Working Women in Arabia

Grad student asks: were you comfortable as a woman working in the Middle East?

Yes, I was. In the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Jordan) I didn’t dress or act differently than I would have anywhere, and I’m not conservative by most measuring sticks. I’ll discuss below some slight changes I made while working in the more open Gulf countries (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman). If you’re going beyond those boundaries, I refer you to the advice of the Unaccompanied Lady

In the Gulf (except Saudi Arabia) normal businesswear is fine, including skirts; on the evenings and weekends I covered my shoulders and legs to my knees. But aside from that, very little separated my experience in the Middle East from any other business interaction. Occasionally more conservative men would put their hand on their heart and bow rather than shake my hand, as they didn’t wish to touch a woman not related to them. 

The women I interviewed usually wore headscarfs if not a full abaya, but I didn’t feel any pressure or judgment because I was dressed differently. 

However strange it may seem to my fellow Americans, people in the more conservative parts of the Middle East really seem to believe that many of the customs we find objectionable are ways of protecting, respecting, and/or empowering women. They don’t think women are stupid or incapable. They just consider being a woman and leader of a household as more important than career paths outside the home, for the most part. 

I did meet women at all rungs of the corporate ladder, from receptionists to government ministers. There are few, if any, professions that are limited by gender. (I didn’t meet any female taxi drivers, though I’m not sure if that’s legislated.) In fact, women are generally considered more competent and reliable employees, and are more likely to have gotten a higher education degree than their male counterparts.

But how does this shape your experience as a western woman in the ME? Fundamentally, you’re a foreigner, and they don’t measure you by the same standards they do their ‘own’ women. None of my interviewees seemed nonplussed to meet an unaccompanied, college-educated professional woman. A few times the men I met even said they hoped their daughters would grow up to be educated and independent like me (a huge surprise!). Yes, there were a few guys who wanted to ‘continue the discussion over dinner’, but all you have to say is no. And it’s not like that doesn’t happen in the Western world as well. 

I’m not going to say there was zero harassment on the street. There were occasional cat calls, whistles, or more often simply staring, but again no more than most other cities. (I also lived in China, where people would occasionally come up and stroke my hair because they’d never seen anything like it. So maybe I’m desensitized to these kinds of things). 

In a different field, or if you were planning to live and work there full-time and climb the career ladder, the differences between how men and women are treated might become clearer, but as an analyst who seldom spent more than two weeks in any one location I never felt compromised in my ability to do any work.

So if you have the opportunity: go! The Middle East is gorgeous. It’s the cradle of civilization. The food is incredible. Most of the people you meet will be as generous as they are proud of their heritage.

Most importantly, your visit, work, or time spent living in the Middle East will transform the way you look at the news. You’ll return to your home with stories of a land rich in history, hospitality, and hummus. Tell these stories. The western world needs to hear more of them. 
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How to charter a boat in Croatia

Chartering a yacht in Croatia: it’s something for the Prince Edwards, Elizabeth Taylors, and Jim Clarks of the world, not us mere mortals, right?

Actually, it’s not that hard. And if you were planning on spending 100 euro/day or more on your European holiday, cruising will almost certainly be cheaper. You don’t need to have any sailing experience. You will see more gorgeous things, natural and man-made, than you would in almost any other setting. You won’t need to unpack and repack bags. It’s even eco-friendly.

The stretch of coast from Istria in northern Croatia to Dubrovnik, close to the border with Montenegro, has been a popular cruising destination for millennia. There are three UNESCO world heritage sites, well preserved Venetian cities, and remnants of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian occupation. Add in a thriving culinary tradition, some of the best nightclubs in Europe, crystal-clear water, and four months of almost uninterrupted sunshine from mid-May to mid-September, and you can see why people don’t tend to visit just once. Go before it becomes overrun…

GETTING THERE: Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar are the most popular places to pick up your boat. All have airports with frequent connections to most European hubs. See more details below.

THE COST: 500-2000 euro/person ($660-2600 in the summer of 2012), depending on the level of comfort you want on your yacht, plus airfare.

Here’s a breakdown.

  • Boat rental: varies widely depending on boat size/quality/age and the number in your party. Plan on 1800-7000 euro, to be split by you and your fellow boatmates.
    • Standard yachts sleep 4-12 people. You will pay a flat fee for the boat, so it’s generally cheaper if you have a full boat and so have more people splitting the price.
      In most cruising yachts, the dining table (‘saloon’) will fold down to form a bunk for two people. Therefore, yachts are generally advertised to sleep 2n+2 people, where n = the number of cabins. If noone in your party wants to sleep in the saloon, you should subtract 2 from the number of people the boat technically sleeps.
    • Any chartering company will send you the basic details of the boats they’re offering. You can google the model of the boat to find all the specs, detailed pictures of the inside and outside, and floor plans that show how many bedrooms and bathrooms each boat will have.
    • If you plan to have 8 or more on the same boat, for the love of God make sure you have more than one bathroom. Toilets have a tendency to get clogged.
    • Keep in mind you will have to account for sleeping space for your staff, if you choose to book any. It is fairly standard to have the staff sleep in the saloon.
      Staff (optional)
  • Skipper ~ 150 euro/day ($200). Unless you’re a very experienced sailor, you’ll want to make this investment. He/she will take care of all navigation and boat handling, though you are of course welcome to help. Occasionally you’ll also get lucky and have a skipper who covers the duties of the host/hostess (see below)
    • Most reputable companies in Croatia now require formal qualifications for people looking to rent a boat, so if you plan to go without skipper you should make sure you have a license (RYA preferred).
  • Host(ess) (who keeps the boat clean and prepares meals) ~100 euro ($130)/day. Often the skipper + hostess are a couple.
  • Food:
    • self catering is easy, with a choice between traditional markets or supermarkets. If you have a hostess, you will give her money to do the shopping whenever we put into port.
    • Dining on shore can cost whatever you want it to. Quaint restaurants with delicious fresh food are cheap (10-20 euro/$13-26) and ubiquitous. Many places you stop will also have higher-end options.
  • Transport to Croatia
    • Dubrovnik and Split both have airports with seasonal connections to most European hubs. Expect to pay around $1000-$1500 with some advance planning. Obviously set a Hitlist alert! You may be able to get something for much less if you fly to the cheapest hub in Europe from your home airport then catch a discount flight to Croatia.
    • If you’re coming from Europe, plan to spend around 250 euro to get to/from Dubrovnik if you fly a full service airline. You can get much cheaper if you are willing to fly budget airlines (easyjet, Ryanair, etc).
    • You could also take a ferry from Italy – there are daily services from Ancona and Pescara. Check for the latest.
  • Transport within Croatia
    • A taxi from the airport to the marina should cost 80 euro or so, and cheaper transportation can probably be arranged in advance.
  • Port fees
    • berthing fee at marina – 20-100 euro ($26-133)/day, depending on the place; 50% more for catamarans
    • anchoring in a natural bay – free
  • Fuel ~100-200 euro ($130-260)/week, depending on oil prices and how much you sail
  • Cleaning – most rental agencies will charge a one-time cleaning fee of 100-150 euro ($130-200) at the end of the week.


The best option, of course, is a personal recommendation. However, keep in mind companies change from year to year, so unless you go with an established brand you may not be getting the same service your friends got in previous years.
The most well-known companies in Croatia are the Moorings (which is also strong worldwide) and Sunsail. Both are a little more expensive than what you’ll find with local connections, but are not unreasonable and are the easiest for first-time charterers.
Always negotiate the price of your charter. You should be able to secure discounts of at least 10% off the stated price, and if you book before March you can generally get up to 25% off.
Planning in advance is a good idea. Croatia has become such a prime destination that boats really do sell out and it’s unlikely you’ll find a good last-minute deal in season.
You can usually negotiate another 5-10% off the price if you pay in cash (via bank transfer) rather than a credit card.
Most companies tend to ask for a deposit of around 25% of the total cost when you make the reservation, and the balance a month before your trip.
Certain incidentals (such as the cleaning fee and the skipper’s salary, if you book one) are paid in cash.


Bookings begin on Saturday, but you usually can’t leave port until 5pm, as the chartering company will need to clean the boat after the previous group leaves. It’s usually free to stay in the home marina on your first night in case you have people arriving late.
You will have to be back in the marina either by 5pm Friday night or 9am Saturday morning – make sure you check this if you plan to have a full itinerary.
In some situations, limited marina space will compel you to raft up with complete strangers. This may mean you have strangers walking across your boat at any hour of the night or morning. Use this as an opportunity to make new friends and share the off-market Croatian booze that you mistakenly bought.
Croatian gin is terrible.
Croatian beer is delicious, in a lager kind of way.
Badel Croatian Cognac is this blogger’s favorite drink.

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Exploring Turkey

This is a quick overview of the main cities to see outside of Istanbul. It’s a follow up to the earlier posts on Planning a Visit to Turkey and Orienting Yourself in Istanbul. Like both of those, it was written in conjunction with Kate Bloomer.

Flights: Internal flights in Turkey are very reasonable. If you book in advance you’re looking at roundtrip for under 100 TL (US $65), but even last minute you’ll be able to get good deals. is an aggregator for internal Turkish flights, though it doesn’t always work. We’ve flown Anadolu Jet, Pegasus Airways, AtlasJet, Sun Express and Onur Air and they’ve all been legit (and much more comfortable than Easyjet/Ryanair).

Train: The train network in Turkey is slow and far from comprehensive, but that doesn’t tend to matter to people who are considering taking the train. There are apparently some lovely overnight options to Kayseri (near Capadoccia), Konya, or Ankara, though the former two do fill up so be sure to book a day or two in advance. There are also some slower, atmospheric (read: rather dingy) services to Van and Kars in the east.

Bus: most buses are extremely comfortable coach buses with a personal TV and attendants who will bring you tea and nibbles. Metro and Ulusoy often have Wifi as well. Since buses are mostly used by locals, it’s a great way to get a sense of the country outside the tourist enclaves.

Car: Highways are generally very good and international signage makes it easy to navigate. Car rental is quite cheap but gasoline is EXTREMELY expensive – count on paying more for gasoline than the car rental.
  • Cappadocia: This was the first place I visited after Istanbul and the first I’d recommend. The area has plenty to do for the active – from walking through the beautiful Ihlara Valley, visiting underground cities and rock cut churches, and wandering through the fairy chimneys. The Goreme Open Air Museum (15 TL, 8 TL additonal for the Dark Church) contains more than 30 rock-carved churches and chapels with amazing frescoes dating from the 9-11th century. I highly suggest staying in Goreme, and if possible at the Kelebek ( , where the owner Ali has a beautiful boutique hotel that’s actually built inside a fairy chimney (as well as a nice buffet breakfast included in the reasonable price). The view from a hot air balloon is supposed to be incredible, but comes at a (probably reasonable) price of around 120 euro. Fly or take the train to Kayseri or Nevsehir, where a hotel bus will pick you up.
  • Ephesus: Flights are available to Izmir, and from there you can take a bus or often hotels will provide a shuttle service to Selcuk (approx. 55 km), the closest town to these stunning Hellenistic ruins. Ephesus is a marvelous sight and well worth visiting – you can walk through in about 2 hours, it costs 20 TL to get in. In Selcuk you can also visit the House of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Evi), 10 km south on the hills. As you might guess, this supposedly the house where the Virgin Mary spend her last days in Ephesus. The Vatican declared this place an official Catholic pilgrimage site. The Museum of Ephesus, which contains objects found in the excavation, is well worth a visit. The most famous of the camel wrestling matches also takes place in Selcuk in January. 
  • Olympos/Lycian trail: stretching along the Mediterranean coast west of Antalya (1 hr flights from Istanbul usually 70 lira or less) is a gorgeous string of ancient Greek and Roman towns, many with magnificent ruins. The ruins at Olympos are located in a national park (that includes a lovely stretch of beach), and it’s very popular to stay in bungalows or treehouses (literally, forts in trees – only recommended in the summer!) when you visit. Myra, about an hour west, features tombs cut into cliff faces, a well-preserved theater, and the church where St Nicholas was bishop (most people don’t realize Santa Claus was Turkish!). We haven’t been to Kekova, an island off the coast where you can swim among the ruins of a sunken city, but it’s supposed to be lovely.
  • On the other side of Antalya are the also-stunning ruins of Aspendos, Perge, and Sitra. They’re great out of season but can get a little overrun in the summer (apparently – we’ve only been in January). It’s easy to visit all three sites in the course of a weekend if you stay in the old city of Antalya and rent a car (which we did for 50 TL a day in January 2012). 
  • Cyprus is completely underrated in our book. Breathtaking Crusader castles, monasteries, Greek and Roman fortified towns, beaches and wild greenery – did we also mention delicious wine and seafood? See more details in the previous entry on Cyprus. Flights from Istanbul are absurdly cheap and frequent. 
  • The Aegean beach towns on Bodrum and Cesme peninsulas range from bucolic heaven to ritz and glitz to package holiday hell. In both places, having a car is probably sensible, as it costs about 50 TL/day whereas a taxi ride pretty much anywhere will likely cost you twice that (Bodrum peninsula is well served by minibuses, but they all connect through Bodrum town, which can be tedious). Only stay in Bodrum town if you are nostalgic for the days of sweaty frat parties or that trashy stag/hen do you might have once attended. Turkbuku, on the other side of the pensinsula, has some fun clubs, including the see and be seen Macikizi (rooms go for 400-800 euro a night here, but amazingly there’s no cover if you’re just coming to party at the bar). Cesme is more Turkish – better deals, more flavor, but ever so slightly more difficult if you aren’t tagging along with someone who knows their way around. The cobble-streeted, landlocked Alacati is definitely the jewel in Cesme’s crown, full of boutiques and excellent restaurants – a bit touristy, but gets points for being mostly undiscovered by foreigners. Plenty of nice beach clubs – or just undeveloped stretches of beach – are a quick cab or drive from Alacati.
  • Pamukkale: accessible from Izmir, this is the site of an ancient spa and hot springs used since the second century BC, and though you’re not llowed to swim in them anymore you’ll still be amazed by the naturally formed white calcium pools. The adjacent Roman city and Amphitheatre of Hieropolis are stunning. Day tours from Izmir are offered for around 45 Lira (as of January 2010) including English-speaking guide, entrance fee to Hierapolis and the travertines (this alone costs 20 Lira if you’re going independently) and buffet lunch.
  • Konya: How many cities are known for dancing but offer no nightlife? The important Muslim mystic, poet, and founder of the whirling dervishes, Rumi, settled here, and his lavishly decorated tomb (the Mevlana Museum/Mausoleum) is one of the more important pilgrimage sights in the Islamic world. Other attractions include the 13th c Iplikçi Mosque, where the final sultans of the Selcuks (the Turkic tribe which invaded Turkey in the 10th century and was eventually succeeded by the Ottomans) came to rest, and Ince Minare Museum, a 13th century madrassah. You can fly directly to Konya airport from Istanbul or take on a three hour bus from Cappadocia.
  • Kars/Ani: The city at the heart of Orhan Pamuk’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel wins no beauty prizes, but gets some points for its castle and a handful of architecturally interesting buildings. 45km east, however, is (to our minds) the most evocative and beautiful place in Turkey: the ruins of the ancient Armenian capital of Ani. Perched on the edge of a gorge at the border of Armenia and Turkey, the ruins (many of which are 1000+ years old) deserve at least a full day of exploring. Bring a picnic of the deservedly famous Kars cheese, honey, and some vegetables that you can pick up at any street market in town – there is very little tourist infrastructure. *Kars, and especially Ani, can be inaccessible due to snow in winter and very hot and dusty in summer, so best to visit in spring/fall*. Hostels in Kars run tours, but we’re happy we rented a car and had the flexibility to travel onwards to Doğubeyazıt, a city at the foot of Mt Ararat (where Noah’s Ark supposedly came to rest after the flood), where the splendid İsakpaşa Palace marks the junction of Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. Four hours further south (and served by its own airport) is the important regional capital of Van. Peppered with Armenian and Georgian churches, historic temples and mosques, the city was hit by a massive earthquake in October 2011 so I’m not sure how feasible it would be to visit in the near term.

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Istanbul Tips, Part V: Get Legal in Turkey

Here’s a quick summary on how to get a residence permit in Istanbul. It’s a follow up to the earlier posts on Planning a Visit to Turkey and Orienting Yourself in Istanbul. Because I assume that after you visit you’ll want to live here as well, naturally.
When I first got to Istanbul, it was common practice for foreigners to show up, decide they wanted to live in Istanbul, and never get a residence permit. They’d live in the country on a 90-day tourist visa, get paid under the table, and take a ‘visa run’ out of the country every three months to renew their tourist visa.
For better or worse, the Turkish government has started to crack down on its illegal immigrants. The good news is that it’s very easy to stay in the country legally. You can either get a long-term Tourist Visa or a residence permit. The only differences I can tell between the two are that 1. you must prove that you have $500/month you intend to stay for the former and only $300/month for the latter, and 2. the Tourist visa is only valid for up to nine months while the residence permit can be for up to three years and renewed indefinitely. The following are instructions for how to get your very own long-term residence permit, or uzun sureli ikamet tezkeresi, based on an email that Amanda Pearson sent me when I was first investigating the process a few years ago. I’ve updated it to reflect some recent friends’ experiences as well.
Unless your work is sponsoring a visa for you, the ‘uzun sureli’ permit is the most hassle-free to get. It assumes you are hanging out here not working or being a student, and have money in the bank to cover living expenses for the period of the permit. You’ll apply for the residence permit after you’ve entered Turkey on a standard 90-day tourist visa.
Here is the website where you can get information and forms and make your appointment to apply for the residence permit: You will need:
  • 1 color printout of the Declaration for Residence Permit form (İkamet Beyanname Form  (completed using typewriter or word-processor).
  • 4 passport photographs. (5 if this is your first application).
  • Original passport and photocopies of pages in passport showing your photograph and last entry stamp IN COLOR they will absolutely not accept it otherwise. You will not have to leave your passport there while the permit is processing (which takes about a week or less, my renewal took 24 hours), but you need to show it when you drop off your paperwork and again when you pick up your permit. 
  • Bank Statement showing savings of $300 per month you intend to stay (so $3600 for one year), or notarised Real Estate Deed. The proof of savings needs to be in the form of a notarised document from your bank – ie a printout, stamped by the bank and mailed to you (if a foreign account). If you have a Turkish bank account, you can pick up a stamped copy in person anytime during business hours, just ask. One friend said she just exchanged $3600 into Turkish lira and showed the receipt of this transaction to the authorities and that worked ok. I think she got lucky and it’s worth getting the official documents rather than risk having to go through the entire process twice, but for what it’s worth…
On the website you can see the link to the “e-randevu”, to set the time when you go in and drop your stuff off with an officer at the yabanci mudurlugu in Aksaray if this is your first application*. It feels really hectic and you can wait a long time, but the most important thing is to get up to the waiting room and get in line for a number. Take the number, which instructs you to see an officer and/or specifies the particular desk that you go to. The process has been different each time I’ve gone. 
The officer will look through your application and then send you downstairs to pay (the table showing prices is in the bottom right corner of the web page – currently for American citizens it costs $25 for the first month and $5 for every additional month you intend to stay, plus 149 TL for the residence permit book if this is your first application). You get a receipt and bring it back up, and then they staple everything together and you are basically good to go. They give you a slip of paper telling you when you can come back and pick it up.
On your form, if you’re getting an uzun sureli permit you’ll have to fill out the reason for your stay. Just write “Serbest” (= free/unemployed).
Sometimes the appointments get backed up and you have to wait up to 1-2 months to get in, but as long as you show that you APPLIED for the appointment before your most recent visa ran out, you are ok. This is shown on your official e-randevu slip which you must provide when you get to the station on the day of (when you make the appointment, be in a position to print out the receipt). Also, note that they require you to print out the application form in color (they definitely will not take it in black and white). Make sure that you are in a position to do that when you download it and fill it out.
Sometimes the appointments get backed up and you have to wait up to 1-2 months to get in, but as long as you show that you APPLIED for the appointment before your most recent visa ran out, you are ok. This is shown on your official e-randevu slip which you must provide when you get to the station on the day of (when you make the appointment, be in a position to print out the receipt). Also, note that they require you to print out the application form in color (they definitely will not take it in black and white). Make sure that you are in a position to do that when you download it and fill it out.
It can be sort of intimidating to go through the process, but as long as your docs are in order and you don’t have anything urgent to do that day, you should be fine. The peace of mind you get by having the permit makes it totally worth it in my book.
If you need to travel after your tourist visa has expired but before your residence permit appointment, you should technically be allowed to do so. Make sure you bring a printed copy  of your residence permit appointment details showing that you made the appointment before your visa expired. If you don’t have this document you may have to pay a substantial fine and may have trouble getting back into Turkey.
*If you are renewing your residence permit, the procedure is much easier because you can go to the much smaller and more efficient Yabanci Mudurlugu in your district – just choose this when you’re making your appointment online. The Beyoglu office is on Tarlabasi boulevard about halfway down and has a very charming and friendly guy on the second floor who speaks excellent English who will walk you through the process. Unlike the Aksaray office, you have to make your payment in a different building, the tax office in Sishane; even so the entire process took about two hours when dropping off and then less than ten minutes when I came back two days later to pick up the documents. I was also able to make an appointment for the next day when I set it up online. 
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Sometimes March in Turkey is gorgeous. This year, it was a wet, snowy mess. In other words, we had a perfect excuse to fly an hour south and explore the mythical semi-country of Northern Cyprus.

Why Northern Cyprus?This pint-sized island rewards even a 1.5 day trip, though you’d be happier staying much longer. Crusader castles, monasteries, Roman and Greek fortified port towns, wild greenery, excellent wine, hospitable locals. It’s got to be the most gorgeous, safe, and compelling conflict zone you can visit.

More people should know about what’s going on in Cyprus and you can’t help but learn a little by going there. (The Guardian also thinks spending money there is a good idea.) The island is divided between a self-declared republic – recognized as an independent state by Turkey and Turkey alone – in the north and the EU member state of Cyprus in the south. The capital, Nicosia/Lefkosa, lies on the border, and walking over it (you’ll need your passport, but no other docs) provides perspective on the differences governance has on economic development. If you’d like to read up on the place, I recommend the Wikipedia summary and then the excellent work of International Crisis Group.  

Getting there: Flights from Istanbul to Ercan Lefkosa airport in the north are absurdly cheap and frequent. Turkish AirlinesPegasusAtlasJet, and Onur Air fly direct from Istanbul and a few other cities in Turkey. If you’re flying from Europe, you’ll land in EU Cyprus at Larnaca, Paphos, or Nicosia. Easyjet offers very affordable flights from London.

Getting around: Dolmus (shared taxis) go between all the major cities in the north, but you’ll want a car to be able to explore. The island is tiny: the road from Ercan airport to Girne/Kyrenia, the gorgeous coastal town where you’ll probably want to base yourself, takes about half an hour to wind over the spine of mountains that runs through the center of the country (view at right). If you rent a car in the north, you can only drive it through the Turkish Republic, but technically cars rented in the south can be taken all over the island. We couldn’t find anyone to rent one to us in the south for less than three days, but you might have better luck if you book in advance. We ended up sticking with the northern part of the island and paid 100TL (about 40 euro) for a two day rental.

What to see: The Crusader castle of St Hilarion ices the tallest mountain in the country. A contested site from the days of Richard the Lionheart’s invasion (1191) to the Turkish army’s (1974), it’s now a museum. It takes about 15 minutes to get there from the airport and at least a few hours to do it justice. Bring hiking shoes.

Other than the novelty of walking in and out of the EU, the capital Nicosia/Lefkosa doesn’t offer much to the tourist, unless you like gambling. The few historical sites are missable if you don’t have much time.

Bellapais monastery (pictured at the top and below) is mostly in ruins, but pilgrims sometimes hold impromptu services.

Still primarily known by its Greek name, Kyrenia,  the Venetian port of Girne makes a convenient base for exploration. There’s not much to see aside from the impressive fortifications, but the seafood restaurants, bars, and accommodation offerings are hard to beat. We stayed in a random hostel for 5 euro/night in March 2012. 

Farmagusta: we didn’t get a chance to visit, but apparently it offers much the same fare as Girne/Kyrenia. 

Nature: the entire northern coast seems to be one gorgeous sandy beach. Find a westward-facing spit of land and tell me it’s not one of the better sunsets you’ve seen.

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