Johanna 's Travel Blog

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August 06, 01:36 PM
Athens greece

The city sparkled in a light my parents did not experience while here in  the 1970s. Our hotel is bathed in opulence,hosting Winston Churchill and other more contemporary celebrities whose name we cannot disclose because of our failed pop-culture knowledge. 

We toured the acropolis in the noon sun which had the advantage of detouring other tourists and we moved quickly in the heat (2 hours)with our knowledgable guide. By fancy mini bus we traveled to the highest peak in the city (300metes) and then explored more on foot with a self guided tour: first to the palace gardens, then the olympic stadium, temple of Zeus and the agora.  We had a traditional but terrible lunch on the first day of souvlaki which was redeemed by the tasty food at a cute vegetarian place called Avocado the following day.

More always needs to be said of food and accordingly, Noah has been documenting every dish we eat. He will hopefully post the pictures soon on a blog or to a select group on facebook with the proposed album name of “your food is good but mine in feta”. The breakfasts at the Grande Bretagne are not to be beat which poses an interesting contrast to the typical morning meal for most Greeks of coffee and sesame pastry/pretzel.  The diet in the country has shifted from a large hot lunch meal around 2pm and dinner around 10pm to accommodate the patterns of office workers who now have a smaller meal or sandwich around 2 and the main meal of the day closer to 7 after work, followed by a late night snack before bed around 1am.  Our tour guide offered that parents are now encouraging kids to eat breakfast. 

On a related note, there has been some discussion of the changing climate here. A shorter and more intense rainy seasons as well as numerous comments about the “changing winds.”

Tomorrow we leave the lux lifestyle and head to Napflion which we hope to enjoy as a quietly beautiful place, with ruins and historic politicsl power, and stay at a pension for more a more modest steam room free experience of independent travel.

January 15, 02:47 PM

Three cities in three days is not enough! We got to Athens around 2 pm and after spending an hour in the bookstore at the airport, we decided on a route to get us back toward Istanbul in order to make our return flight on the 14th. It was an ambitious itinerary. We had about 4 hours in Athens, a city where I would love to return. We took the tram from the airport in the wrong direction and were lost in the suburbs for a while. A very attractive man named Francisco told us about Greece and how wonderful it was that we were heading north to the more ‘naturally beautiful’ parts of the country. With his lisp it was hard to decipher that he was suggesting we go to Thesoliniki. That was exactly where we had planned, only we thought it was pronounced like it’s spelled. He gave me his business card with a color photo of himself.

Finally in Athens, we saw the parthenon illuminated from outside the gates (James for some reason thought it was open until 8 when in fact it closes at 3pm) and explored the back streets of a rally neat cafe-clusterd area (Plaka) with book shops a plenty. We found a great bookstore that James had located years ago, and bought a book about Greece (Lonely Planet’s colored ‘highlights’ guide) and I picked up a fantastic collection of stories called “The Boat”. I had been caring around two books I read and wanted to sell back/trade in but there is very little market for used English books—even best sellers. We also located a divine vegetarian restaurant called Cafe Bliss. I highly recommend it.

At around midnight we boarded a train to Thesoliniki, a very large city in the northeast. The train was uncomfortable and there looked to be shady characters. I stayed up all night clutching our bags. James slept, the lucky dog.

When we got off the train we walked in exactly the wrong direction for about 5k. When we stumbled in the right direction, I was extremely grateful to be at our cute hotel. With a double bed! Again we did laundry this time at the rate of 3Euros per kilo and then wandered around the city to the white tower and an exquisite church with lots of metal work. We went to a great lunch at Kitchen Bar, a converted industrial space on the water. We also saw a photography exhibit with very Wesleyan descriptions of the work.

The cafe culture in Greece is incredible—people seem to sit in cafes and drink coffee (given with a plate of free cookies) for hours. During the entire day and night, cafes were buzzing. I wonder how and when people do work, it was such a social environment. We soaked up the atmosphere in a few places before we had to leave for Alexandropoli, the next stop on our way back.

Another round-about train ride and we were there. A port city with a nice boardwalk area on the Mediterranean. It took us far to long to find this cute strip and per our usual style, we walked along a highway for a long, long time before realizing we were no where close to our target. We finally found a fish place to grab dinner and it wasn’t until the next morning that we discovered the cute parts of the city (a wonderful cafe called Alter Ego captivated us a for a few hours). We had to track down a travel agency in order to book the bus to Turkey and once we got the ticket, we had to call the bus driver to schedule the pick up. I would have liked to see more of that town too.

In Greece the toilets had seats, paper was free and we could drink the water. All lovely improvements on our previous environments. We learned that on average, a Greek eats 25 kilos of cheese each year! That seemed untenable until we saw the portions of cheese in salads! I was very happy to be in a place with good coffee (expresso machines at every turn) and went into a coffee coma after being deprived for about 3 weeks.

We caught our bus back to Istanbul (with some difficulty locating it (it was supposed to be at, near or on the lighthouse)) and 6 hours later, were back in a city we recognized. We ate at a great Indian place in the Sultanamet area and then bought two handmade carpets! Colorful masterpieces.

We slept comfortably for a few hours and then enjoyed a lavish Turkish breakfast (oh how I had missed those!) in order to go to the Spice Market to buy gifts before our flight. We picked up every imaginable souvenir—Turkish tea set, spice grinders, hand painted bowls etc. and then rushed to our flight!

Wow, the time went by so quickly! Neither of use were ready to leave when we boarded the plane yesterday. It was a very interesting at times challenging, but overall great trip.

January 15, 02:45 PM

Next stop was down the Nile to Aswan. We took an overnight train, as I mentioned, with the greatly inflated American Prices. We knew this to the be case because we had to pay $60 USD each. However, we did not have cash on hand and so we had to cut a serpentine route to an ATM. It is really difficult to describe ‘cash machine’ to Egyptians. Our attempts include:

Machine that gives you money
Like a bank, but smaller
Automatic bank
Fast cash (miming inserting a card)

We saw a group of about 100 young men (I guess around 14 years old) sitting crossed legged with hands on heads waiting. For a bus to their school? A military thing? No clue.

Back at the station, we realized that there were several lines (more like clumps) for purchasing tickets. Women in one, aggressive men pushing toward the counter in the next and a few confused looking foreigners getting elbowed in the ribs. Several people came up to us, claiming to be ‘official employees of the train station’ and offered train information. It is really hard to discern between tout, employee and friend since uniforms are never worn. The people behind the counter do not seem any more professional than those on our side, smoking, spitting and pushing.

We got the tickets, picked up our bags and waited as trains passed us by that were missing windows, lights and seats, with people hanging out of the doorways. Ours came (about a half hour late) and once aboard, we could relax in our seat-beds.

These trains were far nicer than the overnight ones we took in Greece. At least the lights dimmed and our compartment locked. In Greece, we took a circuitous train (from Athens) and had to sit/sleep on our bags to protect them.

In Aswan, we walked down the main boulevard (stalls with trinkets for sale, 1000 year old papyrus and the like) to find that the hostel we had read about in Lonely Planet was booked. James loves it when this happens. I could throw a fit and pull out my hair. We then had to retrace our steps to another hostel (‘about 2km away’—that by the way, is the default answer James gives me any time I ask how far.) This one was shabbier. They did do our laundry for 1.5 Egyptian pounds per piece (that means individual socks!!) and while I wanted to collapse into our twin bed with coarse sheets, we decided to instead explore the Elephantine Island. It housed some old civilization or temple. Ask James.

We took the local ferry across after much arguing with the 10yr old manning the payment station (nothing more than a used metal desk with peeling blue paint and a metal box without a latch for coins) and paid 5 for the fare to and from the island. The Egyptians, of course, did not pay.
During this entire process, we refused countless offers for felucca rides and avoided the scrupulous looks of other white people boarding their ferry-cruses.

On the island, we walked through the barn yards of a poor village. Mudbrick and animals all over, we made our way down the ‘local’ sand path. It took a while. At the ruins, we paid to enter and saw the 1st settlement in Aswan. James took about 300 pictures.

We had read about a great vantage point to see the sun set. So we walked about 5km up a hill with cars coming at us and motorcycles swerving inches from our feet (again the whistling men) to go to the Neubian House Restaurant on top of a hill. The path was windy and the sun had nearly set before we made it up. James was happy to see the 1st cataract and I was appalled at the guy listening to me go to the bathroom only to ask me for money for the toilet paper I used when I emerged from the stall. The food was good but took over an hour. I was freezing at that point.

The next day we took another train to Luxor, a more luxe city. Many more hotels and a distinct west and east side. We opted to stay on the west for our 1st night, closer to the tombs but away from shopping and civilization. We had to take a ferry across the river and then a microbus/pick-up truck to the middle of nowhere on the island (the kid driving had no idea where the hostel we wanted was) and were dropped off in front of a man with a rifle. He had about 8 kids watching us closely. I wish I had more energy for niceties (it was good to see the little girls with school books in hand) but I was eager to get to where we were going and out of the dark, isolated streets.

The gun man called us a cab/his friend/brother and for a reasonable price (5 Egyptian pounds) we were brought to the hostel we had selected. Again James was happy to hear it was full. I was cold and less happy. We walked in a sand storm to another hostel and I tried to negotiate the price down for the ‘last room’ available. That was a lie. There were like 5 people staying there and in the end we paid at least twice what we should. At least they had beer. I bought one (it was way too expensive…) and we walked in the dark night down a non existent road to find food. The food was the highlight of the day for me. it was a very filling home cooked meal with the local speciality of clay pot food (called tangine). Lots of vegetables. We played backgammon (James won) while i got eaten by mosquitoes.

The next morning the sun was blinding and we walked down a highway to see some temples. The ticket office refused my student ID because it did not have a date on it (that in my view that’s its magic! It has been 5 years since Columbia issued it to me and I have used it for discounts ever since) and so I had to pay the full tourist price and all in all, to see the temple remains and tombs, we were about 120 Egyptian pounds in the hole.

The etchings and paintings were great. The desert acts as a wonderful incubator. Many of the colors were still visible. Of course we were approached and harassed by taxi driver after taxi driver and touts wanting to show us the insides of the self-explaintory tombs and tell us information that signs already posted for tips. We refused of course.

Later that day I convinced James that we should go to the east side (where we might find more food options, museums and things to do). We took the ferry back over and walked to a cheaper hostel (only $10 for the night! and this time with a banana included in breakfast). We walked all the way (like 5km) up to an incredible temple complex (Karnak) with tour busses whizzing by. There was a cute sign on the road with an x through a trumpet which could only mean that horns were forbidden. That did not stop a single car, horses carriage or bus from honking. There were a lot of people there, tourists of al stripes. So we slipped into the part that was still being excavated. It was an incredible site.

We then walked along the hot road back to the Luxor Museum. Finally a museum with descriptions! They had a modest but well preserved collection (the Lonely Planet had told us it was ‘worth a peek’ which is hard to do with ticket prices at about $15 US…) and then back to town, for a really good meal at a place called Sofra.

Late that night we flew to Cairo where we had scheduled a flight out to Athens the following morning. For the interim of 7 hours, we stayed at an airport hotel. We were told that there were just 4 or 5 start hotels near the airport, and not wanting to take a bus to the city and deal with the chaos in the middle of the night, we opted for the cheaper of the two hotel options, still 116 euros. It was the first place we had been with a bathtub and a double bed. I slept comfortably for the first time in about 2 weeks. James balked at the prices (I felt bad) but it was great to have hot water and clean sheets.

January 08, 10:12 AM
Cairo, Egypt

Our first stop was Cairo—we began by dodging cars, weaving between 6 lanes of oncoming traffic without stop. We wondered around streets with only Arabic names and when we finally found our hostel, were told that they had already rented our room. However, the manager had a cousin or brother or friend who also owned a hostel ‘just down the street’ where we could stay the night. We followed the manager’s cousin or brother or friend to this second place, again dodging cars, motorcycles and hooka smokers to find this other place and lo and behold there were a ton of mosquitos (in the winter!) twin beds (this has been a trend for all of the places we’ve stayed in Egypt) and the kind of shower that isn’t more than a hose and a drain on the floor.

We spent our first day (after a meager breakfast of stale bread, jam and butter packages that appeared to be pillaged from an airline and terribly strong tea) getting to the pyramids of Giza which entailed kilometers of walking, jumping mini busses, the metro system (the only cleanish public place in the city, and with women only cars) and avoiding touts in cars, on camels and pursuing us on foot.

The pyramids were immense (100 stories high!) but what I was most startled by was the fact that these historic giants are in a suburb! Sand, rocks and blazing sun with houses, businesses and a university within sight. I liked the sphinx best. We proudly report that we did not engage any of tireless touts and were only overcharged about 100% with the tourist/white person tax.

Later that day, starving, we found a local fast food chain that had flat falafels! A very strange, puck-like entity. No humus ( the babaganoush was sub par) and well, not the delicious street food I had enjoyed in Israel. Days later in Aswan (southern Egypt, far down the Nile) we would finally find tasty falafel sandwiches for about $1. We then attempted to explore the old city which led to inevitable confusion, pushing through crowds of peddlers and solicitors.

Some observations: There are so many men on the streets! And they won’t leave me alone!! The marketplace seems dominated by men, most commercial activity we can see for that matter, and we hear the same lines over and over:

Where you from? America/British/Austrailia/I love America
I love you!
Buy this, good price
Egyptian price for you
Do you know the price of ____?
Just look, 2 minutes
Come back later, promise look then
You lucky guy
No hassle!

It is exhausting deflecting these questions and the feeling target by my clothing (even when dressed in long skirts and long sleeves). I flirted with the idea of wearing a head scarf and generally concluded that I would wear one in a mosque or when situationally appropriate, not on a daily basis. It would be like playing into their fantasies, rather than representing my own. Even worse is the honking and swerving of motorcycles. It really makes me feel vulnerable, especially when James is walking behind me (better when he is in front ) or not close by. I remember the luxury (albeit sheltered) of being in a group when I was in Egypt before. James and I have no interest in that way of traveling (for the obvious reasons: expensive, less authentic etc) but it felt much more protected.

We found a fantastic place to eat called L’Ambergine on the island in the middle of Cairo’s Nile. The island, Zamalek , is for me an oasis of clam—well, relatively so, less yelling, signs in English, European culture. It felt like such a reprieve to leave the chaos of Cairo (which James loves) and eat compexly flavored, well prepared food. And oh, have alcohol. Very expensive, highly regulated, and hard to come by in most places

Our second day consisted of the Egyptian Museum, which we unfortunately did not time well and could only stay at for a few hours (it was Wednesday, you see). James would have preferred a few weeks, Amazing collection, I wish that some of it had dates or explanations. It was really hard to appreciate all of the splendor out of historical context.

More exploration of the bazarre this time in the Islamic center. We wandered for hours over cobble stones turn dirt roads, and behind houses with communal dumps swarming with cats. Wherever we went, the 5 daily prayer calls megaphoned around the city. It is interesting that mosques of all shapes and sizes seem to comprise about 70% of enclosed spaces and we’ve only seen men praying there.

On a differently religious note,we were outside the Coptic Church the day before their Christmas (Jan 6th). The church was beautiful and that part of the city relatively slow-paced. I’ve also taken to humming Hebrew songs to myself (indecipherable by anyone i think) and that helps calm me.

Later, with much begging on my part, we returned to the Island to have a wonderful lunch (home made pasta!! some of the best food I’ve eaten thus far) and got ready for our overnight train to Aswan. More on the south of the Nile soon!

December 29, 01:32 PM
Goreme, Turkey

We took an overnight bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia (Kapadokya) by way of two little jumper buses. The larger bus had TV screens in front of each chair where the mesmerizing turkish channels included a soap opera, cartoon network of sorts and my personal favorite which was a live feed from a camera at the front of the bus. A few hours in the screens and all overhead lights shut off and I was a able to catch some shut eye (aided greatly by sleeping pills). We observed that women were always assigned seats next to other women. The bus assistant also filled our cups with instant tea, coffee and soda for the children twice. James and I gobbled some sandwiches we made the day before.

We arrived in Nevsehir around 9am and with some Turkish help arrived at our hotel in Goreme shortly thereafter. Goreme is a tiny town (triangularly oriented with tourist shops and scatted restaurants on two sides and a bus depot and travel agencies and ATMs on the third), surrounded by bizarre rock formations, like endless phallic treehouses and human-sized termite mounds. James described it as ‘other worldly Cappadocia, land of ant-farm cities and monkish cave paintings.’

We are staying at an absolutely beautiful hotel called Kelebek Special Cave Hotel , with a bountiful breakfast and ornately stark cave and stone rooms. 80 euros a night buys such luxury! Thank you Norah for the suggestion! Sadly we will be leaving tomorrow too early to take advantage of the hamam though I’m really excited to try a Turkish massage.

Somewhat exhausted but exhilarated to be in the sunshine and surrounding by breath-taking volcanic rock formations, we set off (by foot) to the open air museums in the hills. It was astounding to see such detailed paintings from the 10th and 11th centuries in structures build in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. See photos.

We also wondered to El Nazar Church. The very kind site attendant welcomed us into his office for tea and after some brief negotiating, gave us a reduced rate and embellished descriptions in which he compared me to an angel and pointed James toward the jail cell to spend the night.

Our negotiation went something like this:

Kindly Attendant: Hello, Hello
Johanna: That's a scary dog.
KA: You want see church?
James: The door was looked when we tried.
KA: Aha! Have key, come come. 
Johanna: Ok!
James: How much money?
KA: 8 TL each person, you 8, you 8.
Johanna looking at James: Er, thank you, but too much money.
KA: OK, ok, for you 8 for both.
James: Yes, 8.
Johanna: (handing him the money) Thank you. 
KA: We go now.
James: Can we take pictures?
KA: Normally, no.  Well, okay.  You argue well.
KA: Tomorrow you come back. We go to secret cave. Only you. 
James: We are leaving tomorrow, sorry, another time.
KA: Free tour, only you.
Johanna: That scary dog is barking at me.

We walked back munching on pocketed breakfast cookies and dried apricots.

Finally we checked into our room and took showers and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours until we were awoken by the call to prayer at 6:30. Then we tramped back down the hill bundled up in our coats, hats and gloves (I almost regretted the decision not to bring the comedicly large and fuzzy polar bear hat James got me for Christmas) and found a nice pide place (part calzone, part flat bread with toppings) and had a filling meal which included free tea in the lovely tulip shaped glasses.

Now back the the cave hotel, we are reading and writing by a fire in the common area and might attempted to start one in our room with the kindling.

Side note about the history of the tulip: the shape is like that of a curved blade and the almond.

December 28, 10:17 AM

Despite of my better intentions, I woke up at 6am again today. Yesterday was extraordinarily full and today I’m adding to the list! Tonight we take an overnight bus to Cappadocia. Here’s a run down of what we saw yesterday and today (for more details check out James’s post):

1. Grand Bazaar-teeming with tourists and aggressive efforts to get us to ‘spend money here.’

2. Spice Market-a local might be more inclined to to enter, the array of spices were beautiful and “hand painted” tiles looked less mass produced. Just outside, a labyrinth of streets containing nooks of tires, belt buckles, cups and saucers.

3. Blue Mosque-beautiful tile work, built in 1616, we all took off shoes to enter, much appreciated reverence.

4. Bisilica Cistern-my personal favorite of the “must-see”’s, built in 532 and still enduring structurally, 2 of the columns had carved medusa heads (one inverted and one one its side), echoing and luminous.

5. Hagia Sophia-enormous! I thought the price (20TYL) was a bit steep, it was a great perspective to look down from the top balcony, when James was wearing my glasses he appreciated it too (less so without haha).

6. Topkapi Palace and Harem-well preserved, expansive (again with the expensive—palace was 20 and harem was 15) the spoils of war room was exquisite with precious stones galore.

We seemed to arrive at many of these great sites in concert with huge groups of 5th graders. What I enjoyed the most about today was when we explored the Asian side. So many fun bookstores, very interesting and cosmopolitan shops and endless markets. It was wonderful not to hear any English, German or Greek—just Turkish! We ate at a great place (per kilo) Ciya Sofrasi recommended by friends and loved the puffed bread and combination of vegetarian flavors. I would highly recommend it.

Note: American stick out with their full body Northface. Families can be identified by the tell tale lines spoken by the mother or father “you better appreciate this, it’s a once in a life time opportunity” and the kid’s response “I want my iPad.”

December 27, 09:10 AM

Winter weather complicates things. Looking back many of our travels begin this way: some snow/ice, delay, exhaustion before arriving. However all of these these were tempered by our brilliant ‘lack of a plan.’ Without a strict itinerary and zero pending responsibilities, James and I could relax more during the process.

Now 6am on Monday in our hostel in Taxim, Istanbul I’m awake. Pleasant rain, vocal gulls and and believe it or not hunger. A few hours till breakfast, and wondering what that will entail. Time for a TN post.

From the top: Christmas in Lowell was really nice. Kathy and Joe made mountains of traditional German sweets, Italian favorites and the family’s tradition of Sushi and a movie on Christmas eve mirrored the practices of the Jews I know (minus the Church service). A really warm and welcoming place. It was also great to see the movie “The Fighter” in Lowell where it took place and much of it was shot. Marc Wahlberg has so many visible muscle groups.

Leaving midday on the 25th, we avoided much of the holiday rush. The airport was peaceful during the 5 hours were spent there. After a 3 hours delay in Boston, we got to Frankfurt and since we missed our connecting flight to Munich (by about 4 hours), we got to hang out in the airport there for another 3 until we could catch a flight to Istanbul. It was 10 degrees and snowing outside in Frankfurt. Since it was the Sunday after Christmas, trying to get to the city center seemed ill-advised. Unlike NYC, food and shopping options were limited. We patroned McCafe (much to James’s chagrin) where I had a coffee and he worked his way steadily through the 5 lbs of chocolate—Christmas booty. I think we still have some poppyseed cake. We found a refuge camp-like arraignment of cots in the middle airport and James caught some shut eye entangled in his bags for security. I was too skeeved out and walked around like a zombie for a while.

Our plane to Istanbul sat on the runway for about 2 hours before taking off. I finally fell asleep for part of it and have minimal memories of the cramped flight other than James eating some beef concoction and reading the same page of “And Then We Came to the End” about 6 times. Upon arrival, we each paid $20 cash for a 90 day visa sticker. We had read in our book that change is not given, but were surprised to be asked “What is this?” when we initially handed over $30 in hopes of a deal. Once we found 2 $20 bills we were good.

On to the more interesting things: Istanbul
Scenery details: It was raining, streets were cobble stones and pock marked, cars were whizzing by occasionally without headlights and it was dark.

We navigated our way through the subway/tram/light rail system with relative ease. Our hostel-advised transfer point was closed or no longer in existence, and so we had to relive the failing of the DC metro’s red line and stay on a loop the approximate size of the beltway. It was fine. It allowed us some time to make gross generalizations: all of the women appeared to have dyed blond or scarf covered hair and there were many, many more men out, walking or transiting than women. More on that soon.

In Taksim we found our cute hostel “Neverland.” With vividly painted walls and stenciled political/anti war messages, it was fortunately nothing like the Jackson Ranch (this is not a really funny joke, sorry). Our room has the kinds of shower where the entirety of the tiled bathroom gets wet (not the toilet paper with the clever metal flap). After handing our passports over to the host (to sell we assumed) we set off to find some food and see the area. The 1st stop was a bookstore where we found a pocket dictionary and then some sweets to tie James over (for the oh, 40 more minutes it took to find some more substantial food. We noticed that the area was touristy but for Turkish people. Lots of cobble stone streets crowded with hukkah cafes came off the drag which was adorned with blue and white New Year lights and populated with familiar corporate chains and guys selling roasted nuts. The clear bubble shaped umbrella vendors made a killing, I was probably the only person without one and most likely stood out in my purple raincoat. Black is certainly the color de mode. My hair may not have been died blond, but I was called “Barbie” twice. We ate at a nice underground place called Mekan where we had an eggplant, tomato and cheese thing and a refreshing shepherds salad (chopped up middle eastern style with really creamy sheep’s cheese), We were handed English menus (though our waiter spoke to us in French…) and so were burdened with “tourist” prices and paid too much. We felt bad about leaving before the customary after dinner tea was offered, but the place was closing it was after midnight and I was cold. Greater cultural sensitivity, religious site visits and figuring out when we will fly to Egypt are on the agenda for today.

johanna First Boston for Christmas then on to Istanbul!
December 22, 08:55 PM
July 06, 06:46 AM

Yesterday we went to Mississippi and we grated warmly by the bird and wildlife rescue center staffed by Californians. This center rescued birds after hours and had 14 that were being treated by a small staff. For the first time, we got the sense the volunteers were appreciated and this group had organizational experience. However the Californian techniques could not be applied to Mississippi because of the state regulations, and again, we were blocked by red tape. We could not be trained that day and the person responsible for such logistics would not be available until alter Monday afternoon. With that in mind, we left the rescue center and headed to Alabama where the oil map indicated disaster areas. Quick stop at the Outlets to er, stimulate the economy?

Once in Mobil, a large city, we took pictures along the beaches and then made our way to the coastal islands Dauphin. En route we ate a fantastic places called Liquid Lounger the OK Bicycle Shop. We enjoyed margaritas flavored with hibiscus, basil and chipotle pepper. A bit tipsy by 9pm we didn’t successfully find any professionally fireworks display. However, he heard kids staying at Motel6 setting off firecrackers well into the night.

Today we went to the Dauphin shoreline. Here the base camp was set up in an elementary school’s playground near the ocean. We walked down toward the water on the board walk, and again saw children with bird feathers in hand. O’Rilies was the outfit working the shore line and we saw many reflective vests and porto-potties but no tyveck suites.

Exhausted by our mission, Perry and Jesse transitioned into sigh seeing mode while James and I still tried to make headway talking to the organizers. Around 1pm we began the 14 hour drive back. I hope that we can go through NC and see Rachel or Aviva. I guess it depends on traffic….

July 04, 12:18 AM

Today we were successful at infiltrating….

Again in search of BP folks who could help us volunteer, we went to the community center of Grand Isle. There, I was first suspected to be a reporter and even when I assured the claims officer I was not, mum was the word. The guys conversed enthusiastically with Jessica, an attractive BP woman and with much evasion, we gave up on trying to find a contractor and instead went to explore. We went to the beach that had been roped off and saw a family with kids playing in the water. Moments later a dune buggy drove up and told them they need to get decontaminated. They were livid. As we walked around the area we saw numerous hand painted signs chastising BP and what they have done to the community and beaches.

We drove over a serpentine bridge essentially connecting the marsh lands that comprised Grand Islands, and walked our way onto a BP compound. Before anyone could figure out who we were, we wondered into the the ‘logistics’ bungalow and and spoke with a high-up fellow named Don while he made a joke about firing the guys who let us get in (he may have done so, we saw a tongue lashing as we were heading out…) and he was at least more resourceful than the many people in the many office we went into and got the same run-around.

We were sent to a contractor center and waited in a corner of a portable trailer until we received the same blank stares when we offered to volunteer (as in work without pay, a concept that baffles everyone we talk to) and ultimately, the same useless 1-800 numbers. The folks there told us that that ‘this area was not effected by the oil recently’ and then we decided that we had to go to Mississippi where ‘fresh oil’ was apparently still washing up on the beaches.

We drove back through New Orleans and stopped at Mona’s a tasty Lebanese restaurant with tons of vegetarian options and then onto toward Mobil. Thanks Elaine! We stopped in Gulfport for the night and according to the NYT oil tracer, this is a recently hit site. NYTimes Oil Spill Tracker

We plan to check things out tomorrow (take more pictures, see if there is any work here and then begin to program! It is time to build a new system for disaster relief organizing!!