At Fiumicino, waiting for the boarding time, I went around to pass time. Ah, here are some colorful nice bags. Let me go up to the shopwindow to have a closer look. As per habit, I checked the price. One was 17,000 Euros. I raised my head to have a look at the brand. It was Dolce & Gabbana. I felt so rich. They were nice but they were things I would not use and did not care to buy. As I went around the airport some more, I realized there was so much expensive stuff that I did not care about.
Then I was in İstanbul. At a restaurant in Arnavutköy waiting to take away lahmacun (Turkish pizza). I noticed the Coca Cola advertisement in the front window. Written in big fonts, it read: “Coca Cola- Complement this taste with Coca Cola.” Then I looked at the table in front of me... On the table mattresses was another coke advertisement about Coca Cola blending in with the colors of İstanbul. Afterwards I turned my head to have a look across the street. My gaze drifted towards the sign of the restaurant at the corner. There it was: Coca Cola, on both sides of the restaurant's name. I had watched a Coca Cola advertisement a couple of days ago too waiting for my order at a food court in a shopping mall. Ice cubes dropping into the coke poured into a glass, water drops dripping down the bottle. I had wondered how much effort and time went into creating that advertisement. And of course money.
Now I couldn't help but think how much we were bombarded with Coca Cola outside our consciousness, without our own will. And mostly against our own will. All to be able to sell us their product. I felt so lucky and rich once again. I wouldn’t buy Coca Cola even if they spent the world. I wouldn't drink it even if they gave it to me for free. Well... I might take a sip. If they paid me dearly, I might drink one-third a cup. And for me to drink a whole bottle, they’d have to pay me seriously dear.
Then I thought how much money was spent to advertise Coca Cola, a needless and harmful drink if you ask me. (I apologize from Coca Cola fans, sorry.) My chain of thought veered towards myself. “Where would I be if the Coca Cola budget was spent on advertising my articles, my ideas, my name as a brand? Would people read my books then, would it be possible to infect them with my ideas?”
Well... I didn't dwell much on the subject as that's never going to happen. Or maybe I shouldn't say that, maybe it will, why not? Maybe one day some rich, eccentric wo/man will run across my articles and will call me up. Don't worry... I'm not holding my breath for that to happen. I feel rich enough...
I read an old news the other day. The September 2015 dated article said “Daily Hürriyet sets out to investigate why refugees, many of them children, keep drowning in the waters of the Aegean on their way to Greece. The answer: They drown because they are ‘pushed back,’ because they create a ‘bloody economy’ and because we do not help them enough in an organized way.”
Sorry to say their answer is wrong. The one and only reason for these border deaths is the existence of a thing called a visa and people's blind faith in this practice that is against laws of nature. But I haven't come across anyone stating this. Migrants die because they cannot buy a ticket somewhere, jump on a plane and go. Period. This has nothing to do with people smugglers who are exploiting them or anything else. The guilt is directly on those governing this world, they are the ones who have created this worldwide apartheid, they are the real culprits. Full stop.
I don't know if I should thank Patrick or curse him for giving me that book. Or mentioning it in the first place, as I would have bought it right away and read it anyway. I'm talking about Albert Podell's “Around the World in 50 Years.” The story of a man who has visited all countries in the world. I devoured the book, albeit a bit slowly for my usual pace, in the first three nights of our Panama Canal cruise. I found the writing a bit tedious. Still, it was something I had to read because of the concept.
The first part reminded me of my African crossing 14 years ago and after that I kept reading the book with a constant thought on my mind: How am I supposed to do all the countries, how long it would take... Of course my main worry is Lara. Obviously I cannot, nor is it reasonable to take a four-five year-old child to war-torn African countries. I don't even know how safe and reasonable it would be for me to go. A white solo woman. An easy target for kidnapping. As if anybody would care about me but that's not how it goes in those parts of the world. Of course I'm not in a hurry. I can wait and hope that things will be different in five years time or a decade. The thing is, it may be different but that does not necessarily mean things will have improved. Life seems to be deteriorating in general from the point of travel. At least from my point of travel. As I have an issue with security and cannot really bear it. But again I get stuck at the same thing... I could have done this without any worry for myself had it not been for Lara. I cannot risk her, I cannot risk myself either, for her sake.
In the meantime I still have some easy countries to take off from my list or add to my list, depending on which way you want to look at it. We'll see what life brings. Podell claims he is the only one to have travelled to every country. I know a British guy has done it a couple of years ago without flying. I don't know how Podell did not find about him. Anyway, I may be the first woman to have travelled to every country in the world. But it may be getting much more difficult than what they have done as the world seems it's going to be splitting into even more smaller “countries.” I have also been considering to work around this dilemma. To justify this mission. If it makes sense. Or do I just cross it out as a senseless endeavor? You see, I don't believe in countries. I don't believe in such divisions. Why should I be after reaching a certain number that is determined by some capricious politics? There has to be something more meaningful to set out for a quest.
When someone asked me in an interview how many countries I had been to, my answer went like this:
“Must be more than a hundred but not that I’ve counted, I’ve stopped counting at 15-20. Years later, before my second round-the-world tour, I was curious and it was around 74. I do not keep count of countries I’ve been to. And I don’t like those that do :) Joking aside, in my opinion, someone who is not bothered with borders, who instead attempts to exploit the fact, is not a traveller. Is this a competititon? If you’ve been to NY for two days, are you going to count yourself as having seen America? The US is a huge continent. Lichtenstein is a country, so is Brazil. Or let me give you an idea with numbers: The smallest countries are Vatican (0.44 km2), Monaco (2 km2), Nauru (yes, there is such a country. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean. An island, naturally. 21 km2), Tuvalu (another Pacific island. 26 km2), San Marino (61 km2), Liechtenstein (160 km2). The largest country is Russia (17,100 km2), Canada is almost 10,000 km2, US of A is roughly 9,600 km2, China is just a bit less, Brazil 8,500 km2, Australia almost 7,700 km2, India is almost 3,300 km2, Argentina 2,780 km2, Kazakhstan just a bit less. So how do you justify visiting these places by just setting foot on one part? And how do you put Vatican and Russia in the same counting basket?
Albeit, let’s say you count Hawaii separately. (Travellers have a separate country list count.) There is staying two days in Honolulu, there is seeing five or six islands with Hawai'i, Maui, O'ahu, Kaua'i, Moloka'i... Or even all eight. Let's say you've been to all, there is stopping by the islands for a day, there is staying there for weeks.
Besides, a country you’ve been to divides in two tomorrow. For example I’ve crossed the Sudan from one end to the other. Now there is a country named South Sudan. Does that count as I’ve seen two countries or does it not count that I’ve seen South Sudan as there was no such country at the time of my visit? What’s the point of all this?
And what about countries that disappear? For example, there was once upon a time East Germany, there was USSR. If you had been to those places when they existed, what do you do? Cross them off your list and take your count down?
Apart from all these, after a certain point, it’s difficult to keep a count of countries. Think about it... For the first year in a babies life, you tell their age in months. As they grow older, it’s senseless to keep track of months. Just like that, I now keep the number of round-the-world tours I have done ;)”
How Many Countries Are There?
So just like my arguments, on the debate of travel and number of countries visited, two important things stand out: What constitutes a country and what counts as visiting a country?
The basic and simple reference to go by would be the countries in the UN. But then, there are countries like countries that are not in there. UN is a club. Which only sovereign states and only those recognized by the other countries, i.e. those not vetoed by the big five can join. If you want to be a country, you'd better get along well with the five permanent members of the Security Council -China, France, Russia, UK and the US- as they have veto power. Manny Neira has put it so nicely, so I don't bother to write this in different words and quote from him:
“To be recognised by the United Nations, all that matters is that a government hold power: it doesn't matter how it is held. Indeed, so non-judgemental is the UN that should a coup d'etat replace one dictator with another, after a reasonable delay to ensure that the new thugs are securely in office, they too can join the club. The UN doesn't ask embarrassing questions about how you came to govern. The currency is pure realpolitik: if you rule, you're in.
In fact, United Nations is a cartel for the world's ruling classes...”
(You may read the full article @ http://www.mannyneira.com/nations/imagine.html
Manny is one of the rare soulmates to me in this world, seeing the division into states as world apartheid. He wrote:
“When humanity has truly grown up, it will look back on the division of the world into states, and the restriction of the right of humans to travel, live, and work where they wish, as a kind of world apartheid. We will wonder, I think, how we ever felt it was justified, or even meaningful, to speak of a human being's statehood.”
I look at the world now and cannot understand how people see the way it runs as “normal”, how they do not see something very very wrong with it. But then, as Manny says, I guess that's because humanity has not grown up truly yet.)
As I mentioned in the interview, I had heard that there was a special club for travellers but the name had not stuck with me. I just knew you could enter if you had been to a hundred countries and that they counted countries in a different way. Now and then an article appeared in the newspaper saying some man had been to 200 something countries. And I thought “What?! There aren't even that many countries in the world.”
So now I found out the name. Travelers' Century Club. TCC works on the honor system. You don't have to prove your having been to a 100. On it's “Membership Benefits” list TCC asks “Why would a frequent traveler want to join the Traveler's Century Club?” and answers the question itself. “It's more self-satisfying than anything tangible” and the first item on their list is worldwide recognition and “bragging rights.” !!!
Well... The club was founded in 1954 and back then travel was not so easy as today. Consequently, not many people were travelling like today. So it makes sense in a way.
TCC counts geographically, politically and ethnologically separated regions as another entity. Like Hawaii and Alaska. Their count is at 324 right now. It may change over time. So better keep an eye on it if you are after country collection. They have more than 2,000 members. In 2012, nineteen of them had visited every place on the list.
When it's a competition, rivalries start. Apparently John Clause had been holding the record for “world's most traveled man.” Then Charles Veley wanted some other places included. I guess he wanted Tahiti counted separately too. -Even though Tahiti is part of the French Polynesia and therefore belongs to the French Republic.- Of course to boost his number count. People didn't agree. In 2008, before he died, Clause said "This title cost me six marriages, and I do not intend to surrender my sword lightly."
So Veley set up his own club. The Most Traveled People. They claim the land area on Earth is made up of 875 “parts.” They include islands, territories, dependencies, states or provinces of large countries, enclaves and exclaves. To me it seems more reasonable. Not reasonable in the sense of visiting all or making a competition out of it.
Anyway... MTP has almost ten thousand members. On their website it says:
Some travel clubs define "visit" very broadly, to include airplane fuel stops, airport transits, and surreptitious or illegal border crossings. Such arrivals are problematic for several reasons. First and foremost, from a legal standpoint, they are not valid. Without passing through immigration, across borders where passport control exists, a person has not legally arrived in a country. Even if someone were to enjoy an extended time in a country via illegal entry, acceptance of this as a standard would be an encouragement of illegal behavior, something this club is unwilling to do.
I would be willing to do that if I was to set up a club! I certainly would not count airport transit, that is a most ridiculous thing to claim if you ask me. On the other hand, if someone is in a country, regardless of the way s/he entered it, it counts just fine for me.
The second reason they give is it's being difficult to prove. But nowadays there is GPS. Well, even with that, if you want to cheat, you can give it to someone else to take it into the country for you and get it back. Whatever... I'm not interested in proofs anyway. I do something for myself, not to prove it to anybody else. (Well, I got married and tried to stay married just to prove that I could keep a relationship going but that doesn't really count. And it's been long time ago anyway...)
People Who Have Visited Every Country
Podell says he found only two people who had been to every country. He then goes on to say they claim to but they “cheated.” He explains: “They didn’t go to Somalia. They went to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, but Somaliland is not a recognized country.”
If you search for people who have visited every country in the world you run into news like “Businessman spends £350,000 to travel to every country in the world.” An Indian. Kashi Samaddar. 55 years old. In the shortest time possible. 6 years 10 months 7 days. From July 2002 to May 2009. But then there is another Indian. Benny Prasad. Who claims the same thing. Did it in the shortest amount of time. 6 years, 6 months, 22 days. From May 2004 to November 2010. His number is 245 countries. Don't know how he came up with that figure. Spent less than 140,000 USD. He went around playing the world's first bongo guitar that he invented. Born in 1975, he was a suicidal youth. So this is supposed to show how your life may change.
“The youngest American to visit every country in the world.” Lee Abbamonte. He didn't do only UN countries plus some others, did 318. He is aiming to become the youngest to visit all 324 countries on the Travelers Century Club list. The record currently is 37 years 9 months and 17 days. But Lee is only 36 and has very little left, so he's going to “beat” that record. He has already “been to more TCC destinations at a younger age than anyone in history.” That's what he boasts of on his website.
Lee is the youngest American. Youngest person to visit every country in the world is British James Asquith who started in 2008 and finished in 2013 when he was 24. Ah, he was in no rush. His only goal was to do it before he turned 25. He spent £125,000/$209,000 and says he earned money by part-time jobs while travelling. Which doesn't seem so reasonable. People were legitimately asking where he found such a job in a bar or a hostel to pay so much.
The youngest hobby-traveler to visit every country in the world. I did not understand what hobby-travelling was. The discovered it was travelling while keeping your day job. Gunnar Garfors, a Norwegian guy. He was 37 when he completed that in 2013. He is all around the newspapers.
Then there is the youngest to have been to a 100 countries, albeit counted not according to UN but according to TCC. At two years and eight months. Lani Shea. Apperantly she also has a Guinness World Record to have been to all seven continents at about 2 years and 10 months. Then, Vaidehi Thirrupathy (even if the name sounds Indian, she is British) broke the record. She did that when she was 205 days old! That is less than seven months old. Of course, she did not set foot on any of it. Funny...
Chris Guillebeau claims he has been to every country, every country in the UN that is. He has written books, not about his travel but about making something a quest.
I also came across a claim that Maurizio Giuliano from Italy/UK. He has entered the Guinness World Records for having visited all 193 sovereign countries in 2004 four days before he turned 29.
Then there is a man who carried the cross on his shoulder around the world in 323 “countries” for 46 years. Etc etc.
What about the guy who did it overland? Graham Hughes- did 201countries... Completed in November 2012. But Guinness revoked it because he had got into Russia illegally and they did not wish to promote illegal activity. As Hughes had been back by land even when he finished, he could continue. So he got a visa and went to Russia again.
Reading details about his trip... “I did all of South America in two weeks.” Oh my God! Only two weeks in that gorgeous continent?
“Did all fifty states of Europe in two or three weeks.”
“Okay, that's fine,” I thought for this at first. Europe is not that interesting after all. But then he goes on... “I was doing, like, seven countries a day.” Whoa! You are inclined to say. You become aware of the gravity of his declaration. “Then I hit Africa, thinking it might take me a couple of months, but took much more than that.”
Hughes did it in about four years, then there is the Canadian who travelled for 23 years and then returned home in 2013 when he was 44 years old. He actually is the Calgary man. Mike Spencer Bown. “The most extensively travelled man in history.” They have to have such glorious titles.
What about women?
“There has to be a woman too,” I thought after reading all these. Yes, there was. There is. American Audrey Walsworth completed all TCC countries in 2009. Her house is full of furniture and artifacts she bought overseas. She even had a huge sofa, or rather a howdah shipped. If you ask what a howdah is, it's a seat fitted with a canopy and railing to be used on an elephant or a camel. She likes something and buys it. There are only two comments on the article about this woman who has travelled to so many destinations. Those being “Good for her” and “Too cool!” All the other articles about men going aroudn the world generally have many comments full of such admiration. I cannot help but wonder if there really is a difference between a woman and a man. If we are just overlooked because we are women. One author had sent her book to many literary agents and publishers. Not getting any replies or getting only rejections, she sent the same book again with a male name fo
r the author and got 34 positive responses or something of the sort.
Getting back to travelling... Apparently Walsworth is the only woman to visit every country in the world and she believes she will keep that title, saying “With the world situation, there isn’t going to be another woman who’s going to be able to do this.” Maybe she is right, maybe not. There is a Global Degree TV. The concept is that travelling and seeing the world will educate you and to get your degree, you don't have courses to take like in university/college, you graduate when you complete the 193 countries in the UN.
The Human Condition
“What I was doing while you were breeding?”
I came across this title while looking at books on travelling the world. To me it's a bit of an offensive title. I looked at a fair share of the book and did not like it. However, there is one part I found interesting. The author Kristin Newman says “A hateful little ex-boyfriend once said that a house full of cats used to be the sign of a terminally single woman, but now it's a house full of souvenirs acquired on foreign adventures.” Of course, this was a derogatory remark. Newman says “Plane tickets replacing cats might be the best evidence of women's progress as a gender. I'm damn proud of us.”
Well... I'm not so sure about that. Isn't there a truth in what the ex-boyfriend said? We, as women especially, need something to give our love to, to show compassion... (I'm not talking about myself, I just heard it from other women friends who wanted children, who had a cat etc.) Cats may be a form of compensation. Souvenirs, like travels, may be a form of compensation. But I don't know why people feel the need to reach conclusions to make judgements looking at these things. People travel, people buy things. It's not necessarily a sign of anything... It only shows they want to travel and shop, and that they have the means to do both. The husband just doesn't like travelling so she travels alone but Walsworth is married. It does not mean she is not compensating for something lacking in her life by travel. It does not mean she is...
And this doesn't only apply to single females. Why aren't men judged with the same criteria? The ending of Podell's book is cheesy. He gets married to a Russian journalist 49 years his junior. The caption under the photo says “I embarked on 'life's greatest adventure,' by marrying...” He repeats the fact, reinforcing it, the book finishes with “On 12/12/12- we were married in City Hall and I embarked upon my last -and life's greatest- adventure.”
I don't want to be cynical –the man may be interesting and fun to be with- but is there a way not to be? But do you need to marry such a man? You be friends. What is marriage for? To have children and to have someone to leave your inheritance to. Maybe he wanted to sort of adopt a child, sorry not even a child, a grandchild, to leave his belongings to. Otherwise what's the point of having all that you have? He could have left it to children in Africa, donated it to a charity, benefiting many more children with it but it's his money, he does whatever he wants with it, right?
There are the ultra rich people going around, throwing money in order to tick off an island. Spending three weeks and 25,000 USD only for the attempt. Apparently that's the cost for three attempts to get to Bouvet Island. Russian icebreakers try to take you there but there is no promise or guarantee. Veley sold his high-tech company and started marking off countries. He did 250 “countries” on TCC's list in three years. Some call these people dromomaniacs, i.e. people who have an irrational impulse to wander or travel without purpose, an uncontrollable psychological urge to wander. There are people who look up to these “most travelled” men, and there are those who claim what they're doing is inferior. Who is to say which is true?
The way I look at it is... We all have our own ways of dealing with the unbearable weight of being. That's it. Dividing the world into 875 parts may make sense to determine how much of it you have seen, but even when you have seen all of it, places you have visited will have changed in time (as you cannot have been to all 875 in a short time!) and in my opinion, you need to go again to say you've seen the world. There is no end to this.
I realized I'm not jealous of any of these people. You know, I sometimes look at photos of some person or a couple on FB or read a blog about someone's travels, and I am jealous. Then I look at my website, my photos and the places I have been, I am more jealous of myself. Because it certainly does not feel that I did all that stuff. Anyway, I'm content with what I have done so far.
There is no glory in the world apart from doing what you are here for, finding your call, being happy and content yourself, and being of use to others. The bread-maker working in the oven, the man sweeping the streets, the cashiers, the people who serve you somehow are all heroes in themselves. The real success stories are not about those who make it rich or famous, or travel the whole wide world, they are the stories of ordinary people.
As for visiting every country in the world... I don't know if I will set out on this mission... But if I ever do, it will be only to burn all my passports to make a statement to the world about the Earth being split in borders, to protest the politicians about visas and immigration controls.
I will also make a call to all the other people who have achieved this feat. So that we can burn our passports together. I don't know if they will answer. But it would be nice even if I found one more person to back me up in this.
It's the person applying the rules. Or knowing about other rules that are to your advantage.
In the afternoon, we set off with Carlo as planned. He said he could see a church from the ship and wanted to go there. There were three entrances, or exits to the wharf. After all, a gate is to walk out as well as to walk in. Carlo said the one on the right was nearest but I had headed to the left and said “It's okay, we go out from here.” Carlo was not so sure they would let us out from either gate. As the main exit gate for tourists/cruisers was way down the road, obliging you to walk by the shops and cafes, and where the hawkers had been deployed. There was no reason why they wouldn't let us out. At least no good reason!
Now... I -as a seasoned traveller and being the unruly- would have just walked out. “If there is no exit, let them stop me,” I reason. But Carlo -as the good rule abiding citizen he is- happened to ask “Can we go out from here?” I don't leave that to chance. Why should I ask a question giving anybody the chance to say “No” to me and complicating my life?
There were two guards at the gate. One -the laid-back and sympathetic type- just waved his arm in a “There you go, help yourself” manner, but the other -obviously an “I like power” type- said “No.”
We tried to invite him to reason, asking “Why not?”
The guard said “It's dangerous.”
Ah, the premise I love! A companion of “for security reasons.”
He showed us the other way... To the shops. You are a tourist. There are souvenir shops there. What else do you want? We tried to invite him to reason saying “We'll be walking out from there all the way down, walk out from the main gate and then walk back the street from outside to end up right on the other side of this gate.”
The guard did not yield. Carlo wanted to persuade him. He always does that. Believes he can talk his way with anybody. I pulled his arm. “Let's walk, it's fine.” It's not worth arguing with these types, I know. It would be just a waste of time. Once they have said no, they don't go back. It is a distance but not worth arguing about. So there we went. The way the guard showed us, down the road they have designed for us to walk. Then we walked out out. Here we are, two sheeps out of the flock.
We walked around for ten minutes. We did not have much time left. In the end, we wanted to walk the way where the guard who refused us was. Would it be indecorum to walk in from the same gate we were turned back? It was not that they could refuse to let us in. We had the ship and had the right to enter. Who cared for being indecorous to these people? We walked back in.
It's usually never the rules. Nobody really knows the rules. And the adage that rules are there to be broken is true. This doesn't only go for non-developed countries but also for the developed countries as well. There is always a way around the rules.
Once... I was going to go to South Africa. I had bought my return ticket. Then, I ran into friends who had told me about the Turkish Airlines new flight and promotion. They were leaving three days earlier. They said “You change your ticket and come with us.” I called the call center of THY and asked if there was a seat available and if I could change the ticket. They said “Sure. But you need to come here.”
Now I needed to pack right away. Apart from that, I had no foreign currency with me. As I was going to leave on Monday night and had the whole day free I had postponed going to the bank. I called my mother to ask if she had some dollars with her at home, I would be paying her back on the way back. Luckily she did. Then I tried to find a friend to take me to the airport but could not get hold of anyone. It was pouring outside. I packed my bags, called a taxi and headed towards my mother's. I picked up the cash and then headed towards the THY office in Taksim.
There was a long line. I waited impatiently. When my turn came up, it was with a woman that I had watched to be ill-humored. She said I needed to pay 600 USD to change the ticket. I said that was irrational as I had paid 400 USD for the ticket. I would give up the ticket and buy myself another one. But of course that was not the point. The reason why I was going to South Africa was the cheap airline ticket. If I was to pay twice as much, it wasn't worth. Paying for another ticket to stay three more nights in South Africa did not make sense. But I had packed and come all this way, spending my time and money for the taxi. I didn't want to go back home the way I came, I didn't want to waste all that effort. So I decided to give it another go. I picked up myself another number and waited for my turn.
This time I lucked out. The woman was a nice, helpful person. She was right next to the woman who refused me but what could I do? I told my new customer representative my problem. She said “Instead of changing the date, you may return the ticket. There is a 150 USD penalty but you will get 250 USD refunded. Then you can buy the ticket for tonight.” This was more reasonable. I could pay 150 USD more to stay for three more nights instead of wasting more time and money to get back home. “But...” there was one catch. The woman warned me... “It's Friday night, it's rainy and it is rush-hour, you may not make it to the airport on time.” Yeah, that was true. She said “I enter your name here. You change it when you get to the airport.” I thanked her a lot and headed for yet another taxi. I made it on time. That was 1993. Those were the times we had a real ticket. I didn't tell the boy at the counter about my situation. Just handed over the ticket to him. He gave me m
y boarding pass and wished me a good flight. That was it. Didn't ask for money! I was so happy that I just disappeared from there. When I met my friends later on and told them the situation, -one was a tour guide,- he explained that airline companies do that when it is to change to an earlier flight and there are seats. They can always sell the tickets afterwards.
I can tell you so many more stories to make my point. But let's keep this short. The essence of the matter is: When you get an answer you don't like, try to find someone else to ask the same question. When in line at an office with so many booths, try to observe who seems more friendly and helpful to the customers. If necessary, get a couple of numbers (of course not consecutive!) so that you can skip the ones that seem surly/morose. Hang in there until you find someone to make you happily surprised. No need to mention that you should always carry a small souvenir, or a candy or a chocolate bar at least, to make sure those nice people know you appreciate them.
And always try to connect with people. Even a small gesture, a simple compliment can get you to go around things said to be impossible.
One of the reasons I chose Celebrity for the Panama Canal crossing was that it stopped at Colon. I not only wanted to do the canal, I wanted to set my foot on a Panamian city. When I come to a new place, what I want to do is walk around the streets, without knowing where I am going. I just go by my nose. I like getting lost before finding out where I am. That is what I wanted to do here too. -Of course, when you are on a mass travel vehicle, that turns out a bit difficult. The moment you get off, people grab you to take you out on a “tour.” To the places they deem good and fit for you to see. There are up sides to taking a tour: It is comfortable, you don't have to study and learn anything, you are taken to the highlights so you know what people go there to see, you don't miss out on the important things. Still... I have had my share of touristic travels in the world and I am not interested in monuments, traditional village tours, or natural wonders with a crowd anymore.-
So that's what I wanted to do in Colon too. Wander the streets. Apart from very touristic places, which to me can be seen by a tour, if there isn't anything “special” that you need to see, that's what you do.
When we got out this morning with Carlo, we saw that there were no souvenir shops and stands right outside the dock. “Interesting,” we thought. But that was a misleading impression. There they were. Only here, you had to walk a bit to get to them.
There was a small shopping arcade with colorful buildings. At the gate were taxi drivers and men with tour signboards. They are the hawkers. Trying to catch a cruiser in their net, someone who will fall into their clutches. Carlo, as always, wants to know where he will be going, he is after getting hold of a map and getting information. In the end, I told him to ask someone who was approaching us. He asked “Where is the city center?”
“Five blocks,” answered the man.
“So I can go by walking.”
“No, it's dangerous. As it is dangerous in every place in the world. If you try to walk out, the police will stop you and send you back. You stay here, here is fine,” he said showing the compound. Then he went on. “You come with me. I give you an hour tour of the city. I take you to the old town, to the new places, I show you around. My English is good. I believe my English is good, you can understand me.”
As I had scolded Carlo last time for not asking the price and waiting for me to do things for him, he now asked how much it was.
“20 $ per person.”
“Okay, thank you,” said Carlo. Of course it is too much per person. And why should it be per person as it is a taxi? Anyway... We walked away and started discussing what to do. I asked what he wanted to do, told him he could go with the man if he wanted. But I knew I wanted to walk. To hell with their scare.
“Would you go out with a camera?” Carlo asked.
That was a definite “NO.” He had the huge camera bag hanging from his neck.
Carlo said “I can go back to the ship, leave the camera and come.”
It was 11 o'clock. Lara needed to be picked up from the playground at noon/12. The man approached us again. We sort of rebuffed him saying we were discussing. Carlo did actually. The man said “I'm sorry,” and stayed away. He was respectful in that sense. Of course he wants to make money. Probably money for his family. He is trying to make a living. I wanted to help him. But I also wanted and desperately needed to go out to do something on my own on this trip. I missed being out there in the world by myself.
We decided that, or rather Carlo told me to go and I told Carlo to do his own thing and I would do my own. I'd be strolling the streets for an hour, then come back for Lara, have lunch, and then we could go out with him again later on if he wanted. We had the time. So off I set.
It was a strange feeling at first. How long had it been since I did something alone? And especially in a place where they said was dangerous. Carlo too had said that Panama was the murder capital of the world. But it was broad daylight.
We had seen the signs from outside, when I came in front of it, I tried to get into the Free Zone. There seemed to be sort of upscale shops. They signalled me to the gate when I was cutting across the street where cars entered. There was a police. He asked for my passport. I said I didn't have it but showed the seapass and my driving license. He said no and I didn't insist, walked away.
Streets were dirty, all buildings run down. There were children running around, playing. Women giving milk to their babies, women sitting on a stool on the street and chatting. There were people buying tickets on stands that looked like lottery. There were shops selling crappy stuff. There were empty buildings with all garbage inside them.
“Non robes el pan. Trabaja por il tuyo.” Thus said the writing on the wall with huge letters. “Don't rob the bread. Work for yours.” “Dice no al corrupcion,” it went on. “Say no to corruption.”
I was still wondering if what I was doing was smart. I am no longer by myself, responsible only for myself... I have a family, I have a baby. “If anybody attacks me in daylight, humanity must be dead,” I thought. But humanity was almost dead anyway. It was down on the floor, groveling. And it's what the rulers of the world are doing, with their prohibition of people's movements and freedoms. First there was forced movement as in slavery, then they invited people over, opening their doors, as they needed workers like in Germany, now they want to shut down and block people.
My mind was still running on the safety of what I was doing... “There was a reason that I go around with shabby clothes. I am more like my natural self like that.” Now I felt self-conscious of my clothing. I wasn't nowhere luxurious, I had left my wedding ring with Carlo, but I was wearing a nice skirt and a nice t-shirt, my shoes were trendy as well even though not flashy. Whereas if I were in my travel cloths, I would be more like a very simple person. Which I am of course. Carlo said “You do not go around in worn-out clothes in Turkey or in Italy.” Implying I could here, but I should dress up when in the city in daily life. But that's the whole point. There shouldn't be any difference. Because my natural self is not adopted to think differently. I live a simple life and I travel as a simple person. If I am supposed to make a switch every time, that might be lethal. As I am not used to being this “rich” woman, I could go out as if I am my normal everyday self a
nd being dressed nicely could get me into trouble. So that's why you don't travel luxuriously. Of course being on a cruiseship complicates this a bit. If it were up to me, if Carlo had left it up to me, I would have gotten all daily stuff, things I'd wear over and over again, plus a couple of nice things to wear on the ship for special nights. No, I had to get all proper nice stuff. Even the small Kipling bag seemed luxurious to me. Maybe it was just because I knew the price. I looked at other people, the locals. Women carried nice bags. Still... I didn't fit in this place with this clothing.
I also thought how I would feel if Carlo was with me. Would I feel safer with a man? Maybe not so much you know? With a man, it seems you are more like a target. As a woman alone, they might not understand what I am doing there. Because I walk in determined steps. But Carlo is like a tourist. Even when he is not wearing a watch or anything, he looks like a tourist. He stands out, cannot keep a low-profile like me. Maybe when I am on my own people cannot make out what this woman is doing here. It's something they are not used to and do not think is standard. But when they see Carlo and me, we would seem more like two tourists that ventured off the flock, implying good preys.
I also wondered what I would do if we were attacked with Carlo. I don't know what I would do if I was attacked when I was alone either but that was easy, I would just do what came natural to save myself. I would just give them what they wanted and run away, probably. But with someone else beside you, things get more difficult. You have to predict, try to foresee what the other would be doing. If it was with someone you didn't care that much about or was not so close to, you could let everybody take care of themselves. We are humans, and I would probably keep my survival above even Carlo's and any other adult human being, so I would first try to save myself. However Carlo is almost as precious to me as I am to myself. That would create a huge dilemma and could put both of ourselves at risk. If we got into a dangerous situation with Lara, I definitely would have saved Lara, holding her above myself. However there too is another dilemma. My survival is almost as vital to Lara's
survival. If something happened to me, how could she protect herself?
Then I started thinking about people scaring you to go out in the world. People do that everywhere. They instill fear. Then they offer the remedy. To go out with a tour guide, a safe person. I actually understand their scaring. I probably would have done the same. I wouldn't want trouble, a tourist getting into trouble is trouble for them too. Why take the risk? Besides, these are cruisers. So a certain type of profile. I don't hold myself on par with them, that's why I walked out. It feels like I have done a brave job. But I would have done this had I been able to come into Panama seven years ago. I wouldn't have gone out at night, or if I needed to get food as in El Salvador, I would have been a bit tense. Like I was tense today. But people were going about their own business. Not caring about you. What bothered me was now I couldn't speak Spanish so easily like I did back then. Speaking the local language makes you feel more in power and at ease.
I did not take out the watch in my bag to have a look at the time. I can tell how much time has passed automatically if I want to, I have those sensors. I turned around at one point and started walking back. I ran to the Fun Factory to pick Lara.