Trooper Travels

I did not poop in Athens

October 29, 2019

A story about lies, privilege, and cosmic interventions.

Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH)
Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) — May 7, 2019

I told a few friends I pooped in Athens, but I lied.

However, I have genuinely pooped in Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the U.A.E., Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia (the country, not the state). The pooping experiences were all very different, but the important thing is that I have pooped in many countries. Just not in Greece. The closest thing I did to doing number two in Greece was doing number one in Greece – pee.

And if you ever have to ask me why I had to lie about pooping, let me tell you about bragging rights.

When we were younger and poorer, there was a running joke among my peers in the Philippines about how the rich would go to Hong Kong on a whim just to buy a pair of slippers. If you could actually do the same and drop such lines in casual conversions, you’re guaranteed to one-up everyone.

Imagine the following conversation in your fake Beverly Hills accent.

Friend 1: You know what? I went to Naples. And had the most authentic pizza, ever. Like, really authentic!

Friend 2: OMG! I just had the best escargot in Paris. And it’s like, the best escargot. Ever!

Me: Okay. That one time I gotta poo, I was in Athens. Like wow, best poop ever!

I believe you got my point.

Technically, I have never really been to Athens. The closest I got to being in Athens was being on a four-hour layover in Athens on my way from Istanbul to Yerevan.

Greek Island as seen from the window seat
The closest I ever got to Athens — the airport.

Going out of the airport wasn’t even an option as my third-world passport would not allow me to unless I had a Schengen visa. And even if I did, I would not have the need to go to Athens. A valid Schengen visa allows me to buy an e-visa to enter Turkey and I would have been able to go on with the original plan. Also, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to lie about pooping in Athens and this reasonably long rant about Turkish visa, or the lack of it, would not have existed.

After my last unsuccessful visa application, and at least for the time being, I no longer have any intention to acquire any visa for the sole purpose of touristic traveling. I now view these visa acquisition systems as just another convoluted plot devised by first world countries for the sole purpose of bragging.

But why in hell would consular offices and foreign emissaries require an applicant to present a confirmed flight to god knows where without any assurance that the applicant will receive an approved visa? Is it to bully the developing countries and stick on their under-developed faces that they’re not developed enough to buy a pair of slippers from their first world country on a whim?

I’m talking about Turkey (the country, not the bird).

The truth is I failed to obtain a Turkish visa to enter Istanbul.

No, the more precise statement to say is I was not allowed to apply for a Turkish visa at the Turkish Embassy in Manila. Not because I failed to present a confirmed flight to and out of Turkey. In fact, I did. As well as all the other documents required, plus a lot more extra just in case.

However, the lady at the Turkish Embassy in Manila told me that I could not apply for a Turkish visa in the Philippines because I was carrying travel and work documents from my employers in Saudi Arabia. I should have applied there before I left.

The thing is that I first applied for a Turkish visa at the Turkish Consulate General in Jeddah through the online portal. However, the consulate does not accept direct visa applications. Applicants must course their visa application through an accredited travel agency. Which I did, but had to retract my documents when a travel agency personnel informed me of a SAR 400 (USD 107) visa processing fee.

According to the online portal of the Republic of Turkey Consular procedures, “Travel Document Holders (regardless of country of origin) will need to obtain a visa through a Turkish Representation abroad. Therefore, these applicants are required to schedule an appointment using the online portal.”

The Turkish Embassy in Manila is a Turkish Representation “abroad” and I was supposed to be able to process my application there. But I was not allowed to. I was in the Philippines (which is “abroad” relative to Turkey) and the travel document I was holding was a Philippine Passport. Let me know where my reading comprehension failed me at the time.

The lady at the embassy insisted that I can directly apply for a Turkish visa in Jeddah and, in a moderately condescending manner, told me to try again when I am back in Saudi Arabia. Maybe she knows better than the gentlemen from the Turkish Consulate General in Jeddah whom I spoke to.

The Architect's Apprentice & The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
(L) The book that made me want to visit Turkey; (R) the book that made me visit Armenia. Both available on Amazon through this affiliate link.

Sometimes, it takes time for me to process bad news and rejections. So when the lady at the embassy did not allow me to apply for a Turkish visa, I may not have been able to fully comprehend the consequences of the rejection. So instead of throwing a tantrum at the embassy, I just calmly said, “okay, I’ll just go somewhere else.” Then I carefully placed all my documents in my brown envelope and left.

There also are times when I believe in fate. That when fate allows, the universe will work its way to makes things happen no matter how small the possibilities. So when the lady at the embassy told me that I can not enter Turkey, I booked an emergency detour flight to Armenia.

I had two options. One was to cancel my confirmed flight to Istanbul and take a flight from Manila to Yerevan. However, the cost would be exorbitantly high. The other option was to retain my flight to Istanbul and take a connecting flight to Yerevan. Unfortunately, because of the controversiality of the Armenian Genocide, a diplomatic agreement between Turkey and Armenia does not exist. And therefore, there are no direct flights between the two countries.

Fortunately, as the universe persisted, I managed to book a connecting flight from Istanbul to Yerevan via Athens. And I was finally able to go to Armenia to buy pairs of slippers on a whim. Only they were just keychains.

Armenian slippers and Turkish Delight
(L) Slipper keychain I bought in Armenia on a whim; (R) Me revenge-eating free samplings of Turkish Delight in Istanbul Airport — May 13, 2019

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