Yer know wot I did.
Yer know wot I did.
Always to the south.
It's midnight in George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Sam just returned from his fruitless search for food and has settled to watching YouTube lambastings of Dragon's Lair. Eight more hours until we board Continental Flight #1024 destined for la Ciudad de México.
We've slipped in to the dark night of the soul.
The plan is to overland southbound until the Darién Gap, learn Spanish, and— finally— cross into South America.
I'm giving up the Internet. So, don't waste any time sending me your address for a postcard!
I'll finish the travel blog. Later. From my journals.
Pagerank is an experiential reality from an existential crisis
It’s been a while since Vienna. Even longer since New Zealand. And, it will be even a while more until the Darién Gap.
I missed you.
This mixtape is a kind of love letter. After coming home, my most important task became reconnecting with my friends. Each of these songs hit rotation because I was enjoying them with someone.
Sadly, due to a hard drive crash, there was one very important track that went missing...
It was night when I finally arrived to Podgorica. The SIM card...
It was night when I finally arrived to Podgorica.
The SIM card that the Vodafone representative in Istanbul promised would work in Serbia and Montenegro didn’t. So, I had been out of contact with Mira until one of the Grandmothers in the train loaned me her mobile. Not a smart idea for a random guy arriving in an unknown city.
Fortunately, ProMonte is on top of things and has Tourist SIMs for sale at every kiosk. I rang Mira in short order. She picked up (yay!), was with her boyfriend (yay!) and would pick me up in a half-hour or so (yay!).
I was totally unprepared for the grade of hospitality that I was about to be given.
I needn't have packed food for my train to Montenegro.
My cabin-mates were a group of four Grandmothers and one surly looking young man. I sat in the line of fire of a social interaction that transcends cultures: a gossip circle. But, as my position became more awkward, I “relented” and offered to swap spots with adjacent lady in the window seat.
I’m so gracious.
Of course, now I was a legitimate conversation topic and target. My Serbian was non-existent at this point, but one of the women spoke a few words of English. Between hand signs, small words, and my woeful but rapidly expanding phrasebook, we exchanged stories. The ladies were all returning from visiting their respective families. And, the woman who spoke some English had learned it to teach her son, who was now living abroad and doing well for himself— in part— thanks to her early tutoring.
Eventually, I stopped being interesting, and we resumed our former activities. The Grandmothers chatting over their knitwork. The surly young man and I watching the countryside descend into breathtaking mountain passes.
I alternated between dozing and counting tunnels. On their walls were white Charlie Brown zig-zag patterns. The base of the waves were inset cubbies I decided were for emergencies.
The Grandmothers were clearly veteran riders. Every couple hours, they would reach into their bags or stowed luggage to produce sandwiches. The first time, I took this as a reminder to munch on my own dwindling leftovers. But, I was surprised in short order by a proffered meal!
For the remainder of the trip, I was forcibly stuffed like a piñata. My adopted family had decided I was too helpless to be left to fend for myself. And, after bidding farewell to each woman at her stop, the last and I disembarked and hugged partings at Podgorica.
I snapped this photo because I recognized the icon but...
I snapped this photo because I recognized the icon but couldn’t quite place it.
Shortly after uploading the photo to Flickr, a friend of mine tagged it.
The morning train to Montenegro departed five minutes before I...
The morning train to Montenegro departed five minutes before I arrived in Belgrade. I hadn’t planned on exploring; but, who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?
Back in Sofia, I had cached a map with an overview of the city center. I knew where I was, and I knew where the Kalemegdan was.
The city awoke around me as I walked and watched day begin to break. I ascended on the switchbacked paths and passed through the fortress gates. Finally, I climbed the northern wall that overlooked the Danube.
Then I napped on my backpack.
I was startled back into consciousness by a park warden politely informing me that I couldn’t sleep there. As there were bums dozing in nearby benches, I figured he was just worried about me falling to my death.
Graffiti at the Belgrade tram depot.
Graffiti at the Belgrade tram depot.
I stepped off the train in Sofia and was promptly hustled by a...
I stepped off the train in Sofia and was promptly hustled by a tout.
Two other backpackers and I were searching for international ticketing. Over my half-hearted objections, we accepted the “help” of a man dressed in what passed as a maintenance staff uniform. He guided us and politely demanded a tip.
From using touts as an instrument of abuse upon my travel-mate, to coughing up currency to—frankly — a second-class act. I was so embarrassed. But, I smiled and looked thankful.
Regardless, reservation in hand, I strode out of the dark station and in to the day-lit city of Sofia.
My time limit was nine hours, 50 Bulgarian lev was split between two pockets, and I had no travel guide, But, there was a solid plan fixed in my mind. Two words: ride buses.
I beelined for the transit kiosk and used sign language to purchase a day-pass. (Show the brochure for bus passes. Point at your watch, then use your hands in the air to indicate 24-hours. Realize the kind lady sold you the wrong ticket. Try again while smiling and look thankful!) Then, after photographing a map of the transit system, hopped on the first bus that goes out of the city.
The city center is stylish and modern. It takes a few miles before you’re in communist-era concrete highrises. Another mile, the end the line, and it’s green fields. I lounged in the sun until I was hungry. Rode back to the city and went to the grocery store to make a sandwich.
It was in Sofia that I first encountered the European style tagging of produce. You put your fresh foods in a bag, weigh it, enter an item code on adjacent terminal, and an adhesive ticket is printed. I watched other people do this, and as I was about to tag my green peppers the security guard ran up and did it for me.
His facial expression and body language indicated that he expected me to be confused. I smiled and looked thankful.
The checkout girl flirted with me. She liked my hair. I smiled and looked thankful.
Rode to the city center on the presumption there would be a park. There was. Lounged around and finished both “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “A Hundred Years of Solitude.” Out of books, again.
Chatted with a nice young man from city who was incredulous that I wanted to vacation here. Then we took turns playing WWE SmackDown vs. Raw on his mobile and watching beautiful young women pushing children in strollers.
Finally, with an hour remaining, and I excused myself to catch my train. He said it was nice to talk with an American, I said it was nice to talk with a Bulgarian. We both smiled and looked thankful.
Met back up with my backpacker friends. They had a rushed day seeing the cathedral, visiting a museum, and eating at local restaurants. I had no worries and a half-eaten sandwich.
You know what I did.
Why is border control at 3am? Why?!
This train runs nightly. Everyone has patiently lined up. None of us are wearing anything more than the barest pajamas.
Except her. What the hell, damn lady?! Oh man, I hate Bulgaria. Why are you fully made-up and dressed in lingerie? Every guy in here just got whiplash tracking your tits, ass and legs cross the room.
Seriously, though. Train. Runs. Nightly. Dozens of us. One stamp wielding official.
Why is it 3am?!
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