And what do you do for a living?

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It’s such a common question and often the first one you ask when meeting a new person. It almost has become a replacement for generic weather talk. We judge people based on the profession and title they have. And then we quickly put them in a certain kind of box, “creative type”, “money maker”, “boring”, “boring”, “boring”, “doctor” etc.
So I popped the same ol’ question on Friday night, but I did not get the same ol’ answer. I was in the club, chatting to two regular looking girls (lets call them Katya and Nastya) and after conversation about upcoming travel plans and photography, Katya casually responded that she also does photography. I asked, what kind of photography. She said, porn.
Boom, where do you go from there. First thing that came to mind was comment that you can’t make any money in porn anymore due to the omnipresence of Pornhub and other free online “entertainment” destinations. But I was proved wrong. I learned that porn industry is still alive and kicking. Her friend Nastya that was with her was actually one of the actresses Katya works with. Nastya said she makes three times as much working in porn compared to being a stripper (her previous job). So, everyone out there, still contemplating a career in porn, don’t give up your dreams, you can still make it big. Like Riga big.
The funny thing was, we chatted for about 30 mins (afterwards they were going to a strip club, to hang out with ex-colleagues, I passed on the offer). At some point I even forgot that we were talking about making porn. Katya treats it like any other job, works Monday to Friday, gets briefs, brainstorms ideas, complains about shitty actors or clients, plans holidays etc.
My lesson for the day, just because you ask someone a boring question, do not always expect a boring answer. This world still has the ability to take you by surprise.

My baby is 5

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Yep, this blog of mine has been around for 5 freakin’ years. It has had it’s fair share of ups and downs. I started it back in 2009 when blogs were still in the game. Now there is very little life (read:traffic) outside FaceTwitGramBlr (a.k.a. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr).
I’ve considered it shutting down a few hundred times, but you know it’s like with all the things you own. You get attached to them and your perceived value exceeds that of a marketplace by a factor of 100x or so. Here it is, still standing, like that last scruffy leaf in the autumn on the lonely birch tree, lost and forgotten, but still hanging on. I’m even getting melancholic just writing about this, haha.
Anyways, just wanted to let you know that I’ll keep posting here from time to time, mostly about travel as it’s the reason I created this blog, and to keep the archive and the domain alive. That simple. Sometimes I do things even when no one cares, I do them for myself and I like it. Peace out.
p.s. on the travel from, I’ve just applied for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan visas, going there in September, woop woop!

She Fix

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Last weekend I was invited by She Fix girls to attend Playground 333 festival and take some pictures of people and their bikes. More specifically brief was to capture response to one simple question: “show us how you love your bike”. There were tricks, hugs, stares, full range of human emotions. As trust me, these people really do love their bikes.
It’s intoxicating to be around so many people that really love what they do, riding their bikes, boards, skates all day long. Doing tricks, falling, doing it again, falling, laughing, cursing, getting up and doing all over again.
One dude, during the wet race (where track is specifically flooded), fell pretty hard and dislocated shoulder. That probably was the nastiest fall of the day, but otherwise it was just the minor scratches and bruises, that stay with you as good memories, but do not fuck up your day.
I’m still amazing how many good extreme sports guys and girls we have in Latvia, we have BMX world and Olympic champions. We have top inline skaters, we have fixie riders that blow everyone away in any Red Bull race. Just name extreme sports and some Latvian is there, nailing it. Proud of my fellow dudes and dudettes, keep it up.
Full set of pictures from the event here.

Axis of Evil without the Evil

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I just came back from my trip to Iraq and Iran, which I named “⅔ Axis of Evil”, to make homage of image that is being forecast in the west about these countries. I can not remember a single positive story coming out of Iran or Iraq in mass media – its only shootings, massacres, corruption, nuclear tests and so on. Media would make you think these countries are full of fanatics obsessed with killing every infidel out there.
BUT of course its not true, they are not evil, far from it. Vast, vast majority of people living there are super friendly, kind and generous, living in peace, going along their everyday lives, despite oppressive and dysfunctional political regimes they live in. That is why I went over there to see and share a different picture about these countries, full of history and awesomeness.
So here are some of my personal observations and interesting facts I noticed during my couple of weeks in the region, in no particular order…
Yes, Facebook along with most other social media is blocked in Iran. But most people have installed proxy access on their smart phones and laptops which allow them to get through the firewall and still access social media. Yes, most Iranians use Facebook, regularly, here you have it.
Yes, every woman needs to wear a headscarf in public, even if you’re a foreigner. But wait until you’re in private space at home and all the scarfs are off. Both sexes mingle and socialise like you would in any western country. I was at friends place where we watched World Cup game and trust me, we could have been anywhere in Europe, I could not tell the difference.
Yes, all alcohol is banned, there are no nightclubs or bars. At the same time many Iranians make their own booze at home or know someone who does. Alcohol is routinely used in private parties.
Yes, kebab and rice is pretty much the main staple food you’ll be eating 90% of the time. It comes in few variations, but kebab is a kebab no matter how you slice it. It’s not a bad intake of protein and carbs and costs around 5 dollars per meal in a local restaurant, bet there are only so many kebabs a person can eat.
Yes, people’s friendliness and honesty is beyond any expectations. I’ve travelled a bit so I’ve seen a fair bit of scams and sales pitches along the way, from carpet sellers of Egypt, ear cleaners of India or bird shit throwers of Bolivia. In Iran or Iraq you don’t get any of that. In two weeks not a single person tried to scam me or aggressively sell me shit. People genuinely just help you and walk away. Once in Tehran I forgot change at the shop worth around 10 dollars and lady chased me down the street just to give it back. Other guy would share his bread with me while we waited together. Another guy would just give me tea, for free, not wanting anything back. I could go on. People are simply genuinely friendly.
No, Kurdish hospitality is not a myth, it’s real. While in Iraq I stayed with local couch surfer and his family. They welcomed me like a cousin or something, not a stranger. We ate together, we played ping pong together, we drove around at night together, we just hanged out. They would not even let me pay for my food or drinks, it was getting ridiculous. Youngest brother of my CS host Abdu, captured the essence of it perfectly. He likes to listen to Tupac a lot and he summed Kurdish people in two words: Real Niggaz. There is no bullshit, no fake pleasantries, no scheming. Kurds are Real Niggaz.
No, it is not dangerous. In fact, Iran is ridiculously safe and Iraq, well you have to know where to go and where not to. First Iran, despite what you might think, tourists are welcome in Iran (unless you’re from Israel). At no point on my trip did I feel in danger of any kind, and I’m not talking about kidnapping or shootings. I did not even feel unsafe about street crime, nobody tried to pickpocket me, I would walk home at 2am through the city centre alone and feel totally safe. I could not say the same about London or other big European cities. Iraq, well it’s complicated. There are safe heavens in Kurdistan area, like Erbil where I stayed. Erbil has not had major incident for years, there is almost no crime. And then there is war going on at the doorstep. Refugee camps are only 50km away from Erbil, there are daily bomb blasts and shootings in nearby cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, less than 100km away. But in everyday life of Erbil you would not see or experience any of that. You live in a bubble, full of lush parks, big, glossy shopping malls and evening strolls.
Pictures from the trip here.

136km on foot in 55 hours

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On friday I head out to one hell of a walk. Me and around 90 other crazy people will attempt to walk 136km along the Baltic sea coast (yes, that sandy beach in the pic) from Kolka to Dubulti and we have 55 hours time limit to do it. 136km is almost a third of total coastline for Latvia (I know, we’re not Australia). Only around half of us will finish the walk, less if the weather gets really bad (at the moment they forecast 15C and some rain).
We have three base camps along the way and couple of small towns, but basically we’re carrying all the equipment and food with us, so last few days I’ve been looking how to minimize the size of my backpack which should be around 9kg now, including tent, sleeping bag etc.
You wonder how much 136km really is? Well, an average person walks around 5km per day, so in two and a half days it would equal to around 12.5km. We’ll try to increase it ten fold, that’s basically the maths bit – walking 10x more than what you would normally do any given day. Or it is a bit more than 3 marathon distances, so we’d walk a marathon and a bit every day, three days in row. Not too crazy, but still some cool mega blisters are guaranteed.
Why am I doing this? Well, the main reason I came back to live in Latvia for a bit was to re-connect with the country and people I grew up with, to not forget where I come from, the values, the lifestyle, the little things. And what better way to do it than share a long (very long) walk along the beach. You don’t always need to fly 10’000 miles across the world to travel. Sometimes the best travel is on your doorstep and it’s free.
Of course, I’ll have my camera with me so will follow up with some pics and Instagram updates, stay tuned, this should be fun:)

Travelholic

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I’ve got the shakes, the sweaty hands, the long stare, the full shabang. Withdrawal symptoms of travelholic are in full force. I’m longing for that cramped airplane seat, the smell of airport fast food, the queue to passport controls, discounted booze and cheap cologne.
It’s been more than a month since my last overseas trip and I need more, I need it now. Month is way too long to get a hit. And I still have 3 weeks to wait till my next one. Life is so unfair, two months without travel. What is this, a bad comedy.
Travel addiction is as bad as any other substance abuse. Do it too much and you get hooked, you want it more than before, more often, more intense, longer lasting. It’s a one way street and there’s no coming back. Once you train your brain to enjoy travel, it wants to enjoy it for the rest of the life.
So here is a lesson for you. Don’t get hooked, don’t travel, work more, make more money, buy more stuff. OK, just kidding, I’d rather be an addict. Now only three weeks to go, patience Ivars…

2/3 “Axis of Evil”

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Do you want me to fund your holiday? Yeah right, fuck off, I’m not your sugar mama/daddy. That’s pretty much reaction I expect from this latest experiment. I’m willing to put myself out there and try it either way. You see, as part of my ongoing challenge to go visit every country in the world, I’m experimenting with crowd-funding model. The idea is straightforward, genius and has been successful for variety of projects – give small donations to fund big projects, that otherwise would not get funded through traditional means. Typically projects that get successful crowd funding involve nifty gadgets, cool sunglasses or big social cause. Travel/photography projects are notoriously hard to fund, no matter how committed you are, but what would be the life without its challenges.
Project I’m raising the money for is ⅔ “Axis of Evil”. There are three notorious countries in the Axis – Iran, Iraq and North Korea. I’ll be visiting two of them on my trip in June. North Korea is just too far off and requires separate planning entirely, so that I’ll keep for another time.
Do I believe Iran and Iraq to be evil? Exactly the opposite. After visiting variety of Middle Eastern countries, starting from Syria, Oman to Kuwait and Bahrain, I know how nice, hospitable, and peaceful the vast majority of the people are. Unfortunately the press and images people see is of unrest, violence and devastation. I want to balance it with the more positive story. I know it’s a drop in a sea, but get enough drops together and they form a stream, get enough streams together and the form a river. And the river can change things, break down walls, break it’s course, change how it looks and flush the rubbish away.
Go check it out, even $5 from you can help put me closer to the goal. Peace out.


About Me

I've been to 112 countries (out of 193), yay! My mission is to become first ever Latvian to go to every country in the world.
After 10 years on the road, I've moved back home to Latvia for a bit. This blog is about travel, photography and living in foreign countries.

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