Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

I decided to go back to Cape Town for a boy. This is something I haven’t done since… uh…. Highschool? I guess you could say that the week-long romance (and communication afterwards during my overland trip) was good enough I wanted to see where this would go. So when I arrived in Vic-Falls I booked my flight with frequent fliers using united.com’s (star alliance) website. I checked several options- and finally decided on the most complicated (and least expensive) option of going from:

Kilimanjaro – Addis Ababa – Nairobi – Johannesburg – Cape Town. 4 flights, 2 carriers, 1 alliance, 56 hours of airport time. Total cost to me: 52$. If nothing else, I would get a lot of reading/work done.

I got a ride to the airport from a great friend (Praise Nygene– who I also booked my Kili trip with) along with another American girl who was flying to Rwanda. She checked in and left with no problems.

I get to the counter, after standing in line for 55 min, to find out that my ticket has been “flagged” and I needed “to go to the office”.

I felt like a school kid who was in trouble…

I went to the office and was told that I would be rerouted straight to Nairobi. Great!

6 hours later, I get my new itinerary (I hope it works out!!!) and I’m sitting down at dinner in a really posh lodge that the airline put me up in “for my inconvenience”.

I need to explain something:

I have been camping for the past 52 days. I have been in every climate in all of the southern African horn: desert, rain forest, high altitude, volcanos, snow, sleet, rain. Having people snore next to/below you. Sharing tents with people who talk/moan in their sleep. Having to get up at crazy hours for heaps of reasons (taking care of drunk people, domestic abuse, hippos eating outside your tent, climbing a dormant volcano….)

This was the first night, in 52 days, that I got to:

1) Sleep in my OWN ROOM
2) with clean sheets!
3) NAKED! (if I wanted)
4) while drinking the free bottled-water!
5) jumping on the bed
6) with a mosquito net!
7) WITH MY OWN BATHROOM! ATTACHED! TO THE ROOM! I didn’t have to get dressed/shoed to pee in the middle of the night!

Oh… glorious!

I also got free dinner (and dessert! and breakfast!) which was a huge spread and I stuffed myself silly.

Tangent: there have been several times when re-booking was a great idea… Like the time when I was re-routed to Denver and missed my flight. That night I decided “either I’m going to get a hotel or watch the opening of Batman. Luckily, I got a hotel room- as the closest theater to the airport was in Aurora.

Moving on.

I got into Nairobi. It’s kinda like a shitty little airport- Strike that. Not kinda. It is a shitty little airport. The hallways are way too small and loud people with roller bags stand in the middle of the 2-butt isle screaming on their cell phones.

I search for a lounge. There is none.
I search for comfortable chairs. There are none.
There is nothing that isn’t metal or tile in this entire airport. (Believe me- I had 13 hours to kill… I searched!)

This all surprised me because it’s supposed to be “the airport hub of Africa”- and yet… It’s so unfriendly towards passengers. I mean, when you have a options to fly through certain cities, why would you ever choose to fly through Nairobi? I couldn’t find a single one.

I eventually settled for an over-priced cafe that has ugly orange plastic-coated booths and electric plugs and I plopped myself down for the long-haul.

The waitress startles me when I’m informed that they are closing. Good! 2 hours left in this gawd-forsaken place. I pay, get up and go towards the shitty tiled terminal to wait -in my sleeping bag, on the tile floor- for my flight to begin boarding.

I get on the plane. It’s empty. I would have gotten a row to myself except a Kenyan decided to sit in the middle seat and hovered over me while I fill out my Ebola health form.

I tell him I’m switching seats and get up and move behind him- only to be woken up by the flight attendants who wanted to give me breakfast. At 3am…..

“It’s ok,” I breathe. “I’ll be there soon.”

By this point, my cheerfulness was waning from the long hours of doing nothing. I was exhausted, circling around angry/pissed off- but I needed to look refreshed and flirty for the customs guy at Jo’berg.

You see, South Africa has this weird law about Visas. They give you a 90-day visa with an option to extend (but that takes weeks). Normally, (free) visas are “refreshed” every time you cross a boarder, but SA has had problems with “boarder-hoppers”- so they changed the law, but didn’t really post it anywhere. When I emailed the embassy and explained my whole situation, their (oh-so-not-helpful) reply was simply: “it varies from custom official to custom official. Good luck!”

….. heh.

So, basically, I had to show off my persuasion skills (which is really difficult since I’ve been traveling for 54 hours, in shitty airports, all my clothes are dirty, I don’t own any mascara, AND my next flight leaves in 20minutes). I approached the customs window and gave a huge smile. I told the guy that my future relationship depended on him. He asked me to explain and so I told him the whole story… How I met a boy, we want to continue our relationship, I left on an overland tour, I just summited Kilimanjaro, and now “I’m coming back to see him… Please! If you believe in love, you will give me a new visa.”

He told me “Sorry. You need to go back to your home country. To America.”

“But I don’t get stamps from America. How will you know if I’ve been back there or not?”

“Well, you just told me you came from Nairobi from an overland tour.”

“So, you’re penalizing me for telling you the truth?”

(back and forth for about 10 minutes… My flight is boarding now…. Finally…..)

“… I can see how that is frustrating. Ok. This once. In the name of love, I will give you your visa. But if you plan on staying, please allow 1 month to extend your visa!”

Breathless, I ran (until I was really/for realz breathless) to my gate and was the last one on board.

I arrived in Cape Town, bought airtime, called my boy, squee’d a little, rode the bus back home– where the boy and I had a week and a half of romance-followed by a week of frustration from jobs and lack of money and other things, followed by an epic breakup on Halloween.

………Oh well. It was an educational experience, at least.

———

Are you an editor? I’m trying to put together a book of short-stories. (basically, more of these blog posts.) They’re funny! They’re moving! They’re 90% true. If you’re interested in being an editor (cutting out the crap, challenging me on stuff that doesn’t make sense, etc) and have time/interest, let me know!

Location: Cairo, Egypt

 

On my family’s tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza, our tour guide took us to the “papyrus institute”- a place where they demonstrate how papyrus is made and the typical depictions of the paintings that you see throughout Cairo and their meaning.

The whole “show” was given by a woman who spoke with a thick accent and at warp speed. I’m not entirely positive, but I think she was encouraging my dad to take on more wives and have more children- even though she, herself, only had 2. One, age 10, named Diana, she was trying to pawn off to Josh- which was hilarious AND offensive at the same time.

During the demonstration we learned that papyrus paper is made from the plant papyrus that grows in a triangle-shaped stalk (symbolic of the pyramids!) and has a bushy “flower” on top (symbolizing the sun’s rays). You cut it, strip off the green (which is used for baskets, shoes, mats, etc) and strip the pulpy insides which is then soaked in water for 6-12 days (the less the days, the lighter the resulting color). After the soak they simply layer the papyrus strips on top of each other, like flat-jenga and then press it for another 6 days.

The result is a hardened, flexible, waterproof paper that lasts for thousands of years.

No wonder everyone wanted this stuff!

During her lecture, in between her flirting, weird culture jokes and being encouraged to drink hibiscus tea (which she insisted was “just like vodka”) she somehow got on the topic of religion. (Here’s where it gets interesting)

She claimed that: “Egyptians are not religious by nature. Sure, we have all these gods and some now practice Islam and others christianity- but it’s all the same thing. It’s all talking about “God” in whatever way you want. Scientists can explain a lot of things- except how and why you feel a certain way- and I can’t explain that either. It’s just something that *YOU* know. But who am I to say that your favorite color is wrong because it’s not the same as mine? That’s how I feel about religion, too.”

The Egyptian people, in Egypt, all seem to have this attitude. At least in the 1.5 days and limited capacity that I encountered them. My expectations of Egypt was “oh great… another Islamic country where I’m going to be treated like I was in India- only worse.”- this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I wasn’t treated any differently (noticeably) because I was white/woman. I wasn’t pick-pocketed or shoved and spat upon because I told a vendor “no, thanks”. I wasn’t required to cover up every inch of my body in the 40+ (C) heat in fear of getting raped or attacked or something else.

When I talked to other travelers, they all seem to have this same thought/experience.

Before the 2011 revolution, Egypt’s tourism industry used to bring in 14 million tourists and be a 13 BILLION$ (USD) industry. Now, they are lucky if 1.2 million people visit. As a result, the economy and people have suffered for it.

Because of this (and other aspects) I’m sure this is why our trip was filled with smiling faces and liberal-mindedness that I wasn’t expecting at all.

 

Moral of the story: Go visit Egypt! It’s empty and pretty rad.

NOTE: I’m a freelance volunteer. I have no affiliation. Which means that I can write and be totally open about everything I’ve seen. (HORRAY FOR NON-EXISTENT NDAS!) Being a “rogue volunteer” gives me a lot of pros and cons.

PROS:

-I was invited to stay/sleep at the mayor’s house.
-I meet a bunch of random people of the town that “are important”
-Ride a bus with a bunch of musicians
-Be interviewed by Channel 5 (at least 3 times).

CONS:

-I have to figure out where my meals come from
-I have to figure out where I’m going to sleep, my transportation, etc.
-I have to find jobs/tasks to do/help with.

I think if I ever do disaster relief again (and I’d like to) I want to be with an org of some sort. Just someone with a mission/purpose that is already established.

With all that said, however, I’ve been super busy helping a city (Bogo) and it’s surrounding “barangays” (villages) this past week. Before this I was helping in the food shelters packing (and repacking) food. I grew tired of this because of various reasons- mostly political. There has been a bunch of news stories (here in the Philippines) about “Repacking” and how it’s terribly inefficient. There are actually a few news stories on the topic that I’ll translate for you:

1) Organizations (Like DSWD. Department of Social Welfare) receive packs from donors. Then they repack them “to make them equal/all the same” and then mark the packs with “DSWD” on them, so it makes DSWD look good. (I help out with the DSWD and while I can’t verify that this happens- the second point DOES…. ALL THE TIME.)

2) Communities (disaster relief centers– like the complex I’ve been helping at) will receive packs from various locations and repack them to make them all the same (same amount of noodles/cans/etc) for when they get distributed. While this  is ok, it’s extremely time consuming. (A pack will be re-packed 3-4 times and every re-pack will add a day delay from that pack of food getting to a house/belly.

So- when I am lacking in work, I help at the complex, even though it’s inefficient and drives me crazy. It’s labor intensive and allows me to ignore the world for a while and just haul stuff and make all the Filipino men wish they knew what crossfit was.

When I’m not helping at the complex I’m helping Mayor Martinez and his army organize things. An example is that the Israeli army wanted to help rebuild a school. It was my job to talk to the mayor of that town, get materials bought (so the town has ownership… Not just a charity case) for the Israelis to rebuild the school. Another day I chartered a city bus from one town (Medellin) to Bogo (where the Israelis have a hospital set up) so everyone could have a chance to see a doctor. Another day, an NGO with Sawyer Water Filtrations came with a bunch of 55-gal drums, needed a team of volunteers to do work. (so I was basically the foreman telling people what to do). Not to toot my own horn, but I’m actually really good at “bossing” people around (read: making decisions, figuring out priorities, thinking creatively) and getting shit done. I guess this is why I’m helping the Mayor(???).
The next week, because I don’t have political or family ties here, the Mayor had me to go to damaged houses in each barangay to verify the reports that were filed. (Basically an insurance claims for the government). I was supposed to visit 18,454 houses, with a team of 4, in 3 days. With no helicopter. This was impossible. We did our best, but we only ended up seeing 28% of the houses. The reports from the barangay captains were pretty accurate- except the terminology. What they called “Majorly Damaged” I would consider “Totally Devastated”. (see pics). So currently the barangay captains are getting sheets to fill out of each person in their village who’s house needs assistance and I will go to each “address” and verify what they claim.

Major damage

Minor Damage

The term “address” is hilarious because the houses were (are?) built on the sides of mountains. No roads go to their house- and the “path” that is there is now a muddy trail littered with banana trees and palm-tree trunks. My brother made a great suggestion that I ask the US government for a drone and just use that to go around and verify all these houses. It’s not a bad idea.

While on the subject, I’m a little disappointed in the lack of response that I’ve seen from America being physically here, to be honest. Hell, I’ve seen more French here than Americans. (That’s just embarrassing…) To be fair, I guess I should say that I’m not in Tachloban or Leyte. Maybe that’s where they all are? Who knows. No one really seems to know- not even the news people. (“You’re American?! You’re the first one we’ve met!”) Until yesterday (Thanksgiving) I was the only American volunteer here in Bogo. Then the NGOs and another rogue volunteer came to help. Sad to say, this (American handshakes and accents) was the GREATEST thing I could ask for for Thanksgiving. 🙂

Sorry for the tangent…

The government has 3 phases here in place:

1) Food relief and assessment.
2) work for food, work for cash, work for materials. (A lot of their jobs (read reason for living) is gone, so work gives them purpose and HOPE.)
3) Rebuilding. (where they relocate people and/or rebuild their houses… This is where my assessment is coming in handy, apparently).

Speaking of hope/faith, it’s something they have a lot of. People will take time to write signs that say “roofless but not hopeless”. People are getting excited for christmas (xmas is huge here…. They put up the decorations in october) because all electricity will be restored by then (or so the estimates say. What they really mean is “if you live in a big city, it’ll be restored by Xmas. If you live in the sticks, you’ll have to wait until March.”).

The range of emotions is… drastic to say simply. It’s not enough that:

– no one is getting good sleep or
-drinking enough water or
-those working are over-worked… those not are underworked.
-still don’t have electric in their houses (so they can do stuff, like clean/fix their homes when they get home)

I so rarely see people cry, and when I do see it, it just breaks my heart. Because I’m crying every night (a waste of water, I realize) and I have a bed that I’m sleeping in. AND A MOSQUITO NET!

But some people don’t have that… They have nothing. They have less than a dog-house. (see pics) And they don’t get mad! Strike that. They get passive-aggressive. But in the games industry- you work for egotistical men who over-compensate so maybe I’m used to it. Actually, I think the only way that I’m actually helping is being a punching bag for people. They are stressed and frustrated and it’s easier to yell at me (someone who will leave) than it is to yell at fellow filipinos who they will see every Sunday at church. Not to say that I’m being treated poorly. I find the hospitality to be excellent. I’m fed 11 times a day (at least!). I get told, every day- by the women, how people appreciate my help. On the flip side I also get asked for money at every street corner. I get frustrated sometimes that people aren’t more willing to help clean up/do work-that I have to “con” them with money or hugs or high-fives. Some would call filipinos lazy, but I think they are mentally and physically exhausted. Chalk this up to another missed business opportunity: Psych students should flock to natural disasters and see PTSD at the source.

Speaking of PTSD— here’s a story: 

One morning I was being dragged around to useless/pointless errands of the Israelis (I didn’t need to be part of any of it… but they invited me. I thought it was important. It wasn’t. It was just dropping off water tanks to an island and taking a lot of pictures…. Useless mission for me, IMO.) Then I go to the sports complex. Channel 5 is there. They flock to me (because a) I’m white and b) I’m carrying sacks of rice. This never fails to impress people here. It’s like a free circus show) and invite me to help deliver food relief to a neighboring barangay. I agree and we load up a truck, jump in the back (redneck style) and head out.

Once the truck got to the barangay and slowed down, people flocked and screamed. At first it was children coming after us like we were an ice-cream truck.

Then it was adults and it got more ravage that just reminded me of zombie movies… Or India. (Pick one. Both are bad situations.) The truck stops and (after taking the picture below) I jump out and count them. 215… Not including kids.

215 hungry head-of-households. Everyone is smiling at me. Kids are running up, poking my butt and running off. I chase them for a bit. I don’t know why the news crew is taking their sweet ass time in getting out of their truck so we can unload– but they are. I play with the kids some more (yea. shutup. I play with kids now.)

And then someone yells at me to get back on the truck. We’re leaving… For whatever reason we aren’t stopping here. This was just a big fucking giant cock-tease. The people in line stare at me. Wondering what they did wrong. Did they not pray enough? Did they not say thank you enough? Did they not have cute enough children? They had the look of abandonment that can only be compared to the old dogs in the ASPCA shelters. The only hope I had was that we had 300 sacks and someone else was going to get them.

So then we stop up the road to a smaller part of the barangay. We actually had to knock on doors to get the people to come out. We give away 121 sacks, even though there are 135 households. When there weren’t enough takers, we went to another barangay where people lined up again. More of them this time. I was instructed to get out of the truck and hand people the relief sacks while being interviewed by channel 5.

To be honest, this was the only time in all my time in the Philippines I was terrified for my safety. I always tend to have “an escape plan”. Whenever I sit in a restaurant I sit with my back against a wall so I can see the door (or escape route). I am constantly making escape plan routes- mostly for the Zombie Apocalypse. Even when drunk (which ends up being really creative and hilarious, actually. It’s probably all for nothing, but it entertains me and isn’t hurting you, so stop judging!) Anyway- when I got out of the truck, I was pinned against the back of the truck with hundreds of hungry people’s hands reaching towards me from all angles. All the while I was being interviewed by Channel 5. After we gave 150 sacks (even though there are 130 households) I had the unfortunate job of telling a toothless woman (with an infected eye) that she couldn’t have food. That even though our truck was full, it wasn’t for her. She turned away and sobbed so loudly that I had to cover my ears, climb back into the truck and cry for myself. Someone eventually gave her a sack, but it was enough to shoot my nerves. All I wanted to do was drink a beer and lay in the fetal position for a few hours. I tried to meditate on the way back, taking puffs of a cigarette that someone else lit up to try to calm myself. Nothing seemed to help.

We get back to the complex and unload all the “unused” food sacks. There were litters of children who didn’t want to help. “I’m not strong enough” is what they all said. I told them that I bet they can- and handed them a sack. One girl said “hey. I bet I can carry more than you!” and they made a game. #AchievementUnlocked: Got kids to help even when they didn’t want to. This, apparently is my speciality. I usually promise high-fives, hugs or my phone number. (even though they don’t have houses, they all have cell phones. I get more daily texts from kids than from twitter telling me that The baby prince took a shit.) So the kids started to help. When we finished, we had a make-shift “talent show” on the gym floor. Kids were tumbling, kart-wheeling, doing handstands, playing hand-games, and jump-rope. This is when I split my pants because I was showing off…. Embarrassing. But every one just laughed and shrugged it off. I appreciated this. And hey! If I can make people laugh during this time, power to me.

I called my driver (yes. I have a driver… I’ll let you think it’s fancy- when really, it’s a hassle and I plan on renting a motorbike when I get back) and had him take me to my host family’s house (about an hour away). My plans were to just sit, read, answer Facebook* messages… You know… Relax. But instead I was hassled on why I’m doing myself a disservice by not believing in (the Muslim) God, how I should study the Quran, how even though I’m doing good work, I’ll still go to Hell unless I accept God into my life. blah blah blah. I tried my best to argue, but how do you argue with people like that? The ones giving you a roof, couch and food? The ones who are ignorant to how the rest of the world is, thinks, lives and believes that their way of life is applicable and valid for all?
I slept on an off that night. Going between anger, frustration, hope and sorrow. I tried all my yoga-relaxation techniques that I learned just over a month ago. I took sleeping pills. I swatted mosquitos. I thought of sex with Han Solo. Nothing seemed to help except the thought that when I die, it’ll be fine. And when I get home, I’m going to eat 3 pounds of streaky bacon. And it’s going to be the definition of glorious.
*fun fact: with most sim card plans, Facebook is free- but you have to pay for everything else…. why? No idea. Why didn’t Globe message EVERYONE in the Philippines “DANGER! TYPHOON COMING! EVACUATE IF YOU LIVE IN ___ AREAS!”??? I don’t know. There’s a missed business opportunity (or at least a life-saving opportunity) here.

This is way over-due, and for that I’m sorry.

Australia at first glance seems like the perfect place to survive the zombie apocalypse: it’s a massive island/continent/country that is mostly self-sufficient and has some of the coolest/most laid back locals ever… The differences of the cities is unlike anything that I have experienced anywhere else:
Melbourne- the hub of art, dance, theater and culture.
Adelaide- a sleepy and charming town with acres and acres of vineyards and amazing zoo,
cairns- the gloriously sunny beach town where it’s advised to not swim in the croc-infested waters but instead to gaze at the sunrises and go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
Sydney- where everyone goes for a holiday due to its mixed abundance of things to do,
Alice springs- with it’s super dry climate, heaps of wild life (camels!) and really laid back locals with the deliciously adorable accents,
Darwin- croc and party central. (Because those two things go together so well!)

However, after living there for 5 months I can tell you that while I ADORE oz, could see myself living there for a really long time, I would definitely leave the second z-day happened. Here’s why:

Australia in General:
46/70

*Location: 8/10
The location is actually pretty good. Keeping in mind that Australia is HUGE (bigger than the continental US) you have all sorts of climates to choose from. The weather stays about the same on the coasts (Sydney, Brisbane, Byron bay, cairns, etc.) as where Melbourne gets cold during their winter (June-sept) and hot (where the sun feels like a laser beam!) during the summer months (nov-feb). There aren’t any natural disasters except bush fires during the dryer months (which could be disastrous- but once the population dies off, you should be ok.) the only bad part of Australia is the HUGE desert in the middle (the outback). Unlike in the states and going through Nevada, you could go 300-500km without seeing anyone or anything. Including service stations. So be prepared. Being fuel and water with you if you venture into the bush.

*Water: 8/10
Most of Australia is in a constant state of drought. (It’s actually kind awesome that everyone i met only takes 7 min showers. and they do this instinctively.) however, while drinking/purified water is limited the place is an island- surrounded by water. Making it easy to get on a boat and sail away to somewhere else.

I should note: I never visited Tasmania- which may be a better option for the apocalypse- but I don’t know.

*Lodging: 9/10
The lodging (overall) is as sturdy as you would get in any first world country. Built to code, multiple accesses, some creative shops with apartments on top, etc.
In cooper pedy the houses are built underground (because it can get upto 45 (113F) degrees on the surface during the summer months.) I don’t know if zombies can melt- but this is the only place I found that is “bunker like” in Oz.

*Food: 8/10
Oh. Em. Gee. The food in oz is amazing. The agriculture is plentiful and is mostly organic/real food (no gmo food here.) the meat you can eat is also tasty and endless. Kangaroo, croc, emu, camel, pig, cow and lamb are all readily available. You would be able to plant/grow your own food- but you have to be careful during the summer months (which are the driest.)

*Costco/equivilant: 3/10
Big super-stores don’t really exist- but the towns are built in a way so you can walk down a single street and get everything you would need: grocery store, market, butcher, hardware store, 2-dollar store, pharmacies, banks, gyms, coffee shops, liquor stores, etc. all on a single block.

The first place that Australia loses my vote for “best place to be during zday” is because of the lack of guns. There is no where to readily get a gun/ammo. Unless you’re in the bush and you know a guy- there aren’t stores that you can loot to defend yourself against the ___12 million___ people/zombies that live in oz.

*Non-dead dangers: 1/10
Here is where Australia loses. Home
To crocs, sharks, 9/10 most deadly snakes, heaps of poisonous (and/or wicked scary) spiders, drop bears, mosquitos with dengue fever…. I’ve said it before and ill say it again: I think the Australian army should lease themselves out to fight wars with unstable living environments- because the Aussies are the most badass set of people that I know. Not scared of anything, really. However— with that said- do you really want to fight those types of people once they are undead and after your brains?

*Locals: 9/10
Oh, Australia. The winter gave me the blues hardcore when I first got there- but the people made up for it ten-fold. Depending on what your crowd is- you could party all night and day with Aussies- and they will love you. You could also just sit around a cuppa and talk until you’re blue in the face- and they will also love you. I lived in Melbourne for a while– and since I love “culture” (theater, music, dance, art, etc) this was heaven on earth for me.

Their craft beer selection is limited- but super tasty. their wine selection is bigger and even more tasty. Music sounds like western music (unless you talk about aboriginal music.)

I should also note that Oz DOES have some of the cutest animals (as well as some of the most deadly) on the planet. I mean– LOOK AT THIS FACE!

With all that said- the continent isn’t nearly as populated as other places (it has roughly the same population of texas) so you don’t have to get rid of a lot of people before having a whole place to yourself.

Normally I don’t listen to people when they try to warn me about areas. Normally people feed off fear and regurgitate it for no real reason. People warned me about Baltimore before I moved there, but that ended up being my favorite city to live in. So I was cautious when I was traveling through Central America. I listened when I was in Medellin, Colombia. I paid attention when I was in Quito– but no one warned me enough about Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The following is my experience of one day, my first day, in Guayaquil:

I arrived off a bus at 5:30am. An old man screamed “TAXI!?” at me and I showed him a sheet of paper with the hostel name and address on it. He nodded and said “seven dollars”. I groggily nodded, even though I know that it was too much. I figured it was “gringa tax” and just kinda accepted it. I get in the cab and we start driving off. I quickly note that this city is nothing like the beautiful Quito that I had just left. (However, I can breathe and feel a lot better!) The streets are filled with homeless people, dirt, grime, trash and standing water everywhere. Twitter weather alerts tell me that it’s been raining a lot and a lot of Ecuador is flooded.

The driver keeps driving and we’re getting into more and more “icky-land”. From everything that I remember reading about the hostel it said that it was in a great part of town near the university. This doesn’t look like a university area. Suddenly, the cab stops and the man turns around and stares at me. “Treinta dollars”. ($30).

“uh, no. Urdesa Central. siete dollars”.

“treinta dollars. no vamos.”

It takes me longer than I’d like to admit before I catch on that I’m being scammed… Or stupidly kidnapped. or both. Either which way, I act TOTALLY PROFESSIONAL and grab my stuff, scream at him in English, and run out of the cab towards some light. He yells and starts to drive after me, but I duck down some ally and into a bus stop where there is a cop. I pay the 25cents fare and ride the bus until I my exhaustion catches up with me and then try to figure out my way to the hostel myself. (Come to find out, I was 5k away from the bus station).

I check into the hostel and immediately collapse for a few hours. I wake up around noon, shower and dress and get ready to find any of the crossfit gyms that are around the area. (There are 8, according to maps.crossfit.com). Three within walking distance (5K according to google maps). No problem. I venture out!

The first one can’t be found anywhere. The address points me to an abandoned yard next to a car dealership. I sigh in frustration and decide to walk into town, across a river, towards Crossfit Machete. Couldn’t find it. I ask locals. They all are shocked that:

a) I’m walking (period).
b) I’m walking alone.
c) I’m a woman looking for a gym.

A cop pulls me over and tells me (in very fast Spanish) that this is a dangerous area and I shouldn’t walk solo. I ignore him and tell him “Gymnasico. Aqui” and point to where I think the gym should be. I turn down a block and dodge him. I ask again for directions for the last crossfit gym. This one is supposed to be HUGE. It was recommended by everyone in Colombia and Quito– so it should be TOTALLY OBVIOUS, RIGHT? Wrong. Every time I asked for directions it becomes a huge debate. Everyone brings their friends, family, cousins all over to converse on the best way to give directions. Because of this, I end up getting 14 different answers– all in quick spanish and all conflicting. I keep walking. Another cop pulls me over. Tells me the same thing “Why are you walking? Why are you walking alone? This is a dangerous area” etcetc.

Seriously? Come on. There are kids playing soccer in the street. People are stoop-sitting. Leave me alone already. You’re just drawing attention to me! (Even more than a white girl walking in Vibram Five-Fingers!)

So I keep going. Ask for directions one last time. Same group-effort leaves me frustrated. Another cop pulls me over. (HEY! I’M JUST WALKIN’ ‘ERE!) and after I tell him that I’m looking for a gym and that it should be here- I turn and start walking. He follows me. I’m getting nervous now. Why is this guy following me? I’ve heard enough stories of corrupt “cops” (people dressed up as cops that kidnap people) that I wasn’t going to get in any cars with strangers. Mama didn’t raise no fool. But I’ll admit that my spider-sense was on FULL and I was more anxious than a horse in Sweden.

I spot a “Kratos Gym” sign and turn up the stairs. Anything to get out of the street. I ask the gym people if they’ve heard of crossfit and where it is. No one knows what I’m talking about…

I start to lose it at this point. It’s 5:30. I’ve been walking around, apparently aimlessly, for hours, stalked by cops, mocked by locals, lost in a city that everyone is telling me is “dangerous”. My nerves are shot and I’m suddenly aware of how exhausted I am. I start to tear up. The gym goes quiet as everyone stops lifting weights and comes around me berating me with questions. Where am I from? Where do I need to go? Should a taxi be called? (I should note that I’m assuming that this was asked because my Spanish is still abysmally poor that I can only grasp every 3rd or 5th word). It is finally decided, after I try to tell them where I’m going/where I walked from, that Taxi drivers are bad (I already know this) and that someone from the gym will drive me home.

This is where Spidy-sense should come in again, right? But for some reason, when you meet people at a gym, you’re family. I’ve had this experience at every Crossfit gym I’ve been to and again at this little local gym. One guy approaches me who knows a little English. He gives me a hug and says “It’s ok. We’ll take you home. It’s dangerous here.”

This English speaker was brought to you by Call of Duty. This is important to know because as we were driving away, they rolled up the windows and informed me that there were 18 ex-convicts that just escaped from prison. All the kids (the ones that I passed that were playing soccer) are all packing. I didn’t really believe him until we passed by and the 10-yr-olds shot up gang signs and pulled out their guns (“Armas Pequeñas!”) and posed.

“BAM! HEAD SHOT” said the English speaker. Everyone laughed. I remembered that at one point in my life I thought working on Fable 3 was stressful… I also can’t decide if I love or hate COD for this.

Needless to say that I ended up fine. The guys were sweet and funny and drove me the 15miles (15MILES!) home safe and sound. We talked about the Macarena the whole way. (This is where I mention that I’m really thankful for all those terrible first dates that made me a PRO at small talk). I only know their names (Dennis, John and Raoul)– but I have no way of contacting them to thank them profusely for being my knights on white-SUVs. Back at the hostel, I proceeded to drink a lot of beer, talk to a cute Canadian (I didn’t know they existed!) and change my flight to the Galapagos to leave ASAP instead of a week from now.

 

(this is when I have a notice that says “blah blah blah… This is just my one experience in this city… blah blah blah. I’m sure the rest of it is fine… etcetc. I shouldn’t judge a whole city based on one experience… blah blah blah… I should be more careful… Whatever. I’m going to see giant tortoises tomorrow.)

I think I’m in love with Nicaragua. The people, the atmosphere, the climate, the culture…. The sheer niceness of people just blows me away. Things that people do- when they don’t have to. I mean, why help the fluffy-haired gringa? When would that ever be a good thing to do?

I was reminded of this story from my college days where I sublet a room the summer. I needed a desk, so I bought one off craigslist, wheeled it down Boylston Ave and then it started raining… I ran faster with it, breaking off a wheel. When I got close to the apartment, I yelled out to my new roommates to help me, but they didn’t budge. Just sat on the stoop smoking cigarettes. I found out later that “where they come from” they –WERE- helping me by moving. (That is “helping” where they come from).

In Nicaragua I have had quite the opposite experience and I want to share my day yesterday:

I woke up early and, like every morning for a while, I went running around 7:30am. I ran up the mountain for about 20-25 minutes, then down. On the way down the mountain, I stumbled and fell right outside this pulperia (shop). Some old men saw me and rushed over to make sure I was ok. After I assured them I was fine, they offered me some coffee (that they, no doubt, grew/harvested/dried/ground themselves…. The best kind, IMO). I declined because I still had a mile or so to go.

Later that day, my friend Elyna and I left. We decided to hitch-hike from Jinotega to Sabaco. We stuck out our thumb and instantly a guy in a blue truck stopped. He told us he could only take us down 15K. We agreed anyway and hopped in the back. (note: the bus takes 2 hours to go 45km… so it’s better to hitch).  After a really fast ride, we hopped out and stuck out our thumbs again and got a semi-truck to stop. He opened up the back and we rode in the back of an empty semi-truck for the rest of the way.

Once we arrived in Sabaco, we ate (an amazing plate of chicken, rice, potatoes, plantains and a drink for 2.50$USD) we found a bus to take us to Esteli. That’s when we looked at a map and figured out that Esteli is NO WHERE NEAR Leon (where we both wanted to go. Elyna was trying to go north anyway, so she got on another bus to go north (to Honduras) and I hitched back down to San Isidro.

I should note: My Spanish is elementary at best. I can half communicate with a 3 yr-old, which I’ll talk about later.

So when I was hitching, this guy kept saying “ares moy mimosa” (it wasn’t until later that I figured out he was calling me beautiful (Eres muy Hermosa)… stupid accents). I just giggled and made faces or rode in silence. 30 minutes later, we arrived and he dropped me off at the bus station. I tried to pay him some money (for letting me ride in the cab and dealing with my piss-poor Spanish, but he wouldn’t even consider it. He told me to hurry (well, ok.. he just talked really fast and pointed) and I got on a bus where I sat next to a girl holding a chicken and took out my knitting needles and continued to knit my much-needed-belt. All these kids stared at me… in awe. I was, hands down, the most entertaining thing on the bus. I kept pointing to things outside (cows, chickens, goats, horses) and saying stuff like “el perro va woof!” and they would say “no! bow bow”.  “El Vaca va mooooooo!” and the kid would go “mawwww”. It was downright adorable/entertaining for all.

 

Why am I telling you all this?

Because most of the world things of third world countries as dangerous. They think that all these people living in “poverty” are crooks, criminals, thieves, rapists, murderers, or some other negative and awful words. I have found the complete opposite. In the states, we have a very “dog eat dog” mentality. In Central America (especially in Nicaragua) they do things that are kind. Simple things mean more to these people than anything else.

Also, fun fact, Nicaragua is considered the 2nd safest country in the western hemisphere (next to Canada.)

Bucket List

Posted: July 27, 2012 in TRAVEL
Tags: , , , ,

In no particular order……

  • Go to a night club in Moscow
  • Go to a karaoke bar in cambodia
  • Tour to Jordan (where they filmed Indy jones)
  • See the cameras -Galloway?
  • See the natural rock pools -Turkey
  • Learn to surf in nicragua (San Juan del sur)
  • Go to Lake Atitlan -Guatemala
  • Have an audience with the pope -Italy
  • See the colosseum -Italy
  • See the Panama Canal
  • Visit a Macaw reserve -Honduras
  • District 6 tour -Cape town
  • Robbin island tour -Cape town
  • Okinawa aquarium -Japan
  • Great wall of china
  • See the petroglyphs in Nicaragua
  • Vera’s beach resort -Cook islands
  • Montana winery -New Zealand
  • Sit in the baths in Ecuador
  • Hike the Inca Trail
  • Swim in the dead sea
  • Eat catfish
  • Eat horse
  • Feed baby elephants in Elizabeth Town – south africa
  • Eat curried goat
  • Hang-glide off Victoria Falls
  • See the Ngorongoro Crater -kenya
  • Eat snake (evil creatures).
  • Wrote 3 paragraphs w/ left hand
  • Be part of a flash mob
  • Goto carbival (Brazil’s mardigras)
  • Try real absenthe
  • Fly on a trapeze
  • See the Kremlin
  • See a real statue of Lenin (compare with Seattle one)
  • Ride an elephant
  • Go deep-sea cave diving
  • Ride a camel (go camel racing?)
  • Save a sea turtle
  • Make kolaches from scratch
  • Visit the Forbidden City -China
  • Cross every bridge in manhattan by foot
  • Visit “before I die” wall in Brooklyn
  • Get stung by a bee
  • Visit Tiān’ānmén Square -China
  • Be able to eat really spicy food
  • Ride a bike 100 miles (in a day)
  • Witness a big cat hunting prey.
  • Jump a hurdle while riding a horse
  • See a movie in Spanish and understand it
  • Buy a cigar in Zanzibar
  • Experience monsoon season first hand
  • Swim in devils pond (DONATION ACCEPTED BY WILL V.)
  • See the Serengeti Mirgration
  • Do the birth-rite tour in Israel
  • Ride the tran-siberian railroad
  • Meditate w/ monks
  • Box a Kangaroo. (ok- not really. But see one in it’s natural environment)
  • eat kangaroo
  • Teach a dog new tricks (literally)
  • Hike the inca trail
  • Fix up/re-model a house
  • See the Shire -New Zealand
  • Ride a boat and don’t get sick
  • Teach a Crossfit class in a foreign country.
  • Drink yak milk alcohol
  • Run a marathon in a foreign country.
  • Visit all 50 states
  • Learn to lock pick
  • Do a 1-handed handstand
  • Hold a handstand for 5 min
  • Do a muscle up
  • See lava
  • Hike mt Kilimanjaro
  • Bungie jump off Macau tower -Hong kong
  • Swim w dolphins
  • Swim with Sharks = cape town
  • Eat a real Vegemite sandwich -Australia (Toasted, w cheese)
  • Drink vodka in Russia (Learn the proper way)
  • Scuba Great barrier reef (Townsville?)

What should I add??????????

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