Tips For Improving Your Travel Experience – Anywhere – Anytime

Travel tips

Here are 27 quick tips to make world travel better. What are your quick tips for world travelers?
1) Say hi to other people who are traveling
2) Don’t flash your bling
3) Catch a cab and talk to the driver about cool things to do (Cabbies are almost always multi-lingual)
4) Scan a picture of your passport and give it to someone you trust
5) Get a nice padlock and use it when necessary (It takes two to steal: the thief and the one who left an opportunity)
6) Wear long pants during long transport
7) Look at the mattress…know what bedbugs look like
8) Stay where you get breakfast for free
9) Make sure hot water is included
10) Find paperback exchanges

Travel Tips

11) Stay longer and get cheaper room rates
12) Fill out your couchsurfing profile completely
13) Look for free fruit on the trees
14) Look for language exchanges
15) Don’t leave your phone in your room
16) Bring your own condoms
17) Don’t get so drunk you can’t take care of yourself
18) Trust your instincts about people
19) Eat the local food
20) Always ask for a second price
21) Don’t wander around alone late at night
22) Don’t give up your passport
23) Bring your valuables to the shower with you in a hostel
24) Eat lots of cheese if you get diarrhea
25) A handful of nuts makes hunger go away
26) Get a haircut and a shave (or a wax and a style)

What are your quick tips for world travel?

The Glaoui (Glaoua) Palace in Fes, Morocco

Slightly outside of the UNESCO classified Fes Medina, you will probably miss something extraordinary, unless you take the time to go and look for it. The Dar al Glaoui, the Glaoui Palace, a crumbling reminder that power is fleeting.

While a lot of people mention Paul Bowles novel, The Sheltering Sky as the ultimate in capturing the essence of Morocco, for me, it was a different book that succeeded in capturing not only the Moroccan mentality, but also the soul of the country itself. Gavin Maxwell’s Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua 1893-1956 is perhaps the ultimate in coming to understand Morocco.

Consider this review from The Library Journal

British author Maxwell accomplishes the twofold task of detailing the daily life, customs, and rituals in pre-independence Morocco and of recounting the rise and fall of El Hadj T’hani El Glaoui, the legendary tribal warlord through whom the French ruled one of their prize colonies in North Africa. Maxwell, who died in 1969, considered himself an explorer and wrote of faraway places; here he introduces readers to the harshness and beauty of Morocco. He shows how the blend of Berber, Arab, and black African races created an extraordinary cultural mosaic and explains how the French colonialists recruited the Atlas Mountain tribal warlords to subdue the other tribes.

As the chief beneficiary of this policy, El Glaoui was able to rule most of southern Morocco in an absolute fashion, until Morocco’s independence from France in 1956 brought an end to the rule of a very colorful warlord.

At times it is necessary to remind yourself that not only is this a true story, but that most of the events portrayed took place in the 1900’s! It is a fantastic account of the power behind the French Protectorate, and a reminder that politics has always been a filthy business. Anyone planning a visit, or who has been to Morocco, especially the Glaoui kasbahs of the High Atlas, should read this book, as should fans of bloody, political intrigue.

I should point out though that the book has more than a few critics who generally say something like this: “If you want a book singing the praises of a few thugs who made good during the French mandate (Primarily on prostitution) A book filled with unsupported (And frankly slanderous) comments, a book written by a man who clearly doesn’t know the first thing about Morocco, Islam or Arab culture and a book that’s basically a rip off from someone else’s then this really is the book for you. ”

After all that, hands down, this is my favorite touristic destination in Fes. It’s not as well kept as the Batha Museum, not as grand and glorious as the Karaouyine Mosque, not as stinky or touristic as the famous Fez tanneries, but there is something truly awe inspiring in this famous, decrepit but still beautiful house.

The palace is owned by 14 families who have fallen on hard times in Marrakech and France but is lived in and taken care of by Abdou, an artist. He was born there and lives there with his sister. He is the third generation born there and while not a Glaoui, he is happy to be there and try to keep it from falling in on itself.

The palace is generally closed to the public but usually open to the public via Abdou and his sister who are happy to show you around the 150-year-old palace comprised of 17 houses, stables, a mausoleum and cemetery, Quranic school, hammam, garages and two large gardens. While generally the tour is composed of seeing a few salons, the haram, the massive kitchen and a few of the courtyards, it is possible to see a bit more if you are careful and polite and the weather lines up for you.

Apparently, the palace complex is for sale for several million dollars. A steal for anyone who gets it since it would be like owning your own miniature al-Hambra (which it was actually designed after). The entire house is a masterpiece of painted wood, zellij (mosaic tile), carved wood, fountains, and also the first modern bathroom to ever be built in North Africa complete with original plumbing.

If you do buy it – try to get a few of Abdou’s paintings thrown in. Total hidden treasure. I would tell you how to get there, but it would be a waste of time, because you would get lost and have to ask someone anyway – so, just go to Batha and start asking people how to find Abdou and the Glaoui Palace – they’ll know exactly where you mean.

Exploring San Francisco from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge

In 2013, I emigrated my family to the USA. We landed in San Francisco, a city I have loved since I first visited it in 1976 when I was 5 years old. We were unable to find a way to live in SF because of the insane cost of housing, but have gone back many times and will continue to do so. 

In all the cities that I’ve travelled, there are some that stand out as extraordinary more than others. A few come to mind right away Istanbul, Rome, Paris, New York City, Barcelona, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Honolulu, Fez, and of course, San Francisco.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a rich and interesting history, a vibrant culture, and for a city which is so young – an amazing amount of things to do and incredible things to eat. San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and you can find restaurants ranging from classic 1930s diners to Punjab, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lao, Indian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Bulgarian, Basque, and there’s probably even a Martian restaurant somewhere in Fremont…in short, San Francisco offers more than just something for everyone – it offers many things to everyone.

San Francisco, California

My wife is still a new immigrant to the USA and while our four years together have taught her much about my culture and people, there was still something that she seemed to not understand – the dark underbelly of America – the poverty and homelessness. When you grow up on the other side of the planet watching rich people on television and hearing everyone dream of the promised land – it’s hard to understand that America is filled with homelessness, drug problems, the mentally ill, and prostitution. Aside from places like Detroit and Philadelphia, there may be no better place to witness this than San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

 

The Tenderloin has always been a rough place, in fact, the name comes from back in the days when police officers were given a bonus for patrolling the most dangerous part of the city – a bonus which allowed them to purchase better cuts of meat for dinner from the butcher – the tenderloin cuts. Today, the Tenderloin is still a place that it’s not advisable to wander through after dark – during the daylight hours hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeless and crazy people wander the streets, sleep on the sidewalks, and openly use drugs.

San Francisco, California

This was, of course, where I decided it would be a good idea for us to stay. Before you start cursing me under your breath, I should point out that I booked us into the COVA Hotel on Ellis Street, a four star boutique hotel that offers amazing service, comfort, and value right in the heart of the city. The hotel was superb with fantastic views of the city, a free breakfast service that included fresh fruit, waffles, and more and that the staff took great care of us while we were there. Our room was quiet, cool, comfortable, and, in fact, it was hard to recognize that twenty feet to either side of the hotel we would encounter homeless drug addicts and mentally ill street people. Most guests chose to use the hotel’s free shuttles which took them directly to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, or Union Square and back. Not us though.

San Francisco, California

Our walks took us past the people of the streets – my poor wife was terrified, but I felt like it was important that she be exposed to this aspect of America. One tall black man with crazy eyes said “You look like a little nun!” – “I’m a Muslim!” she responded, clasping my arm. “Oh, well you look like a nun,” he told her. Thank you Crazy-Eyes. You can take a homeless tour of the Tenderloin on Vayable, run by a homeless man named Milton…we didn’t do that, but may in the future.

San Francisco, California

My friend Joshua points out that Palm Springs has no homeless people and offers no homeless services but San Francisco offers lots of services and so has lots of homeless. It’s a fair point. America should be ashamed of this problem. Herewith, I offer a solution.

 

The government should buy all the houses in Detroit that are selling on Ebay for $500 – maintain them, and offer them to the homeless. Offer free services, job training, food, and healthcare in Detroit and only in Detroit. Offer free transport to Detroit. Close down all the other services in all the other cities and start works programs that give people who want to stay in other cities jobs and cheap housing – no job, no housing – off to Detroit with you. We can’t make Detroit any worse and we can certainly make other cities better. My family once owned all of downtown Detroit in the 1800s. My fourth great grandfather was the Mayor of Detroit. Maybe if they move all the crazies there, I can be the Mayor of Detroit too…

But, back to San Francisco. Our walks took us out of the Tenderloin and into Little Saigon where Hanane had her first bowl of Pho. I had forgotten just how delightful Pho can be. Oh man, it is sooooo good. Little Saigon is San Francisco’s ‘newest’ neighborhood and borders the Tenderloin. From there, we walked to Union Square and marvelled at the corner where Levi Strauss, sold the first pair of Levi’s to miner forty-niners back during the Gold Rush. The first Levi’s 501 jeans were created in the 1890’s and people all over the world still wear them. That’s some classic fashion! Strauss used sailcloth from the abandoned ships in San Francisco harbor (because many ships made a one-way trip to the Gold Rush), dyed the cloth blue, and re-enforced the stress points with rivets. It was the merchants who sold to the miner’s who made the enduring fortunes.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

Union Square itself got it’s name from the pro-Union rallyies that were held there during the American Civil War. The beautiful golden statue called “Victory” that commemorates President McKinley and lost sailors was modeled on a San Francisco Beauty named Alma de Bretteville. While she was wooed by many, she went where the money was piled highest and married a sugar baron named Adolph Spreckles who was 25 years her senior – the newspaper’s at the time mocked the union, calling Spreckles her ‘Sugar Daddy’ – which is where the term originates. The couple built the largest home in Pacific Heights which today is the home of author Danielle Steele. One of my personal heroes, Jack London, used to attend parties at the Spreckles mansion. She was one of the most influential art collectors in the USA and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Fine Art’s Museum was one of her pet projects – she also brought a number of Rodin sculptures to the city which are still there. The Legion of Honor sits high on the headland’s above the Golden Gate Bridge…

And this is where I will stop for now. We’ve gone from the poorest to the richest and from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge. More soon to come…

San Francisco, California

Ah, one last word about Alma Spreckles – she started a chain of thrift-shops to help the poor, they were eventually turned over to her favorite charitable organization – The Salvation Army – which is why the Salvation Army operates thrift stores all over the United States….including the one in the Tenderloin which also operates a shelter there…it’s astounding how everything is connected if you know where to look. Crazy-Eyes gets his meals and bed from the woman on the statue in Union Square…

Great thanks to SanFrancisco.Travel for providing so many great resources and fantastic information for our trip. More to come soon….

The Enchanted Forest Theme Park of Oregon #FlashbackFriday

Back in 2016, I finally had the chance to take my wife and daughter to The Enchanted Forest. A wonderfully quirky and crumbling roadside attraction that still doesn’t charge you college tuition for a few hours of theme park enjoyment. As we sit here on Maui where even the worst attractions cost you $30 per person, I have a great appreciation for this place looking back. 

Enchanted Forest Oregon

I cannot count the number of times I’ve driven by The Enchanted Forest theme park – just south of Portland next to Interstate 5 – it’s a roadside attraction that has called out to me for my entire life…The theme park, built by highway worker Roger Tofte was built the year I was born – and being a west coast kid who used to answer the question “Where are you from?” with “I-5” – it seems to have always been there – which for me it has…finally, earlier this year, I decided it was time to stop – as we walked through the slightly decaying concrete ‘amusement’ park – I felt a creepy sense of familiarity that told me I must have come there as a child…it was like walking back into a house you had lived in which had gone from bright and shiny new to moldy and falling down…the rides were a half step up from a county fair and the concrete storybook and Alice in Wonderland structures all felt like stepping back into the Disneyland of the 1950s – homemade attractions painted brightly but faded.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

The log ride is the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest (not a region known for amusement parks, I am afraid) and the western town and English village are fun. The whole thing is fun, actually – I don’t want to sound like a wet Nelly in my description. And the price is right – that’s for sure. Right around $10 to get in and then additional fees for the rides. We were there early in the season and the park was not fully staffed or crowded.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

The history of the park is part of what makes me love it. A highway worker bought the land for $4000 and built it one bag of concrete at a time. It’s the kind of thing that would be impossible now, but in the 1960s we weren’t living in such a regulated society and people could decide to build amusement parks, castles, or ski resorts and do it on a dime…if Walt Disney tried to build Disneyland today…it just wouldn’t happen. Roger Tofte built the park and continued to build. His children, and now his grandchildren continue the work. What started as a hobby…is now a 45 year old icon along the Interstate 5. It is worth the price of admission.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

Enchanted Forest is the kind of place that everyone can enjoy….it’s also the kind of place that can be written about tongue in cheek over and over because I’m not sure there is anyplace on the planet filled with more innuendo…I mean look, it’s not an over the top phallus filled piece of land like The Penis Park but there is a lot of adult fun to be had in The Enchanted Forest that the kids just won’t even notice…have fun there…but not as much fun as the writers of this Portland Mercury piece had…they may have gone too far.

Enchanted Forest Oregon

Enchanted Forest Oregon

Camping Oregon’s Sunset Beach State Park in October

My Volkswagen Vanagon went into the shop yesterday for some much needed repairs – in celebration of that, I’m going to post this memory of  our first camping trip in her from back in October of 2016. My goodness, how far we’ve come since then. 

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

Oregon’s weather is always a danger when you plan a camping trip and if you plan it in October at a state campground on the coast like Sunset  Beach State Park- the danger is magnified quite a lot.

 

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

Despite hot sunny days the week before, as we came close to our first planned outing in our new Vanagon (which we named Misefrou) the forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain. I’d been stowing gear in the van for two weeks and getting everything ready…I’d bought an Add-a-Room tent from Bus Depot and installed our old school Coleman refrigerator ice box. One block of ice keeps it going fr 4-5 days. It’s a great piece of gear. We had a propane burner and a butane burner – plenty of food and snacks, three heavy pendleton wool blankets, cook gear, folding camp chairs, a little teak table with detachable legs, a nice carpet to sit on in the add-a -room, games, my ukulele, and I made sure to put the girl’s sleeping bags in. We had a lantern and a couple of battery powered lights. I had my solar panel charger for our phones.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

To keep things simple, I left Hanane out of the planning and told the girls to each pack a bag with clothes that could be worn in layers, toothbrushes, and a book.

I forgot a couple of things I never used to be without…my swiss army knife (with can opener) was in my other bag – so to open cans I had to resort to grinding the top of the can off on concrete – easier than it sounds and effective, but not ideal or as easy as a can opener. I also forgot to pack my sleeping bag! I didn’t bring my water bottle, which was a mistake because I didn’t hydrate nearly enough, and I didn’t bring a sponge or dishcloth for washing dishes. In addition, it would have been nice to bring a coloring book and crayons for Sophia and to buy firewood before leaving home because the tiny $5 bundles of firewood in the camp tend to burn like shit – green and not at all seasoned properly.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

 

The add a room was awesome – heavy and bulky, not terrible to set up but not more than a 15-20 minute job.  If you have the space for it and the time to set it up – it doubles the size of a van. Hanane brought sheets which was nice, but they were that clingy polyester cotton blend, I think they call it cottonelle – not a good fit for a van or camping…or even for a bed in my opinion. I like cotton linen sheets and not much else. Lucky for us, it was not raining on the day we arrived – a little cold, but dry to set up the add a room. It rained at night which was alright, we had a little fire and got an early night’s rest – for about two hours.

Sunset Beach campground does not offer much in the way of privacy between camp sites…in fact, despite the beautiful surroundings, I wouldn’t go back unless it was a group camping experience with friends and family filling an entire section of the camp – we had empty spaces around us when we arrived but the neighbors from hell showed up at about 10pm. I’d put the curtain up in front of the van so the headlights shining in when they backed their tent trailer into their space weren’t that big a deal. The man was yelling at his wife to be louder as she directed him – she said  ” I don’t want to wake those people up, they are right there” of course we were already awake so I got to hear Mr. Asshole scream ” I don’t care if I wake them up” – Oh great. They had two couples in the tent trailer and someone sleeping in the car. At 2am the person in the car accidentally set off the car alarm and so we had flashing brights and honking horn in our face for five minutes while he tried to wake the deep sleeper in the  tent trailer (Mr. Asshole) to shut off the alarm. Then it happened again.  They woke up at 5am to go crabbing and woke us up again.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

Day 2 was lovely. We hiked the coastline from Sunset Beach to Shore Acres State Park Botanical Gardens. The coastline was stunning and we had a picnic at Shore Acres. Back to camp and it was starting to drizzle a bit. We bought more wood and tried to have a fire, but the green wood wouldn’t burn hot and we decided to go to bed. The RV campers nearby had their gas generator fired up so they could watch a game and the expensive RV buses on the other side must have been searching for it as we watched their Satellite dish spinning and spinning like it was on the Mars Rover. So, we went to bed hearing bar-room cheers and soothing sound of a gas generator over the noises of nature which presumably might have still been there. The rain on the roof of the van blocked all that out finally.

 

It rained heavily. Hanane decided she didn’t like the upstairs bed – which is okay. It took me a while in my old bus to adapt to sleeping in a pop top. The rain stopped in the morning after breakfast.  We tried to dry off the add-a-room as we packed it, but it will need to be air dried on the next sunny day. It was nice that the rain let up while we packed up. It started again as we drove off.

Sunset Bay Beach Park Oregon

 

It was a good test run. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Sophia proved herself ready for the ukulele and for learning to play chess. Lessons learned by me:

  1. Bring my Swiss Army Knife
  2. Bring water bottles for the whole family
  3. Cotton sheets or no sheets at all – also bring pillows
  4. Make sure the campground offers privacy between sites
  5. BYO Firewood

Camping has changed a lot since I was a kid. Campgrounds used to be full of families setting up tents, having fires, doing fun outdoorsy things, playing games, and stuff like that. Campgrounds now are filled with mostly far too expensive mobile homes, trailers, and 5th wheels mostly filled with retirees and seniors and instead of the old school camping activities…it is people sitting in their recliners watching TV in their home on wheels. I, personally, think that sucks but like the election of 2016 – there isn’t anything we can do about it.

 

 

7 Must-See Temples in Singapore

Singapore is a magnificent modern city filled with things to do and places to see, but you might be surprised to find that this modern melting pot holds many wonderful mosques and temples too.

First of all, I should tell you that Singapore is an easy place to get around. Once you arrive, everyone there speaks English, it’s modern, it’s clean and the mass rail transit or MRT has 87 stations and nearly 90 miles of tracks. Add to that an efficient bus and taxi system and you should have no problem finding these 7 kickass  sacred Singapore sites.

1) Abdul Gaffoor Mosque – this is an amazing South Indian style mosque built from 1891 to 1919. With it’s pointy minarets and onion dome- this mosque is breathtaking to behold. It’s located on Dunlop Street in the heart of Little India.

Abdul Gaffoor Mosque

2) Hallaj Fatima Mosque is located on Beach Road and was completed in 1846. While not as impressive as many of the mosques I’ve seen, Hallaj Fatima Mosque has two oddities that drew me to it. First, it leans about 6 degrees off center and second, it has a bizarre minaret that looks more like a church steeple.

Hallaj Fatima Mosque

3) Sultan Mosque – heading to Muscat Street you find the Sultan Mosque which was finished in 1928. To me, this is a classical fairy tale Indian mosque which makes sense when you realize it was built  in a distinctive Saracenic style with pointy minarets, extensive balustrades, and gilded features.

Sultan Mosque Singapore

4) Godess of Mercy Temple – The Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho was built in 1884 and is dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. While Guanyin is the primary diety of the temple there are others and no shortage of joss sticks or unique Chinese temple style. This temple is famous for it’s fortune telling with wooden sticks. It also provides fortune telling in English.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho

5) Sri Mariammamn Temple is Singapores oldest Hindu temple. It is located at 244 South Bridge Road and you will recognize it, don’t worry, just look for the tall and colorful entrance tower (gopuram) filled with Hindu dieties. It dates back to 1827 but has been modified and enlarged several times since then. Sri Mariammamn is a South Indian mother-goddess. Once inside find the Lingnam and Yoni (penis and vagina) sculptures which are not as easy to spot as in some temples and parks I’ve visited.

Sri Mariammamn Temple singapore

6) Sri Veerama- Kaliaaman Temple is located inside Singapore’s Little India. It is dedicated to Kali, the wife of Shiva, also known as “She Who Destroys”. Kali is a tantric goddess and while she is revered as a mother goddess, she is also the goddess of death. Inside you can find plenty of sculptures and paintings of her ripping people and gods apart.

Sri Veerama- Kaliaaman Temple singapore

7) Thian Hock Keng Temple is a taoist temple dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea. It was built in the 1830’s and is an amazing masterpiece of the classical Southern Chinese temple style. Within are an abundance of peacock, lion, roses, and buddhist swastika icons and sculptures. The curly dragons on the green tiled roof will mark this for you on Telok Ayer Street in Singapore.

Thian Hock Keng Temple

#FlashbackFriday #vanlife on Oahu in 2004

#vanlifeThis is the story of me living in a van on Oahu in 2004. You can read a bit about it in a letter I wrote to the Honolulu Advertiser at the time –  Down and Out on the Island of Oahu

A bit of context here so that my Hawaii timeline makes sense. I arrived for the first time in Hawaii in October of 2001. 16 months later, I moved from the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel to Punalu’u on the Windward Side of Oahu for a failed experiment that ended up like a modern and less deadly Lord of the Flies. I fled from that mess to Kauai where I bought a rustbucket VW van and lived on the beach in Kapaa for thirteen months before going to the Philippines for three months after which I came back to Kauai until October of 2003 when I sold my rust bucket and followed a flight attendant I’d fallen for to Portland, Oregon where I tried to impress her by showing that an island boy could become a stock broker – it turned out that I liked being an island boy better and she knew enough drunk miserable guys in suits anyway – during that time I wrote my first book Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond – my publisher suggested that I do a promotion tour (and all the promotion) so I took my old VW van (not the rustbucket), left the brokerage, and spent the next five months drinking heavily and shilling my book to anyone who I talked to. It turned out my efforts led to a lot of interest – unfortunately, this was the early days of e-books and my publisher hadn’t protected the book and it ended up on a number of free download sites where it was downloaded tens of thousands of times while providing no revenue to me – the print version sold about a thousand copies which yielded me about $500 in the inequitable publishing deal I’d signed. I found myself in a lonely relationship with a girl who was gone more than she was home (not the flight attendant, by the way) – I tried my hand at commercial salmon fishing in the Puget Sound made enough money to book a flight back to Oahu, traded my VW van for a laptop and $500 (one of the stupidest decisions I’ve made but at the time it made sense) and came back to Honolulu where I bought another shitty van and was determined to write my first novel – which eventually became Slackville Road. Here is the excerpt from my Blogspot blog of the time.

 

June 25, 2004
Alright…I can’t resist. I’m living in a van again. This time on the island of Oahu. I got the van for $175. It’s a plymouth voyager and it seems to have fuel injection problems. It gets me where I need to go though, so far. I’m having a hard time sleeping at night. maybe because it’s an island, it’s a littel different than my old VW days.

The main annoyances….there are no parking signs everywhere mostly 10PM to 7AM, Hawaiians love to play loud music and have impromptu parties in marinas and parks without no parking signs. I tend to avoid drunken gatherings of big Samoans, Hawaiians, Tongans, and Filipinos. People in neighborhoods are so fucking healthy, they wake up at 5AM and start raking leaves, running, watering plants, etc) which makes it hard to sleep in a van undetected.People actually know each other in neighborhoods here, so I stand out…people look and say “Who is that guy in the van?” not like the mainland where no one knows anyone else.

Despite all of that, I’m figuring it out. I generally sleep in two stages, moving at least once during the night. In the day, I make coffee in the van, swim, shower at the beach, go for a sunrise run (yeah, I’m healthy too!), read for a while, then go to the library where I work on my novel. One very cool thing is wifi…I can use peoples internet from my van with my laptop. Very cool. I usually buy what I want to eat and then cook it. Why have extra. All in all. Life is pretty good. Hopefully, I can get my van fixed soon, the fuel injectors seem to be going out…crapola.Hawaii Hammock Time

This van phase lasted for a couple more months before it became too depressing and awful. During my time living in a van in Hawaii, I explored constantly and found plenty of great spots to string up my hammock. I worked odd jobs with a lot of them being in labor, construction, and television. I found a niche in the growing reality TV market as a productions assistant, location scout, and casting assistant. I’m ashamed to admit that I got several paychecks from The Apprentice. No one ever knew that I was homeless unless I told them. Towards the end of 2004 though, it had become too much. It was time for me to rent a place of my own. I had briefly rented a basement room in Portland while I was a stockbroker, but other than that, I hadn’t paid rent in nearly three years.

I found an awesome little studio in Kailua for $900/month and got hired as a private tour guide by Carey Hawaii, a high end limousine company. I had to have a suit for the job and (true story) found one that almost fit me in a thrown out suitcase next to a storage unit dumpster. It was close enough to my size that I had it tailored for $50. The tailor told me it was an $800 suit and admired the quality. From that time forward, I’ve had my name on a lease whenever I’ve lived in Hawaii. Hawaii might sound like a great place to be homeless, but it’s not. I got lucky on Kauai with an amazing place to park where no one would harass me, but on Oahu – it was awful.

A few years later when Twitter came along  in 2007 (I’ve always been a very early adopter), I was regularly using the hashtags #vanliving and #vanlife as I promoted my books. I was among the first to use those particular hashtags, maybe even the first.

Vago Christopher Damitio
I never looked homeless when I was homeless.

Since I’ve given the rest of my timeline in Hawaii, I might as well finish – in 2006, my girlfriend (then fiance) and I rented a lovely little cottage in Lanikai and then for work and school we moved to a place on the Punchbowl. When our relationship fell apart – I found a perfect little 1-bedroom in Manoa where I lived until I graduated in December of 2008. After that, I left Hawaii to wander around the world until mid-2013 when I moved myself, my wife, and our 18 month old daughter from Morocco to Reedsport, Oregon. We were there until 2017 when we moved to Honolulu and have been living in the Salt Lake Neighborhood.

I enjoyed most of my time living in vans in the Pacific Northwest and on Kauai – but I never want to live in a van again unless I own a piece of property I can park it on. The sad reality is that when I was living the #vanlife, there weren’t many people doing it and it was possible to blend in – at least a little. It’s not the case today – there are so many older folks and people without options who have moved into their vehicles – they are all a half step from being on the streets with no shelter – all it takes is a breakdown, an impound, or too many tickets. I love seeing all the nomadic millenials living the van lifestyle with their $20k Westphalia vanagons and their Mercedes Sprinter vans – the truth is – van living is a great thing when you are in your twenties. It’s great when you are young and beautiful and able to do yoga in the park at sunrise each day – but there’s nothing beautiful about a person in their forties living in a vehicle.

The Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia – Flashback Friday

In 2012, we took a trip back to Turkey from Morocco to see friends and visit places we hadn’t had the opportunity to visit when we worked there as teachers in 2010 and 2011. Cappadoccia was one of those places. While we were there we stayed in beautiful rock hewn palaces, took hot air balloons over the surreal landscape, explored the open air museums of Goreme and even explored an ancient underground city – yes, we climbed 85 meters down into a deep cave with our infant on our backs – my wife looks like a mommy version of Laura Croft (Tomb Raider) in some of these pics. As I look at this now, I’m awestruck with the memory and reality of that place and very underwhelmed by my old Pentax photos – it’s astounding how much better photos with an iphone are…below is the original post…..

Derikuyu City Underground CappadocciaYou might think that the world is all discovered, all explored, and all figured out. You might be right, but I doubt it – people have thought that for a long time, but as recently as 1963 one of the world’s most amazing discoveries came to light in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Was it found by a team of intrepid archeologists? Nope. Was it found by a group of explorers or spelunkers? Nope. It was found by a guy who wanted to knock down a wall of his house and build a better one. He knocked the wall down – and found a room behind it. And then another room, and another – in fact, he found one of the largest underground city complexes the world has ever known. He found the Derinkuyu Underground City.

Even today, the full extent of the underground city is unknown. Archaeologists have penetrated as far as 40 meters beneath the surface but they suspect that the city goes much further down – to a depth of 85 meters. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the height of the statue of liberty and the pedestal it stands on which is 91 meters combined. So far, there have been 20 levels discovered. Visitors, like us, are allowed into the first eight levels. Less than 10% of the total that has been explored is open to the public. I can tell you first hand – that 10% is vast.

At full capacity, the city, built by the Hittites sometime around 14 centuries before the common era (that’s before Christ without Christ or B.C.E) , could house between 3000 to 10,00 people, their livestock, and their possessions. As I said, the full extent of the city is still unknown and some scholars believe that it is actually connected to other underground cities in the region by tunnels that stretch for miles!

It’s not as outlandish as it may sound as there has already been one such tunnel discovered which stretches 8 km (about 4 miles) to another underground city, Kaymakli near Nevsehir. When you consider that there are at least 200 underground cities that have been discovered thus far in the region… the possibilities become incredibly fascinating.

 

Derikuyu City Underground CappadocciaWhile it’s fun to think of thousands of people living underground like ants, most historians suggest that the cities were built for defensive purposes and were never meant for long term inhabitation of a large population. For short periods, Derinkuyu is large enough for 10,000 people (though some say it is large enough for 50,000) . On the day we were there, it felt like it was pushing pretty close to that. Tour buses arrive constantly and since the entire city isn’t open to the public, they are all crammed into the same sections. Luckily the ventilation systems designed by the ancients are incredibly effective although there was actually a bit of panic when groups coming down to the 8th level wouldn’t make way for groups who wanted to get back up to the top. The galleries began filling with people and at one point a woman actually began to scream. Finally, the guides managed to make the way clear and there was an exodus for the exit eight levels above.

One thing we didn’t have explained to us was where all those people used the toilet – we had to go back up to ground level for that, which, when you think about it, was a relief. Pun fully intended.

To get to the Derinkuyu Underground City, you will need to go to the above ground city of Derinkuyu which is about 40 km from Goreme. While there are about 600 doors to get in the underground city, as a visitor you will need to wait in line and buy a ticket. Your best bet is to hire a tour from Goreme or Uchisar.

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Flashback Friday: My 2008 Walk Around Oahu’s Perimeter

In 2008, I decided to walk all the way around the island of Oahu. Here is my record of that. I’ll add a Saturday Slideshow tomorrow with more pictures from my walk. It was awesome. Maybe I’ll do it again. (It’s funny to note how much I took with me – today, I would go with about 1/3 of the equipment/clothing I took then – no wonder my bag was so heavy).

Oahu So okay, I think I’m ready for this…today I made an aluminum can backpacker stove. I’ve got my gear list and I have made sure it all fits in one bag. It’s a little more gear than I wanted, but I can always get rid of stuff on the way. Here is the full list of everything:
Dakine backpack
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of boardshorts
3 t-shirts
1 pair of pants
Sarong (for use as towel, etc)
Hiking shoes
slippers
Thermarest ground pad
light sleeping bag
mess kit including knife, spoon, mini can opener
homemade tin can stove and heet for fuel
2 glow sticks
notepad and two pens
camera and extra batteries
cup (plus screen and press for coffee which fit inside the cup)
harmonica
toothbrush and toothpaste
light first aid kit including sunscreen, chapstick, and some moleskin
hand crank radio/cellphone charger
trusty old nokia phone
matches and lighter
plus not pictured:
A little bit of cash and my ID
beenie
sunglasses
coffee
oatmeal
nuts and raisons
water bottle

I can set off tomorrow at 9am and update on the left sidebar of this site by cellphone. I’m trying to work out how to post pics from the phone but so far, I can’t quite get it. Now, I just have to walk 130 miles or so. No problem.

Oahu is the least appreciated of all the Hawaiian Islands, but as far as I’m concerned it is the most wonderful. Not just because it has Honolulu, Waikiki, and the North Shore but because it holds so many beautiful secrets for those who care to look for them. I decided to walk the perimeter of Oahu, a 130 mile trek that I could find no reference of having been done in modern times. (Note actually 227 when walking the shoreline)

OahuReflecting on my travels.
Well, nothing goes off without a hitch. It’s one of the first rules of vagabonding. So let’s start with the learning experiences. 1) I forgot that this backpack isn’t so great for long trips. I knew this, but I forgot it. Now I remember it. I’ve shifted the load so it’s bearable and am taking breaks as needed to quell the sharp pains in the right side of my neck.

2) My homemade stove works great for boiling water, but the capacity to cook for longer than that is troubling, plus it causes a huge amount of soot…solution eat things that require no cooking or only boiling. Wash frequently.
3) Most troubling, the gizmo I was planning on charging my cellphone with isn’t really doing the job, solution, tweet and text less until I can find one of those AA battery zap chargers.
4) My right ankle apparenttly is lower than my left and its been aching on the edge of my shoe- I just got some Dr. Scholls insoles and used them to raise my right foot a little higher. Problem solved I think.
5) I had planned on uploading my digital pics from the library but the computers are far too slow…so I’ll have to wait. One other thing…ball chaffing…ouch. Not real sure to do about that one except grimace and bear it. Oh yeah, and my pohne labels all my pictures as Xmas! haha.
Okay, now for the good stuff.

Started yesterday at 9:05 from Manoa Sinclair Library. Walked to Waikiki, through Waikiki, past Diamond Head by beach only, through Kahala, Aina Haina, and Hawaii Kai and then camped in a stellar spot with incredible moonlit views. Light rain woke me at midnight and I walked to Sandy’s where I laid on the sand and star gazed at that gorgeous moon some more. Woke up, made coffee and oatmeal, then walked to Waimanalo where I found amazing hidden beaches, met cool tatoo covered people and beautiful local girls, then walked onwards to Kailua

OahuI’m spending the day at the Malakahana campground and it is totally freaking cool. Walked up to Kahuku high school and public library to use the computers and check email.

Looks like I’m not missing anything though I did get to find out that I recieved a scholarship for fall and passed all my classes for spring. I got a C in 4th level arabic, so I can add that to my other two C’s in Karate and Drawing (I can draw, really, just not the way that teacher wanted me to…as to Karate…well, I’m more of a multi-style guy). So that’s two big reliefs.

I’ve been giving some thought to this walk as I walk. At first I was really in a hurry to get through it so I could get to work for Oahu Nature Tours, but as I walk, I realize, I may never do this again so it is a total shame to hurry through it. That’s partly why I am taking a day to get a little R and R at Malakahana.

The second reason is that the past couple of days really kicked my ass. My feet are angry, the chafing is even worse, and man did I need to let my clothes dry out, wash my shirts, and just kind of enjoy where I’m at for a bit.

I admit, it’s hard not hitting the road right away. A big part of me is like ”’go-go-go”, but I think this is the way to do it. It also gives anyone out there who has considered walking with me a chance to start on Saturday and enjoy Oahu’s beautiful North Shore.
Also, I would be totally stoked if friends came and camped with me tonight- even if they don’t want to walk.

People keep asking me what my cause is or why I’m not doing this for a cause. Does everything have to be for a cause these days? Maybe the cause is more profound than a disease or a charity. Maybe my cause is sublime. Maybe the universe has a cause for me doing this that I’m not privy too. In any event, I’m meeting a ton of people, enjoying this amazing aina, and learning a new respect and love for this place I live. I think that’s cause enough.

Oahu5/28/08
The Walk Around Oahu is Completed

Since the last time I sat at a computer here is a brief summary of what went down with my walk around Oahu. I twittered most of it but I suppose that is lost in the twitterverse. Here also are a few photos that I took during the last portions of my walk when the camera on my phone failed.

On Day 5, my friends came up to Malakahana and camped with me. It was relzxing, fun, and interesting. I have to admit that being on the road and spending a lot of time in my own head probably affects me more than I often realize. Did a little nighttime swimming and really enjoyed the camp and the company.

DAY 6 I left at about noon and walked fairly constantly until I reached Pupukea and Sharks Cove. When I was there I grabbed a beer and a bottle of gatorade and rested my feet for a while. Then I began to walk towards Haleiwa to get some dinner.
The Lost incident. This was the only unpleasant encounter I had with another human being on the entire trip. I knew the Lost beach was somewhere around Haleiwa but wasn’t sure and I wanted to get off the road so I walked around a gate and onto a dirt road that looked like it led to the water. Within a minute or so a very stoned looking guy in a white car comes up the road and asks me to stop. He was smoking a cigarette and by all appearances as stoned as I sometimes like to be. This was a young haole guy. He starts to question me in a fairly mellow way while talking on his radio to someone who seemed not so mellow. I asked him, “Did I stumble onto a CIA base or something?” “No,” he said “This is the set of Lost and you are on private property.”
“Sorry, ” I told him, ” I’ll leave”. I was about 100 feet into the property.
“Don’t go anywhere” he told me, ” My boss is coming and he wants to talk to you right here.”
I thought about that for a second and realized that he had no power to detain me and that if I stayed where I was the likelihood of getting trespassing ticket was higher. So after a moment or two of thinking, I turned and walked away, left the property and began to walk on the road to Haleiwa.
That was when Uncle Nasty showed up with his ugly attitude. This guy comes tearing up to me and jumps out of his truck like he is some kind of fat TJ Hooker wannabe and starts accusing me of calling him because I wanted to see the set, I told him he was crazy because I hadn’t called anyone, I tried to apologize and walk away with my heavy pack, blistered feet, and weary legs and he threatened to ‘throw me on the ground and stomp me to shit.’ “You think I won’t” he asked me “You think I won’t beat the crap out of you right now?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m sure you would, I’ve been walking for five days and I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem. Look, sorry I trespassed, my mistake, I left, I won’t go back, it’s done.”
But he wouldn’t let go, I don’t know if he was smoking ice or what but the guy was crazy, he insisted on seeing my cellphone, tried to call me on the number he claimed had called him, and continued threatening to kill me while telling me how much he loved his job. Whenever I would try to explain he would get in my face and say “Don’t tell me no stupid stories…I know you are one of them..”
“One of who?” I asked him.
“The fucking fans, I know you are one of those fucking fans.” As he said it spit flew from his mouth to my face. This guy seriously hates the fans of the show he works for.
He pulled out a pad and demanded my name, I told him and when he asked me to spell it I spelled it Christ. I swear he mellowed out a little as he wrote Christ.
Finally, I just began to walk away when another car came towards us.
“Hey, there’s your friends”, he said as he moved towards the car filled with nice Canadian looking people. “They’re not my friends, I’m by myself” I told him as he moved over to them, I heard him start yelling immediately and a few minutes later he drove by me with a confused and slightly baffled look on his face. My assumption is that he realized he had been wrong and I hadn’t been lying. The stoned guy stood there smirking while all this went on.
Anyway, he has a direct number to call Christ now.
From there to Haleiwa and a bowl of spaghetti followed by crashing on the beach. Woke up and Shane, a really cool local guy, brought me a cup of coffee.

DAY 7
Beautiful long walk along the deserted North Shore to Ka’ena Point. Stopped and refilled my water at Camp Erdman. Met great people along the trail and as soon as I reached the West Side I met a great family that gave me a soda and some crackers. Ian and Dell and their kids. Continued trekking to Makaha where I bought a beer and a nori wrap at 7-11 and began to make friends with the homeless folks on the beach. They invited me to crash near their camp and I was going to but then Mike Peterson arrived and we drank a bit more and trekked down to Waianai where he bought me dinner.

Slept near camping families on Maili beach, woke, made coffee, ditched my cooking gear, some clothing, the hand crank radio, and more so as to be light and lean. I wanted to cover milage.

DAY 8
People on the West Side are perhaps the friendliest and most open people on Oahu.

I felt lots of Aloha as I walked here until I got to Ko Olina where the homeless camps disappeared and the resorts began. I followed the railroad tracks through the golf courses and eventually ended up in Kapolei where I gorged on food at Wendy’s. I hopped a fence and crossed a huge ditch and followed the tracks further to Ewa. At Ewa I was faced with a choice, a guy at Longs I met named Peter, told me that the only way forward was to go back 4 or 5 miles since ahead lay Iroqouis Point. I chose to trust fate and my wits.

As stated before, the events that took place will be discussed over beers only for security purposes.

As I stepped out towards the Nimitz Highway on the town side of Pearl Harbor/Hickam, I knew I could make it. I threw out my shoes and put on slippers. The walk along the highway showed shantytowns hidden in the nearby bushes. Not as many as were on the West side, but a lot.

I convinced myself that I would end the walk at Aloha Tower but I knew I would have to push on to where I had begun, my little place in Manoa. So I met up with Kate, Hunter, David, Alex, and Lee and drank a few beers at the Tower (a sight for sore feet) and then I walked very quickly back to my place in Manoa. Between the beers and the fact that Hunter had taken my bag to my place in his truck, I was moving. It took me 15 minutes longer to get to Manoa than it took him driving. I had to restrain myself from running.

Visiting the Great Pyramids of Egypt after the Arab Spring – Slideshow Saturday

 

 

Pyramids

As a child, I was fascinated by the pyramids and the culture of the Egyptians. I used to sit on the floor of my grandmonther’s house and look through her vast collection of National Geographic magazines – it was the pyramids and Egyptians that fascinated me. Maybe it was because of Leonard Nemoy and that show he hosted in the 1970s ‘In Search of…” which obsessed about the mysteries of the pyramids, who built them, and how they were…impossible.

Or maybe it was being forced to go to church – the only interesting part of the bible for me was about the Egyptians, the pharaohs, and Egypt. Later, in my twenties, I became enamored of tarot cards – which generally are thought to have come from Egypt and encompass a lot of the esoteric lore connected there.

Pyramids

Lawrence of Arabia was my favorite movie for much of my life. The romance of the desert. I married my wife in the Sahara. All of it connected with these ancient wonders. I had my chance to go to Egypt just after the Arab Spring. Tahrir Square was still in turmoil. Tourist businesses were suffering – there were no tourists – except me. In the Egyptian Museum, I was alone except for the guards who followed me – whether to keep me from being kidnapped, to make sure I didn’t steal anything, or out of curiousity about what kind of person comes to Egypt at a time like that – I don’t really know.

Pyramids

There were seemingly far more guides than tourists – I picked one who was probably the same as many. My first guide was a driver, probably in his late fifties – he drove me to many locations where I seemed to be the only non-Egyptian. I went inside ancient tombs and wandered around freely. My driver was friendly, worried about the future. At Giza, he waited for me while I found a horse and a horseback guide. The young horseback guide was disinterested. We rode to the great pyramids. On the way, we saw five or less tourists – I probably could have climbed the pyramids – there were no guards – but there were signs- so I didn’t.

I walked around the Sphinx – I didn’t climb it either. None of it seems very real now…like a distant dream. I look at these pictures now though and I realize – I was there.

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The Penis Park in Samcheok, South Korea – Saturday Slideshow

In 2012 – I took a short trip to South Korea. I’d never been there and I wanted to see as much as possible in a short amount of time…I didn’t expect to see this much….

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South Korea can be a surprising place – it is a fairly conservative culture but not in every way. For example, you can pay a visit to Haesindang Park (Penis Park) in Samcheok, South Korea.

When I heard about this, I realized I would have to go there. Why? Because it defied my North American imagination that a place like this could even exist..

HaesendingalingThe legend says that a young couple were engaged to be married in the fishing village of Samcheok. Before they could be wed and before pleasure of the penis on the wedding night, she was swept to sea and drowned, thus dying a virgin and without the penis she so desired.

After her death, the seas around the village stopped yielding fish. No one could figure out why, but one night, a drunk fisherman took a leak facing the water, thus exposing his sizable genitalia to the water (and presumably to the ghost of the virgin). Apparently, she liked what she saw and after that the fish were plentiful. The villagers, understanding intuitively what they needed to do, began exposing themselves regularly and then they began to build larger than life statues of giant cocks to satisfy the nymphomaniac ghost. Over the years, the collection of phallic art was expandend and enlarged and the seashore became swollen with dicks.

Getting there was a bit tricky. I took the bus from Sokcho and then a second bus from another town and a third bus to get to Samcheok. I was sitting next to a very pretty woman in designer sunglasses and I asked her if she knew how to get to the Penis Park. Fortunately, she spoke some English. She said yes, she knew. She told me which stop to get off in Samcheok and then she suggested we get a cup of coffee and wait for her friend who would be able to better tell me how to get there. Soon a second girl showed up and her English was even better. They told me just to sit and wait. Fifteen minutes later a man in a minivan showed up, he was girl #2’s father. The three of us piled into his mini-van and we all headed to the Penis Park on one of the strangest family outings I’ve ever been on. A father, his daughter, her friend, and a strange American man they all just met on the bus and off we went to the Penis Park.

Rather than being filled with gay pickup artists, the park was filled with Korean senior citizens all posing next to the giant phalluses (or on them) and enjoying the scenic beauty of the rocky seashore and the huge collection of giant anthrpomorphic cocks. The father insisted on paying my admission and we all posed together for pictures with the many penises.

South korea penis park

 

At the edge of the park we ate the flat, dried fish which the old women were cooking there. After that since they knew I needed a place to stay, the father dropped me off at his favorite love motel – a topic which I will write about in another post.

And that, my friends, was my wonderful day at the Penis Park in Samcheok, South Korea. Below are some further details and a few more photos to motivate you in case you get the chance to visit. I highly recommend it.

Haesindang Park (more commonly – and creatively – known among Westerners as ‘The Penis Park’) is around 20km (12 miles) from the centre of Samcheok, and is, as the name would suggest, a park full of penises!!!

Entry Fee – this was small, around 2,000 won. There is a ticket desk at the entrance, which also displays a return bus schedule in it’s window. It’s worth having a look to see what your options are for buses back to Samcheok. The stop is right by the road, you’ll see it when you come in.

Opening Hours – Mar-Oct, Tues-Sun, 9 am-6 pm; Nov-Feb, Tues-Sun, 9 am-5 pm

Address – 167-8 Seongnam-dong.

Phone – 033-570-3568 (for the Korean-speaking Fishery Village Tradition Exhibition Centre)

Getting There – A frequent 50 minute bus will easily take you to the park from the Samcheok Express Bus Terminal. Ask for Haesingdang Park at the ticket window, and they will know what you’re talking about! Come out of the door that they will point you to, and turn right. You’ll see a little bus stop. Just wait there until the bus is scheduled to come. When we went, the bus didn’t actually come over to the bus stop – it just stopped in the middle of the concourse, and everyone walked over to board it. You may need to just check with the driver that you have the right bus, before getting on, especially if you can’t read Hangeul. Let the driver know that you are getting off at the park, and he’ll be sure to make a commotion about your stop when he comes to it at the side of the highway. (In terms of landmarks, the stop is just past the small park dedicated to local Olympian Hwang Young-Cho, who won the marathon event in both the 1992 Summer Olympics and 1994 Asian Games.) The drive itself is lovely, and you will see some great scenery and coastline. If you go at the right time of year, you will also pass the famous yellow rapeseed fields, and see people posing for photographs amongst rapeseed almost as tall as themselves! You can get off the bus here too if you so desire.

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Sailing on a Yacht in the Greek Aegean – Flashback Friday

Sailing in GreeceThe only thing better than having a yacht…is having a friend with a yacht. In 2011 and 2012 – I was fortunate to sail with my friend Graham on his yacht Jouster for a couple of really great voyages through the Gulf of Volos and into some of the Greek Aegean islands.


As a little kid geek reading big fat sci-fi and fantasy novels, I used to hide out in my  tree fort and read for hours every day. The amount of time I spent reading must have doubled when I found A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.

In the Xanth series, Anthony introduced me to Centaurs and creatures of Greek myth and I was hooked, entranced, and spending far too much time in my teens reading Piers Anthony’s other books when I should have been out chasing girls.

That geeky kid never disappeared from within me so it was with a huge amount of excitement that I set out for the Gulf of Volos in Greece. You may be asking what the connection is – don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.

The Gulf of Volos is where the Greek Argonaut, Jason set out with his argonaut crew to recover the Golden Fleece and his crown. It was in this very body of water that Jason learned to sail the Argo.

Here is the legend in brief:

Pelias (Aeson’s half-brother) was very power-hungry, and he wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. Pelias was the product of a union between their shared mother, Tyro (“high born Tyro”) the daughter of Salmoneus, and allegedly the sea god Poseidon. In a bitter feud, he overthrew Aeson (the rightful king), killing all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Alcimede I (wife of Aeson) already had an infant son named Jason whom she saved from being killed by Pelias, by having women cluster around the newborn and cry as if he were still-born. Alcimede sent her son to the centaur Chiron for education, for fear that Pelias would kill him — she claimed that she had been having an affair with him all along. Pelias, still fearful that he would one day be overthrown, consulted an oracle which warned him to beware of a man with one sandal.

Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of the sea god and his alleged father, Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros (“wintry Anauros”), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had up his sleeve. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted the quest.

Mt Pelias which sits above the Gulf of Volos was the home to the original centaurs, including Chiron who educated Jason and later Achilles in the arts of sailing and swordplay. I was going to be sailing and eating and drinking on the same body of water as the ancient heroes and centaurs.

Sailing in the aegean

The Gulf of Volos, it turns out, is a fantastic place for a novice sailor such as myself. With winds that usually stay below F3 and not a whole slew of hazards that can catch you by surprise. Called the Pagasitikos Gulf, this is a place that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, yachts, or development. While you can go to most of Greece and find thousands of people on holiday, the Gulf of Volos has just a few – some days we saw no other yachts and just a couple of fishing boats!

Aegean gulf of Volos

We found crystal clear waters and a good wind provided by the ‘Meltemi’ blowing from the NE, quiet bays and fishing villages, history to investigate and many islands to explore. The whole area is known as Magnesia – which I might add has the same name as the region I lived in Turkey though the Turks have allowed the name to become Manisa!

Magnesia is one of four counties which make up the region of Thessaly. Magnesia is the coastal county with Mount Pelion and the Aegean Sea to the east, the Pagasitikos Gulf to the south and includes the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos otherwise know as the Northern Sporades Islands.

Pelion is a hidden peninsula, an unexplored area of Greece, where life in the mountain villages and little fishing harbors remains as serene as in the distant past.

This was an awesome and beautiful place though I must admit – I din’t meet any centaurs, sirens, or heroes – except in my imagination. What I did meet though was the beauty of the Greek culture, the kindness of the Greek people, and the joy of sailing for days on open water without being crowded, barraged with noisy jet-skis or powerboats, or annoyed by blaring booze cruises.

 

I’d been in the Aegean in Izmir, Turkey. I swam in the Moroccan, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish Mediterranean, but always I had this idea of sailing sailing sailing in Greece. The problem was part monetary and part mental. I’d gotten it stuck in my head that only rich guys get to go sailing and as far as living in caves…those islands and (I was thinking) all of Greece were so developed and monetized that the kind of cool adventure I was thinking of could never exist in anything but dreams. Maybe, in some ways, I was right but also – I was definitely wrong.

Volos Greece Aegean

My friend Graham runs a guesthouse in Fez bought a share in a Greek sailboat a few months ago and he invited some close friends to come out and sail with him during the end of the summer season. The only problem was that they only were staying half the time and as a new sailor, he wasn’t entirely comfortable manning the yacht solo – lucky for me, he mentioned he needed crew and even luckier, when I told my wife about it she said that I should take the opportunity to go for two weeks even though we have a new baby who was only about six weeks old. I think she was glad to be rid of me for a while. Since she had her whole family around her, she assured me that she would be fine and so…off I went!

While I wasn’t able to get the ultra low fares from Morocco to Greece that I got on the way back ($16 US dollars from Volos, Greece to Bergamo, Italy and $16 from Bergamo to Tangier, Morocco and then $18 from Tangier to Fez by Train!!!) Even with last minute fares, I was still able to get to Greece for a relatively cheap amount and since I would be sleeping and often eating on board – the cost was worth it. I went with Ryan Air from Fez to Girona, Spain for about $125, then from Girona to Milan for about $80, and another $100 or so from Milan to Volos, Greece. So all together round trip from Fez to Volos with stops in Milan and Girona ran me about $355 US dollars!

It’s things like RyanAir, WizzAir, AirArabia, Jet4You and other budget airlines that make me very hesitant to ever return to the USA where even a flight from one state to another will cost you more than it costs me to visit five countries (a fact which I can confirm in 2018 – in fact, flying from one Hawaiian Island to another can cost more round trip!)

So anyway. There I was. A not rich guy on the way to sail in Greece. Who says you have to be rich to lead a rich life?

Sailing in the Gulf of Volos is a total joy – not just because the weather is mild and the gulf is beautiful but also because it is far from crowded and the places you can visit are so incredibly not-ruined-by-tourism!

Take our first port of call- Amaliapolis on the west side of the gulf. Just a small fishing village with a lovely beach and several great tavernas sitting right on the water. We were able to tie up to the quay and this is where I went ashore for my first taste of real Greek food in Greece.

The Taverna overlooking the quay I ordered feta, tzatziki, and cheese stuffed eggplant – plus the bread and of course some ouzo. While Greek food can be very similar to Turkish food in many regards, I would say that the Greeks tend to use about ten times more garlic which is just fine for me. The waitress told me – don’t order the tzatziki if you plan on kissing anyone – my only plan was to enjoy amazing Greek cuisine. Not a problem there at all!

Graham on Jouster

This was a particularly nice place for me to experience Greek culture for the first time as the staff at the taverna spoke some English and since Amaliapolis is small and not overrun with tourists, they were able to tell me about and demonstrate at the same time the Greek custom of filoxenia which essentially is being welcoming to guests and friendly to visitors. Everyone I met in Amaliapolis was incredibly warm.

There was a wedding in the center of the town and while we would have certainly been invited to dance and join the festivities – Graham and I hung back and watched from a distance while having some adult beverages by the sea. We were hardly dressed for a wedding and the bride certainly didn’t need a couple of foreigners bumbling around what looked like a wonderful event. Music, dancing, and more than a little bit of singing too.

In fact, when I was in the taverna eating – earlier in the evening, the group next to me was a big family all singing together and really enjoying being a family. I wish families were like that all over the world. I hope that my little family will sing together like that someday.

Further south was a second mooring we thoroughly enjoyed. Nies Bay was a very sheltered little harbor with nothing around it. A nice looking beach lined one of the shores and a few fishing boats were anchored in the shallows of the deep interior. No other yachts and no one on the beach – but this was late September and early October so the beach season was over – even though the weather was perfect for the beach and the water was warm and clear.

By the way my extravagant first Greek meal spoiled me since the prices in Amaliapolis are about the lowest you will find anywhere – four mezes, bread, and ouzo for 8 euro! I hear that the tavernas in Amaliapolis are famed for their seafood – I’m sure it’s the best you’ll get anywhere with price and friendliness!


I treasure those memories of sailing on the Aegean with Graham and other friends. Sometimes, when I get stressed out living back in the USA and having to work all the time to make ends meet in Hawaii, I think about those tavernas and I’m instantly in a better place. I will go back again someday. Until then…Greece is certainly in my dreams.

 

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