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


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