30 October 2014

It's Kili Time - AGAIN!


Cancer has been a real pain with my family and friends this year, taking lives, complicating lives and threatening lives.  It's an awful awful thing that has no doubt touched the lives of most of us.   In these situations, we inevitably feel helpless but supporting a cancer-related cause is a way to make a difference.  
I have the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro again and I'm doing it for Lauren and Dorey.  You might be thinking, "you already did this.  That's not hard."  On the contrary, the only thing more difficult than taking on an extreme challenge for the first time is getting up the courage to put yourself through it all over again.  The second time, you know exactly how difficult it will be!
My goal is to raise £1,000 in 10 days, which is how long I have from now until I summit.  A gift of £50 will go a long way towards that target, and all the funds will go directly to Dimbleby Cancer Care, a phenomenal organisation in London that supports people living with cancer.
Give generously.  Lets show cancer what's what.
--
Kyle Taylor

02 October 2014

Remembering the past; affecting the future

Today was a somber day but an important one. Today we had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the devastating genocide that took the lives of more than one million Rwandans in 1994. It wasn’t a day for photographs or anecdotes or humor. It was a day for reflection, consideration and confrontation with something that was bound to upset us, confuse us and force us to think.
We began at Nyamata Memorial, where more than 10,000 people who were seeking refuge from the ‘genocidaires’ (as they’re called—those committing genocide) in a Catholic church were brutally massacred. The site is now home to a chilling memorial, the church is filled with the clothes of those killed and a mass grave holding 47,319 bodies of those murdered for no apparent reason. While we have always been taught it was an ethnic cleansing of “ethnic Tutsis” by “ethnic Hutus” we learned today that those distinctions were not actual ethnic groups. In fact, they were introduced by Belgian colonisers in the 1950s to divide and conquer the population. A Tutsi was anyone with 10 or more cattle and a Hutu was anyone else, which only served to make the genocide seem even more futile. While the entire experience was incredibly emotional, a real nerve was hit when we learned that two of our drivers had lost their entire families in the genocide and their parents and other relatives were buried right there where we were standing. To say it personalised and put a face to the experience is an understatement.
141001_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Visiting Kigali Museum and Memorial GardenIn the afternoon we visited the Kigali Museum and Memorial Garden, where more than 250,000 people are buried in a mass grave. The museum explored the history leading up to the genocide, the genocide itself and what has come afterwards. It also offered an overview of other genocides—The Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide and the Bosnian genocide—as well as an incredibly confronting exhibition about 12 children who were killed in the genocide. This incredible museum laid the framework for the conflict, explaining the role European powers played not only in dividing the population and causing conflict, but also in its and the rest of the world’s complete and utter failure to act in the face of one of the world’s greatest tragedies. It also shined a light on how genocide has now become a continual part of our human history despite a pledge in 1948 of “never again” by every nation on earth in the United Nations.
This chilling day led to an extremely thoughtful evening circle, where we come together each evening to discuss the day’s experiences. We talked about how the day made us feel—sad, angry, helpless. We talked about the futility of war and how the driving force behind this genocide and so many other conflicts in the world is an insistence to point out what’s different about each other, us and them, as opposed to what’s similar – we are all human beings trying to be healthy and happy in this life. We discussed how this related to our own countries and our own lives, from treatment towards Australia’s Indigenous population to bullying in school. Finally, we talked about what laid ahead. What’s become crystal clear to us in our time here is that this is a nation that has forgiven each other and is moving on, learning from their tragic history to ensure that this never happens again here.  Similarly, we know that we too need to move forward with our newfound knowledge and understanding, not just of past conflict but of present efforts by World Vision and so many others to drive long-term sustainable growth and bring prosperity, equality and justice to the people of Rwanda. That leaves us, the future, to take what we’ve learned and spread a message of hope, appreciation, kindness and forgiveness in every way we can. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and every student here is committed to making the most of it.

01 October 2014

Health Programs Deep In The Countryside

Tue 30 Sep: Going far beyond a paved road

Imagine driving somewhere really remote. From there, drive another 10 kilometres deeper into the remoteness. Are you there yet? Great. Now head another 10 kilometres away from there. Perfect. Now you have some sense of just how remote our visit today felt. Our hour long drive took us deep into a valley full of green tea farms. One of the most remote villages in northern Rwanda, the valley school is responsible for educating 1,700 children and it felt like we met almost every single one.140930_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_kids
We started our morning in the local health centre, where we were able to watch firsthand new born babies given every vaccination under the sun—polio, measles, mumps, typhoid, tetanus, tuberculosis and a few others as well! In fact, every child is vaccinated against more potential infections and diseases free of charge by the government than we are in Australia, Europe or North America! Unlike at home where we have the luxury of privacy, here the children were all together with their mothers, the doctors, a small army of 27 foreigners and anyone else who managed to wander in from nearby. We were all marvelling in just how fortunate we are to have such a modern and relatively luxurious medical system.140930_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_group at a health centre
From here we broke into three groups and had the opportunity to experience ‘a day in the life’ of some of the students in the local community. We visited their homes where their families welcomed us in with open arms, bug hugs and a kind offering of anything they had in the home. We were confronted with the stark reality that a family of eight can often live in a three-room home, sleeping shoulder to shoulder in one room while another is reserved for animals and a third is for cooking and eating. We carried water a great distance to cook, drink and feed the animals, tiled a small garden (which was exhausting) and got the best sense possible of what day-to-day life is like here, once again being reminded of how much we take basic needs—food, water and shelter—for granted, without even realising it.
After a box lunch in the school it was time to take to the classrooms, learning with and trying to teach to the middle and high school kids at the school. Their complex physics and maths work, however, left us wishing we had freshened up our minds before arriving!  And like all great days here in Rwanda we finished with a highly competitive game of soccer, where the school fielded their best players and absolutely destroyed us. It wasn’t pretty.140930_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Chloe, Sienna, Michael, Sophie, Jess, Candice, and Rebecca teaching a lesson at school
It’s early to bed now as we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow learning all about the devastating genocide of 1994, that not only rocked their nation but the African continent and the world.

29 September 2014

World Vision's locally led, sustainable education programs in Rwanda

Mon 29 Sep: The Kids


Today was day one of three project visit opportunities where the whole group had the opportunity to see firsthand where the money they have raised for World Vision is going. It was really something special. The day began with a decent drive along a washed out dirt road deep into the countryside of Northern Rwanda. We arrived at the day care centre just in time to help with the daily chores – collecting firewood to cook the kid’s lunch, collecting water to make the porridge, picking vegetables and peeling potatoes. It was a real wake-up call to think that these tasks have to be performed every day just to provide food and water to the young children.
140929_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_children at the childcare centre
Afterwards, the Kimberley College students were able to pop open their bags and bags of presents and enjoy a fun morning with the kids. There were bubbles, balloon animals, chalk drawings and even a foam football! It took a bit of time to really get the group going but we all slowly learned that the language of fun, happiness and laughter can break down any language barrier. Before sadly having to depart (there were several students jokingly threatening to take a child home with them) we all lined up and performed a choreographed dance to Nutbush City Limits by Tina Turner. This launched a bit of a dance-off with the children, who soundly crushed us with their singing, clapping and stomping that blew our little dance out of the water! 140929_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Candice bubbles
Following our lunch pit-stop back at the hotel it was back on the road to meet Chantal and Promesse, the focus children of this year’s 40 hour famine. Promesse’s family has been struggling with several vital issues – food, shelter and safety while Chantal had to leave school last year to help care for her younger siblings while her mother went to work on a farm to pay for food and shelter. She is only TWELVE years old. We were all taken aback by how grown up she was, which was absolutely a factor of her situation. World Vision Australia’s programs are slowly beginning to impact these young people’s lives and we were able to hear firsthand just how significant these programs have the potential to be on their lives.
We finished the day by once again breaking down all the traditional barriers to communication—common language, culture, etc.—through sport. This time it was a rousing game of soccer that pitted the tough students of Kimberley College against the incredible skills of an entire village of World Vision sponsor children.140929_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_socccer diplomacy
As you can probably imagine, even with the help of our exceptionally skilled local drivers, we were destroyed. More than anything, however, the group really learned to appreciate those rare moments when the first thing to come to mind is that we are foreign and they are local. We are white and they are black. We are wealthy and they are struggling with the cycles of poverty. Instead, for just a few moments, we were all just young people kicking a ball around trying to score a goal. It’s these moments more than any other that this group cherishes most.

28 September 2014

We Saw Monkeys! (And The Back of a Gorilla)

Sun 28 Sep: Monkeying around

There’s nothing quite like watching the African sunrise over the hills of Rwanda. Today we got to do just that, as we had a 5:30am wake-up to ensure we were in the jungle to track golden monkeys before the midday heat pushed them deeper and deeper into the heavy rainforest.
140928_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Hannah, Georgina, Sienna, Sam, Jess, Emma, Sophie, Candice, Lindsay and Jack at the start of the monkey trekAbout to begin their monkey trek
We were locked and loaded by 6:30am, zooming northward into Volcanoes National Park. After a thorough briefing from our local guides we headed off on foot. It was already hot and humid and the sun was already fierce. It poured with rain last night, which meant the air was clear, the grass was greener than greener and the path was MUDDY! We were slipping and sliding as we weaved through farmland, locals waving, smiling and yelling “hello!” as we passed.
140928_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Volcanoes National ParkThe Volcanoes National Park
It took us about thirty minutes before we hit the dense bamboo forest, where we regrouped before continuing on. The temperature dropped instantly as we were under heavy tree cover. The mud, however, did not abate! Neither did the biting ants, which were munching at our ankles as we went. Another thirty minutes and we reached a small clearing, where we dropped our daypacks to be more nimble to follow the golden monkeys. It was just another 100 metres to the monkeys. As we re-entered the forest, Greg, our charity rep, noticed our head guide talk into a walkie-talkie and dart off into the forest at full speed. We learned later that there was a gorilla just a few hundred metres away! While they’re far more scared of us than we are of them (they’re notorious for disappearing into the forest at the sight of a human) we of course had armed guards looking after us.
Gorilla sideshow sorted, we continued onward without realising that all of a sudden the golden monkeys were all around us! Left, right, up, down, leaping from branch to branch, ripping bamboo to shreds as they ate and coming right up to us almost curious about what we were doing. They took a particular liking to Joel, who came within a few feet of them as they looked him up and down. It was a truly surreal experience being consumed in every direction by wild monkeys!140928_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_monkey
We had over an hour with them before hiking our way back out and heading back to the hotel. While it’s not quite the season for the short rains, we seem to be getting them every afternoon and today was no different. In fact, we were in our rooms no longer than two minutes before monsoon-level intense rains blew open the balcony doors and pounded us for a good solid forty minutes. It was just fantastic.
We’re now nestled safely in our next hotel just a few minutes from the World Vision northern region head office following a two-hour drive on back country dirt roads through rural villages full of warm, smiling, waving people who couldn’t stop welcoming us to their magical country. Once again, another INCREDIBLE day.
Catch up on today’s guest blog by Kimberley College student, Tiffany - read blog.

27 September 2014

Lending A Hand In Kigali

Sat 27 Sep: Community Service in Rwanda

Wow does life feel good after a proper night of sleep! Everyone was up and ready for what turned out to be a really big day full of new experiences.
We learned last night that we were here for their monthly national day of community service, where every citizen and visitor across Rwanda spends the morning doing community service in their local area. There is a chairperson, a leadership committee and near mandatory participation. Cars are not allowed on the road, shops are not allowed to be open and even the president takes part!
140927_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_the sweepers on national community service day
We joined our local group and put it a solid few hours sweeping, raking and pruning a large section of land in the heart of Kigali.
140927_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Emily, Chelsea, Michael, Candice and Dave cleaning
Everyone really enjoyed the opportunity to get their hands dirty and several noted that it was a moment when they didn’t feel like tourists because everyone mucked in together regardless of anything at all.
From there we hopped in our transport vehicles and headed north for Ruhengeri, where we will visit the golden monkey preserve within Rwanda’s largest national park tomorrow. What we expected to be a scenic yet otherwise uneventful drive turned into a major cultural experience as we stopped to take in the view of the Nile river (under a different name here in Rwanda) which runs from the centre of the African continent all the way to the mediterranean sea!
Within minutes of arriving we were inundated by local kids who were curious at the large group of white people wandering around their village. This was the first experience like it for the group and it was a learning one. How do we take photos without feeling like we’re objectifying the local people? How do we not feel objectified when asked for money and food and other items? How are we perceived driving around a developing country in our convoy of SUVs while still trying to have a local experience? These questions and so many more are ones we will continue to work at answering over the next week.
140927_Kimberley College_World Vision Australia Experience Rwanda_Inspired Adventures_Jess making a new friend
We closed the day with a visit to the local market in Ruhengeri, which was also quite an experience. Again, the sites, sounds and smells took people by surprise and led to a really interesting conversation about what the word “need” really means. We’ve been here only 36 hours and already every one of us has been challenged to really think about so many aspects of our day-to-day lives. No doubt the next week will be truly life-changing. Be sure to read our guest blog by Kimberley College student, Chelsea Taylor – read blog.

26 September 2014

On The Road To Rwanda

After months of hard work, departure day finally arrived! The group have landed safe and sound in Bangkok and we are now playing cards, eating Burger King and enjoying massages (the hard life!) before catching our connection to Africa. Watch this space!

Below is the group cruising along a travelator (don't miss Mr. T doing his "escalator" moves) and Joel enjoying his first fresh coconut!




--Kyle Taylor

It's Time For Africa!

Fri 26 Sep: “Waka Waka – this time for Africa!”

The questions of the day were most certainly “what day is it?” and “what time zone are we in?”  Both were fair questions, as it took us three flights, thirty hours, and EIGHT time zones but we’re finally in Africa!
140926_World Vision_Experience Rwanda_Kimberley College_flying into Kigali_image by Inspired AdventuresThe theme of our travel was “EAT.”  It’s all we seemed to do. Eat on the plane, eat in the airport, eat in customs, eat at the hotel, EAT EAT EAT.  Everyone has managed the journey brilliantly. Our first-time flyer Ryan was a legend, we got to experience the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and even the “adults” (though we’re not THAT old) are functioning despite a serious lack of sleep.
Oh, and Shakira’s Waka Waka (Time For Africa) is running on loop in everyone’s head (check out the video!).
After showers and a little nap it was off to World Vision HQ for a security briefing followed by a wander around central Kigali, where everyone had the opportunity to take in the sights, sounds and smells of this bustling capital city.  It’s now just past 8pm and all 22 students are either fast asleep or on their way to dreamland. We have a big day ahead tomorrow. More soon!
140926_World Vision_Experience Rwanda_Kimberley College_resting in Kigali_image by Africa Wild Explorations_ Inspired Adventures

14 September 2014

Almost Jailed In Montenegro


I was saving this story for my final blog on this trip because it’s an absolute travel gem.  There are few days in my life that were more frightening, bizarre and hilarious all at the same time.  It of course involves a car, as all great stories on this trip do.  We’ve had difficulty getting the right car, difficulty finding gas for the car, difficulty parking the car, difficulty navigating the car around other drivers (I’m looking at you Turkey) and even difficulty backing the car up down a lane that got more and more narrow like the entrance to the factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  That last one was the ultimate Austin Powers moment as the car was wedged between a wall and another car (see below).  Still, nothing compares to this doozie of a day so buckle up and get ready for a rip roaring good time.

It all started in the hills of Montenegro just north of Niksic.  We had been driving for about an hour since lunch and came upon some gasoline spilled in the road which caused us to slide a little bit and resulted in a minor fender bender.  Because of our insurance, we had to call the police and obtain a report to ensure we didn’t get charged by the rental car company.  Seems easy enough.  Wrong.

A local guy offered to call the cops for us and while we were waiting it started to rain like it had never rained before.  I mean, we’re talking biblical rains and here we are stranded on the side of the road.  This is when we learned that the left two doors were now leaking, which meant said biblical rain was falling on Sarah and my head.  Awesome.  This is what also made us realize we’d need to have the car replaced.  You can’t carry on in a car that’s taking on water.  So the cop finally arrives and just immediately has that “You’re an idiot” air about him, shaking his head and surveying the scene as if to say “stupid foreign kids.”  Now, while we are indeed younger than this officer we are by know means kids.  I’m 30 for gods sake and we’re all either working professionals or obtaining higher higher degrees and yet his walk, his eye rolls and his general “you listen here sonny boy” demeanor is somehow wildly offensive.

Pasha spends a solid hour in the police car with him playing charades about what happens before he takes Pasha’s passport and drives away with no indication of what will happen next.  Our hopes of quickly picking up a new car and continuing on our trip are fading very very fast.  So now we’re once again stranded on the side of the road taking cover in an abandoned building.  As we’re standing there, another car swerves and slides and crashes IN THE EXACT SAME SPOT AS US.  We run to help and make sure everyone is okay, which they are, thank goodness.  His car is completely undrivable and a small contingent of burly southern European men push and cajole it to the side of the road.

A few more minutes pass and a tow truck arrives.  No doubt this is for our car but because there are two accidents the driver looks thoroughly confused.  Sarah and Aditi are pointing at our car like “hey man, take ours.  We were here first.  Lets get this show on the road.”  Fortunately, the police officer rolls up again before any decisions are made.  Seeing the second accident (and noting that it was caused by an upstanding father and husband), he bangs his head on his steering wheel and the air of superiority, though not completely gone, definitely begins to fade.

He assures the two truck driver that our car is in fact first up and we frantically remove all the bags from the boot as he hoists the little Skoda onto the flat bed, demands 50 euros in cash, then drives away with our rental car to god knows where.  So now we’re on the side of the road.  In the middle of Montenegro.  With no car.  And all of our bags.  And a Russian family.  And an irritable cop.  What.  To.  Do.

Fortunately, one of the local guys offers to act as our translator and coerces from the cop that I will need to go with him to the police station to make a report.  At the same time our car rental company has indicated that a replacement car won’t be with us until the following afternoon, which means we’ll be staying in wonderful Niksic for the night!  Aditi - a newly minted lawyer - suggests she come along to the police station.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team orders a taxi with plans to check us into Niksic’s only hotel.  “Meet you there in an hour,” Aditi offers up as we pull away with the policeman.  No such luck.

We arrive to what appears to be a police force in chaos.  There are officers everywhere looking incredibly busy but actually doing very little.  Cell phones are ringing constantly, people are walking with intent in every direction but as soon as you dig just slightly under the surface it’s all too easy to see that there is no substance to the activity.  An office opens a filing cabinet to reveal piles of papers strewn in every possible direction.  Bent, torn, upside down, you name it.  Meanwhile, we notice another officer in the corner typing away on his computer using only ONE finger.  Not one finger of each hand, just ONE FINGER.  It’s utterly bizarre.

Aditi and I are shuttled from room to room, no clear sense of what is happening.  The poor Russian man - who doesn’t speak a work of Montenegran - is being shouted at by a team of officers who clearly don’t speak a word of Russian.  They’re using the “if I speak louder then he will understand” approach to no avail.  Fortunately, we meet a man who speaks English and is in our same situation.  He offers to help us along and genuinely saves the day.  A solid hour later we’re brought into an interview room where I am asked to write down - in English - what happened.  This takes no more than five minutes, during which the officer receives and answers no fewer than seven phone calls on his cell phone, his ringtone blasting “I’m Sexy And I Know It” every time.  I hand it back to him and ask our new translator if he is able to find out how quickly I can get a copy of the report.  He and the officer have a short conversation before he tells me “you have to come back in an hour to see the judge who will rule on your trial.”  What the what?!

Offered no further explanation, Aditi and I beeline it to the hotel to catch up with the rest of the team, where we regale them with our absurd experiences so far before heading back to the station for our trial, which ends up not being at the station at all.  It is now after 10pm.  This debacle started at 5:20pm.  An officer shows us to his car where we hop in to be driven who knows where.  Five minutes later we arrive to what looks like an abandoned strip mall.  Our car is parked outside, still on the tow truck.  The office leads us into a lobby where we sit and wait for another hour before a woman walks out and says in English, “the judge will see you now.”  We hop up, I pass her, walk in, her the door close, turn around and see that Aditi has been left outside.  Oh no.

The room looks like the office of an insurance salesman in Glendale.  Sparse walls decorated with inspiration posters, a few desks, the oldest Dell computers on earth and some very random characters.  The judge is wearing shorts, flip flops, and a polo shirt.  His clerk is sitting to his left and on “the bench” is my translator and myself.  The cop is also sitting opposite us.  There is also a random young woman sitting in the corner playing candy crush WITH THE SOUND ON who I learn later is the “official witness” to I have no idea what.  The proceedings, I gather.

We start by my translator reading my supposed account of the accident which sounds like a East German style rewrite where I’m claiming responsibility for not only this car accident (that affected no other vehicles) but also everything else bad that has happened in the world from the dawn of time until now.  “You accept you are a bad and dangerous driver and subjected society to danger by your terrible actions,” the translator read.  “No, I didn’t write any of those things,” I respond, as we work together to rewrite the statement though I can’t read it so I have no idea what’s actually being put down.  We then confirm my name as Kyle Tyler (wrong), my address as East Vagina Ave (also wrong, and “corrected” to East Viagra Ave, no joke) and my ethnicity as - wait for it - American Samoa.  Despite correcting this the final documents of the court end up saying all of the above, which means if I am ever in trouble again in Montenegro they’ll be looking for a stalky islander who lives on Viagra Avenue.

Next the policeman goes and says their investigations have shown there was gasoline spilled on the road.  I’m thinking, “great.  The cop acknowledges there were unforeseeable obstacles.  That should wrap this up and I should be out of here in no time.”  Wrong.  Even with this admission, according to Montenegran law I can still be charged with “public endangerment” regardless of the fact that it was an accident for which I was not at fault.  I know this because my translator read directly from the 400-page book of statues that cover traffic violations ONLY.  At one point I asked her if I might go to jail.  Her response?  “Let me ask the judge.”  After a lengthy exchange she turned to me and said “no, but the judge says you will have to pay a fine.  I know it’s crazy but this is Montenegro.  It’s corruption!”  At least she was honest.

With no further additions from me the judge rendered his verdict: A fine of 130 euros payable in cash only.  As I had none on me (we had only just arrived in Montengro) the cop proceeded to drive me to an ATM where I pulled out money and was returned to the court.  When I got back the translator said to me, “good news Kyle!  While you were away I bargained down your fine to 100 euros!”  Okay, let me start by saying this is excellent news but seriously, why on earth can you BARGAIN DOWN A GOVERNMENT FINE?  This country is trying to accede to the European Union. This type of corruption just won’t cut it.  Anyway, I paid the fine in cash, got a receipt with ten different “official” stamps on it, and was then returned with Aditi to the police station to pick up the police report.  By this time it was after midnight - a seven-hour saga that ended with a  criminal record for me, a fine, and a delay in our trip.

Now all we needed was a copy of the police report, which was of course the only thing we needed to begin with and it wasn’t even for us - it was for the rental car company!  The officers told us it wouldn’t be ready until the morning (naturally) so we headed back to the hotel, drank lots of local brandy and regailed the group with our absurd happenings.  As you might expect, the next day was equally absurd.  More cops buzzing around like they had no idea why we were there, further delays, a fee that had to be paid at the post office to obtain an official receipt that had to then be brought back to the police station, several phone calls to who knows who and lots of single finger typing in the corner.  It took nearly two hours in the end just to get a copy of the report.  Our replacement car (a microscopic Chevy Aveo) arrived just after 5pm, concluding what was possibly the most absurd 24 hours of my life.  But man, does it make for a great story!


-Kyle Taylor

12 September 2014

Sarajevo is Splendid


I first had the good fortune of coming to Sarajevo in 2004 when I was studying abroad in Europe.  My program was based in Brussels and focused on the European Union.  The EU has just taken over administration for the transitional faze of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government.  It was less than ten years since the siege on the city and less than five years since the regional conflict ended entirely.  Blown up buildings were still commonplace.  Those that were still standing were riddled with bullet holes.  Even our hotel - The Holiday Inn and only major hotel at the time - still showed signs of having been mortared when the Serbian separatists and Yugoslav Army parked themselves in the surrounding hills and spent years shooting rockets, bombs and bullets at its residents.  They were literally trying to bomb them into submission.



The citizens of Sarajevo didn’t waiver, however.  Faced with almost certain death and no arms to fight back they built a secret underground tunnel (pictured above) beneath the airport that led from the city to “Free Bosnia” through which they funneled telecommunications, electricity, food, and armaments.  The Serbs had also cut off all water supplies into the city.  Thankfully, they were unaware that the Austral-Hungarian built beer brewery had tapped into a separate natural spring 100 years before.  This became the lifeline of the city and people smuggled in large canisters to fill up and take home on an almost daily basis.  The Serbs couldn’t figure out how the residents were staying alive and in the end, they won out though there was still a horrific loss of life and property.  Just for some perspective, this was taking place while the US was entwined with the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and the UK were ushering in a new era of politics with New Labour’s dramatic landslide victory.  The internet bubble was still expanding and meanwhile there was a full-out ethnic conflict (and genocide) in Europe.  Amazing stuff.


The lat ten years have seen monumental change in the city and it took no more than an hour for all of us to be completely endeared by its charm, character, and all-around perfection.  From fascinating history museums (this was also the place where World War I started) to beautiful architecture, adorable pedestrian lanes to bustling market squares Sarajevo has everything a city needs to charm you.  And lets not forget the food and drinks.  Our “food highlight” was definitely a recently moved (thanks for nothing Lonely Planet) restaurant where there are no menus.  You simply tell the waiters what you like and don’t like and the chefs whip up a culinary masterpiece accompanied by soup, dessert, and bottles of champagne all for the price of a meal at McDonald’s.  The local brewery also housed a spectacular beer hall serving up pints for under a dollar.  The sites, sounds and tastes were further magnified by the people.  Lovely, kind, warm, generous, smiling people.  Our first apartment even came with its own grandma, who nattered on in Bosnian while wearing a massive smile as she cooked us local specialties in her oven.

Four days simply wasn’t enough and Sarajevo is on the top of my “return as soon as possible” list.


-Kyle Taylor

11 September 2014

The Balkan Coast - Europe's Best Kept Secret


I had seen the pictures.  Endless coastlines dotted with beautiful coved beaches.  Picturesque jagged cliffs plunging into the sea.  Otherworldy lakes.  Charming old walled cities buzzing with an air of rediscovered glory.  Last and certainly not least, uncrowded and affordable.  The Balkan coastline absolutely delivered.

After a harrowing descent down the side of a cliff face in pitch black (the most frightening drive I have undertaken, enhanced by the fact that I was behind the wheel of a Chevy Aveo stuffed to the brim with people and bags), we rolled into the seaside town of Budva, Montenegro to find we were perhaps the only non-Russians and non-Serbs in the entire city.  It was freeing to feel like the only language-incapable guests.  Like we were totally incognito in a very backwards way.

We had dinner in the shadows of the old city walls listening to fantastic local singer belt out western diva classics that culminated in a sultry slow rendition of Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind.  It was totally surreal.


The next few days were spent lake and beach hopping, interlinked by gorgeous country drives and - despite it being the business month - fairly few crowds save for on the sand itself (which looked like a patchwork of leathery sunburned human flesh).  The lakes!  The beaches!  The vistas!  And of course, Sveti Bar - a little island connected to the mainland via a thin spit of sand that forms one of the most stunning coastline views I have ever seen.


From Budva it was northward to Dubrovnik via The Bay of Kotor, which felt like stumbling upon one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  It left me torn as to whether I should tell people about it so they can visit or keep it all to myself.  It was just stunning!


We completed our coastal adventure in Dubrovnik which is without question the most beautiful town in Europe.  The external walls are perfect.  The uniform red roofs are perfect.  The tiny lanes, draped in people’s washing lines and dotted with cute street lights and al fresco dining were too adorable to feel real.  In fact, that was the general feeling about the entire town - like we were enveloped in our own little fairy tale of perfection.


On our last day we rented a boat piloted by Captain Sarah French Brennan and spent from dawn to dusk island hopping along the Dalmation Coast.  It was, at times, all a bit too incredible and borderline overwhelming.  There were endless “pinch me” moments and I just can’t wait to get back.


Did I mention it’s wonderful?


-Kyle Taylor

A few gorgeous pics:

Lake Skadar, Montenegro

 Sveti Bar

 Montenegrin Alps

 Lanes in Dubrovnik

 Swimming Outside Dubrovnik's City Walls

 Butterfly!

03 September 2014

Homeless & Angry at 3AM. It Gets Worse





Imagine the scene. It’s 7:30pm. We’ve just driven 30% of the way across Turkey and arrive at the airport in Kayseri to fly back to Istanbul. We’re driving the Fluence and we’re just about to give it back. There is unadulterated joy in our hearts as we pull into the airport parking lot. I can see the manager - the one who “cancelled” our reservation in a rest stop off the side of the highway ten days before after having failed in any way to provide the car that we booked. We debate amongst ourselves whether or not to drive the car into a post before their very eyes. After all, “Steve’s car,” as we learned we were driving, comes with full insurance. We decide to be good ambassadors for our nation instead and return it without incident, quickly check in for our late-night flight, and spend some time in the airport cafe drinking tea and writing emails.

Our flight was planned to arrive incredibly late into Istanbul and we had told our AirBnB host literally MONTHS before of this detail. The host, Ipek, sent us numerous messages saying that would be no problem and I had spoken to her on the phone in Kayseri around 9pm where she had said “call me when you land and I will meet you there.” While everything was, on paper, totally fine, in practice we all felt a looming sense of doom.

We landed at midnight, bags took an hour and the bus into the city took another 30 minutes to sort out, meaning we didn’t arrive to central Istanbul until about 2:30am. The entire bus journey we were calling the host non-stop. I probably rang her no fewer than 35 times, all with no answer. We simultaneously emailed her, sent her AirBnB messages, and everything else in-between. Now, Istanbul is a lovely place but it doesn’t where I am - I don’t want to be without a bed at 2:30am.

Our plan was to hop in a taxi and go to the lodging, hoping she had perhaps fallen asleep or something. A seemingly lovely older gentleman cab driver offered to take all five of us with all of our bags. We loaded up (clown car style) and zoomed towards what was meant to be our apartment for three nights that we had booked and paid for two months prior.

First problem: there is no street number listed. This left me using photos on AirBnB of the front door to determine that it had rainbow-coloured stained glass which was naturally SO EASY to see in pitch black at 3am. Our taxi - a teeny tiny Chevy Aveo (smallest sedan on the market) was screeching up and down this MASSIVE hill, 6 grown adults, 5 grown suitcases and 5 big backpacks inside. We were burning rubber and spinning out. It was ridiculous.

Finally, we decided to continue on foot and asked the cab driver to pull off and wait. We found the apartment and assumed there would be a key or something but alas, none. We carried on banging on doors and shouting her name, only to wake up another guest who had been shunned by Ipek, the Terror of Istanbul, as she would now be known. She told us Ipek lived around the corner and that she was “impossible to get a hold of.” Super. Still, she was more than willing to show us the way. We found her apartment and started banging on the doors and windows (the lights were on inside) to no avail. Things were getting desperate.




Everyone swung into action, eager for a shower and some sleep. Pasha was doing recon of the whole building while contemplating throwing a rock through Ipek’s window. Aditi went back to the other building and started banging on doors and shouting. Sarah was standing outside Ipek’s window yelling “Ipek, come on! IPEK, let us in” (she was also using several expletives that shall remain anonymous). Shelley took the job of watching our bags and ensuring the taxi driver, who was still standing outside waiting, didn’t drive away with all of our wordily possessions. Meanwhile, I just continued to hit dial on the phone, hoping Ipek had just fallen asleep or something. And then….she answered:

“Hello, this is Ipek” she said.

“Ipek, it’s your guests. We are here. Please let us in. We’re right outside,” I said cooly but directly.

“What are you talking about? It’s late. I’m tired. Call me in the morning.”

“Um, no, we paid for lodging and you confirmed it. I spoke to you at 9pm and you said once again that you would let us in late. We’re standing in the street and it’s cold and we’re tired and we have PAID YOU so let us in.”

“It’s late. This is crazy. Call me tomorrow. We can talk about it.”

“Where do you want us to sleep? We have a confirmed reservation. We have PAID YOU IN FULL. Come here and let us in RIGHT NOW” (insert expletives).

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. This isn’t Ipek. She’s not here.”

“What are YOU talking about? You told me you were Ipek when you answered. Now come and open the $%*#@*&%@#*%& mother #$#*&$#%^@ door IMMEDIATELY.”

“It’s late. I’m tired. I’m not in Istanbul. I’m away. Call me tomorrow.”

“This is fraud. You took our money and we have a reservation. Now either you or someone better come here immediately to open this door or we will report you for fraud, give you a horrific review, and make sure not only your business is destroyed, but your reputation is destroyed as well.”

“Fine, whatever. I don’t care. Cancel. I’ll keep your money. I’m hanging up now. I’m tired and it’s late. Call me tomorrow.”

AND THEN SHE HUNG UP! On grounds of fraud and horror this was shocking but add in grounds of basic human decency and you have perhaps the most unprofessional and most inhumane thing that has EVER happened to any of us. This was, without question, the most horrific travel experience of my long, well-traveled life.

Thankfully, Sarah hadn’t been as optimistic as me and wrote down the names and numbers of several hostels. The first one came through and had a room for us (at 3am) so we lugged our bags across town huffing and puffing and plotting our revenge on Ipek, which we took out in the form of hate mail, rude text messages, and a full-on assault on AirBnB. Suffice to say, she may well never come back to Istanbul.

As you can imagine, we’re not laughing about it and I have to say, despite everything that happened in that short period of time in the wee hours of the morning, not one person lost their cool.

-Kyle Taylor

- Posted using BlogPress from my KyPhone

23 August 2014

WINstanbul/IstanBLAMMO





Lets start with what we know. Traveling in Turkey is hard. Next to India, it's the most "difficult" place to sojourn I have perhaps ever been. Istanbul, however, is like a city state - this isolated, quite different place from anywhere else in the country. Think London to England.

The real challenge in Istanbul is the volume of humans, as everyone sea to have also figured out just how awesome the city is. After all, it has been at the center of a major empire for most of the last several thousand years and today straddles the Bosphorus, sitting half in Europe and half in Asia.




From the Hagia Sofia (which was a church then a mosque then a church then a mosque then a museum to the Grand Bizarre, ancient underground Roman cisterns to a near new modern art museum, there are tons of must-sees and must dos, all with hours of lines that aren't really lines and droves of tourists and large tour groups. If not done well, you could spend most of your time standing around. Fortunately, we killed it. No lines, no fuss and massive savings. Hence the name of this blog. You want to WIN in Istanbul be able to say "BLAMMO" at the end of every victory? Follow these top tips:




-On your first day in the city visit Topkopi Palace first thing in the morning and buy a 3-day Muze Kart. With this card you save money and get to cut almost all the lines. When you're buying it also skip past the line. There is a Muze Kart sale window past the fuss of the crowds and there seemed to be nobody who caught on to this save for us. Spend the rest of day 1 at the Grand Bizarre.



-Finish day 1 on the Bosphorus. Save money by riding the local ferry called TurYok. $2 a ride!







-Start day two PROMPTLY at 9am by visiting the underground Roman cistern, which has long lines from 10am and no Muze Kary queue jump.

-Head IMMEDIATELY to the Hagia Sofia next door. Again go right to the front and flash your Muze Kart to save time. You should be inside by 9:45 - just beating the horrifying crush of people that emerges from 10am.

-Next walk directly over to the Blue Mosque and go directly inside. External views come next.




-After running yourself rampant all morning head straight up to a rooftop cafe overlooking the Blue Mosque and take in this view over a leisurely cup of tea.




-Take the afternoon off then get yourself all gussied up and take in cocktails, dinner and dancing in Taksim, Istanbul's heart of "cool."

-If you have more time visit Istanbul Modern, the region's most impressive modern art gallery. A good guidebook can also talk you through the rest of the museums, sites and day trips beyond the absolute "must-dos."

Good luck!

-Kyle Taylor

- Posted using BlogPress from my KyPhone

Location:Žrtava fašizma,,Montenegro

22 August 2014

Central Turkey is Gorgeous





So far I've focused perhaps too much on the funny and difficult bits of our time in Turkey without singing its praises. Central Turkey is spectacularly beautiful and it deserves at least one entry dedicated to that.

At the crossroads of the crusades, the Silk Road and the meeting of two continents, this dry desert fuels images of the Mojave in California and the red rock mountain ridges of Utah with dabbles of Arizona and New Mexico.

We spent time in three unique places, all with their own rich history and beauty.








Our first stop was Goreme in Cappadocia. This ancient civilization, while evolving with the modern world, has, in parts, continued to live in caves carved into the sides of its hillscape. This makes sense, considering how incredibly warm it was. We also partook, sleeping in a cave hotel that absolutely lived up to the hype.




Next it was a subterranean adventure in the underground city of Derinkuyu. As early as 3000 BC a community of more than 30,000 people had carved into the earth an underground world five stories tall as much as 210 feet deep to escape the climate and conflict above.

There were rooms for animals and sleeping, numerous churches and even a classroom for the children's schooling. It was fascinating!













Finally, we reached Pamukkale, where the temperatures soared to over 115 degrees Fahrenheit forest of the day. Thankfully, part of the experience was bathing in ancient clay baths filled by natural hot springs that cascade down the mountain in a truly otherworldly way. We definitely enjoyed ourselves.




At the top of the hillside, entirely protected by both vantage point and surrounding natural "walls" stood Heliopolis - Turkeys best preserved Roman ruins. This city was once the third largest in Rome'a empire and a global centre of art, culture and finance. To think that so much had happened in this now remote and isolated place was a reminder of how short our blip of life is in the history and story of both human civilization in particular and the planet in general.

So alas, despite the stresses of traveling here the places and experiences were absolutely worth it. Now back to Istanbul we go!

-Kyle Taylor


- Posted using BlogPress from my KyPhone

Location:5. proleterske brigade,,Montenegro

21 August 2014

On A Mission To Lead By Following (The Rules)





It's no secret we've had a few run-ins with our car rental company. We had a contractual agreement. They didn't follow it. That's breaking the rules. That is somehow okay here. This just isn't okay.

Nowhere has this propensity for rule-breaking been more apparent then while driving. For example, their are lane markers to delineate where people should keep their cars - in a lane. Any lane of their choosing (as long as they're going in the right direction, which we will get to later). In Turkey we have witnessed and were later told that driving right down the middle of a two-lane highway is not only allowed bit recommended. This of course makes no sense but the practice is rampant. Blinkerless, aimless roaming from lane to lane appears to be a national pastime.

Despite this and the other driving-related activities outlined below it does have to be said that we did not witness a single car accident or the aftermath of a car accident all of our 1100 miles. I managed to contain my LA road rage until yesterday when we reached Konya and the driving reached a new level of unsafe and I decided the least we could do was honk furiously in an effort to point out that such activities were incredibly dangerous. They included:

-A guy in an eleven-passenger van turning left across three lanes of forward traffic IN THE MIDDLE OF A ROUNDABOUT with his flashers on, inches from driving directly into us.

-A guy driving backwards in the innermost lane of the freeway.

-A guy driving backwards in the outermost lane of the freeway.

-A guy driving down the median of the freeway.

-A guy knowingly turning into a one-way street going the wrong direction. This one involved me honking and directing until he backed himself up down the street from which he turned then continuing down the road in the correct direction.

This was all punctuated not in a car but on a plane. As we landed in Istanbul, five people stood up and walked right down the aisle to the front while we were still taxing at breakneck speed falling a bumpy landing in the middle of a thunderstorm. The flight attendants did nothing but I found this incredibly dangerous for them and for the rest of us. They were opening the overhead bins, moving bags, and shouting that they had a connecting flight so they just had to get off quickly.

Perhaps the lack of rules or lack of enforcement of rules in the cultural norm and that's okay as long as it doesn't involve a motor vehicle or a Boeing 737. Somehow I think that's reasonable.

-Kyle Taylor

- Posted using BlogPress from my KyPhone

18 August 2014

Whirling Dervishes!

We stopped in Konya for a Sufi experience watching the whirling dervishes, who commit their lives to their faith similar to a monk. The idea behind the spinning is getting closer to the "ecstasy of god." It was beautiful, fascinating and intense!

YouTube Video



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Almost Stranded In The Desert



In short, this rental car is THE WORST. We're still not even sure it's a rental car because it was insinuated that it may in fact be Steve's car or Bob's car, just on loan to us for a few days. "You know, like borrowing your friend's car" is, I believe, what we were told. It has nearly 100,000 miles on it. The engine temperature dances up and down as we traverse hills or just sit idling. It stalls standing still. The fact that we've nearly driven half-way across Turkey and back is, in many way, a miracle.
Without question, our biggest near-disaster on the trip as a whole took place just after we'd turned off of a dirt track that guided us through the mountains from one valley into the next, cutting off about an hour of driving time as we didn't have to go AROUND the whole mountain range. By the way, this dirt track was on google maps as a legitimate road. More on google maps later. Anyway, we were back on the main highway and cruising along at about 75 miles per hour which may or may not be the speed limit. We can't be certain about such matters because there are no speed limit signs, except when they want you to slow down to 30 miles an hour occassionally for no apparent reason (which nobody does).
So we're cruising along and start up a grade. I downshift from fifth to what I think is fourth but accidentally go into second for a split second. Well, this just enrages the car, which starts into a total fit. I go into fourth and attempt to accelerate up this hil to no avail at all. Then to third. Still nothing. In second we're able to crawl at about 20 miles per hour, inching slowly upward.
Now, it is approximately 1000 degrees outside give or take. We're in the middle of what feels like the desert. The gearbox is clunking out. I felt fairly confident this was an easy fix but the group were undestandably restless and concerned. My main goal was to get to the top of the hill, as it's always easier to get back down facing forward than slide backwards down the side of a mountain. At least that's what I was telling myself.
We reached the apex of the pass after what felt like an eternity. The car was just chugging and chugging upward, several lights on the dash flashing, several pings coming at us in multiple tones, lengths, and strengths. I turned the engine off, reset the clutch, waited a moment, then turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. OH. GOD. Again. Nothing. Holy F*$@. I instantly started to sweat. Everything bad that could possibly happen to us was running through my head. Did we have enough water? Was there any food? How far was the nearest town? If it came to ultimate survival, who would be eaten first? Of course none of these things would happen because we had five iPhones between us, GPS maps, and we were on a very well-travelled highway but still, the irrational stress when stuck on the top of a hill in the middle of the desert when it is a million degrees outside is seemingly uncontrollable.
With all that on my mind I fiddled with the clutch, depressed the clutch and brake and turned the key. The diesel engine slowly chug-chug-chug-chugged back to life. Everyone in the car erupted in cheers and applause. I put the car into first gear and away we went, as if nothing had happened. But something had happened, and it was the damn Fluence's fault.
This is, of course, not the only thing that makes this car THE WORST. A few more:
The trunk. It's small and the hinges swing into the trunk, which makes it a pain in the rear to pack. It's also like tetris. Everything only fits in one way, as exhibited by this photo.

The iPod input cable. It's mini jack to RCA. WHAT YEAR WAS THIS CAR BUILT THAT IT HAS AN RCA CABLE IN IT?
Finally, a note on google maps. We're alll fairly certain they haven't been to Turkey. There are roads on google that don't exist in real life. There are roads that exist in real life that don't exist on google. There is highway after highway that just ends in a pile of dirt. On google maps, they carry on into the sunset. It's like two different countries, which has just added to the excitement and the adventure, especially when it's 700 degrees outside. Oh, have I mentioned it's HOT?!
-Kyle Taylor
- Posted using BlogPress from my KyPhone

Location:Küçük Bayram Sokağı,Hüseyinağa,Turkey