Anniversary

July 26, 2007

I began The Best Month Ever on the 1st of June.

I landed in Nairobi on the 27th of June.

Now, 29 days later, I remain here, though for how long I do not know.

It’s been a nice few weeks. I’ve worked hard, and for the first fortnight, I partied hard. Raleigh was back from the field my first weekend and it was pretty monumental. We were out with Lex Luthor and The Wolf fending off hookers with empty champagne bottles.

The next night it Thai Food and Mojitos in Westlands with PonyTail.

No sooner had Raleigh left did Buckshot show up.

A houseparty with Jimmy and his Mountain Club pals. Then El Berkerino stopped in for a night of stupendous karaoke with Lex Luthor in Tail. We capped off a tuesday playing black jack at the InterCon until 3:00 AM along with two scotsmen and a couple skanks trying hard for taxi fare.

Later on it was off with PonyTail and Z to two house parties, and then to Florida to show Buckshot the Nairobi underbelly.

Sully, a new hire, arrived and I did some cooking, experimenting with hot wings and burgers for a new menu concept. We hit the Bedouin Lounge a couple times, had some great Indian food at The Open House, and lost some money at the race course across the street from our house.

We’ve been discussing the usual crap. He’s a bit older than me and is trying to impart some wisdom, but finding it difficult since I’ve got this life thing pretty much figured out.

So.

That’s the last month up until now: the one year anniversary of chnepr.

That’s right, loyal reader.
Bruce Lee loves birthdays!

All six of you.

This marks 365 days of incoherent, distended, prose-riddled, short-paragraphed drivel about my B-movie life.

It looks like it I’m in for another year of this craziness.

But it also looks like I won’t be going it alone this time around.


The Peroration: Best Month Ever

July 26, 2007

My third day in Dubai was distinctly lazy.

I woke up closer to sundown than midday.

I did not go to the pool.

I did not go to the bar.

I stayed in bed.

I had the subway sandwich leftovers as I really didn’t feel like moving. I ate in bed and lazed more. I enjoyed a minibar bottle of water and a pepsi with my sandwich.

After not spending more than four days in one place at a time, this time in The Unholy Babylon was my time to relax.

I really didn’t get out of bed. I watched TV. I dozed. I watched more TV. It was glorious. I hadn’t had a day like that the entire year.

The sun was pushing the horizon when I actually emerged from my cave.

I walked next door and bought a suit.

I had planned to buy just a blazer, but then I saw it. I had tried in many places to find a cheap suit that fit the bill, but here it was in The Unholy Babylon.

White Linen.

It seemed like a sound purchase decision at the time.

“You’re an idiot.”

Shut up, InMo.

It wasn’t a serious or even a fancy dinner. I just decided that board shorts and a t-shirt just wouldn’t be appropriate. I’d only known Kurtz briefly, and we met at the Hard Rock at his suggestion drank beer for a good few hours. I had an epic cheeseburger, languishing the imminent return of Kenyan Cuisine.

Kurtz had worked for the same firm as me last year. He was starting out in Dubai at about the time I was pondering the move to Africa. I told him, just before I went to London on assignment that I might well be in East Africa in 2007; and that as such that I might be in Dubai at some point in that year. I recalled to him this conversation during dinner, but he did not remember it. We laughed as he must’ve took it as an offhanded remark, having no idea what I was planning.

We discussed the ups, downs, and utter awesomeness of expatriate life. I spoke a little about life in Africa, and, in turn, learned about life in Dubai from Kurtz. I learned about getting ‘Blood Money’ on your car insurance policy. Despite the insurmountable differences in our relative locations, I enjoyed the this little similarity. In Juba the accident reparation scale is:

Dog: $100
Goat: $200
Child: $300
Cow: $500-$100 or death.

According to Kurtz, Dubai Scale is:

Indian/Pakistani: $10,000
Westerner/Cracker: $25,000
Date Palm: $40,000
Local: $75,000
Sheik’s Peacock: $100,000

“So if you’re swerving out of control, and you see an Indian or a palm tree, go for the Indian,” Kurtz joked.

I’d seen grown men sweating behind the wheel due to an errant goat bouncing along the dusty trails of Juba. And the whole cow above child always made sense since cows were symbols of wealth for the Sudanese and I guess cause children are relatively easy (and fun) to make. Why date palms and peacocks were so important is still beyond me. Though I still get a kick that in Dubai, it’s actually officially called, ‘blood money,’ and you get it as a line item on your insurance like you would collision, or vandalism.

When it came to most laws, it was not as bad as Singapore, but one could spend years in prison for things like drunk driving and not just possession of drugs, but traces in the bloodstream. Speeding was apparently all tracked by cameras and a renewal registration of one’s car comes with charges all the speeding tickets from the last year.

We didn’t stay at too late, as Kurtz was working tomorrow. That being said, it was most pleasant seeing a familiar friend for the second time this trip.

I went out to a Mexican restaurant at Le Royal Meridien, had some ceviche and a manhattan. I had been discussing some opportunities with the headquarters of the company and wanted to experience the product.

Then it was off to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah for more manhattans at Kurtz’ recommendation.

“Manhattan with. . .ooh. Woodford Reserve.”

“Sir, we make our manhattans with Crown Royale.”

“Fine. I would like my manhattan with Bourbon, as a manhattan should be made with American Whiskey. Bourbon. So I’d like one with Woodford Reserve.”

“You got it.”

Shickety shickety shake. Shookety shookety shake shake. Pour, clackety-click, slide

Slurp.

Wretch.

“What the hell is this? Is that. . .*slurp*. . .lime juice?”

“Sir, we make our man—”

“Bourbon, sweet vermouth, three to one, dash o’ bitters, shake vigorously: cherry.”

“Sir, we don’t have cherries.”

“Forget the cherry.”

The place was full of dudes, but I met some cool Kuwaitis. I ended up leaving very early, as I had had enough of the night.

~

I woke up late (sensing a theme?) my last day in Dubai and packed my things and headed for the airport.

I was torn; looking forward to getting back to my friends and my job in Africa, but forlorn in regards to the western culture I would be missing. I drowned my sorrows in 9 McNuggets, a large sprite, and the latest Entourage episode at the airport.

Climbing on the plane I downed champagne and watched movies to distract myself from going back. It was like going back to school after summer vacation: hesitance and anticipation battled each other like American Gladiators with giant Q-tips, vying for the top spot.

The traffic was horrendous at the Visa counter, but not too bad on the roads. My little house was undergoing some renovations, so I couldn’t stay there, but instead went to the Fairview. I had a sandwich and a Pilsner, at the restaurant and was able to reflect on the past month.

It’s funny, the passage of time: My first Day in Dubai was only a few weeks prior, but seemed like years. In contrast, walking about Istanbul and eating kebaps at Ilicia Beach took place about the same time was clear and bright in my mind. From flying in the back of a heavy lift with nine Kenyans to watching Cars on the little screen and sipping bubbly. Now, nearly four weeks since I arrived back in Nairobi, the memories play in my mind like the ‘good times’ montage denouement of a B-movie: slow motion flashes, Ken Burns style pans, and timely cross fades of smiles from people like the Swiss dudes, the Australians, The BBG, Greek Girl, Freckles, Amadeus, El Capitan, and Matthew. The saviours Zeta and Iris and their friends Tsloui, Bogan, Mandy and Croussie. JP, and even Ehab and his hos. And especially one lady in particular.

It’s great, but a little sad.

I’ve just established that my life is a B-Movie.

All in all:

27 days

6 countries

3 continents

4 round trip tickets

3 different airlines

1 train

4 boats

1 underpowered scooter

1 tiny rental car

12 different beaches

7 McD’s meals

46 McNuggets

countless kebabs

an undisclosed amount in the thousands down the drain

1016 pictures

23-odd-thousand words to document what I like to call:

 

The Best Month Ever.


Cold and Rock Bottom in The Unholy Babylon

July 14, 2007

It was early 2005, a mild winter in Vegas. I was waiting for a friend in at Firefly, a tapas lounge on Paradise, near the Hard Rock. A lady with teeth like rainclouds sat next to me. I was sipping one of the best mojitos in town, waiting for this eternally late crony, and to be honest, I was fairly spooked by this chick. For one, she kinda looked like vampires do in movies with shockingly shiny black hair and vitrified skin. Oh: and she had enormous hands. These things were serious meat mittens, they were the size of dinner plates and had my brain harkening back to the TV Monster in Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy video. But I face my fears. So I decided to have a little conversation with Rainclouds.

“So. . .you live in Las Vegas,” I ask.

“No, I just come here every now and then.”

“Hm. Work or pleasure?”

“Both,” she replied sultrily as she stirred her drink and blinked her eyes slowly making me shift in my chair and swallow entire mint leaves.

“Awesome. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m in the adult entertainment industry.”

I knew. I mean, I knew right away, but I didn’t want to admit it. So I tried to be savvy and smooth. “Cool. Video? Internet?”

“Nope.”

“Clubs?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Dancing?”

“Negative.”

“Um.”

“There’s only about one field isn’t there?”

“Ha,” I slurped the last of my beverage. “I guess so.”

Just then my friend walked in.

~

I woke up late my second day in Dubai and immediately went to the pool.

After a short time I could not bear the heat. This place was ridiculous.

I put my sandals and shorts and headed to the Mall of the Emirates.

Walking through the mall, once again I felt like I was home. Growing up a suburbanite youth in the 90s, malls were a somewhat integral part of my adolescence. I learned about sex and drugs from the dirty birthday cards and black light pot leaf posters at Spencer’s, about social and economic classes from Abercrombie, PacSun, and Macy’s, and about complementary marketing from the placement of high end and low end boutiques, and about the importance of location in real estate from the Orange Julius right by the exit. Most importantly, I had my first life lessons in how to talk to girls one doesn’t know from hanging out by the fountain and trying to look tough.

But this Mall was different. I was not so concerned with appearances, more with getting a sandwich and some snow.

A KFC mighty zinger did the trick for the former, and I paid my fare gladly for the latter.

My boots were buckled, my skis were in hand and I walked right up to the entrance gate.

“I’m sorry sir, you have to have pants.”

For a brief moment I panicked. Then I came to my senses. “I am wearing pants. Short pants.”

“You need a jacket too.”

“It’s what, minus one degree Celsius in there? Try ten below zero Fahrenheit in January in PA.”

“Fine. But I am not letting you in without long sleeves.”

I looked at this little Polynesian girl standing up to me, fully realizing she had conceded to only one article of clothing. What was she thinking? Me, a large, raucous, Yank crazy enough to go skiing in summer clothes. I growled. She scrunched her mouth sideways in defiance. She had mall security and I did not want to get into trouble in Dubai. “You suck,” I muttered under my breath, but was stoked I didn’t have to wear ski pants.

I tried to buy a long sleeve t-shirt in the gift shop, but there were none. I walked up to the equipment counter and grabbed a jacket with the look of defeat in my eyes.

Walking through the turnstile, with the red and blue jacket in hand, glaring at the diminutive lady manning the gate. “You’re killing the free spirit of the sport.”

“Whatever,” she retorted.

I held my tongue and rode up the escalator, noting that I’d never been on an escalator in ski boots, but that it beat the hell out of stairs in ski boots.

When I used to be a line cook, the best way to cool down during a lull in the weekend evening rush was the walk-in. After cleaning your tickets off the board, taking five minutes to find some more demi-glace was better than shotgunning a Red Bull.

Walking into the Ski Dubai arena was much the same. After thinking I’d missed my first ski season since ’88-89, I couldn’t’ve been happier to be on a slope, even though it was inside a mall.

I tied the jacket around my waist and started up on the lift.

“Safety bar! Safety bar, Sir!” the attendant called after me.

I had honestly just forgotten about in the midst of the excitement.

I could barely contain myself waiting for the poky quad chairlift to take me to to top. I was kicking my skis back and forth and squirming in my moving cage, thinking back to the last time I had been skiing, at the Las Vegas Ski Resort in March 2006. I had gone with a college buddy working at the Venetian who was teaching himself to snowboard. After a few runs with him, I decided to let him eat snow, and had gone off riding on my own, between coniferous trees and jumping off cliffs into untouched powder. I met up with some stoners and they toked in a hut made of branches and they showed me some serious glades.

Ski Dubai would be a little different for sure, but there’s that whole beggars/choosers thingy. The lift crept to the top and I glided off, taking a second at the crest o the slope to take in the experience.

Then it was down the hill.

I had forgotten cold.

Egypt was a bit chilly in January, Scotland was sweatshirt weather the previous August, and London damp and grey last April. Ski Dubai prides itself on being -1°, and as I rode down in my t-shirt and shorts the cool air and the adrenaline from speed gave me a rush. The slope turned once, was smooth and actually soft. With such precise temperature control there was not a bit of ice and I hockey stopped at the bottom and turned to get back on the lift.

“I’m going to have to ask you to put your jacket on, sir.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I am.”

“What is this? Sharia skiing?”

“Please. Just put on your jacket.”

“Next thing your gonna tell me this is a non-smoking facility.”

“It is non-smoking.”

I shook my head, and sat down in the chair.

“Please put the safety bar down, sir!” he called after me.

I skied non-stop for about two hours. The run was short, I mean, it was indoors. It eventually got cold, but it was only my fingers that I could not feel. Ironically, gloves were the one item of cold weather gear that Ski Dubai did not provide.

Capitalism can be a bitch.

On the various trips up the lift, I met various people:a guy from South Korea who was taking a break from a business trip; a young british fellow who had taught himself to snowboard on the indoor slope but had been to the alps once; a 12 year old girl skiing by herself who ahd never seen real snow and was very well spoke for her age, but not understand how I was comfortable not being all bundled up; a young professional from Abu Dhabi that was in IT who avoided my eyes; and an adorable redhead who could not have been more than 19 and surreptitiously tried to get me to go to a birthday party that night. I told her after living in Vegas, it wasn’t worth going to clubs anymore. I said I wanted a place where I could get a cold beer and meet some cool people.

She mentioned a little place called Rock Bottom.

Given the eternal summer I’ve lived for the past year, I had not only forgotten the cold, but I’d forgotten how much I loved it. To see one’s own breath is like visible proof of life. Part of the inherent beauty is that cold doesn’t really exist: it is simply the absence of heat. Though still, the deficiency of heat seems to make vacuous the air; as if the existence of warmth is only tangible and noticeable in its own dearth. My speed turned the stagnant, hollow air into bitter wind that clawed at my cheeks, and breathing it in was euphoric, ‘whooing’ as I passed the snowplowers and spraying snow with fast stops at the bottom of the slope.

At one point I was riding the lift on my own looking out at the TGI Fridays that jutted into the arena. I wondered if it had a bar, since in Dubai bars were only allowed at hotels. I thought how I had never been to a Friday’s without a bar. Then I thought about how I was in the middle of a desert, on a ski lift, freezing my fingertips off, pondering whether or not I would go to Friday’s, and that my attendance would ultimately depend on the extent of the remnants of Sharia Law. I cracked myself up for the rest of the ride, laughing like an idiot.

Just as my time was running out, the attendant said I couldn’t get on the lift cause I was wearing shorts.

“Dude. I’ve been skiing for two hours.”

“The security cameras just caught you, sir. It’s a liability issue.”

“Like if I skin my knee on the snow?”

“No, if you got sick because of the cold.”

“But it’s a not a liability for my fingers since you guys don’t provide gloves?”

“Uhh. . .”

“My time’s up anyway. Thanks.”

~

PJ O’Rourke said, “Skiing consists of wearing $3,000 worth of clothes and equipment and driving 200 miles in the snow in order to stand around at a bar and drink.” Indeed many people ski for the aprés; wearing vests or sweaters with reindeer and beanies indoors only for the night to end up much like the Dumb and Dumber dream sequence.

I was never one much for the aprés. I always liked to ski my face off to the point of utter exhaustion and pass out, saving the party for late night. But I do enjoy putting normal shoes on again. This, however, was the first time I took off ski boots and put on flip flops.

I briskly walked out of the arena, through the mall’s hotel and outside into the sweltering heat of the Middle East. My fingers tingled back to life as I basked in the fervency of the afternoon. To experience such extremes was so beautiful I nearly cried in elation, standing by the bell stand at how utterly awesome it all was.

Once I warmed up, I remembered I was a hotel, and I’d only skied two hours, so I decided I’d do a little aprés for once

I walked into the hotel bar and ordered a manhattan. Not too soon after I arrived did three folks walk in and sit at the three chairs lining the bar. One gentlemen was very involved with the attractive Asian lady, and the other guy sat sipping his beer silently.

I struck up a conversation with the taciturn fellow sitting next to me. JP was his name and he was a boat captain. A Brit by heritage, he was an army brat born in Germany, but had lived in Dubai for the past 28 years. He was silent, butonce I got him talking he had some stories.

We talked for a good couple hours, the guy at the end interrupting only to call me ‘Taff’ since he had gotten it in his head that I was Welsh.

“Does Taffy want another drink?”

“Eh, Taff, you look barely old enough to be here.”

I humoured him, as I was really enjoying speaking JP. We covered the standards of the random bar convo: life, love, travel, racism, prostitution, cheeseburgers, and champagne.

Among other things.

He called Dubai ‘The Unholy Babylon’ since it was smack dab in one of the most traditionally and socially conservative areas of the world, but was rife with commercialism, sex, booze, and drugs.

He motioned to a guy at the other end of the bar in the full get up, who was obviously dressed very muslim, but enjoying a beer. I was all, ‘good for him: not like Catholics follow all the rules,’ but JP pointed out that in many other places in the middle east he would not be allowed to do that at all and neither would we.

We talked about my skiing earlier and he told me Iran had skiing. I called shenanigans, but he maintained that it was even segregated. Women on one slope, men on the other. I’m still not sure if I believe the guy, but he did go on to say the water park in Dubai has a ladies’ nights where it’s closed to men.

“Now that’s something I’d like to see,” he chortled. JP went on to talk about how some women would often wear the most expensive designer clothes and most elaborate make up under their burqas.

Walking around the mall later, I saw a large group of women exiting a lingerie shop in full gear.

“Maybe the slutty muslims just wear lace and stuff under their burqas,” pondered the InMo.

I bought some underwear myself and a couple t-shirts since I had run out of clean clothes over a week ago. Finding a shirt that fit was tough as they were all European sizes, not meant for large American frames.

I grabbed a snack of 4 McNuggets, and an foot-long subway sub for later (that makes the Score (KFC II, Subway II, McD’s VI).

“Maybe that’s why you can’t find a shirt that fits.”

I punched the InMo in the jaw.

I took a taxi back to the hotel, did some writing, watched some TV and showered.

~

I arrived at Rock Bottom, walking in with a group of people the bouncer waved in without a cover charge. A live band hopped about the stage playing American pop songs. I was reminded very much of Macau, where I sang Baby One More Time with the Skywalker Lounge’s House band.

Thinking of The Girl, I held back the urge to attempt to get up on stage and sing, instead I staying with the crowd, leaning on the bar with one elbow, nodding my head to the music.

The guy standing next to me ordered a beer and offered his glass for a cheers. We drank in relative silence. After a few minutes, I said, “You wanna a shot?”

He shook his head, ‘no,’ but says, “I’ll buy you one.”

Perplexed, “Please. I offered.”

He smirked and said, “I’ll let you buy me one if I can buy you one.”

I shrugged in agreement and with motion of his hand there were four shots of sambuca on the bar. Then he paid for both rounds.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, my friend! We had a deal.” I motioned for two more from the bartender.

Ehab, as he shall be known, shrugged himself and knocked em back.

We did some introductions, the ol’ ‘where’re you from what’re you doing here’ routine. I commented how there were so few girls around this palce that was supposed to be a happening spot.

“Yeah. This place used to be packed all the time. I don’t know what happened,” offered Ehab in lax explanation.

“Some chick on the ski lift told me this was a cool place,” I said.

“I know a better place. You want to come along?”

It was at this precise moment I sized Ehab up. Did I trust him? Not really. Did he seem like a thug? Not really. Could I kick his ass if it was so needed? Sure. Could I win a fight against him and three of his friends? Perhaps. Did I really think this guy was anything other than someone who liked to party? No.

We climbed in a cab and Ehab told the driver where to go.

I have no idea where it was, or what it was called but, Ehab was not kidding. It was packed, people were dancing, there were beautiful girls everywhere.

Ehab got the cab, so I bought the first round. He knew the bartender, so complimentary tequila accompanied the brews.

We did a lap about the place, and a striking woman approached me. “You’re cute,” she said in a strong eastern European accent, sliding a hand from my shoulder across my chest.

And just then, the sambuca hit my cerebellum like a Jay Z Album. We chatted a little and she laughed at just about everything I said.

“Hang on a minute,” interrupted the InMo. “That wasn’t that funny.”

“Good point, InMo.”

She looked confused, “Who?”

“Never mind, love. So, uh,” I stumbled, “I don’t really know how to say this without sounding rude, but may I be so bold as to ask you a personal question?”

“Sure,” she replied, not phased at all.

“Um. Please don’t be offended. . .”

“Ok. . .

“. . .But how much?”

She smiled as if I had just told her she had nice dimples, but the muscles in her faced relaxed quickly. “800 dirhams.”

“Oh. Ok. that’s like, uh—”

“230 US Dollars.”

“Well. Um. Actually, I think I only have—”

“160 Euros.”

“Huh. You know, that’s a bit expensive—”

“You can think about it.”

Her dark irises consuming her pupils, she looked up into my eyes steadfast and unwavering as if she were trying to eat my soul through my corneas. Her hair hung loose about her chin and her lips parted as if she was going to say something, but then she turned away.

“Expert negotiator my ass. She ate you for breakfast.”

Shut up InMo. I wouldn’t’ve bought her at any price, so I was not gonna negotiate. Rationalizations aside, that was one astute courtesan who looked a lot better than Rainclouds.

I found Ehab again and met some of his friends and a few more members of the world’s oldest profession. To be honest, I don’t remember that many details of the evening. There was more beer, more tequila and women everywhere.

I do remember putting a three-quarters full beer down on the bar and saying goodbye to everyone. All the bars close in Dubai at 3am and it was well before that.

I have a hazy recollection of ducking into a cab, stumbling into my hotel, fiddling with the key in the elevator and collapsing into the king sized bed in my cool, AC pumped room.

Alone, thankfully.

As the room spun around me, I fell asleep realizing that between the pool, eating fast food, skiing, and meeting incredibly interesting people, that this had possibly been the single greatest day of 2007.

This place was indeed the Unholy Babylon.

And it was awesome.


Episode VI: Return of the Dubai

July 13, 2007

The first time around, I zipped through immigration.  This time, very early the morning of June 24th, I was standing for at least an hour.  Behind were two British girls trying very hard to get my attention.  I had to move really close to the lady in front of me to keep the one from brushing against me.

“I heard prostitution was all over here, but at the airport?” howled the InMo.

I eventually made it through, as cheerful as I could be.  No one is happy when traveling and it throws off the customs dudes to just let you in.  Not that I was hiding anything but I really wanted to sleep in a real bed.

I arrived late at the Metropolitan Palace, which was nice enough.  It was in a crappy area, but I had an air-conditioned king sized bed and rooftop pool at my disposal.

I slept late the next day.  Like midafternoon late.  I bummed about the room.  I watched movies on the TV.  I did some chnepring.  I went downstairs to get some food, but they were only serving drinks.  Huh.  Too bad.

1 manhattan, 2 purple death tootsie rolls, and an absinth later, I went upstairs to the pool.  I fell asleep until the sun was low in the hazy middle eastern afternoon.

Well, now I gotta take care of some business, i thought

My beloved Olympus of the past three years had died on me that day in Preveli.  That’s why there’s no pictures.  But it did happen.  I swear.

I went off to the City Centre mall and visited every electronics shop.  For about $190 bucks I found a great little camera with a gig xD card thrown in for free.

“I love this place,” cooed the InMo.

With my new camera bought, I had some time to kill.  I turned a corner and saw my answer.

“Excuse me.  Which movies are in English?”

“All of them sir.”

I scanned the posters behind the counter.

“What?  No Spidey?”

“Pardon me?”

I jumped to the wall next to me, kicked off with my right foot, spun around, made a fist but extended my index and pinky fingers with my palm facing up.

The theatre attendant blinked.

“I’ll take one for Ocean’s 13,” I sighed.

Attempting to walk into the theatre I was stopped.  The show was not starting for another half hour.

Out of the corner of my eye, a sight from years ago, an old friend whom I knew very well was standing there; right out of the blue.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I hadn’t seen him in years, and there he was stoic and lonely in a movie theatre in Dubai.

Area 51.

I popped in a Dirham and began blasting aliens.  Little Arab kids crowded around me with oohs and ahs, and young girls with braces fainted as I no-looked the helicopter on level two.

Actually, A51 was out of order.  Jurassic Park III and VirtuaCop were the only shooters.  I took my chances with J3.  Two credits into the first level, a big stegosaurus demanded two more credits.  I hung my head in shame and made my way to the theatre.

The move was a good distraction, but that was about it.  I suppose they coulda really thrown a spanner in the works if they failed or something, but there was no, ‘how’d they do that’ surprise like the the last two. It was more, ‘huh.  Brad Pitt is a bad ass.’

I’d barely spent any time outside in the sweaty Dubai weather, but even at night as I waited for a cab, it was frickin hot.

I walked back into the hotel and decided it was time to knock another country off The List.

The very first karaoke bar in in Dubai, remains to this day one of the only ones.  Keep in mind, I only know what I found out from teh intarwebs and with the help of the concierge.

It was in a hotel—as are all the bars in Dubai—he Hyatt Regency to be exact.

I’m sure I’ve stayed at a Hyatt Regency somewhere, but this one was pretty nice.

And I’ve sung Karaoke lots of places.  All over the States, London, Tokyo, Macau, and Nairobi, but, man, was there a good collection of singers at this little spot in Dubai.  I did a little Roger Miller’s King of the Road, Billy Joel’s You May Be Right, The Beatles’ Twist & Shout, and of course the ultimate classic, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart.

I made some friends who were flight attendants and had too much Johnnie Black.

I went to bed fairly early.

The next day, I had to go get some snow.


Crete, Day Three: Recovery and Departure

July 12, 2007

When I woke up my bed was sandy.

The snickers bar in my pocket was melted.

Mandy was was getting dressed. The morning sun poured onto my face and I must’ve groaned. She looked my way as she buckled up her belt and she caught my sore bloodshot eyes. She smiled, walked over, and dropped me a note with her email address and instructions to make sure all the other folks got it. She was surprisingly chipper, but I caught just a hint of sheepishness. I managed a grin and made a few jokes to put her at ease, but a little tension over the previous night still hung the air.

Calm down.

It was co-ed hostel.

I drank a lot of water, got a hair of the dog and tried not to forget the naked women. One by one they stopped by and said hello, most of them perfectly normal about the craziness that occurred. Tsloui stopped in for a little bit. I said good morning, we chatted, and with a see you later, she was gone.

I was catching up on some writing and ended up sitting and chatting with Zeta and Iris.

Iris and I decided it was time for breakfast.

But where shall we go? She answered, ‘Maccas,’ which was apparently the Aussie word for Mickey D’s.

Oh yeah.

That makes time number cinco for the trip.

Nuggets and a coke, and I was feeling better, Iris got a big mac. There’s something mystifyingly wonderful about watching a pretty girl eat an enormous sandwich. We got a to-go cheeseburger for Bogan, and returned to the hostel.

I had to be in Heraklion at 9PM for the ferry, but that meant I had the whole day. I pretty much just spent it lazing about and chatting with my new friends and the random people at the hostel. I met a new lady, Croussie, who was half Croatian, half Australian. A college student traveling for a semester, she had the air of a hippie, but the sensibility of a professional. I liked her right away. Bogan, Croussie, Iris, and Zeta and I all chilled out, shooting the shit, until Iris went off to Knossus, and that was the last I saw of her.

Croussie and I went to the Fort at Rethymnon and were apathetic at best. It was ungodly hot and there really wasn’t that much to see. Walking about, we talked about our families, where we had been in the world and where we would like to go. We got into discussion on whether or not animals are self-aware. I motioned that a dog’s internal monologue consisted of:

chase tail.
eat.
drink.
play.
poop.
chew on things.
make master happy.
chase tail.
play more.
eat more.
drink more.
poop more.
perhaps eat poop.

“Hey! Aside from that last one, all that kinda sounds like me!”

Shut up, InMo.

Croussie believed that animals were conscious beings citing dolphin’s communication abilities. I countered, saying that communication did not beget cognizance, but it was the strive for something more than survival that separated man from beast. I made a joke about how tasty dolphin is.

Croussie said she was a vegetarian.

Oops.

So that discussion moved forth into the nature of humanity and religious fanaticism.

And then to gyros. Yes, apparently there is such thing as a vegetarian Gyro.

Returning to the hostel I still had a few hours before I needed to leave. Zeta was hanging about and asked if I still had the car.

“I hope it’s still there,” I replied, only half joking.

“Let’s do a road trip or something,” offered Zeta.

“Let’s go to a beach,” added Croussie.

We changed, and set out to the car. It took me a moment to find the keys. It was still there. We set out east and found that the sandy beach or Rethymnon extended for miles and was just one big long beach.

The water was warm on the north coast, but still clear, the seabed rocky. We floated about and discussed movies until we went back to the beach to lay in the sun and talked about long distance relationships, and the jobs we’d had. Being that I was the old working stiff of the three of us I shied away from that conversation. What Am I supposed to tell these beautiful, young, free souls who’ve spent their youth unencumbered by employment? That I had my first job when I was 14? That I’d been working since then? And that in the past 11 years or so I’ve had some 15 jobs?

No.

I left it in silence.

For despite our relative age difference and lifestyles, we were equals for that day. Regardless of the similarities we had, we were so different: the hard-nosed, avaricious, corporate war-profiteer, the amateur photographer/professional traveler, and the college student who took some time off. But that afternoon, we were peers just enjoying the sun and clear water of Crete’s central north coast

When it was time to leave, I stood up slowly, packed my things into my bag. Before I picked up my bag, I stretched, grunted, and gazed out on the shimmering briny expanse that stretched to the horizon.

“I don’t want to leave,” I sighed out loud, as if to audibly counter my impending departure.

“So don’t,” stated Zeta with the seriousness of a surgeon.

I looked at her smile, and chuckled, turning to back towards land. Her nonchalance was cheerily enchanting. ‘I don’t want to not be on vacation anymore, so I am going to stay on vacation,’ was not something I had remotely considered as a viable option, but it was for Zeta. For a moment I envied her disenthrallment, begrudging her privileged freedom from the world I knew. To just go somewhere with no responsibility or motive or reason other than a mysterious inherent desire was something I knew not, but desperately wanted.

Climbing into the Clown Car, I remembered the shoook-click of the imprint machine at Motor Club Rental and the bill I’d have after this adventure. I remembered why I was not free to stay, but realized that I was also the one with car.

We got a little lost on the way back, but I managed to find my way expertly—if I do say so myself—to the hostel.

I got online, booked a hotel in Dubai, said my goodbyes to Zeta and Croussie, and on my way to the car bought a butterfly knife and a gyro.

You know; like you do. I’m actually gonna open a store called butterfly knives and gyros. The two go together like loud noise and hangovers.

The drive to Heraklion was a little more than an hour, through a curvy one lane road that was sooooo much fun to drive. Passing on turns was tough in the Clown Car, but I managed to get by without killing myself and still finishing my gyro.

Arriving in Heraklion, traffic was absurd. It was getting late. It was past 8:00 and I still had to return the automobile. I had no idea where I was.

“Just keep the water on the left,” said the InMo. “It’ll be cool.”

I pull up next to a chick with highlighted hair in a yellow car listening to loud Greek music.

“Excuse me,” I called over.

No reply.

I tooted the horn. She looked over.

“Is the port this way?”

She smiled and nodded and took off her sunglasses, looking right in my pupils.

“Thank you!” I smiled back and pulled forward a little bit to avoid any awkwardness.

But the traffic was slow.

The clock ticked past 8:15.

“It’s right around this corner. I know it; I recognize this area,’ assured the InMo.

It was not right around the corner.

8:30.

The little cars inched along and scooters leaned precariously between the living mass of tiny automobiles.

8:35.

Missing this ferry, would mean missing my flight to Istanbul and missing my flight to Dubai and perhaps even missing my flight to Kenya, and spending whole crapload of money I’d rather use on other things. The car had become a mess again and tried to pack up some crap while I sat in traffic

About 8:40, I turned a corner and saw the massive ferries hazy in the distance. I was back.

I triple parked and began to stuff things in my bag.

As I’m gathering my things and sweating, I hear friendly voice.

“You had a good time?”

“Matthew! It was spectacular,” I stopped packing and shook his hand. “I went everywhere you circled on the map and it was the perfect trip. I got lost a little, but it was just that: perfect. Thanks for everything.”

“I’m glad you had good time.”

“Yeah. And I went skinny dipping with four girls last night.”

“Heeeey! Now that’s a good time.”

“You know it bro. I can’t thanks you enough, but I gotta make this boat.”

“You have plenty of time.”

“Better safe than sorry, right! Until next time.”

I gathered my things, started walking at a rapid pace and waved without looking back.

I lifted my eyes to the red and white behemoth that’d be my home for the next 10 hours or so. People were still loading, I would make it.

Or at least I thought I would.

Just then, as swirls of doubt began to dissolve into my thoughts precipitating crystals of distress, my little blue Clown Car showed appeared on my left.

“How could I let you walk? Get in,” commanded a beaming, bearded Matthew.

I smiled and shook my head. What a shining example of humanity this guy was.

I threw my things in the back seat and climbed in shotgun.

“I am so glad you had a good time here in Crete.”

“Dude, I am not done with this place by a long shot. I really like it here. Are you from here originally?”

“Yes. I was born here. I love it here. The only problem is nothing fucking works!”

I laughed a sincere laugh, “It’s even worse in Africa.”

“I can only imagine.”

We pulled right up to the gate. It was 8:45.

I shook his hand vigorously.

“You come back and see me, OK?”

“I will, Matthew,” I lied, stone-faced but smiling. “Look me up if you’re ever in Sudan.”

“We shall see,” he lied right back.

Walking into the port, I stuffed the butterfly knife in my duffel bag. I got on the boat with no security check, but I didn’t want to lose my new purchase.

The check in was packed at the front desk so I went straight to the bar. An Amstel later and the line was still long, but this time I decided to wait. Once I got in my room, I plugged in and started typing, finishing the last dozen or so posts you’ve read. I began to doze off, my hands on the keyboard, with a bittersweet, melancholy understanding that my time in Crete and Greece as a whole was finished.

I would be back at work in less than a week.

But first I had a few days in Dubai.


Crete, Day Two, Part Two: The Hitchhikers

July 5, 2007

“I. . .I don’t know where I’m going.”

“Do you want to go to Rethymnon?” asked one.

“It’s really cool,” chimed in the other.

I really had nothing planned other than getting a beer at the next tavern I saw and figuring out where to go from there. I looked at the gleaming smiles at my window and then back at my car.

It was a mess.

It was full of empty bottles and socks and cables and iPods and camera batteries and various stringed instruments .

I hesitated.

These girls were in a tight spot: Rethymnon was nearly an hour away by car. It could also ruin my day. I looked forward, then back at them. Then again. . .

“Fuck it,” I said unbuckling my belt. “I got nothing better to do. Lemme clean out the car.”

“Yay!” was their combined response

They happily climbed in. We started chatting immediately.

“So what are you doing in Greece” they asked.

“Well, Iwas just in seeing my girlfriend in Munich, and Turkey before that. She couldn’t come along to Greece, but I had the tickets and everything, so here I am.”

I was happy to talk to anyone after the solo roadtrip, but these chicks were actually very cool. Zeta, from New Zealand, had dark, shiny hair and piercing black eyes to match. She said she was a professional traveler. Iris, had self proclaimed (and rightly so) great legs, a pierced septum and eyes like mosaics. She was from Tasmania, but had been teaching English in Spain for a few months and had traveled all over Europe. They had met in Santorini a week ago and had met up in Crete somewhat by chance a few days apart.

It seemed, however, that they had been lifetime friends.

I joked about how they were my first hitchhikers ever and I would appreciate it if they didn’t chop me up into little pieces. and put be in a bag. They laughed, and retorted that they would prefer if I didn’t rape them. Such salacious and distasteful humour served to dissolve the delicacy of the situation. Once we established that we were not killers and rapists, but just some young attractive itinerants, we pretty much talked the whole hour or so back, getting along like TCP/IP and DHCP.

The girls were sunbathing getting free drinks from a bartender at one of the little huts. that sat at the foot of the cliff. I had left my wallet in the car so I did not venture into the bars and did not even see these ladies down at the beach. They had a bus back at 5:30 PM but had missed it. The Bartender had offered them a ride home, but apparently creeped them out, so they got out of his car. Then they got in a car with a family, that took them to the top of the hill where I picked them up.

“What? I’m not that creepy?” I joked to Iris through the rearview mirror.

“No, When you said you didn’t know where you were going, that was the perfect answer,” she replied.

“Mentioning your girlfriend was a plus,” confided Zeta

“My cunning plan is all going accordingly,” hissed the InMo while he twiddled his moustache.

“You’ve really made yourself at home in this car, huh?” quipped Iris looking about at the relative mess that still remained.

There was never a lull in the conversation. I dodged about the topic of work, because I knew that’d just take over the dialogue, but it did come up. So I told them I live in Africa.

Very excited at the topic of Sudan, Iris spoke of her experiences teaching Sudanese refugees in Tasmania, how so many needed to know the basics of surviving a winter and requiring some the basic necessities of life, detailing the involvement as one of the most fulfilling exploits of her adult life. I tried to come up with something equally as moving, but instead blurted out, “I’m just doing it for the money.”

Half anticipating a scoff in disgust, the girls just laughed and we continued chatting.

We arrived in Rethymnon with no idea where to go, but through my innate sense of direction and a little help from the ladies I led us directly to the neighborhood of the hostel. Zeta and Iris asked me to come stay at the hostel, saying it was full of great people.

I wasn’t sure.

Wasn’t there more that I wanted to do?

Nope.

I parked the car on the sidewalk and walked with them. I realized about halfway to the hostel that I’d left my wallet in the car and and I still was not wearing shoes. I found five Euro randomly in my pocket and bought some sandals for €4.90 at Zeta’s recommendation.

Iris bought me a gyro as thanks and they promised me beer. I tried to refuse their hospitality, but it was impossible. I think they were just so happy that they managed to get back to their temporary home safe and sound. We had some beers, I checked in and moved the car, only to return to a few more people hanging out. Bogan was American born and Australian raised, had a Vincent Chase haircut, and came to the hostel some time back and never left. He was working there in the mornings and spending his afternoon at the beach. Tsloui showed up and we immediately hit it off cause she was a born and raised Yank. She had big greenish eyes, curly hair and had just graduated from a prestigious college in Virginia. She was on her post-graduation-Europe-backpacking-adventure. Later on that evening, we were joined by Mandy, an Australian traveler with a movie-star smile and meticulously tied back, deep blonde hair.

In retrospect, it was quite amazing. The six of us strangers in a strange place joined by the common bond of adventure and—if may say so—being incredibly cool. Besides the fact that we were all essentially lone wanderers, I don’t know if we really had all that much in common. The group of us together formed something greater than our inconsequential differences for the few hours we chatted from dusk into the night. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was the premature trust between Iris, Zeta, and I from sharing a road trip. I don’t quite know what it was, but that evening we had a bond that made us all inseparable; it was as if we were all as close as friends could get. We covered in great detail many aspects of wandering, traveling, sex, music, family, life, love, happiness, sex, cultural differences, international vocabulary, and we laughed and laughed and laughed.

We closed the hostel and decided to go to the beach since we were apparently being too noisy. On the way we stopped at a kiosk and got some beers and a snickers bar or two. Bogan and I chatted up a few girls we met there. Zeta and Iris had said that Bogan was a drinker. I took it upon myself to represent America, just to prove we weren’t a bunch of sissies who picked on Islamic nations, but rather a bunch of sissies who can drink and pick on nations whose armies we used to fund.

I bought some beer, he bought some beer.

“I got five,” I announced.

“I got four,” he countered. “Is that gonna be enough?”

I dug in my bathing suit pocket and turned around. “Now I got nine. It’s on.”

Beers in bags, Zeta, Iris, Tsloui, Mandy, Bogan and I arrived at a sandy beach, found some chairs and just chilled. The Australians made fun of New Zealanders for being Sheep shaggers. Everyone made fun of the Americans.

People laughed.

Amstels cracked.

Waves crashed.

Wisps of clouds moved across the star-pierced sky.

Bogan tackled an light post to the ground that was just a little too bright.

Our circle of lounge chairs was like our new found friendship: it was haphazard, ephemeral and impromptu, but it served its purpose well for the time being. For that moment, it didn’t matter who were were or where we were from unless someone was taking the piss. We were bound by the common effects of solo wayfaring and for one night we were allowed to forget that we were alone.

Rather suddenly, one of the girls decided it was time for a night swim. Off went shirts, off went shorts, off went tops, off went bottoms and we were all running naked to were the water enclasped the land in frequent lashes.

It was beautiful.

The moment itself was.

Well, at least in retrospect. At the time it was definitely, ‘holy crap there are hot naked chicks everywhere!’ but looking back it was the ambiance of freedom, blithe, and youthful indifference to prurience that made everything so captivating, thoroughgoing, and exceptional.

Yeah.

Blithe and stuff.

The water was warmer than the air above it and we lingered among the waves for some time, though I cannot recall entirely what all was discussed. We slowly made our way back to the beach chairs and donned the fabric that separates us from the other animals and shields us from the weather. We shivered in the cool night air, shooting the shit and sharing stories. We only lingered as a group a little afterward, drinking beer and telling jokes until Iris and Mandy decided to call it a night.

After such an event, it seemed we all knew tomorrow would not be the same between us, that nothing ever could be; we’d had that instant where different worlds collided and so many individuals had a short consequence of juvenescence and exuberance; such contentment that can only occur in bursts of spontaneity and cannot be replicated.

Zeta, Bogan, Tsloui, and myself remained deep into the morning, Zeta and Tsloui curled up in their respective chairs, Bogan and I smoking cigarettes, all of us enjoying what was left of the evening.

We left the beach and wandered back to the hostel, but stopped to get sandwiches. I felt like I was back in college. I said goodnight to them all, fell into my bottom bunk with my arms folded behind my head and studied the boards supporting the mattress.

When we arrived in Rethymnon earlier that day, Zeta and Iris made it explicitly clear that I had saved them when I picked them up; if not from creepy Greek guys, but from ruining what was otherwise a spectacular day.

They said I was their night in shining armor.

At the time I shrugged it off as nothing saying, “actually, I was more like a night in tiny Honda.”

Still, in the stupor of the gloaming, I told them both, that in fact, the rescue was mutual.


Crete, Day Two, Part One: Preveli

July 2, 2007

Matala was a nice little town full of bars and restaurants. I had a gyro, a lemon fanta and called it a night. I was exhausted from the ferry.

 

I woke up the next morning and played my bizouki for people at a hotel. They were Swiss, and they got a kick out of it.

 

 

 

Talking to one of them, I was debating whether or not I would stay in Matala another day. The problem with being a nomad is that one wants too much; to do it all, see it all, live it all, and get the picture, maybe a t-shirt. I said I wanted to go to a beautiful beach. This Swiss lady said about two hours away was Preveli.

 

 

I immediately recognized the name as one of the postcards I saw, and it was even circled by the eternally awesome Matthew whose awesomeness, unbeknownst to me, was not yet fully actualized.I ended up at a couple other beaches first, Agia Galini, where I bought some modern art and a gyro. Then it was off to Agios Pavlos where I did some climbing, went for a swim and got a beer.

 

 

Preveli was little a tough since it was off the beaten path. It was a little further than two hours from Matala and there were no signs for the beach, only for the monastery near by.

The drive to the area wound through a dwarfing gorge that opened up on the familiar shrub dotted hills.

 

Through winding curves, I came to the crest of a hill and found a parking lot.It was about a 20 minute hike down, and about halfway through my left sandal broke completely. I hobbled the remainder of the way.

 

Luckily, it was all worth it.

 

Matala was starkly beautiful, sure, but Preveli was lushly beautiful.

Situated on an estuary, the beach was warm, dark, granular sand.

 

A green river bordered by greener palms flowed to the middle but took a sharp turn to allow for a waning strip of sand to function as a beach. High cliffs framed the entire area as if were a miniature Wai Pi’o Valley.

 

 

 

 

Hippies rented paddle boats for the river and a little church sat nestled behind short trees on a little hill above the river. In fact, I think I saw more skiny dudes with dreads in Crete in three days than I did in four years in Ithaca.

 

 

Actually, no. That’s a lie and an impossibility.

 

 

The ocean was calm, clear, invigoratingly cool, and got very deep very fast.

It was so beautiful, but it was difficult to take pictures without feeling like a pervert with all the half naked women. And no, Art-History, I did not take any pictures of them. The black cliffs jutting into the blue sky above the green of the river and it’s surrounding foliage was beautiful enough.

 

 

Even so, there was a family with a daughter next to me and she kept shooting me glances and smirking at me.

 

I smiled back, but I had no idea how old she was.

 

“Dude. Don’t even think about it.”

 

Thanks InMo, for once you’re a voice of reason, rather than a haughty womanizing drunk.

 

“Please. Currency wasn’t the only thing standardized by the EU: age of consent.”

 

Cripes. You are an asshole.

 

Heeding the InMo, I swam, climbed some rocks, and lay in the sand lamenting how I was to get back up the to my car with one sandal. At around 6:00, the sun had nearly dipped below the top of the cliff by the time I decided to leave.

 

The hike up was not pleasant, but the walk across the parking lot was even worse.

 

I was following a silver car out of the parking lot when it stopped at the top of the hill and two of its passengers got out.

 

Two smiling young ladies in tank tops and sunglasses walked up to the window and waved at me.

 

I pressed the down window button.

 

“Hi,” they nearly harmonized with slight southern hemisphere accents. “Where are you going?”