Saturday, November 24, 2012

Crying a Dam in Amsterdam



Upon exiting Amsterdam at the airport, immigration control caught that I didn't have a stamp permitting entrance to the mainland and questioned me about it. I explained to them that when we got off the ferry from London, passport control simply waved us through without checking. (I guess someone didn't want to venture out of their booth at 2AM on a cold, rainy night.) I knew this was unusual because it has been my experience that countries are almost fanatical about checking passports, especially since 9/11. That's why I had to get a new passport before this trip because my old one was nearly full and you can't travel to some countries without a certain amount of space left for stamps. (Passport stamps are like notches on my belt, so I spent a day in Brussels trying to track down the correct office to get one. I was sent to three different places, but couldn't get help at either one. In the end I had to concede I wouldn't have a Belgian stamp. They also didn't check when I entered the Netherlands, so no stamp from there either.)

When it was time to get on my flight back to the US, passport control wanted proof of when I'd entered the mainland. I explained the situation about being waved through, running around trying to get a stamp in Brussels, and being disappointed that my passport book only shows England as I didn't have a stamp for the Netherlands, either. He told me no problem. I just needed a 'correction stamp' and I'd be on my way. He even said I could get stamps for both countries. He waved an officer over and I got a sinking feeling. I thought he'd be able to do that on the spot. I asked now long this would take. I had a flight to catch and they were closing the doors in about 45 mins and I still hadn't cleared security. The officer's response was it was of no great concern to him. Aw, junk! Why did he have to say that? 

When I got to the waiting room, there were several people in the same predicament. After a few minutes the officer asked me if I had proof I'd been where I said I'd been. I thought this was unusual because who keeps up with ticket stubs on extensive travel? Normally, I don't, but I did in this case because I had a niggling feeling about not getting that passport stamp back in Belgium. (I don't know how I knew, but I have learned during my time on this earth to trust my gut without question.) I eagerly said yes and readily pulled them out of my bag. After a I while, I noticed the people who were in the waiting room when I arrived were gone and new arrivals had come and gone. I asked the officer if I'd be much longer and he said he was very busy. I politely pointed out that other people have come and gone WITHOUT PROOF of where they'd been and here I am with travel receipts, yet I'm still sitting. He said every case is different. I would've bought that except whenever they asked someone if they had proof, they simply said no and the officer would reassure them it's okay and give them the precious correction stamp. 

Time was ticking and I quickly began to assess my options. There's only one flight a day back to the States, so catching a later flight was not an option. Missing this one meant I'd have to pay to go back to the city center, manage to find a room at the last minute during high travel season over a weekend (and during the Olympics), with no guarantee of available seating on a flight out the next day. Visions of being stuck an additional week in Rome last summer due to a canceled and subsequent full flights came back to haunt me. It may sound fun, but not when you're all traveled out and ready to go home having spent the last of your euros. Sitting and being patient wasn't working. Getting indignant and demanding they hurry it up could possibly get me thrown in jail (where my only phone call may be to the US embassy). I decided to go with being annoying hoping it would bother them enough to want me out of there as quickly as possible. I asked again how much longer in a most-irritating whiny voice. People hate that voice. They simply told me they were working on it. I walked out to check how long the security line was. An officer came after me demanding I stay put. I whined again about the status. He said my asking would only take longer. I heard him mutter something about one hour. I panicked. I was convinced these people were determined that I miss my flight. I watched another couple of people come and go without showing proof and be on their way within the 2 minutes the officer promised. I asked if that officer could work on my passport because he was fast. That earned me a nasty glare. Okay. Annoying wasn't working. 

Determined not to miss my flight, I decided to rely on what every little girl learns early on. Men have a weakness for tears. Thing is, I'm not a crier ('cause ain' no punk). How do actors do it? I tried to think of something sad. When dying puppies couldn't do the trick, it became apparent I'd have to fake it. How could I fake something I detest so much? Could I be convincing enough? I looked at my watch. I had to make a go of it. I asked one more time about the status of my passport that would allow me to leave the country and return home and was told they were still working on it. That's when I started bawling. It worked! One, two, THREE officers came flying into the room and told me to calm down. They assured me I wouldn't miss my flight. One of them was not so sympathetic. He gruffly told me it's not the end of the world and to stop crying and asked me what I would do if it was the end of the world. I started bawling louder. I cried, "I just wanted to go home and it's not my fault they waved us through without stamping my passport and the border people should be fired for not doing their jobs and I'd tried to get a stamp in Belgium and now I'm going to miss my flight and I just want to go HOOOOOMMME!" There was this little girl looking at me unmoved because I bet she knew a little something about fake crying. I had no tears and I kept my face covered with my hands. Just when they thought I couldn't get any louder, I did. I guess that was the last straw because an officer hurried into the room with my passport. The mean, gruff one shoved it into my hands and angrily shouted they were done with me (Um, thanks), I would NOT be getting a Belgium stamp (Bioch, do you really think I care at this point?), and I should get a life (I will...in America). I almost blew my cover because I brightened up immediately. I had to remind myself to do the little follow-up sniffles. However, I couldn't help the skip in my step as I sailed out of there toward the security check or the huge smile on my face as I stepped in line. 

I made it to the gate just as my flight was boarding.

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Don't Piss Off the Bus Driver

Bus to Plitvice Lakes
 You wouldn't say the bus driver on the way to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia was necessarily a people person. He was short with his answers and just downright rude. He wouldn't even let us stop for a restroom break; making us travel FOUR HOURS before stopping for 20 mins five minutes from our destination. Yes, five. All of us passengers were giving each other puzzled looks. Me, I literally ran off the bus because I'd been asking for 2 hours when we were going to stop only to receive the gruff reply of, "Later!"
Full of relief, "Hvala," I told him when I got back on the bus. He looked surprised. (Hvala means, "Thank you" in Croatian.)

I met a woman on the bus from New York. She was pretty cool, but I guess her tone rubbed the driver the wrong way. (You know how abrupt New Yorkers can be.) She tried asking him several times when we were stopping for a break and he'd simply say, "I'll tell you." I guess she didn't take too kindly to being talked to like a child, so she'd ask him again a while later. Me, I've learned that when it comes to "officials" in other countries, you just do as they say.  Five minutes down the road after our restroom break, the bus stopped to let passengers off. There were signs that said Plitvice, but there are two entrances and I wanted to be sure to get off at the most convenient one. Miss New York and her friend got off, so I figured it was my stop, too. Miss New York tried asking him if it was the right stop, but he refused to answer her. He actually physically turned away from her. As I started to grab my bag and get off, the driver roughly told me, "Get back on the bus!"
"This isn't the stop?" I asked.
"I will tell you! Get back on the bus," as he continued to pull bags from underneath the bus.

I tapped Miss New York on the shoulder and asked her if she heard him. That this wasn't our stop. "Well, I think this is ours," she said. I was a bit nervous because we were going to the same place. Do I get off with them or listen to the driver? I got back on the bus. After the bus pulled off, I walked up the front and asked the driver if he was SURE that wasn't my stop. He smiled slightly and said, "Yes, I'm sure."  A few minutes later he told me we were at my stop. I hopped off along with a few others, looked around, and saw that we were at the convenient Entrance 2. Thank goodness!

Later that evening, after dropping off my luggage and hiking 3.5 miles around the lake and stopping at the only local restaurant for dinner, I ran into the ladies from New York. After exchanging surprised exclamations, they invited me to sit at their table. That was when Miss New York told me about their adventure after they got off. Apparently, the driver let them off someplace where they had to walk along the narrow shoulder of the highway for miles past sporadic houses until they eventually found their way to the park. I do believe the driver intentionally let them get off at the wrong stop. Why didn't he tell them to get them off where the rest of us got off? Dah, well!

Lesson: Don't piss off the bus driver...especially when you don't know where you're going and he does.
Wooden Walkways at Plitvice Lakes




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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Toilet H3ll

Squat Toilet
One of my pet peeves is a gross restroom. While traveling, I have realized that US public restrooms are plentiful and extremely clean in comparison to some other places in the world. Best of all, US public facilities are supplied with toilet tissue and soap. Not so in many countries. Oh, the things we take for granted!

Even a commode lid and cover are a luxury. Well, today I would've killed for these basic luxuries at I was met with a hole in the ground surrounded by a porcelain rectangle with impressions for your feet. WTHeck!! Here it was. My first squat toilet. I've read about these, but never encountered one. I don't know why I thought they could only be found in India or China. Yet, here it was in Ancona, Italy. I drink a lot of water and have to go often. With nothing else around the church I was visiting, I had no choice. Who knew when my next chance would be? Surprisingly, the sucker was clean. I mean, sparkling. It was in a clearing a bit away from the church, so it wasn't evident who cleans it. (Toilet fairies, maybe?)

I immediately thought back to the last time I had to squat, which was when I was a little girl. I recall my mama stopping on the side of the road because I really had to go and couldn't hold it. She'd hold my pants out of the way so that I wouldn't splash them. Well, she wasn't around to hold them and I didn't trust my own aim. How the heck was I to do this?? Did they NOT think about women when they designed these? I'll spare you all the gory details, but in the end I did what I had to do to make sure there was no chance of splashing my bottoms. It's not like I could change them if I made a mistake since I'd stored my luggage at the port while waiting for my ferry to set sail to Split, Croatia later in the evening.

While taking care of business, I was super thankful for the tons of stairs I'd silently complained about  having to climb the past 2 weeks in Italy. My thighs didn't shake not once as positioned my feet on the markings indicating where you should stand and squatted further than I've had to since high school P.E. Finished, I redressed, watched the "toilet" flush in what looked like a monsoon, and marveled at the sparkling shine that was left behind. It wasn't quite that bad, but it's an experience I'll not want to have again.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No Nearer the Cross Today


Today I traveled to Lago de Chapala (Lake Chapala) which is just south of Guadalajara, Mexico, with the sole purpose of seeing it and the surrounding hills from on high. According to my guidebook, I simply needed to walk down a little side street, turn left at the alley, and climb up the hillside stairs for 15-20 minutes until I reached the Cross at the top of the hill. I've climbed higher with the promise beautiful views, i.e. the Alhambra's glow at dusk (Grenada, Spain), Camelback Mountain (Phoenix, AZ), so I was game.

I got off the bus and began following the signs to the lake. After taking a look at the directions in my guidebook, I noticed that I was at the little side street. Unsure of whether to turn right or left, I looked around for someone to ask. For some reason I decided to ask the little old ladies conversing on the corner. I say for some reason because 1) I don't interrupt people to ask and 2) I've found that elderly Mexican women talk very softly and I don't always understand their Spanish. Also, like elderly people everywhere, they want to have long conversations and it's difficult for me to follow because they don't think to slow down for me. (They're used to younger people slowing down for them.)

Well, today I am grateful for too much information because when I asked which way to el Cruz, she pointed to the top of the hill and proceeded to tell me men drink and smoke marijuana along the path so it's dangerous for me to go alone. I expressed my disappointment and told her I'd heard the view from the top was very beautiful. She told me it was, but peligroso. Don't go alone.

I thanked her and she pointed me in the direction of the lake. Here I sit on the pier eating an almendras Magnum ice cream bar safe & sound however, no nearer the Cross.


(Title references the spiritual, Near the Cross.)

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Mi Pelo IV





As I was walking down one of the main streets to my hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico, a guy rode by on a bike and make a sharp u-turn on the sidewalk. He stopped in front of me and asked if I was a Rasta. I told him no. It didn't take me long to figure out he was fascinated with my hair because he kept staring at it.

He pretended to be interested in where I was from, my name, etc. Eventually, he got to the point. He wanted to know about my hair. I told him they were locs. He asked to touch them. I pretended not to understand his Spanish request. Fed up, I guess, he reached out and grabbed a front loc, molested it ever so lightly, softly said, "Bonita" and rode off.
Loose or loc'd, my African hair continues to fascinate. Banana with dreadlocks

Mi Pelo III
Mi Pelo II
Mi Pelo

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Beach Musings




I'm baking on a beach early on a Saturday morning in Acapulco watching a group of boys play a lively, if furious, game of beach soccer. The breeze coming from the ocean feels magnificent!

All too often I am accosted by vendors selling cruises, hats, shell jewelry, chains, sand pails, pastries, sunglasses, scarves, juices, you name it. The rest of the time, I am bothered by men whistling, calling out "Morena!", or attempting to talk to me in Spanish, which I pretend not to understand. Then they try in broken English, which I also pretend not to understand. Mean of me, I know, but I just want to sun, journal, and daydream on the sand before my flight leaves in 6 hours.



Leaving the Beach

It was so HOT. (Check out the tan.) Luckily, I had this sarong with me to protect me from the rays. Why men must've thought this was extra-sexy?? They were tryin' to holla for REAL while I thought I looked prudish as all get-out.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Calling on the LORD in Cairo, Egypt


 Never one to take the LORD's name in vain, after a hard day in Egypt I involuntarily let out a "Woo, JESUS!" before I caught myself. I had to go all the way back to my roots when my Mudear used to call on the LORD when she was dead tired. That was me today.

Dodging and ignoring the men was a constant battle. I had to be wary of men who sidled up to me making innocent conversation or offering to help me find my way. It turns into an offer to visit their family's shop or asking me a million questions about myself. Now I don't mind male attention & I'm accustomed to getting it while I'm out and about, but these people are aggressive! They don't take no for an answer. Thing is, they wouldn't dare approach an Egyptian woman. It is completely against societal norms.

As tough and easy-going as I am (yes, a contradiction), I shed a few tears the first day I was there. I found few could be trusted, the men were pushy and overbearing, and the women were of little help. Almost everything was a scam!! (No exaggeration.) It also did something to my psyche to be stereotyped and treated differently based on my gender and nationality. Funny, but I'm accustomed to discrimination based on my race in the USA when it happens. It's hard to explain. Determined not to let these factors get in the way of my enjoyment I adopted the look you see above and took to wearing my iPod, which I rarely do while traveling, so I could block out the advances of the men. If I couldn't hear them, they couldn't bother me. I also learned not to make eye contact with them as they saw that as an open invitation. I learned to say الذهاب بعيدا (pronounced em-shee), which means, "Go away", although that was of little help and not a very nice thing to say. Covering myself as much as possible helped, too.

A quick study, by the end of Day 2 I was negotiating with merchants, rudely pushing my way through lines and crowds, and staying in my place as a woman with the best of them.






Smiling at the Pyramids

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Siempre - For Me, Always



As I was sitting and waiting for my food at a local neighborhood restaurant in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a nice young man walked by and began talking to me in lilting Spanish. He held up several Cokes he was carrying and kept talking. "No, gracias," I replied. He continued on his way to the back of the restaurant. When he came back, he plopped ½ a glass of Coke in front of me; his treat. I said a surprised thank you and he smiled sweetly at me and sat amongst his friends to eat his lunch. He would smile at me occasionally as he ate. His friends began teasing him.

As I was leaving, I said, "Muchas gracias por la bebida." He nodded smoothly and said quietly, "Para ti, siempre." I melted. For me, always.

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