Egypt – Why are you wearing those pants?

Egypt has been one of the most culturally enriching and stimulating experiences I have ever had.  Was it the Ancient Egyptian history? No, It was actually getting to know the lives of the girls and guys with whom I stayed.  I spent hours and hours having amazing conversations with the new friends I made in Egypt talking about beliefs, traditions, customs, relationships, family life, social life etc. People here are genuinely hospitable and so nice and the food is amazing. The flavors I have never tasted…my mouth is watering at the thought of Hamam Mahshi (pigeon and rice with other amazing ingredients), amazing breads, and tahini dips, and yogurts.

I expected all of Egypt to be like the Cairo, Egypt, but when we left the city to go to the North Shore I was a bit surprised at the Northern compound life and the stunning beaches we visited. I knew Egypt was pretty but it definitely exceeded my expectations. By the way everyone lives in gated compounds. This is something I also wasn’t expecting.

Egypt is so traditional yet so progressive. It’s oxymoronic culture varies in each society and even within societies. Religion plays a big part in culture. It is so strong and visible in daily life where as in the States it’s not. People are more private about it and there are so many religions and customs, people tend to practice in their own ways within their smaller communities across the States.

Social Life: 

Social life is Egypt is very important. The girls I was with saw each other every day. Spent hours and hours talking…every day. It is common to see your friends all the time, go out for coffee and smokes, and the occasional cocktail. It was actually really amazing to see the bonds of friendship and social need in Egypt. I had almost wished we had more of it in the States. I told the girls, that me and my friends make plans to see each other on occasion, and we will pick a day to meet up, whereas these girls just call each other up, say we’re going to xyz and all show up. They told me, which was actually pretty funny, that if you tell your friend you want to stay in or don’t feel like going out, people think there is something wrong with you or maybe you’re sad and depressed.

I went to a couple of clubs in the north shore area, which is something I don’t do much of in the States so it was a different experience. For what I thought to be a conservative country, it felt like Vegas and Miami beach with belly dancers on the bar, ladies wearing tight short dresses, and everyone dancing, smoking and some drinking. It was cool to hear Arabic music in a club setting, unfortunately I wish I had learned how to shake my hips before the outing. I think I managed to get some giggles out of people watching me dance :0/

Dating:

I came to understand how dating works in Egypt. All of you who might have met your guy and gal at the bar or online, this doesn’t really work like that in Egypt. In order for two people to get to know each other, someone must know them. First of all it seems that everyone knows everyone SOMEHOW. So then you start hanging out in groups, going to the same places in the same social circles. Then you may go out for coffee and do some “couple” dating. Approaching someone at a bar you don’t know is not common, nor socially acceptable. The girls told me, if a guy wanted to buy you a drink in a bar or randomly started talking to a girl, it would not be normal, but creepy. Same with internet dating, when I told them about it, they thought it was the strangest thing. I kind of like this Egyptian way. It alleviates a lot of the pressure people put on each other. Then again if everyone knows you and knows all about you, maybe you’re not left with much privacy.

Marriage:

This part is really cool……ready….it is a whole process and series of events that occur.

On a  side note, most of the girls and guys I met were younger than me (25-28) and they were almost all engaged. I was intrigued especially because in the US and maybe other parts of the world, people get married later and later. I have learned that this is because it is socially unacceptable to have sex before marriage in Egypt. Obviously some people still partake in secret nocturnal rendezvous but majority acceptance and belief is that your should wait. (Especially if you’re a woman, otherwise you’re considered damaged goods). I’m not too keen on the lack of double standard in this case….it takes two to tango you know?

So when you want to get married, you have to arrange a meeting for the parents and the couple to meet. Typically they will talk about arrangements and plans for the couple’s future. The guy and the parents typically bring a gift and this meeting has to happen the the girl’s parent’s house. Typically a man has to provide a house for the couple to live and has to give a girl a ring. Sometimes the ring is discussed but nowadays not so much. Once they both agree and settle on the arrangement then they meet again or then read from the Quran to give the couple a blessing. Then there is an engagement party. The guy then puts the ring on the girl and girl on the guy and the party starts. (its pretty much a small wedding). Then months later you have the real wedding with more people, more dancing, more food, and more festivities.

Religion and Culture

I don’t even know what to say here because there are many interpretations. What I love about the Muslim religion is the acceptance of other religions and placed emphasis on self interpretation of the Quran. If you believe something is a sin, then it is a sin. (i.e. drinking alcohol, covering up vs. not covering up, smoking). I also like the placed emphasis on giving and sharing wealth. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Egyptians are so hospitable. Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day but I was told that this can mean different things. Doing something nice for someone could be a prayer in itself. For example giving money or food to someone, or being kind to someone. I like this! If we all did something nice for someone, or shared our wealth with those less fortunate 5 times a day, the world would be a much better place.

Random Facts:

*Depending on the level of the belief women choose or choose not to veil themselves. Sometimes they can change their mind. It is acceptable to be unveiled in one’s home around their family.

*There are many delicious non-alcoholic juices and cocktails on menus in restaurants. Try some!

*Do not expect to be driving anywhere in Egypt. Rules of the road are optional. Get a car service, Uber, or taxi….many people here seem to have a driver anyway. They say its cheaper and safer.

*Music is very international…American, Lebanese, Spanish, Egyptian…but learn to move those hips before you come here, so you don’t look like a fool trying to learn in the club (like me).

*Learn to wake up late, and go to bed late. The heat is so intense noone wakes up early. Real life starts at night. (Depending on your work life….but even if you work 15 hours a day, people still seem to go out late)

*You will see people covered up at beaches, however I was informed that there are beaches where there is an evident majority of each. People tend to stick to one or the other.

*Social classes exist, are visible, and do not typically fraternize.

*There is so much to see, don’t think you can do it in 10 days. There are also different placed to visit depending on the time of year, even though it’s hot always.

*Don’t expect to cover up as much as you think you need to. I only felt uncomfortable twice. Onece, when I wore long pants to the Pyramids on an insanely hot day. The tour guide was wondering as she was melting away herself and asked me “Why are you wearing this long pants, when you go up North Egyptian girls will really show you how to wear a bikini.” There was no need to cover up. Another time was when I was at the airport leaving Alexandria, Egypt. I came form the beach in a jumper and EVERYONE was very local and very covered up. I stuck out like a sore pink thumb in a field of beige and black. So, in general terms, the location will determine how you should look.

Some Local jams:

This one is funny:

On that note…..Dear Egypt, see you again soon! My hips and my apetite will be ready for more 🙂

Zanzibar, Tanzania…and Little Italy

The island of Zanzibar overall is beautiful but very poor. Their main economy is tourism and agriculture, the they rely on tourist to leave lots of $$$ when they visit. I stayed at a hotel in Uroa right on the beach but I ventured out into Stone Town, visited local markets, went on the local spice tour (Zanzibar is know for their spice variety), went on a blue safari (which basically means boats, snorkeling, and seafood lunch) It was all pretty cool. I recommend the blue safari to anyone who goes for sure.

Currency:

So apparently the US dollar is the main currency here. I unfortunately didn’t have any US Dollars. I ran out of those about two countries ago so I have been hitting up the ATM for local currency. When I tried to pay with the Tanzanian Shilling, people would look at me like I was crazy. When I was quoted a price, I always said “in shilling please.” They would say “no no dollars only.” I said I don’t have dollars I have your money! Then they would budge but were annoyed. They would still charge me what it would have been in US so I don’t understand the annoyance. And everything is super expensive for Tanzanian standards, which is something I wasn’t expecting. You have to bargain even on set prices. The transportation was on the high side but other than taxis and shuttles, public transport was not an option.

Life at the Hotel:

First of all I felt like I was in Italy. Everyone was Italian! (and everyone smoked) Even the staff spoke excellent Italian. All the shows in the hotel were in Italian. I was a minority even among the tourists but I met some great people, despite the language barrier.

The hotel staff was amazing. Most of them were of the Maasai Tribe and wore the traditional robes, jewelry, sword, and always carried a stick. They are know for their high jumping and for their unique and harsh right of passage traditions among many other things…..I met a guy on the beach of the Maasai Tribe and he proposed a couple of times and also tried to sell me some bracelets. I kindly declined both 🙂

One day I saw sitting in the hotel sipping on my beer and a guy who was working at the hotel in Guest Relations came up to me to introduce himself…he said “Hi, I haven’t met you yet.” I said well I just arrived recently. He said “And you’re by yourself…?” I said “Yes.” He sat down next to me and started chatting he would ask me if i was ok randomly during our conversation. I said yes. Just a little tired. He started telling me that he is guest relations and if I need anything to let him know. Actually the first thing I asked for was a bucked and rope to be sent up to my room.

Im sure he was a bit apprehensive about my request but I told him I needed to do laundry. Just an FYl….I haven’t had a washing machine since Cape Town (maybe about 3 weeks before this) In Durban, getting to a laundromat was such an ordeal a lady at the Wilderness School said she would do it for me. I was happy and paid her nicely but when I got the clothes back they still smelled like camp fire from the week before. So I actually spend 2 hours washing my clothes in the hotel that night until about midnight. Doing about 5 small loads triple rise by hand definitely made me appreciate my washer at home.

A coupe days later when I was laying on the beach, my Guest Relations friend came up to me and started talking to me again. We chatted for about half hour about life. He said to me that he didn’t want to ask me before if I was alone and why because he has asked a woman staying at the hotel before and the woman had burst into tears. Apparently her and her boyfriend broke up on the trip and he flew home. He said “thats why I felt bad for you because you were alone, I assumed the worst.” I assured him that I was alone by choice and that I wasn’t sad, and there was no need to feel bad for me. I told him my story and he was amazed at a young female traveling alone in Africa. I told him people do it all the time and its no big deal but he also helped me recognize the inner strength that I typically don’t give myself credit for. We also started talking about relationships. He said to me….”You are very strong independent but also a hopeless romantic. You would want a guy to bring you a flower, chocolate or ice cream every day.” I started hysterically laughing and said you are absolutely right!!!! If I find a guy like that, there will never be an argument in the house. I thoroughly enjoyed our chat and appreciated the comments.

Another night I was having dinner at the famous Rock Restaurant. A really cool restaurant but somewhat disappointing. Under the right management and culinary master the place would soar. If I only had the money…. 🙂 I was sitting next to a German couple, again having dinner alone. I was messaging with my cousin telling her that I was sitting alone in a romantic restaurant starting to get lonely. Well only for about 10 minutes. When people see you sitting alone, they are very intrigued. The German couple, Monika and Joerg, started chatting with me and we had a great time. We would laugh, share stories about our travels and our lives, exchanged e-mails and invitations to visit each other. I may be visiting them when I get to Germany. They also told me how impressed they were and what a wonderful thing it is that I’m going.

In summary this part of the trip has really assured me that what I’m going is special and I should be proud of it. You meet so many amazing people and everyone is so good, friendly, and generous. As a woman traveling solo you do have to be careful and be smart about your plans, where you go, and who you talk to. I have actually felt very safe thus far and again have met wonderful people along the way. I am thankful for that and they help to remind me that I made the right choice to hit the road, and that the minute I think I get lonely someone always pops up and we start chatting.

I will close with this thought…There are good people in this world and are willing to help and even open up their homes to you. This has happened to me on the road so much. Why don’t we do this at home?

Kilimanjaro – My Spanish Honeymoon

My arrival to Tanzania started off a bit rocky because I had a surprise layover night in Nairobi, Kenya. Let me tell you how flights on Kenya Air work…my flight from Jo-burg to Kilimanjaro (with a 1.5 hour layover in Nairobi) was delayed by an hour…no one knew why and no “Delay” on screen was displayed. We just waited at the gate for an hour with no explanation. Then we were about 20 minutes delayed in landing in Nairobi. I was so anxious because I wanted to make my flight. We landed and I showed up at the gate with 10 minutes to spare but the flight attendant informed me that I would be unable to board because they close the gate 30 minutes before takeoff…this to any other traveler may seem abnormal as it did to me but apparently Kenya Air operated like that. Instead letting people board, they prefer to pay for 30-some passages to get Transit visas and, transportation, accommodations, as well as meal vouchers. I guess they do it as a safety precaution which I can’t really complain about.

Anyhow…I arrived in Kili and had a couple days in Moshi Town to get ready for the trek. I tried to figure out who was in my trekking group at the hotel since everyone there was there for the same reason. I was told there were only 3 people in my group including me…I thought to myself…well most likely its a couple, the story of my life…I’m a third wheeling again….well this was mother of them all. I found out that I would be with a Spanish couple who were actually on their honeymoon! I’m sure initially they were not thrilled to have me on board of their honeymoon, but actually we had a great time together and have grown very close over the 7 day Machame Trek of Kilimanjaro.

Overall the trek was great! I got hit with altitude on the 3rd day. I felt really weird…dizzy, lost my appetite, tired, massive headache. I took Dimox immediately and felt better after a few hours. Our guides Johnny and Massa, were so helpful and attentive and knew exactly what tips to give us at ties of need. Beyond that I was also extremely impressed with the porters who carried our weight the whole week. I didn’t realize that for a group of 3, we would have a whole team of 12 going up with us. They carried our tents, our kitchen, supplies, food, our bags etc. We were only to carry what we needed for the day. They would run up the mountain passing us with probably more than 30kgs on their backs and smiles on their face greeting us with the “Jambo Buoana” song. I would like to acknowledge their efforts and hard work. I’ve read about this style of climbing but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. And here I was struggling with a headache on day 3. I kept thinking…snap out of it, get it together. We actually each suffered throughout the week from different things. Let’s just say all the medicines that the travel physician prescribed came in handy 😉

Each morning we were greeted with a bowl of hot water for washing and “welcome miss….water for washing, welcome miss” and about 4 minutes after that “welcome miss breakfast.” And at breakfast each time was introduced…”welcome porridge” “welcome tea” welcome banana” Welcome soup…etc. Hospitality on the mountain was very “welcoming.” We pretty much had the same 4 ingredients the whole week in different versions. I mean I shouldn’t complain because we were fed a hot meal every day and it was good but I definitely need a break for rice, pasta, ONIONS (my nemesis), and fried dough. I had a dream in my tent one night of a fresh baguette, with a nice brie, prosciutto, and arugula. When I told my Spanish friends they were laughing at me. You can take the girl out of the foodie but you can’t take the foodie out of a girl.

So we slowly trekked for several days. It took about 5.5 days to climb up and about 1.5 to come down. Let me tell you about the day or night rather of summit. We pretty much arrived at the second to last camp in the morning where we would rest all day and depart for summit at 11pm. After dinner we had our typical briefing and talked about how to prepare for our 11pm departure.

We were told to wear all of our layers, bring our energy food, pack our meds, and make sure to pack our water properly so it wouldn’t freeze. My new Spanish friend was already not feeling well but we hoped it would pass after taking our evening nap, so after our briefing we went to “sleep.” Unfortunately you can’t sleep because you’re excited and nervous and just overall can’t sleep due to noises around you such as the sherpas singing, people walking by your tent, someone peeing near your tent, sounds of the zippers of tents etc.

We woke up at 11pm to start our trek. I was already cold and I was already wearing all my layers. I was nervous because I knew it would only get worse but I said hey what can I do….let’s go. I’ll hopefully warm up as we go. (I actually had a heat pad for back pains that I put on my chest just to keep myself warmer) It was really dark and all you could see was the moonlight and the lamps of others ahead and behind us and about 3 feet in front of us. As you’re walking up for hours you start becoming dizzy from staring at the 3 feet in front and down of you. We walked for about 3-4 hours and took very short breaks. Santi, was starting to feel worse. He was hit with fatigue, felt sick to his stomach and had a terrible headache. We gave him some energy bars and gels and through maybe it would help. We walked for a few more minutes and Santi collapsed. He said he could not keep going but he wanted to reach the summit. Unsure of what to do, we tried to convince him to keep going and focus on the step in front of him, but as he tried to stand up he collapsed again. Claudia suggested to the guides that Santi and her would go down if we can split up, so that I can continue with the second guide. Santi insisted that she go up with me, he really wanted at least for Claudia at reach the top. We split up and continued to go up as we watched Santi and Massa go down together.

I still felt dizzy but the fact that Claudia was with me kept me motivated to keep going up. I was freezing and was cursing the mountain in my head. At the same time, for some unknown reason to me, the scene from Nutty Professor kept playing in my head …. “YES I CAN.” If you saw it you’ll know what I’m taking about. Nothing to do with mountains but it helped. I kept focusing on the step in front of me. I actually didn’t really think about the summit that much. I didn’t care to think about it until it was right in front of me and I needed to think about it.

Side thought: I’m actually not sure if that had anything to do with my and Claudia’s experience on the mountain versus Santi’s. Santi is a man of information and statistics. He wanted to know exactly how high we were, how much longer to the summit, if the hardest part was coming up, how long we walked, etc. Claudia and I on the other hand were just going up focusing on the few steps ahead. I’m not sure what she was thinking about but neither one of us ever asked for this detailed information. I wonder if Santi’s physical side effects had anything to do with his mental awareness of where he was on the mountain?  

Claudia and I reached Uhuru Peak, which is the summit. We celebrated for about 15 minutes watching the sunrise over the fields of glaciers and clouds before we started heading back. On the way down we encouraged the people who were going up. Some people looked slow, steady and strong and some needed to lean on sherpas to keep walking. Some had smiles on their faces and some had frozen snot hanging off their beards but we high fived everyone going up!

The way down seemed like a sprint compared to our snail pace going up. In order to not feel the altitude, we had to descend quickly but safely. In my head I literally thought about rolling myself down the mountain just to get to the warmth, my Twix bar, and my tent. In that order!

We reached our camp and started calling for Santi. He was resting in the tent but still felt a bit ill.  We felt badly for him. I wanted to give Claudia and Santi some privacy and a chance for Claudia to cheer him up, so I went and napped in my tent before we had to continue our trek down to a lower camp. After just trekking for 10 hours thats the last thing I wanted to do.

Later that day, we talked to Santi and he told us how defeated he felt. After reading all of my “lessons learned from mountain climbing in business” I thought I should insert some words of wisdom and encouragement at this time (not that I am an expert in the matter all of a sudden but I wanted to share the useful tips). I kept telling Santi to not worry, that the focus is not in the summit but in the experience and the journey…That we all fail and its part of life even though we may be prepared physically and mentally…That sometimes forces out of our control have an effect on how we perform and how successful we are at reaching our goals. All you can do is control your attitude in the situation. Despite the disappointment, Santi’s attitude was good about what he had experienced. He was still positive and energetic the rest of the day and way down. Again he said “it was a great experience but I will never come back here.” I insisted that this doesn’t don’t let him feel discouraged from ever trying again or giving another mountain a shot. We can’t always be successful at everything we do. I think to Santi this was a whole new feeling. As a very successful tri-athlete and marathoner he felt lost in this new state of fallure. Fallure is something greater than failure. It’s going to your absolute limit and giving it your all, whereas failure may entail conscious decision of quitting. In this case it was evident that it was fallure that was the culprit.

I hope Santi walked away with something positive from this experience, I know I certainly had many takeaways. We all have to recognize and remind ourselves that fallure is part of a recipe for success and that we can’t always be at the top. We need those lows to recognize our highs. Keeping your wits about you and having a good attitude can propel you forward and shape your entire life in a positive way and lead you to your future successes.

Again this was a great experience and every day I feel like I’m learning something new. The world in front of me is my classroom and the moments that present themselves daily are truly priceless.

A Glimpse from the Past 3 Weeks

So I haven’t posted in a while…I had a feeling this would happen, but hey…just letting it soak in. Let me start backwards a little. I just arrived to Moshi, Tanzania, which is a small town near Mount Kilimanjaro. I have 2 days of acclimatization before my trek so I figured I’d catch up on my journaling.

The past week and a half have been very different from the previous. Went from the what I call a familiar city and country life to the unfamiliar bush. As I consider myself to be outdoorsy, this was a new level from what I was used to.

Before I get into that, let me set the stage from the weeks before to help paint the picture. So my friend Alyssa and I were traveling together in Cape Town and surrounding areas, and spent a few nights in Stellenbosch, the wine country of South Africa. It was absolutely stunning and I could picture myself living there….all the things I love….wine, cheese, good bread, good food, coffee, olive oil, ice cream (almost every day), and a beautiful horizon. I loved Cape Town as well, there is so much to see and it’s very diverse, you have the happening waterfront, the surfing beaches of Kommetjie, the Venice Beach Vibe of Camps Bay, Cape Point (Southernmost point of Africa), wildlife, Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens, the arts, and nightlife (apparently). And lots more! There is so much we did, it’s difficult to summarize.

I will also say this, saying goodbye to my travel companion was not easy. It’s always nice to have a travel companion but it’s even more awesome to have a good friend be that companion.

So after we went our separate ways, I flew to Durban. Didn’t see much of the city as I arrived late and was starting the trail into the bush the next morning. I stayed at the Wilderness School in the Kenneth Stainback Nature Reserve, which was a bit out of the city and with no transportation or anyone to show you around it was a bit isolated and lonely. Thanks to my new friend Zehavit who was also visiting and staying there, I was acquainted with the way of life there. I was definitely logistically not prepared for the trail. I was given very little information and I had to assume what I knew based on previous camping experiences. Well…scratch that and start over. I was finding things out as they were happening…like what to bring, what not to bring…i.e. no phones, no watches, no toilet paper….Imagine my surprise at the last one. At least I had my knife…thank goodness I always carry my trusty Leatherman, he came in handy every day as we cooked our meals together. We walked very little, which made me a bit antsy, we collected firewood and dug water from the river to drink (my Travel Physician would have a field day with that). Don’t worry we purified it. We cooked our meals on the pot over the fire everyday, which was pretty cool, and the best part was sleeping under the stars. We each took 1.5 hour shifts every night to do night watch so that we wouldn’t get attacked by animals. This was not a favorite of mine but once you got in the groove, it was fine. Can’t say that when it was my turn on the last day I wasn’t beyond trilled. When you’re in the bush you don’t really sleep anyway because there’s always someone waking someone up and you hear the hippos, hyenas, buffalo, and baboons, or someone letting it rip after an onion infiltrated vegetable and rice stew.

On the way out of the bush, we debriefed and shared what we each through about the experience. We all said different things, which was great to see how the same experience impacted everyone differently. It’s amazing how other people’s experience can enhance your own. This girl who was in the group brought up the morning we all packed up camp, we were ready to head over to the next location but we couldn’t as a huge elephant had crossed our road. We had to wait him out but he got so close to us and we could safely watch him go about his day from where we were standing. He came to us…we would also walk around during the days looking for animals but never were able to get so close as we did this time…Just like the elephant, in life certain things come to us when we’re not looking for them and they can be the most magnificent. My takeaway from that is a constant reminder to be patient in life. The most amazing things come to you when you’re not looking for them.

That’s not to say perseverance doesn’t pay off but we also need to be patient, signs are all around us and will present themselves when the time is right, we just have to pay attention.

P.S. More and more each day I am starting to understand the meaning behind “This is Africa.” (on both sides of the spectrum) 🙂

First Leg – SA, Kruger National Park and Private Reserves

So I haven’t blogged yet since I wanted to be in the moment and soak in the sights. So far its been great! First stop was in Jo-burg for a night after 18 hours of flight and 3 hours in Amsterdam. Spent the night at this awesome lodge and was exciting to meet up with my friend Alyssa the next day, the day we were departing for a 5 day trip to the bush. As I had my breakfast and waited for my friend to arrive, I chatted with some people, who turned out to also be going on the safari and who also later became our bush family. It’s now 10:00am and Alyssa was to arrive with the shuttle for the safari ah hour ago. My new friends were doubting the existence of my friend and would tease me about getting a refund from my mail order companion. Finally Alyssa arrived and we gave her a warm welcome before we packed into the van and went on a 5 hour drive to the Kruger region. Our new friends the Australian couple, Dawn and Mark, and 3 girls from the US, Ann, Taylor, and Hannah were together from beginning to end.

Our first game drive was in the evening when we arrived, in my opinion it was the best night. The sky was clear, and you could see the stars perfectly. I saw a sooting star, which was the perfect omen that assured me this would be the beginning or an amazing journey. That night we saw a pack of lions with the cubs up close and had an amazing candlelit braai (traditional barbecue in the bush) under the starry sky. The next morning we did a 5:30am bush walk. Alyssa and I were not happy to wake up that early but we did well…slept a lot en route, which became a recurring theme for Alyssa gaining her a new spirit animal, the sloth. The walk and afternoon drive were great…we were able to see a lot of elephants, giraffes, hippos, impalas, zebras, warthogs, and other creatures.

We learned a lot from our guides Rex and Bongani. I was half paying attention, half the time, and Rex gave me a schooling. I will never forget that an elephant poops 100-120 kg of 80% undigested dung every couple hours.

The day after that we spend the whole day in Kruger driving around in search of animals. Don’t let safari fool you…we were dressed in layers warm enough for a blizzard. It gets really cold especially driving in an open vehicle. We almost saw the Big 5, the elephant, the lion, buffalo, rhino, and leopard. We didn’t see a leopard but we did see a Cheetah. The Big 5 are called theBig 5 because they were the most difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot back in the day.

We spend a lot of time in the car but we had a great group. We continued to bond with our new friends Dawn, Mark, Ann, Hannah, Taylor and our Icelandic friends Julia and Andrei. Dawn became our own safari “Magogo”, translated to grandmother…sort of like our mother hen. She even collected muffins at breakfast in the morning and later whipped them out on a makeshift serving platter on our afternoon drive.

At the end of the day we had a lovely bonfire dinner with tables surrounding the fire. We continued to have great conversations and met more new friends from the US, Parker, Corey, and Mike. It really is amazing the people you meet when you’re traveling. When the next morning came to say goodbye to some of our friends that were leaving it was sad but exciting to know that we had the opportunity to spend that time together and will have those memories. Some of us stayed another day, it was Alyssa and I, the and the boys and girls from the US. Today we went to the Mohalahala Animal Rehab Center, where animals that were trapped in power lines, were poisoned or trapped were recovering before the release into the wild again. Unfortunately some of the couldn’t go back because they became too tame and would not be able to defend themselves. It was sad to see but also great to be able to get so close. We even had an opportunity to feed some vultures. After that morning, we stopped for an extremely long lunch and continued into a Private Reserve where they also showed us some of the Big 5. They have some pretty cool projects, they also help with the release of animals into the wild, run breeding projects, and house animals. We met Tnombi, a young cheetah. She was a rescue runt of the litter and was so used to humans she would not be able to survive in the wild. She is very tame and we were able to pet her. Another awesome thing that happened that day was he rhino attack. We got very close to a male, female, and baby rhino and it the male came charging at us. He stopped but he was just getting aggressive backs we were getting close to his female. The rhinos at the private reserve had their horns cut off to control the hunters from killing the rhino. The government locks the horns away in a secure location. We were told that they are sitting on hundreds of thousands of rhino horns and they can’t do anything with them. It is really sad to think that rhinos will become extinct in our generation if the hunting doesn’t stop.

Overall this first week was such a great experience in what we saw and the people we met. Often times when I meet people as I’m traveling they leave a lasting impression. You learn from them and hopefully they learn new things from you as well. Meeting new people in such environments encourages us to be more outgoing, social, and present. You end up bonding over conversations and day trips and learn from each other’s perspectives and lives. I am thankful for this week and the fond memories and sightings we were able to experience. 

2011 Journal Entry – Cambodian Border Crossing

So I just found one of my travel journals when I went home for the weekend and I was quite occupied reading it and reliving my trip to Southeast Asia in 2011. I would like to share one day in particular as I remember it being a day from hell that actually turned out much better than it could have.

He is an exact excerpt from the journal:

“All I have to say right now…what a day!!! The most insane border crossing and attempt to rip off tourists. I signed up for transportation with my hostel to take me from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I paid 750 Bhat to be taken from the hostel into center town of Siem Reap (through the border)…or so I thought. There were several others on this shuttle, 2 British girls, a Peruvian couple, young guy from Canada, young girl from Cambodia, and an older Russian guy who consumed about 4 beers with in couple hours of us being on the road. After a couple to a few hours of driving we pull over to this shack which served as a restaurant and make believe Cambodian Embassy. We got dropped off and were told by the driver to wait there for our Cambodian Liaison. In the meantime, a number of men in business casual attire come up to us and try and sell us visa applications. Ahem…scam number 1. I had read about this in the guidebooks and the British girls also warned me. There were other people at the stop and some actually purchased these papers, sad to say. We convinced a few others not to buy. They guys were not happy but left us alone. I made friends with the British girls and the Peruvian couple and we stuck together waiting for the next part of the journey. We see a pickup truck pull up and a guy with a badge comes out. He tells us that he is our liaison and that he will get us across the border. We all looked at each other nervously but loaded up in the pickup truck. We said at least we’re all in this together…we did lose a couple to the next round of pickups and the Russian guy was off somewhere. I don’t know if he ever made it to Cambodia but I hope he’s ok.

The liaison turned out to be legit. When we got to the border, which was out 5 miles from the shack, we got in line to leave the Thai side. This took a while. Window, paper, stamp…window, paper, stamp, and another window paper stamp. Once we reached the Cambodian side window, I ran into a bit of a situation. They officer told me that I could not enter Cambodia because I didn’t have enough pages left in my passport. I point to 2 empty pages but they refused to give me a stamp because the page was not labeled as a Visa page. They told me that if I paid a fine they would give me the stamp. I refused and started to feel the heat rising my neck and face. I argued that I would not pay them, if anything I would go to the embassy and pay them if i had to. They started laughing. I got even more furious. They asked me to handwrite a statement on the back of some form allowing them to stamp my passport. They let me off the hook. The whole process took about 2.5 – 3 hours. We all met on the other side and bought ourselves a cold beer to take the edge off this experience. Once we met up, I had found out that others got ripped off on money exchange at the border bank. Every step of the way….we felt so defeated.

We found our next ride. The city bus, which took us to another minivan. We got split into two cars. I ended up with the Canadian boy and another couple from Scotland. We made a pitstop at a roadside shop. I was hungry so I got water and cookies. Woman tried to overcharge me. What was 50 Bhat she asked me for 250. I didn’t buy the cookies and water as I was mad…again. It wasn’t about the money at that point, it was the principle. We kept going. The minivan dropped us off at another stop and said we had to get off and take a Tuk Tuk the rest of the way. Again furious, we refused to get out of the van and told him to take us to center of town as promised. After 10 minutes of him and us sitting int he van, we moved again. He dropped us off at the edge of the town which was fine, the town was small and we could walk the rest of the way. I did’t want to walk alone so the boy from Canada walked me to my hostel. I was very grateful to have him there, we parted ways and I never saw him again.

After the whole day, I didn’t have high expectations for the rest of the day but when I entered the Golden Temple Villa Guesthouse I wanted to kiss the ground. I took of my flip flops and entered the little Oasis surrounded my palm trees and flowers. The staff was really nice and very hospitable. They informed me that they were sorry but my room was not yet available. I didn’t care as they gave me this amazing iced tea, peanuts, and a refreshing wet towel…I was in heaven. I spent the evening sitting in the hammock reading the visitor’s guide under the palm trees and thinking that this was the best $13 per night I have ever spent!”

Hello World!

Welcome to my humble space in the clouds where I will be sharing my travel plans and stories with those who want to follow. I have never had a blog and consider myself to be very technologically challenged. So with that said, this is a stretch for me but I am very excited to get going and share my travel passions with you. I want this blog to be very interactive so if you ever want to join me on an adventure at any time, let me know. If you have suggestions for a cool place I need to visit, share your idea. If you want me to send you something from somewhere, let me know. If you dare me to do something I will do my best to do it. I also believe in travel with a purpose and will be visiting underdeveloped communities. In an effort to leave a positive mark on some of the places I visit I will help someone in need. If you would like to join me and become a one time sponsor or donate, visit my Paypal, I will make sure to deliver and share the results of your good deed done.

I truly believe in paying it forward and have been fortunate to have had opportunities as a result of another’s generosity. If you can, please also join me and the pay it forward if you see someone in need.

Escape for the Day:

***Sometimes at work my mind would wander as I sat there staring at my e-mail, these videos got me through the day….if you ever need a moment to escape but really can’t….enjoy these.