A little Rhodes, some Marmaris, and a lot of ‘story time’

The whole reason The Ferry Fiasco (see the post if you’re curious) was even a thing was so I could take the ferry from Ρόδος (Rhodes) to Marmaris. And before said ferry ride across the short (30 miles) stretch of water began, I was given shit by the agent ‘letting’ me out of the Schengen Zone. There was no stamp in my passport for when I entered Greece because I entered via Iceland on 30 January. It was 26 April and I had 2 days left on my tourist visa.

For the record: US people have 90 days out of every 180 on a travel visa. Most people are unaware of this as they simply stamp your passport at the border, and let you in without any paperwork or anything. Most of the time, they don’t even say a single word to you. So I understand why this is not common knowledge.

Agent: “When did you enter Greece?”

Me: “I don’t remember, I entered the Schengen Zone at the end of January.”

Agent: “Wait over there.” After everyone else had gone through the line. “You’re going to Turkey?”

Me: “Yes.”

Agent: “When did you enter Greece?”

Me: “Hang on, I’ll check.” I opened the Hostelworld app to see when I checked into my first hostel in Greece. “6 February.”

Agent: “And when you’re done in Turkey, will you come back to Greece?”

Me: “No, I’ll move on.”

That seemed to satisfy her…sort of. She put an exit stamp in my passport, and let me continue to the ferry. There had been several times through the process when she’d stopped, and thought about what to do. She’d even ran off and talked to another agent before calling me back for the second time. I get the impression a lot of people exit Schengen then come right back, and overstay their allotted visa time. Anyway, I had escaped the border agent so all was well with the world.

An hour long ferry ride later, I arrived in Marmaris (Turkey). While standing in line to see the border agents, I saw a price list for visas for different countries. It made me glad I’d gone though the Turkish webpage, and bought my visa online as it saved me over $5. I also noted that it costs Canadians double that of other 1st world countries. Canada, what did you do?

When I got to the agent, he looked at my passport, checked online for my e-visa, stamped my passport and handed it back to me. He totally wasn’t interested in the e-visa copy I’d printed out; thanks, technology! Then I was directed to a bag scanner like the ones at airports. A quick scan later, and I was in Turkey. It was so much easier than I expected. Between the pseudo war between Greek and Turkish fighter planes over the Aegean, and all the news in the ‘west’ about how dangerous Turkey is; I expected more of a fuss.

News flash: I’ve been in Turkey for almost a week now, and I have always felt safe. Even safer than I’ve felt in the large cities in the US. As long as you don’t plan on going near the Syrian border, you should be fine.

I walked 20 minutes to the hostel. It was 25 degrees (77F), and I was carting around my backpack so I was pretty warm and a little tired when I arrived. I was greeted by a nice, old lady who insisted I sit down while she made me tea. The common area at Meltepe Pansiyon (pansiyon is Turkish for ‘guest house’ so almost all hostels, hotels, and lodging facilities have that word in the name) is gorgeous. There are small tables and chairs set up under a canopy of vegetation making it shady and cool.

When I was finished with the tea, I was shown to my room which was far better than expected. I’d booked a single bed room with a shared bathroom, but I was shown a two bed room with its own bathroom. The next day while talking to the owner, I was told he’d upgraded me; winning!

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Random shots of Marmaris, Turkey.

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The next few days were spent wandering around the city; mostly along the coastline, and through the grand bazaar. This city was built for tourists. It sits on a bay that’s largely cut off from the rest of the Mediterranean Sea. That makes the water a little warmer, and is why there’s a huge stretch of beach interspersed with a couple docks. All along the water sit a bunch of hotels, restaurants, and boat owners offering a plethora of tours.

The grand bazaar is also close to the water. It’s several blocks of shops. The roads are ‘closed’ to traffic (although they can’t completely keep motorcycles out, and covered which is a welcome relief from the hot sun.

There are also small, local buses all over the city. If you see one passing, you can even flag them down for a cheap ride (3 Turkish Lira, which is than $1). So getting around is very easy.

Having never been in a Muslim country before, I was a little surprised the first time I heard a ‘call to prayer’. There are megaphones all over the city that broadcast the voice of a priest singing in Arabic (at least I assume it’s Standard Arabic which is what the Quran is written in) several times a day. I was surprised again when I saw people continuing whatever they were doing rather than stopping to pray; even though I’m pretty sure most people are Muslim. Relatively secularized? I have no standard for comparison so I don’t know.

What I can say is I spent about half an hour one day talking to the pansiyon owner about Islam. He was quite sad to hear I’m atheist, and was concerned for my ‘soul’. One of the things he said is that God has to be proven logically which I agree with completely. Our conclusions turned out to be opposite, but the premise is dead on.

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Tiny castle and archeological museum.

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He also told me that heaven is like a castle with 1,000 gates. Each gate is only valid for a certain time period, and one can only enter through the gate that corresponds to their time on earth. For example before Christ, the gate was Judaism. After Christ, it was Christianity. And after Muhammad, it is Islam.

I found this fascinating as The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (The Mormon Church) also builds on the base of Christianity. I was curious to see what his thoughts on that would be, but I didn’t want to be rude so I didn’t mention that. I also didn’t want to start punching holes in his view as I was still trying to understand it. One must be aware of what they attempt to refute before coming to a conclusion.

Moving on, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Marmaris and the pansiyon. The owner and his mother (the woman that greeted my upon arrival) are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and are incredibly hospitable. When I would use the kitchen, the owner would poke his head in the door, and tell me he wanted me to treat his house like my own and that he wanted me to be comfortable. On the day I left, he even gave me a ride to the main bus station on the back of his motorcycle; saving me time and 3 Lira! If you ever go to Marmaris, I’d encourage you to look up Meltepe Pansiyon.

And now that I’ve talked your ear off…does that work with blogging? Anyway, until next time….

The Ferry Fiasco

Anyone that’s traveled before will tell you there are times when things will go wrong. This is even one of the reasons some people travel: to be pushed out of their comfort zone and overcome unforeseen obstacles. Well, buckle up readers, because I have one such story for you now. But first, I need to explain what was supposed to happen.

The plan

My allotted 90 days in the Schengen Zone will come to an end on the 28th (of April). So I’d been looking at future destinations for a while. Should I go further up the Balkans; maybe hit up Bulgaria; run off to Egypt? There were plenty of choices, but I settled on Turkey. (Note: this is not where things went wrong. As far as I can tell from people I’ve met along the way, Turkey is an excellent place to visit.)

I noticed the island of Ρόδος (Rhodes) is right next to it, and some quick searching on Rome 2 Rio told me there’s a ferry that goes between the island and a place called Marmaris, Turkey. Better yet, there’s a cheap hostel in Marmaris that looks amazing. So that was settled; Rhodes would be my last stop in Ελλάδα (Greece).

Quick travel hack: if you want to know how to get from one place to another, Rome 2 Rio is an excellent website that can give you a bunch of options. It can even direct you to the various transportation company’s webpages.

And how would I get to Rhodes? There’s a once a week ferry from Κρήτη (Crete); specifically Ηράκλιο (Heraklion). It arrived at 0030 (12:30 am) though, and the hostel I wanted to stay in was a good ways from the port and its reception closed at 0100. No problem; I’d book a place closer to the port, spend a night there, and move on the next day to the better, cheaper hostel that’s a little farther inland.

I’d heard Heraklion kinda sucked though so I’d spend most of my time in Crete in Χάνια (Chania/Hania). I could take an overnight ferry to either city from Αθήνα (Athens), and save a night at a hostel in the process. The plan seemed foolproof.

When things went wrong

Things started to go wrong in Hania two days before my bus to Herakion. I thought going to the beach would be fun, and it was! But this was the first time all year I didn’t wear jeans outside, and my legs and feet got really burned. Showering hurt; putting socks and pants on hurt; trying to lay down and cover up with a sheet to sleep hurt…. I spent the entire day (at least while the sun was up) before my bus to Herakion inside the hostel in shorts and flip-flops trying to be in as little pain as possible.

The day of my bus trip, I put my socks and jeans on as gently as I could (it still hurt though), and waddled down the road to the bus station. The bus ride took 3 hours. Then, I had to walk to another bus station to take the city bus out to the Heraklion suburbs where I’d foolishly booked my hostel. I ended up spending about 5 hours clothed until I could strip back down to shorts and flip-flops. I had managed to find some vaseline with aloe in it when I was grocery shopping though so I put some on my burns.

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Brunch

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The next day was the day of the ferry to Rhodes. But the ferry left in the evening, and check-out was around noon. So I hopped the bus back into town, and chilled near the harbor all day; which would have been pleasant if not for the cloths rubbing against my sunburns the whole time.

Finally, it was FerryTime © (just kidding, people can’t copyright that). I went to check in, but the guy was taking a long time to find my ticket. After a good 10 minutes of back and forth, he figured out that the ferry I was supposed to catch had left 12 hours earlier than I was expecting — wait, what? The ferry from Athens to Hania was 8 hours long, and it was far shorter from Heraklion to Rhodes. After some post-crisis research, I discovered that the ferry takes 14 hours to traverse that relatively small distance. Talk about slow-boating….

The fix

So now, I had to hurry up and catch the ferry to Athens (that was leaving in 2 hours), and from there, go to Rhodes. Which is far more expensive and would take me over 24 hours to complete. So the overnight ferry to Athens left at 2130, and arrived at 0600. Then I took the 0930 ferry from Athens to Rhodes that arrived at 0315 (yes, that’s the next day).

There were two fortunate things I discovered during those long hours on boats. The first is that I’d almost gotten used to the pain of cloths rubbing on my sunburns…almost. The second is that the hostel I really wanted to stay at allowed for late/early check-in. I simply informed them of when I would arrive, and the host arranged for me to find the key in a pre-determined location.

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Before the city wakes.

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So I arrived in Rhodes at 0315, spent about an hour trying to find the bus station, took the local bus at 0445, and arrived at the hostel (in Ιαλυσός/Iallysos) around 0530. At which point, I found the key and my room, and promptly went to sleep. And for anyone keeping track, I’d been fully clothed for over 40 hours.

The aftermath

Fortunately, the first, expensive hostel I was going to stay at didn’t charge me for the full night; they just kept the security deposit: $5.58. That ended up saving me $31.46 (you know how I mentioned they’re expensive).

The original ferry from Heraklion to Rhodes was €21; which was just lost money. The ferry from Heraklion back to Athens was €46 euro, and the one to Rhodes was €63.50.

So when that’s all computed, I basically lost $103.73, and spent a lot more time in pain from sunburns than was necessary. A pessimist would probably say something like ‘worst most of a week ever’ or something.

Summary

But I’ve been surprisingly upbeat (relatively) this whole time. I mean, just look at today’s brunch:

Brunch

How could you not love that? Granted, I was wearing socks and long pants that still hurt a little, but that view though…it’ll be even better for dinner once the sun’s gone down.

So if there’s anything to take away from this it’s that sometimes bad shit happens. But it’s typically not the worst thing ever, and afterwards, it makes for a fantastic story (or blog post). Until next time….

Χανιά (Chania, no Hania, no Kania)

English doesn’t have the sound represented by the Greek letter ‘x’. It’s usually represented in English by ‘ch’. While that works in some cases (like ochi for όχι) if you say ‘chania’, no one will know WTF you’re talking about. Though not accurate, people will be far more likely to understand you if you say ‘hania’ or ‘kania’.

Anyway, Χανιά is the second largest city on the island of Κρήτη (Crete), and I’ve been here for a little short of a week. When I first arrived, I wasn’t horribly impressed. But then, I was sleep deprived from a 9 hour overnight ferry from Αθήνα (Athens), and the hostel is in the middle of the non-scenic section of the city. After a nap when I went out to explore though, I quickly discovered it’s far more pretty than my first impression.

There are tiny alleyways filled with old buildings and flowers, a few blocks of a market area, the old harbor, and a few beaches a short trip out of the city. And the weather is amazing. Being on a huge island in the southern Mediterranean definitely has advantages.

So what is there to do here? If you like partying, there are night clubs. You can get food next to the water at the old harbor. You can get some pretty sweet shots of the lighthouse. You can explore old, beautiful alleyways. If you have transport, you can hit up beaches.

One day, we made a day trip out of going to Ρέθυμνο (Rethimno, the third largest city on the island). There’s a separate post about that.

Another day, we rented bicycles, and went out riding. A day at the beach, a lot of riding, and an insane sunburn later, I concluded it was a good day. I definitely recommend having at least a bicycle for the beaches…and a lot of sunscreen.

I hit up the archeological museum here on another day. It wasn’t bad, but I think I’m getting tired of ancient things. You know you’ve been in Greece too long when you see 5000 year old artifacts and think ‘meh’. Although I did still enjoy the old seawall that protects the harbor from the sea so I guess I’m not a total lost cause…yet.

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The old port

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If I had to sum up my time here, I’d say it’s a nice place to visit. I wouldn’t want to live here though. Things are a bit on the pricey side due to all the tourists, and it being an island where most things are imported from the mainland. I’m glad I came now though as it’s still earlier than high season. I can only imagine how crazy this place gets in the summer.

Until next time….

Road trip Rethimno

On Monday, a few of us staying at the hostel decided to take a trip to Ρέθυμνο (Rethimno, the third largest city in Crete). To get there, you either need to take a bus or have a car. Fortunately, one of us had a rental car so off we went.

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Road trip Rethimno, Crete

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The drive is about an hour from Χάνια (Chania/Hania) where we were staying. Crete is very green, and every time one of us would try to take a picture, a tree would pop up to block the sweet shot. So no road photos…or at least not of anything outside the car.

The parking situation in Rethimno is quite different than Hania. We had to track down a store on the street we parked on, and buy little scratch cards to indicate how long we would be there. After a couple attempts, we located the appropriate place, and bought the tickets. Challenge #1 complete!

The next challenge: what to do? Our token Dutch guy had an answer: Pokemon Go. PokeStops are all points of interest that people reported for the game Ingress (or at least most of them). So pretty much anything listed is going to have some sort of cultural or historical significance. “Hey guys, all the PokeStops are down this way. Let’s go.” So he caught a shitload of pokemon, and all of us saw every site we wanted to in the city.

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Random shots of Rethymno, Crete

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We also look a few breaks for lunch, coffee, dinner, ice cream…. Google said we walked 7 kilometers so I think we deserved a lot of breaks. At least that’s the story I’m going with.

After wandering around what felt like the whole city, we went a little out of town to drive go carts! That was crazy fun. And I discovered I suck at racing. Passing people is really difficult. Although, Token Dutch Guy made it look easy…. I think my new rule of thumb is going to be Dutch guys are good at everything until proven otherwise.

So after a fantastic day, we came back to Hania. If I was to give a few recommendations for Rethinmo, it would be these:

  • Don’t stay there. This is a place that you’re better off making a day trip out of. If you’re looking for a place to stay, I’d recommend one of the two largest cities on the island (Χάνια, Ηράκλειο).
  • If possible, rent a car. While it’s possible to take buses, they take twice as long, and are a lot more hassle. Being on your own schedule is far preferable.
  • Take your time. There isn’t a whole lot to see so just wander around, and take lots of breaks.
  • Bring enough money to stop at shops. Especially little coffee and/or ice cream shops. These places are awesome; especially the ones with views of the sea.

So I hope you enjoyed this short post. Until next time.

Patras

This is going to be an interesting post as I visited during Πάσχα (Pascha: Easter) which was a week after non-Orthodox Easter this year. As a result, I didn’t do as much of the typical sightseeing as normal; also, I was in an AirBnB so there weren’t crazy hostel people to go out with.

Πάτρα (Patras) is the third largest city in Ελλάδα (Hellas: Greece) with a population around 260,000. Strangely, this makes the Greek population here smaller than the 300,000 in Melbourne, Australia. The small (relatively) population, and the general lack of tourism gave me the impression I had found the real Greece. English speaking is only common among the youth, and people that work in the service industry (though even there it’s not as common as the larger cities). Needless to say, I appreciated the chance to get some more practice with my Greek.

So back to this Easter thing…. In Greece, this holiday is larger than Χριστούγεννα (Hristoogenna: Christmas).

As a quick side note, I fully support this idea. Christians should celebrate Christ’s conquering of death more than his birth since his death and subsequent resurrection is when he atoned for the sins of the world. At least that’s what they’ll tell you.

Because it’s so large, there were copious fireworks all weekend long. There were also a lot of closures for people to see their families.

An example of this is on Friday. This is the day they mourn/celebrate (depending on how you look at it) Christ’s death. Most of the businesses that weren’t critical to general living closed at 1500. Fortunately for me, grocery stores were one of the places still open so I was able to get some food (also, my AirBnB hosts fed me which was awesome). In the evening right around sunset, every church had a procession where they carried “Christ’s dead body”. It’s sort of like a parade….

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Random shots of Πάτρα

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Saturday was a relatively normal day, and most things seemed open so I went out walking. It’s particularly nice to wander by the coast as you get the breeze cooling you off. The restaurants right on the water were packed which is understandable as they provide a fantastic view.

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Beach…sort of…

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I went back to the AirBnB before it got dark for some sweet sunset shots. That roof is awesome! It was also perfect for viewing the fireworks that started going crazy around midnight. “Χριστός ανέστη” (Christ is risen) as the locals would say. This is also when the fasting (for those that participated) is over, and everyone stuffs their faces full of meat.

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Best view in the city

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Sunday was totally dead as that was the main holiday, and most people were partying with their families. The local grocery store was open though; winning! When I walked in, every staffer working that day hailed me with Easter greetings all at the same time. I’m sure I looked rude not returning them, but being bombarded with all those words at once in a still relatively unfamiliar language was just too much for my brain to process quickly enough to mount an adequate response. Sorry employees. I hope the cashier remembered me telling her two days before that I suck at Greek.

Monday wasn’t as dead as Sunday, but it was still pretty slow. I think some of the local buses weren’t running either as I waited at a stop that was supposed to have one come by every 20 minutes, but I didn’t see any. So…

Travel tip: If you’re traveling over a holiday, either A) ensure your transport method is running or B) allot enough time to use a back-up and still get to your connection on time.

Fortunately, I left enough time to walk to the downtown station. Although, I probably could have just asked my AirBnB hosts, and they would have drove me down. What can I say; I have a thing for walking….

So yeah…it was a mostly chill trip with a shitload of fireworks. Talk to you all later.

Thessaloniki: Greece’s mainland gem

I’d spent a little over 2 weeks in Αθήνα (Athens), and it’s Greece’s largest city so I expected to be in Θεσσαλονίκη (Thessaloniki) for roughly the same amount of time. What ended up happening is I stayed for just under 5 weeks! Where did all that time go, and what captivated me so much?

Thessaloniki has a population of around 1 million. 10% of that is students of which a large number are non-Greek. Europe has a program called Erasmus that lets anyone enrolled in an EU college take a semester or two abroad. With a school named Aristotle University, warm weather, and a (relatively) cheap cost of living, Thessaloniki is a destination for a lot of foreign students in addition to local ones.

This gives the city a very young and international feel; particularly in the area close to campus where you can find a lot of bars and cheap (but also good) food. It’s quite a juxtaposition since that’s also the area with an old Roman temple and the ruins of Galerius’ Arch and Palace. So it’s an everyday sight for a shitload of young people to wander by 2000 year old structures. “What am I going to do today? Just wander around some super old buildings; no big deal.”

It’s also a beautiful city. It’s built around the bay, and stretches into the adjacent hills/mountains. There’s a ‘boardwalk’ (actually reclaimed land) that runs along the coast where a lot of fancy (for Greece) restaurants are. And up in the hills you get amazing views of the city and bay below. Every day around sunset, a bunch of young people grab some alcohol and snacks, and hang out on the old wall (another 2000 year old structure) admiring the scenery. Of course, I had to hang out there with a few friends; it’s just what you do.

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Waiting for the sunset

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In the mornings (after I’d visited most of the sights), I also liked going down to the dock, and staring at the sea. During the week, there aren’t too many people there until the afternoon at which point the aforementioned throngs of young people would arrive. (I swear, they’re everywhere).

I also found the most affordably priced Greek classes I’ve ever seen. If you’re going to be in Thessaloniki for a while, and would like to learn a little Greek in a classroom setting, check out ΒΑΒΥΛΩΝΙΑ. They do a lot of culture related things as well. So if you’re into dance, art, or theater, and don’t mind receiving instructions in Greek, you can also check them out for that.

And of course, no talk of my time in Thessaloniki would be complete without mentioning the hostel. It’s called Little Big House, and OMFG, it’s awesome!* I could tell you about how every room used to be an apartment (flat) so they each have their own kitchen (with utensils, and cookware) and bathrooms. Or I could mention the reception area is a cafe where locals drop by for coffee, snacks, and drinks. Or I could say something about the free breakfast having the most variety I’ve found in any of the Greek hostels I’ve visited.

While all of those things I could have told you about are amazing, the thing that most impressed me, and made me not want to leave was the staff. My first morning there, I wandered down to reception for the breakfast, and the on-shift hospitality person (who I had not met the previous evening) greeted me by name! I was more than a little surprised; I don’t even remember my own name half the time.

And the friendliness continued from there. Need advice on what to see? They can list the most popular attractions. Need some help getting around the city? They’ll tell you what mode of transportation will work out best as well as scheduling trips or booking tickets if necessary. Have a car, and want to get out of the city? They know a fair bit about the surrounding countryside.

Hell, I’d even ask them questions about the Greek language. “What gender is this noun?” “What’s the Greek word for change (like money)?” “How do I say ‘Stone Age’ in Greek?” (Yes, I actually asked about all that. If you’re curious the answers to the last two are: ψηλά, and Λίθινη Εποχή). One time, I had to get something printed as a homework assignment, and the person on duty read it, corrected my errors, and re-printed the corrected version I sent her. I don’t think the Greek trees were too appreciative, but I sure was.

After a month of peppering them with incessant questions, I feel like I developed a genuine relationship with these people. Even one of the girls that doesn’t speak English, and never talks to guests as a general rule would say “Για σου” (hi) when she saw me (sometimes). On the day I left, I got no less than 3 hugs, and a few “I’ll miss you”s (which really says something considering how introverted and generally un-huggable I am). And I’ll miss them too. Hell, I miss them now and it’s only been a couple days.

So yeah, I definitely recommend Thessaloniki and Little Big House. They are, without a doubt, the best place I’ve been so far.

 

 

*If you like chill hostels. For a party hostel, I’m sure there are plenty in town that would be more suited to your taste.

The water incident

So traveling has (for the most part) been pretty fun, but this is a story about when something went wrong. On Wednesday afternoon, the main water line servicing Θεσσαλονίκη (Thessaloniki) burst. There might be some outlying areas that still have water, but the vast majority of the city’s 1 million inhabitants had no running water. Since I happened to be in the city at the time, that number included me.

One of the friends I made at the hostel happened to be showering at the time (or maybe slightly after). He’d just managed to get soaped up when the water in the tank (of the water heater) ran out. He turned the water off and back on again after waiting a few seconds and was able to get just enough water to rinse [mostly] off, but he still had that slightly grungy feeling.

For the first few hours, this water problem was kind of fun. “Ha ha, there’s not water. This is interesting trying to find ways to do all that stuff we take for granted….” But after a while, it started to get really annoying.

Want some water to drink? Go to a store and buy some bottled water. Want to take a shower? That’s just not going to happen; you’re doomed to stink. Want to use the bathroom? After the first couple flushes, there’s no more water in the tank. Hello stinky bathrooms.

This was particularly acute when I needed to take a dump. I had to pour 3 liters of water into the tank for one flush. Fortunately, that was enough to prevent the entire bathroom from becoming a bio hazard zone. There’s a limit to how many times I can do that though. Bottled water is cheap, but not that cheap. Plus, it took a lot more preparation than the usual just finding a toilet.

On Friday during the day, the water was back just long enough to take a shower which was amazing! I couldn’t do laundry though.

It’s effected a lot of the restaurants too. There are quite a few things they can’t make without running water so business has dropped off a bit. I’m surprised they’re getting as much business as they are.

I started writing this thinking it would be over soon, but now it’s Sunday. I woke up to find a shitload of empty water bottles from people trying to clean themselves. I don’t want to go out because I’d get sweaty, and won’t have a way to wash the stink off. This city was clearly designed around the assumption that water would be readily available.

It’s amazing the things we take for granted, and how such a simple thing can change everything. Before this incident, I was on the fence about leaving this city; it’s actually really nice here most of the time. Now I catch myself dreaming of my next destination where I won’t have to constantly worry about the water situation.

I hope the rest of you are having a great day, and can bathe yourselves whenever you wish. Until next time….