Posts Tagged ‘TRAVEL’

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!

Advertisements

iMiss

Posted: November 2, 2014 in Hope, TRAVEL
Tags: , , , , ,

Every 90 days or so I get homesick. Today marks the 90th day I’ve been away from home- so I wasn’t really THAT surprised when I woke up in a pissy mood and wanted to just crawl up in a ball and cry all day while looking at pictures of my cat. It doesn’t help that the laundry lady lost my TWO (2!!!) hankies. Who loses hankies?! Especially hand-made ones! 😦

I only have 98 items now. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling. I love experiencing all flavors of new things! But I miss certain things that make home “home”. Which is hilarious, because I consider the entire country of USofA to be “home”… Not just a city or state.

 

With that said, here are my steps to curbing homesickness:

1) Write a list of things that you miss.

2) Go out that week and find those things.

 

That’s it.

 

So- with that said, this is my list. It’s huge.

  1. Golden Grahams (Thanks Amy…..)
  2. Swing dancing (Jive)
  3. Fast internet. (anything faster than a 1mb connection is considered fast)
  4. Sonic limeades (with the crushed pebble ice!)
  5. Nachos
  6. Chuy’s Chuychunga (with a real margarita)
  7. Driving towards Rainier, in the spitting rain, with my windows slightly rolled down, listening to shitty music.
  8. My Cat, La Puta. ❤ ❤ ❤
  9. Texting
  10. Durian Bubble Tea
  11. Dirty Chai’s (done properly…. not tasting like milk and not made with powder).
  12. Blue Moon beer, Dominos pizza, and America’s Next Top Hooker on a Friday night.
  13. PUMPKIN…. EVERYTHING…. (It’s flippin’ October and I haven’t had a pumpkin anything yet! Can you believe it?!)
  14. Hearing the wind blow through the leaves, hearing them crackle and fall off a tree. (also, jumping in piles of leaves with my fathead brother).
  15. Downloading and listening to podcasts all day.
  16. My aerial silk/dance classes
  17. Hanging out with my friends and laughing so hard my sides hurt. ❤

 

When I first started traveling, I would make lists like this every week (I called them my ‘iMiss lists’). At first they were filled with random petty things like: Hot showers, texting, claritin, English speakers, brussels sprouts, gelato, electric, etc.

 

My list is getting more specific. It’s funny how your perception/priorities change.

 

What do you miss when you travel?

This is a question that I ask on first dates. It’s probably the most important question- because it will shape the rest of the relationship as far as duration.

If they answer incorrectly, I know that there is no future of us living together- which usually takes off the pressure- because then I know.

“How is this the most important question?”

I’m glad you asked!

It’s a matter of real estate.

Imagine:

We’re living together. Late at night I get up with the munchies and want to make burnt toast with nut-butter. We like different kinds- so there are both kinds in the house. (Crunchy and smooth). Because it’s dark, I unknowingly pull the wrong one from the shelf and make my snack. I take my first bite and realize what I’ve done: I’ve unleashed the flood of disgust.

I let out a yell. You come running in to see what’s wrong, even though (bless) you have a big important interview the next morning.

But I don’t care. Your choice of nut-butter has tainted my mouth and ruined perfectly good burnt toast. I yell at you for your poor choices in nut-butter (as I’m totally irrational- and don’t realize that *I* am also a choice of yours) and then we argue. I’ll skip the drama, because in the end: you lose sleep, have a terrible interview the next morning, you resent me for resenting you and we break up.

(This may be hyperbolizing…. slightly. But only just.)

So- see? This question is WAY more important than the usual ones of “what religion are you?” And “have you ever killed a person?”. Who cares about those questions? This one saves a lot of time, future heart-break and deposit money.

Trust me. The nut-butter question is the most important.

(Followed by pulpy/pulp-free orange juice).

For the record:

Creamy is the correct answer. I prefer cashew, hazelnut or macadamia nut butter. Almond butter is a staple when I’m back home. Peanut butter is only consumed when I’m traveling internationally via long bus rides.

Ah, Cape Town.

I feel like I have lived, died, got reborn, and lived again here. Between love and fear, the past 2 weeks have been a roller-coaster of emotions.

Love: 

I adore this city. It reminds me of San Francisco, Baltimore and Melbourne all mixed into 1. Sometimes I’ll turn a corner and something will be there that will remind of something else. Either which way, Cape Town reminds me of some cool places.

There is a cat in the Hostel named Kai. He’s ginger, just like the Whore. He’s stupidly needy and cuddly and I will constantly find him in my backpack, bed, etc sleeping. He makes me happy.

The community and dancing and singing that goes on in this city is just miraculous.

The interest in where I’m from, what I think of Cape Town, the city itself is astounding! Never have I been in a place and able to communicate so clearly what I think, feel and how I act and feel like I’m understood. I’m also having fun learning Afrikaans (I made sure to learn all the cuss words first).

I’ve met some friends (mostly South African), and have spent a great deal of time with them. Cooking, talking, sharing, exploring the city, sharing languages. Hearing their stories. Their fables. Their good and bad times.

I am constantly reminded that THIS is the reason why I travel. 

Of course, with it comes the flip-side of the coin. The fear. 

I was mugged a few days ago. And while this wasn’t my first rodeo- this WAS the first time I fought back/ran after the guy and got everything back. (phew). But the damage to my ego and trusting myself was done and I had to get over that.

So I forced myself to take short walks when the sun was out. During these walks, I had day-mares of what I SHOULD have done. How I should have attacked him/countered the attack. These day-mares would be so graphic, I would have to duck into a coffee-shop and take a breather. These visions have subsided, thankfully, because I learned to re-trust myself and my instincts and be more aware of how I look. (Which- is still white, curly-haired, girl…. but I can’t help those things.) I smile broadly, say “hello!” and wave and strike up more random conversations with people.

The other thing I’m scared of is Ebola- which, to be honest, is a RATIONAL fear! It’s a virus. A really bad and deadly one. Let me educate you on what I know about Ebola:

1) It’s super contagious (through blood/blood spray)…. or monkey meat, apparently.

2) Eventually, your body, essentially, dies and you just become this shell of a person. (read: Zombie). Your skin is ashen, your stupid sick and your body is oozing blood (because the virus needs to take over something else…. fast!)

3) The biggest Ebola outbreak has killed 1300+ people in 2014. It used to be 100% fatal, but in the recent weeks there are some cures that seem to (HOPEFULL!) work!

For the 10 nights straight I had dreams of Ebola. Someone in the backpackers vomiting all night and I go in to ask how they are doing and there is blood every where and they are ashen/zombie-like. I take a picture of them (with the phone that the mugger did NOT get!) and shut the door immediately and tape it with duct tape- careful to not cut myself or expose myself in the process. I text the picture to the health officials and tell the hostel owner that he needs to evacuate everyone immediately. I get all the HEFTY plastic bags out of my suitcase and wrap myself in plastic and don all 4-pairs of rubber gloves and condoms that I can find and tape everything down with plastic-tape. I go towards the door and interview the guy on tape: “How long have you been sick? Where did you come from? What made you sick? Where all are you bleeding?” etc.

I send this information to the health officials, as well and wait for the Hazmat suits to get here.

I wake up in a cold sweat. it’s 4am. I use the internet (because that’s peak times to use the internet!) I try to go back to bed, it doesn’t work. I go for a run and watch the sunrise over the cape and the tide swells and my breath gets taken away again by the beauty of this city that I forget everything all over again. My heart feels light, my head is clear. The sweat from my run gets taken away by the tornado-like-gusts of wind that Cape Town gets, I get goosebumps. Every bump is a memory of good, bad, indifferent… A story.

Ek Glimlag.

 

This is why I travel.

I want to talk about 2 places in Ecuador for the Zombie Apocalypse. One very quickly (Quito) and one in more detail (Galapagos).

 

First off- Ecuador is a lovely country located in South America right on the equator. It uses the US Dollar, everything is pretty cheap (I bought a whole new outfit, bra and all for 7$ total and ate lunch for 1.50$) and the people are friendly enough. However, I just came from Colombia– so they seem “normal” in comparison.

 

Quito is high…. like… really high…. It’s 2800 meters in altitude, which I didn’t realize and I went for a run/walk (6K) and it took me almost an hour. ALMOST AN HOUR! Back home, this would have taken me MAYBE 35 minutes. I was huffing and puffing and feeling faint and exhausted after 5 minutes of running. Being frustrated and feeling defeated, I went to the [quito crossfit] where I tried to kick butt, but, again, felt defeated and weak. I called my parents and they said “well, duh… you’re really high up. You have altitude sickness”. It was only then when it hit me just HOW HIGH I was. (not on drugs). I was almost 2 miles up.

 

Anyway- Quito is amazing to go to because you should TRAIN HERE! You should run/walk and get your lungs used to the little oxygen. You should power through the weird climate (surprisingly cold) and stay for about a week. Go hiking up some mountains. After you’ve done this for about a week, you’ll be in great shape to run a marathon…. or survive the Zombie Apocalypse. Whichever comes first.

 

That’s all I have to say about Quito. I didn’t stay long enough to gather enough intel about anything other than it’s altitude. So now I’ll move onto…

 

The Galapagos Islands! (51/70)

A wonderful set of islands (created by Volcanos) where 97% of the land is for the animals and only 3% is delegated to humans. Lots and lots of diving, hiking, and crazy animal life can be seen here. The majority of the humans that you’ll see are tourists (who will be eaten/disposed of quickly) and the locals probably have their own plans. But here’s the best part:

 

Location, Location, LOCATION! It’s an island. 500miles (at least) off the cost of Ecuador. It is slooooooowwwllllly moving towards the coast– but you have a few million years until that happens, so I think you’ll be ok. Because it’s surrounded by water, chances of a zombie outbreak happening here are slim-to-none. Also, because of the little human population, this is a great place to hide up. Also- there is sooooo much to do here! Tons of Scuba equiptment that you can rent if you needed to quickly get away, tons of boats, lots of different islands to go to (that aren’t inhabited at all). etcetc. 10/10

 

Water: everywhere. The island’s water supply is not potable (I found this out, sadly). So bring your iodine/steripen. The water that surrounds the island varies from really hot currents to really cold currents. (read: you can see penguins and sea lions and all kinds of wild-life, which is AWESOME.) 8/10

 

Lodging: The buildings are standard cinder-block. Sturdy. There are no natural disasters here except for erupting volcanos, so you don’t really have to worry about flooding or earth-quakes that much. 7/10

 

Food: there is plenty of agriculture on the island as well as fruits and LOTS of fish. Be careful, though. The sealions will fight you for that fish. 9/10

 

Costco – ha. no. nothing even close. I haven’t seen a single gun, either, since I’ve been here.  1/10

 

Non-dead dangers: There are sharks, barracudas and snakes and what-not, but nothing that has caught any local’s attention. It’s pretty safe here- including the lack of mosquitos. The biggest “problem” are the horse flies, which really like me, apparently. 8/10

 

Locals: the locals are really chill and relaxed. It’s a tourist destination, so if they don’t get a buck from you- they’ll get it from somewhere else. The safety on the island is amazing and the views of wildlife are just unbelievable.

 

I’m pretty sure that no one reading this is a creationist (why would they read about the zombie apocalypse?), but here, there is no one that doesn’t believe in darwinism/evolution. How can you not when you see 150+ yr old tortoises or manta rays that are wider than that fat-lady-riding-her-scooter-at-walmart? However, I’m spoiled by the Colombians and their sheer PASSION of life and brilliance and gusto… The ecuadorians are more laid back. This could be both good and bad- but because this is my blog- I’m counting it as a missed opportunity. 8/10

 

Lifehack/Protip time:

I calculated my trip so far: 9897$ for everything. This includes 4500$ for flights/travel expenses. The rest was living/tours/food/etc. Not too Shabby considering everything I did- but I can do better. Like get more free flights!

So I checked out a bunch of books/resources and one I have successfully done that I’m going to share.

Things you need:
-a credit card that gives you points (whatever points you want to accumulate… I use the chase sapphire card, but I also got a united card (gives me 30,000 miles after I spend 1k in the first 90 days….) the united card is what I did this trick with.

-a bluebird account. Go to Walmart or apply online at bluebird.com

-some flex money on your credit card. (1,000$ is good.)

– a cvs pharmacy store.

– about 5-10 minutes.

—————————–
“OK. I got all those. Now what?”

Step 1) go to cvs and buy vanilla reload cards. (see pic) I got 2 cards and loaded on 500$.
(note: your credit card may email you saying “wtf? How much Viagra are you buying??!?”)

20130410-155830.jpg

Step 2) Goto vanillareload.com and enter in your bluebird account number and the scratch-off pin number from the vanilla card.

Step 3) goto bluebird.com and enter in your bills/credit card payment info. (your account and whatnot.)

Step 4) pay your credit card off.

Note:
-It costs 3.95$ to buy/activate the cards… So it’s not a completely perfect system.
-With this system, you can load 4,000$ per month. With your bluebird account you can pay ANY bill. Including your mortgage/car/cell phone/etc.

Step 5) get your 30,000 miles without having to spend any real money. #winning

———
For reference:
A 1-way ticket from Sydney to Seattle is 40,000 points. I’m pretty sure domestic flights are half that… I could be wrong.

Chase sapphire rewards will give you cash back/hotel points/frequent fliers/all sorts of things. The United card is (obviously) just for united frequent flier points.

Other hacks:
If you have a chase freedom rewards card- make note of the places that you get 5% off. This quarter is Lowes/restaurants/movies. So I went to Lowes and got 150$ in visa gift cards. (If you have the time and the patience, this is great. Otherwise it’s a pain.)

Another amazing surprise was that I could pay my taxes this year with my credit card! (turbo tax let me… So I’m going with it.) Bonus miles!

What is your favorite mileage/point hack?

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.)