A Travellerspoint blog

April 2014

A good week

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Just don't stop playing.

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Mural in Plovdiv

Mural in Plovdiv


When you journal, the level of detail in the descriptions depends greatly on the time passed between entries. What would be most important in a day, may be but a fleeting comment in a week, or even ignored in a monthly review. Today, and because of the past days, I believe I must not follow this trend, and revisit every day. So this might be a long post.

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Saturday

Last time I saw my wallet was in Istanbul bus station. That’s all I can say for certain. Seven hours later I arrived in Plovdiv, and set out to my usual wanderings. I did not have a place to spend the night there, but it was still nighttime, having arrived there before the sun. Still plenty of time to figure it out.
So I crossed Plovdiv and its old town, walking up to a hill and enjoying the view. It was a cold morning in a new country. I could already see the contrasts. Different shades of green and cats ran away from me. Not in Istanbul anymore! Still unsure whether to spend the night or exit the city and start stretching the thumb, I came down from the hill and resolved to concentrate on the moment: get some food. That’s when I realized my acute lack of wallet.

Now, had I not couchsurfed, hitchhiked and backpacked before, or well, had I not been me, there would have been frustration and fright and negative feelings. I guess. I just took it as fact. “I have no wallet. No money nor way of getting any. This will not stop me.” So I backtracked to a friendly hostel and asked if I could use their internet, and explained my situation. They gave me wifi and breakfast. This allowed me to cancel my cards and assess my situation. I would have to trust in people and goodwill. In fact, I had no choice.

As I wrote and called, next to me sat a family. As it usually happens in this kind of setting, we started talking and eventually I told them of my plight. I got sympathetic smiles and good-lucks. But later, when getting ready to leave, one of them came to me: “We’re going to Sofia—she said—you can come with us if you want. You have a couple of minutes to decide!” Well, it is my personal policy to not say no to this kind of offers and opportunities, and told her so; so of course I came with them. An interesting group they were: a boy of 14, two of 16, a girl of 9 and another of 18. The adults were three old friends, the two mothers and a male. It took me a while to figure out their story, who was son of who, but on the highway, there was plenty of time! And we did not go straight to Sofia either. First stop was Hisarya, the Roman walls and mineral hot baths. In that rainy, cold day, those baths were bliss!

I learned during the day that I had not come in the best of times to Bulgaria. It was Saturday, yes, but not any of them, it was Easter Saturday in the Orthodox Calendar. That’s why the three friends were together, coming from Berlin and London all the way to Sofia, visiting friends and family. That’s why they were out on a road trip! And that’s why, when the day ended, I found myself in Yana’s aunt and uncle’s home. Yana was mother of three of the kids, a yoga instructor and Vipassana student. She took me in with her family, and gave me a place to spend the night. I saw with her another side to Easter: one of joy, community, family and love. I had homemade raki and ate Easter bread with hot cocoa. We clashed coloured eggs. I think I’ve never won an egg joust. We walked with candles in the street, greeted the neighbours on the way to church and back. No one cared whether I believed or not. No one cared whether I belonged or not. And so, in smiles and warmth, I could barely recall that just that morning I had arrived with no wallet from Istanbul.

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Sunday

I left Yana’s house sometime in the afternoon. I did not want to be too much of a burden. And I had a mission. Two years before I had left something in a hostel, and being back in Sofia, it would be a shame if I did not at least ask… So I made my way to the Hostel Mostel, to ask them if, by any chance, my phone was still there.
Of course it wasn’t. It was two years! But wouldn’t it have been awesome to find it?

The good thing was that, on the way there I met some staff of the Art Hostel, and was told to come to their bar. So I got a warm place to hang out and even some food (some Bulgarian meatcake with yogurt!). Everyone I met was sympathetic to my case, I mean, it’s not like I’d gambled my savings. They’d just walked away. While dozing in the bar I heard Spanish, and couldn’t resist the conversation. Turned out to be an Erasmus student and her local friend, wonderful people too. I had already resigned myself to leaving at first light, in the cold, so when I was offered a bed in a dusty spare room I hesitated for a moment. Only for a moment.

Monday

I woke in that spare room after a night of chatting and laughter, and looked around me. No wonder they called this “the dead guy’s room”. Full of books and notes and randomness, some oblivious socialist paraphernalia, other very personal, like a boxes full of letters and postcards. I rummaged through most of it. Took a couple of unwritten postcards from the seventies with me, no one will miss them.
Eventually I left to hitchhike, fashioned myself a sign, and prepared to leave Sofia. A bit over an hour of waiting later, I was joined by Velin, another hitchhiker. He later told me that he had just passed next to me on a city bus, going to his usual spot, but when he saw me there, smiling so happily with my little sign, he just decided to come with me. I quickly recognized in him a friend. Sometimes you do so, just by the look in the eyes, you know to be among equals.

In two rides we got to Veliko Tarnovo. The first a simple, usual ride, with a nice guy, software designer going not too far, took us there and a bit further. The second ride though, was the strangest I’ve ever had. They were lovely people, a very nice and friendly couple. It’s just that I never thought I’d ever be picked up by a deaf couple. I could not talk with them, and although they could read Velin’s lips. All I could do was perform my interpretative dance and smile wide. They even gave us Easter bread. I have no idea what their names are.
In Veliko, Velin asked around and got me a place to sleep in a little funky hotel. For free as well. All in goodwill. Warm shower and a soft bed, wifi and homeliness. I had not touched money in three days.

My bed for the night!

My bed for the night!


At some point during the day Velin had asked me why I hadn’t asked some friend or family to wire me some money through Western Union or something. I had no answer. I realized the thought had not even crossed my mind. So sure I was that I could make it with no money, that I forgot there were other options. I resolved to look into this once in Bucharest.

Tuesday

So well rested, I set out for Romania. A two hour hike got me out of Veliko Tarnovo and into thumbing position. It was a nice day and in some twenty minutes a young road-tripping couple picked me up. They actually drove past me at first, but turned around and came back for me! A delightful ride, we stopped at a little ancient monastery carved in the rock, then they left me on Ruse.

I thought it was a smaller town, but it took me a good three hours to walk through it and get to the Danube. Here it turns out you cannot cross the bridge on foot, so I got a ride from one end of the Friendship Bridge to the other. And then, off to Bucharest! Finally I was in Romania! Gruialand at last. I had wanted to visit Romania because why not, because I’d missed it two years before, and because of some stories by Gheorghe Gruia, my former handball coach. So I was finally there! And with no money or a place to sleep!

I could have probably gotten a place to sleep. I was asked about it and half-offered a place by a Chilean family at the McDonalds (they serve some of the best wifi out there). But I was for some reason betting all my cards at volunteering at a hostel. I had particularly the X Hostel in mind. I met the owner/CEO and everything. But sometimes you go all in and win, sometimes you go all in and lose. Turned out the hostel had been invaded by a roving band of young dutch people. Fifty-some of them. There was simply no place for anyone else! Even the staff were sleeping in the storage room for the week. They did take my backpack for me though, so I was free to roam the streets.

So then, what to do if I don’t have a place to sleep? Well I don’t sleep, of course! For a night or two nothing will happen. I’m a designer after all. All that training in not sleeping did finally pay off while travelling. And then some.
The height of the night occurred when, sitting in a Kebap shop, munching on my travel rations and last Easter bread, a girl sat on the next table. Smile. Then her friend, a long haired, big guy, all in black joined her and they started talking. I could hear English. Eventually we started chatting, then suddenly she offered: “Can I invite you somewhere?” She handed me a flyer, I could make out something about a student discount to somewhere. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to pay any entry fee! I’ll invite you.” I had already said yes before turning the flyer around and realizing what it was I had said yes to.

I’d never been to a Strip Bar before. I've always known that it’s not my kind of place. I have now confirmed it. But if I was ever to enter one, this was the best way to do it. Turned out I was invited to the place by one of the girls, Anna, and I was the only “customer” there. On the way I had told her and Barry the security guard, of my peculiar penniless situation. This did not matter, for as there was no one else, we could just chat and enjoy not being out in the cold. I think I was the first man ever to drink tea at that place. Anna even gave me some bananas to eat, and chocolate—all she could find in the backstage. She performed a bit as well, and pole danced. I was amazed by her ability and strength! Barry agreed, “I’m mostly here for the looks” he said, “This girls can fend for themselves!” I would not like to get in a fight with any of them. Those legs can break you in two.

Barry had once been a martial arts master, and firefighter in the ‘States. After all the misery and pain he’s seen on car crashes, gang fights and fire victims, spending his nights surrounded by topless girls is as good a retirement plan as any. This was not a big strip club, just a little corner bar, with everyone relaxed and happy. Not a bad place to spend some time with nice people. The fact that most of them are topless doesn't hurt either. They even let me have a shower in the massage room. And then it was back to wandering.

No photos there

No photos there

Wednesday

When it was day again I walked back to the X Hostel. Came just in time for the Dutch group’s breakfast. Even helped with some dutch-english-spanish-romanian translation. When there’s big groups, there’s big leftovers. I had breakfast, lunch, and refilled my travel rations. It was delicious. What the staff could not offer me in accommodation they gave in welcoming. If I had money I’d consider staying there. But for now, we're Couchsurfing!

That night I got a place to sleep. A couch, a cat and food. Music too, although it wasn't too much to the taste of Andra, my host. A musician herself, she is picky with what she listens to. I would love to hear her medieval music band. I stayed three nights with her, met her friends, chatted with her boyfriend. They all reminded me of my group of friends in Mexico, talking about music, magic and board games. Sometimes you meet these random people halfway around the world, who come from a completely different background, and yet you realize that you are the same.

Friday

Fearing and caring for me as only a mother can do, my mom offered to get me out of my penniless state, and wired me some euros. She sent them to me sometime Thursday, but by I only could get them on Friday. Gratefully, the first thing I did after getting them was walk into a library-café, sit on a small table by the street window, and buy me some coffee.

How long could I have kept it going? There is an impressive amount of people out there, willing to share all they have with a stranger, just because he needs it. Just because he asks and smiles. I have discovered that my story is an inspiring one: people have approached me just because I look happy, and want to hear the stories that make me smile and dance with no music, even on gloomy days and lonely nights.

That first day in Bucharest, I was approached by a French man. A math teacher, he dreams of leaving his fears behind, grab a backpack and see the world. After some minutes of talking, he put it better than I ever could:

"I saw you there and I had to talk to you. You just seemed so happy, I wanted to know how you do it. Now I understand. You are happy because you are free."

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Posted by Zaspirucho 06:43 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged night adventure city friends family music hostel road romania medieval poor sofia nomad cold luck bulgaria bucharest easter strip hitchhiking wallet learning plovdiv ransack Comments (1)

Hello Turkey Bye

Of ten days and what's to come

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“Where do you live?” A girl asked. “I live here, now. I live where I’m living” I smartly replied. “Yes, but where’s your home?
Ah. Now that’s the question, isn’t it?

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I must say, Turkey felt amazingly like home. The comfortable level of chaos everywhere, the ever surrounding beauty… Having my sister there only helped reinforce the impression. She agreed: Mexico and Turkey are disturbingly similar. Maybe not at the surface level (and sometimes at that too), but on a deep level, they are very much alike.

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With her, I revisited Istanbul, experiencing everything again as new, through her eyes and wonder. It's a great place that city, in every sense of the word. The buildings, the people. Smiles everywhere, good food and Cats! Everywhere! Not just mangy strays, no. Both street dogs and cats look well fed and reasonably safe. They are not afraid of humans, and many enjoy being petted by strangers and tourists day in and out. There was even a happy cat enjoying the views, inside the Hagia Sophia! So not just the architecture, but the whole atmosphere is very much worth the visit. Its awesome.

And it will twist your neck.

And it will twist your neck.


So for a week I was with my sister, walking around the old district of Istanbul, drinking tea and coffee and catching up. Last I saw had seen her was September 2013, and a lot had happened since! But not all was reminiscence. Together we spent a couple of days in the great grey city of Ankara, government town, and in the land of fairy houses and magic called Cappadocia. Completely different, both places were incredible.

There's lots of road in Turkey. It's a big place.

There's lots of road in Turkey. It's a big place.


First in Ankara, I brought Irazú, my sis, to Atatürk's museum. I wanted her to know who was that face that stares at you anywhere in Turkey. I feel a deep respect for the man that he was and all that he accomplished. So that was the official tourist business. After that, the personal started: we made our way to the outskirts of town to be at a friend's wedding. It was not what I expected. It turned out, the wedding was divided in two: the official, legal wedding one day, in Ankara, and the party event, a week later, in Trabzon. That is, on the other side of the country. Among the travellers, Trabzon is renowned as the to-go place for an Iranian visa. So yes, its all the way east, almost in Iran! And with my sister leaving from Istanbul soon, It would imply crossing two thousand kilometers in a couple of days. After much consideration, I decided not to go. Not an easy call.
But I get ahead of myself. For before all this, and after the wedding event, we ended hanging out and crashing with the wedding musicians and having a late night of beers, music and locals. Oh, those lovely turkish eyes...

But time was short, so then we went for a day and a bit more to Cappadocia. In particular, to the town of Göreme, place of magic and wonder. Due to its particular geological characteristics, it has evolved some interesting rock formations. They are called the Fairy houses, and with good reason! People no longer live in them, or at least cannot carve new holes into them, but they still stand testament to what was. No pictures can really convey the feeling of the cold wind rushing and whistling among the natural towers, or the relief when leaving the confined spaces of an underground city. Or chatting with a turkman over some chai, in the middle of nowhere, and with nothing but beauty in sight. We could have flown on a hot air balloon, or slept inside a comfy cave. But that will have to wait for a season with more dineros.

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Great


It could have been a longer stay. It should have. But it wasn't. And so we both left Turkey. The second visit is now over. It lasted little over ten days, though it could have been much, much longer. But I was itching to start the journey north. So I got on a bus to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Leaving Turkey felt like yet a new start, as if a new chapter, a new adventure started to unfold, with the Asia stories at rest for now...

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Two years before, when I left Istanbul for Sofia, a pair of very quick and gentle hands stole my camera (freakin' gypsies!). I decided not to think of it and instead started writing and drawing more. This very blog might be the result of that. So I wonder if anything will come of a new development... Starting a disturbing pattern, after arriving in Plovdiv and when I decided it was enough walking and coffee was required, I realized my wallet was gone. Gone to live her own story, somewhere far from me. She took my bank cards though. So not only did I lose my money, but also the ability to get any more.
Now that sucks.
So I'm in Bulgaria, with no money whatsoever, not even a single euro, and I still intend to make my way to Poland. I intended to Couchsurf, hitchhike and work here and there... I was just expecting to have other options too!!

So lets see how this little adventure develops! I know there will be cold and hunger. But heck, that will pass too. And summer is coming.
Hold on to your wallets!

A last one, because why not!

A last one, because why not!

Posted by Zaspirucho 17:14 Archived in Turkey Tagged buildings travel end adventure cappadocia istanbul beautiful cats europe asia goreme ankara ransack backacking Comments (1)

On leaving a continent

Things take on a new significance when they are about to end.

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Last days of Asia

Last days of Asia


Six months it was. Six months ago I arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the first time. On that day I knew nothing. Coming out of the subway station I was dazzled by the light and movement, and surprised by the great structures looming over me. The Twin Towers! In my frenzy, I had forgotten to read up on where I was going, so I had no idea the iconic buildings where actually located in Kuala Lumpur. Like going to New York and being surprised to find the Empire State Building there. But lo and behold, the famous Petronas!

It takes on a new form, that which is known. It gets blurry and fades away some. I walked that same path several times that first week in Malaysia, and some more in the following visits to KL. The towers became familiar, my friends. When I got lost in the city I could look for them in the distance, be reassured by their far-off presence. When walking under their shadow I needed not heed them, rather I would look at the people, at the cars and advertisements. The great giants a part of the scenery, part of the world.

Then there is a mysterious link between the first and last. The senses get sharpened by the feelings of conclusion, by the coming end. When you’re aware it is the last time (that you know of) that you’ll do this or eat that, and it your senses will sharpen, trying to capture every detail possible. Every sound, every smell and colour. When the world that is known is about to disappear, we strive to experience; to remember. That way it may live on, in our memories at least.

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In this spirit I spent the last days in Malaysia; visiting the places I had come to enjoy, and saying goodbye. I saw people I had met six months before, turned some old smiles into new kisses. By now I had my favourite sites too; places where they didn’t need to ask: upon seeing me they’d know whether I required an ice coffee or a double espresso. The kind of places that become a home, where the people treat you as a friend. And to top it all off, I was able to meet with Tihomir, my Bulgarian Liberty crewmate, and with my cousin and her beautiful kids and husband. Thus the trip ended in the same loving manner as it began. The circle is closed now, time to move on.

Countries, food, experiences, thoughts, this has been a trip of many firsts. I’ll surely revisit the region. But for now, it’s time to go back to the west. There’s no need to go all the way there though, so first I’ll stop at the border, there where the two worlds meet. We shall fly through the night and tomorrow I’ll see the Sun rise over Istanbul.

All things come to an end, such is the nature of the world. And then they start again.

Posted by Zaspirucho 06:43 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur travel end malaysia friends istanbul family trip asia kl liberty thoughts learning Comments (0)

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