Flying Home: Jan-5-2014

Today is the last day of my travels, which mostly consists of my connecting flight to Philadelphia via London.  I woke up and had to re-pack my bag.  I don't think too much about it any more--I have been living out of a bag for a month and have a place for everything in my bag.  It's very important to to have a strategy when packing.  Otherwise you will be looking forever for the item(s) you need.  Also, it's important to have fragile stuff protected.   For example, I have my toilet paper on an outside mesh pocket, which is easy to reach for when I'm in need for a bush break.  My documentation, that isn't on my person, does not need to be as accessable becuase if I'm in dire need for backup paperwork I likely have the time to reach inside my bag for it.  I have my first aid, pancho, towels, overnight bag protector, chlorine dioxide water treatment drops, etc. all in exterior pockets.


The bottom of my bag holds my my travel pillow in it's compression sack.  The top of my bag, which has a strap-on modular hip sack holds my toilettries, some of my electrical cables/adaptors, and some 5 hour energy drinks, which I took with me on my trip only to proving to be a complete waste of weight.  I have my Maasai 'Seme' Warriar Lion's Blade/Sword in my bag carefully protected next to my hand made oil painting depicting Maasai men jumping.  My carved figures are also packed inside my bag, alongside my dirty laungry bag filled with all the clothes I brought with me.  I have my pair of thongs in my bag as well.  This was all--or mostly all--the stuff I brought along with me.


After only a 20 minute drive Kim dropped me off at British Airways around 8:25.  I hugged her goodbye and told her we needed to keep in touch.  She told me that when/if I travel and happen to find myself in Amsterdam that I shouldn't hessitate to look her up--I won't.


It took me a long time to get my boarding passes...even though I had checked-in the day before I did not have my boarding passes with me.  The self-help terminal wasn't working for many people so we had to wait in a single line.  When I finally got to the counter she told me I had to go somewhere else to drop my bags off as they were 'over-sized'.


More security, more passport and ticket checks....finally at the gate...quick flight to London.  Even though I was taking a connecting flight I had to re-enter the security line and go through this shit all over again.  I went to the bathroom and had a snack.


On my flight to London I sat next to a man living in the western suburbs of Philly.  He's orinally from Ghana and has an ex-wife in London.  His new wife and children all live in Philly.  We talked for well over an hour about career paths.  His oldest son is a mechanical engineer who currently works for Accenture in London.  His younger son thinks he wants to go into medicine but my 'new friend' told me he's trying to explain to him that it's important to keep options open.  Having multiple degrees, taking a variety of jobs, working in jobs which grow/expand your talent(s) are important.  We discuss how much money is 'enough'.  It was an interesting conversation at the very least.

I got a kosher meal, because I had ordered it when I booked the ticket several months ago.  I had salmon, a sweet roll, some fruit, and rice w/ lamb.  It was amazing.  I'm watching World War Z right now--It's barely holding my Attention.  I've had three bottles of red wine, though the last one I accidentally spilled during my trip back from the restroom.  I also took a small dose of Xanax.  I thought the few glasses of alcohol would help me sleep, but I'm too scared to take a larger dosage of Xanax...but that's just me, better safe than sorry.


It's 10:45 eastern time and I should be touching down in Philly within 5 hours.  What a great trip I had.


Cannot wait next year when I WILL take my 12 month RTW trip!

3rd Day in Amsterdam: Jan-4-2014

Fries with Mayo in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Today I slept in till after 10:15...what a nice surprise.  After riding through the park to get into town we stopped at the Albert Cuyp Market.  The market wasn't a large one--it had food, cheeses, clothes, etc.  I ordered raw herring served alongside a pickle and chopped onions.  Kim and Oliver were discussing 'authentic' Dutch cuisine and they both said that this was 'very' dutch.  I am not sure it was the best choice for my first meal of the day.  The herring was fresh but tasted very fishy.  It was similar to the herring I eat on the jewish holidays.  The texture of the raw fish was much more tender than I had anticipated for such a small fish.  Kim bought a juice/yogurt smoothy.  At one end of the market was a stand that was selling chips, or fries as we would call them.  Another Dutch tradition is to eat chips with mayonnaise.  The other night I had suggested that Oliver should try to make sweet potato chips and dip them in a sauce of half mayonaise and half white horseradish.  He seemed intrigued...I hope he does try it, it's delicious!

Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Across from the Heineken offices was the "Heineken Experience"--an 18 euro tour that ended with 2 drinks.  I payed for Kim's ticket as she does not even like beer but went for my benefit.  Thanks Kim!  The experience was just that, an 'experience'.  Unlike all other beer tours I've been on--and I've been on no less than 8--this tour was extremely 'simple'.  It covered the brewing process at such an elemantary level that it could have been 'copied and pasted' and used for ANY other brewery's tour.  Even the giant 'Guiness" brand had a much more detailed tour at their location in Dublin.  The samples at the end were only of Heineken.  Throughout the entire tour there was not one mention of any other beer besides Heineken--despite the fact that Heineken owns hundreds of beer brands.  I went into this tour with high hopes--during the capstone strategy class I took while enrolled in Memphis' MBA program I had written a 100 page strategic business case for Heineken.

At the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands
I knew that Heineken has continued to grow by buying up local brewing companies around the world--though unlike many of its competitors Heineken does not centralize its marketing efforts.  It only does that for its international brands (i.e. Heineken).  When Heineken buys a small Colombian brewery they keep the marketing local, and thus more personal and unique to that market.  There was no mention of this on the tour.  There was also complete omission about why Heineken decided to use green bottles and why they still do.  They did not discuss the volume they produce and/or compare that to their competition.  I believe Heineken is the 3rd largest beer company and that they own other large franchised beer brands, however the tour failed to mention any of this.

The tour had us walking through stations that showed all the medals that the Heineken family had been awarded.  Actually, one unexpected part of the tour was when we walked into this semi-enclosed area where there were half a dozen horses.  These were same type of horses that the knights had used in battle during the midevel ages--you know, the ones with those very furry white legs.  These horses were used to transport the freshly bottled beer.

The 'Heineken Experience' took DTC marketing to the next level.  DTC stands for 'direct-to-consumer' and is a type of marketing strategy most used by consumer product companies.  Everything about the tour was marketing...well maybe 3% was educational, probably less.  Most of the tour consisted of walking through different rooms with the Heineken logo and color scheme.  One room was layed out like a disco--plush benches wrapping the perimeter of the room--with floor to ceiling video screens.  The screens were displaying different Heineken commercials from around the world.  The ceiling was construced of Heineken bottles.  Kim and I sat here for 15 minutes and talked.  We were both waiting for something to happen but we realized there was nothing coming after the video feed had repeated itself for the 3rd time.

There were rooms with virtual reality games, others with music, some with light shows, and so many other types...there were maybe 10 rooms rooms.  Perhaps more?  The games all started by requiring your facebook information and progressed to gleen various precious key targeted demographic marketing information from us.  Heineken should have payed us to take the experience as the entire 'experience' felt more like a paid marketing study than anything else.  We came to one room with two bars shaped like the red star on the label--the bartender stood in the center pouring small samples to us.  I really like this bar, it was so practical.  The star with a person serving in the center was such an economical use of floorspace.

Once we took the sample we went to the other bar where we were 'taught' on how to properly drink beer.  I'm fairly confident that what was said to us was 80% bullshit.  He did say the first thing to do before drinking was to look at the color.  Ok, I agree with that.  He described the color as golden, which if you've ever seen a Heineken and a 'real' beer you would know this is far from the truth.  I would describe the beer as foamy urine from a partially dehydrated person.  If I was feeling extra generous I would go as far as describing its color as 'a translucent yellowish-straw with a 1.5 finger head".  He made some jokes about how the English don't know how to drink beer and that British beers don't have 'bubbles'--he didn't even describe the 'bubbles' as the head.  He said the bubbles were there to keep the carbonation in.  Ok, I see why he is working on a tour...he most certainly failed basic chemistry and physics.  Then he instructed us to smell the beer.  He asked what it was that we smelled and I held back my initial impulse to say, 'urine'.  I raised my hand and said hopps.  He congradulated me and gave me an extra pour of Heineken to sample.

At the end of the marketing blitz we were able to have two glasses of Heineken or one glass of Heineken and serve ourself.  I had one glass, Kim took a Pepsi, and we left with two samples unused.

Just two more comments on the 'experience'.  During the tour we had watched a 15 minute 'augmented reality' demonstration of how beer is made.  The idea was that 'we' were the ingredients and went through the entire process of brew to bottle to distribution.  We stood up and held onto the railing in front of us.  The floor vibrated, jolted, and rocked in sync with the video screen.  There were water sprayers on the ceiling that dripped water droplets on us when we were being mixed with the water.  Heat lamps came on when we, the malt, were being roasted.  Next a bubble machine blew bubbles on us as the beer began to ferment.  We ended our journey by being delivered on a tropical island and quenching the thirsts of attractive vacationers.  Also we were given a free gift for taking the tour but needed to take a ferry to a different location to pick it up.  There was merchandise to be purchased at the end of the tour but they had a much larger multi-floor store at this other location.  We rode our bikes there later and got our free glass...leaving ignoring all the other 'merch'.

We ate lunch at a cute cafe called 'My Auntie's Pie' and I ordered a coffee and a chocolate/rasberry cake which was called 'The Chocolcate Slut'.  The cake was average but I was really digging the environment.  The cakeshop was very simple with a simple display case.  This seemed like a place that would be on the campus of a ver liberal college.

Smoking a join in Amsterdam, Netherlands
This cake break we had taken was our lunch for the day.  Just prior to going in My Auntie's Pie I wanted to try another one of the joints.  I did buy 4 of them.  Also when the couple from last night had left the coffee shop they had not finished the joint they were smoking.  I took the remaining joint...1/3 probably remained.  Kim took a few photos of me as I 'lit up'.  It was refreshing being able to smoke a joint out in the open.  Families walked big deal.  After I had finished the joint Kim had pointed out that I was just beside a police camera--how cool.

Later we rode to the museum district where I saw all the museams, as well as the US consulate building.  We rode underneath the Rykes Museum (Rijksmuseum) again and I attempted to take a video one handed as I managed the bike with the other.  We had 30 minutes or so to kill so we stopped in somewhere for some tea.  I wrote in my blog, which was a day or two behind and Kim helped me by sending me an itemized list of all the areas we had visited.

We met up with Oliver and took a 90 minute boat tour in the the canals.  There were some light installations, but they were not that impressive.  The most impressive parts where viewing the streets and building from the canals.  We took the trip at 6:00pm, but it was not until 8:00pm that we returned.  The boat was enclosed and had ~3 dozen tables, each with two booths and a table with 1 red lit candle.  It was warm and comfy inside.  After 30 minutes or so I walked to the back of the boat and stepped outside.  I wanted to get a view of the city without having windows obstructing my view.  While outside Iit up my last joint.  I met/talked with half a dozen people outside.  2 of them were from another part of Holland and 4 of them were visiting.  The Dutch couple had said they didn't smoke.  Of all the Dutch people I have personally talked to it seems that none of them smoke pot.  The other group of people were smoking.  One guy, Danny, was from Jersey.  He had an American-Italian accent so I jokingly asked if he was from 'South Jersey'.  Everyone laughed and he said that he was from Central Jersey but that the others have been teasing him about that for the last few weeks.  Two girls were living in NYC, one was orignally from Israel.  The last guy was living in Israel and was just traveling with them.  They had just finished their Birthright trip--which seemed unusual since they all looked to be in their mid 30s and the cutoff age is 26.  I told them I had taken the trip almost a decade ago.  What a small world, to find jews on the back of this boat in Amsterdam.  Kim had told me that of the 16 million people living in the country that only 30,000 of them were jews--Oliver being one of them.

 Canal tour in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Afterwards we had planned on going back to the apartment, grabbing a bite to eat, and then heading out to the red light district.  I had suggested we just stay out becuase I didn't think I would have be in the mood to bike ~20 minutes to get back into the city later in the night--especially after having a long couple of days.  Oliver went back home and Kim and I went out to a cheap 5 euro restaurant.  Unlike most other places they did not have an English menu.  I ordered a pizza that was clearly a "Hawaian" pizza.  It was nothing to write home about, but for 5 euros I was happy.

Red light district in Amsterdam, Netherlands
We walked through the red light district a bit.  We bumped into a couple that I had asked me to take their picture from earlier today--at the Heineken tour.  They had told us they just came from a sex show.  According to them there were a lot of older adults and couples in the audience.  The show consisted of hardcore sex and was quite overdramatized.  They said it was erotic at first but then they just felt uncomfortable.  I had passed the 'Banana Bar', a restaurant that Debby and Vincent had suggested I visit.  Kim asked about the prices and it was expensive.  60 euros for entrance and drinks and quite a bit more for the more 'premium' services that were offered.  The bouncer tried to convince Kim that it was cheaper than having a girlfriend--he was joking but trying to sell her on coming in--we passed.  While walking along the red-lit windows I told Kim that men were not paying prostitutes for sex.  I told her that they were paying them to leave afterwards.  We both laughed.

Red light district in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Many of the prostitutes were very sexy and looked to be from eastern europe.  Kim told me that there was a problem with human trafficking.  Many of these women have had their passport taken from them and have had their families threatened if the girls try to go to the police.  The women charge a flat rate, I am not sure what that is, but it's for 15 minutes.  There were groups and groups of people, mostly men/young men in their 20s who would point and giggle.  There were families with children eating at restaurants immediately next to some of the girls.  I was shocked by the number of couples walking the streets holding hands.  The entire atmosphere was a shock to me.  People weren't stumbling around shouting nasty things, harassing the women, or causing any chaos.  There was complete order.  Couples would point as they walked down the narrow alleys.  It seemed that many of the ladies were also turned on...but this doesn't surprise me.  Groups of guys would huddle together while they rolled their spliff and would toke up while others just walked right past them.  No one seemed to care.  I saw a couple of men come out of the the prostitutes doors.  One time a guy came out and his friends were there waiting with a big pat on the back.  They took him aside and I'm sure they wanted to hear all the details.

There are police cameras everywhere but not a single policeman walking about.  I suspect a stronger police presence could discourage many tourists.  The vast majority of the problems accociated with drugs and prostitution is the crime that comes along with it, but this occurs as a byproduct--not becuase of it.  What I mean is that when drugs and prostitutes are being sold on the street crime is likely to follow.  It's much easier to mug a person on a street holding drugs/money that it is to rob an official store.  Also, there are certain barriers that come into play when one needs to pay for rent, licenses, utilities, etc..  A prostitute making these payments and working a regular hours is much more likely to get tested routinely and to practice safe sex 100% of the time.  If prostitution was allowed in the streets there would be all types of women--many who are impoverished--hooking.

As I walked I noticed that there were not as many prostitutes as I would have imagined...or hoped for ;).   This area was a social area for families, couples, children, and tourists alike.  Within the red light district we found a store called the magic mushroom.  We weren't sure if they sold mushrooms here or not.  We walked in and Kim enquired.  They did, in fact, sell shrooms.  They had three varieties, which varied in the amount of psilocybin.  I debated about buying a bag of the weakest stuff, but he said it was enough for 2 trips, or 1 very intense trip.  I knew Kim wouldn't join me and I didn't want to waste half a bag so I passed.  I will have to wait for another time.  Also, It was fairly late in the evening (maybe 10:00) and I knew I wasn't going to be up too much longer.  Also, given that a trip would probably last for ~6 hours and it would take ~1 hour to take effect I opted out.  Mushrooms used to be sold all over the city but there has been a push to limit their sale.  There is an understanding between the gov't and the businesses in Amsterdam.  It has become law that it is illegal to sell marijuana to non Dutch citizens.  When I was at the coffee shop they never asked for my passport--I am wondering if this is their way around that law.  They do not 'know' that I'm not Dutch.  Also, mushrooms are not allowed, but they still have stores called "The Magic Mushroom" which openly sell them for 20 euros.  It was 20 euros for 15 grams.  That's  ~$27 for 1/2.  This was for the weakest of the three, the stronger shrooms were probably more expensive.  In college I recall the going rate was ~$25-$50 for an 1/8 ounce.  An 1/8 ounce , or about 3.5 grams, was a 'typical' dose. 

After walking the streets we went to this brew house which served 3 types of beers.  They had a pilsner, a red ale, and a stout.  I ordered the red and Kim the stout.  She liked her beer, a beverage she's actually grown to dislike very much.  Mine was also very good.  The waiter threw a handfull of shelled peanuts on the  table for us.  Kim really liked the fact that we just threw the shells on the ground when we were done with them.

Before heading home on our 25 minute bike ride I finished the remnants of the joint I had taken from the couple across from us at the coffee shop.  It was very strong but I just took a few light drags and didn't feel much--unlike like the first day when I took one large drag.  The ride home was a bit chilly but the scarf and gloves Kim let me barrow kept me warm enough.  Kim had explained some of the markings on the road to me--the 'shark teeth', or triangles, indicated who has the right-of-way.  If the shark's teeth had its point facing you as your approached the intersection that indicating you did not have the right-of-way.  If you are driving/biking with the point then you have the right-of-way.

The streets are so narrow that when I was walking I often would walk in the dead center of them, not realizing that it was in fact a street.  Also, there are handicap vehicles, which are enclosed cars, that make smart cars look like SUVs.  They are very narrow, only wide enough for one person, and only go ~30kph.  They are only allowed to be sold new to handicapped individuals but anyone can buy them if they buy it used from another person.  Additionally, this car is allowed to drive in the bike lane.  There are two types of scooters--one that is limited to ~30kmph and another type that goes much faster.  The scooter with the 30kph limit is also able to travel in the bike lane and no helmet is required.  The faster scooter must drive in the car lane and a helmet is required by law.

Bike lanes are sometimes along the main roads, but through much of the city there are seperate bike lanes.  Cars must always yield to bikers.  Kim was telling me that even if the biker is at fault the car driver is always held responsible.  Getting into the city took us 15 minutes over flat terrain--actually a very nice ride.  She said if she were to take her car it could take 3 to 4 times as long.  Taxis are a bit quicker since they are allowed to drive on the trolly tracks, but a taxi into the city would cost ~20 euros each way.

After having spent a few days in Amsterdam I can say, with certainty, that it is truly a unique and magical city.  Despite their policies the Dutch live life in moderation and seem genuinely happy.  This is one of the few cities I've been to that I can say I would not be completely unhappy if I had to live there for some time.

Day 2 (Saturday)
- Cycled through the Vondelpark
- Went to the Albert Cuyp market in the south part of Amsterdam
- Did the Heineken Experience - you smokend pot in the street (next to a police camera ;-)
- Had lunch with pie, you had the chocolate slut cake at a place called De taart van m'n tante (or: my aunties cake)
- Cycled to the museum square and sas the Concert building, the contemporary art museum (which is called Stedelijk Museum in Dutch), the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum
- Cycled to the Rembrandtplein (or Rembrandt square) again to pick up our free Heineken glass at the Heineken store
- Had tea at the Rembrandtplein (where you wrote your blog and I wrote this e-mail)
- Went on a canal tour by boat and saw the Amsterdam Light festival from the water
- Had diner at a 'everything 5 euro' pizza joint
- Visited to red light distric by night to really get to experience it

It wasn't akward, staying with Kim, like I thought it may have been.  After half a decade I felt just as comfortable with her as I did the day I said goodbye in SE Asia.  It was such a great way to end a month-long trip and I hope to see her (and Oliver) again.


2nd Day in Amsterdam: Jan-3-2014

Today was an eventful day.  Without a manual in front of me I cannot even begin to recall even half the names of all the place we visited.  The day started with me waking up before 6:00 am--go figure.  We left the house around 10:00 am, after Kim emailed a client and we ate some crackers with cream cheese.  I hopped on the back of her bike and rode to a bike shop where I rented a bike for 18 euros/day.  I'll have it for 2 days--the euro is currently ~ $1.38.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

We rode into town and went to the Ann Frank house.  The line was too long and I decided that going inside was not worth waiting for.  We continued to ride around the city and made several stops throughout the day.  It had begun to rain early in the day and continued most of the day.  We visited the train station, which was near where the free ferries came to take you to various parts of the northern region of Amsterdam.

Kim biking in Amsterdam, Netherlands
We visited many of the 'squares' and stopped to walk through the main shopping street.  The atmosphere was simply amazing.  There was so much in this town, but at the same down it felt very small and cozy.  Everything had character, something I felt London had lacked significantly.  Amsterdam was/is truly unique.  With the the exception of this one street most of the city lacked an aura of commercialism--something which engulfs the US.  Small bakeries, cheese shops, tulip stores, mom and pop restaurants, etc.

Kim had shown me the Palace, which was in a sqaure just next to Madame Tussaud's.  The city had been rennovating the Palace for nearly a decade and it was finally open.  We took an audio walking tour which lasted 1-1.5 hours.  It was so beautiful inside.  It's amazing just how old some things are outside of the US.

Seed store in Amsterdam, Netherlands
We stopped for lunch at one place that translated to 'Cafe Hooker', but they only served coffee and pastries.  Right next to this place was the first prostitute I saw--a heavier black women sitting down messing with her phone.  She couldn't have been more bored.  I didn't see the red light district at night last night (it's the morning of the 4th right now), but I plan to see it tonight.  We walked nearby and went to a lunch place where I got a chicken club.  By the time we finished the weather had gotten a little better, but it didn't last long.

During lunch I began to miss the level of service that we get in the states.  I had to track down someone to take my order and then again for the check...however it is nice not having to pay ANY more than what the original menu had stated--to tax or tip.

Looking down a canal in Amsterdam, Netherland
Kim is writing me an email with a list of things that we did/saw for each day I was here...I will repost this blog with that info.  During our bike ride I had stopped to take a look a a seed store--here they sell loose, femanized, marijuana plant seeds.  There were laminated menues with pictures of mature plants next to the price of the seeds.  Some were being sold in a package of 3 seeds and some were in larger packages, as large as 25 seeds.  The prices were around 33 to 80+euros (~7-20 euros apiece).  If you look online and buy seeds that way the prices are comparable--I imagine seeds are much cheaper in the 'less traveled areas'.

We passed the sex museum, which Kim said wasn't done too well.  By the looks of the front it just looked like a giant tourist trap.  Furthermore, the street with this museum was, according to Kim, voted the ugliest street in Amsterdam--becuase of all the tourist shops.  They did have some tulip shops, food vendors, and at least one circus game.  The game was to pop-a-balloon pinned to a bullseye using a 'life-sized' bow-and-arrow.

 Tulip market in Amsterdam, Netherland
As the day progressed and it began to get dark, which is does here pretty early--compared to Africa--lights began to light up the city.  The lights were put up for winter and are placed over/along the streets--what a magical time to come to Amsterdam.

At the tulip market they had bins and bins of bulbs and were sold, according to Kim, very cheaply.  5 tulip bulbs for 2.5 euro.  I'm not sure how much they are in the States?

We checked out the front of the Marijuana Museum--I decided not to go.  Like everything else tourist-related in this city it was quite expensive.

We rode around some more, parked/locked our bikes, rode some more, locked up our bikes, etc...  It was nice having the variety of walking and riding.  We really covered alot of ground this way.  We walked down the 'gay' street in Amsterdam--it was nothing special.  A bunch of gar bars that were closed as it wasn't quite 'party time'.  Just after lunch we walked down Chinatown, which is also only one street.  There were a few 'all you can eat in 1hr' restaurants that charged 8.30 euros.  We also went into a Chinese Temple, the only one in the city.

There seemed to 'Coffee Shops' all over the city, but were more heavily concentrated in certain areas.  There are young guys, and some girls, mostly in larger groups near the entrances of these shops.  Marijuana is only sold by these Coffee Shops.  You can buy as much as 5gm (~28.3 grams/ounce).  This is one and a half eighths, or 3/16s--which is quite a bit.  In the states an 1/8 of 'good' pot will run $60, but these prices are probably a few years outdated ;).  I asked Kim to take me to a 'touristy' coffee shop becuase I wanted to experience what most people did when they came to Amsterdam.  There were tables outside.  It was dark inside.  Tables where everywhere.  There were benches, side rooms, and even a bar.  The bar did not serve any alcohol and only a few food items.  I think it's wise not to serve much food.  The coffee shop makes its money on the pot and they would rather get people in and out and not have groups taking up a table to order 'low margin' food items.  Across from the bar there was a man standing in a movie-ticket-style booth.  He was behind a cash register and on the counter in front of him was a laminated menu.  There were several sections--pre-rolled joints, joints mixed with tobacco, loose pot, and assessories.  Rolling papers were 1 euro and a crappy lighter was 2 euro.  That's over $2.50 for a lighter, fuck!  What a perfect demonstration of the concept 'supply and demand'.  I wanted to 'experience' Amsterdam, but am not really the 'pot-head' type.  Also, my friend does not smoke--not for moral/ethical reasons--just becuase she's just not interested.  This seems to be the overall impression I have inferred from the Dutch.  I didn't want to get alot and looked at the menu for pre-rolled joints.  It is well-known that the pre-rolled joints are relatively weak.  I think the shops/government tries to keep it this way.  People that are not used to  smoking pot will most likely not be experienced enough to roll their own joint, thus newbies are likely to order the weaker pre-rolled joints.

I asked the cashier which, of the pre-rolled joints, was only Sativa.  Indica plants are easier to grow, grow faster, and are more common--however most currant strains are hybrids between Sativa and Indica plants (most leaning towards having a larger Indica proportion).  Of all the pschoactive components of Sativa bud there is a higher proportion of THC when compared to the bud of Indica, which has a higher proportion of CBD.  THC provides a 'high' that can be described as a 'mind high' and 'energizing' whereas CBD provides the more typical 'coach lock' experience that is the oft-used element charecterizing the steriotypical 'stoner'.  Furthermore, THC oxidizes and breaks down into CBDs.  The cashier showed me a package of 4 joints that was only Sativa--the cost 12 euros.  All prices were under 20 euros.

 At a coffee house in Amsterdam, Netherland

The menu had the names of the strains, the quantity, and their price.  The joints I bought contained 0.4 grams each--this is an extremely small amount to smoke in a joint form.  In the states, if smoking this quantity, a small bowl or 'chillum' would be used.  Anyways, I bought a lighter and a small iced tea for my friend, since she was keeping me company.  We grabbed a table in back across two other people--also tourists--and I lit up.  It was harsh and very week.  Actually, I didn't get a lighter until the couple across from us left.  I had asked them for a light initially.  I asked the guy to take a photo of me and Kim.  We also talked a bit.  I told him my joint kinda sucked and he offered me a drag of his.  He had rolled it just as we were sitting down.  He handed me the lit 'J' with a huge grin on his face.  "This is very nice" he said to me indicating how strong it was.  He had mentioned the name of it to me, but I don't think I ever really heard it.  He kept on stressing how strong it was.  The Coffee Shops sell two types of pot.  Normal, which is usually pre-rolled, and High Grade, which is loose bud.  I took one huge drag and was pleasantly surprised by the mouthful of flavor...very fresh indeed.  This was magnitudes above what I had been smoking in terms of potency and within 2 minutes I knew this to be the case.

The experience and memories I formed over the next several hours will stay with me forever.  Talking to my friend in the Coffee Shop, the beautiful bike ride along the lit-up streets, the crisp air, the city noises--the experience seemed as though half a dozen of the world's best movie producers got together and created a movie montage of lifetime.  When I travel (or just live my daily life) I always look to the future and have trouble living in the present--even when I try with all my efforts.  Later I look back and contemplate, "why didn't I embrace that more", or "I wish I had taken that experience in more slowly", and "I wish I could relive that part of my life".  Well for the first time 'in a long while' I was living in the moment and it felt magnificant.  The air was no longer a nuisance, it was life.  The imperfections in the road were no longer uncomfortable bumps, they were jolts of energy.

Once we got back to Kim's house we locked out bikes in front and met up with Oliver.  We decided to walk to dinner.  We had reservations at 8:00.  It took us 20-25 minutes to walk to there.  It was raining a bit and the wind was very strong.  Kim broke her umbrella en route.

At dinner I ordered pork belly and a Heineken...for dessert I had a slice of cheesecake.  Even though it had been 3 hours since I had smoked I was still very much stoned.  I was beginning to get very tired.  We got back to Kim and Oliver's apartment and watched some TV.  I was falling sleep while sitting up so I went to bed and was passed out the moment my head hit the pillow.  From 11:30 at night until 10:15 the next morning I was out like a light.

Also, during the day Kim took me to her University and to its attic where she said she wrote her Master's thesis.  The university had so many PCs--I was shocked since my school had mostly Macs (except for the engineering students).  I asked Kim about this and she told me it was becuase Macs were too expensive.  The attic had a spiral staircase leading to an even more remote workspace.  There were thick, 12"-18", wooden rafters throughout the place.  It was very 'Harry Potter'.  I asked Kim how old this place was and she said it was built circa 1550--that's almost 500 year ago!

Just outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Kim helped me itemize what we did today, and it's listed below:
Day 1 (Friday)
- started off renting a bike
- went to the Anne Frank house (but didn't go in because the line was too long)
- cycled through a neighbourhood called the Jordaan
- cycled to the back of Central Station and saw the free ferry's to amsterdam north
- front of central station
- dam square
- palace on the dam square
- lunch on a square called New Market
- visited a Chinese Buddhist temple
- walked a little in the red light district by day
- went to the attic of the location of my studies at the University of Amsterdam (where I wrote my Master's thesis)
- walked around in the main shopping street called Kalverstraat
- went to a small courtyard called Begijnhof
- went to the Flowermarket (or Bloemenmarkt in Dutch)
- went to the Rembrandtplein (or Rembrandt square)
- bought and smoked pot at a coffeeshop on the Leidseplein (or Leidseplein square) called The Bulldog
- cycled underneath the Rijksmuseum when it was dark and cycled through the Vondelpark back home
- had dinner at a restaurant in our neighbourhood, we walked over there through the Rembrandtpark that's in front of our apartment building

Arrival in Amsterdam: Jan-2-2014

I left for the airport last night at 9:00 and I was arrived no later than 9:30.  I strapped my wooden chairs on top of my bag and hoisted it over my shoulder.  It was a struggle to move about ~70 lbs on my back.  Before I was allowed to enter the airport a man was checking our passports and inquiring about our travels.  People who were not flying today were not allowed inside.  The moment I entered the doors into the aiport I had to have every piece of luggage/baggage I had sent through an x-ray  machine.  Beside the machine was a metal detector for me to pass through.  There was a sign that read, "no weapons beyond this point".  Below the sign was a picture of a small blade and a gun.  I had a single edged 4" locking blade as well as a double-edged 12" Seme (Maasai sword) so I was a bit nervous--but assumed I would be fine as they probably get alot of this type of thing.  I picked up my bag on the other side of the conveyor--no questions asked.  I hadn't emptied my pockets or taken off my shoes...a US policy that is such a hassle.

I waited in line to check-in--my back was breaking from the weight of my bags and I wanted nothing more than to unload my checked-in baggage.  I had about 70 lbs on my back and another 15 lbs on my chest.  When I finally checked in I found out that my chairs weighed more than 40lbs, while my backpacking bag was under 30lbs.  I would guess that at least 5 lbs of that weight was trinkets and paperwork.

I put a black garbage bag over my overnight bag and sent it on its way to Amsterdam.  Next I went to my gate which included the following:

  1. Showing one man my passport and my ticket
  2. Going through immigration and telling the women about my travel history and future plans.  She inquired about my occupation, etc.  She stamped me 'out' of Kenya
  3. Going into three seperate duty free shops and being turned down by each one because they all refused to change a $20 bill, despite the fact that they all took USD.
  4. Overpaying at a food stand for a diet coke and diary milk chocolate bar
  5. Going to gate #10 which was where my British Airways flight to London was
  6. Was told I couldn't take the diet coke with me so I chugged half of it and threw the rest away
  7. At the gate a women checked my passport and ticket and then let me the 'next stage'
  8. I passed my bag through an x-ray while I walked through a metal detector.
  9. Just as I was putting my things back in my pockets I had to go through another metal detector and send my bag through another x-ray machine.  I was 'screened' here and was told they needed to examine my bag.  Due to all the pockets and straps on my bag it took them a good 10 minutes to figure out how to access all the pockets of the bag.  While they were checking my bag they asked about where I was flying and about my trip thus far.  They asked to see my ticket stub and they recorded some type of ID number down on their clipboard.  I was finally sent through and was able to sit at the gate where I waited another hour to board the flight.

The flight went quickly--I slept on and off for 5 or so hours.  I ate two meals.  Once I got off the plane there were half a dozen agents checking everyone's passports.  They were pulling everyone aside and asking about onward travel and what our business was being in Kenya.  I told one about my tour and the countires I had visited.  The agent had asked for my previous plane tickets or tour voucher.  I told her that stuff was in my checked baggage.  She inquired about my occupation and finally let me through.

Next, I waited 1.5 hours in line to go through immigration.  When I finally got to an agent I told him I was in transit and that I had a flight out later today.  He was suspicious and told me my flight had arrived a while ago.  I told him the line was long and he had some doubt.  He asked for my occupation, I told him, he stamped my passport, I was in.  After this point I noticed my hat was missing and I was really upset becuase I loved that hat.  I wore it every day and had planed on using it quite a bit when I go hiking in the future.  I went to the baggage services department and they called the plane but it wasn't to be found.  I went to the lost and luck.  I'll check again when I go back to the airport, but I might just have to buy another one.  Damn!

I noticed that there was no formal customs.  I think it was closed?  The people who had checked baggage were just taking it through an empty "non-declaration" door and that was that.  I hope this is the case in Amsterdam, but I know it will not be the easy.  By the time I caught the underground it had been almost 3 hours since my flight had touched down.

I took the underground to Hyde Park Circle, walked around for an hour, and finally ended up eating breakfast at a place called "Garfunkel's" on Oxford Street.  I am not impressed with London.  I love the people and think the culture is great, but it doesn't seem like a place to 'visit'.  To me it's more of a place to live.

It's 10:15 now and I'm planning on heading back to the airport at 11:00 which should give me ample time to find an underground stop, take the neccassary transfers I need, and make my way to Terminal 5.  I don't have any bags to check but I imagine it can still take some time getting through.  When I started my trip just 4 weeks ago and I had left Heathrow it took me a few minutes to get through security and back to my gate.  No one checked my passport or ticket last was really weird.  I think since I had already checked in and my bag was being checked in to the final destination I somehow skipped a much needed step.

Anyways, I exchanged a few messages with Kim just a bit ago and she told me she will see me at the airport.  I told her not to rush since I will likely have a slight holdup at customs.  I'm excited to see Kim, but am actually nervous.  I really really really enjoyed spending my time traveling SE Asia with her, but it's been such a long time (~5 years) and we've only talked 1 time via skype and probably only half a dozen times through facebook.  I wanted to get her something as a gesture of kindess.  I ended up on brining her and Oliver a hand-carved figure and a set of 6 napkin rings.

I'm excited for Amsterdam, the weather should be 'good enough'.  I had Kelly check for me when I had talked to her during my wait at the Nairobi airport--mid to high 40s.  With my long sleeved shirt, and fleece I should be warm enough.  If not I have a long sleeved synthetic mock-turtleneck shirt.  I also have a pair of synthetic base layer long pants.

A SIDE NOTE ON MY CLOTHING:  I brought two pairs of pants, I wore 1 of them 85% of the time, the other 10% of the time, and a bathing suite 5%.  I never wore my pair of athletic shorts or my pair of technical shorts.  I brought two pairs of technical long sleeved shirts, I wore these %65 of the time.  I wore my Under Armor t-shirt 20% of the time, my Columbia 'cooling technology' long sleeve shirt 5% of the time (which is a bummer since the shirt retails for $60).  I wore all my 3 pairs of socks.  My thickest pair of merino wool socks that come up mid-calf are great!  I have worn them all day for the last 7-10 days and they have NEVER been washed.  Believe it or not they have almost no odor.  They keep my legs dry and warm.  But they breathe oh-so-well!  I am sold on merino wool.  I brought 3 pairs of underwear and I have washed each one 1 time--though only using water.  I have been wearing my current pair for 5 days, and the pair before that for about the same tome, maybe longer.  One pair is a low-priced 'no-name' synthetic pair and the other two, that I wore 90% of the time, are boxer briefs I bought on sale off of Amazon.  They retail for ~$30 apiece but I found a great deal via slickdeals and got two pairs for $24.  They are Exofficio, which is a very well known brand around the world.  The company specializes in high-quality travel clothing.  Their product tagline is, "17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)"  Wearing these boxer briefs 5 straight days, including nights and the hot muggy days, still leaves these things odorless.  I can wear my Cole Hann loafers for only 30 minutes before my feet smell like a freshly opened bag of Fritos.  I wore my other tops a few times but probably didn't need to pack them.  I brought more clothing than I needed.  However I have been wearing the same pair of underwear, socks, long-sleeved tech shirt, and pants for the last 4 days?  Given that I just cycle my clothing, not having really washed any of them, I guess you can say I've warn the same thing for the last 4 weeks nonstop.  Take it from me, there is a reason technigal shirts are $50-$80, 100% thick merino socks are $25/pair, travel underwear is ~$30/apiece, and tech pants run almost $100.

Even though I have only been on my own for the last day, and not even, I really enjoy it.  I forgot how much more I enjoy traveling as an solo traveler.  I just wander with no one to hold me accountable or to be accountable for anyone else.  I rely on myself and myself alone.  It's easier to just 'get lost' in everything and approach strangers/locals/fellow passer-bys.

Ok, time to head to the nearest underground--that is, after I pay my bill of 8.40 GBP.

It took me a while to find the Piccadilli Line, but I finally got on and made one transfer to get to terminal 5.  I was through security in no time and had 1-2 hours until my flight.  Heathrow had wi-fi, which was free for 45 minutes.  I got an extra 45 minutes becuase I signed up for their loyalty program.  I also used my phone and tablet to double these times since I had used up my day's allowance earlier this morning.  I was reading online how I could get my Maasai sword into the Netherlands, but I was not finding anything useful.

The flight was a short one--45 minutes.  After landing I headed towards baggage claim.  I saw my overnight bag, still wrapped in the black garbage bag, and my self packed wooden chairs.  I loaded them onto a cart, which was free, and headed over to customs.  There was a green tab on the garbage bag that said "security checked" and I tried very hard to make this small sticker visable as I loaded my cart.  I re-read the customs notice on the wall which stated I did not have to claim gifts or souvenirs--well, that's only what I have so I walked through the 'green', nothing to claim, divider.  I went unstopped and left the baggage area.  Score!
Arriving in Netherlands

As I walked into the general airport, outside the baggage area, there were 4 attractive women, dressed in traditional dutch clothing, passing out some very sweet fried pastry--they were delicious.  I walked around the area for 5 minutes until I met up with Kim--we hugged and chatted during our short drive back to her house.  She lives just a 10 minute bikeride outside the city.

Kim's place is amazing--it must be 2-3 times larger than mine and 100s of times more fashionable.  In her bedroom she had used one of the photos she had taken at Ankor Wat, blown it up, and used it as a wallpaper behind her bed.  I met Oliver and we talked about my trip for a little.  He was preparring dinner, which we ate a bit later.  He eats similar foods that I eat.  Dinner consisted of cooked pumpkin and eggplant with a caper-oil dressing he had made, cubed grilled chicken, green beans, and some salad.  Lovely!

We talked for hours and Kim showed me the book she had made from her Asian trip.  It was so good to talk about time's past--the pictures she had taken looked very similar to mine.  We also discussed some potential plans for the following days.  I had wanted to go to the Ann Frank house, but the pre-paid tickets were sold out--we are planning on going there first thing in the day to try to beat the line (it's the morning of the 3rd right now).  Kim has to call a client around 9 this morning, which is in an hour so we'll probably be leaving in the next 90 minutes.  There is a Modern Art Museum, the Rikes Museum, and the Van Gohg Museum...I'm not sure which one we'll go to--may only one?  They have tours along the canals which are supposed to be fun.  Kim had pointed out a very pretty theater, but there was only one English movie playing--The Hobbit--which I can very happily miss.  She said going to the red-light district is best at night or else it's empty.  Although Kim has never been inside a cafe she told me she is happy to go with me.

She has an extra bike and we're planning on riding into the city around 9:30.  I'll keep you posted about my day.  Cheers!

2nd Day in Nairobi: Jan-1-2014

I ordered breakfast to be delivered to my room--I hung the order on my door handle last night.  I guess when Stephanie had left she had 'checked out' and told them she was in room 329 (my room).  Becuase of this they assumed the only person in room 329 had left so they didn't delivery my breakfast.  I called after 10 minutes of waiting and they told me it would be right up.  I called after another 30 minutes and told them I still haven't received it.  It finally came, but my order was missing the eggs and bread.  Cereal and fruit will have to suffice.  I relaxed a bit and repacked my bag.  I dropped off my stuff with the front desk and met up with Vince and Debby to go into town.

We walked into the center of the city but there wasn't much going on--actually almost everything was closed for the new year.  We found out that the Maasai market was actually near the airport and would require a 6km taxi drive.  I will do that later (it's 1:15pm now and we're eating at our hotel's restaurant.)

We were talked into going to a "Maasai Market Workshop" somewhere off the street.  We were there for 30-45 minutes and I had picked out a bunch of bowls, a small wood carving, and a dozen or so keychains.  I would ask how much for a given item and he would take it and say I will add to your basket and we talk later.  I got so frusterated, but just went with it.  I finally said I was ready and asked him to go through each item and tell me how much?  For the first bowl he had asked 6000 shilling (well over 70 dollars).  I told him no way and said I would pay 3500 tops for everything.  He looked at the other man and laughed.  I got up and walked away.  He followed me and said, "ok, ok, we talk".  I said I am set on my price and then walked over to Debby and Vincent--they were negotiating.  They paid 4000 shilling for a carving and a painting.  It was WAY too much, but it's their money.  They followed us to the ATM as Vince and Debby needed to get out more money.  The guy had continued to negotiate with me but I told him that I was firm.

There wasn't much else in the city and unfortunately I learned that the post office was closed today.  I will not be able to send my Maasai Sword (Seme) home.  I think it will get confiscated at KLM customs.  I'm pretty upset becuase I want it but the more and more I read online leads me to believe I'm pretty much screwed.  I'm going to try to take some snapshots of some website stating the historical significance of the blade and that it's very old, thus an antique and not a weapon--I give it a 25% chance of success.

Camel ride at a festival in downtown Nairobi, Kenya
We continued to walk along the main road.  Men on the street kept harrassing  us about taking their safaris, taking their taxis, etc..  We stepped into a 'city market' but it was just a meat market that smelled like death's evil cousin.  We continued onwards and found a park with a festival.  There were camel rides, icecream cones, face painting, boat rides, and a few other rides.  It was a very 'budget' festival but we walked around and took a brief rest on the grass alongside a pond.  We people-watched for a while.  We were the only white people in a field of no less than a thousand locals.  We were getting stared at as if we were exotic animals.

We walked back to the hotel and on the way back I bought a bowl.  I dind't really want it but they kept harrassing me and I said I have no money but I will take that bowl for ____.  And I offered a VERY low price.  They said no but continued to bother me as I walked towards my hotel.  They came running towards me and I bought it for 150 shilling (<$2 USD).

We arrived back around 12:30 after a nice 2.5 hour saunter throughout the city.  I joined Debby and Vincent at the bar for a while and searched the web for information on how I could 'get' my Maasai blade into Amsterdam.  I said goodbye around 1:00pm and planned on taking a taxi to the Maasai market, which moves around every few days.  Yesturday it was in the city center but today it is out near the airport.  The taxi at the hotel said it would be 1000 shilling each way.  This was around $24 and it seemed like a bit much.  I told the guy no thank you, but then he suggested a great idea.  He said my friends, meaning Debby and Vincent, are going to the airport at 2:00 and that I could join along and get dropped off en route.  I said thanks and that it was a deal.

I headed back to the bar and explained to the two that I will be joining them.  Now I'm just relaxing, writing this blog, and waiting until 2:00 so that I can leave for the market.  It's open until 5:00 or so.

It's 4:00 and I just got back from the Maasai market and am at the hotel's bar drinking a Pilsner Lager (Kenyan Beer).  It's the best local beer I've had since I've been in Africa.  The Maasai market was a thrill of a lifetime.  I cannot even start to imagine how to put into words my experience.  The market was outside and there were 3 or so rows of vendors.  They sat on the ground with their products, which were layed out in front.  The very moment I stepped up to the first vendor I realized what I was in for.  The first place was run by a woman who told me today was very slow and that I was her first customer.  Not sure if she was being truthful--however, other than myself there was probably only 8 other people shopping around (2 others that were white).  I looked at some keychains and asked how much.  Like EVERY OTHER person there she would not give me a straight answer--she told me that she will hold everything and then give me a price after I was done looking.  I said thanks and that I will look around at every 'stall' and will come back later.  She grabbed my wrist and said, "OK!, I give you good price".  I told her thanks but that I wanted to look around. She continued, "Ok, ok, 150 but you have to buy more than 1."  I said I would pay 700 for 10 and she laughed and countered 1500.  I said I will pay 800, which is close to a dollar a keychain.  I went on the tell her that I will not negotiate any more and that I will walk away if she countered  I learned that it didn't matter what I said.  To be fair, most ignorant tourists walk around with a wad of cash in their pockets ready to buy, buy, buy!  It's utterly disgusting and the Africans have learned how to exploit that weakness.  They call out, "Hi, my friend" as they offer you their hand.  We, as polite tourists, take their hand and say hello.  They use a gentle but persuading tug on the arm to tug you towards their shop and tell tell you that they'll give you "good price" and "new year price" or "first customer price".  They demand you "look at [their] stuf" while calling you "[their] friend".  They inquire where you're from and try to relate to you somehow.  They smile and act casual.  I always told them I was from the US but I also told them that I've been in Africa for a month and have been through over a dozen cities and know what's a reasonable price.  I wonder if this made any difference at all?  Maybe?  Probably not.

Maasai Market in Nairobi, Kenya

That first lady wanted to also sell me an oil painting "something else, please, anything else".  I told her I will come back if I was interested and gave her the 1,000 shillings for the 10 keychains.  She tried to say 900 and asked me to pick something else out.  I stood firm on my 800 and said I'll take the 200 please.  I told her, "Asanti" and was on my way.  Immediately I was beckoned by a man just opposite of the vendor I was at...still at the entrance of the market.  I told him I wasn't interested, shook my head at him, refused to make eye contact and continued walking away.  He wasn't that bad, he only followed me for 2 minutes before retreating to his place of business.

I walked the rows, harrased, as how I imagine a playboy model would be as she strolled through a federal prison.  I was being shouted out and told to come look at their stuff.  They were very aggressive and seemed to take offense that I told them "No!".  I wanted to buy some hand carved wooden bowls but only two people carried them and neither of them had the type of detailed carvings I wanted.  The prices and selection in Malawi were leaps and bounds better than here.  I walked away from both vendors without any bowls becuase they wouldn't accept my offer.  I didn't even ask what they were didn't matter.  I am in a dessert with a village of people without water and I have a purified gallon of water--my bargaining power is extremely high, these people will have to impress me to take any of my money.  Ok, this may be the worst analogy ever but I'm trying to liven this up.  Anyways, the prices here are inflated because Nairobi is a relatively a popular place for tourists and their products can demand more money--simple economics.

I probably talked with no less than 40 people while at the market.  Many were very nice despite the fact that I walked away from them as they were still talking to me.  I ended up buying some napkin rings for Kim, a couple of hand carvings for my family (or maybe I'll keep one for myself), keychains for friends and family, and an oil painting.  I almost didn't buy the painting as I had negotiated with half a dozen people and walked away from all of them at least once.  As I was walking back to meet my driver two of the vendors had tracked me down.  One had claimed to be the artist but I took note of the arists name on the bottom of the canvas and I put pieces of the puzzle together and decided he was not the artist.  Having done a fair amount of negotiating I had a vague idea of the go/no go price point that the vendors would consider.  I knew Debby and Vincent had paid ~4000 for a painting and a carving.  The painting I had wanted was larger than theirs.  The vendors had started at 12,000 shillings ($160).  It's funny becuase I never even asked, "how much".

It's a VERY typical, and extremely successfull, marketing tactic that corporations have been using for decades.  Setting a certain price and then charging a different price causes the emotional mind of a human to make a comparison--not on the 'value' of the product and final cost to the buyer but the 'price' of the product versus the original price.  The irrational mind assigns the 'original price' to the product's 'value'.  Just walk into a TJMax--all those price tags with 'retail price' listed just above their sale price.  The value of the product does not depend on its 'original price', but too many people get swindled into this tried and true marketing ploy.  It's called pegging.

Another ploy they use here, also extremely irrational, is also employed by: car dealers, cable companies, gym memberships, and so many others.  The concept of 'getting more for your money' is used but in fact people end up paying for more products.  When a car dealer bundles rust proofing, delivery, etc. charges into the final bill the end buyer has trouble assessing the true 'cost' of the product.  Suppose a cable provider offers you 94 TV channels and high speed internet for $88.  Now suppose you get 'limited time' offer that is for 500 trillion channels, super-high speed internet and 3 phone lines for only $99.  How much are you paying for the faster internet?  What about the extra channels?  How about the 3 phone lines?  Case in point--they just want you to focus on 'how much you're getting' and forget the fact that you really only need high speed internet and your typical cable networks.

I offered 300 for the napkin rings (~$4 USD)--I had offered $5 at that overpriced market several days ago and they just laughed at me.  This vendor said 1000 shilling.  I told her no and that 300 is my final offer.  She said how about all 12 for 1000.  Did you catch the tactic she just used.  I only want 6 and she's trying to 'bundle' to make it seem like I'm only paying 500 for each set of 6.  But I only want 6 and I wouldn't have taken the 12 for 301 if she had asked for it.  YOU MUST BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY AND NEVER GET EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO STUPID MATERIAL ITEMS!  That lesson is free, it's too valuable to buy anyways.  She said ok 300, but you have to buy something else--I told her no!  It's 300 for only this or I walk away.  I'm not sure if I ended up walking away and had her chase me down or if she just could have gone either way.

Hand carved figure I bought in Nairobi, Kenya
I picked out a hand carved figure that I liked and told her I will take two for 600 and she said 1 costs 1500.  I told her 2 for 600 as I walked away.  She kept grabbing my forearm each and every time I walked away.  I hate using these negotiation tactics but many of the skills I typically employ only work when both parties are  rational and educated.  She said 2 for 1500, I said no.  2 for 1000.  No!  2 for 900.  No!  She then took them and wrapped them and gave them to me and said ok.  I asked she clarify that she was accepting my initial offer of 600 for both of the carvings.  She said, "Fine, 800".  I walked away and she grabbed me once again and said, "you wait here I have to ask my boss".  She came back and said ok 4 for 1200.  Can you see which tactic was used here?  If you answered BOTH then you're right.  We played this game for a while and I stayed firm on 600 which, mind you, was a completely arbitrary number I had chosen.  She finally complied and I told her she was a good business women.  "Asanti" and I have her a hug.  Then I kept mooving.

Long story short--I bought an oil painting that I had walked away from previously.  Luckily the vendor tracked me down because if I had come back to him it would have seriously hurt my bargaining power.  He told me to give him my best offer.  I told him I didn't want to offend him and that I'm sure his piece of art was worth every amount of $$ that he was asking.  I said I had limited funds.  I pulled out my entire wad of cash and credit cards in my pocket.  Well, actually, I did this after 10-15 minutes of bargaining.  He had started at some very very high number and after 15 minutes he was down to 6000 shilling.  Then 5000, 4000.  This is when I pulled out my wallet.  Mind you, I had planned for this in advance.  I made sure to put the rest of my money in another pocket and pulled out the most I was willing to spend on this painting.  I offered him 'everything I had' which was 1250 shilling (~$15 USD).  He looked unhappy and continued to ask for more.  He saw that I had $20 USD in my pocket and said he would take the 1250 shilling + $20 USD and that 'we would have a deal'.  I made up some bogus excuse about how I needed that money for airport transfers between connecting flights.  I essentially just kept talking about my travel plans until I had him worked.  He said, ok how about just $5.  This went on for another 2 minutes--have you ever counted 2 minutes when you were in the middle of a high-stress environment, it's actually quite a long time.  He finally agreed and he wrapped it up and handed me the painting.  Its of 2 Maasai men jumping, as they did for us when we visited them in their village.  $160 down to $15, I would call that at least average bargaining skills.

My last dinner in Africa in Nairobi, Kenya
I did walk away from alot of things I really wanted, but getting good deals involves having discipline.  Some may call this cheap, some frugal, and others just 'too much'.  But I ask you this, why is it that 'people' are 'willing' to pay so much more for products than I am?  It is likely their ignorance, lazyness, or maybe their lack of understanding the true value of a dollar.  But it most certainly is, at least in part, that people form some irrational connection to a product and they believe this product is somehow connected to their happiness.  This really saddens me!

It's 5:10 now and I'm going to grab a bite to eat at the hotel's restaurant.  I am going to post this now since I've written so much.  I'll finish up today's 'adventures' in tomorrow's posting.  Cheers!