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The Questions


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It’s possible to go through Amsterdam airport and not notice the extra security, it’s possible for Schiphol to appear like any other airport… unless you are flying Al El (Israeli Airlines).

A quick rewind: I left New Orleans early in the morning, flew to New York then straight out to Helsinki. Arrived in Helsinki at 9am, hung out in the city all day then caught a flight to Amsterdam, crashed in a Airport hotel overnight… and now we’re current.

After walking past 20+ other international check-ins, you come to Al El, but before you notice them you notice the 6 men in blue, full tactical, rocking MP5’s all kitted out (even their scopes have scopes). I’m still in the process of geeking out over their hardware when it’s my turn to be asked some questions before check-in, “Are you traveling alone?”, Yes, “stand over there please”. Now I get to answer questions for someone else.

I’ll refer to these as “The Questions”, they would soon become routine as I’d have to answer them 3-4 times with different people every time I traveled in & out of Israel.

Why are you traveling alone, why do you want to go (insert country I’m trying to get to), who do you know there, where do they live, what are their names, who is funding your trip, what is your job, why did you visit the Emirates, who do you know there, who are you still in contact with there, why did you fly here from (insert where I’ve come from), do you have weapons, do you have explosives, have you been given items to deliver to other people, how much do you get paid, do you have work ID with you…

So after answering these for the 3rd time, a guy introduces himself as the head of security & asks me the questions again, has a quick conversation with one of the others and leaves. I wouldn’t talk to him again but he’d observe every part of the process I’d go through.

All my bags go somewhere, I get my boarding pass & am told to go to Gate 10… on the way I pass another gate with my flight number, there are armed Amsterdam tactical police at both entrances to the gate, you have to show them your boarding pass to be let into the gate area.

Sidenote: A couple of things which jump out at me about this, there are no other airlines nearby, Amsterdam is clearly taking the security of Al El seriously (no one else has the extra attention), and all the security screening is carried out by Israeli airport & security personal… does this even happen for other countries? With all my flights into the US it always surprised me how relaxed their security screening is… sometimes there is none, you grab your bag, show your passport & go, it always surprised me how reliant they were on the security of the country you left. Not Israel, they have there peeps overseas.

 

I walk past this gate and head to G10… which is down some stairs… and not a gate at all.

I sit and I wait. I’m a little concerned I’m going to miss my flight, it’s taken an hour so far.

I’m assured I haven’t been forgotten & I won’t miss my flight.

As I wait other passengers come and go, they have a brief check of their bags & are sent on their way. I meet a family (brother, sister and dad) from Germany, we chat for a bit until we get asked if we know each other, “no”, “then why are you talking”… umm because I’m a generally-friendly-non paranoid-humanbeing.

I get to do the questions again.

And then I have to take every single item out of my bag & have it scanned & swabbed.

And then I get asked a bunch of questions about every electrical item I have, I have to turn it on, show that the camera is functioning & prove that it is mine by showing pics of myself… at this stage I’ve been asked the “who am I visiting” question at least 5 times, they can’t seem to comprehend that I’m traveling by myself to a country I’ve never been to or know anyone. So while I’m searching for pictures the guy tries super casually to slip in, “maybe you could show me some pictures of the friends you’re visiting”… ohh super smooth.

How does he expect that to play out? Sure here’s a pic of me and my new friends at terrorist training camp 7, here’s me at my hijacking graduation.

My shaver has no pictures of me in it. Along with a few other items it doesn’t get to travel with me, instead it’s stored in a box in Amsterdam airport until my return.

And then we get to my clothes. The ones I’m wearing.

I have to get changed into these blue track pants and everything I’m wearing gets scanned & tested & I get the special pat down & scan treatment… at this stage I’m just thankful the rubber glove hasn’t come out.

I’m then left to change & re-pack before being escorted onto the plane. We depart 30 mins late, I’m happy they held the flight.

My carry-on bag has to get checked, I’m not allowed to take my tablet, phone, travel pillow, wallet, or anything onto the plane except my boarding pass & passport… oh, and my seat has been changed from the extra-leg-room emergency exit to a regular seat.

As I’m leaving the plane in Tel Aviv a steward brings me a bottle of wine & apologizes for my treatment. I smile, things are looking up.

And then I reach passport control, and we do ‘The Questions’ for 30 mins, and the people lined up behind me have to be hating me, as my guy spends considerable time consulting with another. The German family pass me on the right, we share a few jokes & smiles about our experience.

“Do you know them?!”

F#@% off!

Welcome to Israel

 

 

 

 

 

 

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adventures

Bourbon faced on sh!t street


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After four days in Springfield I arrive in New Orleans for 2 nights & 1 day, much like Vegas… Bourbon Street is also much like Vegas, just on a much smaller scale.

And while you have the same guys standing outside strip clubs encouraging you to “take a break for boobies” there seems to be a lot more culture to Nola. I’m crashing at India House hostel (a very cool hip funky hostile, neat space).

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The Blur that is Bourbon street

After a decent walk to Bourbon St – I’d later figure out the tram system – I found a sweet sports bar called Bayou Burger, they do these amazing Kettle chips covered in blue cheese sauce, and I had an Alligator burger (because I could), tasted a little bit like minced pork/rabbit.

After that I ended up in a tiny jazz bar listening to some 50-60 old musicians make magic happen, met a couple of girls who’d just moved to New Orleans, we hung out at a very cool, yet crazy karaoke bar (that’s a sentence you’ll never hear me repeat) called The Cat’s Meow.

Wandered a little.

Caught the sunrise. Caught some Zzzzz’s.

The next day was pretty chilled. I wandered around a few areas that still had abandoned housing, much like some of Christchurch’s post-earthquake east-side, except the greenery was doing it’s best to envelope a few places.

Later in the evening I was walking through an area where the windows all had cages on the outside, storm proofing I thought, until I noticed that they were only on the ground floor windows… umm does this mean I’m no longer in a “safe” neighborhood?

I talk to some houseless people who’ve taken up residence at night under an overpass, they get chased off during the day. It seems a few have also taken to using abandoned houses when they can, but it’s hard for their presence to go unnoticed. They’re aware this can’t go on forever as housing is rebuilt or pulled down, the constant battle with the greenery a summer fire risk. I see none around Bourbon Street, they’re not welcome there.

On my way back I stop in for another Bayou burger before heading down Bourbon St one last time, then home, still Zzz’s to catch up on & an early flight in the morning.

Moment that best describes Bourbon Street

I exit a bar, a few tourist are stumbling down the road with fluorescent green grenades (that they’re drinking out of),  to the right a trumpet band are putting on a show, across the road is a place for live sex shows, a family pushes a stroller along an evening walk…

to the left a man with a bull-horn is yelling something, behind him are a couple of old laddies & another guy holding a big white cross, it has a red LED display scrolling words along the centre, I make out “hell” and something about “eternal damnation”. Behind them is another guy with a bull-horn facing and yelling in the opposite direction, some guys are doing the “party-boy” dance with him,. He yells louder.

I wonder if their message is heard, I’m left guessing as to what it might be.
I ask to take a photo, they say ok along as I’m not putting a video on Youtube (grandma is clearly with it).

WP_001597_editedShe wants to say a prayer for me.

side note. I have no problem with anyone from any form of spirituality wanting to pray for me, it’s led to some pretty special conversations, such as the first night I arrived in San Fransisco & a woman wanted to read my palm, initially I declined, then it ended up raining & we shared the same souvenir-shop-canopy for shelter.

Bourbon Street: I’m standing in the middle of the street with an old lady praying for me, with bullhorns, cross, strollers, sex show, trumpets…. and nothing seems out of place or odd to anyone.

Welcome to Bourbon street. Definitely crazier than Vegas.

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adventures

Where Dreams Come True


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Springfield, Missouri??!

It’s the inevitable response I receive when I’m listing off where I’ve been and where I’m going. Springfield, Missouri?!?!

But what they don’t know is Springfield is where dreams come true, I know, I’ve got the t-shirt.

 

Back when Y2k was on everyone’s mind, The Matrix was released, people lined up for days to see The Phantom Menace… shortly followed by people moaning for days about The Phantom Menace, Helen Clark was elected Prime Minister, Clinton was screwing around, a couple of kids shot up their Colorado school, and a little-punk version of myself attended Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Missouri as a foreign exchange student.

106_6898620773_8600_nFast forward 4 years and a slightly bigger-less-little-punk version of myself was watching Michael Jordan’s last All-Star game when it dawns on him that, this is it, this is MJ’s last year… this the last time he will play… this is the last opportunity to see him play…

Within the space of a few weeks a planned pilgrimage to witness the games greatest play for the first, and last time had ballooned from 3 weeks to 3 months (haha history repeats itself).

 

 

And as much as seeing MJ play live (Duncan, T-Mac, KG as well) will be forever imprinted in my mind, another highlight for me was meeting with a group of guys and doing life & faith with them… it would prove to be a profound and significant few months for me.

10 years. It’s been 10 years since I was here last.

I was greeted by snow & more arrived while I was here, which unfortunately meant a couple of people I’d hoped to catch up with were unable to make the drive, but I was blessed to be able to catch up with four of them, we even gathered in the same house.

10yrs since we’d gathered together.

It’s made a nice bookend of time. Given me two firm benchmarks to reflect on life in-between, to ponder the journey been & what lies ahead.  It was certainly a highlight of my time here, seeing how lifes change, challenges & journey has played out amongst their lives.

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The last 4 days I’ve spent catching up on sleep, sanity & friendships. Sharing dreams, lessons & heartache, meals, late night stories & coffees with coconut creamer.

It’s been bliss. It’s been beautiful.

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I’ve been blessed with fellowship, friendship & the generosity of others.

I’m super excited with the journey some of my friends are on & look forward to what the future brings them.

 

And to think I almost didn’t make this part of the trip due to money & time. Next time will have to be sooner than 10 years.

Springfield, Missouri – Where Dreams Come True 🙂

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adventures

Breathless & Bang


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After 2 hrs sleep I throw myself into the shower, grab a coffee & head to the airport. Today I’m off to the Grand Canyon (something I’ve wanted to see in my previous 2 visits to the States, but it never worked out).
I choose flying because of time restraints… in hindsight I’d chose flying every time. Flying over the Grand Canyon was simply amazing, beyond what I could’ve expected and certainly different to standing next to it.

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam
The scope & beauty is breathtaking
The scope & beauty is breathtaking
Snow!
Snow!

We land, jump on a bus & head out to a few spots. I’m on a bus full of Korean tourists, it’s a bit bizarre, we have an hour or so of free time at every stop, the majority of the bus heads out for a few quick snaps then hops back on & waits… I could spend days soaking in the beauty.

Fortunately the bus driver recognises this & offers me a few tips at each place, head 30-mins left, or 45 right.

As I’m walking (& sliding) around snow & ice encrusted paths – peering down hundreds of meters – all I can think is, better have the GoPro ready because if I slip it’s going to look awesome!

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Heading back I pick up some lollipops (suckers for my American friends) that have scorpions inside them, I think they’ll make good gifts… ok, ok I’m not brave enough to eat them myself.

 

Because of my delay in arriving in Vegas I’ve missed the opportunity to shoot the .50 cal Barrett

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Fortunately the good folks at MGV are able to accommodate me on short notice & provide transport.

I put two clips through a Glock & one through a SCAR, MP5, M4 & AK47.

Unfortunately I’m still coming to grips with the intricacies of the GoPro & the picture quality deteriorates.

I have minimal experience with firearms, so this is a newbs observations. The Glock is too small for me, bounces around in my hands.

The SCAR is surprisingly nice to shoot, single shot, I’m pretty accurate with it.

The MP5 on full-auto is a fun gun & one I’ve always liked, but it does feel a little small, granted at 6’6″ish I might be too big 🙂

The M4 with it’s red dot scope is a dream, my groupings with this gun are real tight & hands-down the most accurate of the full autos.

The AK47 is a heavy monstrosity with the kick of a shotgun, at least I know if I find myself in an AK toting country I’ll have full confidence that someone firing at me from 50+ yds on full auto has little chance of hitting me.

 

By this stage I’m shattered, I head to an underpass I’ve heard about and chat to a houseless crew, they’ve even got a Christmas tree in the middle of their spot. I’ve done some pretty cool things today, but hanging with these guys is certainly a highlight.

I zombie back to the hotel & opt for a few hours sleep, promising myself I’ll go up the tower early before I leave. I’m up 3hrs later & head to the tower, only to find it’s closed. Come on Vegas! Nothing should ever be closed here.

I make it to the airport for an early flight, I put a couple of dollars in a slot machine while I wait… I guess I’ve become one of those people 🙂

I leave behind the craziness, the lights, the drama, the seediness, the show, the hype, the dreams & illusions that’s Vegas.

Surprise.  Loved chatting to waitresses, shuttle drivers, hotel porters about the changes they’ve seen in Vegas, from it just being a Casino town to having to diversify into shopping & entertainment… to the point were one of the biggest money earners now is clubs.

Missed: I missed the panoramic night view of Vegas & I was staying in the same building. I missed sleep. I couldn’t get to the storm drains. I missed the .50 cal & would’ve loved some more  daytime to take more photos, I missed “old Vegas” & the Fremont experience… I guess there could always be a next time.

Lows: the cold, I ordered a pizza & a mountain dew & got a pizza & a Root beer, both proved to be the foulest tasting things on earth… haha that could be the lack of sleep speaking.

 

Next stop Springfield, Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

adventures

Smoking Vegas – night one


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Sorry, my last post was a little mean.

I get off the plane and the first thing I see as I walk into the airport are rows of slot machines – because you can’t wait to get to the casino… or you haven’t bleed enough money yet & you’ve got to get rid of it before you board your plane home.

I stroll past the slot machines & run into a cigar shop.

Ok, I’ve never smoked a cigarette, never seen the appeal… cigars on the other hand have crossed my mind from time to time, but I’ve always been put of by the anti-smoking cancer pics. The scenario would always play out like this *insert reason to celebrate, “hey let’s get cigars!”, *looks at packaging* umm no thanks.

Imagine being really thirsty for an ice-cold coke,  going to the fridge & finding the coke encased in a roadkill carcase. No longer thirsty.

Fortunately said cigar shop had no labeling freeing me to purchase cancer-sticks with reckless abandon. I leave with 3 (standard, honey & rum).

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I stay here. It’s called the Stratosphere. I chose it because it was cheap (honestly some Vegas mid-week prices are a 3rd of what you’d pay for a run-down-borderline-inhabitable hostile in certain parts of the world), it has free unlimited access to the viewing platform (something I’d wanted to do any way), and it looked close to everything else… turns out I’m not the only person to be suckered into this logic.

A quick aside before we continue: I have 2 nights & 1 day here, my list of what I want to achieve has not changed even though I’ve lost a day.

*Visit the Grand Canyon

*View Vegas from the top of Stratosphere

*Visit the homeless storm-drain communities

*Shoot a .50 cal sniper rifle

*Shoot some film/photo’s contrasting the glitz & glamor of Vegas with the seedy & poverty-stricken side

* Walk the strip

* smoke a cigar

* play poker

*talk with some homeless people

Yep, it’s an ambitious list.

I arrive at night, dump my gear & head out onto the strip… turns out everything’s not as close as I’d imagined. I end up knocking off a 14+k trek on foot.

Things that jump out at me

Every place has its own qualities, peculiarities & characteristics, this is what took my notice.

1) I can’t walk a block with out someone offering me free entry to a strip club – the record was 4 offers in one block – sometimes this includes a free ride in a limo, “I can call a limo, we’ll be there in seconds, it’ll be awesome!”. I’ll consider it a minor miracle if I don’t end up in a titty bar.

3) Newspaper stands. Every block has newspaper stands, except they’re not full of newspapers, they’re full of papers advertising escorts.

3) It’s f****’n cold, between 0-3 degrees (Celsius)

4) There might be more Starbucks than slot machines, every casino, hotel, airport… I’m surprised I can’t purchase  a coffee while taking a shower.

 

 

After a bit I stop in a casino to grab a burger from this place I’d heard about, KGB burgers (Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers) clever. It’s all KGB themed and has some fantastic art, even Sean Connery as 007 makes a cell-shaded appearance… Oh, and the waitresses have this GI-Joe-Baroness theme thing going on 🙂

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Burger & fries all washed down with a White Russian, fueled & ready to go.

I end up in this one casino, thanks to a detour & some conveniently placed “road works”, as I’m walking through I notice the Lakers are playing the Suns & Kobe’s back, and there is a poker tournament starting soon… thinking… then one of my songs comes on. Sold. $30 entry fee. Free drinks while playing + NBA + Poker = win!

And win I did, until bowing out on the final table. I’ve always maintained the key to poker is winning with rubbish cards, I can’t do it, so luckily for me I hit a run of some of the best hands I’ve ever hit. Hit quad Queens on the flop & had a guy put me all in on the river, hit a full house, straight flush, Ace high flush twice, hit triple Kings on the river to give me the hand over pocket Aces…. ridiculous. But all good things come to an end & so did my luck (4 hrs later), which is probably a good thing otherwise I might still be there.

I wander around a bunch of casinos, flashing lights, water features, gimmicks begging you to choose them over the other… I run into a few houseless people, one makes me a flower out of a flax-like plant. We talk NFL & they give me the low down on the homeless situation in Vegas, it’s quite a candid conversation, one admits he’s addicted to gambling, the other says he’s an alcoholic, I grab them both a burger & coffee and we chat awhile.

On my way home I light a victory cigar, why the celebration? Life.

I crash into my room at 4am, time for 2hrs sleep before I start tomorrow. Tim 1 – Vegas 0.

 

 

 

 

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