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Friday, August 26, 2016

PICKPOCKETS, SOUKS AND MEDINAS

So, I wanted to avoid the icy touch of winter by going back to Morocco.

It may sound simple but if it involves Africa, it probably won't be.

Nothing is ever simple there.  I have no idea why that is.  If I believed in a god, I would say that 'Africa doesn't seem to be one of his favorite places'.  At all.  With just a touch of hate balm.  Not sure why that is.

Hell, I don't know why Africa is the way it is but I am not overly fond of it.  Sure I'd like it better than say Antarctica which to the best of my knowledge doesn't have a lot of internet access.  Which I need.

So, due to finances and not wanting a cold winter, I took my dumb ass back to Africa.  Naturally.

After bouncing from Romania (I miss it already) to Germany then to Spain I finally ended up in Tangiers Morocco.

That took two days of exhausting travel, to save about the amount of money I lost within an hour of being in Tangiers.

Romania had lulled me into a false sense of security - for the third world.  Within an hour or two in Tangiers, my dumb ass got my phone pick pocketed.  Sad how many times you keep looking where it should be thinking it will still be there.  Or searching somewhere you know it isn't but hoping.

Unbelievable.

After checking out eight places in Tangiers, I came to the opinion that all of the under $20 per night (all I can afford) places had dirty, dark and smelling like human and animal waste.  What the fuck.

Thinking back, I did even have some foreshadowing.  When I was in Tangiers, I met a couple tourists.  They asked what was north of us.  "Spain" I told them.  "Good" they replied.  "We want to get the fuck out of this country."  Hum.

Combine that with the loss of my smart phone and I said 'let's roll the dice again'.

I went to the bus station and got the first bus out.   Tetouan.  Never heard of that before.  Couple hours later and I was there.

Met a fixer, got a new phone (not sure if I like it or despise it yet) and found a so so place to stay.  It's about thirteen dollars a night and not really worth that.  Makes me miss Thailand.

All cheap Moroccan places are noisy.  This is because they have a central shaft down the middle for funneling air.  If you don't have your windows open, you cook.  No air conditioning, no fans.  The problem is that every noise in any of the rooms along that shaft is magnified.  Note, this is called a 'riad' - often a grand house converted into a hotel.  Which would make sense.  Being able to hear your family (who you presumably love enough not to axe murder for making so much damned racket) may be a good thing.

And no screens in the window.  So if anything gets in, you get a new room mate.

I'm seriously wondering about this town.

And Morocco.

But I'm not down yet.  The fixer I met offered to find me a place for 15% of the rent.  I told him my budget was 3000 dirham (about 300 USD) per month.  Honestly, the country isn't really worth more to me.

It goes back to my philosophy of why I dislike  a lot of Africa.  If stuff is dirty and squalid (see also India) it should be cheap.  Then, that's OK.  If it is shit and expensive, that's a problem for me.

So, we'll see what the fixer can do.  He asked for a day and I told him I'd stay for another after today.  He's going to check out some places and see if he can find anything decent.  If he can, I may rent a place.  If not, I might go back to a place I'm familiar with - like Marrakesh.

Another problem is that Logan was not the only one with the bright idea to come to Morocco during the summer.  This is their big tourist time.  Hence, prices go up and places to stay fill up.

Honestly, if I could afford an apartment somewhere warm in the USA (New Mexico, etc) I'd just go hang out there and wait for the warm weather to start LHI2 (the next tour of the states to visit people I know and people I've not yet met) but the rent in the USA is about more than I make per month.

So, I'll just wait and see what happens.

It's nice to have people out looking for stuff for me.



OR IS IT?

The next day (my third here, I think) I met up with Abdulla, my 'personal shopper', AKA fixer.  We went walking for a couple hours through souks and medinas.

Lots of walking.

There was a lot of stopping and chatting to this guy or that.  It is what one would expect from a fixer.  Plus, in Arabic influenced countries nothing happens fast.  You just have to accept that the whole process of ...well, pretty much anything, may take hours.  Life has a different pace here.

That's one of the funny things for people from 'first world' countries.  They always say they want the 'slower (or 'laid back') pace life'.  When they actually experience needing to wait for something that should be fast for hours, they lose their damned minds.  When most people say they want the 'slower pace lifestyle', they mean for them.  Not people they are paying for stuff.  They want them to hop the fuck to it.

The first place we visited was a riad in the medina.  It had been converted into a hotel.  Beautiful and build four hundred or so years ago.

Sorry the picture is crooked but I'm still trying to get use to my brand new phone/camera.

If you look closely at the floor, it is all done by hand.  Thousands of little pieces.  You don't find those in the newer riads because it is expensive as hell.

We had tea there and chatted for a bit.  I think my fixer was testing me to see if I was really serious about the 300 USD per month price.  This place cost 35 EUR per night for one person.  I didn't say that was my entire allotment of money for a day.  For two people, it is 40 EUR.  Pretty reasonable for them.

It is nice getting served tea everywhere.  Part of the tradition of hospitality (in Arabic 'de-aww-fa').  Nice.

After that, we went to another place.  It was really pleasant but there were a few warning signs.  There were no other people staying there.  The guy had the wifi off and needed to turn it on.  Always be wary of this as people have some odd beliefs about wifi such as 'it needs to rest'.  Or are too damned cheap to pay for electricity and will later object to having it on 'all the time'.  As it should be.  The price was right - 3000 dirham for the month.  I asked if it would be possible to pay 200 dirham to stay for two nights and then if I liked it just give him the rest of the money for the month.  No, it would cost 300 dirham per night and then on top of that pay for the month.  And he would have to talk first to his wife.

After we left, my fixer voiced his disgust.  "In Morocco, the women have no voice.  It was just a bargaining tactic."

Yes ladies.  I know.  You know me - I don't care if a human is male or female but in Arabic countries it is a whole different thing.  Apparently science saying we all started out as female (why men have nipples) is not something that is pondered.  Or it would be angrily shouted down and penises waved about.  Or something.

Despite it being a nice place that was just too many red flags waved about.

After walking around for a bit, Abdulla admitted he didn't have any place else to see right now.  I told him I'd stay for another night at the kind of shitty place I'm currently staying.

I remember playing the Cyberpunk tabletop RPG back in the 1980's.  That was my first introduction to 'fixers'.  It was surprisingly accurate.  I had no idea that decades later I would be employing them.

Cold showers and noisy with spotty wifi equal shitty for Logan.  Trudging my fat ass up four flights of stairs don't put me in a better mood either.

Maybe tomorrow he'll find a better place.  Though my needs are simple, he's working his ass off for that 15% - and if he could find a place I'd be happy to pay it.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - MOROCCO

French, Spanish and Arabic are keys to happiness here.


Check everything.  "This is the battery for your phone."  "Great!  Pop it in there and let's take a look."  "Oh - it's just a little too big."  Glad I didn't buy it.  In countries like this, consider all deals final.  Getting back your money is either impossible or often more trouble than it is worth.  Check everything first.  Negotiate everything first down to the dirham.




Monday, August 22, 2016

ROMANIA AND BEYOND!

PONDERING

Still trying to figure out where I should go.

Got some ideas from Adam LaContra.  He did tell me to stay the fuck out of Mexico right now.  Since he was right about Syria and has consistently given good advice, I think I'll listen.

Hope Mexico gets their shit together some day.  I'd really like to eat Mexican food for a few months.

But I'm still trying to figure out where to go.

Adam did suggest Turkey but they are also in the middle of a 'snit'.  By 'snit' I mean that the leader has decided to 'clean house'.  By 'clean house' that means imprisoning or killing off his rivals to power.  It might be a decent time to visit because less tourists (dead or fled) but honestly, I'm not that fond of Turkey.

He did also suggest Dominica.  This place has me worried for three reasons:  1) It's a fucking island.  That means shit is close to water.  Since it's a small island, that means everything is close to water.  When you get close to water, prices go up because people (for some reason) love being close to fucking water.  Probably because they're made up of so much of it they feel like they're coming home.  2) The wifi will be shit.  I love wifi and feel like I am missing a limb when I don't have it.  3) On pages like https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Dominica I can't find very many lodging prices.  The ones I can find seem to be in the hundred dollars a night range.  Way out of my budget.  By over four times.  Thinking that may not be a good way to save money for my trip to the states in 8 months.

He also mentioned Zambia and Madagascar.  Interesting places but getting there and back again will be a big hit to the wallet, again foiling my evil 'return to the USA for a visit' plans.

If I had a much larger budget, I wouldn't feel like I was running out of places to go.

Right now, I have eight months I need to soak up.  Even if I can find a cheap way to Morocco (it will be 300-400 USD probably) that will soak three months leaving me with five.

And I can't afford to stay in the (warm parts of the) USA, where visa issues wouldn't be a problem.

So I'm kind of stuck.

An alternative plan would be to suck up some of the cold and move south back into Bulgaria where I could hang out for three months.  It's an agreeable country other than it doesn't seem to have any airports that are going where I want to go.

So essentially, I'm still trying to figure out somewhere cheap and warm to just hang out until I can easily travel to the USA.  Fuck snow and cold.  I'm happy in a desert.

If anyone has clever ideas (or a friend who wants to rent a tiny apartment for 300-400 in Florida, New Mexico, Texas (yea, guns!) or anywhere in the very south of the country let me know.



PARTIAL RESOLUTION

Right - after a lot of thought and sweating it out, I've decided to at least sweat (literally) out the first three months (of 8) back in Morocco.  It took some indirect flying but rather than paying the 500-600 I found, I managed to find a flight going through Dusseldorf (yea Germany!  Wish I could afford to hang out there) and then to Tangier (ironically a close name to one of the three dishes served in Morocco).  Naturally, in saving some money, I've signed up for a three airplane trip that will last a couple of days.  Simply put, there is no easy way there from here.

Not a clue what I will do after Morocco.  I could go back to Tunisia but I fucking hate Tunisia.  Come to think of it, there are only two countries in Africa I don't mind and one of them is too dangerous even for Logan.  Especially since the current president was once my Facebook friend.

Sadly, the trip has a few 'moving parts'.  Train, plane, plane, plane, etc.

On the plus side, if things fall apart, I can blog about it!



THOUGHTS ON ROMANIA

I find it a very agreeable country.  The weather is good, the people are friendly, the prices are some what affordable.  Many people speak at least a few words of English.  If they don't, you do have a chance of figuring out what they are saying if you have some French, Latin and Italian.  As we all do.

Many of the words are close enough.  Also, since Romanian uses Latin characters (fuck Cyrillic) you can often make out what the stores are.  Easy stuff.

Also, Romanians saw fit to build a lot of benches for people to just sit down and hang out.  In many of the old USSR countries, this is not the case.  You should be working - not sitting, talking and fermenting a revolution against the glorious state!

The Romanians seem pretty relaxed and friendly.  For men, there are several attractive women here.  For my women readers, there seem to be a lot of men here.  I have no idea what you'd make of them.

Buy medicine here.  I take several different kinds and have found their prices - and stock - very reasonable.  In fact, normally hunting down all of the medicine I need is a two or three day process.  I found everything in the first store I went to.  Nice.

Trains seem easy - under five minutes to get a train ticket that I bought two fortnights in advance.  Some sort of personal record.  Some countries won't even sell you a train ticket more than a couple days ahead of time.


In the disadvantages column, they are pretty religious though not pushy about it and 'their gods are not noisy'.  Not a huge proliferation of noisy bells, announcements, etc.  So, it's ignorable.

Also, they have a lot of gypsies here.  Gypsies!  The Geordies of Romania!  Just like the Geordies of England, they tend to dress differently and are often loud, crass people.  There seem to be two different kinds of gyspies.  Rich and poor.  The rich ones - aside from spending a lot of time wandering around yelling at each other and geography - are not much of a problem.  The poor ones are the kind of beggars who will violate your personal space and follow you around.  Beware of pick pockets and such though I've not had any problems thus far.  Try to look menacing.  Since I don't really look that way, I try to look hungry and cannibalistic.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - ROMANIA

Zebra Crossings aka Crosswalks

In Romania, should a driver strike a pedestrian outside of a crosswalk, they are thrown a parade and given a large gold foil covered chocolate key.

Should they strike a pedestrian within the crosswalk, they and their family for three generations are beaten within the public square for two days.

Both of the above statements are false, but they drive as though they are true.  Be warned - use the crosswalks and signals within this country.



TRAVELER'S TIPS - LONGER TERM OCCUPANCY (1-3 months)

Plastic bags:  Aside from getting to occupy a landfill or parents who wish they weren't giving them to children to play with, most people don't think much about them.  Aside from those pricks who buy a permanent bag and attempt to guilt others into not destroying the planet.  Bastards.  But for you - the traveler - plastic bags are useful.  First - make sure they were not shoddily made or have holes to try to keep the kids alive and out of landfills.  If they don't leak, they are new very cheap waterproof containers.  Because they will begin to tear after a few months, you will constantly be replacing them.  In addition, dirty laundry can be put into them.  Save your 'good bags' (thick, large) and give the laundry people the more common, crappy bags you got from the grocery.  Often, the laundry people will 'accidentally' keep or 'lose' the good bags.  The best bags are clear - no guessing what is inside.  I never throw out any bags other than the one I daily remove the trash with.  A surprising amount often get used when packing stuff and the rest I just leave with the hotel.  They are often grateful to get them.

Toilet paper:  If you are staying at a place that gives free toilet paper (pension, hotel, etc) get several extra rolls.  Don't feel bad about this - better to have way too many than one too few and explosive diarrhea.   Believe me.  Also, when you leave, they will get back all of the unused rolls.  You can build them a decorative pyramid of them before checking out.  Or you can become some weird person who travels around with twenty rolls of TP.  Just tell people "I like to poop."  Be sure to take at least one roll in your train/bus bag.  Because you like to poop.  Or at least wipe.  We hope.

Water:  Stock the hell up on this.  You should always have an extra three liters just sitting around.  If you get sick or become dehydrated (see 'explosive diarrhea') you may go through them in a hurry.  In addition to the roll of toilet paper (above) you should take a liter or two of water in your train/bus bag.  If you don't have these, you will regret it later.  (See also Logan's Rules of Water, below).

Packaged snacks:  Have some sitting around.  You might be unable (if the revolution comes) to go out and buy food.  Put uneaten packaged snacks into your train/bus bag when you are ready to leave.



LOGAN'S RULES OF WATER

These rules exempt Western Europe, USA (well, most of it anyway) and possibly Australia - though I've not been there.

Always drink bottled water, regardless of what the locals tell you.  In Brasov, Romania (my current location) I have been told the quality of the water from the tap exceeds bottled water.  This may be true.  How are the pipes that bring it here?  How old is this building?  How much lead is in the pipes?  How often are they replaced or cleaned?  Usually the answers are: bad, ancient, plenty and never.

In Eastern Europe, I will have salads.

Asia and Africa, if it isn't pealed or cooked hell no.  You will probably (eventually) get sick.  Yes, there are a lot of "I've been drinking plenty of water here and never got sick" people out there but the question always is "How much of your vacation would you like to give up to save half a buck on a bottle of water?"



TRAVELER'S TIP - GENERAL

Bandannas:  At the time of writing, I honestly couldn't tell you how many I own.  Twenty?  More?

They are always useful and you should always have one on you.  Whether you are using it to keep sweat out of your eyes, wiping up spills or applying a tourniquet to someone's neck they come in super handy.

Remember to get colors and patterns that will not have you angrily brought before a gang banger asking why you are wearing his - or his rivals - colors in their territory.  I get pastels.  Most people don't have as much fear of gang bangers wearing gentle pastels.


BOOK REVIEWS

WARNING - LIGHT SPOILERS (for The Survivalist)

Seven (or more) book series - The Survivalist

It took a bit to get past the first book.

In all these prepper/survivalist series, it often seems that the first book is a lot of self congratulation on the part of the anti-social paranoid gun nut who spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on something that would have been a complete waste of money.

Unless the apocalypse actually happened.

Since these are works of fiction, hey, Armageddon is awesome for these guys.  Had it not come about they would just look like overly paranoid idiots.  But they showed them, didn't they?

Guessing a lot of fans of these sorts of books are those very individuals so it is a masturbatory self congratulation they can enjoy in their minds.

In the first book, the characters were a bit flat but by the time the second (etc) books rolled around they'd gotten interesting.  Essentially, there are two different groups.

The marshal and his dog.   Essentially a gun fighter and a dog who is smart enough that if he had vocal cords he could not only talk but be funny.

The old prisoner and the 11 year old girl.  There is some special name for this kind of relationship but Google goes to very dark places if you don't know what you're looking for.  They formed an odd family kind of like in Leon: The Professional movie ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110413/ ).  It works in the book and isn't creepy.

Both of these groups are interesting and have loads of interesting adventures.  It is odd with just how many people got wiped out (see also: Apocalypse) that they would meet as many people as they do.

Also, the Coincidence Fairy is on overtime.

But the books are interesting.  All the novels are essentially one long book, as is the custom of this day.

Series score (as well as each individual book score) 4/5.  Pretty decent and I may revisit them in the future - especially if a couple more books come out.

Currently out on audio are 1-7.  8 is out in non-audio format and fans are howling for 9.


THE BORROWED WORLD SERIES (book reviews)

Book 1
Book 2
Book 3



PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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