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Aleppo ~ Redux

Filed under: Syria — she_travels at 5:07 pm on Sunday, May 2, 2010

If there is nothing else, and there is plenty, to love about Aleppo it is this.

Signage in English with places of interest in brown..woohoo! I don’t think I saw the sign that said Aleppo Citadel, I think I was following the Old Bazaars sign.

The butcher shops amazed me..over and over.

Musta been to early in the day for the shops to be open but look at that building!

Yes, before the shops opened.

I noticed the green coat 1st, then the not covered heads, between the two they were a dead give away for tourist…now the question..where are they going?  I had lost the bazaar signs so I was just wandering about.

Well looky here  Aleppo Citadel I believe.

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the center of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Subsequently occupied by many civilizations including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks, the majority of the construction as it stands today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period.

Much more can be found on Wikipedia.

Come on…this is just cool..it’s out of a movie with a moat and bridge.

Shall we see if there is a dragon at  the gate?

Many of the next few are from inside the walls.

I think some of this is resonstruction.

The view was fairly amazing!

This was not about the birds.

Another one of  those…sun there not here pics. The green dome of a mosque is a nice touch.

One of those old and new pics… new being the wall of rounded glass, old being the building across the street.

This was the inside of the downstairs of this place.

Another from what felt like under the place.

Souqs (suq) I am not sure how it is spelled,  are for the most part narrow streets, some covered some not covered with smallish shops on either side. Much like what they were calling Bazaar in Turkey. Maybe souq is the old world word.

Anywho, the guy above was the belt maker…you can see his stacks of belts what you can’t see is the sewing machine in the back with stakes of leather about.

Do you even believe this building!

I could not pass up a pic of this shop, I waited a good 20 minutes for traffic of both people and cars to get a good shot. Was worth the wait.

I took a wrong/right turn and ended up back in the souqs.

Spices? and  I think the stuff in the rounded tin to the right is raw honey.

Mix your own scent.

String anyone?

I was fairly well lost by this point so I decided to go back in the souqs one more time.

This gal saw my camera. I was attempting a pic of the sheep skins behind her….she jumped right in front  of the camera. I showed her the pic, she smiled and waved then disappeared in to the crowd.

Ahh, sheep wool in the raw.

The building of shops that was closed on the way up in the morning…seems I am not as lost as all that, or not any more at least.  I have become very accustom to being lost and it doesn’t bother me much.

I musta gone back to the hotel cause this was taken from my balcony.  See the three ladies in black? One is completely covered, one has her eyes showing and one has her whole face showing.  The boy on front and the man behind where with them.

This was also from the balcony, he is grilling something and I am hoping it is chicken.

I was becoming more accustom to the men openly staring at me, on some occasion I felt  the need to say something.

I was waiting to cross the street when I noticed a guy of 30 something looking me up and down. I thought he was checking out my green shoes (everyone should have a pair of green Crockadiles). I pointed to the shoes smiling and said “Green Shoes”  then ran across the street headed for the guy in the pic above.  I was so very disappointed when I found out he was grilling lamb, I had tried it twice and truly did not like the stuff..so back across the street foraging for food I go.

Just around the bend I realized I have a tail, the green shoe guy was walking with me.  “One” he says.  I held my hands palm up, ” I do not understand.” “Two” is his reply.  I still don’t get it…  Then he points to me “One”  pats himself “Two”   Yeah, ok you can count in English, “I am sorry I still do not understand.”  My reward is “three”   In my head I am thinking really hard to come up with the answer… one two thee…one two three… I am still running one two three around in my head when he says “SIX!”   Right, one two three six..it makes perfect sense now…. what the hell? I know I am just lookin at this guy like he fell in from mars. He musta felt it cause he reaches in his pocket, pulls out a clip of Syrian notes…bonces against the money with his index finger and says “SEX!”  My look went from mars to the outer reaches of the universe as I said loudly with much confusion “Did you just ask me for money for sex? Are you a complete nutter? NO! NO!”

Have ya ever heard  the expression ‘His face fell’… I am telling you I think this guy has been practicing it in the mirror…like it was going to help any. I kid you not,  he went from a hopeful young man to a lost sad basset hound in the matter of seconds. The dude was a pouting basset hound. I walked off, when he caught up to me he had recovered his hopeful look. He decided,  as many men do,  that he did not heard NO and asked again. “SEX!”  I said no again and again, he made the pouting basset hound face…. he perked up tried one more time…this time I said “NO” and flicked my hand in his direction “NO,  find someone to bother.”

It occurred to me much later the poor guy was trying to find the right word for sex….he knew it sounded like a number but was having trouble getting his brain to sort out  the right word. All in all the whole thing was funny and not at any point did I feel threatened. What a wacky place this is..the chicks are covered in black and the guys go about offering money to tourists for sex.  Wacky!

Back to the search for food…

It would seem I found the new part of Aleppo.

With plenty of people out spending.

They may wear black in public but behind closed doors woohoo the color!

I have no idea where the building was..old though  huh?

My favorite from Aleppo.


Filed under: Syria — she_travels at 1:02 pm on Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ya know, I don’t think it was dark when I arrived in Aleppo, but it must have been getting close cause the 1st pics are at night.

Anywho, I could see the taxi guys lined up and ready to pounce before I got off the bus. I was pleased as punch the universe saw fit to tell my bladder I had to visit  the ladies, actually I may adopt  this tactic in future travels, I had to visit  the ladies before I say anything to any taxi guy about where I am going or how I am going to get  there…this way..I can Breath and believe in with this sort of travel breathing is paramount.

As I was telling yet another taxi guy I had to go to the ladies (what I did was point to the WC sign) I saw a green bus pull in to the station. I asked the taxi guy if the bus went to the “Centrum”…he looked at me ( dude was CUTE!) ,  in perfect English said “I will take you anywhere  you want to do go for 150sp.”  He farther attempted to tell me the bus didn’t go to where I wanted to. No worries, I still have to visit  the ladies.

While I was in the ladies room I realized I didn’t have what it took to pay the potty man. Yeah, I had a 500sp note on me but the guy was going to want some fraction of that…what to do,  what to do… Ermm, many places in the world will take $us. I had a few dollars on me.

I went out to pay the guy and offered him either or he snapped up the us dollar fast. I don’t remember change but I didn’t care then it occurred to me to ask “Bus to Centrum?”  When he nodded I showed him the 500sp note again, he understood and handed me a coin from his potty money.  I later found out it was  a 10. Now if ya wanna do the math, $1us is 45sp. This was a 10 coin. Talk about a fraction of  what the taxi guy wanted.

When I walked back the direction I had come the taxi guy who had said he would take me any where looked at me. I raised the coin in my hand and nodded in the direction of the bus. A big ole grin showed on his face, did I figure it out or was I about to get lost? Either way… it should be fun.

I got on the bus, handed the driver the coin the potty guy had given me. The bus driver produced a very small bit of paper he put in a machine (click) one way, turned it around, click a second time then handed the now cut off edges bit of paper to me.  Yea, ok, wacky..why twice?

I was paying very close attention to where I was and where I was going. Aleppo, thank goodness, signs both in Arabic and English….when I realized there was a chance the bus was going some place other than the center of town I popped up to the driver.  I pointed ahead saying “Are you going that way?”  He shook his head and pointed to my right. Cool, time to hop off  the bus and hoof it. I gave him a smile and a wave.

I had walked many 5 blocks when I came upon about four banks in a row. I was rather excited about this cause there is much discussion on the web about not being able to find a bank in Aleppo which will  give western ATM cards money. The exchange rate is always better if ya just get money out of your own account and ya don’t have to worry as much about getting taken.

I continued to walk past  the banks and realized I may be too far..I have no idea why I thought this being I didn’t have a map or anything to say so.  I saw several people coming toward me “Hotels?”  One of the ladies pointed back the way I had come and maybe to the right, I turned back the way I had come.  I was not sure so when I saw a police man a bit father down the hill I asked again pointed to what was now my right.  “Hotels”  He nodded and pointed through what seems a dark closed street.

I was not even out of the cops view before I saw the lights and many people….one more bend in the turn and I was standing in view of the clock tower.

The place was chock a block full of people! Including a swarm of people to my right watching a monster TV screen. I was not paying much attention to what was on.

Handmade soap is one of Aleppo’s claims to fame.

I had to find a place to sleep… there were a ton of them around but goodness me everyone was full. I finally happened upon a place I was willing to pay for but silly me I didn’t have enough money. The guy was very accommodating,  told me I could pay him the following day.  It was still pleseant out even though it was after dark, there were plenty of people in the streets so I decided I would pop back to the bank street to get some cash.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I had a tag along, he was not moving properly, perhaps a limp, he may have been a half a bubble off of level what I do remember very clearly was “kiss kiss kiss”  in my ear.  Dude was thinking some random chick walking down the street was going to stop to  give him a kiss?  I sped up my walk, pretty much left him standing there. I was careful to make sure no one was paying any attention to me at the bank. The 1st three did not work…then I started reading signs…some of  the banks say ‘Of Syria” these I think have blocks so the system can’t find my account in the states.  The fourth bank saw fit to give me cash.

On the way back, mind you it is still dark, there was a group of four people who passed me, two ladies and two guys, the ladies where walking arm and arm with the men.  I about fainted when one of the guys looked over his should past his ladies ear to look at me…I can tell you she was just as surprised cause she jerked his arm and said some thing.  In this land, short, round with big breasts is exotic. It takes some getting used to.

I went back past the huge TV screen to find out it was something political… ok,  time to get off the streets before some thing truly wacky happens.

I was very much looking forward to a nice warm shower…silly me I did not ask about hot water. NONE!  Phooey.

The next morning at 8a, I went looking for other accommodation, found the Tourist Hotel, he didn’t have a single but gave me a double (two double beds) with a baloney for $900. The 1st was a single for $600. The balcony alone was worth the extra six dollars. Course the bathroom was shared across the hall.

I had a lovely shower before heading off to see what Aleppo was all about in the day light.

Mardin, Turkey to Aleppo, Syria

Filed under: Syria,Turkey — she_travels at 11:57 am on Sunday, May 2, 2010

Couple of things about Mardin… I spent the better part of a day snapping pics and wandering through the walkways in the old city. I saw few people until  closer to the main street.

The Ptt (postman) noticed me while he was talking to someone in a car. I thought he was going to come across the street to say some thing but he didn’t.  About forty minutes later I was standing in a mud patch above the new city looking for a way down the hill (I had taken the bus up)..when I saw the path people had been taking for ages I turned…to find the Ptt guy looking right at me.  His English was only slightly better then my Turkish. He wanted to know where I was from where I was going who I was with and if I was going to walk down the hill. I answered all his questions while showing him the camera so he understood I had stopped for the photos.  One becomes accustom to this sort of encounter in this place, everyone is so darn friendly they just wanna have a chat with ya.

When I was half way down the hill I realized I was almost in the parking lot of an honest to goodness store, I was not sure if  they were selling only clothes but figured if there was food to be had I could go for a hunk of cheese.  I walked through the automatic doors to be completely dumbfounded, I was standing in the veggie/bakery section of a Safeway, ok it was Megg-something or other but dang it looked like Safeway to me.

One truly should not pass up a bakery in any country… the two gals behind the counter were all kinds of chatty, “Where are you from, What is your name, Are you here alone”  We decided I would have a bit of several of the offered items,   she cut them in bite sized bits and I was on my way.  These two gals were the second I had spoken with, the 1st being the ladies on the bus in Anamur, the German chick doesn’t count, she is German.

On to the border…

Right then, one can get to about anywhere from anywhere in this part of the world, the only snag is how many transfers, at what price,  to what mode of transport you might have to take.

Mom and I did a day in Thailand(2008) , maybe I will remember all of it, here goes..  walked to the river boat, river boat to the skytrain, skytrain to the last stop,  bus to the airport,  a plane to Phuket,  bus to the ferry dock, ferry to Ko PhiPhi, and walked to the accommodation.  I have a vague memory of Mom saying “Let’s don’t do that again.”

I took a big bus from Mardin to Nusaybin, the driver kicked me out in a parking lot with a couple fruit sellers and what looked like taxi drivers.  I thought I could see the way to  “town” but that didn’t really mean I had any idea where the border gate was so…. to any of  the men willing to listen, I said “Dolmus? Syria?” They (maybe 4 guys) collectively said “no Dolmus, Taxi” I replied “Aww come on, Dolmus?”  I was rewarded with smiles and more negatives than the 1st time. I tell ya there must be something in my voice that brings the men in this country out of the wood work.

Ok, no dolmus….. “How far to Syria?  Walk?” as I mimed walking.  The 1st response was 2k… shezz I can do 2k easy…then someone behind me said 10k.  We, all the men and I,  chatted a bit about just how far it was when someone had the for thought to go get one of the cars they use as taxi. In the end with all of us laughing and me saying “ok , ok, ok,  I tossed my bag in the little truck,  gave the guy 10 lira and let him take me where he would.

As we approached the border I realized I could have walked it but I may never have found the actual border. The giggles alone where worth the 10 lira.

The border looking toward Turkey.

Looking toward Syria. Yeah, I really am the only one out here… I was just as surprised as you.

When crossing borders there is always a bit of confusion. They are all kinda the same, or the ones I have been through are but ya still get a case of the “where, who, should I”‘ going on in your head.

When I got down to the building with the rust-ish roof you can just see,  there was a  group/line of about six people. Some discussion was had about where and to whom I was to give my passport, being American it goes to someone other than the guy having a peek at the Turkish/Syrian passports.  While I was waiting for the guy to give it back a heavy set older lady in a dark long coat and scarf over her head walked right up to me, took my coat collar on both sides and with a smile showed me in no uncertain terms I was to zip my coat in an attempt to hide my breasts.  Mind you, I was wearing a shirt under my coat which covered all of my skin. This was my introduction to Syria, cover as much as possible weather and heat be damned.

With the Turkish exit stamp I walked to the closed gate beyond the building, one of the two  guards asked for my passport when I gave it to him he walked off.  I started to follow my passport through  the gate when the second guard stopped me. One tends to listen to anyone in a military uniform,  as with many borders these guys were carrying automatic weapons… one truly respects anything these guys have to say.   I was not overly concerned about getting through cause of pass port issues, I had sent my passport to Wash DC to get the visa before I left the states . Now, it was all about waiting to see what happened next.

The passport stealing guard  came back but without my passport, he motioned me to follow him. We were headed to a building marked “Welcome to Syria”.

Most of  the people who were in the Turkey exit line were in this room with a counter and passport guys on the other side. The gate guard said something to one of the men behind the counter. This new guy  asked my name, I think just to make sure I was the American he was looking for,  I was the only one around for miles. This was were something very strange happened, the passport guys starting talking to me, I mean conversation talking, they were laughing and smiling, it was a little unnerving cause most border guys, shezz,  if you can get them to look at you, you are doing well.

At some point they became serious asked me my name again, where I was going, where I was coming from, what my travel plan was, they asked both my mother and my father’s names.  When they had all the answers they wanted I was rewarded with smiles, waves  and chorus of “Welcome to Syria” from all of them, including some of the people waiting to  get their passports back.  Friendly doesn’t even come close to describing with these people are.

There was one more guard who stopped me to ask where I was going.  While I was looking for the answer in my note book ( I wanted to tell him the town name not just Syria) he waved me past..I think he got tired of waiting on me to find the answer.

One more gate and I was,  yet again,  in the middle of a flock of men (taxi guys).  There was some discussion about where I was going (hotel, bank, bus station) and how much it was going to cost.. I think I was taken (for to much money) but there are days ya just can’t keep track of everything.

The taxi guy took me from the border through the town of Qamishle to the bus station. He showed me the correct place to buy  a ticket to Aleppo.  I didn’t know it at the time but the bus guys in Syria not only want your passport but take it away…I was a tad concerned but decided I best go with the flow. I paid for the ticket, was told which bus and what time (10 minutes) but my passport had not come back yet. When it did the guy said “The police want to speak with you.”  Right then, what is a gal to do but go see the police.

Come to find out the guy who had taken my passport was the only English speaker around, he ended up being translator between the cops and me. The questions were the same as the border.. my name, where I was going, where I was coming from, what my travel plan was, they asked both my mother and my father’s names. Once the police guy had written down all my answers I was given my passport back and ushered to my assigned seat on the bus.

Enough of the text…pics comin at ya.

I know its fuzzy, I was not in the front seat. Adobe home on all that green field.

One can tell exactly where the water runs.  Yes, those are sheeps.

It felt like a check point but I am not clear on what was up.

I think that black sticky up plant out there is for fire fuel to cook with.

No, help with  the man/female signage for bathrooms, thank goodness the ladies on the bus adopted me.

This says male. They look darn close to me.  In most of the areas I was in, larger towns they had WC signs like Turkey.

Th edge of one of  the towns we rolled past.

Grain elevator? Gotta get the seeds from all these green fields to someplace.

We found a lake…ya know I think that trip was five hours or so…I know it was dark by  the time I arrived in Aleppo.

Much like in Turkey, trees to harvest.

A bit closer to Aleppo. This looks to be the last of  the trip, ahh yes I remember this is why….

Trees along  the road.

Next up… Aleppo.

Urfa to Mardin

Filed under: Turkey — she_travels at 11:10 pm on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mardin was suggested to me by someone on trip adviser after I said I had been lost twice in the maze of a bazaar in Urfa. She suggest I wander the alleys of the old city of Mardin and to take time to enjoy the view.

Quickly, a story about a guy in the bus station in Urfa, the third time I was there. 1st from Adana, then on the way to Harran and now on the way to Mardin from Harran.

The new bus station (otogar) in Urfa is two levels, the mini buses arrive and depart on the lower level and the big buses arrive and depart on the upper level. I had already been in and out of  the place several times. Instead of being rude to the guy,  who met me at the top of the stairs,  to tell me what counter to go to for a ticket to Mardin, I just told him where I was going and followed him. Come to think if it I did alot of that, follow “the guy” to here, follow “the guy” to there. They are a helpful bunch.

As I remember the bus was going to leave very soon indeed but “the guy” suggest I have tea with him, I have a vague memory of him saying some thing about his brother’s office. Now, up until this point there was not a single time I followed “the guy” to a place that was not public. I have no idea why I did it this time, I was not thinking straight or tired or….just who knows. Anywho, the brother’s office ended up being a tiny room between the restroom door and the token guy for the rest room, it was all windowed. I told “the guy”, hmm I think he may have been 2o-something I had to use the ladies. He asked if I wanted tea before I went through the door. I said yes please but I do not want to miss my bus. He seemed to understand.

When I got back there were two cups on the bench next to him, I picked one up as he said “They are just so big.”  I ignored him sniffing  the cup, coffee. I put that cup down and picked up the other one, coffee. So, between two cups of coffee, no tea and him talking about the size of my breasts, this was over,  three strikes. I picked up my bags and headed out the door..I could hear him staying “Oh my god. Oh my god” but I didn’t much care.

I plopped myself down in a seat to find by bus ticket so I had a much better idea of what was going on, when I looked up I realized “the guy” was in the seat next to me pointing at a bus just outside the door. Seems he knew which one was mine. He musta said some thing to the attendant guy outside in a way I did not see cause he looked back at me and said ten minutes. Cool, ten minutes and they all know I am going on that bus, every one is on the same page, I can relax a little.

The guy and I talked of Harran, my journey thus far and my plans to see Mardin then zip on down to Syria.  The two gals sitting next to me started to give me looks, its was kinda strange twice in the same day… holy hell, now  wonder if it was the same two girls from before..prolly not. Anywho, I have no idea if they were worried about me or disgusted I would talk to a male stranger.

When it was time to load my bag “the guy” took it from me..I followed him outside but soon realized it was pouring rain and I was not going to stand in the rain waiting so I let “the guy” and the attendant take care of it, the guy handed me the ticker to get my bag back, shook my hand and suggested I come back to visit him another time. He was a nice enough dude once he understood talking about my breasts was not something I was going to put up with.

I think I have mentioned several times the bus trips are very civilized in that they offer you a beverage once everyone is seated and things are rolling along. On this bus, I was the only one other than the driver offered a beverage and the attendant didn’t say “what would you like?” he said “Would you like chi?” I said yes. I tell you this cause it occurred to me several days later…maybe “the guy” with the two cups of coffee, asked the bus attendant to give me tea once aboard cause he had messed up.  I did enjoy the tea!

One more tale of hospitable Turks on the bus ride from Urfa to Mardin; at some point along the way many people got ff the bus, I was in a seat more than half way to the back. I heard a commotion toward the front of the bus, when I looked up the driver was waving his hands in my direction. Two men where next to him asking some thing about the front seats, I know this cause they were pointing at the seats. The driver looked hard at me and motioned again with his hands. I finally understood, he wanted me to go to the front, he gave me the front seat next to the door. I sat down, clapped my hands like a silly school girl and thanked him.  The two men who had asked were on the opposite side of the bus three rows back. I am not at all sure why the driver decided to move me but I as pleased as punch he had.

K then, on to Mardin.

Mekong Delta

Filed under: Vietnam — she_travels at 2:33 pm on Monday, February 23, 2009

While in Saigon I started to feel the pressure of getting back to Bangkok on time to catch my flight to Los Angeles. There were several things I wanted to see before leaving this area, one was parts of the Mekong Delta, another was a visit to Phu Quoc island. Because I was running out of time I asked a tour agent to sort it out.  I paid her for the two day Delta tour, two nights in Rach Gia on either end of a three day visit to Phu Quoc, ferry tickets to Phu Quoc and an airline ticket from Rach Gia to Bangkok two days before my flight out. All I had to worry about the next week was finding a place on Phu Quoc to sleep.

Many pics of  the Mekong Delta follow. Water, water every where!

Fishing boats being loaded with ice. See the bricks in the middle if the image, they are on a conveyor belt.

So, many kinds of conveyance!

I love this one!

Floating market. See the pole at the top of  the image, it tells everyone that sell Pineapple.

This pole as many more items on it cause this groups of boats is selling all kinds of things.

Floating bar/beverage.

The boat in the middle is empty, the two on either side are full of sand. The eyes on the boats are to frighten away sea monsters.

At the moment this seems to be the last of the South East Asia pics I have re sized and uploaded. I think I was so overwhelmed by the number of photos I had I got lost. I will look for more.

Saigon, Vietnam

Filed under: Vietnam — she_travels at 1:57 pm on Monday, February 23, 2009

I do not remember how long the VIP bus ride form Mui Ne to Saigon was, I do remember when the driver stopped for gas he did so at a place looking much like an Asian version of a Texaco complete with convenience store. I stepped off the bus with my mouth hanging open wondering where on earth I was.  Thank goodness I was alert enough to see a couple of ladies ducking behind the building.

Around the corner of  the building I saw an open door way, assuming it was the bathroom I walked up the the edge of the stair and was stopped by an attendant who motioned me to remove my shoes and put on the slippers at the door.

I was so taken aback by the process I snapped a picture before leaving.

Mind you, I had been in some very interesting restroom situations in Laos.

The traffic in Bangkok is bad but nothing compared to Saigon. Land of the O Mighty MotorBike.

The morning after I arrived I went out for a walk. I managed to get lost so what may have been a short stroll turned in to four hours of wandering. In some areas I felt as though the locals were confused by my being off the normal tourist path.

Do ya believe the power lines? This was to early in the morning for the masses of people to be about.

Crossing the street in Saigon is a bit of an art form. The motorbikes and cars will yield, but  there are so many of them it’s hard to keep track of them all. Your best bet, pick your time wisely, once you step into the street do not stop, be confident and alert.

I was standing on the sidewalk of a fairly busy intersection accessing the crossing possibilities when I heard a voice to my left,  “Crossing is difficult some times.”  When I looked in the direction of the sound I found an Asia looking guy of about 30 smiling at me. I was surprised cause his English was very good.

I agreed with him. I do not remember most of the conversation on the street  before he said, “Let’s sit and talk, I will buy you a beverage.” I followed him around the corner of the shop we were standing in front of. In the mass of people on the side walk he found a set of child’s chairs and table, there were several sets with people sitting, drinking and talking.

He offered me a chair and asked what I wanted to drink, I said water. A lady at his elbow went to the other end of the tables and came back with two waters. The gentleman paid her.

I took a sip, he started talking. He told  me his name,  “Wayne like John Wayne” He is a chicken farmer from Indonesia here in Saigon visiting his brother’s family. He often does cause he enjoys Saigon.

I told him my name, that I was traveling about South East Asia soaking up the culture.

We chatted about many things and nothing. At one point he said “If you would like to experience a true Vietnamese family you can come home with me. My brother and his wife would be happy to meet you.”  Wayne was very nice, polite and easy to talk with, I said sure.

Wayne  trotted through traffic, hailed a cab and held the door while I slid in to the seat thinking,*”Wonder what this is about.* It did not have the feeling of anything sinister.

When the cab stopped it was in an ally between homes.  The homes were all connected, the foot prints were about  the size of a two car garage and they looked to be four levels. Wayne told me they are built this way because land is so expensive. There is no garden just more buildings lined up behind this one with an ally between.

Wayne opened the door to the house next to the cab. We stepped into an outer area, it was tiled with two motor bikes at one end. Wayne removed his sandals before stepping up a single step into what looked like a living area.

When I slipped out of my crocs I was ashamed at the state of my feet, walking in the dirty city was screaming at me. I mentioned my problem to Wayne, he point to a hose and bucket to my left. Prepared they are.

I was offered a seat on the couch by a woman, Wayne excused himself before going up the stairs. The woman, whose name I do not remember,  sat with me for some time talking of this and that. She offered me a beverage and hopped up to get it when I said “Yes,  water please.”

While she was off I sat quietly having a look about the room. As it felt from the outside, the room was about the size of a two car garage, the tile was white as were the walls. The staircase was in the back right corner. The couch I was sitting on was one of four pieces of furniture in the room. The others were a sideboard looking thing against the wall opposite the two couches which faced each other and a coffee table between. I do not remember a single thing on any of the walls. I do remember alot of empty space.

The woman was back with a plate of bananas, a coke, a bottle of water and a man. The bananas she placed in the middle of the table. She handed me the water and the coke saying “All Americans drink coke”. I smiled and thanked her. Finally, she introduced the man, I no longer remember is name either,  he sat opposite me while she sat next to me.

The gentleman told me of his job, he works for a company which does some thing for casinos. We chatted of the many in a dirty little boarder town of PoiPet, Cambodia. He said he had been there many times with his work. He said only the very rich stay to gamble in those places, that none of them are Cambodian cause it is against Cambodian Law to gamble. He then mentioned he spends an amount of time on docked cruise ships cause they all have casino. When I told him I was headed to an island called Phu Quoc, he said he wold be more than happy to offer me a tour of a ship,  it would be on docked there. I was fairly excited about this having never been on a cruise ship.

There must have been a point where he decided I was relaxed enough to proceed. He told me he and his friends often play blackjack and asked if I had ever played.  I said I understood the premise of the game but had never played. I was far to careful with my money to waste it on gambling. He offered to teach me, but it had to be done in his bedroom.

There still is no sinister feel about the people. The woman was still siting next to me..no one is at all worried.

The gentleman must have seen some thing cross my face cause he said “My religion prohibits me from being in my bedroom with a single woman, she will come with us.”  I did not care to learn to play blackjack but I also was not about to insult these nice people for their hospitality.

Upstairs the three of us went, the gentleman closed the door once she and I had entered. He arranged two chairs on one side of a table at the end of a bed. He sat on the bed and asked us to sit in the chairs.

Once he thought I understood the principals of the game he started talking about how one can cheat. With the help of he and his friends/coworkers you can beat the system.  They have a series of signals between them, the eye the in sky is in on the scam and will not stop you and the dealer aids with a bit of slight of hand..all I had to do was learn the system.

I admit I was a bit curious about how they pull this off, come to find out the dealer actually shows the next card just before he flips it.

The gentleman  went on to say they pick targets, the very wealthy who can stand to loose some cash. He teaches people he believes will not get in to the habit of asking him to help them win. He concluded with saying “If you would like to try, I know someone we can call. She is very wealthy, enjoys the game and  does not get upset when she looses. I will give you a small amount of money , $500, to play with then we will split the winnings.

My brains started screaming!* Holy Crap! $500 dollars? Is this guy nuts? NO, no NO! I will not.* I took a breath, slowing,quietly I said, “I understand yet I am not comfortable. ”

He helped me “Your heart is not happy.”

I agreed, “My mind could do it but my heart says no. Thank you for teaching me, but I just can not.”

He was very nice, he got up. This was my que to do the same as did the woman.

At the door she stopped, he said, “Thank you for coming, I enjoyed talking with you.”

I said “Thank you for having me, I enjoyed our time as well.”

The woman told me she was meeting friends and would call a cab to get us back to town. by the by ~ I never did see Wayne again after he introduced the woman.

The every minute I said no they were done with me. Wacky  huh?

The whole whole experience was so odd I didn’t have any kind of time to sit and think about it til much later. While doing so I decided, Wayne was sent out to find someone they could teach this system to. How he decides is beyond me..but I bet you money it was never about meeting me it was all about how much money they could make if I joined in the scam.

Travel is such fun, ya never know what kind of wacky arse adventure your going to have.

Next up, The Mekong Delta.

Da Lat, Vietnam

Filed under: Vietnam — she_travels at 2:19 am on Saturday, February 21, 2009

This trip was when I started to realize Vietnam is all kinds of diverse in the landscape department.

Not clear cause I was in a bus but the idea here is falt-ish and dry. I had no idea.


Then back to the mountains.

I saw the pipe line before I realized  we were going that way.

From some of the way up the mountain.

See the snake of a road we came up?

The next several are from the top of  the hill, the bus stopped at a vista view.

Then there is a bit of town….Just short of 5000 feet elevation.

As I do when I arrive at the chosen guest house I dropped by bag and ventured out into town. I usually choose a direction, make turns in the same direction and end up back where I started. When going out on another day I widen the circle, this way I do not get lost.

Da Lat is constructed on hills with streets which made little or no sense from the ground. I thought I was making a sorta loop when I stopped dead on the side walk wondering not only where I was but,  how the heck do I get back to where I started.  As I stood there  bewildered by the street system I realized I was in worse shape than only being lost, I had no idea my guest house address, heck I didn’t even know the name of the place.

Frozen  on the side walk watching the traffic, coming and going, I wondered what the hell I was going to do. A woman burst out of the shop I was standing in front of  saying, “Are you hungry? You must come eat.”  Sure, ok, I will come eat.

She seated me, handed me a menu, and processed to tell me what I wanted for dinner. “Sure, ok, I will have that.”  I do not remember what it was, I do remember it was yummy, chicken something no doubt.

I was almost finished with my meal when two 20 something gals walked in. They seated themselves at a table next to mine. As they perused the menus someone had left on the table the lady who grabbed me off the street came over to tell them what they wanted for dinner. I overheard it was the same thing I had, once the lady was gone I whispered to the gals the food she was offering was yummy.

They both smiled when one of them, in an Irish accent,  said, “We have been here three nights running, the owner tells us what to eat, we do and it’s very good.” Seems the lady was the owner.

We chatted a bit about travels and upcoming plans.  I mentioned I was a bit lost then attempted to describe the guest house I was staying in. One of them got a silly look on her face while saying, “I think that is where we are staying, if ya want to wait we can take you back.”  I was happy to wait as long as needed.

Out the door and up the street to the right, over a hill down and around poof..my guest house. The Irish gals were staying in the same place.

Whew!! Saved again!

Next up.. a bit more about Da Lat.

Nha Trang

Filed under: Vietnam — she_travels at 11:26 pm on Friday, February 20, 2009

I was all about the guest house room with a sea view.

The beach past the Palms felt huge when I was standing on it. It was empty during the day but the minute the sun started going down it was chock a block full of people. The locals do not like the sun.

While waiting to be picked up for the three island tour I noticed this guy drive up to the guest house across the way. Many of the guest houses here are rooms on the upper levels with the   lowest level being the living space for family/manager or who ever runs the guest house.

The guy drove up on the white motor-bike, the woven bag with orange handles was between his legs holding three of the plastic jugs like the one you see at his feet. He gave the jugs to a lady who took them down the stairs behind him. When she returned she gave him some money and three empty jugs. I decided this guy was just like the milk man but he was delivering gas for the motor bikes, I could smell it.

The three island tour started with a mass of people and chaos in the harbor. I was all about keeping my mouth shut and my eyes on the guy who picked me up at the guest house. While waiting for him to make a choice on what was next I noticed a Carnival Cruise ship was docked. Heck,  I had no idea there was a cruise to this part of the world.

This gondola thing was stretched across the bay to a fun park (still under construction) of some sort on the other side. In the distance you can see the line of buildings before the mountains.

I first saw this from a distance wondering what the heck it was. As we motored closer…

A pirate ship with full sail, man made, cheesy they turned in to an aquarium. Compete with…

Cheesy sea creatures.

Next stop snorkeling off the shore of an island farther out.

Asians snorkeling… funny huh? The three people you see without life jackets are from Australia.  I was on the other side of the boat having a grand time with the corals of all colors, the fishes of every shape imaginable.

Back in the boat we motored to another island, tossed the anchor to have lunch.

The guy on the table is the tour guide, we had finished lunch, once the table was cleared the tour guide guy was all about the Karaoke. You can just see the drums set up behind him with the kitchen crew about to start playing. Karaoke is big arse business in Asia. Most of the people on this boat were from the south of Vietnam, four from China, four from Israel, two from the UK and me (an American).

The singing got a bit loud for me, when the Israelis jumped off the roof of the boat to water, I was in after them, then the Brits jumped over board as well.  The water was far deeper, rougher and the current was a challenge. The Brits and I grabbed the anchor rope for stability, then got to chatting. They were on their honeymoon/Asia tour before moving to Australia to work full time. Very nice people.

When the music stopped I thought they were moving the boat again so I climbed back up the ladder to put my t-shirt and shorts back on. Once settled I realized I was wrong but was not sure what was going on..I didn’t see anyone in the water, I sat back down to wait.

Before the Karaoke had started another boat had anchored next to us. It was part of  the same tour group, they had come to share our band.

I was not sure where the Brits or the tour guy had gone, I stepped to the edge of  the bow of the boat looking. From around the bow of the other boat I heard a voice saying some thing about “The American”. It all registered in a blink, there was something in the brochure about a floating wine bar, I didn’t  pay attention being I don’t drink. The tour guy was in the water with an inner tube around him,  had a bottle in one hand and a rope in the other, there was a second rope attached to his inner tube. I could hear him plain as day now cause he was looking directly at me yelling “Get the Fu**ing American off the boat. Fu**king American off the boat.” He repeated it several times, I think just to hear himself say fu**king American. Half way through the second verse I was stripped down to my suit and dove in to the water.

When I could see around the other side of the second boat  there were people every where in the water with Dixie cups in their hands. All of them had inner tubes around them and the rope from the guide’s tube was attached to all of them. The other rope was attached to a bit of foam then the second boat. The foam had a small well filled with Dixie cups.

There was a shout from the second boat and an inner tube landed in front of me. The guide suggested I put a hand on any one of his ropes, safety issues he said. I was all for it,  the current on this side was stronger than it had been on the other side.

Th guide offered me wine and his name, though I no longer remember it. I had a sip of  the wine, squishing up my face I said “It’s not very good, but the company is.”  The guide started a new chant “Very bad wine, very good company.” He continued to chant this line  intermittently for the remainder of the trip.

The third island on the three island tour was several levels of covered, or not, space along another island. It was a delightful stop for a nap.

All in all it was a great way to spend a day.

Next up, Da Lat,. They say it’s cold , I could not past up the chance to find out.

Fund Raising

Filed under: Educational,Roatan — she_travels at 9:40 am on Saturday, March 15, 2008

The first week I was on the island I house sat  with two furry dogs, two always hungry cats and two birds who talk more than I do….let us not forget the jewelry store nine hours a day. The second two weeks was house sitting a very cool kitty (Miss Gato) along with a few days here and there at the jewelry store. I was maybe five days house sitting in Palmetto Bay with Bob Marley (two dogs Bob and Marley) then back for just over a week with huge fluffy dogs……and a jewelry store. Then back to Palmetto to hang with Bob Marley. Did I mention a pool at Bob Marley’s house steps from the living space?

During this time I have driven five different cars up and down the island I can’t tell you how many times. In addition I was cruising about last year in several different cars. Never once… NOT once was I ever stopped by the cops at check points, they just wave me through. I have always been told they are looking more for stolen cars than anything else.

Today in the middle of yet another move, to Sandy Bay, I was stopped by the cops at a check point. One was male,  one  female. The chick was cute and sweet but holy Hannah was she a stickler for rules. Through her very poor English and my not much better Spanish I got the idea she wanted my driver license and the “papers” for the car. Remember.. borrowed car.

Crap, I can’t find the papers she wants, she keep smiling talking in Spanish I didn’t understand. In the end she flagged down a guy who spoke both my language and hers.

I was right. I had given her my Colorado drivers license and could not come up with the papers she wanted for the car (registration). The guy translating said they wanted to keep the car until I could produce the papers. My first thought was “Who is going to be responsible for the car if I can’t get back with the papers until tomorrow.”  The translator guy said the cops told him I could take the car to the police station until I get the papers. Seems the papers are  to be in  the car at all times.

We went round and around until I offered my passport for collateral.. I know, I know Never Ever give your pass port to anyone but there was just no other way. Had I left the car with the cops what was going to happen to it or better yet how was I going to track down the owner of the car without wheels. In the end they took my passport and my drivers license hostage til I brought the papers back.

So, I go looking for the owner of the car.. Her house was empty..I zip down to where I have seen the signage for her business but after getting way back in the  hills with mud scared to death I was going to fall off the mountain I came back.

The cops could not or would not tell me how long they would be at the check point . I had used a hour already.  All I could  think was the longer this was taking the farther away from ever seeing my passport again I was getting.

Ok..think!! Think!!  The people with the jewelry store are friends with  the owner of  the car…that is how I ended up with the loaned car. So… scream up the jewelry store… on the way I got to thinking I am driving like one of those loony cabbies.

There are NO driving rules here. Buses, cabs and anyone else wanting to stop dead in the middle of the road with zero concern for anyone else just does. There may be a stop sign or two on the island but I have never seen anyone stop. Better yet when I do stop I get honked at. Its kinda nutty driving out there yet the silly cops this morning want to hassle me for not having the registration for a borrowed car. Shezz!

I walked in to the jewelry store to see the owner looking at me. He started to say “Hi, Annette how..wait what’s wrong”

Think of me talking faster than I usually do trying hard not to fall apart. “The cops stopped me, they have my passport for ransom on the papers for the car, I can’t find Deb. The longer this takes the less likely I will ever get my passport back.”

First he said “Breath, just breath.  Better, now, let’s call Deb.”

Come to find out Deb was in a store just past the check point but was on her way to a meeting. I was to stop where her meeting was, pick up the papers and take them to the cops just down the road.  Yeah, ok. Breath, breath..I can do this.

30 minutes later I was standing next to Deb. She is talking about having checked the laws. One must have a good spare, a jack, a crowbar, and a reflective triangle she handed me. “They have nothing else to hassle you about. It should all be fine.”

Silly me, I though this was going to be a easy, see the papers, check the papers and give my passport back. Yeah right, third world country with corruption as it’s middle name.

The good, very good news..the cops were where I left them..thank goodness.

Stickler chick took the paper Deb had given me. Looked at it, looked at the plate on the car and came back talking about something else. She became frustrated when I was not understanding what she tried to tell me. They flagged another person to help us understand each other. Around and around what it came down to was “good papers for the car, what about you?”  “Me?  Me what?”  Stickler chick starts examining my passport. She looked like she wanted to throw me off the island until I showed her the new stamp on  my papers allowing me to stay until May 5th.

They wanted me to have a Honduran Drivers License. I told them several times I was only here for three months. What it came down to was go to the police station, get a bit of paper, go to the bank and pay  the fine.   “Yeah, ok but I only know where the police station in Coxen Hole is…can this be taken care of there?”

No, No, you must go to the one down the road, behind the car wash and up the cement hill. I told them again I had no idea where that was. I really thought this was all a bunch of crap and they could just let me go. They could be out stopping people from stealing from the cruise ship tourists not hassle me about some silly paper I know for a fact I don’t have to have.

They decided their best course of action was to send the male cop with me for directions. He spoke no English, was cute with a very kind face.. He was not going to hurt me and it didn’t occur to me until much later that it was ever a worry.

He had a chat with his partner. Got in my car and I kid you not we were not out of her sight before he started talking bribe. He told me with sign that if we go to the police station it was going to cost at least 2000Limp. Good Lord, $105. But if I wanted to just be done with it I could give him 300limp ($15) and he would call it good. I handed him 300 limp, shook his hand and said good by with a smile.

The only consistent thing about this place is its inconsistency. Ya gotta wonder how much money they make on the side. I tell ya the two of them have the good cop/bad cop thing down to a science.

The whole of this bit of adventure took two hours of my afternoon. Ahh but I have my passport back and am only out 300limp.

While telling the story to the car’s owner later she said “They (the cops) are fund raising for Holy Week, they do it every year, just a bit of extra money to spend over the holiday.”

Holy Week starts tomorrow.

Hand Made

Filed under: Roatan — she_travels at 12:55 pm on Thursday, March 6, 2008

Where I come from building things with cement is hard enough work with building forms, directing where the trunk is going to pour and guiding a nozzle to the proper place at the proper time. Cement construction is a rough gig, that is all there is to it. Then you get to this place…third world country, island,  no less, and see just what hard work is.

I am hanging about a jewelry store across the road from a new condo unit being built. Last night the security guard and I were watching trucks attempting to drop loads where they were directed in the mud with an incline. Both of us watched breathless until the truck was past the newly constructed corner of a building.

As I am watching today I see the workers mixing and moving cement by hand. They have one of those baby cement mixers on wheels. One guy is standing next to a heap of gray sand, he is shoveling through a screen he has leaning on a diagonal. He is sifting the bits out of the sand he doesn’t want to use. There is a water tank not far from him. A boy of about 15 is carrying/dumping five gallon buckets of water into a tank. There is a guy standing behind the cement mixer with bags of cement, he is alternating a bag of cement powder with the sifted sand and it looks like a pile of rocks he is shoveling in to the mixer. Then adding  the correct amount of water as the mixer spins. Once cooked to his satisfaction he flips the mixer barrel over with the cement mix landing in pile they bordered with cement bricks. There are at least six guys with five gallon buckets shoveling the mix into the buckets and walking up the hill and around a corner. There is one guy using a wheel barrel.

In this place they truly build by hand. It is hot, sticky, heavy work. And people wonder why it takes several years to build a house down here.

I may have mentioned this before … the weed eaters down here are guys with machetes. I have thought many times I would like a picture of someone whacking weeds with a machete to plop on the blog but the idea of embarrassing myself to get such a pic is not so much my thing

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