Lamar graduate travels to Istanbul, Egypt
Traveling alone is scary, especially to countries that are 11,500 miles away from home. It’s crazy, frightening and nerve racking, but it’s exciting. At least that’s how Lamar graduate Tim Fountain describes it.
During the summer of 2011, Fountain traveled to Istanbul, followed two years later with a trip to Egypt.
“I realized I was about to graduate and I needed to do something really cool before I graduated college,” he said. “Turkey was my first choice, because it was something different and it was an easy country to travel to, according to what I researched. Istanbul is a place that most people in Southeast Texas wouldn’t chose to go.”
Most people are worried that a big trip will break the bank, but Fountain said it was less expensive than he expected.
“I was okay with (the idea of) destroying my bank account, and I was okay with going broke over the trip because that was the idea,” he said. “The first trip it was about $2,300, which includes being robbed of $500, and the second trip was around $1,500.
“I assumed the trip would cost everything. I figured I would have to ask for money from the parents. I thought traveling would be much more expensive than it actually was.”
The 2011 Lamar University graduate was robbed on his second night in Istanbul.
“Two locals approached me and asked if I wanted to go to some local bars,” he said. “We started ordering a few beers, then they suggested going to a different bar. The bill was for 2,000 Lira, which is about 1,000 US dollars. They said, ‘You’ll pay half then we’ll pay half, so that’s fair.’ I realized I was being robbed or scammed — it was me being stupid, too.
“I didn’t have the cash on me so, they walked me to the ATM. Then a third guy joined us and they said it was the manager, but most likely he was just an accomplice. I could only get $500 because that was my daily limit, then they let me go.”
Despite the experience costing him money, Fountain said the men were actually quite considerate.
“The men stopped at a taxi and told him to drive me back to the tourist area,” he said.
Fountain said he usually stays in hostels because it is the cheaper option, and he gets to meet other travelers and get tips on the different places. He also saves money by backpacking, which he admits can be a little daunting at first.
“I’d never traveled alone by myself, and to go across the Atlantic to another country was pretty frightening,” he said. “I met a bunch of cool people and they told me where to go next — I found all sorts of awesome things.
“When I first got there, I found a map then got on a subway — that wasn’t too bad. Then, when I began to walk around the city, I felt like a kind of excited nervous. The next time I was much more comfortable.”
Fountain said he doesn’t like to plan a trip down to the last detail.
“You can’t plan for stuff like that, you kind of have to just go with the flow,” he said. “I planned where my plane landed and my first hostel, then I started talking to other people to see what they’ve done and what they’re going to do. That’s the most important part, communicating with other people. Everywhere I went there were other travelers. I was never alone, and that’s a big deal for people. They think they’re going to be alone but it’s not like that at all, there’s always someone else.”
Fountain said that wherever he went, he would buy something that would help him understand the culture..
“I bought newspapers and magazines so I could see their languages,” he said. “I bought something called the ‘Evil Eye’ in Turkey. It’s a piece of glass to ward off bad spirits, so I bought a few to hang in our house. I bought a Keffiyeh in Egypt — it’s a head wrap the men wear to keep their heads cool, since it’s, like, 110 degrees.
“I also collected beer labels. There was a Chinese guy that gave me a postcard from eastern China. He would give one from his home to people he met along the way, so if you never make it to China, at least you have something from there.”
Fountain, who earned his degree in economics, kept journals for both trips.
“The front part was day-to-day about the things I did, and the back half was kind of my brain on paper,” he said. “I crunched numbers everyday, wrote down how much different things would cost, planned my routes and kept track of my money. I also wrote pieces of the language I could use. It looks better if you try to speak their language. I wrote down people’s Facebook information, too, so we could keep in touch afterwards.”
Fountain said that his travels supply him with many interesting stories to bring back home.
“In Egypt I met up with five other Americans and went walking that first night, and was approached by a local who offered us cash for our passports,” he said. “He just wanted to buy alcohol with them because Egypt has strict alcohol rules and you can only buy it in duty free shops or in airports. There has been basically a black market for alcohol with passports in Egypt ever since 2011.”
They helped the man get his alcohol and he offered to either give them cash or drive them to the pyramids the next day. They went to the pyramids.
Fountain found himself in the forefront of the news.
“I witnessed riots in Egypt,” he said. “In Dahab, when they overthrew Morsi, their democratically-elected president, I had to go to Cairo to fly back. Everyone was celebrating and we were told to stay away, but I went. It was thousands of people yelling and waving flags because they got what they wanted. We were told to not say we were American, but I did. So many people wanted to take pictures with me and talk to me, I had to walk away from some of them because they just kept talking and talking.
“After Egypt’s president stepped down, thousands of people gathered at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo to celebrate. To protect everyone, a few groups organized and made checkpoints to search people for weapons and to block foreigners from entering. I wanted to get into the square, and I met a woman, a reporter for a news station in Norway, who wanted to meet with some activists for a report. Together, we got to a checkpoint and she was allowed in as a reporter; I was stopped — I said I was a photographer, but I wasn’t convincing enough.
“I doubled back to try again as a crowd of people attempted to go through. I slipped by and was free to walk around Tahrir Square for the next few hours, stopping every few feet so Egyptians could pose with the American tourist, and to watch as military fighter jets flew in formation and helicopters hovered overhead with the Egyptian flag hanging below.
“I also got to see the Gezi Park protest. The people were mad that the government was going to build strip malls over the parks the people praised so much. It was a peaceful protest, then police tried to remove them. They started to use tear gas, water pumps and paint balls. I was behind the protesters, then hauled ass back to an ice cream shop.”
Fountain plans to travel more in the future.
“I’d like to cycle across the US, which would take around two to three months,” he said. “I want go to India because I’ve been told to go there and stay for, like, six months. I really would like to go more into Africa. I met several people who came from Sudan and they said the people there are the nicest in the world. The locals take the tourists to restaurants and then argue who will pay for their meals.
“I’m pretty much open to anywhere — everywhere sounds good. But most of all, I really would love to be in Brazil for the World Cup, because it would be insane if they won or lost — it would be awesome to be a part of that.”
Fountain paused as he reflected on his stories, worrying that the stories made sound negative and influence people to think twice about traveling.
“Believe me, it was an awesome experience,” he said. “I still recommend people to go. The whole trip all together was amazing. They were some of the nicest people and the hospitality was unreal.
“It changed my perspective on things — my views on people, other cultures and the world itself.”