mind.


ephesus

     Ephesus, some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. Elton John once played to 25,000 people here before the government realized huge crowds were ruining the ruins.


     When I got off the train near Ephesus in Selcuk a man approached me and asked if I needed a place to stay. I am all about following strangers to their homes, so I let him drive me to his place in the middle of town where I had my own room for 25 lira, about $8.40.
     I am becoming a fan of booking.com, especially for cheap last-minute hotels. It must be a godsend to those out-of-the-way hotels that can’t count on foot traffic. I could do without all the bogus pop-ups: “Only one room left at this price!” and “8 people are looking at this property!” and “This is the lowest price we have seen in the last 40 days!”
     When I checked in at Blue Lagoon Hotel in Marmaris, I found out that I really was getting the last room, and somehow it was a suite with a view. 11 euros. You can’t get a dorm bed for less. The Blue Lagoon attracts a rough crowd, though, almost all British. The fact a tattoo shop sits in the middle of the lobby is an unmistakable sign.
     The only reason I had a hotel is because my Airbnb host was incomunicado. I booked, I emailed, I messaged, I called, I went, but I didn’t have a street number and I gave up. I emailed airbnb about it, and they were predictably slow to respond, leaving me flailing in the wind. I fumed about all these companies that don’t spend two cents on customer service, whose self-help FAQs on their websites are woefully inadequate, that claim they are merely the marketplace and you are on your own, but to my surprise the next day they refunded my payment and gave me a $50 voucher, good for one year. Kudos to you, Airbnb.
     After Kusadasi it was nice to see the natural beauty surrounding Marmaris, but the problem with Marmaris being such a tourist haven is that as you go away from the center, you lose all chance to live like locals do, meaning there is no place where normal Turkish people would eat. Nowhere. I ended up having stale borek from a supermarket. I am always on the lookout for lokantasi (cafeteria) food: white beans or chickpeas in sauce, bulgur, pilav, manti (small ravioli), lentil soup—that’s what my Turkish grandmother would always make for me if I had a Turkish grandmother.
lokantasi food

     White beans, pilav, lentil soup, eggplant, and ayran, a watery yogurt drink, all for 8 lira, about $2.75.


sinigang

     Sinigang?! Adobo is a common Filipino food, but I have never seen sinigang (a kind of soup) outside the Philippines, and why in Kusadasi? Filipino sailors? Can’t be. Mysterious.


gingers

     Look at Marmaris laying down the law! Meanwhile, kids on motorbikes zoom around without helmets while yapping on their cell phones, but you putter about town in your “ginger” and you will face the wrath of Marmaris!


marmaris chairs

     This looks like a setup for a Monty Python skit.


salty skin

     This is what my skin looks like when I come out of the sea and also out of the shower in Turkey.


turkish bus cart

     Two things I had never seen on a bus: a beverage and snack trolley cart normally only seen on airplanes…


turkish bus screen

     …and a rear-seat TV screen, normally only seen on airplanes, though the internet was lacking. I like the movie genre on the lower right: “Fear and Tension!”


     That was the first and last time I took a bus. I hitchhiked thereafter, and in the next blog post you will see the beautiful girl who picked me up (with her boyfriend, but still.) In fact, the next blog post will be more entertaining than this one. Apologies.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
     I flew from Berlin to Izmir for 145 euros one way on Sun Express. If I had waited two more days, it was 99 euros, but I had to get out of Dodge.
     For Americans a Turkish visa is $20 if you prepay online or $30 if you show up without it. When I checked in for the flight, the agent asked to see it, but didn’t ask about an onward ticket.
     If you are going to Ephesus, you can take a train straight from the airport to Selcuk, avoiding the Izmir town altogether. The only downside is you will likely have to stand for the whole hour it takes.
fethiye sunset

     


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Living in Auspicious Times in Berlin, Germany

     Before we get started:
NEWS OF THE YEAR I READ THREE TIMES TO MAKE SURE I WASN’T IMAGINING THINGS

     “…tiny Djibouti said this month it would revamp its previously bankrupt national carrier. The new Air Djibouti will be managed by Iron Maiden rock singer Bruce Dickinson.” (Source: Reuters.)

     Air Djibouti’s new slogan should be “Where every departure is two minutes to midnight.” The last time I saw Bruce Dickinson I got hit in the head with a bottle outside of an Iron Maiden concert. I was taken to the hospital, got five stitches, and then convinced the nurse to drive me back to the show. Even the most hardcore of metalheads kept their distance from the freak in the bloody head bandage and yellow t-shirt with red splotches all over it.
     But I’m not here to talk about me. Oh, wait, this whole website is about me. Anyway, I was in Berlin for the 25th anniversary of the reunification between East and West Germany, a touchier subject among eastern Germans than you might guess. I was in East Berlin twice during the good old days of separation, so I have a long history with it. Nonetheless, is there any argument that Berlin is the most compelling city in Europe? Please let me know if I am mistaken.

hot sheeps cheese

     Right in front of the Brandenburg Gate they put on an all-day show, but this photo is just an excuse to show the “Hot Sheep Cheese” stand, the white tent on the right, which must be the only thing all Germans can agree upon since it was the food closest to the stage.


german langos

     Greasy Hungarian food was well represented on German reunification day. I stopped counting the langos stands after four. All it takes is one heavy Hungarian langos and you can barely move. Hungarian food as crowd control! Genius.


reichstag show

     A short walk away from Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag (Parliament building) where there was another show, but here the police barriers were in full force to keep people at a distance. From a choir. Once those German choir aficionados start feeling it, the mosh pit can get out of hand quickly.


ai weiwei

     In Berlin there was a spotting of Ai Weiwei, and when he got up from his group two of us formed an elaborate pincer movement to corner him. We then had a host of camera problems, but he was good-natured about it. Unfortunately, the distraction meant that others then came over wanting photos. Being famous must be awful because of people like me.


paddy drums

     This is Paddy from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who intends to travel the world playing frying pans and buckets. He was fantastic, a blur of intensity. In a perfect world I would have video here instead, but that perfect world is coming.


mother angela

Mother Angela Merkel, savior of the Syrians…and Iraqis…and Afghanis…and Eritreans…and…


arbeit macht frei

     Arbeit macht frei. (Work will make you free.) I visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp just north of Berlin. Everyone should visit a concentration camp while in Europe, no matter how you know you will feel when it’s over. I’ve been to Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen multiple times. If you are only going to one, though, it has to be Auschwitz.


german burrito

     I saw the Dolores Burrito shop in Wittenbergplatz and I flinched. Normally I am a Mexican food and sushi snob and refuse to eat them outside of their original domain, but I made an exception. Can we say now that burritos are more American than Mexican, and certainly more prevalent? Burritos are to California what doner kebab is to Germany and chicken tikka masala is to England.
     When I walked inside and saw that indeed they meant Dolores St. with a huge map of San Francisco on the wall, I couldn’t resist. Yes, I did have a lime cilantro soy meat burrito. Born and raised in Northern California!


PRACTICAL INFORMATION
     Don’t put chipotle mayo on a burrito.
     A private room on Airbnb can cost the same as a dorm bed in Berlin, but few such people let you book immediately, and for a last-minute person like me, the wait for someone to approve my stay took too long. I ended up at Hotel Big Mama, a hostel near Osloer Strasse, which is perfect if you fly into Tegel Airport as the 128 bus ends right there.
     On the other hand, it almost makes no difference cost-wise where you stay in Berlin since it is likely you are going to buy the 6.90 euro day pass instead of paying 2.70 euros for single tickets. (Going to Sachsenhausen costs a little more.) Berlin is too spread out to do that much walking.
     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

Hitchhiking in Bulgaria to a Sunny Hell

ahtopol flower

     


     Hitchhiking has always been my favorite way of meeting local people. I hitchhiked every day on the Black Sea coast, sometimes out of necessity since buses can be few in low season. Since I am, um, less than fluent in Bulgarian, I’ve had to use a melange of languages to communicate with drivers, none of which I claim to speak, but hitchhiking is a privilege and I am happy to try anything, so I have been dredging up snippets of Swedish, French and often Russian.
     The only time hitchhiking was a struggle was getting around Burgas and as a last resort I velcroed my USA flag on my backpack. It’s a western European technique I use that I wasn’t keen on replicating here, and it worked, but then I forgot to take it off and the next driver was a burly, sneering Russian on vacation with his girlfriend.
     “I no like America,” he started. He wasn’t smiling, as some do when they say this—and plenty of people say this.
     Oh boy, here we go, I thought.
     “America,” he began again, but couldn’t find the words so he made a throat-slashing gesture. “Always war.”
     He asked about the elections next year. I tried to convey that I didn’t like anyone running. He opined, “Clinton is…” and again paused to search through his vocabulary, “…crazy chick.”
bohemi hotel

     I was curious what a Bulgarian holiday resort was like, and I got a last-minute deal that put me on the middle of the top floor here at the Bohemi Hotel in Sunny Beach on the Black Sea Coast, 35km north of Burgas.


     Sunny Beach is spectacularly awful, the true Las Vegas of Bulgaria. However, I had a nice room, modern, centrally located with a big bed, shower, toilet, toilet seat, toilet paper, towel, TV, aircon, AND buffet breakfast for 20 lev, which is $11.50. Thank you, booking.com, for letting me reserve without a credit card, too. (Alas, weak wifi. Serpents in paradise, friends. Serpents in paradise.)
     When I arrived, however, I encountered something I hadn’t planned on: packs of loud British lager louts on holiday. They dominated the bar in the lobby, a swarm of them flirting with the bartender who looked like she had three acre-feet of makeup on her kabuki face. I thought a top floor room would insulate me from the rabble-rousers, but I was wrong. Drinking British are a more formidable presence than Chinese tour groups, and a gang of drunk British women is sheer terror.
bohemi view

     The view from the Bohemi. From here it doesn’t look bad, but go a little farther to the see the soullessness up close. It’s perhaps the only town in Bulgaria that feels like an artificial construct to cater to cheap tourists, so it’s a parade of noisy bars, sex shops, tattoo parlors and carnival food. The beach is churned up and worn with too many umbrellas, paid areas and commotion. Why did I leave my pristine Veleka Beach in Sinemorets again?


nessebar house

     Oddly juxtaposed at the end of Sunny Beach is UNESCO-protected Nessebar with its cozy streets and traditional wood-on-stone houses.


     If a Bulgarian asks for my name, I like to say it is Emil Kostadinov or maybe Yordan Letchkov, which always gets a smile. Who are they? Come on, let’s relive the best of the 1994 soccer World Cup in two short video clips! (This will be painless, I promise.) The first is this 13-second link to Letchkov’s spectacular header against mighty Germany, so out of the blue, that Letchkov became an instant hero that lasted for years, or at least until he was embroiled in numerous corruption scandals as mayor of his hometown.
     This second video is so good. It’s the last thirty seconds of France vs. Bulgaria, the final day of qualifying for the World Cup. All France had to do was sit on the ball and they were going through, but David Ginola lofted a dumb cross from the corner, and a ten seconds later Luboslav Penev made a perfect pass to Emil Kostadinov, which is below. (As only the British can do well, there is an engrossing back story to the day’s events. Penev and Kostadinov had to sneak across the French border before the match because the Bulgarian football federation forgot to apply for their visas.)
     The result was that Bulgaria qualified for the World Cup at France’s expense. The French commentary in the video adds to “la cauchemar” (the nightmare) as you see written on the bottom. I was watching this live on TV in Hungary with Peter Nagy in his home. A family member or two might have awoken in my celebration on a school night, but they still invite me back.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION
     These are some Bulgarian websites a friend recommended to find a cheap private room or hotel room. What I like is that they give complete info about the place and you can contact them yourself.
     http://pochivka.bg/ (It is better to use the Bulgarian version and use Google Translate because the English version, bgstay.com, doesn’t have a way to sort by price.)
     http://www.vipoferta.bg/
     http://bghotelite.com/
     http://www.kvartiri.ltd.bg/
backpack lock trick

     This might be considered extreme since I had my own room with my own key, but in Sunny Beach I locked the zippers of my backpack to the TV cord. I always lock the zippers of my backpack in dorms and even airbnb places, too, since you don’t always know who is coming and going.


     Why don’t you stay with me? You can follow along with RSS, subscribe to an email feed, see what’s cooking on Facebook, pray that I’ll say something worth remembering on Twitter and if you are really slumming it, there’s always Google+. (I’ll follow you back!)

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