Feminine ‘Street Smarts’ – Guest post on ‘The Broke Backpacker’ blog!

Hello everyone!

Hope all my readers are busy planning their next adventures (gotta make good use of that time off over the holidays)! While I know it’s time consuming to plan trips, please do take a moment to check out my latest article – ‘Feminine Street Smarts‘ – posted over at the Broke Backpacker! It’s packed full of useful travel tips, which will come in handy during your upcoming travels.

The most common travel-related questions I receive are: “What’s it like to travel alone as a woman?” and “Is it safe to travel overseas alone?” While I have many detailed answers to both questions, the general response is always – YES! It IS safe to be both a woman and a solo traveler, with the caveat being that one must have a fairly level head and a great deal of street smarts. This is true for both men and women, but women more so, given that they are (generally speaking) more commonly targeted for certain types of crimes and less likely to have experience being alone and knowing how to take care of themselves.

With these questions – and answers – in mind, I decided to write an article that would discuss the topic in detail, and (hopefully) equip more women with the knowledge they need to travel alone safely. In the article, I explain what street smarts are, how you can learn them, and generally how to travel alone and stay safe no matter the destination, time of day, or activity.

Whether you’re a woman looking to travel solo, or a man interested in learning more about navigating foreign cities on your own, take a moment to pop over to the Broke Backpacker’s blog and read my article! You know the information is valid when it comes from a woman who traveled alone to Cairo in the middle of the Egyptian revolution and managed to get home unscathed. 😉

Happy reading!

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On Syria 

 

Syrian conflict. Source: Wikipedia

 
I am in a unique position to comment about Syria – about our utter failure to act in any meaningful and help way – and about, in a greater sense, the message that very lack of action will send to other places that have recently seen revolution, such as Ukraine and Egypt. 

 

Protestors walk the Maidan, Kiev, Ukraine. Source: personal photo.

 
In both Ukraine and Egypt, I was on the ground during the protests. I have friends in both areas, friends who were highly involved in the revolutions. I saw the state of each nation, I spoke with and tried to understand the voice of their people. I wrote extensively about my time in Ukraine (here), and at the time I wrote about my experience in Egypt as well for Gap Adventure Tours, now GAdventures (sadly, the blog post I wrote about the Egyptian revolution has long since been taken down). 

 

Outskirts of Cairo, Egypt during the protests. Source: personal photo.

 
My point is this: I may not hold a degree in international relations, but I, more than 99.99% of the Amercian population, know what it’s like. What it’s like to have inhabited pre-revolutionary Egypt, or what it was like to wake up one day to tanks, rubber bullets, and the realization that nothing can be as it once was. I know how deeply the dream of freedom is cherished, and how fragile a thing is hope. 

 

Watching the Egyptian protests on TV in Dakhla oasis. Source: personal photo.

 
And it is with this understanding that I write about Syria. 

It makes no sense to me that we Americans talk of helping Syrian refugees but yet we take no military action to help solve the underlying issue. There doesn’t even seem to be the slightest interest or thought put into how to handle the Syrian crisis. Putin sends in planes – ostensibly to protect Assad – but at least he is doing something! He’s siding with a brutal dictator and that’s not the answer, but at least perhaps he can bring some stability to the region, enough stability so that another 250,000 civilians will not die, and millions more can begin to rebuild their lives.

 

Protestors at their tent on the Maidan, Kiev, Ukraine. Source: personal photo.

 
It’s  as if domestic squabbles over legal abortion and the upcoming election are more important to lawmakers and politicians than the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Which is, quite frankly, disgusting. I understand that Obama, along with the upcoming presidential candidates, don’t want to talk about or be involved in military action because it’s a controversial and complicated topic. It’s not an “easy talking point” but for the love of God, take action before it’s too late! 

 

Tanks line the streets in Cairo, Egypt, Jan 2011. Source: personal photo.

 
The Syrian people began the revolution mainly because they wanted a democratic society or at the very least a society that afforded them freedom and opportunity similar to that in the West. But if the world’s Western democratic societies will not help Syrians in their struggle, and choose to turn a blind eye to their suffering, who can blame them for choosing another alternative? It’s either IS (religious extremists) or a brutal dictator (Assad) but to many people starving and being murdered, any order is preferable to none. If we want to turn our backs because it’s too “complicated”, we do so at our own peril. What message does that send to other countries that have recently seen political upheaval in search of democracy? Ukraine, Egypt….again, if we abandon those who look up to us and deny their suffering, who can blame them for siding with the group most willing to help them survive? 

One can only take so much neglect. When the Middle East and when Ukraine turned to us with idealism and with hope and said – “We believe in your dream, we believe in your message, we believe in human rights and dignity!” – and when their friends and neighbors and lovers began to die or disappear, the brave people of these countries still said: “We believe”. In the face of other options – being bought out, becoming religious zealots, giving in to another dictator – the majority said no. And to this day, the millions of migrants flooding Europe are still screaming – “We believe in freedom, in democracy, in human rights.” And how do we answer? With silence. With closed borders. With xenophobia. How loudly must someone claim the dream we sell before we are willing to offer assistance? How strong must a voice be to matter? Again – how much neglect can one take before they turn Eastward to Putin, seemingly the only superpower willing to even listen? And rue the day they turn inward and find the ears of IS. 

I worry for this world – for Syria, for Ukraine, for Egypt, and for America. This a plea for action. I can only hope it is one day heard. 
 

“Free Ukraine” street art on canvas. Kiev, Ukraine. Source: personal photo.

 

Mirrors (published in Forth Magazine) 

The view from my room at the Alila Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The view from my room at the Alila Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Forth Magazine has been kind enough to publish one of my favorite pieces of travel writing – “Mirrors.”

The piece was inspired by my trip to Jakarta, Indonesia during Ramadan, back in August, 2012. I was traveling with someone who, at the time, I had recently met and fallen in love with. The piece is more about him than it is about Jakarta; nevertheless, the backdrop of the city sets the tone for the piece, and it’s startling diversity meshes beautifully with the joys and pains of being with someone 12 time zones away.

“All we seem to pass are gigantic monoliths of steel and glass or humble stalls of corrugated iron roofs and wooden beams.”

Please take a moment to read and comment on my work. I would appreciate it greatly.

To Stay: Alila Hotel, Jakarta. Rooms start at $70/night, appx. Beautifully appointed hotel, very clean, with large rooms and excellent views of the city. A great value, compared to other hotels in the city. Secured entry and attentive staff, along with an excellent breakfast spread. The only downside is the location – it’s rather far from city center and the neighborhood lacks variety of nearby food or entertainment options. But for the price and quality of the rooms (blistering fast wifi!), it’s well worth the compromise. 

Thanks so much!

-DOAP

Istanbul, Constantinople! (Turkey)

I’ve briefly touched on the topic of Istanbul in a previous post, but the city of Istanbul is my second favorite global metropolis in the world, so I feel it’s time to further, and more deeply examine my adventures there. In addition, I get asked about Istanbul, and Turkey in general, more often than most other places. It’s one of those cities (and countries) that borders between the East and the West, and it’s generally a great “starter” place to begin

Istanbul, looking across the Bosphorus.

Istanbul, looking across the Bosphorus.

exploring the world. Inherently, people seem to pick up on this, and instead of jumping into a place such as Cairo, which has a large language/cultural barrier, people choose to ease into the East and Middle East through the relatively easy gateway of Turkey. Of course, there’s much more to both Istanbul and the rest of the country than simply being a great bridge from the European tradition into the more diverse traditions of the East, but I feel that people are often drawn to Turkey for this very reason.

For starters: Turkey is a first world country, possibly 2nd world in some remote places, but overall, a very clean, very well organized country with a well functioning government, lots of modern infrastructure, and great sanitation. It is comparable to Western Europe in this respect. Also, almost everyone there speaks enough English for a native English speaker to get around without needing a guide. It’s easy enough to hail a taxi or to figure out the bus or trolley system without needing local assistance. Bargaining for items IS part of the culture in Turkey, but key items like bus passes, museum tickets, or hotels, are fixed price and non-negotiable. This is important because I know most Westerners HATE bargaining. Sure, in the bazaars and souks of Istanbul you’ll be pushed to bargain, but it’s really not essential to be a good bargainer to get by in Istanbul.

That being said, I myself was also drawn to Turkey for a similar reason. In 2010, I decided that was high time to start pursuing one of my lifetime goals–to travel the world and visit every single country. I had traveled the entire USA and North American continent prior to 2010, and felt I had exhausted my

The streets of Istanbul at night.

The streets of Istanbul at night.

opportunities for travel on this continent, and looked at branching out. I studied maps, read a lot of travel guides, joined the forums on TripAdvisor, and tried to determine what places interested me the most, and what places would be the best for a first time overseas traveler such as myself. Of course, I had been overseas as a child, but as an adult, potentially traveling alone, I wanted to make sure that I acclimated myself in a relatively easy place before jumping into more difficult countries, such as say, Turkmenistan or Iran.

After some research, I settled on a tour through Eastern Europe that would conclude in Istanbul, which happened to be (in 2010) the European “Capital of Culture” city. Each year, the European Union names ones city to be it’s “Capital of Culture” and throws a lot of money at that city for renovations and varying cultural events and tourist attractions. I figured that 2010 was as good a year as any, if not one of the better ones, to visit Istanbul for the first time. And I was right! Being the “Capital of Culture” leant the city a very festive atmosphere, gave it more touristy events to attend, and in general lead to improvements in both accessibility to the city and improvements in local transport. Hotels were also prepared for tourists and there were many tour guides out and about, willing to give travelers free or discounted tours of the city.

My Eastern European trip began in Prague, visited Budapest, Kiev, Sighisoara, Bucharest, and then ended, as mentioned, in Istanbul. Two friends from America ended up traveling with me, which was a nice addition to the

My friend, Mark, on the train.

My friend, Mark, on the train.

trip, although I would have gone alone, had it been needed. I planned the entire adventure myself, and most of our traveling was by rail between the cities.

Istanbul was no exception. To get to the city, we took a 3 day long train from Bucharest, and let me tell you, that whole ordeal was probably the worst decision I made in planning the trip! Not that it wasn’t beautiful to roll into Istanbul by rail and to see the countryside unfold from nothingness, into suburbs, into the city, and sure it was beautiful after days and days of emptiness to finally catch a glimpse of the Sea of Marmara, BUT….3 days on a sleeper train in the economy class with 6

Coming into Istanbul, catching a glimpse of the sea.

Coming into Istanbul, catching a glimpse of the sea.

people to a cabin in the extreme humid heat of August with no air conditioning was a nightmare. In addition to those conditions, and no dining car on the train, and very few eateries at most train stops, our train also decided to stop for a day, in Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria, with no discernible reason or explanation. It seemed like we were stopping to pick up more passengers, when suddenly, without warning, the engine to the train just took off, leaving the 12 passenger cars behind it sitting on the tracks. My friends and I tried to cajole answers from the warden of our sleeper train car, but he was a jovial Turkish man who spoke zero English and who proceeded to happily laugh away our distraught faces with a wave of his expressive hands, and then

Fucking Dimitrovgrad.

Fucking Dimitrovgrad.

offered us Turkish tea, distilled from “recycled” bathroom tap water. Since he obviously was not going to tell us what was going on, I organized a recon mission and visited a few other stranded sleeper cars, finally stumbling across a pack of barefoot, acoustic guitar laden Italian hippie boys who told me, in broken English: “The engine, it just goes, sometimes, you know? Bye engine! Will come back when it is time to go.”

Well then! Of course, that extremely helpful tidbit of information was accompanied by several invitations to kiss the boys, listen to them stomp the ground and dance around their bongos and guitars, and to perhaps pet the crotches of their dirty harem pants. I was not interested in any of that, so I took my leave and returned to try to sleep in my 110 degree F train car and pray for the engine to return soon.

The problem then arouse, several hours later, regarding food. The local train station in Dimitrovgrad was not exactly full of food. In fact, about all they offered were the ubiquitous European “digestive biscuits”. At this point, we had been on this train for 48 hours from Bucharest, Romania, and hadn’t eaten a thing. We were all starving. And, most importantly still, I WAS RUNNING OUT OF SMOKES!!!

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that when I’m about to run out of cigarettes, all hell breaks loose. Screw food. Screw bathing. I need nicotine! So I sent my friend Mark on a mission to go find some smokes. Which,

Mostly, the view from the 3 day train ride to Istanbul.

Mostly, the view from the 3 day train ride to Istanbul.

turns out, were even more scarce than food items, or working plumbing (the other issue was the toilets on the trains just emptied directly onto the tracks, which is fine when you’re moving, but when you’re stuck, um, shit piles up?). Luckily, he found me some cigarettes after walking 12 miles to and from the nearest store, and also returned with provisions. Lydia, my other friend, had given up all hope and had turned into a zombie and laid, despondent, on her 2′ x 4′ “bed” aka dirty platform. She hated me for booking the train, and still does, but at least Mark, who was an ex-military, had my same attitude, which was “fuck it”. I used the time to write odes to tuna sandwiches from Subway, fresh guacamole, and spicy goat tacos. Mark sang to himself.

Eventually, an engine came and we began moving again, but when we reached the Turkish border, there were two more issues. One–Americans need a visa to enter Turkey. From what I had read, you could give someone $20 USD at the border and get a visa there, saving yourself the hassle of

“Is this real life?” Lydia hates me.

having to get one beforehand. However, that is only true, I found out, when entering by air, at the Istanbul International Airport. Whoops. So, all three of us travelers were about to get denied entry to Turkey after being on a train for 3 days. Lydia, again, looked murderous. Of course, I’m crafty, so after thinking about things for about 10 seconds, I walked up to the best looking Turkish guard (all Turkish men are beautiful, btw) and, pulling my top down to show cleavage, began to cry. Of course, he immediately asked what was wrong and several other guards came over too. Long story short, I cried my way into Turkey and slipped the cute guard $100 USD cash as a thank you. Works every time.

So second issue was that there had been major flooding in the northern part of Turkey and the railway lines had been washed out. So about 2 hours outside of Istanbul, we had to switch from the train to a bus, and then we were driven into Istanbul proper, finally reaching Büyük Otogar, or Istanbul’s main bus terminal, which was a lovely old station, with classical 1800s style high vaulted ceilings, lots of glass windows, and tons of money changing shops and various eateries. Finally! We were there!

Long story short: don’t take a bus to Istanbul if you’re coming from Europe, especially Eastern Europe. It may sound fun and all, but it’s not. The state of the railways between Istanbul and say Bucharest or Budapest is NOT

This is what the Bulgaria/Turkey border crossing looks like.

This is what the Bulgaria/Turkey border crossing looks like.

good, and especially in Bulgaria, the service is spotty, the trains are slow, and they are ill equipped (i.e. no food cars). Plus, you might end up in a sleeper bunk with a bunch of Russians who tell you “Ah it’s hot! No fans! Just drink VODKA!” and who then pass out and fart for 3 days straight. Not good. Just fly into the beautiful, modern, gorgeous, and amazing Istanbul Ataturk Airport! Truly, it is a first class airport, highly modern, fully serviced by local transport, and conveniently located to the city. I regret not flying into Istanbul the first time I visited and every time thereafter, I’ve flown in. Enough said.

Once in Istanbul, we checked into the Hotel Niles, which more than made up for our horrendous “train from hell” ride. The hotel was located perfectly–across from the Grand Bazaar, and within walking distance of all the

Our room at the lovely Hotel Niles!

Our room at the lovely Hotel Niles!

other major tourist attractions (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, etc). When checking us in, the staff took the time to give us a free map, locating with a pen where the hotel was and telling us how to get to all the local hotspots.

The hotel was simply beautiful! Our room was a suite and it came with a HUGE marble bath, Turkish style, and supremely outfitted rooms with high ceilings, A/C, fast wifi, and beautiful decorations mixing local Turkish flare with European elegance. The rooms were very affordable, the staff helpful, and the rooftop restaurant had breathtaking views of the Bosphorus harbour. Breakfasts were free on the rooftop, and every morning we sat amidst palms and plants, watching the sun rise over the sea, and listening to the caged birds on the roof while we snacked on a wonderful breakfast spread. I couldn’t have been happier with the hotel, and I befriended the owner after raving to him about how beautiful his property was. Later, upon my return to Istanbul in 2011, he remembered me and hooked me up with a free room. I’ve stayed in contact with him ever since.

After checking into our hotel, sleeping soundly, and having a few solid meals, us three traveling companions hit the city to see the sites. Istanbul is very

The rooftop terrace at the Hotel Niles.

The rooftop terrace at the Hotel Niles.

modern, clean, and the streets are easy to walk and wonderfully twisted and meandering. It is somewhat hard to follow the streets on a map for this reason, as the city itself is old and not laid out on a grid like most American cities, but to me, that’s part of it’s charm! I loved getting lost on the back streets of Istanbul, and peering in windows of shoe factories and stores selling clothing, leather, textiles, and the like. There are few people to hassle you on the streets, and lots of opportunities to use public transport. In addition to taxis, which periodically drive around the city, and which use meters if you ask them to (or not, as I prefer to bargain on a flat rate), there are also public buses and a wonderful trolley/electric tram system that happened to stop right near my hotel.

These trams run through various parts of the city, but I primarily used the tram to get from my hotel down to the waterfront, and along the way, to stop and see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia

Tram tracks.

Tram tracks.

Sofia, which sit right across from each other. I also used it to visit my favorite, FAVORITE spa on earth, the Cemberlitas Hamami! They are pretty cheap, and you gain entry by putting money into a machine and receiving tokens that you then put into a turnstile which allows you entry to the station to wait for a tram to come by. The machines that dispense these tokens have a choice for English speakers and are easy to use.

Before I go any further, I’m going to have to take a moment to describe the Cemberlitas Hamami because it is truly one of the most magnificent spas I’ve ever had the pleasure to relax in. It’s not a spa like you would think of in America, but more like a gorgeous public bathhouse, which is what hamamis (or hammams) initially were. It was constructed by Mimar Sinan in 1584, and is still housed in the same beautiful building. The interior has been renovated of course, and it’s divided by gender into the men’s and women’s areas. The entire place is made of white marble with soaring domed ceilings, punctuated with small windows which let in the natural light in soft, warm streams. I can’t speak for the men’s side, but on the women’s side, there are lockers, and you are given a small packet of items and told to undress. In the packet of items you’re given, you have a disposable bikini bottom and your own personal scrubbing mitt. Once you’re unclothed (everyone walks around topless in the hamamis, it’s very refreshing, and totally acceptable because all the employees are women and all the patrons too), and your personal belongings locked up, you take your mitt and walk into the main room of the hamami. It’s a HUGE white marbled room with 8 corners, and with a magnificent domed ceiling and a large marble platform in the middle, probably 9′ in diameter, with small enclaves with spigots dispensing water of varying temperature around the outside of the room.

The domed roof of the Cemberlita's Hamami, taken from the rooftop cafe.

The domed roof of the Cemberlita’s Hamami, taken from the rooftop cafe.

Once inside, you’re given a Turkish towel (made of cotton, thinly woven, not absorbent like Western towels) and you’re told to lie on the marble platform. Underneath this platform, and invisible to you, is a large cedar fire which heats up the marble and the entire room. It’s hot to the touch, so you must lay your towel down and then lay on top of the towel. Once you do this, you just lay there and soak up the heat and the humidity and gaze up at the domed ceiling with it’s little rays of light shining through. There are bath attendants, all old, motherly women, who then come around one by one to the women laying on the hot marble stone and once they arrive, they douse you with lukewarm water and start SCRUBBING! And boy do they SCRUB! After you’ve sat around in the heat and humidity for awhile, your skin starts to shed and these women then come around and remove all the layers of dirt and dead skin from your body. I’ve never had cleaner skin or softer skin than after a visit to the hamami!

After scrubbing, the attendants then rinse you again, this time with cold water, and bring you over to an enclave along one of the sides of the room. They wash your hair there with water from plastic buckets and cheap shampoo, but god, is it ever so amazing! I don’t know what it is about having someone wash your hair, but it’s one of those things in life which is extremely underrated in pleasure. Especially when done by a matronly older woman, it’s like being a child again, very comforting, very soothing.

Apparently Colin Ferrell loves the Grand Bazaar too!

Apparently Colin Ferrell loves the Grand Bazaar too!

Once done with this, you’re taken to a cold plunge pool and a shower, and you’re done. That’s it, really. Nothing fancy, although they do offer basic mud facials and hot oil massages, which are also great and are added on after your bath. But a simple bath in such an old, elegant place is more than enough for me. It’s the ambiance, it’s the older women, the communal safeness of being in a women’s only environment, the casual gossip and talking and the hot white marble and the tradition that makes the experience so wonderful. And after you’re dressed again, skin clean and soft and pink, you go to the rooftop to have a cup of Turkish coffee with a smoke–ahhhh god, there’s nothing better!

In addition to the Cemberlitas Hamami, the Grand Bazaar, which is right next door, is amazing too, although overwhelming for most Westerners. As soon as you walk in, you’ll see stalls selling all manner of goods, although mostly touristy stuff like carpets, glassware, linens, etc. and as soon as you walk in, you’ll get SWAMPED by salesmen, all telling you to visit their store. Some may even physically grab you and direct you to their specific store. Some will follow you around and continually harass you until you yell at them to screw off. Don’t be afraid to be loud and direct–match their directness and pushiness and they will back off. It’s really not a big deal, although many women especially find it intimidating since most of the salesmen (all of them really) are men and are totally all about hitting on you as well as selling you items. All it takes is a firm NO more than once and you’re good, and if it ever does really feel threatening, just start yelling loudly and every local woman in the area will come to your defense and handle the situation for you.

Belly dancing costumes at the Grand Bazaar.

Belly dancing costumes at the Grand Bazaar.

Despite this though, the Grand Bazaar is worth a visit for it’s beautiful displays of spices, carpets and all manner of other bric-a-brak. It’s the place to take the photo that most travel agencies use when they advertise “Turkey” and a great place to pick up cheap souvenirs. Like I said earlier though, be ready to bargain and bargain hard. Also, near the entrance there are some really good gyro places, and during the winter, little carts selling roasted chestnuts and sesame seed round pretzel like breads also congregate here. Also, if you have the time, hit up the Spice Bazaar as well, which sells more local stuff and less touristy items. At the Spice Bazaar, which is down near the waterfront, a bit of a walk from the Grand Bazaar, you’ll find lots of local food and medicinal items that will blow your mind–stuff like eels, and leeches, and what not. It’s much more colorful and less crowded and intense than the Grand Bazaar.

Leeches for sale near the Spice Bazaar.

Leeches for sale near the Spice Bazaar.

What to say about the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia that hasn’t already been said? They are both beyond description, akin to the Eiffel Tower, or the Taj Mahal. They sit across from each other, and are both easily entered via ticket booths at each location. Usually, if there are any lines, they aren’t long, even during the high season. The Blue Mosque is an actual mosque that is still being used (the Hagia Sophia was a church, then a mosque, and is now a secular museum). Be aware of this when entering the Blue Mosque and be respectful of it’s status as a house of worship. Ladies this means covering your heads and shoulders and not wearing pants (long skirts instead), men it means no shorts, and for both men and women, removing your shoes and not taking flash photographs. You will be told to do these things anyways, and will be given a place to put your shoes and if you need a head or shoulder or leg covering, there are some clothes available for this as well. If you’re so inclined, you can visit during the Friday prayers, and listen to the imam, which I recommend doing to give you a deeper understanding of the Muslim faith.

The Blue Mosque behind me.

The Blue Mosque behind me.

Topkapi Palace is nearby both of these locations as well, and is worth a visit, especially to see the all the beautiful old weaponry and jewelry! Plus there are many cultural events and art exhibitions here and it’s just beautifully located with great views and a relaxing atmosphere. Be sure to try some of the dondruma, or Turkish ice cream, which is sold by vendors who lift it up, spin it, twirl it, then place it back in it’s freezing tin all afternoon long. Turkish ice cream is thicker and chewier than Western ice cream and comes doused in pistachios and honey and is really, really tasty! There are tons of vendors lining the way to Topkapi Palace.

The Basilica Cistern must also be on your list of places in Istanbul to visit! It’s super creepy and very atmospheric and, at it’s most basic, is a tour of the now empty Roman water cisterns that lay underneath the city of Istanbul and that were constructed in the 6th century. You descend into the largest of the many empty water cisterns (there’s still a small amount of water in them, lit up beautifully by warm yellow lights and filled with koi fish) and walk along planks to the back of the underground chamber to two large pillars that are supported by two large carvings of Medusa’s head. One head is upright, the other reversed, and no one really knows why

Creepy Basilica Cistern!

Creepy Basilica Cistern!

exactly they are placed there. The whole place is dark, damp, filled with the sounds of dripping water, eerily lit and absolutely wonderful!

Lastly, the Bosphorus waterfront in Istanbul is probably it’s most famous vista. It’s here that many movies have been filmed, many promotional tourism photos taken, and probably billions of personal “look I’m in Turkey!” Instagram photos have been uploaded. It’s the scene that you see in your head when you think of Istanbul, so it’s worth a visit. It’s at this point that East meets West–where the continent of Europe ends and the continent of Asia begins. Most of Istanbul that tourists see (and all the places mentioned above) lay on the European side, so when you visit the waterfront you’re looking out at Asia. From the waterfront, which is lined with ornate floating restaurants that will cook you freshly caught fish while you wait, you can catch short or long term cruises up and down the Bosphorus straight. I took about an hour long cruise and it was really wonderful to see the city of Istanbul rise up from the water. They are not expensive and the cruises are really just medium sized passenger boats, lined with benches and equipped with a snack station, that loop around the local waterfront area, but they are fun none the less. You can buy tickets from any of the agents standing near the docks, and even haggle with them for a better price than the one listed if you’re so inclined.

Bosphorus Waterfront.

Bosphorus Waterfront.

Overall, Istanbul is one of my most favorite cities, second only to Hong Kong. I can’t say enough good things about it! Just remember that there is a $20 USD departure tax when exiting the country (as well as entering) so keep $20 USD on you to pay it! Other than that, have fun, and know that Istanbul is an incredibly beautiful city, easily navigable, and absolutely worth a visit! My favorite time to visit is in the winter–around February–and while it does get cold and even snows in Istanbul, if you lay in your hotel room on a frosty early morning, and listen to the call to prayer, and smel the roasted chestnuts cooking….I’m sure you’d agree with me that there’s really no better place to spend a few winter (or summer) weeks!

To Stay: Hotel Niles. Rates fluctuate from $100/night during the off season (winter) to $200/night during high season (summer). A 10% discount is offered on cash payments if booked through the hotel website. Rooms are gorgeous, decorated in the continental style with small local flourishes (such as a turkish bath in some rooms). A lovely terrace at the top of the hotel has an amazing view of the Istanbul harbor and every morning a large breakfast spread is put out on the terrace for guests, free of charge. The hotel is located within walking distance of all major tourist attractions in the city (Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, etc). Airport transfers from Ataturk Airport are roughly $30, one way.

To EatThe Han Restaurant. The best hummus in the city! I was quite naive when I first visited Istanbul and mistakenly thought that hummus was a common local dish. It’s not. Hummus is an Israeli/Jordanian thing, and it’s hard to find in Istanbul. However, the Han Restaurant has some amazing hummus on the menu, and it’s located very conveniently, right next to the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, on the road that the tram runs along and along the way to the waterfront as well. The dining area is also quite nice, with pillows to sit on and low tables in the common Turkish fashion, as opposed to a more Western dining style. The waiters are friendly and they remembered me every time I visited, so kudos to them! The menu ranges from a few items of Western food to Turkish staples. Prices range from $5-25 per head.

To See: Cemberlitas Hamami–There won’t be too many times in your life when you’ll get the opportunity to have a Turkish bath in a building dating back to 1584, so do it – particularly because this hamami was designed by the great architect Sinan and is among the most beautiful in the city. Bath, scrub, and soap massage (plus hair washing) is TL90 (roughly $40 USD). Self service bathing is TL60 (roughly $30 USD), but I highly recommend spending the extra $10 and getting the full “Sultan’s Bath.”

Grand Bazaar/Spice Bazaar–Both are free to enter, and well worth visiting, particularly the Spice Bazaar as it has more local items and less pushy salesmen. However, if you’re looking for a kitschy souvenir, try the Grand Bazaar, which also has lots of great street food stands near the entrance.

Hagia Sophia/Blue Mosque/Topkapi Palace–For TL80 (roughly $35 USD) you can buy a 3 day museum pass that includes the Hagia Sophia and Topkai Palace. Otherwise, the Hagia Sophia entry is TL30 (roughly $13 USD), the Blue Mosque is free (you must enter using the south door; the north front entrance is for Muslims only), and Topkapi Palace is TL30 (roughly $13 USD) for the museum and an additional TL15 (roughly $7) to enter the harem section. You can buy Topkapi Palace tickets and museum passes online here.

Basilica Cistern–Open every day from 9am to 6:30pm, with an entrance fee of TL20 (roughly $9 USD). Located across the street from the Hagia Sophia.

To Get There: DO NOT TAKE THE TRAIN! 🙂 Turkish Airlines has many direct flights to Istanbul from locations throughout the United States (New York and Los Angeles, mainly). In addition, United has direct flights from Newark and Los Angeles. Roundtrip ranges anywhere from $700-4000, depending on route, time, and fare class.

So is this blog! ;)

So is this blog! 😉

The Fight for Cultural and Political Freedom (Hong Kong)

A projector on the side of a building, showing tweets in support of local protesters.

A projector on the side of a building, showing tweets in support of local protesters.

Hello everyone! I am finally back in the USA from my trip to Hong Kong to cover the pro-democracy protests that have sprung up recently. It has been quite the adventure!

You can find my published article about the protests on Wheat City Magazine‘s online site (or here’s a direct link).

It was quite inspiring to see the residents of Hong Kong, young and old, students and activists as well as local shop owners and businessmen and women, all come together in the fight for true democracy. As my article states, it was very apparent to these protesters, and to most Hong Kongers, that this struggle for democracy belied a truer, more essential goal–to preserve the cultural of Hong Kong itself.

I’ve covered several protest movements across the world (Egypt, Ukraine), and while Hong Kong’s protests were very similar to the others that I’ve

An artistic rendering of the goals of the Umbrella Movement, taped to the side of a plastic barricade.

An artistic rendering of the goals of the Umbrella Movement, taped to the side of a plastic barricade.

covered, they were also unique. It’s fascinating to me to see how each culture handles it’s own growing pains and to see the drive to protest for a better, brighter future filtered through the lens of each distinct culture. In all of these protests, university students formed the main core of the protesters, and historically, most political rallies begin on college campuses and in the classrooms of local universities. Each of these movements was also mainly co-originated and communicated to others through Twitter and other social media sites (Instagram in Hong Kong, Facebook in Egypt, VK in Ukraine). With the advent of social media and smart phones, it’s made spreading the word about rallies and giving directions to protesters about movements and updates so much easier. This, in turn, has lead to larger crowds, more mobile and reactive crowds, and I would like to think less violence towards these mostly non-violent protesters than we would have seen 40 years ago. With everyone so plugged in, and with cameras on phones at the ready, most governments think twice before using force to disband protesters and this has given them all the much more power to have their voices heard.

Unfortunately, violence is still used, and oftentimes in the form of plainclothes

Protesters in the central business district of Hong Kong hold up cell phones with their lights illuminated in a show of solidarity.

Protesters in the central business district of Hong Kong hold up cell phones with their lights illuminated in a show of solidarity.

“distrupters.” Because governments feel their hands are tied about any sort of force used on protesters, for fear of blowback from the international community, and, of course, often times too a fear for their own seat of power, they have taken to using “pro-government protesters” as a way to disrupt these rallies for freedom and democracy. Basically, instead of using state forces (military and police), these governments find local agitators to fight against the crowds instead, and simply tell their state forces to stand down and let it happen. This has occurred in every single protest I’ve covered. I’m sure that some “pro-government protesters” are genuinely pro-government citizens fed up with the protests in their neighborhoods, but oftentimes I am quite sure that these elements are paid and sent by governments seeking to use the disruption and violence they cause as an excuse to end the protests. It’s much cleaner for governments to act through non-state forces and most cities don’t lack a criminal element willing to take money to cause civil agitation. In Hong Kong, it’s no surprise that most of these clashes between local pro-democracy and pro-government forces happened in the Mong Kok neighborhood. Throughout most of Hong Kong’s history, Mong Kok has been the seat of the local gangs, called the triads, and during most of the clashes between protesters and pro-government “citizens”, many rumors swirled regarding who these people actually were. Though the triads have been officially banned and “wiped out”, they do remain underground, and still quietly influence the Mong Kok area to this day.

A local leader rallies the protesters in Hong Kong.

A local leader rallies the protesters in Hong Kong.

As with Egypt (which was oftentimes filled with rumors of agitators paid by Gulf states wanting political instability in Egypt for financial reasons) and as with Ukraine (who’s pro-government protesters were plainly Russian military without official uniforms), the Hong Kong protests suffered some violence and as soon as they did, it was immediately blamed on the protesters themselves, and used as an excuse to end the protests. I have to state that as someone who was there on the ground, and there during the moments when the protesters were attacked (yes I would use that word) by these “pro-government” people, none of the Umbrella Movement, pro-democracy protesters responded with any violence at all. It was amazing and quite admirable how little hostility the crowds showed towards these attackers, even when being pummeled in the face by them and even when they ripped up student’s tents and yelled wildly insulting things into the crowds. I think it should speak highly of the integrity and character of not only the protesters, but the movement itself, that despite the Mong Kok attack and despite the tear gas and pepper spray used earlier in the week, the situation never devolved into angry,

Protesters in the Occupy Central movement hold up a sign during a night rally.

Protesters in the Occupy Central movement hold up a sign during a night rally.

violent mobs. It’s easy to respond to violence with violence, and harder still to turn the other cheek and simply remove and/or ignore protesters who become violent. As soon as the Occupy Hong Kong group saw violence, they closed ranks, removed and contained the agitator, and got immediate medical help for the wounded, allowing ambulances through the thick crowds easily and swiftly. If there was any sort of malice in the movement at all, the entire situation would have quickly escalated, but as it was, there could be no more of a dedicated effort to peace and non-violence than the one they made. I was truly impressed with the control of the Hong Kong protesters, because as we all know, large scale demonstrations, and large groups of people usually bring out the worst in human instincts; hivemind usually leads to violence, sexual assault, and destruction of property. None of this was noted, not a single case of it, during the entire week of the protests. That should speak highly for the protesters themselves, and for the people involved, as well as the Hong Kong culture of tolerance, globalism, liberalism, and peace.

In addition to their excellent handling of violent attacks, the Hong Kong protests also struck me as the most organized, civil-minded group of protesters I’ve ever seen. The willingness of the protest leaders to organize everything from medical aid, to cell phone charging stations, and to recycle stations for used water bottles and other refuse, was utterly astounding. Essentially, in less than a few days, an entire mini-city, complete with public services was set up at the protester’s central camp near the

A sign posted outside a government building, near the protest camps.

A sign posted outside a government building, near the protest camps.

Admiralty MTR station, in the central business district of Hong Kong. There were protesters dedicated to picking up trash and disposing or recycling it (the camps were breathtakingly clean), as well as many tents dedicated to medical help for hurt or injured protesters (the Red Cross building was also helpfully located alongside part of the camp). There were also tents handing out free food and water to protesters, and lots of volunteers standing with bottles of water, spraying down the crowds, to keep them from overheating (it was brutally hot and humid during the protests–30 C with 60% humidity). There were also many open political forums with university teachers coming to create open-air “democracy classrooms” where protesters could sit and listen to democracy theory, ask questions, and provide input into whatever was being discussed. There were also a couple of different religious booths supporting the protesters with social comfort and aid. A Buddhist tent stood right next to a Christian tent, and both happily co-mingled, providing goods and services to the protesters. Eye coverings to protect against pepper spray, plastic body coverings for the rain and tear gas, face masks, and of course, the ubiquitous umbrellas, were also made freely available to all protesters. It was truly one of the most civic minded groups of protesters I’ve ever seen, and all of them were polite, dedicated to democracy and non-violence. The local businesses also must be noted here for being very supportive and understanding to the protesters who shut down the roads near their stores. Not only were these shopkeepers supportive, they also allowed protesters to use their facilities and offered free or discounted products to them, which was very helpful, considering many of these protesters camped there for upwards of several days.

Overall, the Hong Kong protests were up against some really strong and powerful players, but they did what they could do to make their voices heard, and I sincerely hope that their efforts are not in vain. Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in all the world and has an incredibly unique and open culture that deserves preservation and support. It would be a worldwide tragedy to see Hong Kong begin to close ranks with the rest of China, to see it lose that special openness and freedom that has made it one of the world’s true global cities. The loss of Hong Kong’s culture and political and social freedoms would not only negatively impact the lives of its residents; it would also affect the rest of the world. As it stands now, Hong Kong is one of Asia’s largest financial centers and is home to many mainland Chinese artists and writers who have fled the heavy censorship of the Chinese government. To lose Hong Kong’s social freedoms would mean to also lose a lot of it’s financial stability as well as most of China’s most talented artists, writers, and thinkers. It’s not hard to see why Hong Kong, and it’s fate, matters greatly to the world. One can simply hope that a conciliation can be made between the PRC’s government and the residents of Hong Kong. While it doesn’t look likely, that is what I hope for, and what the people of the great city of Hong Kong surely deserve.

(All photos and video copyright Suzanne Borders; please do not use without permission!)

#Occupy Central

Hello readers!

Stay tuned for my coverage of #occupycentral. I will be in Hong Kong interviewing protestors and gathering information for an article.

If anyone has any contacts who wish to speak to the media about their experiences and motivations, please have them contact me: blackwidowkc@gmail.com.

Or follow my Twitter: @dameonaplane.

To all the protestors: STAY STRONG!

–DOAP

To Listen: The End” by The Doors

(Title image copyright Suzanne Borders; do not use without permission, thank you!)

Halloween in the SAR (Hong Kong, China)

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In 2012, I decided to spend Halloween in Hong Kong, both as a way to celebrate the holiday and my birthday, which is towards the beginning of October. Hong Kong is one of my favorite destinations and I had been there several times before (and several times after as well), although I had never been for Halloween. I wasn’t even sure if the culture in Hong Kong celebrated Halloween, but considering their British Heritage, I figured if anything, the large amount of Western expats would have some sort of celebration.

Welcome to the SAR!

Welcome to the SAR!

Turns out, Halloween in Hong Kong was a pretty big deal! Especially in the touristy district of Lan Kwai Fong, which has hundreds of clubs and restaurants and bars lining the avenue, starting at the intersection of D’Aguilar Street and Lan Kwai Fong road. This area is on the actual island of Hong Kong, near the Central Metro station, and is a really great place to party, as you can easily get to it from the metro station and everything is walkable, which is important after a certain point of inebriation.

This visit to Hong Kong, I decided to rent a serviced apartment from the Ovolo Hotel chain, an Australian brand that has both hotels and serviced apartments all over Hong Kong. Although the serviced apartments were deep in a residential neighborhood of Kowloon, and quite a metro

The view from my serviced apartment.

The view from my serviced apartment.

ride away from the downtown area of Hong Kong proper, they were wonderful, if not a bit cramped. That’s not saying much for Hong Kong, however, as every piece of real estate on the island or even in Kowloon is small and cramped, due to sky high property values. Hong Kong is very similar in that regard to New York, with the only difference being the addition of several million people and the towering 60+ floor residential blocks built to house them. I rented a two bedroom serviced apartment that was probably 700 square feet total, but the lay out was done tastefully and the apartment was furnished in a way that maximized whatever space there was available. It came with a fully functioning kitchen complete with utensils (which I of course didn’t use because I don’t cook), a TV with several gaming consoles, Apple TV, and an apartment wide sound system that had a place to plug in your iPod to listen to music. A doorman and a lobby on the second floor with a concierge service completed the package, and it was easy to get around either by the taxis they would call for me or by the nearby metro station.

MEIN SHARABI

MEIN SHARABI

As nice as my serviced apartment was, however, I didn’t spend much time there. The highlight of my stay was running into a few of my Indian friends who work in the gem and diamond industry in Hong Kong. I know that many people have a bad impression of the Chungking Mansions off Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon), but since I am unafraid of most anything, and the Chungking Mansions have the best Indian restaurants in the city (along with the best fake Rolexes and purses!), I ended up there for a meal one evening and happened to see a couple people I knew from Jaipur. They invited me to their nearby bachelor pad to party and get drunk on Blender’s Pride whisky, which, as any Indian knows, is the whisky to drink if you wanna get the party started! Since it was Halloween, or close to it, and since I was

Making laal maans!

Making laal maas!

still celebrating my birthday, I thought why not? Let’s have some fun! I’d seen all the touristy sights in Hong Kong several years before, so I spent the majority of my trip just getting drunk with my friends, eating their amazing laal maas, and partying at various clubs around the city, mostly in Lan Kwai Fong.

As my friends were Indian, they didn’t celebrate Halloween, and it was their first year in Hong Kong (they had moved there together to learn their father’s trade). I told them about the holiday and what it represented (basically you celebrate dead ghosts and scary things), which they didn’t quite get, but weren’t about to turn down a good party simply because it was for a stupid reason! They especially were interested in the costume aspect of Halloween and were amazed by the many different costumes we saw on people as we hit the clubs

Bloody Snow Whites!

Bloody Snow Whites!

in Lan Kwai Fong. As in America, there were tons of different outfits–gangs of bloody Snow Whites, Arabian dancers, Greek fighters, computer memes, and so much more! The clubs were packed the night before Halloween, the night of Halloween and pretty much several days before and after both. We saw more than several street brawls, people puking alongside the road, illicit make-out sessions in dark back corner booths in more ritzy clubs, and tons of people pissing on buildings. I got wasted more than a few times, and on Halloween night, grabbed a nearby guy’s pirate hat and decided to become a runaway pirate queen. As per the usual, most people jokingly asked me “What are you, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?” since obviously, I dress like her and I have tattoos and it’s kind of one of those things were one could easily mistake me for actually attempting that look as a costume.

The clubs stay open very late in Hong Kong and if you stay in the touristy Lan Kwai Fong district, are not difficult to get into, save for the sheer number of people. There are generally no guest lists or lines in these sort of divey places, and we spent a fair amount of time hanging out in the bars along Lan Kwai Fong. However, as Halloween grew closer, they became so incredibly crowded (fuck

The crowds of people on Lan Kwai Fong street on Halloween night!

The crowds of people on Lan Kwai Fong street on Halloween night!

the fire codes, they were packing in as many people as possible to the point where you literally would get so crowded in your feet would be lifted off the ground) that we bailed for some more obscure clubs off the beaten tourist trail. My local friends took me to a more expensive and nice cocktail lounge up high in a skyscraper off of Nathan Road that had a fantastic view of the city; we also hit up a more underground style club playing, of all things, hip hop. All in all, it was a great time and most every night we stayed out until 6-7am, opting for yummy food at 24hr Middle Eastern or Indian places after our binge drinking. Since it was a holiday, some of the clubs never even closed–they were open 24hrs a day, and from my understanding, some always operate this way.

Halloween costumes!

Halloween costumes!

There’s no set time that the bars have to close, so some are always open, some close at 3am, some at 6am. That’s one thing I love about Hong Kong–there are very few rules. There’s also no sales tax on most items, save stuff like alcohol and tobacco. It’s a place that is free from a lot of the random little laws that in America are utterly unnecessary.

Anyways, all in all, I had a great time. It was unique to see such a culturally American and Western holiday interpreted in a Chinese setting, and to experience it with Indians who had never seen Halloween celebrated before. The combination of random Western cultural references (Snow White, Spiderman, Greek soldiers) a Chinese city/culture, and Indian friends made for a very unique experience. In addition to all of that, I got to celebrate my birthday again, with a cute little cake my friends snuck out and bought for me, as well as with

Drunkenly running around the Metro late at night!

Drunkenly running around the Metro late at night!

nightly servings of my favorite food in the world, Rajasthani laal maas. I will never forget running barefoot, drunk, through the Hong Kong metro at 4am singing “Mein Sharabi” (a Hindi song whose title literally means ‘I’m Drunk!’ and who’s lyrics consist of repeatedly saying ‘I’m drunk, I’m drunk’ over and over again), swinging from the metro handrails, forgetting my Octopus card at some random bar, and hopping the turnstiles more than a few times. Hong Kong is an amazing place, even more so on public holidays, because while Hong Kong natives work hard, they play even harder. I highly recommend visiting!

To Stay: Ovolo Hotel Serviced Apartments, 256 Tung Chau Street, West Kowloon. Room range from $250-$400/night, depending on room size and time of year. Family friendly pseudo-hotel with high speed wifi, small but nicely designed rooms, full kitchens, TVs with gaming consoles and Apple TV units, located in a quiet residential area of West Kowloon (not on Hong Kong island). There’s a metro station within walking distance of the hotel that connects you cheaply and easily to the rest of the city, and the doorman and concierge on the 2nd floor can call you very affordable cabs to get to the island as well. There are complimentary soft drinks and alcohol on the lobby level 24/hrs a day and several fast food restaurants that deliver to the apartments, as well as a 24hr gym on the 1st floor.
To Party: Lan Kwai Fong, a group of small side streets on Hong Kong island near the Central metro station. There are over 100 clubs, bars, and restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong that attract a diverse mix of both tourists, expats, and locals, although predominantly it’s tourists who fill the bar stools. The area is very crowded on all major holidays and also on the weekends, so it can be hard to grab a drink and find anywhere to sit. The atmosphere is young and party oriented, so if you’re looking for a chill spot to kick back, relax, and chat, this would not be the place to go. If you’re more into a chilled out experience, try Vibes, an open-air lounge bar inside the Mira Hotel off Nathan Road (an excellent hotel I’ve stayed at and will review later). For great views of Hong Kong island and Nathan Road from high up, try the Horizonte Lounge, which is located inside the Hotel Madera off Nathan Road, and has a great little terrace to soak up the views. I wish I could remember the name of the hip hop club we went to later on during my stay, but I sadly can’t.
To Eat: Hands down, Chungking Mansions wins this one! You can get a great meal for less than $20 USD. However, the food is predominantly Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern (with some Moroccan and African food thrown in for good measure), so if you’re looking for Chinese food (Mandarin or Cantonese), don’t go there. Also, the Chungking Mansions have a rather deserved reputation for being shady and dangerous, and full of scammers, so just be careful and don’t go in there thinking you’re gonna buy a real Rolex for equivalent $40 USD. I do not care for Chinese food of any kind, so beyond this, I cannot offer any more recommendations. Sorry.
To Listen: The songs I partied to!

Breakdancing in Cambodia (Siem Reap)

Pub Street in the old market area of Siem Reap, Cambodia, is the place to be after sundown. Siem Reap is primarily known as the city closest to Angkor Wat, and thus attracts people visiting the ancient temple complex (see my entry on this here). However, there are quite a few backpackers in the city as well, and local tour guides, as well as expats, and all of these types and more hit up the bars, clubs, and dance halls off of Pub Street after darkness falls. The clubs are not by any means ritzy or exclusive–no, no, they cater to the crusty backpacker crowd and usually play top 40 hits, but still, are a lot of fun. Think buckets of beer vs. martinis. Nearby, there’s also an excellent night market selling everything from raw jade to kitschy little tourist shirts that say stuff like “I left my heart in Angkor Wat!” So imagine, you can get wasted on cheap beer then buy shitty souvenirs to your heart’s delight! After days wandering around spiritual, intense, and ancient temples at Angkor Wat, you’ll need a little David Guetta and a nice cold beer.

In this video specifically, a good friend of mine was drunk and decided to challenge a small child (maybe 8 years old?) to a breakdance competition outside of one of Pub Street’s bars. He was trying to show off in an effort to impress this girl, and the whole thing was absolutely hilarious. Yes, I know the video quality isn’t so great, and yes, I know he dances like a spastic robot, but all in all, I had to post this because it brought back such good memories. As in, memories of me bawling my eyes out because I had a crush on him and he left with another girl. Sigh. We can’t win them all now can we?

Note: Don’t worry, I waited and pretended not to care about him at all, and, in the end, we dated for a brief period of time, so it wasn’t a complete loss. 😉

To Listen: Great bubblegum to inspire your best drunken breakdancing moves!

  •  “Titanium” (Alesso Remix) by David Guetta featuring Sia
  • We Are Young” by Fun. featuring Janelle Monae
  • Starships” by Nicki Minaj

UPDATE on Nairobi, Kenya

Me, at the City Market in Nairobi.

Me, at the City Market in Nairobi.

Given my somewhat recent post about Nairobi, Kenya, I just wanted to give my readers an update about the city.

I had one hell of a time leaving the city, as I departed on the last flight out of the airport before the airport exploded into flames.

A few weeks later, after having seen a couple Bollywood movies at the Westgate Mall, several people were taken hostage by militants after killing over 67 people.

Now today, there were explosions near the market I am pictured standing in in downtown Nairobi.

I urge everyone considering a trip to Kenya to postpone it until Kenyan troops cross back into Kenyan territory. Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in an effort to fight terrorism in 2011 and the results have been an increase in terror attacks in the Kenyan capital.

I am not one for hyperbolic travel warnings, and I definitely don’t believe in traveling with fear, but there is something to be said for being sane and safe. Plus, even if I would still travel to Kenya, I can’t say that I would recommend that normal people visit at this time. The area is too close to chronically unstable regions such as Somalia and until the Kenyan army works out a new way to battle Islamic extremism, the area is just too dangerous to travel to at the moment. This includes also Tanzania and Zanzibar, as there have also been several acid attacks on Westerners there within the past year or so as well (also coincidentally right after I departed the country). I guess my luck was running low or high, depending on how you wanna view it.

At the end of the day, as someone who’s been to these places and who can asses the risks realistically, I have to recommend that people wait until things settle down before starting a safari. All major safairs run through Nairobi, so please just postpone until the region stabilizes.

 

–DOAP