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Africa, Australia, Destinations, Middle East, South America

The last chapter?

July 15, 2009 • By

TRAVEL HIGHLIGHTS

  1. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
  2. Learning a new language
  3. Sailing the Nile
  4. Swimming in the Red Sea
  5. Sipping Malbec and Camanere (red wine)
  6. Visiting Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall
  7. Seeing lions, cougars, elephants, zebras, giraffes in their natural habitat
  8. Devouring dulce de leche and falafel
  9. Watching the most incredible sunsets from Table Mountain, South Africa and the middle of nowhere Botswana to the mountains of Petra, Jordan and over the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, Israel
  10. Spraying my room, bed, clothes and entire body with bug spray
  11. Dressing up as Cleopatra
  12. Finding coffee in Tanzania
  13. Visiting four continents and 14 countries
  14. Taking tango lessons
  15. Learning to salsa
  16. Showering after my Mt. Kili climb
  17. La Cabrera, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  18. Starbucks, Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
  19. Rocking until 5 am in Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv
  20. Thinking a lion was going to eat me.  Thank goodness for the grazing zebra
  21. Visiting a hospital in Arusha, Tanzania
  22. Horseback riding in the Andes
  23. Walking along the Indian Ocean in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
  24. Shopping for boots…daily
  25. Meeting all the wonderful people who changed my life for the better

 

ANOTHER CHAPTER COMES TO AN END

I left New York City on November 18th.  It took me six weeks to remember I didn’t have a job and another six months to realize eventually I would need one.  It’s been an incredible journey with memories to last a lifetime.  For those of you who have shared in my adventures, my last chapter is for you.  You have been my greatest fans cheering me on and pushing me forward when at times I wanted to call it quits.  Many of you have asked the following:

  • Why did you take this trip?
  • What did you learn?
  • What’s your favorite place?
  • When are you coming home?
  • Where are you now?

I hope I’ve answered those questions somewhere along the way but in case my long-winded responses were not enough for you, here goes:

I am fortunate.  I am blessed.  I am independent.  I am lucky.  I am not brave.  I am not crazy.  I did not run away from anything or anyone.  Travel for me is my greatest love.  It’s my passion in life.  At 35, I figured I had time, money, and a natural break in my career.

Life is about choices.  I considered buying a condo but then I weighed the pros and cons and figured investing in myself would be the smarter choice.  Someday, I will own a house.  I may never again have an opportunity to travel freely for an extended period of time—to take a “life break.”  Since 6th grade world history class, I dreamed of seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Each week we were required to read newspaper articles pertaining to the region we were covering and draft a summary of at least one article –three for extra credit.  We all know I completed three.  While I hated “current events” (my mother probably disliked them more because she helped every Thursday night), these assignments launched my fascination for the world.

Africa seemed like a faraway land with poverty and war; a place that people read about but never actually visited.  Regardless, I knew one day I would step foot on the African continent and find beyond the pictures and words a place rich in history and culture.  To say Africa is a beautiful place is one thing; to experience the African music, taste the food, participate in the rituals and to see natural marvels untouched for thousands of years is quite another.  I made an effort to learn about the people in each country I visited.  I realized I couldn’t live in their shoes but I wanted to experience a snapshot nevertheless.  It was my choice to backpack, camp, hike, ferry, bus and take less traveled routes not because I am a glutton for punishment but because it was the scenic route; the route less traveled.

From place to place, country-to-country, I observed the faces of people.  Some of their faces revealed great suffering, others sadness but more often than not people greeted me with welcoming smiles and a sense of determination and perseverance unmatched in other parts of the world.  Life in Africa is complicated.  I don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, to live without water and electricity, to be considered so invaluable that the cattle are more important.  I have opportunities that most African’s cannot even imagine possible.  I am free.  I am educated.  I have choices.  What the African people need more than anything is to know there is hope, to demand more of themselves and of their leaders and to define their own destiny.  I saw what amazing things occurred in Botswana where the government is stable, education a priority and the economy self-sufficient.  I met the kindest and most considerate people in Arusha, Tanzania where everyone from the hotel manager to the chef and restaurant crew welcomed me with open-arms; cared for me like a member of their family; and cried with me while I hobbled around the hotel with crutches. There are countless others like Adronis and God Bless who dragged me down Mt. Kilimanjaro injured and my guide Herman in the Serengeti who understands education is the key to success and scrapes up money to educate his two boys in private schools.   He says it’s their only chance at success.  AIDS, poverty, malaria and corruption are a part of African life but these people will not be defined by illness and tragedy.  They are the real story of Africa.

In some respects, I took two very distinct trips.  I saw oceans and mountains, seas and lakes, deserts and forests, religious artifacts and burial sites, man made spectaculars and natural wonders.  In Africa and the Middle East, I challenged myself in ways I didn’t think possible.  I’m a city girl.  I don’t like dirt, I don’t like bugs and I certainly don’t enjoy using nature’s bathroom.  Africa changed me.  I’m confident it made me stronger, more tolerant and wiser.  It shaped me in ways I may not understand for years to come.  With every passing day, I opened my eyes to a world and to a people often ignored.  Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, riding a camel at the Great Pyramids, sailing down the Nile, reaching the top of Mt. Sinai, silently observing a male lion devour a giraffe, praying at the Wailing Wall, watching the clouds blanket Table Mountain were highlights of my African experience.  They are memories to last me a lifetime for sure but when friends ask me about Africa I immediately flash to the people.  The African people triumph over adversity daily and what they want —what we all want— is to provide for their families; to keep their children healthy, safe and secure; to give them an opportunity to enjoy life not survive it.

After four months of tramping through an entirely different part of the world, I hauled my cookies from Tel Aviv to Zurich back to the United States and then down to my home away from home Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My parents assumed I would be back by May 1 but I had other plans.  At the urging of my friend Jack, who encouraged me to stay longer in Argentina, I rented an apartment, enrolled in Spanish classes and immersed myself in the culture.  I always dreamed of living abroad to learn a language and finally I made it happen.

Making friends is never difficult for me but in Argentina I discovered people from all over the world who were like me.  People who worked hard but made travel a priority.  We shared a common belief that one must see the world to understand it.

There are 13 million people in Buenos Aires.  While I didn’t meet them all, I received an incredible welcome from my teachers, classmates and other locals who shared their life with me on a daily basis.  In doing so, they changed mine.  I learned to slowdown, to see things at face value, to appreciate the beauty of each day.  I studied Spanish, danced the tango, consumed vast amounts of beef, sipped wine, biked through parks, climbed a glacier, hiked Iguazu Falls and more importantly celebrated life.  Living in Buenos Aires was awesome for lack of a better word.  It’s considered to be the Paris, Rome and New York City of South America.  I contend it’s better but if only they could please clean up the dog poop.

The Argentine people are strong and determined.  They have endured hardship and instead of waiting for change they take to the streets and fight for their rights.  Argentina is not immune from corruption or poverty but in Buenos Aires I felt the sincerity of a people who demanded more from their government and believed their troubles of the past were the basis for a secure future.  There were certainly things that drove me nuts, for example, change.  Money is a problem in Argentina.  No one has it and everybody wants it.  I met many people (college educated) who worked 2-3 jobs to survive.  They struggled but they never complained.  I learned much from them.  To my teachers, neighbors, and new Argentine friends you are truly an inspiration.  I miss you already.

I finished my travels in Chile, which was nice because it gave me a chance to reflect on the last eight months.  It is true I am sad to leave the world of travel behind.  Every Friday when we said good-bye to a classmate, we used to mourn their loss.  They had to return home…back to reality. Something none of us wanted to face.

When I left the USA, I didn’t know what I would encounter.  I wanted to “see the world” but I wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed.  I had already visited other countries and how would this experience be different?  Letting go of my career, my friends and my family was tough but it opened doors for me.  When Jill and I departed at the Johannesburg airport and I stood there without a plan, it was the first time in years I truly felt alone yet free.  I quickly understood the path before me was unknown and I was ready for the adventure.  As I traveled through Africa, the Middle East and South America, I realized my life is privileged.  I have a loving family and friends who shape my life for the better.  This trip wasn’t a vacation.  It was a learning experience.  I learned to trust in the kindness of strangers, to accept my surroundings and to be at peace with myself.  The world is small and it gets smaller each day.  Be kind to it.  Appreciate your loved ones and take time for yourself.  You only get one shot to make the most of your life.

I am “home” in the USA.  I’ve already enjoyed a hot shower, fresh laundry and two home-cooked meals. Sometimes it’s the little things you miss the most.

To be continued…

CREDITS

Richie and Yasmin, England

Hog Hollow

Otte Family, Luxembourg

Namibia couple

Jeri Wade, USA

Troy, USA

Adronis, Tanzania

God Bless, Tanzania

Herman, Tanzania

Entire staff at the Arusha Hotel, Tanzania

Pilot Tom, USA

Sanja, Tanzania

Janet Keller, USA

Arie Rubenstein, USA

Bruce and Harriet

Elisa Franzo and her family, Italy

Angela

John Weadick, Ireland

Paddy and Allan, South Africa

Stella and Terry, England

Christine and Matt, Canada

Jenni and Margaret Kline, USA

Geri Sadek, USA

Laura and Jim Ross, USA

Pamela, USA

Tim Allen, USA/Argentina

Katherine Thonvold, USA/Argentina

Karen Downey, Australia

Gustavo Chamorro, Argentina

Ursula Leal Capria, Argentina

Anna Achenbach, Germany

William “Steve” Jackson, USA

Kate, USA/Chile

Annette, Germany/Chile

Daria Saharova, Germany

Ash Dawson, England

Gabi, USA/South Africa

Barin Darnew, USA

Janine and Erik, USA

Ecela Language School, South America

Pilar, Argentina

Rocio, Argentina

Leila, Argentina

Lorena, Argentina

Alberto, Columbia/Argentina

Guillermo, Argentina

Emanuel, Argentina

My friends at Pilates and Starbucks

Pia and USA/India

Tal, Israel/England

Pablo, Argentina

A special thanks to Jill Straus, my travel partner in crime and Maria Brijeski and Pam Manz who visited me in Argentina

To all of you who kept tabs on me, encouraged me along the way and responded to my Facebook updates, many thanks

To Landra Bickley, my Argentine sister, it was certainly a wild ride.  Espero que bailes tango y comas muchas carne sin yo.  Quiero todos detalles.  Te extraño

Jack O’Donnell who served as tech support and a constant sounding board (via email).  I’m sure you are happy to have more time on your hands.  I’m still writing the book.

Thank you to my parents who despite their concerns pushed me to reach for the stars.  Your support is unwavering and your love is the reason I take chances in life.  It was time someone had as much fun as Patrick.

Besos, abrazos y muchas gracias a mis amigos en Argentina

Espero que encontramos otra vez pronto

Chau Chau


Africa, Destinations, Middle East

Moses’ Mountain and My Journey to Jordan

February 21, 2009 • By

Stuffing my face with hummus and bread as a source of carbohydrates did not prove to be the smartest choice for my climb up Mt. Sinai or Moses’ Mountain as the locals call it.  About five minutes into my climb, I was belching up garlic and wishing for once in my life I would not have over indulged.  My team of climbers included a mother and son from Sweden, an Englishman, a Frenchman and me.  We were guided by a local Beduin man who later wished he had never met me.

After making our way to St. Katherine’s Monastery, we started our climb at 3 AM.  Our guide a 24 year-old smoking fiend had us running up a pretty steady incline.  Now that I hiked with Jeri and Troy and conquered  Mt. Kili,  I consider myself an expert climber and informed him as such.  He didn’t seem to appreciate me telling him he was jeopardizing my health.  I gave him my “I know everything speech”  that went something like the following:  “It is not safe to run up any mountain and it’s especially not smart when altitude is a concern.  You said we have 3.5 hours to get to the top and we are already a 1/3 there.  You have 2 older men who would very much like to make the summit.”  He did not like me telling him what to do and basically pushed to the front of the group and ignored me.  Everyone in my group felt the climb so at the next break I told him again that slow and steady wins the race and the goal is to get to the top not die trying.  Since he seemed in no position to save me, I took it upon myself to do the climb at my pace.  While climbing in the darkness, I did find it a bit ironic that here I was telling off a local Egyptian on the very mountain that God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

The two and a half-hour climb ended at the Steps of Repentance where 750 very steep steps stand between you and the summit.  Since we hauled up the mountain, we had another hour before sunrise (please note I told you so).  My group and I warmed ourselves in a hut where the Beduin men handed out very thick wool blankets for 20 Egyptian pounds.  The wind was a killer at the top.  Most people including me purchased a blanket and hunkered down in the shack.  When it came time to climb the steps to the summit, there were about 200 tourists on the same pilgrimage.  The sun decided to pop at about 6:30 AM  and it quickly disappeared behind the clouds.  I will fully admit climbing the mountain did make me feel closer to God.  Whether or not I am religious is not the point, it made me think about spirituality and those that have gone before me.  I was standing there looking out into the horizon imagining what could have happened in ancient times…in the time of Moses.

As I was making my decent, I stopped a few times to enjoy my surroundings (and to pee at $5 Egypitan pounds a stop).  The mountains, a deep red color, have these incredible jagged edges that resemble fingers.  I laughed at one point because the scene reminded me of the planet Krypton from the Superman movies.  Some Hollywood executive likely visited Egypt and said wow this will make for a great set one day.  Being in the desert is pretty amazing.  The mountains are covered by a film of sand that creates a shadow and distorts viewing from a distance.

Back on level ground, we visited St. Katherine’s Monastery, the site people believe God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  I have to check this out but our guide said that people have tried to remove this particular  “bush” many times but it will only live at the Monastery.  He also told us there are no other known types of this tree/bush in the world.  It gave me pause to think.  The Monastery, built around 530 AD, is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  It remains an active Monastery and is home to 200 Greek Orthodox monks.

I finally returned to Sharm el Sheikh around 2 pm and decided a bus trip to Nuweiba on the Egyptian border would have to wait until the next day.  Instead, I succumbed to my cravings and walked directly to the Hard Rock Cafe where I had a large plate of nachos with extra guacamole and a beer.  The waiter suggested I go with the small but after thinking about all the cheese I could get with the large I could not help myself.  From there, I moved on to Starbucks where I had an enormous piece of dark chocolate cake and a latte.  YUMMMMMMY!

While sipping my coffee and sending my friends pictures of my Starbucks find, I met a lovely young woman from Finland who was traveling Egypt.  We chatted about our travels and I was impressed with her spirit.  She is 38 and has been everywhere.  She is off to live in Norway next but hopes to be in Afghanistan in the near future.  I so love meeting adventurous people.  It affirms my desire to travel and see the world.

Early to bed and early to rise, I was ready to leave Egypt and discover the land of friendly in Jordan.  I caught the 9 AM bus to Nuweiba and was off to a good start.  I even met a friendly Australian, Tim and we chatted on the journey.  As nothing ever runs smoothly in my travels, I should have known something was up when I called to book my hotel in Aqaba and the reservationist said he would “see me tonight.”  When I said no I get in at 3 PM, he never responded.  Locals know best.

Tim and I purchased our “fast ferry” tickets and grabbed lunch.  We had 2 hours to kill.  (I will from this point on refer to the roasted chicken I ate as the last supper because I was fairly certain the fast ferry would never reach Jordan.)  After passport control, Tim and I were directed to stand in a very long line.  I glanced around and realized there were about 3 women in a room full of 1,000.  We waited there for a few minutes before we started to move.  All of a sudden 3 police officers started screaming at people to get out of line (all in Arabic mind you) and everyone was pushing–some throwing punches.   We stood there like ignorant tourists until a nice police officer escorted us to another section.  He spoke in Arabic to a younger police officer and we decided this guy was going to take care of us.  Having no understanding of what was being said, we decided it was Friday(the weekend), these people likely migrant workers wanted to go home and their slow ferry was cancelled.  The police needed to take care of the tourists so we were placed in this secure section.  It got to be ridiculous when no less than 25 locals tried to sit in area and police officers would start screaming for them to move.  Tim and I sat on this bench in this semi-guarded  section alone with locals starring at us for hours.  In one instance, a fight broke out right in front of my feet.  My bag even got involved in the action.  It took everything in my power not to laugh until I saw another man crying.  This ferry terminal and everything that it entailed could be a blockbuster drama.  Just imagine if this was your only day off and you had to spend it with 1,000 other men at a ferry terminal trying to get home.  It made me feel sad for them.

Eventually, the fast ferry with the 2 pm departure boarded at 5:30 pm and departed at 7:30.  On the ferry, there were about 15 tourists.  We completely stood out as we were all Caucasian from Australia and Europe and me the lone American.   We were even escorted up to first-class by the smiling porter.  People call Jordan the land of smiles.  So far it’s true.  The people are full of smiles and there doesn’t even seem to be an ulterior motive like in Egypt.  We arrived at 8:30 and after some time received our passports back (they were collected on the boat and we were all confident that would be the last time we saw them).  Jordanians are very hospitable.  From the time we got on the boat, we were rushed to the front of the lines, treated like royalty and given welcoming smiles at every turn.

Alas, we arrived in Aqaba.  I shared a cab with 2 Aussie girls who were traveling the world for a year.  Three strangers at first, we were bound by a ferry and a journey that we thought would never end.  After the longest day, we split a triple room in a budget hotel and I was so tired I didn’t even dream about the dirt!!!!!