Monday, July 7, 2014

I Love You Cory* – Saturday, June 14, 2014

Today we had to go scuba diving again. If you don’t already know how I felt about this, I will quote myself: “No. I do not like scuba diving.

We just had a few more of the “elements” to do today in order to get our open water scuba certification. This is apparently a valuable achievement if you ever plan on scuba diving again in your life. (I don’t.) I tried to explain this to my instructor but I think he was concerned about getting paid so he gave me a pep talk and got me back out there.

One of the “elements” we had to do was take off our BCDs [buoyancy control devices…aka…fancy life jackets] in the open water and put it back on. This obviously sounds like a stupidly simple process, but remember that I had issues the day before transferring from my snorkel to my respirator while keeping my head underwater. (BUT IN WHAT SITUATION WOULD YOU NOT JUST PICK YOUR HEAD UP AND BREATHE THE ACTUAL AIR THAT IS ABOVE THE WATER IF YOU’RE IN A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN USE A FREAKING SNORKEL ANYWAYS??)  

So obviously, getting the BCD back on in choppy water was a pain and required a lot of rolling around in the water. Cory and I actually both put our respirators back in as the rolling required to get the straps to connect was too unpredictable for somebody who likes breathing (even if it is through her mouth). And then we, of course, rolled right into each other. I actually kind of liked this because it meant that I could use Cory as leverage to stabilize.

What I did not like was, when we emerged with our vests haphazardly re-attached to our bodies, our instructor made a joke: “Just can’t keep you two off each other.”

Umm yes…it’s actually quite easy to keep me and Cory off each other. Considering we are not (and never have been) romantically involved and we basically know way too much about each other (read: really only applicable one way) to ever care to be romantically involved. But that moment, when I was struggling to stay afloat, to breathe, and to not cry, did not seem like the right moment to correct our instructor.

The problem is, there had been A LOT of a “not right” moments to correct people making assumptions about our relationship. For example, when our instructor had us practice the “tired diver push”, he told Cory that he could “whisper sweet nothings into [my] ear”. Again, though, this was while I was in scuba gear so I was in no shape to correct anybody. On another occasion, a fellow patron of the hotel said to me “here comes your hubby” right as I said “here comes Cory” and in our awkward speaking over each other, I forgot to correct him until the moment had long since passed (although will never be forgotten).

Granted, we didn’t have that much going for us, proving our case otherwise. For one, we were vacationing together on a remote beach in Africa. Even all my American friends I had told about this trip assumed I was being coy with my use of the word “friend” to describe Cory. Additionally, we were sharing a bed. Although…I maintain that this was all Cory’s fault.**And then, on top of all of that, we’ve just done a lot of activities together…I mean…we’ve celebrated our birthdays together in Namibia, snuck off the MV Explorer in the Bahamas, and actually, I’ll just throw it out there, that I titled the blog post about our time together in Malaysia “My Honeymoon”***. And in between all these adventures, we went to college together, which had its own set of adventures. I also have a tendency to call everyone babe. So, for example, a fellow patron at the hotel might overhear a conversation like this:

Me: Babe [referring to Cory], I dislocated my shoulder doing remedial scuba today.
Cory: Oh really? Again??
Me: Yeah…[giggling]…remember when I did it while we were taking sailing classes together?
Cory: [Manly giggling] haha yeah…but thank god you’ve never done it during the many late nights we’ve spent together in college playing pong together!
Me: [Girly giggling] or like when we’ve been sleeping together in the same bed during this trip which is still slightly less romantic than our trip in Malaysia together!

No, we weren’t doing ourselves too many favors trying to convince our instructor that we were not, in fact, together.
Accurately captures a lot of our relationship. I love you Cory!*
I intended to post a picture of my **Scuba certification** here, but my smarter self apparently foresaw a problem with my trying to make use of it at some point again in my life and went and hid it from my stupider self. So, instead, you get a picture of the fish dinner at our favorite restaurant in Tofo beach. We ate there a lot and never once fully knew what was going to come out, but we loved it every time. And we loved the price more.
*But, to be fair, I say that to everybody.

**However, if anybody wished to really look into the details of it, I don’t really call it “sharing a bed” when you literally place a coat rack in the bed to separate the two people. Cory said he did this because he didn’t like my attempts to cuddle with him (while fast asleep, in the middle of the night). I handled this searing rejection by telling myself that it helped me because it prevented him from stealing the covers. Or at least, proved that he stole the covers.

***Please note the last line of this post: “So I have now given up on my goals of learning Hindi and being in the CIA – now I want to become a full-time scuba diver/instructor and maybe even make my own documentary about fish. Or just run away and find Nemo. Something like that.”

Scuba Diving – Friday, June 13, 2014

[#sorryimnotsorry for the lack of updating over Fourth of July weekend]

I think it’s not a good sign if the most exciting part of my day was going to the market, and not scuba diving for the first time in open water.

The day started with remedial scuba. I had to meet my scuba instructor and apprentice at 7am to plunge into the freezing pool while Cory got to sleep in and stay warm (and very much enjoy my absence from our shared bed…his fault…he booked the hotel). This, simply because during our pool session the day before I refused to fill my mask up with water and blow the water out of it. I mean…this is an absurd exercise. I have a solution: build a better flippin eye mask! One that doesn’t fall off or fill up with water. Give me an astronaut helmet! It doesn’t make sense to me to purposely fill my mask up with water (or, worse, take it off!) “just in case” it actually happens. Just ensure that it doesn’t actually happen! Worse, in order to really do this properly you have to breathe through your mouth. I’m not a mouth breather and I’m actually quite proud of myself for that. Middle school could have very easily been worse than it was if I were a mouth breather.

That said, I did feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I did successfully do this. Sense of accomplishment was lost when I then dislocated my shoulder. A conversation about my frequently-dislocating shoulder ensued and my instructor threatened to banish me (and therefore Cory) to the ridiculous-sounding “Clownfish” reef if it was an issue in the ocean. (Because, maybe there was a chance that it would only be an issue in the pool?)

So with a successful remedial scuba lesson, off to Clownfish Reef we went. This is where I learned that my least favorite part of scuba was not the stupidity of filling my mask up with water, it was transferring from snorkel to respirator because – I swear – the snorkel was too big for my mouth. I just kept on breathing in water. Eventually, I either did this correctly or my instructor gave up because we were going to be allowed to actually go down to the reef.

And that’s when I learned that my least favorite part of diving is “equalizing”, aka the process of helping your ears adjust to descending to 10m of depth in water, aka 2 ATM OF PRESSURE. My ears were not psyched about this. I tried to scream at my instructor that THIS IS NOT NATURAL – WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF/MY EARS but I was inhibited by my respirator and the logistics of being able to talk under water. Thankfully, though, at this point in my African adventure, I had become quite adept at communicating without using words. My instructor understood what I was trying to communicate (possibly because I was so good at “communicating” this, possibly because this happens every time the instructor does this with a new student), but instead of turning around and letting me abort right there, he just stopped and waited for me to calm down and “equalize” at that level before dropping another dreaded meter.  

We finally reached the sandy bottom. And that’s where I finally learned my actual least favorite part of scuba diving: buoyancy. We had to figure out how exactly to use our “breathing” to stay buoyant in the water. This was confusing to me because it was drilled into our minds that the number one rule in scuba diving is to never hold your breath but then it seemed that we were supposed to hold our breath to “fill our lungs” to ascend a bit. As a last resort, we were allowed to put some air in our BCD [buoyancy control device], but put too much in and you would shoot to the top, accidentally but definitely actually putting your ears through the gauntlet of “equalizing” again.

No. I did not like scuba diving.


-          Sitting on the beach and paying the boy trying to sell bracelets to go up and buy us beers from the market (we were never going to buy those bracelets). Then he offered to open the beer with his teeth and we screamed at him to stop. Didn’t want to be responsible for any broken teeth. Of course then, when he walked away, we realized that we didn’t have a way to open the beer, and going up to the market to get a bottle opener would’ve defeated the process.
-          Going to a nearby hotel to watch the Netherlands-Spain game but being without internet and too embarrassed to ask anybody so we didn’t know the significance of the game or which team was which until there was a goal.

[The local CVS just told me it will take at least1.5 weeks to develop my disposable cameras. Apparently if I go to a different CVS, it can be done in 1 hour. But I'm just not sure I'll get to the other CVS within 1.5 weeks...]

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Entrepreneurs – Thursday, June 12, 2014

Between our written Scuba test (barely passed…but I think the cheating hurt us more than helped us…the blind leading the blind really) and our first Scuba pool session, we headed to the market. On our way, we were waved down by one of the many entrepreneurial children who has learned that there’s more immediate money to be made in learning enough English to talk to tourists than to attend school during the days…”You! You promised yesterday that you would buy my coconut bread today!”

Cory and I exchanged looks…umm…did we?

Neither of us remembers this, so we keep walking, but he doesn’t give up. We start to feel bad…maybe in an effort yesterday to get some of these entrepreneurs to give us a break for a bit we said “tomorrow” and now he’s holding us up to it? Plus…he did say “coconut bread” and that sounds pretty good.

We stop and joke around with the kid for a little bit. It soon becomes very apparent that hungry Cory doesn’t care much if we promised to buy this yesterday or not, he wants the coconut bread NOW. But luckily, in our hesitation, the price dropped from 150 mets to 50. We take it. [And, in retrospect, are still ridiculously overpaying.] He tries to get 70 out of us at the last second, but we’re smarter than that. He said a price, we agreed to it. He may be adorable, but no.

AND THEN…he upsells us! After successfully selling the bread, he starts talking about “fish” and “meat” and “veggies” and draws a triangle in the sand.

“WAIT…SAMOSAS!?!? In addition to this lovely coconut bread that is now in my mouth, your mother also makes samosas!?!?”

We are too excited to contain ourselves. We want fried food so bad. Also, this kid has already proven himself to be pretty reliable and punctual, so we make a deal on the spot…

”Kid…if you meet us here at 2pm every day for the rest of the week, we will buy samosas from you”,  we honestly report.

We are not so honest when we say similarly optimistic things to the kids selling bracelets. Or the ones asking Cory for his shorts.

[Relevant pictures are on my disposable camera...still need to develop it...]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rural Entertainment – Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Woohoo! First day of Scuba diving!

Oh wait…except not. Apparently, first day of scuba diving, consists of sitting in a “classroom” watching “movies” “all day” while hearing the pitter patter and excited laughter of all the real scuba divers just outside and seriously suffering from a case of “why is everybody hanging out without me??”

Cory and I powered through the five lessons, which consisted mostly of listing out all the different ways one could die from scuba (or at least those were the only bits I remembered), and were out of there by lunch. Only to immediately discover that there was no reason  really to power through and get out of there by lunch because…now what was there to do??

Classroom selfies! Also...I think the only pics of me and Cory together from this trip were selfies. So don't hate.
Besides scuba…not all that much.  We discovered the town and market, which was embarrassingly close to our hotel (and on the beach!) to have missed the night before. We went on a loooonnnngggg walk on the beach. I learned (or most likely…re-learned) that I will never be adding “likes long walks on the beach” to any online dating profile.

Long walks on the beach do lend themselves to make great pictures however. And this might one day appear in an online dating profile. 
And then we hurried back to our hotel for “Whale Shark Wednesday”, an educational lecture put on by the Marine Megafauna Foundation for the benefit of locals and tourists alike. We were upset that we had missed Manta Ray Monday but were very excited for Fauana Friday. Except…oh no! The lecture was cancelled because the scientists in charge were stranded somewhere between Durban, Safrica and Tofo Beach, Mozambique. Their car had broken down as they were returning from “The Shark Conference” (which is how it was referred to by everybody around…as if they were referring to “The World Cup” or “The Olympics”…like obviously I knew that “The Shark Conference” had been in Durban – a place I knew – the week before). TIA.

But all was not lost, we learned some something else…A THING TO DO! A nearby hotel was having **MOVIE NIGHT** so, armed with our pre-downloaded versions of Google maps, off we went. It had been a long day of doing nothing and drinking on the beach, so I obviously had to make a pit stop. And when I came out of the bushes, I realized that I didn’t have our room key in my pocket.

“Umm…Cory…do you have the room key?”

[He slapped at his pockets] “No”

I was already back in the bushes with my phone flashlight – sun sets early in June in the southern hemisphere! – looking around for the key. It was nowhere to be seen.

“We need to backtrack.”

“When was the last time you remember seeing it?”

“I remember locking the door when we left, but don’t really remember having it after that.”

“Okay let’s go back to the restaurant.”

“And if it’s not there, we need to go back to the hotel and let them know.”

[It was 6:45 and the movie started at 7pm.]

“I say that if it’s not there, we just go to the movie. I don’t want to miss it! And it’s something to do!

“CORY! This is a REALLY BIG DEAL…African hotels don’t have spare keys…if we don’t have the key we have to go back to the hotel and figure out what to do!”

“Well that sounds like your problem not mine.”

I understood. A day in Maputo followed by a day of travelling followed by a day of walking along the beach was really eating away at both our spirits…we were both just so excited for something to do that we didn’t want to miss the movie. And it would have been a little more understandable, had he not, 15 seconds later, patted his breast pocket and realized that he had actually had the room key all along. J

We made it to the movie. It was The Grand Budapest Hotel, which can actually go down in history as the first Wes Anderson movie I have watched all the way through, a tribute to the true extent of my boredom that evening.  

What is important to understand from this image is that when I went to take a screenshot of the supposed 16 minute route from Casa Barry (our hotel) to Mozambeats (the hip, movie hotel), I had flashbacks to the night that we were lost on the very dark, very uneven roads of Tofo Beach, circling the place that Google maps said was "Mozambeats Motel". We eventually asked some local children who led us quite a distance from that location to the real Mozambeats Motel. Just in case anybody else ever tries to use Google maps to get their in the future, I have now updated the location for them. You're welcome, future traveler!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Literally Still Travelling – Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We flew the domestic Mozambican airline to Inhambane [African airline note: there was a meal service on this 45 minute flight but, shockingly, no alcohol was served!] and cabbies descended before we even got off the tarmac. Actually though. We were still on the tarmac. They were mostly charging 600 mets (~$18), which seemed absurd mostly because Cory claimed to have read at some point that it should cost 100 mets to get from Inhambane to Tofo Beach. But they really were not budging on the price and we were pretty stuck. We stood staring at the flock of taxi drivers as we waited our turn to climb into the underbelly of the plane to grab our bags (only a slight exaggeration), until I finally spotted a potential savior: a white guy, with dreads, reading a Dan Brown novel. The challenge so far in Mozambique was that most white people spoke Portuguese, but I just knew that this guy HAD to be American. As much as we try…we stand out anywhere.

So I approached: “Hey [I was so confident, I didn’t even start with the classic ‘Excuse’]…how do we get to Tofo?” (I tried with all my might to act cool, chill.)

“Are you willing to hitchhike or take a chapa [local bus]?”

“You, sir, are on my level.”*

He described to me the way, explaining where we should stop at an ATM (GOOD TO LEARN FROM HIM THAT THERE’S NO ATM IN TOFO), where we should start hitching or looking for a chapa, and how much we should pay (20 mets). Admittedly, my full understanding of these directions is up for debate. There was a left turn, and an ATM, and 30 km. I was convinced we were supposed to walk to the ATM before we started hitchhiking. I was also convinced it was a 20-30 minute walk.

On the shorter end of that range, we started getting short tempered. Several chapas had passed us, but we waved them all on, convinced that we’d soon make it to the ATM and then we’d flag one down. It was also hot. An unrelenting African heat. Eventually, one chapa headed THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION slowed and tried to communicate with us. “ATM” didn’t really translate but “bank” did. It was unclear if there was still an ATM in the direction we were headed, but it was very clear that there was NO BANK and that if we had to go to a bank, we had to get into the chapa and go with them. For 20 mets. It was also made clear that Tofo was TOO FAR and it was not an option for us to continue walking there.

We gave up. I questioned everything about my sense of direction as we zoomed past all the same fields and schools we had just walked past, past the airport, and then into a bustling town – Inhambane. We were let off at the bank and it was made clear that they’d take us to Tofo for 600 mets. NO! WE WERE TRYING SO HARD TO GET AWAY FROM THAT PRICE GAUGING!

Definitely had a bit of an “oh shit” realization when the bank teller didn’t know any English. Like…maybe I should’ve looked up a few Portuguese phrases before this trip. But whatevs, he referenced a “Super Market” and made hand gestures for turning left when I made it clear I was trying to get to where all the chapas were. I walked out of the bank, to where Cory was guarding our backpacks (which weren’t allowed inside), and acted way more confident than I was.

Thankfully, the town wasn’t too large, and the chapas were only two blocks away from the bank. Even so, we stopped three times to ask for directions to ensure that we continued to be pointed the right way. (The first stop, I bought much-neeeded sunglasses. The second stop, the teenage boys made a great joke using all the English they knew: pointing at Cory they yelled “You! You! You! There! There! There” implying that he should go away. We started to scurry, but then they pointed at me and yelled “You! You! You! Here! Here! Here” implying that I should come hang with them. I was tempted. The third stop, I bought an orange. Maybe I would’ve saved money just paying the 600 mets for a taxi…)

Briefly, the chapa ride was one of those moments that made me fall back in love with Africa. There’s just something wonderful about sitting there comfortably and thinking “this is okay”…and then suddenly realizing that two more people need to fit into your row and thinking “okay this is a little uncomfortable…but we must be all set to go now” and then literally the number of people on the bus doubles. I don’t know how they do it, but it happens. I’m not one for taking pictures in this type of situation, but I found a few bloggers/artists who have attempted to visually capture what I will say you must experience to actually understand:

Thank you, random blogger, Camille, for your artistic representation, and for teaching me something about Swaziland along the way! Although, while I think you've done a great job capturing the babies and livestock that can be found on a chapa, this artistic rendition leaves out the 10 people standing in (and out of) the doorway, which is partially captured in the image below.
Thank you, random blogger, OutOfOfficeTilAugust2012, for your willingness to take pictures I was unwilling to take
Anyways…eventually the chapa heads out. We go straight past where we had previously walked. Finally, we see the ATM…we appreciate that that was probably too far to walk there (I guess I didn’t fully get that part of the directions??) and finally start to see some signs for Tofo. When we see a sign for our hotel (NOT a hostel!), we jump out and pay our 40 mets each (20 mets for each of our bags…because they probably did take up the space that people could’ve used…). But we weren’t there yet. It was probably another 20 minute walk to the hotel from where we got off the chapa (we maybe later learned that we could’ve gotten off way later…)** until we finally, finally…at 3pm on Tuesday when I left at 8pm on Friday…reached our final destination. For that part of our trip.

“Ahh…Mr. Cory!” the receptionist exclaimed when we walked in, “where have you been? We sent a driver to pick you up at the airport!”***

*I believe I’ve already written a blog about how comfortable I got with hitchhiking in Rwanda, but I think the most concise way of explaining this is to just say that my MOTHER picked up hitchhikers when she was visiting me in Rwanda. Granted, I don’t think she was happy about it. But it’s the way things are. TIA.

**Entertaining bit from our walk: at one point, we heard a baby crying. I observed to Cory that I’ve never heard an African baby crying before, so this was a very new experience for me. But then we got up to the source of the sound…and it was a little white baby. Made a lot more sense. (Later learned that it was the baby of our hotel receptionist and scuba instructor.)

***Later in the week we learned that the airport pick-up/drop-off actually costs 600 mets (WHAT ARE THESE ABSURD PRICES?), so we still preferred the chapa ride. We even took the chapa back to the airport!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Maputo/More Travel – Monday, June 9, 2014

We took an overnight bus from Joburg to Maputo. And I now have something new to add to my list of “Tried it. Did it. Not sure if I’ll ever do it again.”

We spent the day in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique in order to confirm my prejudice that most African cities are hot, loud, dirty places without too much going on for tourists. Unfortunately, Marvin (remember him? From all the Rwanda blog postings?) moved out of Maputo 6 months ago so he wasn’t around to show us around.

We checked in at our hostel, where we were fancy and got a private room (with a shared bathroom, because like…we’re not THAT fancy) and – because internet at the hostel didn’t start until 7pm – headed out to start wandering.

I will take the opportunity of this forum to quickly rant about our hostel, Fatima’s Backpackers. When we asked for restaurant recommendations, the receptionist quickly pulled out a map and circled two restaurants. Too tired to do our own exploring, we blindly followed her recommendation and ended up at what most be the most expensive restaurant in Maputo. It also probably had the highest concentration of foreigners in Maputo. This isn’t exactly what hostels are supposed to do…they’re supposed to help you find the local, cheap places!! [And then…the next day, when we asked how to get to the airport, they cited that it would be a 400 meticais (~$12) cab ride. This sounded reasonable, until we got in the cab and realized that the airport was maybe all of 4km away. I’m not sure it would have cost that much in NYC!]

Anyways, we wandered. We went to all the touristy places we had heard of [1 – the train station which turns into a club on weekends…but we weren’t there on a weekend] and took our pictures outside a few others and avoided the “no go” areas on the maps provided by our “trusty” hostel. We had that bit of time when we got quite lost trying to find our way back to our hostel but tried to pretend it was all part of the adventure even though really both of us just wanted to be back at our hostel. I had an “I love/miss Africa” moment when, approximately 30 minutes after ordering spaghetti bolognaise (already quite the African dish…not being sarcastic), our waitress informed us that they cannot make spaghetti bolognaise. I did not learn if it was because they did not have the spaghetti or the bolognaise.

And then, we headed to bed to thankfully continue our journey, away from an overcrowded and dirty African city.

Per most African cities...there was a fort to explore in Maputo.
At one point, we stumbled across what seemed to be a modern African art museum full of pieces that made use of recycled was actually pretty cool!
More of the cool art pieces.
Even more of the cool art pieces.
One of the few things our hostel was good for was providing us with entertainment with this sign...I've never been requested to leave a toilet seat UP!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Getting Around – Sunday, June 8, 2014

“Do you know how to drive stick?”

Sometimes, I love that my answer to this question is “yes”. Sometimes, I hate it.

Times I love it: when I’m in a bar and can use it to impress a guy, but don’t actually have to prove it.

Times I hate it: whenever it then requires me to prove it.

After a fun game of finding Cory at the Johannesburg Airport,* we were walking to the Avis Rental Car counter, and Cory was psyched that I knew how to drive stick: “Great! Then we’ll put you down as the driver!”

“Wait…what?? Why don’t we just get automatic?”

“It’s probably more expensive.”

Since we were renting a car to save money in the first place, it obviously only made sense to rent the cheapest car possible. So we asked, and it was true…an automatic would be more expensive. So I begrudgingly handed my Driver’s License over to the associate and stated that I would be the sole driver. And then we went through a lot of forms. To be honest, I didn’t read all of them in that much detail. I did note a few lines: “Initial here if your parents are going to hate you forever for this” and “Sign here if, despite the above, you’re going to use your Amex because it doesn’t have foreign transaction fees even though it basically guarantees that your parents will discover you rented a car in a third world country.”

So, with my life and liberty signed away, and keys in my hand, we walked out to check out our sweet new ride.

“I hope you’re ready to drive on the left [wrong] side of the road,” smirked Cory, who, in my mind at this point was a fucking useless male travel companion considering he was making me drive because he can’t drive fucking stick shift. I mean…I’m all for equal pay and whatnot…but I’d be lying if I claimed to be anything other than the epitome of the stereotypical female driver. (I acknowledge that I’ve lied about this before.) So yes, less than an hour into our trip, I was silently cursing Cory in my head.

And then…I saw the car. And the realization hit me: along with driving on the wrong side of the road, comes sitting on the WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR, which comes with shifting with your…LEFT HAND.

“Cory…not a fucking chance.” [Please ignore the swearing, and just understand where I was, mentally/emotionally, at this point in my life.]

He started to balk that it wouldn’t be all that different, but I didn’t hear him. I was already halfway back to the rental counter, asking for that upgrade to an automatic.

Turned out, the automatic price that the lady had previously quoted us was entirely hypothetical, because they didn’t have any low-end automatic cars available. The only automatic cars they had were a Jaguar and a BMW. I may make more money than med student Cory, but these were out of my price range.

Off to the next rental counter we went…and to the next…and the next…until we finally ended up at Dollar, where they had a reasonably priced automatic car: “Have you ever rented with Dollar before?”

“Umm…” I stalled as I was trying to think of what car rental companies I’ve used on my trips to Colorado.

“…in South Africa?”

“Oh, geeze, no…you couldn’t clarified that a little sooner.”

We went through the same life-signing process, including a copy of the passport. The good news is that I was told that I wouldn’t have to go through the same process again next time I rented from Dollar in South Africa. Thank God.

To wrap this up…I just have to say for a first experience renting a car in a foreign country – where they drive on the left [wrong] side of the road – to drive ~100km from (and then back to) a major city – with a major highway system – in a completely new area – where you’re relying on the limitations of pre-downloaded Google maps but no data/cell service – and, by the end of the day, no cell phone battery – we did QUITE WELL for ourselves!

We made it to two awesome tourist attractions [Lion Park and Cradle of Humankind]. For a quarter the cost of using a tour service. We found Nelson Mandela Square [Sandton] back in Joburg for a nice dinner relying solely on following road signs. We only stopped twice to ask for directions. We returned the car with a full tank and only 4km over the 200km limit (I’ll blame that on those two times we had to ask for directions…), and 30 minutes early. And, most importantly, we are now able to add something new to the list of “Tried it. Did it. Not sure if I’ll ever do it again.”
We got to take selfies with the lion cubs at the Lion Park!
Not gonna lie...we got a little lost trying to find the Cradle of Humankind...but this seemed fair when we realized that it was disguised as a mound of dirt.
We weren't quite prepared for a boat tour at the Cradle of Humankind.
There were caves where we could go spelunking!
To capture how far we drove from Joburg...
Smokers in Safrica are discouraged from smoking, even in their safe Smoking Area.

*Despite providing my mother with my Gmail password the day before so that she could email the hostel at which Cory was staying to tell them the time my flight got in, the hostel was waiting for Cory to tell them what time I would arrive. Honestly, the only reason they figured out I was already there was because I made a big enough deal over the price that one taxi driver quoted me that all the taxi drivers overheard and one decided to call his friend who works at the hostel…but he then got very sad when he learned I would be leaving Safrica that evening. The only risk with providing my mother with my gmail password is that she forgot her own when she tried to log back into her account. Actually…in retrospect…I’m really impressed she figured that out…

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Friends – Saturday, June 7, 2014

My metro adventures successfully landed me at the steps of the Grand Bazaar! It is a pretty impressive place, with so much energy and history wrapped into it. Luckily, though, when I arrived I was on my obligatory phone call with my mother so I was able to just walk past many of the vendors with no problem. When I got off the phone and realized that I was suddenly lost in the middle of the bazaar, they DESCENDED. Given that I was still three days from my final destination, I just didn’t have time to be told that I need a new rug or to be offered the “friend price”. So I put my bitch face on and got out of there as quick as I could.

After a few rushed minutes, I found myself on the steps of a university. It also looked beautiful (I would soon learn that EVERYTHING in Istanbul looks awesome) and more importantly…it looked QUIET. So I let myself through the gates (the guard didn’t seem to care) and started aimlessly wandering the campus.

At some point, an older man came up behind me and asked if I was a student. I was really on edge about being Taken (too), especially because my dad is awesome but he’s no Liam Neeson – so I quickly assessed the situation and figured it was best to at least reply than to come off as too bitchy and risk being Taken out of revenge. I replied that I was just visiting. The charade of “from where” “Ahh..America! Obama!” followed, and he even added that his brother lives in Louisiana. Siblings/friends in America never live where you’d expect them to (i.e., desirable places).

We continued chatting for a bit until I decided that, since I found a seemingly nice person who speaks English well enough to talk with me, maybe I could have him help me get a Turkish SIM card. I figured a Turkish SIM would be helpful when I returned to spend 4 days in a city with no local contacts. This started an adventure…he quickly grabbed some guys that were hawking stolen phones on the sidewalk and asked them about SIM cards. It seemed that the only route to do it would be the legal route, which required going back down through the Grand Bazaar to the Turkcell store. I figured he’d leave me here, but instead he showed me all the way there and then translated the whole interaction with the agent. A copy of my passport and $25 later, I was activating a Turkish SIM on my African Nokia. Success!

As we walked out of the Turkcell store, he told me he was hungry and motioned that he was going to order from a street vendor, asking if I wanted any. My answer was ABSOLUTELY. The food in the area all smelled SO GOOD, but I had no idea how to go about ordering anything, so I was psyched that he offered to help me out with this as well.

Then it got awkward…because I offered to pay. I figured I’d try to avoid the imminent request for money for all his help by buying his sandwich. He kind of accepted my offer, but then insisted on buying me tea in exchange. This sounded like a good idea to me…I mean…it was 7pm…the touristy sites were shutting down…I had nothing else to do before going back to the airport in 2 hours…and Turkish tea sounded like a thing to do. I also figured that this guy was pretty harmless…I had met him on a university campus, he HELPED ME GET A SIM CARD (I mean…if his plan was to Take me, he wouldn’t want me to have a SIM card) and he spoke better English than anybody I had yet interacted with in Turkey, airport attendants included.

Off we went to get tea…
A nice vista en route to the tea place. Which was REALLY was this seemingly hole in a wall that opened up into a large garden, FULL of people drinking tea and smoking hookah. Apparently on Saturday nights, they project a movie on the side of one of the walls. So a lot of people were there waiting for sundown for the movie to begin.
 And I wasn’t Taken…so there’s that!

Proper Layover - Saturday, June 7, 2014

I guess we can call today my first day in Turkey. My flight from Boston landed at 4:25pm and my flight to Johannesburg took off at 12:55am. I consider that 8 hours and 30 mins in a new place! Give or take a few hours for getting a visa, dealing with immigration (twice) and figuring out how to get from the airport to the city (and vice versa).

Turkish Airlines actually has this really cool program where if your layover in Istanbul is longer than 6 hours, they’ll take you on a tour of the city…FOR FREE. Unfortunately, they’re super sneaky about this and basically “offer” it, but ensure that nobody can take it. The tour leaves once a day, at 9am. My flight got in at 4:25pm…so that didn’t do much good for me. Except give me the idea that if I had 8 hours, I could see the city! No matter that it was a Saturday evening.

I went to the Turkish Airlines “Hotel Desk” where I had read this tour leaves from (one of the few things I had Googled in advance) and asked the representative for suggestions of what I should do for 8 hours. He gave me directions to a great restaurant…in the airport. After a little bit of miming and reverting back to my “Africa English” in which I don’t use articles or conjugate verbs, we got to…

“Ah…you want to go to the Grand Bazaar? The Blue Mosque?”

These sounded like places. At this point, I had no idea where the airport was relative to the city (North? South? Close? Far?) and how one got to the city from the airport. He started explaining how to take the metro to get to these touristy sites. I thought I understood, but there were transfers involved and Turkish words really don’t translate too well into my ears, so I pulled out my trusty travel journal and I got:

Airport à Zeytinburnu à Beyazid Sultanajamet [Yeah…I wasn’t going to remember those words…]

I’ve lived in NYC long enough to know that these directions mean nothing. I need TRAIN LINES! I need COLORS! I need DIRECTIONS! So I followed the signs to the metro, found a map and embellished my directions a little bit. I wrote down the name of the airport (could be helpful for getting back..), the names/colors of the lines and the last stop for each line.

Helpful directions! Note parts in blue were provided to me by the representative. I figured it might also be helpful to know the parts in black. 
At this point, I figured it would also be helpful to have the map in its entirety, so I stepped back and snapped a picture. Always on my phone for reference. This started a bit of a fad amongst all the tourists who were furiously copying down “drawings” of the different lines, and I became popular. This is why I love travelling…I make friends so much more easily than I do at home.

Istanbul Metro hard can it be?
(Answer: Not nearly as hard as NYC...)
And then…of course…the ticket machine…I walked over to it, assessed the situation, and figured I’d might as well try. Two girls came running up to me as I walked up to one (guess even after all that googling, I still looked like a tourist…) and asked me if I knew how to use the machine.

“Well I just figured I’d put this 10 dollar note [note: I called Turkish currency “dollars” for this entire day because, although I had bought some at Logan, I did not know the actual name for it] in the machine and see what happens.”

I swear, I could not imagine travelling if I was so risk averse as to not try pressing buttons on a ticket machine at the airport metro. Anyways…one coin and 3 plastic tokens popped out.

I put one of the plastic tokens into the gate and it popped open, and I was on my way to explore Turkey!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Packing – Friday, June 6, 2014

It’s fitting that when I opened my personal computer for the first time since returning from my trip [to Mozambique, South Africa and Turkey], I am inundated with pictures of Turkish women. An appropriate throwback to my frantically last minute Google searches while avoiding packing trying to look up “how Turkish women dress” so that I wouldn’t look obnoxiously touristy or come off as completely rude when visiting the Islamic country. It would of course be misleading to allow you to believe that the Google search (and my roommate’s subsequent Facebook appeal for input) are (were) indicative of careful planning and packing on my part.

Oh no. I’m always ready with a passport…I actually keep it in my car so that I never have an excuse to say no to an adventure. But I didn’t meet with my doctor until three days before my trip (granted…mostly due to stoopid health insurance policies), and it was around that time that I realized I knew where I’d be Scuba diving in Mozambique, but not where I’d stay…or how to get from the airport to where I might be staying. And then, of course, the night before my flight (for which I did double check the day of the “00:55” departure time), when I had really anticipated actually packing, I got sidetracked and instead ended up at the casino with a few coworkers. It was past midnight and I was in no state to pack when I got home. Which resulted in me “missing” my ride to work the next day (the plan had been that he’d pick me and my bags up, and another coworker would drive me to Logan…but, of course, this plan relied on me being ready with bags at ~8am), claiming that “I’d just do it later.”

So I was left with those few Friday night hours after work before needing…like actually NEEDING this time… to get on a train to Boston so I would not miss my flight. But then, I was saved when a friend offered me a ride! And suddenly…the time limits didn’t seem so strict…and I felt there was time to maybe have a beer or two.

Which is why I ended up in the airport with a completely overly packed backpack – absolutely no time to assess which items probably weren’t necessary – and two carry-ons – because, like, that’s not going to be obnoxious in Africa, and on the phone with my friend, begging him to please return to the airport because I accidentally left my fleece – my only warm article of clothing – in his car.

And such began my two week vacation, heading back to Africa.

When I told most people I was headed to Turkey, I'm sure they thought of this image. And when they thought of this image, they probably had thoughts around fearing for my safety. Not mine, I had thoughts fearing about what to wear: although modern and casual, her dress is also covers her shoulders, her cleavage and (presumably) her knees...shit...I don't have any dresses like that! What am I supposed to pack?? 

**Maybe you know, maybe you don’t know, but I very much enjoy writing. The only reason I never took a creative writing class in college is because somebody discouraged me when they told me I’d have to read my classmates’ writings. The fragmented bullets that consume my days at work slowly eat away at my soul until I’m able to send some creatively worded happy hour email, which is usually followed by a mixture of compliments and looks of confusion (I’ll let you decide the balance of that mixture). Anyways, I was not exactly able to keep up a blog during my fast-paced 2 week vacation in Mozambique, South Africa and Turkey (despite many other unnecessary articles – read: coozies – my computer did not make it into the backpack, and even if it had the internet probably would not have allowed for updates to be too regular). I did, however, keep a pretty solid journal during the trip. So my goal now, is to update daily blogs, as if I were on the trip. Friday’s blog represents Friday’s events, 3 weeks ago, and so on. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay true to my feelings at the time, and hopefully you will in some way be able to Enjoy. Cheers J