That Kazbek mountain thing

My normal method of travel involves just showing up somewhere and exploring. However, one of the friends I made in თბილისი (Tbilisi) wanted to go on a day trip labeled ‘Kazbegi’. So I decided to be a good little tourist go on a group tour.

The marshrutka (from Russian: маршру́тка; it’s basically a large van or small bus) was supposed to pick us up at 0915. Apparently, traffic was particularly bad that Monday morning, and the tour company employees came out to talk to us around 0930. We then walked down the road a little (this was not in the original plan) and got picked up at an alternate location. I didn’t mind, but there were a few people with luggage because they were flying out after the tour, and one person brought a kid and stroller. It was a little tricky getting their stuff over the few cobblestone sections.

We headed out of the city, and eventually hit the საქართველოს სამხედრო გზა (Georgian Military Road) going north. Traveling on this road is amazing. It winds through the mountains and hits 2,379 meters (7,815 feet) at its highest point. This was also the first time I felt cool in months as I’ve been in ‘warm’ countries.

The first stop did not disappoint from a scenery perspective. We were on the side of a mountain looking down on a lake that looked like it might have been artificial as there was a huge mound of dirt on the lower end of the canyon. There were also a couple shops, a bathroom, and some wool outfits with accompanying sword/gun we could wear in a cheesy attempt to look like a local for Instagram. If I ever make it out there to stay for longer than a day, I’ll be sure to wear an actual outfit for my pictures so…I stick my nose up at you, fake costumes.


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Small church

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The next stop was at a small church. While I only took pictures of the typical ‘churchy’ things, there were also a lot of defensive structures. The church is surrounded by a wall (that’s now in varying states of functionality), and a tower that’s entrance is a very narrow passage between it and a church wall. No armored (or fat) people are getting through there.

Then we came to a place that reminded me of Pamukkale, Turkey. This time, the mineral being deposited is orange, and makes the water taste like soda water. There’s no carbonation, it just tastes like it.

This is also around the time we started seeing the tunnels on running parallel to the road on the mountain side. These tunnels are at sections of the road where the uncovered area is closer to the edge. In winter when the roads are covered in snow and ice, these tunnels are vital to ensure vehicles can both make it up the mountains as well as prevent them slipping off, and having a very bad day.

We continued on to the town of სტეფანწმინდა (Stepantsminda). This place is pretty close to the Russian border, and is very touristic. There are a lot of hotels and restaurants. We ducked into one of the latter to place our lunch orders. We were going to continue our tour while they prepared the food.

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On the way to, and pictures of Kazbegi, Georgia.

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Then we all jumped into some 4x4s (all terrain vehicles), and went up the dirt roads to…. A church overlooking the town. It’s a very plain church that consists of a lot of rocks, and no real decoration. It doesn’t need any as the view is spectacular: very green mountains, rivers, maybe a couple flocks of sheep, and the town that doesn’t have any structures near the church. It’s pretty isolated, and would take a couple hours to walk up to so I can’t imagine it’s used to hold services. We wandered around for about half an hour taking copious pictures.

When the selfies were done, we went back down to the town for lunch. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but Georgian food is fantastic! A lot of it is vegetarian as well; non-meat eaters rejoice.

After lunch, we started the long trek back. We stopped a couple more times along the way. Once, at the friendship monument which is a large semi-circle wall covered in art, and overlooking more stunning views of mountains, valleys, waterfalls…. The scenery on this trip did not disappoint.

The whole trip (minus lunch) cost me less than $30. That was money well spent even for my cheap ass. I also feel obliged to mention some sections of the road were destroyed which meant a very bumpy ride in some spots. The long winters with all the snow and ice make it nearly impossible to keep the road comfortably traverseable. It definitely took its toll on my old, grumpy self too. By the time we got back to Tbilisi, I was very ready to walk around. Also, if you get carsick easily, this trip is going to be hell for you. I was mostly ok, but I know not everyone will be.

Anyway, I hope this has been helpful and/or entertaining. I know most of my friends in the US would have a hard time placing Georgia on a globe (hell, some of them have a hard time with the US state of Georgia), but this place is so worth visiting. See you guys next post.

Dental care while traveling

It had been about 6 months since I’d had my teeth cleaned. Given how much I abuse my teeth, I figured it was about time to give them a little love. I also figured it would be a good chance to show Georgia is not the third-world country many people think it is.

Challenge number 1: finding a dentist in Tbilisi. This would have been far easier in Kutaisi as I saw dental offices everywhere while wandering around the town. But I’m in the capital now so I turned to what is almost always my first option: Google Maps. It turns out, that was not a good idea. Many of the places Google thought there was a dental office had no such thing at that location. So I reverted to wandering and looking for tooth symbols on signs. After a while, I found one…that was (of course) unknown to Google.

Whatever, I walked in searching for a reception desk. There was just a lobby. No big deal; I just sat down, and waited for someone to wander out. The woman that eventually came out looked confused, and asked me something in Georgian (I’m assuming, ‘what are you doing here’). When I asked if she spoke English, she wandered off and found a co-worker which I’m assuming is the most fluent person in their office. I asked if they cleaned teeth, and she responded they did but there wasn’t time that day. So I asked if I could schedule an appointment. She walked in back, and their ‘scheduling person’ (for lack of a better description) came out with a calendar. She told me to return the next day at 1030. Sweet!

The next morning, I woke up at a decent time (for a change). There were other travelers eating breakfast, and we started conversing. When we’d finished, I discovered I should have payed more attention to the time; I was going to be late. I got ready as quickly as I could and walked even faster than normal to try being close to on time. I ended up arriving 2 minutes late. But it didn’t matter as it appeared I was simply waiting for an opening in their schedule.

One of the employees came out, and gave me some plastic ‘booties’ to cover my shoes. Then, I waited for an hour. I didn’t care since I was in no particular rush so I chilled and watched soap operas in Hindi (I think) dubbed in Georgian. I didn’t understand a single word, but it held my attention. Finally, someone came out, pointed at me, and gestured for me to follow her back.

I was greeted by a couple chairs that looked just like the ones back in the US with all the same equipment. The first time the dentist wanted me to spit, she pointed at the drainage contraption next to the chair and said a word. Every time after that, she repeated the word. I don’t remember what it was, but every time she said anything, I just spit. It seemed logical to me….

When we were done, she wrote something on a notepad in Georgian, and handed me the sheet. Then it took her about 5 minutes of searching online to figure out how to translate something. When she showed me the phone she’d been searching on, it said ‘buy this at a pharmacy’. No prescription; just whatever it was written on a sheet of paper. She also indicated (through gestures) that I should swish whatever it was 2 times a day for 10 days.

Then it was time for the bill: 40 lari! That’s a little over $15! In the States, it would cost at least 10 times that much for exactly the same treatment (well ok, so there wouldn’t be a language barrier, but I’ll take that any day for that price). Even many co-pays (where insurance covers most of the bill) are more expensive than that.

Then it was time for the next challenge: finding a pharmacy. That was much easier. I walked up to a counter, and handed the pharmacist the paper. She asked me something in Georgian.

Me: “I’m sorry.”

Pharmacist: “For what?”

Me: “Teeth”

She went back, got a bottle, and gave me the price: 17.50 lari (less than $10). I later discovered it was some sort of anti-bacterial mouth wash.

So if anyone from the US (or any country that has expensive health care) needs their teeth cleaned, I recommend just waiting until your next vacation. The quality is just as good, and you could save a lot of money. I know if I need anything medically, I’m going to check wherever in the world I happen to be before hopping a flight ‘home’.

I don’t know how it is in other places, but there’s some seriously strong nationalism going on in the US. A lot of my friends would say the US is ‘number 1’ in everything; the best country in the world. When I’d ask them if they’d been anywhere else to compare, they would almost always respond they hadn’t. So how did they know? This experience has taught me that health care in the US (at least when it comes to dentistry) is not the best. It’s probably not even in the top 10.

I hope this has encouraged you to validate your preconceived notions. Go explore, and find out if what you were told from those famous people on TV is actually the case. I know from my own experiences that almost nothing the propaganda machines (media) in the US told me is actually true. It seems the old saying is true: travel will destroy any prejudices you have.

How I got around Turkey

Having spent over a month in Turkey traveling up the west coast and across the Black Sea coast, I figured I it would probably be good if I wrote something about how I did it. My way may not be everyone’s, but at least this should give some ideas if anyone else is thinking about traversing the country.

So, I entered via ferry from Rhodes, Greece. While that was great for getting in, that’s the last ferry I’ve taken. (Quick aside: ferries are fantastic for getting between the Greek islands and/or between Turkey and the Greek islands.)

Once in Turkey, I found the easiest thing was to take buses. The country is well connected via roads, and buses travel to even very small towns. The word you’ll need here is ‘otogar’; it means main bus terminal. Every town has one. There were a few instances where neither I nor the local bus driver spoke each others’ language, but I was quickly able to identify if he was going where I wanted by simply asking: ‘otogar’? If he wasn’t going there, this was generally followed by a bunch of pointing and speaking in Turkish. ‘Teşekkürler’ (thanks), now I’ll just walk in the direction you pointed to and find another bus driver.

People that speak English get pretty scarce in Eastern Turkey, but I was always able to find someone that spoke well enough to walk me through buying a bus ticket at the town’s main bus station. Actually, they usually found me. I’d just wander into the terminal looking lost, and they’d come up and ask me where I was going. If that doesn’t happen though, just walk up to a desk, and ask. They’ll find someone that speaks English, and even send you to another company if they aren’t going where you need to go.

There were a few instances where I needed to take a couple buses; I had to go to one place to catch another bus in order to finish the trip. This is where the site Rome 2 Rio comes in handy. Even on the times when I didn’t look up the connecting city first, the employees would tell me I had to go through a certain place first.

Some people I ran into suggested I go online and purchase my tickets there. While that would have been great, I have yet to find a page that’s not in Turkish (and there were no other language options). Additionally, there are many bus companies and routes that are not listed online. I found that there were always multiple buses throughout the day heading in the direction I wanted to go. So just showing up was a lot easier, and I never had any problems doing that.

I should also mention that flying and taking trains are also options between the larger and/or more popular cities. These are also very affordable options, but I preferred to stick with a consistent mode of travel that would get me anywhere.

I also occasionally took metros (in the large cities) and taxis within a town when walking seemed like too much of a pain in the ass. Most of the time though, I didn’t mind walking. I know, I’m weird.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. There’s a handy little comments section if there are any further questions. Until next time….

Traveling during Ramadan

For those not familiar with Muslim traditions, Ramadan is a 29-30 day period during which time a few unusual things happen. The most noticeable of these is the fast. During this time, many Muslims will not eat during daylight hours. As you can imagine, this comes with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what time of year this occurs (the time frame is based on a lunar calendar, so the time of year shifts slightly each year). This year, it’s 15 May – 14 June (at least in Turkey).

When it began, I was in İstanbul. Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, there are a lot of non-Muslims (or non-fast participants) in İstanbul so I didn’t notice that much of a difference. In Ankara, there were also a lot of non-participants so I could still go out to eat during the day without getting looked at strangely.

All that changed when I arrived in Samsun. Here almost everyone is fasting. It’s very strange for someone like me who isn’t used to this sort of thing.

About half the restaurants are still open, but no one in them is eating (during daylight hours). They’ll sit at a table socializing and drinking (usually tea) with their unopened to-go bags sitting on the table.

All the bakeries, fruit stands, and convenience stores are still open. It’s just that now you don’t see anyone walking away from them munching on their newly acquired Simit (a ring of bread with sesame seeds; they look like pretzels, but taste like ‘normal’ bread).

I was warned in Ankara eating in public in an area with a lot of fasting people could be dangerous. As in, a hangry person (someone that’s angry due to hunger) could take my public display of not fasting as an excuse to fight me. Since I didn’t have the foresight to book a place with a private kitchen, this has made things rather difficult for me.

Traveling can be tricky enough without these extra complications. I’m in a new place with unfamiliar restaurants. I don’t speak the local language. And now I have to take any food I get during the day back to my place, and hide the fact that I’m stuffing my face before I get hangry.

Since I started traveling, I haven’t missed much about the US. However, being able to gorge myself in public is definitely something I really miss right now. Anyone that’s met me in person knows I have very little fat which means I’m particularly susceptible to disruptions in my food supply. If some sort of mass starvation event occurred, I’d be one of the first casualties.

Some other people that know me might be like: “This is a great opportunity to experience someone else’s culture. You can find out first-hand what it’s like to be Muslim during Ramadan.” While it’s certainly true that I like new cultural experiences, this is not one I’d like to try. Sorry Muslims, I like my food.

I think the next time I decide to travel through a Muslim country, I’ll check to see if it’s Ramadan time. If it is, I’ll punch myself in the face and re-schedule.

It’s funny; a lot of people back home told me I shouldn’t come to Turkey because it’s “dangerous” and “there are a lot of refugees there” and “don’t they practice Sharia Law there?” To which I can now respond that “it’s not dangerous”, “what do you have against refugees” and “no, they don’t practice Sharia Law”. This ‘fasting during Ramadan’ thing is the biggest challenge I’ve faced.

Now I’m rambling…. Anyway, hopefully someone out there has found this helpful and/or entertaining. Until next post….

Detained by Turkish police

So I’ve been generally enjoying my time in Ankara. This city is unlike any other I’ve encountered in Turkey. I think it’s because it’s so new. Sure, the old section around the castle looks a lot like the rest of Turkey, but once you’re in the rest of the city, it almost looks like the US. The streets are wide, the buildings are modern and tall, hell I even saw a theme park on the way into the city.

Anyway, one of the guys staying in my room is from Russia. After chatting for a while last night, we decided that today we’d explore the city together. I love company, and it gave me the chance to ask him a little about his home.

Together we discovered that most museums are closed on Sundays; who closes a museum on a weekend? We walked through a park. We hid from the rain for a couple hours in a mosque…. It was mostly a good time, except for….

While it was still hot outside, we happened to be walking by the main train station. Most of the complex is inside so we decided to walk in and rest for a bit. While we were hanging out, some cops came up to us and asked to see our passports.

We were being IDed? I’d been asked for my passport when booking a bus, or checking into a hostel. I’d never had someone just walk up to me and ask to see it though. We had both left our passports back at the hostel, and we tried to explain that to the cops. I’m not sure if they understood, but they started wandering off.

Then a couple plain clothed people walked up, flashed IDs that said police, and asked to see our passports. We tried to tell them we didn’t have them with us. Once they determined we were going to be ‘problem people’, they indicated they wanted us to go with them. Being a bit suspicious, I asked the uniformed police as we were passing them if these plain clothed people were cops. They indicated they were so at least I knew we weren’t being taken away by random criminals trying to run a scam.

They took us to a room, and patted us down. The guy frisking me felt my wallet and phone so he moved to a table and indicated he wanted me to empty my pockets onto it. He then looked through my wallet, and found my drivers license (which is expired, but I don’t think he noticed that part).

Then he told me to unlock my phone which I did, and handed back to him. He went past a few screens I’d never seen before, and got to one with bar codes. I think it listed the phone’s information. He took a picture, then continued his search.

He started feeling through my pockets. He discovered the print out of my e-visa that I had on my for some unknown reason. This was the most useful thing he’d found so far. He quickly got my information off it, and handed it back to me.

The whole time this was going on, the other guy was talking to my Russian friend who happened to know enough Turkish to make things extra confusing. They would exchange a few words, then they’d get to a word he didn’t know, and the confused looks resumed. I think in the future, it would be better to just act like we don’t know any Turkish. The cops were a lot more aggressive with him than me.

They spent about half an hour trying to talk to him. What I was able to gather from the talks was that they really didn’t like that we didn’t have proper ID on us. They also accused us of being terrorists numerous times. If I had to guess, I think their logic went something like “we can’t ID you so there’s no way for us to know you are who you claim to be, therefore, you could be anyone; even terrorists”. But I don’t speak Turkish so I could be wrong.

In talking to my friend, they did manage to learn where we were staying, and we gave them the phone number of the hostel. They called, and the receptionist sent over copies of our passports, and verified we were staying there. They still weren’t happy, but they also seemed to back off very slightly after that.

Finally, they let us go. For a while, I was worried I’d have to find a way to contact the US Embassy from jail. I’d only lost half an hour of my life, but it felt like a whole lot longer.

When we got back to the hostel, my friend got a hold of the Russian Consulate. They told him the Turkish police do an insane number of passport checks. They also said as long as we have our passports on us, we should be fine.

So lesson learned: carry my passport (or at the very least a copy of it) with me at all times. The concept still seems so foreign to me. This is the first place I’ve been where cops will randomly stop people and ask to see their ‘papers’. I guess they have their reasons, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Anyway, I hope this has been somewhat informative. Until the next catastrophe…. Or at least it’s starting to feel like that. Hopefully, the next post will just be a normal travel blog though.

The Bus Incident

This is going to be a story about one of my more interesting days on the road. Fair warning: if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip this article….

My time in İzmir was coming to a close. It had been an enjoyable and relaxing week. The hostel was a block away from a pedestrian street full of restaurants. Another block beyond that was the bay. And they’d made the path along the water nice. Right along the water is a stone ‘fence’ and a cobblestone path. A little further inland they planted grass and a few trees. In the middle of the grass, there’s a bicycle lane, and a pedestrian walkway. I walked down there a few times to sit in the grass and chill with the breeze blowing through my hair. I really liked İzmir.

The only down side is there was no easy, public transportation route between the hostel and the main bus station. But this morning was a [relatively] cool 22 degrees (72F), and I was feeling refreshed after a week of relaxation so I decided I could just walk. Google said it would take about an hour, but I walk fast so I figured about 45 minutes.

I got to the spot, and…it looked an awful lot like a metro station that was under construction. I checked the map again; I was sure it had said ‘otogar’ (Turkish for main bus station) in the description. Sure enough, it did say that…but there were 2 other spots in town that said that as well. One was a good deal south, and I knew that wasn’t it as I’d arrived in the city at the ‘otogar’. That meant the remaining options was…another hour on foot east. Well, I was still feeling pretty good so I decided to continue walking.

Roughly 45 minutes later, I arrived at the correct otogar. A quick check confirmed I’d walked 6.1 kilometers (3.8 miles). Incidentally, this was with me carrying my backpack the whole time. Needless to say, I’d gotten hot and sweaty by then, but I wasn’t feeling too bad. Score a win for fitness.

Now it was time to buy a ticket to Bursa (the way point en route to İstanbul). The guy at the counter said the bus was leaving right then. So I bought my ticket, and ran outside. I got there just as they were getting ready to close the door, and leave. Perfect timing.

Four hours later on one of the nice buses, I arrived in Bursa. The bus station is the largest I’ve seen. I was later told it’s the largest bus station in all of Turkey. Navigating this place is far more difficult than the bus stations in the less than 100,000 permanent resident towns I’d been to so far.

While buying my ticket to İstanbul, the guy handling my purchase got into an argument with someone. It was in Turkish so I have no idea what they were saying, but it was clearly going to take a while. So another agent reached around him to finish inputting my information in the computer, printed out my ticket, and told me where to go. Thanks; minor crisis averted.

Now I just had a 2.5 hour trip to my destination city. However, I encountered a rather serious issue about an hour into the ride: I had to poop. Normally, that would just be a minor annoyance, but my diet had changed rather drastically in the past week so things were a little less solid than normal. Whatever, I’d just try to hold it in as much as possible, but farts refused to be contained. After one of them, I felt a little different. Had I just shit my pants? I hoped not, and resumed the waiting game hoping the bus would stop anywhere soon.

But now there was another problem: there was a lot of traffic. After a while, the bus pulled off the highway, and started going down side streets. At first, I thought that meant we were close to a station, but no. After another half hour of side streets, the bus finally stopped at a gas station. The ‘stewardess’ said something rather lengthy in Turkish, but I wasn’t paying much attention. Even if I could have understood her, I knew I was getting off to find a bathroom.

The bathroom that was available was a traditional Turkish one: a hole in the floor. No time to be picky; into the stall I went, and…sweet relief! While I had my pants down, I decided to check a few things. Sure enough, I had shit my pants. My underwear was quite brown, but there wasn’t anything solid in there, and nothing had transferred onto my jeans. Small victories.

Then, I discovered another problem: it seems toilet paper is a relatively new concept to Turks. There was a water faucet sitting rather low on the wall, and a small bucket underneath it. Was I supposed to clean myself up with that? I remembered something I’d heard in a cultural class a while back. Something about people using their left hands to clean themselves with, and thus not using that hand to shake hands or eat with. Well, I had to get out of the bathroom somehow so…yeah, I made my left hand very unclean. And washed the hell out of my hands when I got out of the stall!

I hadn’t done a great job of washing my ass (I mean, how can you when all you have is water and your hands), and didn’t have a change of underwear with me so…it looked like I was just going to have to be dirty for a little longer. At least I no longer felt the pressure on my guts so I was (relatively) comfortable.

All this had happened with enough time for me to get back on the bus for which I was quite grateful. I could have gotten to my final destination from the gas station in the middle of nowhere, but it certainly wouldn’t have been easy. It was time to wait out the remaining hour until we got the to the İstanbul bus station.

But as we went along, I noticed the buildings becoming less frequent. I pulled out my phone (which didn’t have data; fortunately, I loaded some of the area before I lost it), and checked the GPS. We were on a highway that goes around the outside of İstanbul. Where were we going? Whatever, I could figure out how to get back at the next city we stopped at.

Fortunately, we eventually started going back toward İstanbul. It seems the otogar is on the European side of the city, and we were coming from the Asian side. I’m guessing that spiel the stewardess gave earlier was saying something like “There’s been an accident near the bridge so we’re going to circle around the city. This will take us an additional hour to complete.” At least that’s my guess as we ended up at the bus station an hour later than the original plan.

From the main bus station, I took a small bus to a square. From there, I followed the directions I’d (thankfully) written down the previous evening to find the hostel (this no data thing was quite annoying). I checked in, and took a much needed shower. So…much…scrubbing….

I also had to poop a few more times before going to sleep, because diarrhea is no joke. At least this time the hostel had western toilets with paper. So I was able to adequately clean myself after each use. The little luxuries we take for granted….

So yeah, this was a not so pleasant experience, but everything worked out in the end. It’s also a very real reminder of why it’s important to eat a sufficient amount of fiber. There’s a reason locals down a lot of bread even if it’s not garnished with anything. Lesson learned.

I hope those of you that actually read through this found it entertaining. More importantly, I hope you’ve learned with me how important food choices are. Until the next disaster….

Why is Trump murdering my travel plans?

OK, so this isn’t specific to the current US president, but he’s certainly the most recent major contributor. Queue story time….

This started early last week when I met someone from Iran. He’s awesome! We talked about many things including how most people understand that the people of the US and Iran have absolutely zero problems with each other, and that it’s the governments of said countries that are constantly antagonizing each other. After a while, we exchanged Instagram details, and he told me when I was ready to visit Iran to let him know and he’d coordinate.

Wait, what? I was pretty sure the Iranian government wasn’t granting visas to US citizens. However, he assured me that he’d seen many US people in Iran, and that it was possible to go. I suspected these were people with second passports, but I kindly nodded and made a mental note to research this further.

A few hours of research later, I had discovered that US citizens can get visas to visit Iran if the Iranian government decides they don’t have a problem with the applicant. This was a welcome surprise as I’d love to experience the culture first hand of a place where so few westerners go.

As part of my continuing research, I decided to check the news for any pertinent information. That’s when I discovered that guy in the White House decided to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Still worse, there was talk of sanctioning European companies that did business with Iran. Upon reading that, my heart sank for several reasons.

The most important one being that sanctions do not work. They’re intended to pressure governments to change their behavior. However, governments typically have enough money that they remain largely unaffected; while the increased prices on imports (which could be anything from medicine to food) goes through the roof, and causes a lot of poor people to not be able to afford those products any longer.

A notable exception to this is a few years ago when the price of food (which was already a huge portion of people’s income) got a lot more expensive in northern Africa. Queue the Arab Spring. So then, a few government were toppled. But are things really better now in those places? That depends on the country, and even when taking specific examples is highly debatable.

In most cases though, all sanctions do is make things more expensive. Still worse, they enable the government of one country to blame the other for causing all their problems. Sure, foreign governments are responsible for some (or even a lot in some cases) of the issues, but certainly not all of them. And let’s not forget the old saying “borders that goods do not cross are often breached by armies”.

So I primarily felt sad. Sad for all the Iranian people (including my new friend) that would be hurt by a bureaucratic squabble.

Plus, now it’s far less likely any visa application I submit will be approved. Requesting a visa costs time and money. Two things I don’t want to lose a lot of; particularly if the chances of obtaining what I payed for are small. So unfortunately, I won’t be visiting my new friend in Iran. My knowledge of their culture and way of life will have to depend on the stories I hear from fellow travelers from Iran.

There are so many things I won’t learn now. A recent example is how I’m currently in Turkey. I’m learning that ‘Muslim country’ doesn’t mean what most people in the US think it does. There’s no Sharia Law here, I’ve seen very few burkas, and everyone I’ve told that I’m not Muslim has (rather than killing the infidel) seemed genuinely concerned for my soul, and attempted to convert me through words. How many misconceptions do I have about Iran? I may never know….

Like many visionaries of the past, I have a dream. A dream that one day, people will seek out the ones they don’t understand and talk to them. A dream that one day, politicians will try to find ways to get along rather than alienate foreigners. A dream that one day, humanity as a whole will celebrate and embrace our differences.

Will you dream with me?