Browsing Date

July 2009

Africa, Australia, Destinations, Middle East, South America

The last chapter?

July 15, 2009 • By


  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



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…


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


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

Destinations, History, South America, Travel Tips

A historical look at Chile

July 9, 2009 • By

A narrow but long country Chile measures at its greatest width 430 kilometers (265 miles) east to west.  This isn’t a small country as it measures 4,630 kilometers (2,880 miles) in length and includes as part of its territory Easter Island, parts of Antarctica and a few other smaller islands.  Chile shares a border with Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and the Pacific Ocean, which runs the entire length of the country.

The Spanish arrived in Chile in the mid-sixteenth century and found a pleasant climate and fertile soil.  They were also confronted with strong and stable native tribes; the Araucanian(descendants of the Incas) in the north and the Mapuche in the south.  While the Spanish tried to occupy these regions, they were relatively unsuccessful and kept to the center region in what is present-day Valparaiso and Santiago. Today, Chile is home to many immigrant populations including the Spanish, Italians, Germans, French, Croatians and Palestinians.  In the last century, Chile has welcomed its Bolivian, Argentine and Peruvian neighbors seeking better opportunities.  Spanish is the official language but it’s not unusual to hear German and Croatian in the southern part of the country where people from those respective countries landed.  I also found it interesting to learn that Chile maintains the largest Palestinian population outside of Israel/West Bank territories.

Chile is a country rich in natural resources but it’s also completely dependent on these resources for it’s livelihood.  In fact, mountains occupy 80 percent of the land and the people rely heavily on water for electricity.  There are two mountain ranges within the country’s borders, the Andes and the Coastal Mountains, and they converge at two points: in the South near Atacama and another point close to Santiago.  While many think Chile is famous for it’s wine and salmon exports, Cooper is actually its biggest export and accounts for 35 percent of the country’s income.  The United States is Chile’s largest trade partner importing cooper, nitrates and fruits and wood.

Santiago is the largest city with 6.5 million people (40 percent of the population) and divides the dry north from the temperate south of Patagonia.  The country’s population has been shrinking in the last 20 years but it’s estimated to be around 15 million.  Santiago is a large city but with the Andes running right through the middle of it, I had to remind myself I was in a city.  There are a number of financial districts, pedestrian walkways, museums and universities.  Some of the continents top educational centers reside right here in Santiago.  A number of high-rise towers grace the skies and construction has not halted despite the economic downturn in the States.  Here tourists arrive primarily from Argentina, Uruguay and Brasil.  People from the States tend to visit during our winter (December and January).

Millions flock to Santiago every year for its wine, skiing and culture.  Chile claims to rival some of the world’s best ski resorts and vineyards (it’s the world’s 5th largest exporter of wine) and all of them reside within an hour’s drive of Santiago.  It’s a much calmer, quieter city than Buenos Aires.  In Buenos Aires, I noticed everyone looked like they were from Europe but in Santiago it’s hard to figure out a person’s origin without asking.  People are very much a mix of indigenous and European and officials claim 70 percent of the population is white or a mix of white.  There is a more local feel to Santiago.  Artisans fill the streets selling sweaters, jewelry and other handcrafted materials.  It’s less commercialized and you realize quickly you are indeed in South America (or our stereotype of it anyway).  People keep to themselves and there are certainly less cafes and restaurants filling the streets.  After work hours and on weekends the streets are relatively empty and it’s my understanding people do not socialize as much in Santiago.

As for the wine, I visited a few Bodegas and I admit the wine I sampled does rival Argentina’s Malbec.  Chile specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, a wine similar to Merlot, and Syrah.  The vineyards producing top red’s are located at the foothills of the Andes about 30 minutes from Santiago, while the vineyards producing fine white’s are located between Santiago and Valparaiso and closer to the Pacific Ocean.  I’ve given it my all to try many labels in my short time here but with only two meals a day it’s difficult.  My vote goes to the Carmenere, a Chilean favorite.

After my day of touring bodegas, I decided to check out Valparaiso, a port city located about 90 miles from Santiago.  Valparaiso provided a strategic stopover for ships crossing the Straits of Magellan (connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans) until 1914 when the opening of the Panama Canal virtually paralyzed the city. Today, Valparaiso is home to the National Congress and serves as a playground for the rich and tourists alike.  The day I visited the skies were blue and the temperature rose to 25(75F) – not bad for winter.  As what usually happens, 5-star hotels and expensive condominiums have sprung up along the Pacific coastline and pushed development north of Valparaiso.  We first stopped at a place called Vina del Mar (a few kilometers from Valparaiso), which seemed to be home to yuppies, restaurants, cafes and many expensive vacation homes.  Our guide told us many rich Chileans have homes in both Santiago and Vina del Mar.

We toured Valparaiso also known as the Jewel of the Pacific after a scenic lunch on the Pacific.  This is one of the few places in the world I have visited where the poor have incredible ocean views.  The underprivileged live high above the city (overlooking the Mighty Pacific), since the business owners and rich wanted to be closer to the center of activity at the port.  Valaparaiso, similar to San Francisco, was founded on the hilltops.  It even calls Sausalito its sister city.  There are dilapidated homes and buildings crowded along the slopping curves of the mountains.  Frequent earthquakes caused homes to be abandoned or rapidly repaired in a manner that gives the city an artistic feel.  Here the homes are painted in bright colors of hot pink, turquoise and yellow.  The architecture is distinct to Valparaiso.  There are beautiful mansions (now museums) sprinkled throughout the city in Spanish, Portuguese and Roman style.  Many funicular elevators or cable cars hide between the narrow streets.  Just to get a glimpse of this city’s past and present emerging as one was worth the visit.  In 1990, UNESCO declared Valparaiso a World Heritage Site.  My trip to Valparaiso had all the makings of a perfect day: hours watching the waves, architecture, history and an amazing sunset over the Andes.