I spent 2 months in Istanbul, and pretty much lived the life of a uni stundent... but without any classes or homework! Partying, drinking, all nighters, guitar hero, junk food, sneaking around campus, the usual.
However I did occasionally go see some sights, so here the photos and a few tidbits.
Hiaga Sofia goes down as one of the most amazing structures I’ve seen. Being built in 360 A.D by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 532 A.D and used a church until 1453 when it was converted to a mosque. The fact they built something so complex is just stunning!
Unfortunately my photography of the place is terrible and doesn't do it justice!
The palace of Constantinople was interesting, although it was closed off to make it slightly more difficult to get inside. But with a hop, skip and a jump I was able to climb one of the lower falls and get inside for a bit of an explore.
Of course spread out through Istanbul are a series of amazing mosques.
And Istikala Street is one of the busiest streets in the world. And certainly the busiest I have ever been to.
Then there was all the snow!
The partying! (Which I am really lacking in photos of1)
The taking pants off. (Read the full story)
And most of all I loved just wandering aimless around random parts of Istanbul.
I will miss you Istanbul, a unique place in the world.
Everyone who knows me, knows at some point I am going to get pepper spray’d by police/security. So with this in mind, I had decided in after I wanted to pre-empt the police and get a good dose of pepper spray.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to convince Adriana to pepper spray me but in Istanbul my good friend Ayse was more than happy to pepper spray me. She’d always wanted to do it to someone.
So we went out to the gun/weapons shops in Istanbul and asked a few shops until we found the strongest stuff we could. The owner tried to convince us to buy a less powerful one when he found out our plan.
In my mind, I thought the pepper spray wouldn’t slow me down. That I would just push through it, accomplish my mission of picking up Ayse and carrying her to the other side of the room. I mean how hard can it be?
View of Istanbul from the boat
I organised a Couch Surfing event to go to one of the Princes’ Islands not far from Istanbul and will a small group hired bicycles to take around the Island which worked great except for when one of the chains decide to come off and wrap around the front gears. That was fun to fix.
One of the sights on the Island is an abandon orphanage left over from the 1800s. It is also the worlds 2nd largest all wooden building. Perfect place for some urban exploring.
So we headed up to the orphanage with the idea of jumping whatever fence they had and going in together. However when we arrived not only was there razor wire fence. There was 2 arm security guards at the entrance. So we decided to take a walk all around the outside of the fence and look for a way in without security seeing. Along our walk we noticed a couple guard dogs, but I checked them out and they were all tied up.
Eventually I picked a spot out of sight of the dogs and security guards and told the guys to come over. Ofc ourse since they weren’t idiots, they said no. So while they waited I climbed the fence and headed toward the building.
All was good, while I searched for a way to break into the building until suddenly I heard barking. I peaked around the edge of the building to see 3 guard dogs running full bolt toward me. And a security guard getting up and coming my way.
It was time for a race to the fence. With the dogs coming fast and the security guard yelling in Turkish at me. I hit the fence and started climbing over as quickly as I could. Unfortunately the fence being wobbly and me scared shitless as the dogs closed in. I managed to cut up my hands a bit making it over the fence.
Jumping down the other side, just in time for the dogs to run straight into the fence and start barking away. With the security guard armed, but a long way back we disappeared into the bushes.
So the lesson...
Fuck guard dogs!
Driving along the garden route we stumbled upon Wilderness. A beautiful sea-side town surround by hills and national parks which also happens to be one of the world’s top Paragliding spots.
I’ve always been interested in learning to paraglide, the price was a 1/3 of what it was back home, and with great weather I could complete the course in 7 days and meet back up with Adriana.
Unfortunately things don’t always go to plan and the weather turned shit, so 7 days turned into 16 days. Which meant a lot of reading, partying and hiking between flights.
Flying for the first time is an awesome feelings, flying for the next 20 times is still awesome, but for me I quickly become ‘bored’ of the flying sensation. And looked for excitement in other ways. Flying a new site is always great for example. The others complete courses at the same time as me (all professional airline pilots!) never tired of the flying, so I guess it’s just me. But the views... wow...
I was lucky enough to be training when formal world #2 paragliding stunt pilot Herminio Cordido turned up and stayed with my instructors. So not only did I see some amazing stunts...
... but he started to teach me the basics of stunt flying. Now this was exciting but also dangerous and not really what a newbie should be doing (I did it anyway... oops). While I only learned very basic moves such as wing overs (changing direction very quickly and thus swinging you so you end up above your wing before free fallings being caught and doing it again on the opposite side) and wide-spins (as it sounds, spinning in circles toward the ground) there was certainly some heart stopping moments. Especially every time I went weightless and could see my wing below me before free fallings.
In the end, I decided paragliding wasn’t really for me, I loved the stunt flying but I think you need to love ‘general’ flying to ever get to a stage where you can do the crazy stunts. And I just don’t have the patients to sit for hours on end looking at the same patch of earth.
I do however have my licence and like scuba, where I can around the world I will head out for a fly and see the land from a different perspective.
Table mountain, looking out over Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most memorabile scenes, and Adriana wanted our climb to the top to be just a memorable. Despite warning from lonely planet not to go randomly hiking Table Mountain, we found an excellent photo online along with a caption saying Kasteelspoort. After some googling all we found out is ‘Trail comes off Pipe Track’ and that ‘Pipe Track starts near the bottom table mountain car park’. So with that we set off.
We found a track and it didn’t have pipes. So we tried again and this time pipes! We followed it for an hour around to the back of table mountain and stumbled on sign pointing straight up saying ‘Kasteelspoort’. So we headed straight up!
Cliff Picnic's were out favourite
After a steep hike where we encountered no one else, we reached the top. The whole time we’d been looking out for the spot the photo I found online had been taken. Adriana managed to spot it and we had a nice picnic lunch sitting on a rock out crop 1000 meters above Cape Town and about 300meters straight down.
After the usual photos...
I had always wanted a ‘cliff hanger’ style photo but never found a good spot. But this... this was perfect. So with balls of steel instead of brains, I found a good hand hold and lowered myself over the edge feet dangling. While my photographer freaked out and started running to help me!
So after pleading for a few minutes, she agreed to go back and take the photo. So lowered myself off again, this time even more over the edge and took ‘the photo’.
Reactions ranged from “Epic!” to “Stupid!” to “Fake! Photoshop!” to lectures from friends and family.
Adriana and I then spent the next few hours hiking in the beautiful nature park on top of table mountain, which despite it being a perfect day was completely empty.
Eventually we found our way to the cable car and... the crowds. 30 minutes walk away there was no one, here there was hundreds of people.
With a couple jumping fences, and rock hopping we got some spectacular photos over looking table mountain.
We had another hike, a couch surfing meet to hike lions head that evening. So late in the afternoon we headed down the ‘normal’ walking path which sucked balls. Not only full of people but shitty views and basically a stair way up/down. Near the end Adriana continued down the normal way and I ventured off in the general direction of the car park. Once again, no one was around anymore and I had a much nicer trail.
So the lesson... when you visit table mountain, avoid the crowds and go on one of the dozens of other amazing walking trails!
Photos from around Cape Town
Officially organised only 3 days before the event, Improve Everywhere’s first Istanbul No Pants Subway Ride was always going to be an interesting! (Read the history of the event and why we do it)
Istanbul a city of 15 million in Turkey is the most cosmopolitan city in a proudly secular nation, still with 99.8% of the population being Muslim and some hard liners out there we knew it might not go as smoothly as events staged in New York, London or Sydney.
After a flurry of invites on facebook and and couchsurfing.org we had 28 attendees which on the wet, cold and raining day turned into 16 adventurous people that actually showed up. Our spilt was about 1/3 Turkish locals, 1/3 expats and 1/3 travellers.
Myself, the organiser, and my right hand girl, local and translator Isha turned up first with our ‘No Pants’ sign and immediately were approached by about 6 men who asked if this was the ‘No Pants’ Event.
“Yes are you joining in?”
“No we are civilian police. We know about your ‘event’."
*Flashes gun and walkie talkie*
After a long conversation with the undercover police, they said we were allowed to proceed but they would be watching and filming us. They also said they were there for our ‘protection’. Unfortunately some of the undercover police also made inappropriate remarks in Turkish about some of our participants, negative remarks about the event and generally put everyone on edge.
After a short briefing on why we were there, what we were doing and a long safety briefing we headed off down into the subway to start our journey. While we waited for the train, there were 3 plain clothed police following us and taking video, which made most of our participants very uncomfortable and they decided to not to take part but instead just watch and support.
We all walked onto the last car and as soon as it pulled away my pants came off and I walked down to the far side of the carriage. After some hesitation, our number 2, Ayse took her pants off, slowly followed by 4 others giving us a total of 6 ‘agents’ who took part.
As we all took our places among the carriage and took out our books, iphones, etc, people on the train started pointing and talking. It’s odd enough to see people without pants in New York City but in a conservative Islamic country this was ‘crazy’.
We took the train 4 stops, there was some great reactions from passengers entering the subway car on their normal journey seeing 6 people in the underwear standing around (must have been a great shock!). At our final stop, we all got off the train and spread out through the subway station, always keeping in eye sight of each other.
While the reactions of people on the subway were good, the people who felt the ‘safety’ of being inside a subway car and seeing us on the platform were great! The entire subway train was staring out the windows pointing, talking, laughing or just with very puzzled expressions
The first sign of things going wrong occurred when the first train heading back to our start point arrived and 2 of our agents boarded the train, the plan was to go on the 3rd train to go past the station!
Fortunately I managed to pull them off in time. A minute later one of our multi-lingual participants informed that they overheard the station security asking for police assistance.
So we decided it was time to get out of the station and I went around letting everyone know we were going on the next train. 10 minutes later and the next train arrived, so I go check the station to make sure everyone is onboard. Unfortunately Isha, and 2 other translator/photographers were following me. I jump onto the subway car at the last second, the doors close and I see them on the other side and waving goodbye as we pull away.
On the train I quickly put in charge one of the other agents, told them to go to our planned station. Wait for one train, if I we weren’t on the next train then ‘pants on’ and we will meet at the after party.
This is where the story diverges. So let’s call the two groups Team Boxers and Team Undies. Team boxers headed to the planned station, and I went to find Team Undies.
Ro (The organiser) jumped off the train to play hero.
Team Undies story:
After a quick call, I found we were missing three people, Isha who was no-pants and two clothed participants. No problem, they will jump on the last car of the next subway train and I would meet them in the subway.
Although now I was alone, without pants, standing on the subway platform and it wasn’t long until I saw security lurking around the corner with their eyes on me and talking into their radios. But they stayed back and the next train was only a couple minutes away.
The train arrived and our two clothed participants walk out but Isha the lone no-pants agent, was missing. They tell me that they all got on the train together, then a bunch of police suddenly held open the doors and demanded Isha get out of the train and come with them while forcing the others to stay on the train.
So we move to the other platform to catch the subway back and try and find our missing agent. At this point, I decided things are serious and maybe I should put pants back on so I can be taken a bit more seriously!
Just as the subway pulls up, the security guards come up and block our entry and tell us to stay here. After we refused and said we need to find our friend, they told us she would be brought here.
The next subway pulls up and one of the funniest sights you could see appears in front of our eyes. Little, five foot four inch, Ayse in her Simpsons boxers comes out of the subway car with 2 serious looking officials in suits, 2 police in front of her and 2 next to her and 2 police standing behind. and these guys weren’t your ‘subway security’ either they were fully armed police officers, 9mm in holsters and everything. (Unfortunately security deleted our photo of this!)
They release Isha to us, and then tell us to stay where we are and proceed to discuss what to do next. When I ask if we can leave, we are told no. When I ask if we have broken the law, they said they haven’t figured that out yet!
Team boxers being taken by security
Team Boxers Story:
Team boxers arrive at the final train station with the undercover police in tow and wait for us to arrive. Quickly they notice that another 3 undercover police have joined them.
They eventually receive a message from me to meet Team Undies at the after party; however when they tried to leave, the plain cloth police refused to let them and wouldn’t say why.
After about 10 minutes, a group of youths appeared on the train station and called some things out in Turkish. Suddenly the plain cloth police confronted them and there is a heated arguments before the youths yelled at the no-pants participants in Turkish and are forced onto a leaving train by the plain clothed police.
The police then told the group this is why there were being held at the train station, because they had heard there was gang of hardline youths looking to make trouble with the no pants group.
The group then spilt up between those who decided to stay in the station a bit longer as they are worried and those who decided to go to the meeting point (a local pub).
The 4 who stayed decided to take a couple of photos and then are pounced on by the station security. There was some arguing between the plain clothed police and station security but eventually the 4 are taken to a waiting room were there photos are deleted. They are also made to give all their identification and told that if they ever did something similar again they would be arrested. After 30 minutes they were released and went to meet point.
At the same time, those who went to the pub had the plain clothed police suddenly reappear (who had followed them all the way to the pub) and told to delete their photos as well. Fortunately our semi-pro photographer has gone home early and didn’t have her photos deleted.
Team Boxers had a drink, discussed the days events and headed off.
After standing around for 20 minutes, while the police made calls and tried to figure out what to do (and ask for autographs from one of our participants who had a few weeks earlier been on Turkey X-Factor!) The police and guys in suits took us to a holding room hidden in the back of the station, while they waited for a higher ranking officer to come.
In the mean time we were constantly questioned. Unfortunately we did not have the plain clothed police who knew what was happening with us. While one officer protected us, saying he knew about flash mobs and no pants events and that is was a ‘normal thing in western countries’. Another officer was a lot more interrogative continually asking what our political motivation was and hinting that this was a cover for us to takes photos of the subway to be used by terrorist political groups (such as the Kurdish PKK rebels).
After an hour of being held by the police, someone in charge finally appeared (and someone who could speak some English) and asked us to tell him the whole story from the beginning. Half way through the story he realised only two of us had no pants and that I was the organiser. He agreed to release our TV star and another local who had not taken any clothes off.
When we finished our story he asked us a couple questions, asked us to show him the underwear we were wearing (both of us had conservative underwear) and asked to see our photos and then deleted them. He then went outside for a few minutes and we over heard some unhappy words about why on earth they thought we were danger to people or part of the PKK. The senior officer then came back in and told us that “You are not allowed to take photos in the subway; this is why we have deleted your photos. But you have done nothing illegal and are allowed to take the subway in ‘socially appropriate’ underwear. You are free to go.”
One of the officers and the man in the suit apologised for what happened and said maybe next time they can join in. After being detained for an hour and half we were free to go and find out what happened to everyone else!
If you enjoyed this post, you make like to read about my greatest prank, placing my own art work on display with Andy Warhol, Picasso and Monet at the Tate Modern in London.
Or you might enjoy Improv Everywhere's amazing stunts or you can help fund a documentary on Improv Everywhere!
I apologise for any inaccuracies, I could not understand Turkish and was split from the some of the group. I have done my best to piece together what happened.
*** TO MEDIA ***:
All photos and video can be reproduced under Creative Commons attribution 3.0 - Xingxing Huang must be credited.
All text can be reproduced under Creative Commons attribution 3.0 - Rowan Savage must be thanked and a link provided back to this page.
19th to 23rd October 2011 - Victoria Falls, extreme sports and the discovery of Ro's Hole - Video update
You can read the full story of getting to devil's pool and finding Ro's hole at the end of this post (Just scroll past all the photos).
Photos of Victoria falls from our visit of Victoria Falls NP on the Zimbabwe Side
White water rafting and bungee
Exploring the Zambia side of Victoria Falls and visiting 'Devils Pool'
Discovering and relaxing in Ro's Hole
The story of our attempt to get to Devil's pool and eventual discovery of Ro's Hole.
(This is actually an email I wrote to someone and I haven't re-read it. So expect lots of spelling errors, grammar error and things that just don't make sense!)
One of the things we I wanted to do most in Africa was go to something we'd seen photos of called Devil's Pool. But we didn't really know how to get there except on a tour. As thoughts who travelled with me know, I can't stand tours!
We asked our hostel, and the rafting places, and others how to get to devil’s pool and they all said we had to book this $150 tour. We knew about that but also read (and seen when we saw people in devil’s pool from Vic Falls NP) that you get like 10 minutes there and that’s it.
However I found a couple forum posts saying could just go over to Zambia and find some kid, pay him $10 and he’ll take us. Easy. Well it turned into a massive ordeal!
There was 3 of us (Adriana, Dan and I) and we get over to Zambia and can’t figure out how to get to the river because there is a national park and then a hotel with fences. So we ask the hotel and they aren’t really help. They tell us to book a tour and it was illegal to go any other way.
And we were told by randoms on the street we could get to the river through the hotel but she wouldn’t let us go through (maybe since Dan had asked about going to Devil’s Pool).
So we went back and asked a couple more locals and they told us to go into the national park and there we guys inside who could take us. So we walked there, ask some locals just near the entrance and they said we had to go with an official guide. So we ignored them to, paid our $20 each to get into the national park, walked to the dried up river found the local guides. They said they could take us but they weren’t allowed to take us to devil pools, it’s private property. They could lead us there, and then we’d have to pay $35 each for an official guide.
When then talked to an older couple who had come back without a guide from a walk, and they said that when they reached Livingstone island (devil’s pool is on the other side) they were told by security they weren’t allowed to go any further without an official guide. So final nail in the coffin, we’ll have to pay for a guide. Luckily it’s only $35 plus the National Park fee, so $55 instead of $150.
Problem was we had $97 left and none of us had cards, and all our other money and what not was back in Zimbabwe with would have meant getting a new Zimbabwe visa and new Zambia visa. So we tried to negotiate with the company that does the guiding and they said no. We argued more ‘This is all we have. Only a few dollars short. Some money is better than nothing’. We had them call their manager/boss and still said no. WTF.
So we starting asking all the white people if they were from the Zim side, to see if we could borrow money and pay it back once we were in Zim. No luck, couldn’t find anyone from Zambia, and no one I told the story to offered the $10 to us. So we’d basically thought we’d have to give up.
Then I thought we should ask locals if we could borrow cash and give it to a friend in Zim. Asked a couple, no luck. So I went to a taxi driver that we’d ask for directions from (who had seemed really nice). And he said ‘No problem. We can work something out. We are all humans, we help each other.’ Told him we’d borrow $10 and give him $20. He said sure, he took us to a friend who worked between borders and told us to give him the $20 when we arrived back at Zim. Then we walked back to the national park and he gave us $20. And we were like, no you give us $10 and we give you $20. And he said ‘Huh? That’s not fair. No I let you borrow $20, and then you give $20 to my friend. I help you out, we all friends’. He wasn’t even doing it to make money, he was just being nice. Amazing. And with no collateral or anything just trusting us. We gave him $10 straight back anyway, and explained to him again we were giving him more money back because he was helping us.
So we finally had the money, went to the guide and asked about how long we get to spend at Devil’s Pool and he said 10-15minutes. And I was like ‘Come on, you know what we’ve gone through to get this money so we can go to devil’s pool. Can’t we stay longer.” He said not really because there are constant groups going there, but if we come back late in the afternoon as the last group to go we can stay longer. So we went and explored the NP on Zambia side and came back at 330.
We finally got Devil’s Pool, which is amazing. It’s literally right next to Main Falls. Unfortunately our guide was mr safety and only let us hang over the falls for like 30 seconds for some photos and wouldn’t let us look over again. But was still cool to jump in, and just sit in the water right next to main falls. He tried to make us go after about 10minutes and I was like ‘No, we can stay longer.’ Took a bit of convincing but eventually he let us stay until another group turned up about 20 minutes later (so much for being the last). And I also went over the edge in that time, I was near the under water ledge and just kept getting closer and closer to the edge. I am sure he could tell, but he just let it go. Lol.
On our way back, we were trying to walk along the edge of the cliff and he kept pulling us back. So eventually I told him that we could make our own way back (since we were allowed in this part without a guide) and sent him on his way and the 3 of us went exploring.
We found the biggest part of the waterfall on the Zambia side, and then just past it (toward Zambia) there was a smaller run off stream/waterfall. I could see about a meter from the top of the cliff was a ledge sticking out and I thought it would make a cool place to sit and make a good photo. So as usual against better judgement I climbed down to the ledge. Which was right next to a this small water fall, and when I looked into the pool that the waterfall came from I could see that it was sloping down, I looked at the waterfall and could see it was all coming from the top not underneath. I put my hand in and there was very little current, so I slowly slipped my legs in while holding on the ledge/cliff and went deeper and deeper and eventually had my whole body in.
Right at the lip, the was a hole about waist height. Perfect size for a person. You could stand in the whole and have your hole top half off your body hanging out of the waterfall and ledge. Basically like Devil’s Pool but smaller with a smaller falls next to it instead of Main Falls but without any guides or anyone tell us what to do.
Eventually the Adriana and Dan (the other guy with us) followed me in and we hung out there for an hour. Was an awesome spot, just relaxing in the water literally on the edge of vic falls. And without anyone else anywhere near by (although we had an audience from the other side looking toward the falls) I called the place ‘Ro’s Hole’ :P
When we left, I showed the freelance guides the photos and they’d never seen the place before. So even the locals didn’t know about that spot. So was really cool. Exploring on our own, discovering the place on our own, relaxing there, and since the local guides didn’t know about it, probably one of only a few people ever to have been there!
So we left, went back to Zim, paid the taxi driver, and ended up turning an ordeal and slightly disappointing day into another epic day.
About an hour after I shot the video a group of vehicles came past and stopped to help us.
After asking one of the guys if he had any tools he said ‘Do I have any tools?’ with a laugh and brought out a massive toolkit and we removed the snapped in half shock.
After fixing the car we all chatted for a while and they invited us to come stay with them in Harare for a few days while we replaced the shocks. It wasn’t until we arrived in Harare to stay at their place that we found out the full story of the two guys, Milo and John.
Milo with his wife run a luxury safari company at Mana Pools national park, while John, Milo’s father-in-law is the group guide. And not just any old guide, as his stories came out we heard how he was a brand new National Parks worker whose first job was building Mana Pools national park and over the years he eventually became Warden of Mana Pools (that is top dog) and then went on to become Warden of Hwange National Park, Zim’s most famous national park. After leaving the national park service he became a freelance guide and one of the most famous and best at that. Being hired to take out those who could afford the best such as Richard Branson.
So are you can imagine he has some great stories, including chasing off a lion that attacked his daughter. Milo, his wife and John was absolutely great to us, helping us buy the parts for the car, fix the car and letting us stay at their beautiful place in Harare. Without them we would have had a much tougher time in Harare instead of having a nice relaxing break.
After Harare we headed to Maptabo National Park, famous for its granite rock formations and 20,000 year old rock art. Which is in amazing condition as you can see from the photos.
Then to Hwange, which has huge herds of Elephants but paled in comparison to Mana Pools.
Unfortunately on the way we hit a Falcon in the car, we stopped and I picked it up in a towel to take it to the vets at Hwange but unfortunately it died while walking back to the car.
After a few days in Hwange we headed the Adventure Capital of Southern Africa, Victoria Falls.
Arriving in Zimbabwe and the scenery was not what we expected, we were met by rolling hillsides, mountains, forests and beautiful trees in all colours. Welcome to the Vumba Mountains.
We spent couple days doing some great hiking. Hightlights of our time in Vumba included:
On our way from the Vumba Region to Great Zimbabwe, we stopped to have lunch on the side of the 'road' and climbed some rocks for a beautiful view. And drove along dirts roads through a national park and around a massive lake before crossing a huge dam and getting in trouble for acting out Titanic of the 60m drop.
We arrived at Great Zimbabwe to have enough time to climb up to the fortress on a hill top and view the beautiful African sunset.
The next day we paid for a guide to take us around for 3 hours and explain the history of Great Zimbabwe, what the building were used for and a general history of the Shona people.
While the building don't compare to Angkor or Machu Picchu due to the lack of decoration, they are very impressive structures especially considering they were built without mortar or anything else to keep the 10 meter high walls in place. They Great Enclosure is also the largest ancient structure in Africa outside Egypt.
We headed to Harare where we bought supplies for our week long trip to Mana Pools National Park where we had to be entirely self-sufficient. We camped overnight at the Chinhoyi Caves, on the way to Mana, which has a crystal clear lake inside. The outside view was so/so, but once you enter the cave and walk into to see the lake from inside... wow!
Those aren't reflections in the water, that is the rock wall going down into the water and that blue really is accurate it was almost neon blue.
Mana Pools National Park is one of the most remote and wild national parks in Africa. You need to be fully self-sufficient for your entire time out there. It is famous for 3 reason:
The Mana Pools video update is in 4 parts. The first two make up the normal update (should just be one video) and then two bonus features from when we spotted the lions!