The Stolen Phone Incident

Date Time Coordinates: 9 Sep 2018 CE (Common Era), Batumi, Republic of Georgia, Earth, Sol System.

I’ve been in ბათუმი (Batumi) for a couple days now. This is my second visit; the first was enough to make me form the opinion that the city is too touristy. There’s been nothing about this visit that’s changed my mind. I’ve spent the last few days going out occasionally for food and a little sight-seeing, but most of my time has been spent surfing the internet and catching up on everything I’ve missed. I have internet access back in თბილისი (Tbilisi), but it’s not unlimited so I haven’t been doing anything that requires a lot of bandwidth.

My alarm goes off at 0900. I turn it off, and spend 5-10 minutes trying to convince myself that I should get up (I’m not used to getting up this ‘early’). I go to the bathroom, and start packing; we need to check out by 1000. I debate when I should wake up my travel companion. Fortunately, he gets up on his own a few minutes into tossing what little I have into my backpack.

I go to the kitchen, start some water warming up for tea, and pull a cup of yogurt out of the refrigerator (my breakfast). By the time I’m done with the yogurt, the tea is almost ready. I discover that being up this ‘early’ has benefits; the other people staying at the hostel are up, and we chat for a little while….

Okay, maybe a bit longer than a little while; a few hours later…we check out. It’s well after the official check out time, but the owner’s cool about it. We ask if we can leave our bags while we go get lunch and explore. We don’t want to lug our things around all day.

My travel-mate has looked up the ‘best’ place for ხაჩაპური (khachapouri) in town. The place looks busy (a good sign) so we find a place, and sit down.

Quick note: In Georgia, it’s common to just find a table and seat yourself. This is even expected by the local servers. Also, you typically have to flag down a server when you want to add something to your order or pay your bill as they won’t normally come back to check on you. Sometimes, you even have to flag someone down to place your initial order. The whole thing seems very strange to me, and took some getting used to.

We order a couple medium sized khachapouri, and start talking about our time out here with a few smatterings of business ideas (the guy I was with loves coming up with crazy ways to make money; it’s like a hobby of his). Then our meal comes out. I’m immediately glad I didn’t order a large as this ‘medium’ is huge. I manage to scarf most of it down like the little piggy I am, but I was nowhere close to finishing all of it.

We pay our bill, and wander around the city for a couple hours until it’s time to start heading for the train station. We go back to the hostel, check out for real this time, and head out to the street to find a taxi.

Problem number one: both Yandex and Taxify don’t have any drivers available. After hitting refresh for 5 minutes, we finally find a driver. Except that he’s not moving. We wait 10 minutes. Still no movement. We decide to wait 5 more. Still nothing. Enough of this; we’ll just flag down a passing taxi. It’s not what we normally like to do because they charge more, but we really need to get to the train station so….

We flag one down, and tell him we’d like to go to the train station. He says he can take us. My travel-mate asks about the price: 10 Lari. He counters 6. The driver says 7. We agree. It’s still twice as expensive as a Yandex, but we can only expect so much; we did flag the guy down after all. We arrive at the train station, pay the driver, and head for the ticket counter.

Problem number 2: the cashier wants 99 Lari each to get back to Tbilisi. What!? There’s no reason it should cost that much. We tell her we’ll think about it, and wander off to discuss our options. We decide to get another attendant; maybe the one we got had something weird going on. She didn’t; still 99 Lari. We ask about the next train (that leaves 45 minutes after the one we were trying to initially catch). Still 99 Lari.

WTF!? We ask why it’s so expensive. Apparently, all the second class seats are sold out. The price we’d been quoted was for first class.

Considering our second class tickets going the other way were 24 Lari, I wonder what makes first class so special. Second class is pretty nice. Do they have strippers and free drinks in first class? Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Considering how many rich Russians travel between those two cities, I could probably make a small fortune if I offered a ‘strip club’ car during high season. They’re going to be stuck on a train for 5 hours so might as well provide something entertaining right? But I digress….

I saw a bus station half a block away from the train station. We should go down there and see what they’re charging. On the way over, I decide to check the time and…shit! Where’s my Georgian phone? I always put it in the same place, and it’s not in that pocket. I’ll worry about this later. Right now, we need to get to the bus station, and see what the deal is.

We get to the bus station, and ask the guy if anything’s going to Tbilisi. He writes down 1800, and says “go”. Okay, there’s a bus that leaves at 1800. We ask how much it costs. 25 Lari each. There we go; something reasonable. We buy tickets, load up, and wait for the appointed time.

By now, I’ve figured out my phone must have fallen out in the taxi. I pull up my travel phone, and pull up Google’s tracking service. My phone’s in the middle of downtown Batumi in the middle of the street. Okay, so it definitely fell out in the taxi.

My travel-mate pulls out his Georgian phone and calls my lost phone. He has a brief conversation with the driver who agrees to bring the phone to the bus station. Nice, I’ll get it back, and will only have to pay a fraction of the phone’s value as a ‘thank you’ for returning it.

We wait 15 minutes; still no sign of the driver. I check Google’s locator again to see where he is. Hmm…Google says it can’t locate it. My travel-mate tries to call it again, and it goes straight to voicemail. It’s turned off. That bastard turned my phone off on purpose!

I go back onto Google’s page and tell it to delete the contents of my phone the next time it’s turned on. That asshole might have stolen my phone, but I’ll be damned if I let him have my data. I spend the next few minutes stewing, and then it’s time to leave.

The bus takes 6.5 long hours to get back to Tbilisi. By the time it arrives, it’s 0030. At least I slept a little on the ride over. Now I can just walk over to the metro and…wait, what time is it again? Damn it, the metro stops running at midnight. I guess I’ll have to walk home.

I arrive home, get ready for bed, and read more of the “Song of Ice and Fire” series. There’s nothing like reading a book to get you tired, and calm your mind down a bit.

The next day, I went to my local mobile carrier, and got another phone and SIM. The woman at the counter told me I could go to the police with the IMEI number, and they might be able to get it back. So…if something like this happens to you, there’s something you can do even though it’s not not much.

And that’s the long version of how my phone was lost/stolen. Occasionally, shit like this happens when traveling, but it’s still so much better than being back ‘home’ (if it can still be called that) working my ‘normal’ job. I’ve seen places, and hung out with people that I never would have found if I hadn’t ventured off to see what’s out here. And who knows; maybe someday I’ll run into you!

Stay frosty, people….

A day in my life: Georgia edition

Date Time Coordinates: 12 Aug 2018 CE (Common Era), Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, Earth, Sol System.

I go to sleep around 0430 after a couple hours of reading A Clash of Kings (Book 2 in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series; or some know it by the name of the first book A Game of Thrones). I suppose it’s technically the day in question though really….

I awaken around 1300 and head for the bathroom. I reach for the toilet paper to clean up the mess I made of the porcelain, and am greeted with an empty roll. WTF?! There was half a roll there last night. What did my roommates do; eat it? This is particularly disturbing since I’m the one that bought that roll last week. Not that it’s that expensive; it’s just the principle. If you use the last of someone’s TP, you should replace it. It’s common courtesy, right?

I wander back to my room, and notice someone’s hung their laundry from my cloths line. That’s fine. I’m not using it at this particular moment, and I did hang it in a common area. As many times as the roommates have been subjected to my drying underwear, it’s only fair if someone else does the same. I grab my phones and head for the kitchen.

The Indian couple are making lunch. The kitchen’s not large enough for two people to use the stove at the same time so I figure out what I can do while they’re at it. Let’s see…grab cutting board, chop an apple, start the electric kettle making some hot water…. I finish a good deal before they’re done with the stove.

I’ll check my social feeds while I wait. Oh look, a picture of the girls we met yesterday at Bauhaus (a popular bar). When was this posted…oh, midnight. So that’s an hour after she DMed me to ask if I was there. I’d told her I could run down there and meet them, but she’d waved me off. Did she not want me there? Was she just trying to be considerate since they didn’t get there until an hour later, and it was latish? I’m putting way too much thought into this. It’s not like I want to date one of them or anything. They’re travelers, and will be somewhere else in a couple days.

Anyway, the Indian couple’s done with the stove so…time to finish making my oatmeal (or porridge for Brits). Now where’s the small pan? I can’t find it anywhere. Someone must have it in their room. I guess I’ll have to make it in a skillet. That’s a little more difficult, but…do what you have to do I guess.

Throw the sliced apples into the skillet, add oats when the water’s boiling, go for the butter, and…. Where’s my butter? There’s a specific place I leave it every time so I’ll know which one’s mine (because everyone’s bars look the same, and there are about 4 of them in there). The Swedish guy must have borrowed it. It’s cool, I told him he could use some if he desperately needed it, but now I don’t know which bar to use. I don’t want to use someone else’s, because…you know, rude. I send him a quick message explaining the situation. Maybe it won’t happen again. Though, who am I kidding? It probably will.

It’s rather annoying since I need the butter right now, but I guess I’ll just have to go without. Should I add the egg? It’s so much more work to stir it into the oats when they’re in a skillet. Fuck it; I’m already butter-less. What’s no egg going to hurt? I’m such a lazy bitch…. Except…. With no butter, the oats are sticking to the pan. Ugh, I want my oats lubed! Oh well, not the end of the world.

I sit down, enjoy my apple oats with tea, and continue browsing my social feeds without incident. And now I have to take a dump. Except someone used up all my toilet paper, and didn’t replace it. I guess my first stop is going to be to the grocery store a block down the street.

I hit up the grocery store, grab toilet paper and some other sundries while I’m there…. Oh, my typical cashier is working. I’ve developed something of a…I guess you could call it a working relationship with her? “Hello” she says (because she knows English is my primary language). “Hello, გამარჯობა” I respond (I’ve been attempting to learn some ქართული [Georgian]). She finishes bagging my things, I pay…. “მადლობა” I say. She says something as I walk out. She says the same thing every time, but I haven’t been able to figure out what it is. I know it’s something you say as someone’s leaving, but that could be several things. I’m pretty sure I’m not hearing all the sounds she makes when she says it, because I never get an appropriate translation from Google Translate when I punch in the Georgian sounds (in the Georgian script). Someday….

I get back and unpack the groceries. I put a roll of paper in the small bathroom, I go to place one in the large one…damn it! There’s water all over the floor (as usual). I’m pretty sure one of the roommates is used to the bathrooms where the whole room is a shower. I don’t know if it’s the Indians or the Georgian. In any case, this bathroom is not like that. There’s no drain in the floor, and there’s clearly a shower curtain. This bathroom is not supposed to look like a hurricane just came through, but since I’m too lazy to try explaining that…. Reason number 743,956,872,707 why I always wear flip-flops in the house.

Anyway, I take my dump now that I have toilet paper. Sweet, sweet comfort. And since I bought the paper, it’s not the cheap, sand-paper kind that makes your ass feel like it’s on fire after use.

Now it’s time to pay some bills. The combined electric and water bill arrived a couple days ago so let’s have a look. Hmm…this is much more expensive than the last one. I wonder what made it that way. I take the bill and head for the kiosk that’s half a block away. Georgians use these things for everything. They’re linked to the local banks, phone carriers, utility companies, car insurance providers, and I’m sure I’m missing something. These would be so amazing if they were everywhere, but alas, only in Georgia.

I go through the prompts, input the correct information, and…. Oh cool, it breaks it down and says what’s due for which part of the bill. Let’s see…water, normal…’cleaning’ (that must mean water line cleaning), normal…electric, ouch!

It seems most Georgians don’t believe in central temperature control systems. Only one of the rooms in the house has a wall unit so we’ve been using it to attempt to cool the whole house. It’s obviously far more than the system was meant to handle, but it can get the house (minus the kitchen with the gas burning stove) to a reasonable temperature. Since the highs have been over 30C (86F) every day of last month, and most of them have been over 35C (95F), we’ve been running the AC pretty much non-stop. While that makes the house a tolerable temperature (again, minus the previously mentioned kitchen), it also makes for a rather unpleasant electric bill. It’s a good thing it’s August and summer is on its death bed (at least for this year).

I pay the bill, divide it by 5, and send out the group message informing the other roommates of how much they owe me. They’re not going to be pleased, but it has to be done. At least splitting it between all of us brings the cost down to a reasonable level.

I return home, and the landlord starts group messaging us. “Good morning Happy Family. First full night at our beautiful home.” She has some funny ideas. While the last room was signed for last night, I don’t think any of us have seen the new guy yet, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t stay here last night. Also, the Indian couple will be moving out in a couple weeks at the latest. When that happens, we’ll be finding new ‘family’ members for their room.

She did manage to find us someone to clean the house. That’s fantastic since everyone staying here has a different idea of what exactly ‘clean’ means. Yes, I will gladly pay a small fee for someone to make this place look presentable. There’s far too much “I didn’t make that mess so I’m not going to clean it” going around, and it’s resulted in the common areas accumulating a few not so pleasant patches.

I poke around on the internet a little to amuse myself. The WiFi we were promised over a month ago still hasn’t materialized so I have to tether my phone whenever I want to get online. So, no streaming videos, music, or other bandwidth intensive activities. Writing blog articles is fine though, and I start writing this one after a little while.

In the middle, I see a Snap come in. I have an 83 day streak with a friend in the States so we ‘have to’ send something to each other every day. I snap a quick picture of my computer screen with this article being written. Send it off, download the pic, go to Instagram to add it to my story….oh, wait.

That chick I talked about earlier in the article is following me on Instagram. Okay, I guess I won’t add that pic to my story. I hope she doesn’t look at my bio, find a link to my blog, and read this article. Well, if she does…. Hi! This is…umm…awkward…. Moving on….

A little later in the article writing, I’m interrupted by the ‘new guy’. Oh, hi! Nice to finally meet you. He wants to get the key to the yard so he can put his bicycle back there. You ride a bike; in Tbilisi? Brave man. This city was not designed for bikes, and the drivers sure as hell don’t respect them. Pedestrians are usually okay, but bikes…not so much. Anyway, the Swedish guy (who has the key) isn’t here so he has to take his bike through the house. I go back to writing this article. He interrupts me one more time to ask for the WiFi password. Sorry dude; no WiFi. Oh how I wish there was….

And that brings me to here. Like, literally right here where I’m writing these words right now! Queue The Twilight Zone theme music.

I’ll probably poke around online a bit more, maybe play some games, and do some more book reading before going to sleep tonight. For all practical purposes, though, the day’s pretty much over (or at least the entertaining parts).

I hope someone (other than me, of course) has been entertained by this. If not, well…. Comment down below about what you’d like me to write about. If it’s reasonable, you’ll have won yourself a brand new article written just for you! Anyway, time to do something unproductive. Later….

Sexism: a traveler’s story

So a lot of you are aware that I moved into a house in Tbilisi. There have been good and bad parts to it. One of the things I have learned is just how pervasive sexism is. It’s like a fucking epidemic! Let the story time begin….

My new landlord is an Israeli woman. Apparently, she owns several homes in different countries. She’ll buy them cheaply, fix them up, and rent them out. I can respect that. It’s actually something I considered doing for a while as a way to make a little extra cash.

We were conversing in the yard about future improvements, and related topics when she said something I didn’t expect. She said we should find a woman to live here so she could cook and clean for us. What? She doesn’t do that. She’s a business woman that runs around different countries managing her business. So why would she think…. Moving along….

The maintenance/foreman guy will often bring Georgians through the house to show them what he’d like them to do. It seems they always come when I’m preparing or eating dinner. If I believed in an intelligent universe, I would think it was trying to tell me something…. Anyway, I’ve run into the same sexist attitude on two of these occasions.

One of the guys saw me eating (I’d made a delicious pasta thing, and was eating it out of the pan, because why dirty a plate?), and decided to have a brief conversation with me. He said I should find a woman to cook for me. Then he went on about how they were also good for having sex with. He finished it all off with the thought that he liked to ‘fuck before eat[ing]’, because he got tired after meals.

I was too stunned to do anything except nod, and wave at him as he left the kitchen heading for the yard. However, now that I’ve had some time to prepare, I’d like to challenge these ideas that we’ve managed to (mostly) eliminate in the west. I want to tell these people that it’s possible to get so much more from a good life partner than sex and domestic chores. You can actually speak with them, and maybe even learn something from their ideas. You can have…you know…an actual relationship!

And maybe then, I could move on to the point that it doesn’t have to always be the woman that cooks, cleans, and generally minds the house. I’m no chef, but I’ve made some pretty tasty concoctions in my time. And I actually enjoyed it!

If someone doesn’t like my cooking, that’s a fair point, and they should absolutely make their case. However, bringing women into the argument is like telling me while playing basketball that they have a black friend who I should meet. Is said black person good at basketball? Maybe. Or maybe he trips over the ball when he tries to dribble. And what does he have to do with my ability to play?

Have any of these people even considered that I might actually enjoy preparing my own meals? Or are they too hung up on the notion that men shouldn’t cook; that it’s not their job? Maybe that’s a better approach. Instead of being all triggered, and grilling them about how backward their views are, maybe I should ask them why they feel the need to bring this up in the first place.

Well, this took an unexpected turn….

How about you on the other side of the screen. Yes you, the one who’s reading this article. Have you run into people like the ones I’m describing? Did you try to talk to them, and figure out what’s going on? Did you get all foamy at the mouth and scream at them about how sexist they are?

This has been real talk with Porcupous. Tune in next time for…. Just kidding. I may or may not follow up on this. Either way though, I’d definitely like to hear from you.

Settling into a house in Georgia

For those that don’t know, I really like Georgia (the country; not the US state). I like it so much, I decided I should stick around for a while, and see what it’s like to live here. One of the people I met at my hostel found someone who was renting rooms in a house. At first glance, it seemed pretty awesome. Renting a room in a house is cheaper than staying a hostel, and I get my own room! But, as with anything like this, there were a few negatives that weren’t immediately obvious (at least to me).

Disclaimer: these are all specific to the house I moved into. Your experience (should you choose to duplicate it) will hopefully vary; especially after reading this post.

So a little more about the place…it’s a decent sized house. There are 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (one of which contains a bath tub and shower), a kitchen/dining room, and even a yard (with trees)! When I came over to look at the place, it was clearly in the process of being renovated with workers constantly going in and out of the place. It was claimed that it would be ready to move into by the 1st of July which was 3-4 days away. The bedrooms came in different shapes and sizes with the larger ones being slightly more expensive than the smaller ones. They all ranged from $150-$200 (US Dollars) per month. I picked one that looked good, and [after a few hours of thinking about it] told the land lord’s proxy I’d take it.

First problem. When I showed up on the first, they were still in the process of renovating. It’s not uncommon even now to have a bunch of workers wandering around the place and improving it. That would normally be a minor annoyance except for problem 2.

When I was scoping the place out, I was told that only one of the rooms had an air conditioner. I thought an air conditioner would be nice, but wasn’t exactly a necessity. I was so wrong; especially when combined with problem 1. When they’re in the house, they open all the windows, and leave the doors open. I get it; they’re constantly moving things in and out, but it doesn’t make for a very pleasant temperature inside.

Also, the last few days have been record-setting in their heat. I’m told the average high for Tbilisi in July is 33C (91.4F), and the record is 40C. Yesterday it hit 43C (109.4F)! And there’s a river that runs through the city so it’s not exactly a dry heat. I do not deal with that kind of weather well.

Fortunately, no one’s moved into the room with air conditioning so my 1 roommate and myself have taken to sleeping in there. We’ve also closed all the windows and set up a system of fans to pull the cool air into the rest of the house. When there aren’t workers running around opening all the windows, it’s actually almost pleasant. I hope no one takes the air conditioned room before the end of summer.

Another problem that wasn’t readily apparent, has to do with the washing machine (for cloths). It’s brand new so that’s nice. However, it wasn’t hooked up properly, and the hose where water drains was sitting on the floor. I was pretty pleased with myself when I figured out how to turn the thing on, and get it started on my roommates cloths. When we got back to the house later, we discovered water all over the floor. We of course, had no idea how to fix the problem so we grabbed a pan out of one of the bathrooms, and placed it under the hose.

Then, we spent the next 4 hours monitoring it, and emptying the pan when it got full. Why was it taking so long to wash a load of laundry? Neither one of us speaks (let alone reads) Georgian so figuring out why was an impossible task. After said 4 hours, we finally hit the pause button and waited for the machine to unlock the door. The cloths were very clean by then so we just had to hang them, and wait for them to dry.

Except that there are no cloths lines installed, yet. I let my roommate borrow the travel cloths line I had the foresight to purchase before I started my traveling adventure. For once, being a little over prepared turned out to be a good thing.

The stove was hooked up, and there the landlord was kind enough to provide dishes and flatware. So I figured I could do some cooking to save money. I’ve been in Georgia for a month now so I don’t necessarily have to go out every meal to try the Georgian food. Except that there’s no cookware…. Now we’re in a bit of an awkward position. We don’t want to buy cookware since we’re unsure if the landlord will purchase some for us. So for now, we’re sticking to meals that don’t require cooking.

I suppose we could message the landlord and ask her about any of these things, but there’s a whole list of ‘problems’ (I’ve only mentioned what I consider to be the most pressing ones). Additionally, the place is still being fixed up so we’re not sure if these are known issues that will be resolved on their own eventually. We don’t want to be annoying tenants that are constantly pointing out problems either. So yeah…new house problems; they can add up.

Well, I hope this has been somewhat informative. Perhaps if any of you are looking for a place, you’ll have an idea of what to look for and some good questions to ask. Or maybe you’re all veterans of house hunting, and I seem like a complete moron. Frankly, I feel a little dumb right now anyway so….

Talk to you next story….

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.

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?