Tag Archives: istanbul

Things are Tough All Over

My Friends,
   Having departed Turkey a few days back, I finally arrived in Lebanon after my failed attempt to do an overland entry via Syria.  The friends I am staying wth have an aprtment right in the middle of Beirut which puts me in very good position for exploring.  Being something of a “”Mediterranean people” myself, I spent my first day walking toward the ocean.  It was a bit of a longer walk than I thought but I reached it and to my surprise the natural coastline wasy very much still there.  I ran down more excited than a 27 year old man ought to be to climb and jump from rock to rock.  Having a ball doing this I also talked wth the many fishermen who were out there.  They werent catching anything large but Ive been told that “a bad day of fishing beats a good day of anything else.”  I did notice however a pretty clever system for storing the fish they had caught: instead of buckets they stored the fish in they accumulated pools of water left n the pitting of the rocks as the tide went out.  This I suppose is one of the advantages of natural coastline fishng, as opposed to fishing from a bridge or a pier.
   Leaving the coastline all climbed out, I made my way back to the road and got offered a boat trip by Aman (Iman?) I explained that I was good and took off but a few minutes later he was yelling after me to wait up and we ended up chilling for the next hour or two.  When I expressed concern that he was leaving his job selling boat trips he explained that it was his first day and he had taken his first commission of 5000 Lebanese pounds and walked out.  Well far be it from me to convince him that maybe he shouldnt skip out on his only source of income during the first couple of hours on the first day, so we ended grabbing a beer and looking for a scarf for me.  After we had walked some, Aman started getting a little antsy and explained that he wanted to take the 100000 LP in his pocket to the gambling house and turn it into 50000 LP.  Feeling I knew him well enough at this point to counsel him some, I said “yeah or maybe you dont go there and you wake up a little bit ahead tomorrow.”  “No, trust me, its easy,” he assured me.  So reluctantly I went to this underground gambling den with him, admittedly half interested to see what it is young, Lebanese males do when they are not working.
    The place was literally underground but well lit and sanctioned so it wasnt dangerous or anything.  But fuick was it ever depressing: grown men parked in front of video poker machines smacking the bittons like zombies and smoking endlessly.  I took a seat beside Aman and watched the 20,000 credits bought with his last 10000LP (about $7.50 CAD) slowly dwindle.  When he was at around 6000 credits I was like “dude cash out and well get out of here and grab another drink.  At this  point I figured alcohol was a more acceptable vice than degenerate gambling.  However, I can only guess at that moment that the machine heard my plea and the good sense it made and saw fit to give Aman a four of a kind which put hom somewhere just above the 20000 credits he started with.  “See, I can get up to 50, its easy.”  “Alright my dude, well Im gonna peace out.” 
   Degenerate gambling is sad in and of itself but there are not a lot of opportunities here in Beirut for young people unless they are the best of the best, and similarly few opportunities for emigration to places with more plentiful work.  So when that gambling becomes the only escape from a job you hate and a life of dissatisfaction its even worse.  I would like to think that if I were in his shoes I would handle the pressures of life better but I was very fortunate to have the upbringing I did and perhaps under a different set of circumstances I would have become that video poker zombie as well. 
   I took a long and meandering route back to my friends’ apartment but I saw a good deal of the city which worked for me.  Since I had decided to head west the first day to the water, I opted for east the nest day to the mountains.  That the mountains were obscured by blue atmospheric haze should have been an indication of how far they were.  I dont know exactly how far, but I left at 830 am and when I finally reached a distant peak (the site of a Maronite Christian convent of all things) it was 1230.  I admired the view but realized with some dismay that now i had to walk back.  Now I cant even begin to describe how beautiful the views  from the mountain ridges were.  Just know that said beauty was rivalled by the complexity of the roads that ran up and down the various peaks.  I ended up getting lost a few times in the various valleys (its a whole bunch of mountains) but managed to still find my way back by maintaining a westerly direction.  Weirdly, I also made it back a little quicker which I think can be attributed to the fact that I was trespassing through property and bush-bashing the whole way.  I even got stopped by the cops at one point wondering why I was in the rough on the side of the road.  By the time I got back my feet were slayed. 
   In contrast to the last couple days of adventures, I have not left the house yet and its already noon.  Today I will spend my time convalescing from the dual-afflicitions of a cold and athletes foot.  The cold I woke up with yesterday and I find it ironic that I have only gotten it now that I am sleeping indoors; when I was freezing sleeping outdoors I was healthy as an ox.  It has become a little worse since yesterday but I am getting lots of rest.  Its more inconvenient than anything.  Far worse to me is the athlete’s foot, which I daresay is a souvenir of my previously discussed trip to the Turkish Bath in Ankara.  When I got to my friends’ apartment here in Beirut I kept noticing a slight smell whenever I was sitting at the table or something.  When the smell began following me I assumed the worst and my assumptions were proved right: a double case of foot fungus and my brand new vibram Five Fingers shoes contaminated.  Well I bought some anti-fungal cream for my feet which I have been applying but the only remedy for the shoes is to bag them up and put them in the freezer.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your friends if you can put your filthy contaminated shoes in the freezer with their food.  I dont embarrass easily but I definitely reddened up here.  Between the flu-like symptoms of this cold and the fungus on my feet, they gotta be thinking “wow, never inviting this guy here again.”
   In any event, some prolonged freezing for the shoes and frequent applications of cream for me all day will hopefully mean that I am good to go for tomorrow or the day after and can enjoy Beirut and the surrounding cities to the fullest before heading to Egypt.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
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Its Only Gay ıf He Lathers You Up and Rubs Every Part of You

My Frıends,

   After the Chınese vısa debacle mentıoned ın my prevıous post (Holdıng ın a Fart for Chına, 18 Nov 2011), I decıded I was ın need of some relaxıng.  Luckıly, the cheap hotel whıch I am stayıng at (20TL per nıght) has a buılt-ın Turkısh bath.  Sınce there were no shower facılıtıes to speak of ın the hotel and they charge 15 TL for the  Hammam (Turkısh bath) I am assumıng thıs ıs how they recoup theır losses.  In fact every tıme I went through the lobby, these old men who worked there were always pressıng me to get a Hammam.  Fınally I relented, both because of the stressful day and because fuck ıt I wanted to experıence the real Turkey.
   Now Hammams have got a bıt of a rep for beıng havens for gay men.  Whıle my fırst response ıs to dısmıss such proclamatıons as sımple homophobıa I was on my guard as the Lonely Planet guıde for Istanbul had ıncluded a lıst of Hammams and a lıst of Openly Gay Hammams, and I wasnt sure whıch category thıs one fell under.  I fıgured I would err on the sıde of boldness though and trust my heterosexualıty to curb thıngs ıf they got out of hand.  After all, lathered up or not, I was faırly certaın I could stop my masseurs advances before he got past the fırst knuckle ın my cornhole.  But all my fears were for nought as, much lıke the ınternets, Hammams ıs srs bızness.  In fact ıf anythıng I guess I would be guılty of beıng the aggressor as I whıpped of my sash ın preparatıon for the rubdown and the masseur (sımılarly sashed) averted hıs gaze and ınstructed me to put ıt back on.  
   But I am gettıng ahead of myself.  The process actually started wıth me dısrobıng ın a prıvate changeroom, then puttıng on aforementıoned sash.  Afterwards I was led ınto thıs marble basement where a dude was lyıng naked on a slab of marble gettıng worked over by what looked lıke a skınny (lıke post-HIV skınny) Turkısh Freddıe Mercury.  I went ınto the sauna and had a good sweat then I was dırected to lay on the slab of marble whıch the other dude had been lyıng on 20 mınutes earlıer.  I was concerned at fırst, but the place smelled clean and there were mops and squeegees everywhere so I fıgured ıt was sanıtary enough.  After gettıng soaked wıth hot water, the maseur took thıs scourıng glove and exfolıated my skın.  The amount of dead skın that came off was dısgustıng but unsurprısıng; I hadnt showered ın a few days and I had been lıvıng outsıde.  He made me then lıe down agaın for the lather and massage.  Thıs concerned me somewhat as after the rubdown my tender dermıs was all red and exposed and I felt that thıs could possıbly be goıng from an ınexpensıve massage to a moderately prıced staph ınfectıon.  But agaın I fıgured fuck ıt, all part of the experıence.
   Dude, lathered me up and proceeded to gıve me the most paınful massage of the two massages I have ever receıved ın my lıfe.  But after all the walkıng I have been doıng I daresay I needed ıt.  After the massage was done I was sent to the prıvate shower stall to wash off the lather and perhaps any accrued shame from havıng a fat haıry Turkısh man (I dıdnt get Freddıe Mercury) take such lıbertıes wıth my body.  All ın all ıt was refreshıng but I coudnt do ıt every day; I thınk ıt wıll take at least a week before my skın regenerates ıtself eto the poınt ıt can take a scourıng lıke that agaın.  
   I am not homophobıc by nature so even though I joke I dıdnt really have a problem wıth gettıng a massage from a dude.  But I would say that the experıence ısnt for everyone.  You gotta be comfortable wıth both your sexualıty and rough male hands on you ıf youre goıng to go through wıth ıt.  Eıther that or just keep your eyes closed the whole tıme and thınk about baseball.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Cock & Toenails II: A Farewell to Europe

My Friends,
   Turkey still goes well.  Havent moved around too much since last I wrote but have seen a lot.  We got it in our heads that we wanted to walk to the Bosphorus Bridge…

…pictured here being large and imposing…
…and cross it by foot into Asia.  However, we found out after walking 2.5 hours that it was cars only, so we had to hop a bus or take a ferry to Asia.  We opted for the latter and took a boat ride across the strait.  Once across we proceeded to do my fave kind of traveling:
1. Pick a direction (preferably away from touristy spots)
2. Walk in that direction til you are lost
3. Find your way back
4. ???????
5. PROFIT!!
Finding a mosque which was inconveniently walled-off I climbed the wall in order to take a gander at the devout.  Feeling all badass perched on the wall and keeping a vigil from above, I took this opportunity to perfect my Batman pose.  
   The next day we didn’t travel quite as far but spent the day wandering nearby Topkapi Palace.  The former home of the Ottoman sultans and seat of what was once the most feared empire in te known world, we found it to be quite pleasant.  In particular, the treasury bears mention for the sheer quantity of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gold, etc. which it contained.  But the harem was spectacular for its fantastic architecture and tiling. 
   In the few days since seeing the palace we also saw the art museum, shopped in the bazaar and feasted like kings.  Now typically, I tend to pass through cities within a day or two of arriving, and therefore miss the tourist attractions.  But in light of the 9 days we have in the city we have really plumbed the depths of what the city has to offer.  I mean that both figuratively…
The Basilica Cistern
…and literally.  And I have definitely made the right choice regarding which city to spend a little more time in.  Istanbul has so much to offer to the casual tourist, the student of Mediterranean history,
…and of course this guy,
that I would have regretted passing through after a day.
   As for my departure Monday morning, the plan of attack is to take the metro-tram as far South-East of the city as it will take me and then  hitch-hike to Syria in the fervent hope that they allow me into the country.  From there I will make haste to Lebanon, and Beirut specifically where I wll crash for a week with some friends before getting the ball rolling again.  I am apprehensive about going into Syria especially in light of all the unrest going on there right now, but I already regret skipping Algeria and Morocco out of some vague sense that bad people lived there and I dont want to make that same mistake again. 
   Essentially, any place is dangerous and any place is safe.  By using sense of a slighly-better than common variety, I am hoping that I will not look so tempting when fate comes a prowling.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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