Avatara

From the Blog

Flying into chaos

God Forbid you ask for vegetarian food on Serbian Airlines! I have been denied food until Cape Town as it was not booked – yet I have confirmation… If only I reacted like the 2 year old next to me who wanted a JAM ‘sendvich’.. And they gave her HAM ‘sendvich’…she threw it in the air kicked and screamed and then grabbed my boob, yes mine not her mothers….. In I guess a desperate attempt for anything sweet.. Oh Lord the joy of economy travel… Well good time to shed those kilos I gained!

Little did I know that my quest to appease the drugged caged animals of the world would be the least significant issue on the journey I would face ahead…

The plane from Montenegro to Belgrade made a very slippery landing in a violent storm, which resulted in all cancelled flights to my next destination – Istanbul. I was taken to a very fancy hotel and lavished with extravagant buffets. Important fast conversations flew around the lobby by the usual ad execs, while I dissolved the deep emotions that live in me after leaving Montenegro.

The next evening I was taken to the airport in a sleek black Mercedes – my last Balkan smile –so I thought… As we were about to board the plane, the entire airport had a blackout! For half an hour absolutely nothing happened. When we started boarding the plane, amidst the dark confusion and the sudden light, the flight attendants erred as they had forgotten to call business class members first…and so the mere mortals made a Moses path for the immortals to hurry past us. (sorry this situation always makes me laugh expressed so well in Almadovar’s I’m So Excited film!)

My seat companion, a delightfully humorous South Korean tour guide, chirps, Ïn the 127 countries I have traveled to, I have never ever experienced a blackout. And how funny at the Nikola Tesla Airport – that’s it, the name should immediately be changed to the Edison Airport!”

Was that a bad omen.. I was starting to feel a sense of unease, especially when the entire Serbian Waterpolo team got on the plane. Each 6ft8 guy seemed to weigh the plane down..would I ever make it home?

As we were about to touchdown in Istanbul the plane did a strange nose up and hover, then it landed but didn’t seem to know where to go. No one panicked yet it was clear that there was something wrong. The plane parked and reparked a few times and then the pilot announced that there had been a terrorist attack and so we are to remain in the plane. It was about 10h30pm. We instantly got online and watched in horror what had just happened a few meters from us.

My SKorean friend and Ukrainian right hand friend helped me send a message to facebook, as I didn’t have wifi. Amidst casual conversation I meditated, sending love and heart energy to all these perpetrators. Surely they need love? What would drive such utter madness…and how can it stop!? Orlando was just the other day and now this?

What transpired after we collected our luggage off the runway and ran with it through rivers of people into the airport was a reflection of the chaos in our world. It appeared as if everyone in the airport, including all surrounding hotels had fled in fear. Who could blame them? Thousands of us were trapped in this building just a few meters from where the suicide bombers had exploded. Apparently some got out and only God knows how they did, as I was utterly confused.

No one told us to be calm and wait! In fact the only announcement was incoherent and non-sensical: All passport holders to go out go here.. All persons to transit go here” Where is HERE for God sake! Like caged animals we were shuffled from one queue to another – shattered glass, bomb fragments, babies screaming, old people falling over, people fighting and absolute mayhem. No air-conditioning – the smell was a worldwide feast of sour. One American got angry for folk smoking – well who could blame them in this panic. There wasn’t even a drop of water to drink.

After 4 hours of doing the shuffle I decided I couldn’t face another queue and just sat down. It was on the stairs that I met a soul mate – a lovely lady from Rajasthan. We went and made ourselves comfortable behind the airline counters, charging our electronic devices and at last a sip of water!

It was here that the chaos ceased and the bonding started for us. We gathered some South Africans and chatted and laughed as we shared our life stories. Old friends shouted from far ‘hey South Africa how you doing?’ I met a very gorgeous young trendy man from Afghanistan! I said Aren’t you supposed to be wearing long robes and riding donkeys – how did you get so trendy?” He laughed and said ‘We are fine in beautiful Afghanistan’.

Yes we are all the same!! Azerbaijan, Ukraine and more – we are all the same! Only the fanatical religions and politics divide and destroy. This I was reminded when I urgently needed the toilet and they had closed the ladies, no doubt after an overuse. Clenching I went straight into the men’s toilet … It was then that a bunch of men became so abusive and pushed me right out! Mental!!!

As we predicted at 8am the new staff came in and again the many more queues resumed. It was then that my South African or Balkan power-woman kicked in along with my Rajasthani friend. We worked our magic and went behind the counter and got our tickets reissued immediately. Then we had to get our visas – yes frigging visas in this madness!!?? All elite countries, i.e. UK, US… could go to the bourgeois human operated counter and all 3rd world had to use an inoperable machine. When the one didn’t work we were shuffled off to another and then another.. I was on cracking point but then my Rajasthani friend – a 5 degreed mechanical engineer worked out how to jig the machine and got all of us mere mortals our visas.

Our team also included a wonderful South African guy now living in Ireland and a gorgeous young Egyptian man studying in the US. By this time we were heartfelt friends, having shared so much. Humour is always a beautiful bond and somehow when one meets a stranger in an extreme circumstance, the veils drop and the absolute beauty of humanness is shared. I felt such intense love and heightened feelings of simply being alive!

13 hours later we were taken to a hotel in the heart of Istanbul. We indulged ourselves in a hamman – a traditional hot marble room with a lady who washed and scrubbed every part of my body. What a release, what absolute pleasure! Ecstasy! And then she lovingly washed my hair…I was soaked in feelings of elation. It was surreal indeed!

I made it home in the end, not without some more panic at the airport again that night. And after touching South African soil, my South African friend from Ireland gave me a huge gracious hug and said “Thank you so much, if it wasn’t for you I would not have made it”. He was mostly deaf. It was only then that the emotions took hold of me and my eyes streamed with tears. Not for anything but the heart to heart soul encounters with all of these beautiful souls whom I met. I missed them all already.

Cher Poznanovich

July 2016

Guest House vs Hotel

A delightful guest soireed out of Avatara saying “oh darling what a gorgeous place you have! Such a pity my husband insists on staying at hotels as we usually travel together!’ Afriend also commented that she doesn’t stay at guest houses as there is always someone peering into your business when you simply want to be left alone. So what is the low down on guest house vs hotel? There is the grey area of boutique hotel – but then if a guest house is rated high enough it can compete very well, so long as you are not checking for the Hastens bed label!

One viewpoint is that business travelers feel that hotels are trusted – you know what you are getting. Yet that market too is changing where more and more business travelers are pointedly choosing guest houses. I used to be the former while jogging the corporate mile. I traveled monthly to various corners of the planet and was put up in the finest hotels that provided for everything from making you completely blind in the dark, to a phone in the loo, which of course gave you stomach cramps if you ever spoke on it. Oh I am being fascecious as it was very glamorous – especially in the early 90’s!

One trip to Germany I stayed in one of those hotels privileged to be in the alphabetic prefix range of H… I was working the clock and getting home after dark when after a few nights I came back to my hotel room to find an incredibly long stemmed single red rose with a cryptic note. I immediately asked the management as to who had put it there? Who had sent it to my room? Well which flower company had access to my room?… all questions remained a mystery. No one could be sure.

I now was certain that I had a stalker and at any moment he would gain access to my room as mysteriously as the rose had appeared and I would …oh my imagination went wild, but for goodness sake the rose didn’t grow into my room – how did it get there? I ended up spending the night in a colleague’s room, who assured me that she had a black belt in karate. Sleeping in a stranger’s bed all because you are scared witless about a mysterious delivery to your room may sound absurd. However, what was more absurd was when in the blinding dark I got up to go to the loo and my colleague cuts a karate chop mistaking ME for the intruder!!

Yes my paranoia did get the better of me probably due to too much travel and working far too many hours, however, the idea of staying at a guest house where there is a more personalized touch may have calmed my nerves or the very least helped me to remember which country I was in for a start: all H…. hotels look the same regardless if you are in Germany or the USA!

While it is not always easy to find just the right guest house, when one does one should expect that Je ne sais quoi… that just speaks to you. From the welcome drink, to the local design, to the advice about where to go and what to do, should all be personalized. Of course it goes without saying that comfort is primary in any place you are paying to stay, but then again I’ve slept on a desert floor witnessing a stupendous fireworks display of shooting stars which was one of the best travel experiences of my life..

Alas there is no fireworks room service delivery in guesthouses, but you will experience the local ambience in an individual manner. Personally the key ingredient of any travel is not to feel entirely like a tourist, but to taste the local flavours, see the best local sites and hear the local conversations.

There is no better or worse, it simply is a choice of what you are looking for at a particular point. I know that after many years of business travel I started to feel like a widget in the tall glass buildings and so something inside of me sought a different experience. I wanted to know where the chef bought their local produce, I wanted to ask the owner their philosophical and political views as I didn’t get a chance to meet a local. I wanted to feel the fabric that the locals chose and not some mass-produced tried and tested label. I wanted it to be real yet magical. Not always achievable, and not every place will be designed for every palette, but at least I will have a story to take home with me. A story of a native person’s perspective, and my own personal experience of the place itself.

So are you traveling to get that perfect selfie on the rooftop of the H.. Hotel or do you want to get to the heart of a city, explore what makes it’s lungs pump and breathe it all in… then a guest house is definitely what I recommend for you.

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THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi