Pernik, Bulgaria with Borislav the Moroccan Idol

World travel can bring you face to face with round the world adventures or people from your home town. Pernik, Bulgaria is a place I wouldn’t have experienced without running into someone I already knew.

It’s always fun to run into people you know when you are traveling. I was looking at facebook and saw that my wife’s friend Borislav was posting pictures of Sofia as I was there!

Bulgarian home foodThrough the magic of Facebook we managed to connect and I learned that he was spending some time there with his Bulgarian grandparents. He’s half Moroccan and half Bulgarian, but when we’d met before I had thought he was half Ukranian!

Borislav was a contestant on the Moroccan version of American Idol and has had his face plastered on billboards in Morocco. I was incredibly surprised to find him in Sofia but it was a great chance for us to hang out.

He invited me to come up to Pernik, a cold war era industrial town which sits to the north of Sofia as a relic of a time when communists worked side by side in the coal mines and factories of Pernik. These days, with it’s broken factories, abandoned nuclear power plant, and aging black lung population, Pernik is more like visiting Mordor.
Borislav’s grandparents were amazingly wonderful people and from the time I got there we ate delicious homecooked Bulgarian food, drank homemade wine, homemade rakia, and tried to have conversations.

Bulgarian dinnerI thanked them for their hospitality when I got there and Borislav’s grandfather told me that I hadn’t experienced Bulgarian hospitality until I was drunk from Rakia and homemade wine! By the end of the night, I was the recipient of full Bulgarian hospitality.

Borislav was left in the difficult position of translating as his grandfather and I discussed the glory days of communism and the downfalls of capitalism. Thanks again for that buddy! It was my first time to ever speak with a communist worker who had taken part in everything from the revolution to the collapse. His reminiscence of the days when workers walked and worked in equality were only as powerful as his stories of the days when the communist bosses began to flaunt their wealth and power.
Bulgarian nuclear plant, Pernik

For him and for many other older Bulgarians, the early communist era is remembered as a golden age. Meanwhile, Borislav’s sweet grandmother showered me with smiles and kisses of the kind that I haven’t experienced since my own grandmother passed away. I’ve always suspected though, that under all that old lady affection lies the remains of the smoking hot young flirtatious women they used to be. Seeing her picture in the flower of her youth, I can only imagine what it was like to get such kisses then.

Finally, after finishing the bottle of homemade wine and the homemade rakia we all went to sleep but not before Borislav’s grandfather had offered to take me and Borislav hiking the next day and show me his summer house where he makes the homemade booze. Of course, I was glad to accept. Borislav later told me that he’d been avoiding the trip since he arrived since the weather was icy cold, but I was glad to have the opportunity to see a bit of country life.coal miners communist

The Liberation of Bulgaria turned Pernik from a small stock breeding village into a 20th century powerhouse with the development of the rich coal-beds of the area though the locals had been gathering the coal since the 10th century with shovels and picks. but more about that in my next post.

World’s Strangest Hotels

Exploring the world’s strangest hotels is certainly a fun thing to do, given the extremes hotels have gone to, just in the name of being “strange”. And strange they are, too, by the looks of them. Ask anyone who’s been to a hotel from the list below, and he’ll tell you first-hand the experience that comes in staying there. Here is a list of the top 5 strangest hotels in the world. There are lots more, but only these five have made it to this list, based largely on popularity, service, and my own personal experiences.

5. The  UFO Capsule Hotel, Tokyo  Japan
stange hotelsCertainly one of the strangest concepts ever for a hotel, The UFO Capsule Hotel is a chain of “capsule hotels” across Japan that has been around for quite some time and has gained immense popularity as well. The concept of the capsule hotel may as well have been derived from the Japanese mind, given the way it uses space so efficiently. The Capsule Hotel consists of small “capsules”, which in turn have two sections: one, a public lounge space, and the second, a private sleeping space. Less space doesn’t mean throwing away amenities: TV, adjustable lighting, radio, all are present. A must-stay for those seeking the “strange”!

4. IceHotel, Sweden

Do not get surprised: the name of this hotel is exactly what the hotel is made of: ice. strange hotelsOpen only in the winter, Ice Hotel is unique: it stands as a hotel in the winter, and melts to become a free-flowing river after the cold is gone. So that means the hotel is essentially built every year, and then it melts away after the sun comes out, only to be rebuilt the next year. Located just 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, IceHotel is built by artists who come from all around the world, and by using only frozen water (ice) from the Torne River. Furniture made of ice is present, and beds are made of ice too, and covered in reindeer skins.

3. Hotel Fox, Denmark

strange hotels of the worldHotel Fox is one of a kind, and you certainly have not seen anything like it, that’s for sure. The hotel has 61 rooms, and each room is an exquisite piece of art. Combining the brilliance of 21 artists drawn from all over the world, and after studying close to a thousand different ideas, Hotel Fox was transformed with themes in each room as unique as possible, ranging from flowered themes to friendly monster themes to fairytale themes! The food at Hotel Fox is always being innovated, by inviting the best students from the best European cooking schools to prepare food under the supervision of experienced chefs.

 

2. StayOrange Hotel, Malaysia
strange world hotelsI know, the name sounds strange, but then this is a list of the strangest hotels in the world! StayOrange.com Hotel is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is inspired from the capsule hotels from Japan. The Hotel features three kinds of rooms – Double EnSuite, Single EnSuite and 2-Bed Bunk Rooms. The Hotel aims to provide functionality in terms of both facilities and prices. The pricing is very affordable, and the facilities are not compromised upon. All facilities like free Wi-Fi internet access, hot water showers, exclusive mattresses from Dreamland, LCD TVs are provided, with branded toiletries and DVD players being optional.

1. Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germanyworld's strangest hotel

This hotel makes it to the top position with ease, just with the variety of rooms it providesJust picture: flying beds, upside-down rooms, circular beds, prison-style rooms – this hotel has got them all. And more. With 35 rooms of pure artistic indulgence, . the hotel will certainly make you come back for more. Certainly one of the most creative hotels of all time, the Propeller Island City Lodge has extremely courteous staff, which takes care of the minutest details. The hotel is very clean, and is a must visit.

Eating Horse Flesh in Chiasso Switzerland

Ah yes, Switzerland. A day of banking, Swiss cheese, chocolate, yogurt, smoked meat, and a bit of yodeling. I did it all in Chiasso. Cliche, yes – but oddly enjoyable.

My first pic of SwitzerlandThe day trip from Bergamo to Lake Como had cost me just a few hours and 6.25 Euro so I decided to splurge and take a trip across the border to Chiasso, Switzerland.

The train fare was 1.30 Euro and the trip took less than ten minutes as we slowly went under a mountain. I’m told that the Swiss love to make tunnels every bit as much as Koreans like digging. Anyway, it was a nice tunnel and then we were in Switzerland!

I set off on a whirlwind tour. I visited a shop that sold Swiss Army Knives and Swiss Watches but didn’t buy one because I don’t wear a watch and I only carry a carry on bag and so a knife would have been confiscated. After that I walked through the streets breathing the fresh Swiss air.

Swiss International Air Lines
Since I was in Switzerland, it seemed appropriate that I do some banking so I visited the ATM and got 50 Swiss Francs which I wasn’t entirely sure was enough to buy anything but wondered if it was a lousy conversion rate…didn’t know. But, I did some Swiss banking.

Chiasso Shopping CenterNext stop was the grocery store, because even though there were restaurants, I wanted to eat real Swiss products for lunch and I needed to see how much the beautiful Swiss currency would buy…so, I grabbed a Swiss shopping basket and walked through the Swiss aisles getting Swiss products – and by the way, I was hungry – but managed to control myself.

I bought some Swiss yogurt, some smoked Swiss horse meat, a big block of Swiss cheese, and three bars of Swiss chocolate (but no Swiss Miss).

I walked through the streets which were filled with now mostly closed shops since (and I never knew this) apparently the Siesta is a big deal in Switzerland. I decided not to visit the big International Duty Free Shopping Center but instead sat in a very green and clean little park eating my yogurt, cheese, horsemeat, and a bit of the chocolate.

Discover the joys of smoked horse!

Park in Chiasso, SwitzerlandI have to admit, I’d never eaten horse before but this particular cheval fume seche coupe was incredibly delicious. The Swiss yogurt may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The Swiss cheese was ever so good and then the chocolate – my goodness. I was so overwhelmed with the very Swiss-ness of the situation that I did a little bit of yodeling (after looking to see that there was no one else in the park).

Finally, I decided to end the day in Switzerland in a spectacular fashion by walking to Italy. No border check, no nada nothing. I was afraid my Swiss Chocolate and Cheese would be confiscated, but all was well. By the way, the price for my groceries was 8.75 Swiss Franks which ended up being about 6 Euro – amazingly affordable!

If you would rather spend more time in Switzerland, here is a list of Chiasso Hotels or you can take the train a bit further to Lugano.

The walk back to Lake Como took a bit longer than I expected (since I had to go over the mountain the train had gone under) but I still had time to enjoy the beautiful place while munching on a bit of horseflesh before I had to catch the train back to Bergamo.

5 adventurous destinations around the world

Adventurous destinations are the stuff of travel dreams.There is plenty to imagine, work for, and dream of with these five adventure trips from around the world.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Mount Everest is known by all as the highest peak in the world, it is known by climbers and adventurers however as an immense challenge that is best left to the professionals. A classic Himalayan trek with incredible views and rewards that can be enjoyed by all adventure enthusiasts is a trek to Everest Base Camp. Trek takes you through an exciting forest and over mountains giving you stunning views of the surrounding peaks whilst the dramatic landscape around you changes as you continue to climb higher and higher up the Khumbu Valley.

Grand Canyon, Colorado
For adventurers, the most exciting way to appreciate the Grand Canyon’s natural capacity and power is to raft through it; the Colorado River through canyon is one of the wildest stretches of white water in the United States. 5 travel adventuresThe full journey through the canyon (from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead) is 275 miles in length and makes for a challenging, fun adventure with some staggering scenery, white-water thrills, and magical hikes.

Masai Mara Safari, Kenya
For a safari with real-life, thrilling adventure try a Masai Mara Safari. The Masai Mara reserve is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat and offers plenty to see. During the winter months, it’s easy to assume that all will be quiet on the reserve however you couldn’t be more wrong. Many tourists aim to target their trip to coincide with the migration season but there is life to be seen throughout the year. Between August and November, you can spot the two million wildebeest charge across the green-land as they migrate from the Serengeti in search of water, or in spring, experience the first sightings of new-born life. For frightening thrills, predators such as lions, cheetahs and leopards can be spotted prowling the terrain whilst graceful giraffes can be found flaunting their astonishing stature.

Inca Trail, Peru
Being the best-known and most popular hike on the South-American continent, the Inca Trail is an exhilarating, challenging and unforgettable experience. The journey starts in the village of Qorihuayrachina and takes three or four days of strenuous walking to complete. The trail is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, crossing the Andes mountain range and sections of the Peruvian jungle and rain forest  Ending at the old citadel of Machu Picchu provides a rewarding finale and time to discover the ancient citadel. Together, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu make up one of the wonders of the world.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, covering over 350,000 square kilometers of the sea and is the only living collection of organisms that are visible from Earth’s orbit. Most of the Reef’s diversity occurs in the top 4 meters of water and the best way to experience this is by snorkeling  The reef is believed to be the densest assemblage of living organisms to be found in any comparable area in the world thus the thousands of beautiful coral gardens and abundant marine life will leave you mesmerized.

World Travel Diarrhea – An Ugly Topic – Some Simple Cures

Montezuma’s revenge, Delhi belly, Hong Kong dog, Tiki trots, Casablanca crud, Katmandu quickstep. But travelers from Mexico, India, Nepal, Morocco, and other places might call it the ‘Lincoln’s Loose Logs’ or ‘Shock and Awe’, because they can get it when they visit the United States too.

One of the likely challenges a traveler may face as he embarks on either business or leisure travel pertains to his health. A major occurrence is diarrhea. Traveler diarrheaThis is the passage of semi-formed or watery stool. Most times, it calls for urgency and the affected person may not be able to hold it for sometime as may be done for a normal pooping. At times it happens amidst vomiting, flatulence and abdominal pain which may last for 3 to 4 days. Hence, it is necessary for travelers to ensure that this ugly experience does not occur during traveling.

Bacteria are the most common microbe that cause diarrhea. However, it may also be caused by other parasites and viruses.

The destination actually is also a major factor on which contracting the runs depends. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30 to 50% of travelers will contract diarrhea during a stay of 1 to 2 weeks in some areas of high risk. The risk also varies from time to time in temperate climates.

Places of low risk

Truly, there are some countries of the world with very low prevalence of diarrhea. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and countries in northern and western Europe fall under this category.This doesn’t mean people don’t poop their pants in these countries though.

Places of intermediate risk

Some of the places where risk of diarrhea is average are places like Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. Chances are that you will just have average amounts of flatulence in these places too.

Places of high risk

Areas in the world with high risk of diarrhea are Africa, Asia, Middle East, also Central and South America. This isn’t because of the people in these countries it’s because the rich countries of the world have generally treated these countries like shit thus leading to the current loose stools in these places.

Causes of the runs:

The chief cause of diarrhea is intake of contaminated food and this is because of the presence of bacteria. Some of the bacteria that may cause this ailment are:

Enterotoxigenic E.coli (ETEC) requires large inoculum to get the disease. This is common in developing countries due to low sanitation efforts. It is characterized by frequent stooling, abdominal pain and low-grade fever.

Another bacterium is the Entroaggregative E.coli (EAEC) which is rated as the cause of over 25 per cent of diarrhea experienced by travelers.

Its symptoms are similar to that of Enterotoxigenic E. coli. Campylobacter jejuni, a causative microrganism common in developed countries, though risk of contacting it is more prevalent in the developing world. The diarrhea caused by this bacterium is characterized by blood stools.

Salmonella spp is associated with food borne epidemics in developed countries. Shigella spp is also a cause of traveler’s diarrhea which may also be bloody and accompanied by cramps in the abdomen and fever.
As for Vibrio spp, it is linked with intake of partially cooked seafood. Also, Giardia lamblia is an intestinal flagellate that is associated with intake of polluted surface water in poor sanitary environments.

The list of pathogens continues. Therefore, travelers, in order to have poopie-pants-free vacations must endeavor to take necessary health measures and exercise some caution.

How to Avoid the trots:

* Avoid uncooked vegetables, especially salads, fruits you can’t peel, undercooked meat, raw shellfish, ice cubes, and drinks made from impure water.
* Try to make sure the dishes and silverware you use have been cleaned in purified water.
* Drink only water that has been carbonated and sealed in bottles or cans. Clean the part of the container that touches your mouth and purified water. Boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes purifies it, as does iodine liquid or tablets.
* Drink acidic drinks like colas and orange juice when possible. They help keep down the E. coli count, the bacteria most responsible for digestive distress.
* Drink acidophilus milk or eat yogurt before your trip. The bacterial colonies established in your digestive system before your trip and maintained during it, reduce the chance of a loose stools catching you by surprise.

Cures on the road:

Here are two possible ‘cocktails’ that might help reduce your diarrhea once you have it.

1) In a glass, put 8 ounces of fruit juice; 1/2 teaspoon of honey, corn syrup, or sugar; and a pinch of salt. In another glass, put 8 ounces of purified water and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Drink a couple of swallows alternately from each glass until finished.

2) Here’s the second formula: glucose, 20 grams; salt, 3.5 grams; baking soda, 2.5 grams; and potassium chloride, 20 grams. Just add to a quart or liter of purified water and drink.

Other options? What if you are stuck and you don’t have any of the above? Easy. Just eat clay or ashes. Or you could eat blueberries, plantains, blackberry roots, or Acorns. All of these have properties that will cause your diarrhea to disappear.

Thankfully, we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

The Fully Integrated Backpacker Treehouse Resort – Kadir’s Treehouses

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposThe most surprising thing about Olympos is the huge volume of choice when it comes to places to stay. Since Thailand, I haven’t seen this many bungalows, backpackers, or pancake stands – perhaps the hardest part of coming to Olympos is picking where to stay.

Since we wanted to come here for four days, we opted to split our time between two of the most famous tree house resorts. The first, Bayram’s tree houses, I should point out that this is the off season, so it was pretty calm and quiet, but even so there were some serious drinking sessions around the nightly campfire.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposAfter two very fun days there, we moved up the road to Kadir’s Treehouses.  While there are tree houses and bungalows here – it would be more appropriate to call it Kadir’s fully integrated backpacker tree house resort and bungalow complex and village – but that might be too much of a mouthful. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with Kadir himself and to explore the property –

Kadir came here 25 years ago when there was nothing in Olympos but farmhouses and shepherd camps. He left a career in economics in Ankara behind to tune in, turn on and drop out – well after the hippies of the 60’s but well before the hippies of the now. His parents and friends told him he was crazy but he bought a piece of land next to a stream in Olympos, built a tree house, and carried what he needed from up the mountain or bought it from the nearby farms.

At this point, a few backpackers started coming to see the ruins at Olympos and a couple of them asked if they could rent his tree house for the night. Then it happened again. And again. So he built a second tree house – but more backpackers came. So he built more. And within a couple of years he had tree houses, bungalows, and even a couple of bars to satisfy the thirst of the the backpackers.

Turkey Treehouse HostelThe nearby farms saw his success and they copied the model. Now, while I didn’t hear anyone say this overtly, there seems to be some bad blood between the farmers and Kadir these days – on the one hand, Kadir is the stranger in a valley filled with family – and on the other, people stole his business model and then – according to one source – when his property caught on fire while he was away – just let it burn and didn’t notify anyone until it was too late. Kadir says that when he arrived his tree houses, bungalows, bars, and even the trees were completely gone. I’m assuming that no one was here when it happened since Kadir said that nothing was saved.

So Kadir built again. Today, his sprawling complex still has a few tree houses – including one built on a huge 750 year old cedar stump that Kadir bought from the government and then trucked down here! It’s his log-o now.

During peak times, Kadir hosts as many as 350 backpackers! His complex has a nightclub (The Bull Bar), a Pizza House, The Hanger Bar, an activity center, a volleyball court, a huge fire pit, and the downstairs restaurant/bar where dinner and breakfast are served which feels like it could have been imported directly from Alaska. This is even including the bartender Simon who wears a red plaid lumberjack shirt and even though his English is very good always replies “Thank you very much!” even when it doesn’t fit. (As in Alaska – the odds are good but the goods are odd)

Kadir is usually playing backgammon, snapping photos on his Galaxy Note, or wandering around. The bungalows and treehouses are colorfully painted and built in a haphazard, Tom Sawyer treehouse way which includes half bent rusty nails and railings that feel as if they might break under your hand. If there is a downside to Kadir’s – it is that the size and numbers create a sort of junkyard feel to parts of the complex with disused furniture being piled in unused corners and piles of broken plumbing or wood scraps tumbled around devil may care – but then, that adds to the overall feel of the place. Sanford and Son meets Tom Sawyer. Kadir’s is about a 20 minute walk from the beach but the stream and mountain views make that a pleasant journey.

Treehouse Hostel Turkey OlymposWe stayed in a deluxe bungalow facing a gorgeous rock face and the beautiful clear water stream. It was big, clean, had AC and heat, hot water and was comfortable. We found the included breakfast and dinner to be tasty and filling. All of this for about 25 Euro per night, is a steal and one of the best deals going in Turkey, if you ask me. If you want to go even cheaper – you can rough it in the treehouses or sleep in the dorms, but honestly – the lack of comfort and privacy wouldn’t be worth it for me. Still, the backpackers we spoke with who were doing that, loved it.

What’s next for Kadir? He told me he has found a new location where no one goes yet and this time he is going to open an eco-resort. It will be his fourth property – he now has a family resort, Kadir’s Garden, Kadir’s treehouses and then Kadir’s Eco-Resort – the moral of the story? Sometimes it pays to drop out and go live in a treehouse!

Gypsies in Granada – Surreal Real Unreal

This was a post I wrote back in early 2009 – right on the cusp of my life taking a dramatically different turn. This was one of those points where life is giving you many roads you can follow – and the one you choose will determine your entire future. I considered staying in Granada….and there were many paths I could have followed from there. I wonder where the many roads from Granada might have led – but as I sit here in 2020, living in Hawaii with my  Moroccan wife and our beautiful daughter, I can only tell you where this one led.

Ernest Hemingway wrote “How lazily the sun goes down in Granada, it hides beneath the water, it conceals in the Alhambra!” and he is not the only artist to note the beauty and wonder that surrounds this place. Shakespeare said “Every inquisitive traveler keeps Granada in his heart, without having even visited it.” Chateaubriand said “Granada is like the crystal bride of our dreams, whoever beholds it has the illusion of visiting it again.” And perhaps that is the case for me, but I only know that this city, the energy that exists here, and the people that inhabit it are a wonder worthy of noting. Granada is one of those places that stays with you, whether you go there by plan or simply as one of those last minute holidays that fate pulls from nowhere and springs on you like a wondrous surprise.

Here are a few of the moments and people that have made the past few days so wondrous.

This is Lisa, an English girl with whom I ate delicious meal, drank coffee in a magic coffeehouse, and rambled through a dusty used bookstore with. I loved her adventurous and literary spirit. And these are the eyes of Nieves, Susana, and Constantina…three of my many companions today as we strolled through the gypsy parts of Granada exploring the caves that the gypsies live in, seeking flamenco, braving the rain, eating paella, and visiting the homes of friends.





Along the way we visited a crowded patisserie and got coffee in a dark sheesha bar.
We found the king of the Barrio Abayzin at the highest point he could find.



Alhambra is beautiful. Together, with these new friends, how can there be anything as enjoyable to the soul.

Perhaps I will run out of money, come back to Granada, move into a cave like the one below, clean it and then get evicted by the gypsies who own it when the work is done, this, I am told, is what happens. I could enjoy a cave like this, do you think it has internet access?

The weather here has changed a bit and rain and thunder come down. The hardest part of travel is to leave friends behind and as I move along, I too, find this difficult. Here in Granada, as in Barcelona, I have made friends that I don’t want to leave. It’s the same in Hawaii, Salt Lake City, and everywhere I have found new and wonderful people. When I find them, I don’t want to leave.

Tomorrow though I will head to La Linea and Gibraltar and then on to Morocco. Before I leave Spain though, I should note a few things. In The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Thereaux noted that the Mediterranean coast cities are filled with dog shit. It’s an offensive description, but no one here will deny it is true. Three out of five of us today stepped in dog shit at different points. Susana said that here they say that when you step in shit, it is good luck and people go to buy lottery tickets. We agreed however that we don’t need shit.

Also two innovations that I can’t believe don’t exist in the USA. First of all, when you wash the dishes here, there is no dish rack, the rack is actually the cupboard where you keep the dishes, right above the sink. Also, here there are variable flush toilets that allow to use less water for #1 and more water for #2.
Fucking brilliant.

Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey

Camel WrestlingCamel Wrestling. Sounds dangerous. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I saw it on Couchsurfing as a group activity for those near Izmir in the town of Selcuk, Turkey.

While it is a little hard to understand the excitement that one feels in the crowd, it is motivated by the thing that Turks love and get the most excited about. Money. It’s the bets that make the sport worth while and if you aren’t betting, chances are that you aren’t really enjoying things to the fullest. Still, it is important to understand what is happening if you are going to be a spectator. I was going to write an article about the intricacies of this amazing sport, but it turns out that someone has already done that:

Burak H. Sansal over at 2Camels.com writes: While the Spanish have bullfights, and the Italians cockfights, and the English go hunting with hounds, the Turks have camel wrestling. Camel wrestling is now mostly restricted to the Aegean region though it was once more widespread in Anatolia. In the winter you will see elaborately saddled camels being paraded through the villages with the owner extolling just how his camel is going to make mince-meat of anyone rash enough to challenge his beast. The camels are all fully grown bulls specially fed to increase their bulk further, and the sight of them wrestling one another would seem to promise some spectacular action.

In reality it doesn’t happen and camel wrestling is more akin to comedy than to blood- sport. Bull camels normally wrestle and butt one another in a knock- out contest for precedence in a herd, and more importantly, precedence in mating. In the arena two bulls are led out and then a young cow is paraded around to get them excited. It’s very easy to know when a bull is excited as streams of viscous milky saliva issue from his mouth and nostrils. Mostly the two bulls will half-heartedly butt each other and lean on the other until one of them gives in and runs away. This is the really exciting bit as the bull will often charge off towards the crowd, with the conquering bull in pursuit, and the spectators must scramble hurriedly out of the way.

And that’s about the size of it, but the real interesting part is in the crowds. Horns, drums, and the smoke of a thousand cooking fires as the spectators, mostly men, barbecue camel, sheep, and chicken – drink raka and beer – and place huge wagers on which camels will win. While I wasn’t exactly sure how the events themselves work, watching the camel spit fly was entertaining (from a distance) and weaving through the elbows only crowd to see the various fires, tables, and sweet spots that were set up was exotic as hell.

Camel WrestlingThe strange thing for me was just how much camel meat was actually consumed at this event which was in a way, honoring camels. And yeah, in case you are wondering, I got a camel sausage sandwich and it was delicious! Spicy, not as hairy as sheep sausage and was the perfect thing to watch the camels wrestle by. That and some raka.

To be honest, two hours of the camel wrestling was enough for me. I took a lot of exotic camel pictures, but since I wasn’t getting drunk or betting on the camels, or having a barbecue with friends – it was actually pretty boring once the medieval festival aspect of it wore off.

It really was like being in a time long long ago with the drums, the smoke, the sounds of the camels grunting and fighting, and the sound of the nasal ne floating on the sausage smoke breeze.

 

Cappadocia – Goreme – Fairy Chimneys and Rock Cut Churches

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyIn Central Anatolia lies a land that looks like it comes from The Lord of the Rings- Cappadocia. Even the name has the ring of a fairy tale Kingdom.

“I, Sir Vago of the Kingdom of Cappadocia, do ride forth to seek out new lands and great fortunes.” – or something like that, though Cappadocia was never a kingdom of its own and in fact was a place of troglodyte refuge for Christian outcasts and societal misfits.

The landscape of massive stone chimneys (wistfully called fairy chimneys) and dream like rock formations are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. From the 4th to the 11th Century a community of Christian refugees carved an unbelievable number of churches from the stones. Houses were also carved and the traditional livelihood was agriculture until the 1980’s when a tourist boom started.

A new friend we met in Goreme, Cemil, has lived there since that time and he remembers when there were only three hotels in Goreme. Now there are hundreds and  when we arrived, they were almost all full. No need to tell you what the number one industry is now. Many people come to Goreme just so they can enjoy Cappadocia Balloon Tours. There is nothing quite like floating over the fairy chimneys as the sun comes up.

Goreme is a magical place and filled with charm. An interesting fact  is that in Goreme, it used to be that if a man didn’t own a pigeon house, he wouldn’t be able to get married. These days there must not be many marriages, though more likely is that that particular tradition was tossed aside with agriculture when tourism became so lucrative.

Virtually everything in Goreme is directed at tourists from the hot air balloons to the travel companies, tour companies, restaurants, and tourist shops. Unlike other tourism hot spots though, the prices seem reasonable and the people don’t seem so hungry for the hunt.
Goreme Cappadocia Turkey
It’s one of the things that really makes me sick about tourist places is that the people who work in tourism tend to forget that the clients or customers are real people, instead they become prey. It’s the same for criminals, people become prey and they are something to be hunted. I went through it myself as a tout and as a stock broker, if people simply become a means to an ends, life becomes much less magical and satisfying. While we did encounter quite a few people who were on the hunt in Goreme, it was less than r Fez and the hunt itself was less in your face than either place as well.

We had a very nice breakfast with our friend Cemil at the Blue Moon Hotel before heading out to the Goreme Open Air Museum. this is an astounding place, though no more so than Goreme itself. The big draw at the Open Air Museum are the rock cut Byzantine churches and the painting and frescoes they contain. Admission was 15 lira each.

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyFlash photos weren’t allowed and several guides told us not to take photos at all which was a bit extreme(they say the flash destroys the color of the old paintings). And in fact, everyone was doing it.

The rock cut churches had interesting pews and tables carved in them, graves which had been robbed or excavated in the floors, and of course the paintings. This was a monastic community and then became a pilgrimage site for Christians in the 17th Century.

Hanane was not overly impressed with the paintings, in particular the Red Ochre made very little impression on her. “I could get up there and paint the same thing right now. They’re fake.” By this point, we were laughing each time she called something fake but I still think she was partly serious. Once again we opted to skip the extra fee, this time 8 lira each to see the frescoes in the Karanlik Kilise. I feel no regrets over that. I really hate to pay an entrance fee only to be faced with another entrance fee.

Goreme Cappadocia TurkeyWe exited feeling that we had both seen enough churches. While we didn’t have the time this visit to go to the underground cities, it was a nice thing to whet our appetite with the rural charms and comedic tourist hunting that takes place there. As examples of how the hunt is conducted in Goreme you can look at the names of the Pensions. Flintstones Pension, Bedrock Cave Hostel, Ufuk Pension, Shoestring Cave Pension and more. We were recommended to try the Peri Cave Hotel, though as I wrote previously, we were very fortunate to be staying in the Moonlight Cave Suites.

We strolled through the Rose Valley and then went back to Goreme village where we had a bad dinner, at Cappadocia Pide Salonu. Not recommended. Awful.

From there we hiked up to the highest point in Goreme and watched the sun go down and the lights of the fairy chimneys flicker on in Goreme. A bottle of wine would have made it perfect.

From there it was back to our cave to enjoy the hot tub, king size bed, and overall luxury of the Moonlight Cave Suites. Warning – don’t scroll down or you will see more of me than you want to.

too much exposure

Snow Hiking in Turkey – Izmir – Bornova – Manisa

Bornova Snow Hike

Our time in Turkey was some of the best that we had anywhere. We will always look fondly back on adventures like this one.

Adventures in foreign countries can be complex or they can be simple. One of the reasons I loved living in Manisa was because of the Manisa Tennis and Hiking Club. They made hiking adventures simple.

I met up with the club at the usual location in Tarzan square on a Sunday morning. As usual, everyone there was healthy, happy, and ready to get hiking and eating. Part of the fun of this club (and probably all Turkish clubs) is how much emphasis is put on the food. The packs were loaded and this wasn’t just going to be a normal outing in the snow. This was going to be a good old fashioned snow hike/sausage roast over an open fire in the mountains.

The club had arranged a bus to take us to the highest point in the mountains between Izmir and Manisa. It was going to take us higher but since there was quite a bit of snow and ice, the road was closed down. The driver let us out at the bottom and we began carefully working our way up the mountain road. More than one hiker slipped and fell but no one was seriously hurt.

Bornova Snow Hike Along the way we stopped to drink tea and have breakfast. The location was pretty but not very good for those of us who hadn’t brought something to sit on! It was a cool ass place! Ha ha.

Further on we came to a small village where the snow had trapped the inhabitants in. They didn’t seem to mind a bit. One problem did seem to be sewage leaking from somewhere though as the smell of urine was incredibly strong throughout the village. I’m not sure why, but I watched where I stepped.

We hiked up into the hills further through virgin snow and past woolly cattle who didn’t seem to mind the snow drifting in the least. They ran in a small herd. I don’t know why, but there aren’t all that many cows in Turkey which makes beef incredibly expensive. In fact, all meat is expensive in Turkey in comparison with North Africa or North America or Europe. I haven’t really figured out why.

Bornova Snow Hike Finally reaching what seemed to be a peak of sorts, we started to gather wood for our weenie roast. Once again, the choice of spots wasn’t the greatest for those of us without pads to sit on, but since my Turkish is minimal I went with it, even though a more comfortable spot was not very far away with places for people to sit.

After a few misguided efforts to start a fire with large or wet wood, finally wiser heads prevailed and we managed to do things the proper way with small dry tinder, small dry twigs, and plenty of room for the fire to breathe. After that, it was sausage time.

Turks love sausages. Obviously not pork, mostly sheep or some of the more expensive ones are cow meat. We roasted, we ate, we drank tea, and then we covered up the fire with snow and set off back down the mountain.

Down the hill, through the village, down the road, and with only one injury that caused some tears, we made it back to the waiting van. On the way we passed plenty of Turks who had come up from either Manisa or Izmir playing in the snow. Snowmen, plenty of picnicking, and as I smiled at two senior citizen couples enjoying the snow, one old man nailed me with a snowball! I wasn’t the only one laughing. His wife looked scared at first that I would be mad, but how could I be!

Bornova Snow Hike

Vietnam Travel Tips – Easy Riders and Sweet Spots in Vietnam

Finding hotels and hostels in Vietnam is the easy part. The hard part is starting your trip around the world. Make sure you include Vietnam on your round the world itinerary and follow these Vietnam travel tips.

There are many travel opportunities in Vietnam. Historical remains are scattered all over the country. Its rich culture and legacy has been attracting travelers from different countries. The Vietnamese are friendly and warm. Touring around the country isn’t difficult because locals are there to assist you.

Easy Riders in Vietnam

Vietnam motor bikeAdventure is absolutely experienced in Vietnam. One tour not to not miss is Dalat’s Easy Rider. Easy Rider provides a special tour by you riding on a motorcycle.

While you might choose to hire a car or a motorcycle, travelers will have a closer view of Vietnam’s attractions like the Central Highland, Mekong Delta, and Ho Chi Minh. This is also the best way to meet the locals and taste authentic Vietnamese cooking along the countryside.

The price is usually $60 to $75 depending on the route taken. Easy Rider has been featured in many guide books. .

 

Top Tourist Sites in Vietnam

Vietnam’s mountains, beaches, cities, and historical sites are major attractions to travelers.

Old Quarter of Hanoi- This is situated in the city of Hanoi. Shopaholics will truly enjoy the streets of Old Quarter. Shops of different goods and services flourish in the area. The tube or tunnel houses of ancient Vietnam still remained in the town’s street. Restaurants, art galleries, and craft stores offer a great way to explore the culture of Vietnam.

Halong BayHalong Bay- This is a World Heritage Site affirmed by UNESCO. It has unique and remarkable grottos and caves. travelers must see the 3000 small islands scattered in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Hue- This remarkable site is one of Vietnam’s spectacular cities with deep historical remnants such as the Royal Citadel, Flag Tower, Royal Palace, and Royal Tombs.

Temple of Literature- The disciples of the great philosopher considered this temple as a holy place. Vietnam’s first university was built in the area since 1076.

Being an upcoming tourist destination, the infrastructure, including communications, is getting better day by day.International calling services and internet access are provided in all major hotels and resorts and the postal service is available 24 hours a day.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum- This is the most visited spot annually. This place is popular as the resting place of the country’s most significant leader. The museum displays figures of the communist leaders and military collections.

Top Hotels in Vietnam

Vietnam is a paradise attracting thousands of travelers. Accommodation in Vietnam is pleasant and affordable. It is a perfect holiday vacation spot for families and for solo travelers. Most of the luxurious and major hotels in the country are found in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh such as:

Majestic Hotel- It has been in service since 1925. The hotel has an ambiance of complete elegance. They offer big discounts in travel packages. Accommodation includes free airport pick up, Wi-Fi access, and a smoke free wing. They have a spa, fitness center, and swimming pool for your leisure time.

Hilton Opera Hotel- This hotel is near the Old Quarter. Tourists will surely be pampered in their guest rooms fully furnished with cable TV, internet access, and work areas. Delicious Vietnamese cuisine is served in their fine restaurant.

Continental Hotel- This is situated in the center of Ho Chi Minh convenient to other tourist destinations in the city. The hotel is built with classic architecture and their restaurant serves Western cuisine.

You will never get bored on a Vietnam tour. Hiking, jungle trekking, and water sports are some of the recreational activities you can enjoy while you discover the wonders of Vietnam.

Make sure to include Vietnam on your trip around the world.

10 Great Oddball Things in South Korea

Someday when I stop traveling, I might actually catch up with myself.  While I was in South Korea, there were a number of odd things that really caused me to go “Hmmm….you don’t really do this or see this kind of oddball stuff anywhere else…”  I’ve been meaning to put together a post of them all since then…and finally, it’s time. Enjoy my 10 Great Oddball Things in South Korea

Sun Cruise1) The Hotel shaped like a ship – while I didn’t stay there, I paid a short visit and just thought – wow, this must have been expensive to build. Located on a coastal cliff in Jeongdongjin and opened in 2002, the resort  is a specially designed cruise ship on land. It is 165 meters in length, 45 meters in height, and 30,000 tons in weight. The Sun Cruise has 211 rooms, both condominium and hotel style, a Western and a Korean restaurant, revolving sky lounge, a night club, a karaoke, and sea water pool. It also offers 6 state-of-the-art function rooms for seminars and workshops.

2) Jimjilbangs – For usually less than 10 Euros you can check into a jingabong for 12-16 hours. They are open 24 hours.  Part bathhouse, part social club, part hotel, and part something else entirely – they are my favorite thing in South Korea.

3) The North Korean Submarine – I know, it’s not terribly exciting. A bunch of North Koreans got their submarine stuck on some reefs and abandoned it. This prompted a deadly manhunt that lasted over a month (25 of the 26 crew members were shot dead and the South Korean casualties, civil and military, tallied 17). It’s just odd that it is sitting there. Oh, yeah, and by the way, there is a US Warship there too…I don’t think it was abandoned though.

4) Going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning. Okay, this might be the oddest of them all. It’s about $50 but when you travel a lot you need to take care of your teeth and why not have it done in a place where you don’t know the language. I’m pretty sure they cleaned my teeth. It felt like it anyway. (Thanks to the Vagablond for the teeth tip)

5) Sokcho’s North Korean Village and ferry – Sokcho is interesting by itself but when was the last time you got pulled across a body of water (by hand) by a North Korean exile?

 

6)  Karaoke (whatever it’s called in Korea – I think it’s Norebong-ing) Anyway, it’s not like in the US. You and your friends (or just you) rent a private room and bring your own drinks. No audience. Definitely not recommended that you go by yourself. I went with a Dutch girl from the hostel and we had fun once we had drank enough.

7) Underground Shopping, Museums, etc -Koreans love to dig tunnels and you will find an amazing world beneath your feet when you take the time to look. This is especially true in Seoul and around the DMZ.

8) Love Motels – These are really cheap hotels generally and themed. Unlike karaoke, you can actually go to these by yourself, just make sure the walls are thick enough that you don’t hear the people who didn’t go by themselves. By the way, don’t be surprised if they offer you a menu of women to choose from – not required.  These are a great budget option (the love motels, not the women)

9) The Penis Park. It’s a beautiful natural park next to the sea – filled with dicks. Seriously, a must see place but not for the shy or easily aroused.

10) The De Militarized Zone – No trip to South Korea would be complete without visiting a war zone.  The war is still active and the DMZ is still being tunnelled under. You can visit at a few locations and even set foot in North Korea. Why not?

 

5 Rainforest Hikes Near Honolulu, Hawaii on Oahu

Most people travel to Hawaii for the beaches but there is plenty to see when you head into the rain forests and mountains of Hawaii too. If you want to sample wild tropical fruit, explore the rain forest, swim in beautiful falls, and see indigenous Hawaiian birds – here are five hikes on Oahu you don’t have to go far from Honolulu for.

Maunawili falls

Maunawili Falls – If you drive twenty minutes out of Honolulu towards the mountains, you will reach the other side of the island near Kailua. To get there you have to pass over the Ko’olau Mountains and go to the Pali Lookout. From there the trail winds downwards to scenic windward views, through gorgeous rain forest, and finally to one of the best swimming waterfalls in Hawaii. A friend tells me the Obamas were there not long ago!

Manoa Falls

Manaoa Falls – Even closer to Honolulu, just head up Manoa Road past the University of Hawaii to the top of the valley. The road forks at Lyon Arboretum and stay right. You may need to park further down the valley if it’s a sunny day. A short hike with the beautiful 100 ft Manoa Falls as the payoff.

Aihualama Trail

Aihualama Trail – For those looking for more challenges, about 100 yards before Manoa Falls, the Aihualama trail veers off to the left. This is a rain forest ridge hike that will take you through wild bananas, lush bamboo, and more. Watch for the Hawaiian Honey Creepers!

Lyon Arboretum

Lyon Arboretum – If you go left where the road forks to Lyon Arboretum you will find yourself among more than 8000 tropical plants, extensive botanical gardens, and numerous hiking trails. This is one of the most rewarding rain forest hiking areas near Honolulu because of the incredible diversity.

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail

Hawaiiloa Ridge – This is the most challenging hike in our list and recommended only for those who are experienced and confident. The trail is not maintained and will require you to drive to the trailhead. Drive towards Aina Haina and go left on Puuikena Drive. Park near the water tank and then enjoy this moderate hike to the summit for astounding views. Expect to pull yourself up some inclines with the help of ropes that friendly hikers have left behind.

When you’re done with your hike, why not head to the beach and jump in the warm Hawaiian waters to wash off the dirt and sweat! You deserve it!

Finding Family Love and Marriage in Morocco – Vagobond Travel Videos

I’ve written a bit about my marriage in the Sahara before – but I believe this is the first time I’ve put together a video of it. Meeting my wife changed my life. Our wedding was nothing short of extraordinary.  Please subscribe to my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvV2_3gHVl6NKf6jBBSnHzw They won’t let me have a vanituy URL until I have 100 subscribers and I’m new…so every like and subscription helps.

Arriving in Spain back in 2009 – Vagobond Travel Video

I arrived in Spain back in early January of 2009. It was a mind blowing experience. I’d been couch surfing for several years but I arrived in Barcelona at the height of the platform being great. Barcelona was hosting a European Couchsurfing Meetup so there were hundreds of CSers and hosts were going all out to showcase their city.

I need to talk about what Couchsurfing was at that time for you to understand – there was no AirBnB and social media was still a toddler. Couchsurfing was a way for like minded global citizens to meet each other, share their cities and countries, and become friends. It was absolutely astounding. No one was charging for rooms and we hadn’t reached the point where baby boomers trying to save money on their travels were trying to use Couchsurfing as a way to get a cheap room. There was no such thing as a ‘global digital nomad’ and working remote was still a thing that was the exception rather than the rule. Only the oldest of millennials were on the road – this was mostly a young cohort of Gen X before marriage or startups slowed us down. Travel blogging was a thing – but it was a NEW thing and food blogging, mommy blogging, and those kind of niches weren’t around yet because we invented them later. There was no Instagram, Youtube was a real  struggle on the road, and everyone carried an actual camera – digital, but not a phone – a camera.

So there I was – arriving in Spain, making new friends, and finding out that there was an entire world of people like me. It was exhilarating. I wish it could have lasted forever. Just a few years later – it was an experience that couldn’t happen again. Condenast and other Boomer travel magazines had found that Boomers could save a few bucks using CS. Date rapists and scammers had infiltrated the CS community and put everyone on edge. AirBnb came along and showed everyone that rather than giving their rooms away they could rent them out, and then the ‘boomer mini-me’ generation came of age and made everything that had been cheap more expensive as their digital nomad lifestyles, van lifestyles, and desire for foods that had been cheap (avocados, ramen, saracha, granola, brown bread etc) made those foods and experiences expensive. And of course, smart phones, Instagram and the other tech we take for granted today made a lot of what we did impractical or unnecessary. Back in those days hosts were guides, friends, ambassadors, and sometimes lovers – as were the other CSers we met. 2006 to 2011 were the glory days of Couchsurfing – if you missed it – well, maybe you can get a sense from this video.

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