Least Friendly Countries In the World

Least Friendly Countries In The World

“I’m a stranger in a strange land.” Carson McCullers 

As any world traveler knows, not every country offers tourists a warm welcome. Everyone does not “like to practice their English” for you English-speaking tourists. Everyone does not like foreigners. Friendliness is rated by attitudes toward foreigners. Here are the least friendly countries in order.

10. Mongolia is not a nation of smiling quaint little Asian people. They come from warrior lineage and showing emotion to strangers is a sign of weakness. It is a cultural difference and that is the way it is. They often seem rude and unfriendly, especially in cities. Once you go out of the city, this is not the case. The challenging nature of nomadic life has shaped the need for the unique hospitality and genuine warmth extended to all travelers and pilgrims. Mongolians believe that the welcome offered a stranger today will be repaid in the future. This concept is at the very root of Mongolia’s centuries-old culture.

9. Bulgaria is about as East as Eastern Europe gets and Eastern Europeans are not friendly. They don’t smile and I don’t speak Bulgarian. I don’t know much about this country. It is not famous for gymnasts or shooting dictators.There is a lot of stuff on the internet about people being rude and ripping off tourists when possible. Least friendly does not mean unsafe. I guess I will go and see for myself and bring a book.

8. Slovaks are not friendly to people they do not know. I am not sure if this reserve is a Slavic trait or a product of the Socialist regime that they lived under for so long. Smiling customer service will not be part of your shopping or dining experience in Slovakia. They want tourism but they can’t figure out how to market themselves. If you need help in English “ask young,” The older people working in train stations and bus terminals do not speak English. There have been several racist incidents in this homogeneous white society that make people not want to return.

7. Latvia is a good place to not ask directions because no one is going to help you. I have been there. The locals are not friendly and if anyone is friendly to you they want something – so be careful. It is my least favorite of all the Eastern European countries that I have been to so far.

6. Pakistan is a country rife with crime and terrorists. Home to the Taliban and other extremist organizations, Pakistan is unsafe and unfriendly.

5. Iran is a tough one. I think it is on this list because it is ruled by savage mullahs who sponsor terrorism. But from everything I have heard, Iranians are welcoming to visitors and happy to see travelers in their country. The President leads chants that say Death To America. There are posters that say Death to Israel and We Have No Homosexuals. This definitely makes it unwelcoming, yet by all accounts, the people are kind and friendly.

4. Kuwait is incredibly hot which probably makes people irritable. Do not expect a warm welcome here. It is a conservative Muslim country and from being around conservative Muslims in my travels, I notice that they avoid eye contact with anyone in Western clothes. There is not a lot to do other than eating vast amounts of food, smoke shisha (hookah) and walk around luxurious shopping malls. Apparently, the locals don’t seem to want foreigners to do that.

3. I was in Russia a while ago. No one spoke English and at that time every sign was written in Cyrillic. It was hard to get around and I tried to learn temporary Cyrillic as fast I could. The no smiling, no small talk is standard Russian behavior. It was still early in the post-Communist era and people were adjusting. The life of a Russian person in Russia had always been hard and a constant struggle. When I was there, they had many issues between this new “free” life and the feeling that life under Communism was easier. It was what they knew. I found the people cold, rude and unfriendly but I never found that with the many Russian immigrants I have met in the States. I understand why it is listed as the third most unfriendly country in the world because that was my experience as well coming from a completely different culture. 

2. Venezuela is a country in crisis.  It is socially, economically, and politically in ruins. Venezuela is full of violent crime, inflation, and corruption. The local people spend half their lives waiting in line at empty supermarkets, bus, train and gas stations. Hospitals are empty because there is no medicine in this oil-rich country.  The black market is so much cheaper than inflated prices so everyone carries cash. Tourists are robbed by both criminals and police. Traffic accidents are common because cars don’t stop at street lights for fear of being robbed. Protests are daily and often turn violent. Venezuela is a dangerous country and not on most people’s list to travel to right now. Everyone is way too worried about their own safety and precarious future to be friendly to strangers. 

1. Bolivia took the dubious honor of being the most unfriendly country in the world. I know you probably thought it would be the French. I’m not sure I get this one. The only Bolivians I have met were in Northern Argentina selling hand-made souvenirs and coca leaves for altitude sickness in the Altiplano. It is the most extensive high altitude plateau outside of Tibet -4000 meters high. Chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea is very helpful for avoiding altitude sickness. The legality of coca leaves in Buenos Aires is questionable but it is medicinal in the Altiplano and they bring it in from Bolivia. Some Bolivians were friendlier than others but no one was rude. I’ve always found South Americans to be kind and helpful and I can’t find any information on why it is number one. It is an odd choice for a poor, beautiful country that needs tourism. I’m definitely going anyway.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

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What To Bring Or Not Bring To Someone’s Home In A Foreign Country

What To Bring Or Not Bring To Someone’s Home In A Foreign Country

“What you consider gross—dead rats—I consider considerate gifts.” Jarod Kintz

I’m a person who always likes to bring the right gift so having dinner in foreign country at someone’s house always requires a bit of research for me.

To the Japanese, gift giving is a way of communicating respect, friendship, and appreciation. It is good to be ready for the gift giving ritual that has been deeply rooted in the Japanese culture for centuries. Everything should be beautifully wrapped and ripping open the paper is bad form. Downplay the importance of the gift. This is typical in all Asian cultures. Always present the gift with two hands.

Do not give wine as a hostess gift in Argentina because it is considered common. Champagne or hard liquor is fine. Don’t bring scissors or knives because that means you want to sever the relationship.

What can you bring to someone in China? They make everything there. First off gift giving is not easy. They don’t open their gifts in front of you and they refuse them several times. You have to be persistent but not pushy. It’s a delicate balance. Again no knives or scissors to break the relationship. I am missing something. When people in these countries get invited for dinner is the go to gift a pair of scissors? Why do they have even have to say that? Also no clocks or anything in sets of four. Four is an unlucky number in Chinese because it sounds like death. This is true in most Asian countries. Avoid white chrysanthemums because they are used at funerals.

In Malaysia pay attention to the Muslim culture. Avoid pork, knives, alcohol, and highly personal gifts. Present gifts in the right hand only. In Indian sections of Malaysia, avoid black and white colors. Instead, opt for yellow, red or green which symbolize happiness.

Israelis have a tendency to overdo gift giving and put a lot of thought into choice and presentation. If you are going to the home of Orthodox Jews or Muslim Arabs remember that the gifts must not violate any of their religious beliefs. Candy, flowers and gifts for the kids are always appreciated.

If you are invited to a Quechua home in the mountains of Peru, coca leaves are an acceptable gift. Coca leaves have always been present at all important moments of community life. Today, the history and traditional use of the coca leaf in Peru are a solid part of ethnic and national identity.

In Korea, generosity is a highly valued personal trait. Give expensive gifts if possible.

When invited to a home in Russia, bring something other than vodka. If you bring flowers only present them to a woman. Avoid yellow flowers (unless you picked them yourself in the countryside). White flowers should be given with caution. Same with red as they usually mean love. Fine chocolates are always appreciated.

In Italy, it is nice to bring cakes for coffee when invited to dinner. The cakes have to be of a special kind, bought in a pasticceria by weight. These delicious cakes are placed in intricate patterns on a golden paper tray and wrapped in paper nicely folded with carrying handles After opening the present the hosts and the other guests will take pains to point out which cakes, they each do not like. In the end the cakes are pushed aside in the assumption that nobody can eat another bite after having partaken of a full delicious meal.

You must bring a gift if you are invited to someone’s house in India. Chocolates or flowers is acceptable. Different flowers have different meanings in India so always check with the florist about what is a proper choice. When in doubt red roses usually work. If they have children (and many do) it is nice to bring something for them. If you are visiting during a festival always carry a box of sweets with you. Be cautious in giving leather as a gift. The cow is sacred in India and many Hindus are vegetarians.

In Ethiopia a traditional gift if you are visiting someone’s home is coffee. However a chicken from the market may be well appreciated. They cost anywhere from $5-12. The average weekly wage is around $25 a month in a government job. So a chicken is quite a gift. If they have room the family may keep it for eggs. If not then it will make the next meal. To transport them, just pick them up by their feet. When chickens are upside down they do not move or make noise. They are very easy to handle. See this is where they lose me, I feel bad to carry an upside-down chicken around.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Things That I Have Learned In Colombia

Things That  I Have Learned In Colombia

“Once a year, go someplace that you haven’t been before.”  Dalai Lama

If you don’t come back from Colombia with your suitcase smelling from coffee, something is wrong.

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Coffee plants in Colombia are not native to Colombia. Many of the plants come from Africa. IMG_4242

Juan Valdez is the Starbucks of Colombia not the man picking coffee beans for Folgers. (only people my age know what that meant) IMG_3804

Colombia is not Disneyland but it isn’t downtown Beirut either. IMG_3787

There is always music. (Play and continue reading . It will sound like Colombia  – Gracias Kevin)

Colombia has the second highest number of public holidays in the world. Argentina has the first.

Colombians love Juanes as a humanitarian even if they don’t like his music.

Because of its location Colombia is “the door of the Americas”.

In Colombia you dunk cheese in your hot chocolate (my two favorite things together).

There is always fruit.

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Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of cut flowers after the Netherlands. About 1 billion worth of flowers are exported every year, mostly to the United States. People from the United States buy 300 million Colombian roses on Valentines Day. IMG_4149

Colombia does not have seasons; because it is near the equator, it has sunlight throughout the year. Colombia is the only country in South America to have two different coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. IMG_4812

They still uses coca leaves in the rural villages and for the tourists. But it is not as easy to find as in Peru and Argentina.

Colombia has the biggest theater festival, biggest salsa festival, biggest flower parade, biggest outdoor horse parade and second biggest carnival in the world.

You’re less likely to be kidnapped in Colombia than you are to be eaten by a shark in Australia.

12% of the world’s supply of coffee comes from Colombia which provides 20% of the government’s revenue. Only Brazil and Vietnam export more coffee. IMG_4224

According to someone from Ecuador at the airport, Colombians are the nicest South Americans. I would have to agree.

Colombia produces 60% of the world’s most expensive Emeralds.

In 1975, Colombian women were given the right to vote.

Colombians speak the clearest Spanish with the lightest accents, especially in Bogotá.

There are more fruits in Colombia than days in the year. Guanabana is my new favorite fruit. (Ice Cream, Dulce de Leche and Guanabana)

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Shakira is from Colombia. The women are often voted the most beautiful in the world.

There is always juice.

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The FARC was founded in 1964. Adopting an anti-U.S. and Marxist ideology. The group attracts the overwhelming majority of its members from the rural poor. Its aim is to overthrow the government. However, the government and the group have been making moves towards peace in recent years.

The decline and fall of the Colombian drug gangs has led to an increase in tourism. Medellin is still the capital of the cocaine trade but with Mexico taking over the American market, they are focusing on Europe and Latin America. Colombians are still often arrested in these countries for drug trafficking. Pablo Escobar never sold drugs to Colombians for consumption but today groups are targeting the outskirts of Colombia as well.

Colombian food is rich, diverse and delicious with a heavy focus on deep-frying. IMG_4841

Colombians do a lot of praying and a lot of crossing themselves. IMG_3754

Colombia is the worlds third largest manufacturer of women’s lingerie.

The Colombian drink aguardiente means fire water and is 60 per cent alcohol. A party is not a party in Colombia without aguardiente.

The name Colombia is derived from the name Christopher Columbus.

Avoid sopa de madongo unless you like intestines , tripe and cow udders, Luckily I have already gone through which organs to avoid in Argentina. FYI they also make soup out of eyeballs.

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Colombia has 84 different Indigenous tribes spread out across the country.

It is actually illegal to walk the streets in Colombia without I.D., but a photocopy will suffice in 99% of situations.

Colombia is my most misspelled country. In the past, I always spell it like Columbia the Ivy League University that I did not attend. I won’t be making this mistake again.

Colombia is one of my favorite countries in South America. I am already planning my return trip in my head.

Viaje con cuidado,

JAZ

Things I Have Learned In Jujuy, Argentina

Things I Have Learned  In Jujuy, Argentina

‘Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.”

~Annie Dillard

The Train to the Clouds makes up one of the most important attractions in this area because of its distinct building and engineering.

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It is now closed but you drive along this route of unique beauty where the mountains touch the clouds.

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The Puna is part of the barren high altitude landscape that stretches across the Altiplano in Northern Argentina. It is around 4000 meters high.

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The Altiplano (high plain) is the most extensive high altitude plateau outside of Tibet.

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You don’t see much except wild vicunas and guanacos.

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The viaduct at La Polvorilla is the last stop of the Tren A Las Nubes at 4200 meters above sea level.

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Las Nubes means the clouds. It is a word you quickly learn in Salta and Jujuy (between 10-14,000 ft. above sea level most of the time.) There is the train to the clouds,  restaurant in the clouds, farm in the clouds, gym in the clouds, winery in the clouds,  hotel in the clouds, store in the clouds, etc. In other words, you are very high up in the Andes.

San Antonio de Los Cobres is one of the highest altitude towns on the Puna and is known because it is one of the stops on the Train to the Clouds. That’s about it.

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The cold wind rips through us and it turns out that it is the windiest day in thirteen years. We are at our highest altitude of 14,000 feet. The altitude headache is kicking in and it is freezing.  But I have been in a cozy restaurant drinking fresh coca tea, eating llama and lentils, and talking about the rainy season and mine exploitation.

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It is not a good day for a drug test when you are at high altitudes in the Andes chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea. The test is for coca, not the chemicals that turn it into cocaine.

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It takes about three hours on an unpaved dirt road to go from San Antonio  to Salinas Grandes.  When someone tells you that you are taking the road alongside the train to the clouds, it sounds so exciting, but  why do they forget to tell you it is unpaved and very rocky?

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A stunning natural phenomenon, these salt flats took about 22 million years to form the current topography. Salt deposits from a since-disappeared body of water cover the ground here, forming a durable surface that appears snowy from a distance and almost fossil-like up close.

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Salt  can have a big glare, when not in a salt shaker and laid out in salt flats of 8,290 kilometers.

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The pueblos of Purmamarca, Tilcara and Huamahuaca are on the main highway to the Bolivian border. (Pucara of Tilcara-pre Inca fort)

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This entire area is the Quebrada de Humahuaca . a UNESCO site for its villages and natural scenery.

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The towns are more interesting in Jujuy than Salta.

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We see no tourists here from the United States but you can always find South Americans, a few Germans and Australians, and of course the British. They go everywhere.

The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude where the Sun can be directly overhead.

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One of the markers of the Tropic of Capricorn is in Jujuy province in Northern Argentina.

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This beautiful church in Uquia is one of the many colonial churches in Jujuy. It has a fine collection of paintings from the Cusco School of Art . (the Incas were taught to paint for the Spanish and put their own symbols in the paintings)

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There are nine angel paintings. When the Indians were told to paint angels,  they did not know what they looked like. The Spanish told them that they look like us, but with wings. They painted soldiers with swords, spears and wings. The most beautiful wings that the Indians knew were the ones from the flamingos of the highland lakes and so the wings in the paintings on the soldiers are pink. The angels have very red cheeks from the wind in the northern Andes against the Spanish fair skin.  (no photographs please)

The seven colored mountain of Purmamarca pink, green, grey, purple, orange, brown, white) is pretty impressive as far as colored stone goes .

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It shows many geographical ages.

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The mountain is a backdrop for the village.  Everyday, there is a big handicraft fair in the main square of the village which adds even more colors.

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Purmamarca was my favorite place on this trip. Hiking in the colors of the mountain made me feel like I was in some amazing painting.

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I have so many beatuiful photos it was hard to pick just a few.

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Tilcara is a lively Andean village . There is an arts and crafts market and many restaurants around the main square. There are many gatherings in restaurants at night with live traditional music (sometimes from the guests) and local food.

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Indigenous cultures are very much alive in these mountain pueblos.

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Humahuaca is a pueblo in the Humahuaca Valley, 10,000 feet above sea level.   Many Bolivian immigrants sell traditional Andean crafts and coca leaves. The architecture, adobe houses, street lamps and cobblestone streets are all from another time.  The ancestral customs continue here.

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The historic Cabildo building (town hall) is the home of the main tourist attraction. There is a stellar performance by San Francisco Solano, a mechanical  statue with waving arms that blesses the audience of tourists and locals every day at noon. It comes complete with music blaring from the nearby Church of the Candelaria..

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Gauchito Gil is another folk saint. He was the Argentine Robin Hood who got tired of fighting in the Civil War  and protected the poor instead. He was found in the forest by a general and pleaded for his life. He said to his murderer, “Your son is very ill, if you pray to me, he will live.” This turned out to be true. Again the story spread. Today, small red shrines can be found on the roadsides of most northern Argentine motor-routes, and great pilgrimages are organized to his sanctuary in Corrientes.  Drivers believe that if they fail to acknowledge or leave offerings to the saint during their journeys, they may crash or breakdown. You can find red flags along the  route.  When I was checking the facts (yes, I do that) I found out that Gauchito Gil also has a facebook page.

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Traveling with Daniel Salazar from Cultural Xplorers is never boring.  His sense of humor, adventure, kindness, shopping skills, intelligence and knowledge of many things made this trip so much fun. I also have to thank him for being my personal photographer most of the time, and I hope we will remain friends.

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It is always good for a New York city kid to spend some time in small villages in Argentina. When you are young, it looks like just the kind of places to escape from, when you get older, you are not so sure.

Buen Dia And Fly Safe,

JAZ

Things I Have Carried

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not “             Ralph Waldo Emerson

Things  I   Have Carried

1. I have this GIANT CONCH SHELL on my kitchen table. It is from a pink sand beach in Eleuthera,Bahamas.  It is one of those giant shells you see in stores and think it isn’t real. There it was on the beach one morning when I was walking. I carried it back to my room and then proceeded to carry it back on the plane with a three-year old and a six-year-old. I see that shell every morning and it reminds me of a pink sand beach and a happy  very young family.

2. My friends told me about the perfect gift to bring  from Munich – DAS MURMELTIER DER ALPEN  ( singing  animal in the chipmunk family) They told me to buy them at the airport –more carry on bags. I  put them in the overhead compartment and went to sleep. Weisswurst breakfast is very heavy in the morning (white sausages and a pretzel) Suddenly everyone on the plane is in a panic. There is a  clicking noise and no one can figure out what it is.  Our first thought is that it must be a bomb. As they are about to call security, the yodeling and drinking songs in German  begin. The chipmunks had started singing in the overhead compartment.  Travelers are way too stressed out these days.

3 The Maneki-neko (beckoning cat) is a sign of good luck in Japan. They are made of ceramic  ( most common) and usually come in pairs.  You can find them everywhere in Japan. The beckoning right hand means money and the left hand means happiness. BECKONING CATS are found often in Japanese businesses and homes. Since I felt that everyone in my family needed Japanese luck, I bought several pairs of the cats. Between the Starbucks mugs from every city in Japan and the several pairs of cats, they overflowed into my carry on luggage.  I’m  pretty sure airport security in Osaka would have laughed at me while looking at  the x-ray machine, if it wasn’t Japan and they weren’t so polite.

4. The following year I had to carry  the protective and breakable lions from Okinawa.  They are called SHISAS and are half lion half dog from Okinawan mythology. They come in pairs. The shisa on the left traditionally has a closed mouth, and the one on the right has an open mouth. The open mouth is to ward off evil spirits and the closed mouth is to keep the good spirits in. They are usually guarding the entrances to homes and businesses.  They are sold everywhere in Okinawa. I feel that anything to ward off evil spirits makes an excellent gift.

5 Betel nut is a mild stimulant that is chewed throughout Asia.  It involves, betel nut, fresh pepper leaves (or other spices), powdered lime and damp tobacco leaves. It is wrapped in a betel vine leaf forming a wad or quid. The last ingredient is saliva . ,Your gums , teeth and tongue turn bright red when chewing it.  Eventually, you spit it out.  It is one of the most used addictive substances in the world. It creates a buzz and curbs hunger. The streets and stairwells of Burma are stained with red betel nut. It is customary to use special compartmentalized boxes to hold the ingredients for the betel nut quids. When guests visit, they are presented with a fully stocked box. Some of them are quite beautiful. I brought BETEL NUT BOXES back from Burma.(but no betel nut)

6  There is a Shang Hai Tang store in the Hong Kong airport and it was having a sale.  Shang Hai Tang is DESIGNER CHINESE CLOTHES. Their flagshop store is in Hong Kong but was always one of my shopping stops in NY.   Changing planes in Hong Kong, I managed to add to my already bulging hand luggage , two sweaters, a shawl and some Chinese shirts in beautiful fabrics.  You can’t go to Hong Kong without shopping – even if it is just in the airport.

7.  My goal when skiing in  Cervina, Italy was to find a pair of those FLUFFY WHITE AFTER SKI BOOTS It was many years ago and I had never seen them  when I was  skiing in Vermont.  I finally found the perfect pair in a shop next to my favorite cappuccino bar. The best thing was to wear them on the plane since they took up so much space.  It was April and we had been spring skiing. Changing planes in Brussels,  we were walking slowly and my friends and I got bumped from the plane.  I remember thinking it was odd that the teacher left us there.  The four of us were sixteen and seventeen.   I felt really embarrassed walking around the city in those after ski boots, ( the weather was quite warm) but having an unexpected   free day and night in Brussels was very cool.

8.  There is a craft  market  in the Plaza del Armas in Old Havana not far from El Floridita.   (Hemingway’s hangout where he used to drink his daiquiris not mojitos) They sold  WOOD CARVINGS OF DANCERS   The woman who was helping me spoke English with no accent. She told me her father was the linguistics professor at the university and she spoke twenty languages . She was selling wood carvings for a dollar.   They were quite nice but very delicate . .   I had to put them in my carry on bag and hold it very carefully. Still,many of them  arrived with missing limbs. It  looked a bit like a war when I unpacked them. Arms and Legs all over. –luckily there is no shortage of crazy glue here.  They were great gifts for all our dancer friends.

9. Hvar,Croatia is where some of the highest quality of lavender is grown in Europe. I bought a lot of small glass bottles of LAVENDER OIL I figured if something broke, it would be better  in my carry on bag. . Lavender would have a calming effect on the nervous  post 9/11 fliers.

10 Coca leaves have been part of the Andean Culture for 5000 years. COCA TEA   is made from the coca plant.  It is not cocaine  like grapes are not wine.  Neither drinking  or chewing turns it into cocaine. It is a mild stimulant without the speedy effect of caffeine.  However when airport security sees a word like coca, they are paranoid.  I thought the best thing to do was put some  in my luggage and carry a few in my hand luggage as well.  If I got stopped, this would show that I was innocent. (I watch a lot of Locked Up Abroad episodes)   The guide in Peru was trying to find out once if it was ok to bring back coca tea to the states. She asked airport security in Miami and was questioned for four hours.   I didn’t want to bring it up.I walked through customs in Miami right  passed the sniffing dogs with no problem.

Some things are good to carry with us and others should be put down or left where they were. We choose the things we carry.

Fly Safe,

JAZ