July 25, 2015


Dear Reader,

Late Wednesday night, I sat in tense silence on a dune with a Czech man, watching headlights sweep ever closer to us. When the vehicle was only about 300 meters away, the headlights were shut off and we heard a car door open. We decided it was time to leave.

That was Couchsurfing.

Earlier that evening, I ate French cheese in a stranger's apartment and listened to a former Egyptian police officer detail the day that he was nearly shot in Cairo.

That was also Couchsurfing.

In the morning, I parked my vehicle at a red light and ran across the street to get a great photo of Ondřej (the Czech man) in front of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

...that was just stupid.

Ondřej and I met via a website called Couchsurfing. The website connects travellers with people that are willing to host and accommodate guests for free. A public recommendation system keeps creepers and psychotic axe-murderers from the mix. I picked Ondřej up at the airport around four in the morning and spent the day taking him on a tour of Abu Dhabi. Another Couchsurfer in the city treated both Ondrej and I to a delicious dinner in his apartment in the evening. All in all, it was a fantastic day....even if we almost got killed or kidnapped in the middle of the desert.

I know how I'll be travelling in the future!

I'll be Couchsurfing.


We parked the car and ran across the street for this. It was worth it.

The best Butt Sweets shop in Abu Dhabi.

Ondrej and I in the desert just before the creepy 4x4 came uncomfortably close and we left in great haste.

April 10, 2015

"Hopelessness and George"

Dear Reader,

I've always dreamed of riding a scooter. Though I haven't often vocalized this longing of mine, the thought of puttering around on a little motorized bike has been in my heart and on my mind for years. My previous attempts at getting on a scooter had always been thwarted by time and circumstance, but when we left for Greece two weeks ago, I had one objective. One goal. One dream.

To ride a scooter.

Before the trip, I researched scootering in Greece and I learned a few things. First off, scootering is flippin' dangerous for an inexperienced rider anywhere, but especially on Greece's winding roads. I read accounts online of people who had seen first-hand what happens when tourists with no knowledge of biking try their hand at it on the islands. They wouldn't go into detail, but really....they didn't have to. I also learned that in the past, it was possible to rent a scooter in Greece without formal motorbike licensing, but that the times had changed. Nowadays, proper licensing is required. (Too many of the aforementioned incidents involving tourists, no doubt.)

I took that information and thought a lot. I've not had formal motorbike training. I'm an inexperienced 18-year-old kid. Therefore, it would be dangerous and imprudent to continue seeking to ride a scooter in a foreign country. Well, I concluded, This is not going to be easy.

When we got into the country, I realized just how bad the odds were.

Motorcycle license? No. Experience? No. Tourist season? No. Touristy towns? No. Places renting out scooters? No.

I even asked some friendly locals if they knew anyone who would teach me. No. No. No. There was no way that I'd be getting on a scooter in Greece.

The day before we returned to Athens to catch our flight out of Greece, we received a call from a family in the small village of Vitala that wanted to see us. (The main purpose of our entire vacation was to conduct family history research and connect with living Greek relatives on the island of Evia. My great grandfather Stamatis Anastasios "Pete" Pantazes immigrated from Evia to the USA in the early 20th century.) We'd already met quite a few people we were related to by this point, but we were excited to meet some more relatives, so we took the winding mountain road to Vitala.

We met a man we're related to named Stamatis in the village's square and he walked us over to his sister's home. When we entered the house, we were warmly welcomed by our Greek relatives. I met George Xenogalas, Stamatis' 21-year-old son, in this room. After family history and genealogical findings had been discussed for about 20 minutes, Stamatis told his son to take me over to his home. We left together and walked through Vitala to his home. In order to communicate with each other, we sat at the computer in his room and typed back and forth on Google Translate. Our discussion about his 9 months of service as a soldier on Crete transitioned into a discussion about firearms. George went to his computer files and found a video somebody had taken of him shooting a handgun in the woods. I noticed, however, as he scrolled to find the video, that he had photos of a scooter.

A scooter.


I asked if it was his and he said of course it was, so I humbly asked if he could teach me how to ride. He typed a Greek sentence into Google Translate, and out came the beautiful words "In Greece, anything goes." With this, he motioned for me to follow him and said that we were going to ride up to a place overlooking the village. As soon as we stepped outside, it started to drizzle. Nevertheless, George went to his scooter. He slammed his foot down and it roared to life, then he pulled the throttle and spun it around. He winked, then pulled out onto the narrow street. I climbed on the back and held on tight as we climbed upwards through Vitala. (I really did have to hold on tight; George popped a wheelie at one point.) We arrived at a concrete outdoor basketball court, and at George's request, I got off the back and pulled open the gate. George got off of his scooter and told me to ride. I handed him my phone and pressed record.

After George stopped recording, his mother called him and told us to return to the house because lunch was ready. And because it was cold and wet outside. I climbed on the back and with expertise and skill, George took us down to his house. When we pulled up, my mom and Linda were on the steps. Mom snapped this photo.

That last day on Evia, George made my dream come true. After our ride, the language barrier between us prevented me from fully expressing just how much his actions meant to me. I hope that he Google Translates this post and learns just how much I appreciate what he did.

Isn't life just insane?