Monday, December 31, 2007

Gigantic Spiders

Ok, so I really haven't done much here. And that's good. After hauling around the backpack for a morning and into a bumpy boat, I could feel my back acting up again. If you don't know, I have a slipped disc in my back. Every so often, I feel like a hunched over 90 year old lady. But I insist on being a "backpacker", you know.. so I take that risk of throwing out my back now and then. It would actually be pretty impossible to come to a place like this with a bag on wheels, I don't even know how you would haul it over cobblestones and dirt roads. After I arrived at the Iguana, I thought some good old fashioned exercise, a walk up a steep hill in the hot afternoon to the little village, would loosen up my back. wrong, wrong, wrong. When I got back I couldn't even stand up straight so I found a masseuse. I know, I know. I get a LOT of massages on vacation. But for once I feel like I had a legitimate excuse. A hippieish 50 something year old expat guy pounded and loosened me up at the hotel next door for $40, which is a fortune here, but I was in pain. I told him to hurt me, and he did. And now I can walk again!! I do have a supply of advil and in a pinch there's always good old gallo. So I'll be OK.
I like it waaaay better than San Pedro here. Everyone eats dinner together at big tables and there isn't that annoying stoner crowd at this place. No dirty hair smell. And I was happy to see that I was not the oldest person here, there were plenty of people in their 30s and 40s, though mostly 20s. At dinner everyone talked about how much they've travelled, where they have been, comparing places, etc. I met some nice teachers from the USA that now teach in Honduras. And a free spirited English couple about my age that travel for months and months at a time. This may be the worst analogy I've ever made, but you know how the Roloff family goes to the LPA conventions, and they are happy because they can binge on hanging out with other Little People? That's how I am in places like this. Other people that are obsessed with travelling, even more so than I am, and that's a lot. Like how a geek goes to a Star Wars convention? You know what I'm talking about? They blah blah blah about Star Wars? I could talk about travel and cooking all day long, and I often do, to the chagrin of my coworkers. Well, maybe not to their CHAGRIN, but I am a little strange sometimes. And that's OK! Yeah, don't get me started on the food talk either..
So at dinner last night I noticed a couple of disturbingly large spiders on the wall. I thought of my dark wood/ straw room open to the air. A lady who was staying at the hotel next door found a scorpion IN HER BED last night and got stung. Say what? A SCOPRION? But everyone was OK with this, because scoprions here aren't deadly. Oh, that makes me feel so much better. The english couple showed me a photo of a tarantula they found outside their room at Tikal. EGH. So when I went to bed last night, I did a thorough 5/10 minute scorpion and spider check. They let you borrow oil lamps here, so I read in my straw room to the glow of an oil lamp and actually slept more than I have this entire trip. I thought the straw room might go up in flames from the oil lamp but apparently it's OK. Again, I wanted to go to Central America.... I cannot NOT expect to see some insects! It is so beautiful and lush here. There is a banana tree growing outside my treehouse/hotel/room/whatever you call it. Sorry again for the no photos. In an hour I have another 3 hour spanish lesson. They have them by the day here, and I want to get in all the practice I can. Elizabeth and Trisha, I might hit you up for some lessons when I get home. I'll feed you. Just teach me.
keep the comments coming, I enjoy every single one!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Big scary Gringa!

I'm really sorry that I can 't download pictures here, as I get farther and farther out the internet gets worse!
San Pedro was sort of trippy and psychedelic. The crazy painted chicken busses, arty handpainted signs, dreadlocked hippies everywhere, the strange combination of devotional phrases on the walls "solo jesus se cambiar su vida!" "Dios te amo!" with the swirly yellow design painted in my hotel room, guys in cowboy hats, the constant salsa music, the very evident drug culture... It was just a wierd place with a wierd vibe. The town is divided into two parts, the hippie part and the guatemalan part. I stayed up a steep hill in the guatemalan part but went down near the dock for internet, dinner and a movie,"old school", which was playing inn a restaurant, to my delight. The other places in town weren't really my scene. I didn't want to sit on a pillow and gets stoned out of my mind, call me crazy. And I like to shower regularly. I was in the internet place sitting next to a guy with that dirty hair smell. I really think I prefer b.o. to dirty hair, *though not to homeless guy on the red line smell*.
I am now at the Iguana Perdida in another town, which I liked immediately. It does remind me of Mayoka Village in Malawi. Everything on a tab system, rustic lodges and cottages, lovely lake view, lush beautiful plants, a thriving bar... and I've already met a few nice people. I have my own room with a straw floor and no electricity. It's open to the outside so I hope I have no spiders in there. A few other hotels are down the trail and I had lunch at another place that was playing Chicane, which made me happy. The town of santa cruz, however, is as rustic and Guatemalan as you can get. It's a grueling 20 minute walk up a steep hill. Absolutely no restaurants or stores for tourists. Just a few churches, stores and houses with dirt floors. As I walked around, some little kids saw me and screamed GRINGO! GRINGO!!, and ran away shrieking and laughing. It was actually really funny. The giant tall white girl scared children.
I wish I could upload some photos but it might be a few days. Also I don't plan on doing much here besides read, eat and drink so my writing might be a little lacking. If you go to my youtube videos though, You'll see a new one of a taxi ride in San Pedro.
OK, it's hora feliz and I'm going to get my Gallo on. Gallo is Guatemala's beer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I have the bad habit of comparing every place I´ve been to the last place I was the night before. I call it "comparatitis" in my mind. Will Isla Grande be as good as Salvador? Will place X be as good as place Y? Will San Pedro be as good as Antigua? This morning I got up at the crack - o - dawn for a bus that was an hour late, (which honestly isn´t too bad - compared to the bus that was 6 hours late, what´s an hour?) and took the most winding, hilly carsick ride to Panajcel, which is on Lake Atitlan. The Israeli girl sitting next to me threw up into a plastic bag. I immediately took a boat over to San Pedro, which I heard is one of the best little towns on the lake. San Pedro is definitely more ramshackle than Antigua. I knew all the time that Antigua was really touristy, but I so enjoyed it´s crumbly old architecture, clean streets, wonderful food and atmospheric little places to go for dinner and drinks. Antigua reminded me of Europe, and I told Antonella that it even kind of, in a small tiny way, reminded me of Italy.
San Pedro is a smaller town, on a couple of huge hills that are extremely difficult to walk up. But that´s good, since I´ve been eating and drinking beer every day. At first the town really didn´t impress me, and the lake - well, it was just a huge lake with some volcanoes around it. It´s loud and dusty. After getting lost, I checked into a hotel that I had read about on another blog that I was addicted to - She and her boyfriend travelled by bus from NYC to Argentina, and it´s some really great writing. (and that´s where I cyber-met funchilde as well, and found HER blog!) Yes, I´m a travel blog geek. Anyhow, I remember that she stayed at some psychedelic painted hotel, so I checked in and was happy to see that it was $3-4 dollars a night! After I finally had a chance to sit down at a cafe with a snack and my book to admire the view, I could see that it really is a beautiful place and I "get" it now. There is a hippie side of town, which reminded me of other places - ko chang, lake malawi... massages, fire shows, a faint smell of pot in the air... There is a place here showing a monty python movie tonight so I might have to check that out. Tomorrow I go to another village where I had a reservation for New Years. reminds me a lot (from the website anyway) of where Kathy and I stayed last year in Malawi for New Year´s. So I hope it´s good. All I really ask for is a hammock and no cockroaches.
I wandered around and got a fresh fruit shake from a woman with a stand outside her house. It came in a huge glass so I had to sit on the curb to drink it. Her funny little daughter came out to talk to me, and she admired my feet (which is funny because they are filthy), I guess she dug the nail polish. We talked as much as I could and we played with my camera. I let her take some pictures of herself, and of her mom, which turned out really cute. I also found a laundry place which really gave me some high expectations with their sign, above. But I like their confidence, and I´m sure my laundry will come back just awesome..

Friday, December 28, 2007

Yeah, so my feet are turning black...

It´s been about a week now and I´m starting to look a little disheveled. Yesterday Rosie said to me, "your skin, it´s coming off. You are like a snake! haha" I ran into the bathroom to see what she was talking about. It is flaking off one side of my face. And my feet -yeah, well the constant flip flop wearing has caused them to look very San Francisco, circa 1969. The bottoms of them are covered with a little black layer that I can´t scrub off. I´m sorry. But you are going to read about it. Well, I only have one washcloth that´s for drying. My skin is saying "uh, what happened to the constant slathering of anti aging and exfoliation? Didn´t we have a deal? I´m pissed and I´m going to fall off your face. You´re in the sun all day, didn´t we have that little talk about wrinkles and burning? You dirty hippie."
So today I went to a spa to have the grime scrubbed off me. I laid down on the table and I started giggling because my feet are SO dirty, it´s just embarrasing. I tried to explain in my bad spanish "Mi Pies, son negro porque mis zapatos!" But the nice lady scrubbed me and I´ve never been so clean. Too bad I couldn´t just buy a washcloth and I spent a huge amount of money to have someone else clean me, but I feel lighter and smell good.


Travelling like this really cuts down on the decision making. If it´s cold, put on black hoodie. Because that´s my ONLY sweater. If it´s hot, wear one of the three old navy tank tops. I mean, I do wash them all the time.. Do I wear the brown cargo pants or the black ones or the cargo skirt? Not much of a choice, huh? Flip flops unless I´m climbing a volcano, in that case it´s the dirty jogging shoes. I have one tiny tube of moisturizer for all body parts, face included. It´s fun and liberating to strip your life down to what you can carry on your back, but it doesn not do much for the appearance. I brought more variities of books and music than clothes.


I talked to my English neighbors (travelling around the world for a year, and guess what - they each have only one sweater too - so I don´t feel so bad) about Nicaragua. They gave me some good advice and I´m really intrigued. I still haven´t made any decisions yet though. Tomorrow I go up to the Lake area. I might stay in San Pedro or I might stay in Panachel, after that Santa Cruz.


Today was my last spanish class. I´m not sure how much progress I actually made, other than realize how much I DON´T know. I´m sure I picked up some useful things. The classes had an extra benefit - I learned from Rosie more about Guatemalan life in general. She really is an amazing person. She was not encouraged by anyone to go to school, but to be a housewife. She rebelled against her family a little bit and is putting herself through school while working and is often tired. Her father finally said "I was wrong about you and I´m proud". Women here don´t go to college like they do at home, it´s more rare. Her favorite book is the Alchemist and she is very smart. She tried to visit a friend in America last year but had to pay a bunch of money, have several intimidating interviews, then was not granted a visa to visit. I have never had an interview to visit ANY place. I remember talking to South Africans about this too. It is very hard to visit the United States. Very sad that she can´t go. Now her attitude is "United States, I don´t need you -I´m going to visit other places instead." On top of that, she has a lot of funny stories. I really lucked out and I´m positive she will be very sucessful one day at whatever she does.


After doing my homework of writing a children´s story - about Paco el Pato, a duck that travels the world, but in the end, realizes that there is no place like home (no I didn´t make him a drunk or a loser like Juan.. it´s a children´s book afterall..) I met up with Antonella for her last night in town. We had a good time even though we met a crazy old man who invited her up to his house.. haha. She was fun to hang out with in Antigua, we have a lot of similar thoughts on things, and she has a great free spirited attitude. She told me more about life in Italy and her life now in Phoenix.


Today I went out for some typical Guatemalan food, because I´ve been eating Thai, mexican, nothing really Guatemalan except the pupusa. (There is a thai place here that is better than any of the thai places in my neighborhood at home!) Rosie said her favorite food was sopa pipian, a thick soup made with chicken, potatoes and pulverized pumpkin seeds, so I went out to have some. It was bueno with a tamale. Actually I did have a Christmas tamale the other day. On Christmas they make special, giant tamales and I tried one. You know my trips are all about food!

I see posters all over town of Carlos Peña, the pride and joy of Guatemala and winner of Latin American idol. I bought the CD today. Carlos and I are going to the lake tomorrow. Carlos thinks I look much better after the spa.
Here´s a few bonus videos for you:
photos above: Carlos, my dirty hippie feet, the fountain in the central park (look closely at where the water is coming from), me and Rosie

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My night with the Buena Vista social club

I really think I could retire here someday. I met an older American couple today that did just that. They brought their dog and live down here cheaply. They get together with other ex pats for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas, the lifestyle is so enviable. And this couple didn´t even speak spanish! Acutally, that bothers me a little bit - at least learn how to order in a restaurant - that´s how I met them. You are never too old to learn. Here´s a side story. Even my dad tries to speak spanish sometimes. When I arrived to visit him in New Mexico and got off the plane, he said proudly, ENTRADA!! ¨how did you learn that word?¨ I said. ¨From Wal Mart!¨ A few days later when I was dropped off he said ¨SALIDA!¨ I bought him a translation book and he looks words up sometimes. So I don´t know why this couple would move here and not even TRY, but still - they were the two most content people. Perhaps I´ll follow their lead one day.
I had another morning of lessons and funny stories from Rosie. I really lucked out with her. I won´t write down the things she told me, because that´s her personal business and all, but her family is funny! My homework assignment tonight is to write a children´s story. She had me make up another story today in class that stems from a series of pictures of Juan, an architect. Juan woke up. Juan had breakfast of huevos aY frijoles. Juan went to work. Juan watches Latin American Idol in his easy chair with a beer. Then I made Juan a bad barracho and had him pass out in his bed at 2AM. Rosie thought it was really funny what I did to poor Juan with my story. Sometimes I can be so immature..
I met Antonella out with some other girls from her school. They picked a place that had live music that night, I had never heard of it. Yoras from the other night was there, and everyone was excited because one of the guys from the Buena Vista social club was playing. I was amazed, I thought most of them were dead. BVSC are from cuba, and they have a CD (which I have, and I love) and there was a documentary about them made into a movie. This guy was amazing!!! I recognized some of the songs and people were dancing. I am always amazed at how people dance here. They dance like they have been doing it since childhood, because they have. Guys a head shorter than you will give you little lessons - and it´s really fun. I am terrible and teva flip flops aren´t the best for salsa dancing anyway. When Kathy and I were in Costa Rica we danced with the locals and enjoyed it so much that we took lessons at home. I am completely envious of the way those people move, look in their clothes and dance. I keep hearing girl tourists complain that ¨guys at home don´t dance like that!¨ It´s true. But then again, me dancing salsa compared to the Guatemalans is like a bull in a china shop, with a limp. And mild epilepsy. So who am I to judge. I also talked to some Guatmalan guy who had been to Chicago and ate at the Guatemala aroma restaurant, which is one block from my house. When I get home I´m going to talk to the guy who runs it and show him the photo of us. It was a great night out.
If you don´t have sound on your computer these will be worthless but give them a try-
The other day I bought the funniest thing for my apartment. It´s a metal painting of two lecherous looking mariachi singers chasing two women in traditional clothes. And an angel up in the corner. The sign has a whole little story painted on it, and I can´t really translate (Trisha, your job when I come home) but I can get a few words out of it (molesters with bad intentions... something about learning a lesson) . It makes me laugh and seems like another completely inappropriate thing to hang in my house. They had a bunch of those signs, all of them had pictures of people getting in trouble and getting saved by some angel or the vigin of guadeloupe. Like a spanish Aesop´s fables.
I keep hearing the same two songs. This always happens to me. I want to buy the CD and nobody knows what I am talking about.
enjoy the photos now because in a few days I´m going up to Lake Atitlan and I get the feeling the internet will be less rapido and you will have to imagine the pictures.
above - chicken bus, me with Buena Vista guy, two dancers who I couldn´t stop watching

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Siento Lazy

Above - my hotel entrance (I´m in the back yard), street fare on Christmas, the numero tres
I thought only tourists would be out for Christmas but no, the streets were filled with Guatemalans out having a good time. I liked that. Even the stores were open! I bought a painting and some textiles for my apartment. Everything here is so,so easy after Africa-Brazil - the post office is easy, everything makes sense, there are 56,987 travel agencies to book anything you want, the town is civilized, everyone is in a good mood, things are cheap, nobody heckles on the street - nobody. If it weren´t for the classes, I would be restless for a challenge. It´s almost too easy here. I did get very confused today in class but Rosie told me some more funny family stories, which I enjoy.
Last night I went to a hookah bar to write in my journal and it made me think of the hookah bar in NYC that I go to with Jaime. I had dinner at Frida´s again for some mole enchiladas and met a fun girl also travelling by herself, Antonella from Sicily and Arizona. I might have a new drinking buddy! We also sat by a nice guy from Ethiopia, Yoras. They were much more normal than the crew from the other night.
I´m feeling lazy so I´ll just leave you with a few pictures. Let me know how everyone´s holidays went. Yesterday I thought to myself - this is where you are supposed to be for Christmas. It was nice.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Navidad! Navidad! do do da da da...

I like Christmas here. It's wonderful to be walking around in the warm weather, sitting in the park, sitting on my roof... They have a Christmas song here that I enjoy. Yes, I said I actually enjoy a Christmas song. I'm in a good mood and the Christmas songs here are to a latin beat. There's a funny one that just says 'nav i dad, nav i dad!' to the beat of jingle bells. But it also sounds like it is about to break into a salsa song.

I have been kind of lazy in the last day, I went to an awesome Mexican place last night that is named after Frida Kahlo. Best enchilada verde sauce.. I could have licked my plate and thought about it. I sat and people watched, enjoyed the music, talked to some more canadians, talked a little bit to a Guatemalan family, baby Felix pictured above. Yes, I'm proud that I haven't gone back to burger king yet for the numero tres. But don't think I haven't thought about it. The coffee here is really good too. There is no starbucks and even the two fast food places in town are disguised to look like colonial buildings, which I appreciate.
Last night people let off firecrackers for hours, increasing every hour until midnight. I had a beer at my corner bar and talked to a hippie, drunk guy from Austin who was on his honeymoon. His new wife was asleep and he was out getting drunk by himself. I wonder how long that will last... But he had some good stories about living in Alaska and we travel talked. There was also an extremely sour and annoying Egyptian guy with a huge chip on his shoulder who was trying to pick verbal fights with me. Ugh. Then I went up to my roof and met my English neighbors, who are very nice. They are going to tell me more about Nicaragua.
I decided to let the last 10 days or so of this trip be left up in the air. Originally I swore I would go to Honduras but it's just not grabbing me. I keep hearing Nicaragua hissing 'pssss! yo, come down here!' A lot of people are talking up Rio dulce/Livingston and I keep hearing good things about the corn islands in Nicaragua. The Maize islands. Then I can have an entry titled 'Maize hoy, Maize manana!' haha. Ok, that might have been funny to about three people.

Yesterday I also got a massage from a woman named Olga. I was pretty excited to hear that her name was Olga, because with that name, you can be assured a nice rough, painful massage. And that was exactly what I got from Olga. There were a few 'are you kidding me' moments during the massage, like when she smacked me and pounded me around with oil and saw more of me that most people have..or should... but you know by now that I get massages in each country I visit, and they are all different and interesting! I felt like Olga was stripping paint off a building or tenderizing some meat. But for less than 20 dollars an hour, I got the Paramount and Lincoln Mercury buys pounded right out of me. Nice.
here's some bonus video footage for you, consider it my christmas present.
check out the kid in the giant black hat in the first video. He makes me laugh!!
I'm off to the park because I feel like I should study. I don't have a text book or anything, so I use the spanish Glamour magazine, haha. I've also been making a huge effort to talk to the locals. Sometimes I feel like a total poser idiot, but it's fun. I can buy things in the store, ask for what I want, order off the menu, ask someone to help me get something off a high shelf, tell my teacher that I only have one sweater so she will see it a lot ...yeah it's mas frio here than I ever thought... at night and in the shade I really need hoodie negro. She laughed when I told her that but the important thing is that I can get my thoughts across. Even if they are always in the present tense.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I can hear the firecrackers starting...

Firecrackers are a big Christmas tradition here. I can feel a buzz of excitement around the town, and have already witnessed a couple of interesting little parades. (see photo 3 above!)
Who knew that climing a volcano would be so hard? I joined my group yesterday afternoon, for our all-day trip up. I love these excusions, because you get so many different people thrown together. In our group was - me, a canadian couple Elena & Gary, a funny duo of girls from Holland, Berry and Sandra, a hard core surfer girl from Oregon, another couple of Dutch people and an extremely loud man from Texas, his quiet as a mouse wife and a couple of pre-teen daughters. We got to know eachother in the van - where have you been, what do you do... Surfer girl was talking and the Texan would intercept with "HOW LONG WERE YEW IN MEXICO?" "AH LIKE PUERTA VA-LLARTA MAHSELF!!". I was throwing mental text messages to my seat mates and I think they were getting them. Holy Jesus is that man loud.
We bought walking sticks for less than a dollar from some extremely pushy little boys. They were not going to get out of your face until you bought a stick. 5 or 6 of them would crowd around you and fight for your stick money. And let me tell you that stick was worth its weight in gold. The hill was steep, dusty and we breathed in a dust that consisted of dirt and dried horse poo. I could even taste it in my mouth. About 45 minutes later we were at the top, and the views were gorgeous - mistly mountains with steam coming out of the volcanic cracks. We started on the black, crunchy lava. It was almost impossible to walk on. 3-4-6 foot sharp, jagged crunchy black pouorous rocks that had your feet landing at all angles. If not for the stick, I would still be on the volcano. As we neared the top, the rocks got warm, then hot, then my shoes started to stick to the rock. You could see glowing red lava in the cracks of rock. It was a miriacle that I didn´t drop my camera or flashlight in there. As if walking on this during the daylight wasn't hard enough, we had to return in the dark. Thank god for the full moon to shine our way. It was really cool to see the molten lava and feel the heat. I've never been to a volcano, but some people were saying it was much better than Arenal in Costa Rica. I was completely enchanted by the views and the novelty of walking over glowing red stuff that was seeping out of the earth.
During the hike, I got talking to Elana, a counsellor from Vancover - who travelled by herself to Egypt and Turkey a few years ago - we talked about friends, single hood, being married, travelling, travelling solo, our lives st home, compared and contrasted Costa Rica and Guatemala... her and Gary were great. The dutch girls Berry and Sandra were really entertaining as well. They told us a story of how they went salsa dancing with their waiter the night before, and eventually made up a story about being lesbians so that they could bow out at the end of the night. I told them how I tell guys I have diahhrhea when I want to get rid of them. These are good things for single girls to know.
On the way back I sat behind the Texan and the surfer girl, who were squished together. He was talking her ear off about Dallas, real estate and the water situation down there. "PEOPLE SAY X COUNTY HAS THE BEST WATER BUT I REALLY CAIN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE: She was pretending to be interested. We finally got back into town where I took my shoes off and cleaned off my black volcanic feet, then went out for little dinner. I took a 20 minute walk and marvelled at how completely beautiful the town is - alll the churches and town squares lit up at night, happy people out walking, I was not heckled once. I really do feel pretty safe (although I did end up moving closer to the center of things today).
I stopped in a cute Thai place that also had a piano bar where I saw Berry and Sandra, so I sat down and ate while they ordered another drink. Best friends for years, they travel together and had funny stories. Sandra is an account exec at an ad agency and Berry has a job that kind of sounded like Kathy's. I told them that they were the bizarro Sara and Kathy - because the similarities were really amazing. We talked about everyone on the volcano tour. We mostly laughed about Mr Texas and did imitations of him. We talked about how Americans are so loud, and I apologized for my countrymen. They said that surfer girl had said the same thing earlier. I guess we were both mortified at the thought of being lumped in his league. B & S saw an american lady in an airport who was saying "WHERE`S MY BAYYYYGS?!" and they both do imitations of her loud, nasally voice. It was hillarious. I loved hanging out with them.
This morning I woke up at 7AM, just like I do at home, and tried to find the school. I stopped at Burger King for breakfast. Wow, the burger king here is outstanding. I know I shouldn't be eating at burger king when I`m here, but I saw it, and had to wake up with the king. I had the numero tres which consisted of two tortillas, eggs, a pile of black refried beans, salsa and a ham and bacon sandwich. It was the best fast food restaurant I've ever had, maybe even better than when I was craving Mc Donalds in Africa after eating curry for 2 weeks. Let me assure you, that will not be my last numero tres. maybe the volcano made me hungry! People on the volcano were telling me that the restaurants here are great. I`ve been too busy to eat too much but tonight I have some high hopes.
When I arrived at the spanish school, as I registered I heard a familiar voice behind me. "HOW LONG HAVE YEW BEEN IN ANTIGUA?!". Oh jesus, the Texan and clan. His girls were registered at my school. "TEW-MORROW WE`RE GOING UP TO THAT LAYKE. HOW DEW YEW PRONOUNCE THAT LAYKE AGAIN?!"
I do give the Texan credit for coming HERE and taking the whole family. There really aren't too many people like that here - everyone seems like a real traveller and there aren't too many obnoxious people that I've seen. This isn't a spring break place.
I really like my teacher, Rosie. She's a young, maybe mid twenties, very smart woman. I didnt know what to expect at the school but it seems to be very free form and conversational. She tells stories and I listen, then I (try to) tell her stories about my life. We only speak in spanish, unless I get stuck. When I don't understand a word, she writes it down or draws a picture. I have to concentrate very hard and think, but I was entertained at the same time. I tried to put together sentences and thoughts in spanish and I think I did pretty well! We go for 4 hours in the morning with a half hour break. She had some funny stories about her mother, her nephew who won a joke telling contest, how her dog was mauled to death by her brother`s dog, then her dad took a shotgun to the brother`s dog. She is mayan by heritige and studies in a university in Guatemala city. I have a lot of questions about the mayans and ladinos, but I'm afraid of being controversial so I'll just have to read up on that later. When I look at people I think, what were their lives like 20, 25 years ago when Guatemala was in turmoil? It's all pretty interesting to me. Last month I read a book about the life of Rigoberta Menchu, a mayan rights activist who ran for president in September. I`ve also seen more than a few white women here who must have just adopted a Guatemalan baby, because they carry them around in one of those woven slings.
Well, I´m off for a beer on my roof to watch the sunset and maybe read some more of eat, pray, love. Then I'm going to see what fun this town has going on. I wish the canadians and dutch girls were still in town - but they all went off to Lake Atitlan. I hope they see the Texan! hee hee!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Amigos que viven en el baño!

I don`t know why I was surprised to see a giant spider in the bathroom. I should have been more surprised if I did not see one. At first I had that "Oh, god giant spider!!!" reaction, then I said to it "OK, I will leave you alone and you will leave me alone. As long as you are not a tarantula I will not squash you and in return you will not crawl into my room." I keep making so many dumb personal observations - to myself. When you go to a tropical place, you are asking for and practiacally guaranteeing bugs in the bathroom! And of course people don`t speak english - why should they¿ This is a town known for spanish schools. I should be speaking spanish, no matter how hard I butcher it. And oh, I´ve been butchering it.
I knew things were going too smoothly in Miami. I toasted to my new vacation (and for surviving the last week at work) at the mojito bar, leafing through my Lonely planet and planning all the places I would try out when I got into town. Antigua is just a quick 45 minute taxi ride from Guatemala City. I got in the spirit by buying a "Glamour latin america" magazine. I`ll get a jump start on my spanish! I started reading about sexo and pelo styles, and makeup for navidad parties. There was even an article about Carlos Peña, who is Guatemalan and won Latin America Idol. He appears to be a sexo symobol of some sort. I was pretty excited to get the main idea of most articles and recognize words I know. I must have been concentrating really hard because I caught myself holding the magazine 6 inches from my eyes and mouthing out the words... very..slowy... then I realized how "special" I must look. haha. It`s not as cute as when little kids learn to read. They do the same thing, right¿ And they usually have an adult right there to sound out the words for them. Well I don't have that, do I¿ I only have my latin american glamour magazine. Which I wisely put away.
My flight was delayed 3 and a half hours. I was wondering, are the spanish school people even going to wait that long at the airport or am I going to have to find something in Guat City¿
OK, time out. I can´t find a regular question mark on this keyboard. But you like the upside down question mark, no¿ Si¿ Me too!
Sergio, of 28 años, was indeed waiting. We made small talk in spanglish in the car. He spoke about as much english as I do spanish so it wasn`t a very complex conversation. How old are you¿ Te gusta vive in Antigua¿ Hace frio in Chicago. lots of snow. I am on vacation for 3 semanas. Spanish school in Antigua. Me gusta el reggaeton. Y salsa. It was a pleasant ride and nothing welcomes you to Central America like the sounds of reggaeton and some latin ballads. He aplogized for stopping at a gas station but I needed some things anyhow so I went in. It was sparkling new, but no women, just about 15 guys in various stages of drunkenness buying gasoline, smokes and beer. I did get some stares. This station was outside of town and most tourists don`t drive so tall white girls usually don`t come in there. But I enjoyed the novelty of the gas station, and I had Sergio with me so all was good and I could just stare at everyone in return with no fear of anyone following me out of there.
My guesthouse is pretty ghetto. But there is a skylight in my room. Even if it´s made of plywood and plexiglass, I appreciate the thought. The bed is more comfortable than my bed at home and I have a big cheetah bedspread. I´ll try to remember to take a picture of it. We arrived at 1AM so I just went to bed. Today I`ve been wandering around, getting my bearings. I decided that I want to stay on the other side of town, where the restaurants and bars are. My street is a little deserted. Safe, but quiet and let's face it, I`m going to go out every single night for at least awhile so why not move to where those places are. I found a place on the north side of town (It's a small town - it takes maybe 20 minutes to walk from one end to another). The new place is a whopping $12 a night and the old place is $8. I stay there again tonight, then I move.
Antigua pretty much shuts down at 8PM on Sundays so I decided it was a good night to take a volcano tour. It goes from 2 to 9:30P and you have to bring your own food and flashlight. My only fear is hot molten sprays of lava. I hope that I don´t come home horribly burned or disfigured by the volcano lava. I`ll be with several other gringos so I`m looking forward to it! Tomorrow morning school starts. oh boy.
Antigua could not be more charming if it tried. multi colored buildings and every street is cobblestone. This morning I actually saw a man in his 70s, jogging on a crooked slope of cobblestones. It´s easily one of the prettiest towns I`ve ever seen - If Cuzco, Peru and Salvador, Brazil had a shy, clean baby and raised it next to a volcano, it would be Antigua. Just lovely.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Africa photos

Here they are:

The first ones of the 36 hour bus may seem a little dusty and depressing. Zanzibar was paradise. Africa was fascinating, fun, mind-blowing and I can't wait to go back someday - it exceeded my expectations in every way!

I couldn't take my camera out at night very much - afraid of theft in some places. But we did go out every night we could.. Sorry the Masai guys we hung out with aren't on here. I may be able to post a video of it in a few days.

Africa: A few youtube videos I made

The quality isn't good - They look better in my camera. Anyhow:

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Africa: Time for this Mzungu to go home

I'm just killing an afternoon here in Melville. It really is a pleasant place to spend a few days just meandering around. Last night I had some fancy thai food. For lunch I'm trying some ethiopian. I even bought a Frida Kahlo purse from a mexican store - that has nothing to do with Africa, does it?

I'm very sad to leave. I may have been homesick for an hour at the Zimbabwe border - but I always get the opposite of homesick towards the end.

So here's a little rundown of best and worsts:

Best meal: the treehouse restaurant in Nungwi. We ate pili pili chicken barefoot on pillows up in a tree to middle eastern music. runner up - the royal palm hotel in Dar!

Best Beer: Kilimanjaro. Only beats Tusker because it has a cute giraffe on the bottle. Either beer was a pleasure to find COLD, which was sort of rare.

Best beach: Nungwi, Zanzibar. Kendwa was gorgeous too.

Best Bar: Cholos in Nungwi or Mayoka Village

Favorite random person:
The man who tried to carry Kathy's bag for her in Stonetown at the dock. "I'm a strong man..with ONE EYE! I'm a strong man with ONE EYE!" sure enough, he had one eye. Kathy just kind of shooed him away.

Favorite comeback to a pushy salesperson:
"I eat with my hands" - guy on the minibus in Lilongwe to a guy selling spoons through the window. also Kathy to the pushy CD salesman in Stonetown "I already have that one. Track 4's my favorite"

Favorite flashback to the 70s: Dar es Salaam, for the body on tap conditioner for sale in the store and for the decor at the Peacock hotel

Favorite meal: Vegetable curry and rice. I had it at least 15 times. It was safe.

Favorite accomodations: Mayoka Village

Best celeb themed restaurant: Freddy Mercury's in Stonetown. It was also our only celebrity themed restaurant.

Worst bathroom: The Mbeya train station. Bathroom had an evil, ungodly, rank, vile, putrid stink. Since we spent a good 6 hours there, I got the pleasure of going in there a few times. I always came out gasping for air, eyes watering, frantically covering myself in purell and gagging.

Dirtiest moment: getting off the two day train in Dar

People in Africa that hated me: the man at the internet cafe in Nhakata bay. Boy, did he hate me for putting my diet coke on the wooden table and for taking too long and asking questions. The next day he just looked at me in disgust. And the man in the indian restaurant in Stonetown. Yeah, they hated me.

People in Africa who were nice to me: Everyone else. The people in Africa are fantastic. Malawi, Tanzania, everyone in Melville - they are just so warm and friendly.

Favorite nickname: "Mama". Not in a maternal sense. Hello Mama! man in airport: "can you give this change back to Mama?" Only in SA. Everywhere else it's "Hello sister!" I like Mama. It has a 1970s ballad sound to it. Hey mama!

Bye Africa! Asante sana for the good times

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Back in South Africa

We had to spend the night in Dar after Zanzibar in order to catch our 10:30AM flight back to South Africa. It was a little sad leaving Tanzania, it meant that the long adventure of taking public transportation from Joburg to Zanzibar was over. But it's nice to be back in Melville for a few nights.

For one, I can walk down the street without saying hello to everyone. I actually have to supress the urge to say "Jambo, Jambo, thank you, I don't need the CD, no thank you, I'm allergic to nuts, Jambo Jambo Jambo.." We stayed back at our Melville guesthouse, 33 on First, and had nice long showers. The streets are paved so it really cuts down on the constant dust and dirt that sticks to you. It may take a few more days to get all the dirt out of my fingernails but I'm making progress on that. And the beer is cold! And clocks are all set at the correct time. Not since being in Joburg last time did I see a working clock that was anywhere in the three hour vicinity of being correct. And I don't have to shoo flies off my food all the time. And water comes in bottles that are smaller than 1.5 liters. In Tanzania you have to lug around a 1.5 liter of water all the time. The taxi that picked us up from the airport had gas in it. And I feel allright eating meat again. I had been avoiding it as much as possible since Malawi because I was horrified and grossed out by what a peace corps girl told me. I'll spare you but if you want to know, come ask me when I get home.

Kathy and I had been talking about Mc Donalds since the train ride. Obsessing about it. I am embarrased to say that I had a Mc Donalds binge this morning, having the big breakfast AND hotcakes. It was fantastic! Am I so weak that I can't go three weeks without Mc Donald's? I'm pathetic.

We bought newspapers yesterday. Kathy bought the British one and I bought the Zimbabwean one. These are the headlines in the Zimbabwe paper, for real:

Strike cripples public health sector
Zim nurses flood South Africa

(both about lack of doctors, health care and how they are all fleeing to other countries)

No happy new year

(just a sad letter to the editor about the state of things, salaries vs bus costs, poverty, etc)

(Zimbabwe) Dollar drops as demand soars

(I remember the peace corps workers in Malawi telling me that the goverment just prints more money when they need it - there's no Greenspan-like guy here..)

Education for all - a distant memory

(kids can't afford school)

the paper was all sad articles - I felt like I was reading the onion, not in the sense that they were funny but in the sense that the articles weren't real. I've always been one to give a concerned read or nod to poverty stories, then I pretty much go on my way. I always respected what Bono and Oprah do, but I never got all carried away about it. And not to sound like a cliche, but going to Africa has sort of changed my perspective. Sometimes you have to see it for yourself, It's just unbelieveable what happens here. I always thought "I could go into the peace corps, no problem - sure, send me anywhere..." but after hanging out with the Peace Corps workers in Malawi, I have so much more respect for what they do. I'm not even sure I could deal with it for two years.

Kathy left for a short safari today. I wish I had time to go on a little safari too - I'm jealous - but I'll have to save that for next time. Safari wasn't really either of our main reasons for coming here, we wanted to see Africa, whatever that was going to mean. And I feel like we sort of did. It's funny, when I told people I was going to Africa, most people said "oh, so you're going on safari!" and were confused when I wasn't. Come to think of it, if someone comes all the way to Africa and does a fancy all-inclusive safari, has ALL meals and transportation taken care of, you aren't really seeing Africa, you're seeing exotic animals and some scenery. Still a very cool thing to do. But take a 4 hour minibus of 28 people, and have to ask for directions, and figure things out, and then talk to me about Africa. And there is so much more Africa to see. I mean South Africa is nothing like Tanzania which is nothing like Morocco or Egypt, which I've never been near and know nothing about. It's just such a huge and fascinating continent, and deserves like 6 months and not the paltry 3 weeks I gave it.

Today I went to the Apartheid museum, which was great. It was a LOT of information, so I had to buy a book when I was done just so that I understand it better. There were great videos and photos at the museum. Hard to believe all of this happened such a short time ago. Sort of like the 1950s and 60s in the United states - but in the 80s and 90s.

Well, tonight for my last night I think I'll have some thai food, maybe try the south African wine too. Last night Kathy and I celebrated with some mojitos and went out to a few places here in Melville. We talked to a few South African guys about why they have such big security fences here. I still don't entirely understand - I mean the security/electric fences here are just out of control - but maybe SA Michael can explain that to me when I get home.

Africa: Dar es Salaam - no me gusta

The only downside in going to Zanzibar is the inevitable stopover in Dar es Salaam. The biggest city in Tanzania, on the east coast. I really knew nothing about it except that Lonely planet calls it "the music capital of Tanzania" and "watch your belongings!"

The first time, after the two day train ride, we had to take a taxi from the train station. In Africa, you can't say "I'd like a reputable, clean taxi with air conditioning, some guy who won't rob or rape us". You just have to go with what's there. And we never had any problems, actually. We just got in the unmarked 1987 toyota corolla with (always) an empty tank and ripped out casette player - and went on our way. Surprisingly and unlike a few times in Europe, the price was the price and no shady business ensued. He took us to the Harbor Suites hotel - which was actually much more expensive than quoted in LP. At $150 a night, we each got our own WING of the hotel suite, with two bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room (to watch non-stop coverage of the Sadaam hanging on CNN - it always seemed to be on) and a kitchen. So on this trip, I've spent as little as $4 a night and as high at $150. Oh well, after the train we were filthy and tired of being so hard core. The hotel people fell over themselves helping us out and giving us advice.

Unfortunately, in Dar there isn't really a "cool neighborhood", one with cafes, bars and shops that WE would shop at. If you needed a dusty foam mattress or car parts or 30 papayas, you could find it in Dar. Used bookstore or coffee shop - oh, hell no. But still, we weren't going to stay in the hotel room just because Dar was lame. We walked down the deserted street - the MAIN street of Dar, mind you, 4 blocks to an indian restaurant. It was super shady. Dark figures literally lurked in the shadows. But we never got more than a half hearted "..jambo". We never were harassed in Dar, actually. After dinner we walked 2 blocks back to one of the 4 bars in town. That's right, 4 listed in the book. the "Florida pub" was listed as a "friendly british pub near the waterfront!". Well, it was sort of a knockoff pub. And no women drinking together, really - just guys. We sat down at the bar anyway and had our usual Kili and Tusker. The bartender put on "Madonna's greatest hits" - we think for our benefit. And we drank in peace to no stares, no heckling.

My theory is that the people in Dar are pretty religious and were probably just respectful of us. I've been heckled WAY more on Clark Street on a weekend night that I ever was in Africa. Stonetown, same thing. People tried really hard to sell us things but we never got so much as a sexual comment. We probably were pushing our luck there for a week and going out EVERY night, but luck was on our side.

The next time through Dar we decided to try another hotel, the Peacock. This hotel "caters to the downtown business crowd" and was decorated in what I describe as 1979 wood panel and mirror/travelling salesman chic. My hope was that since it was near the backpacker ghetto of Libya street, there might be a cafe or some other people around. Nope. Just a dusty street of depressing bicycle and car repair shops.

After Kathy had to take a taxi to an ATM she met me on the unatmospheric 7th floor bar where we had another beer overlooking the dusty, hot city.

"hey Kathy, I've got a GREAT idea"


"I say we taxi over to the Royal Palm resort and eat at one of the three restaurants there and drink at their bar tonight"

The Royal Palm had to be somewhat nice, afterall it cost $270 per night and had a golf course. Yes, I know what you are thinking. This is SO un-Sara-like of me. Taxi over to a fancy resort for some fun? Oh, we were desperate. We had reached our limit in Dar. And the resort was beautiful. And there were other tourists in the lobby. People who talked to us! People who weren't sweaty! And the beer was cold and there were no flies around! It was like something out of Conde Nast. For dinner we inhaled the fancy buffet. It was so good! And clean! And not in the temperature danger zone! I had pumpkin gratin, some sort of thai chicken, onion rice and four desserts. We both tried 4 desserts. I couldn't stop chewing long enough to talk, we just shoveled it in and made annoying eating sounds. I was like Rachel Ray, rolling my eyes and constantly saying "OH MY GOD THIS IS SOOOO GOOD!" "MMMMMGHGHHHGHH!"

I'm a little embarrased for going to the Royal Palm - but it was so much fun. And well deserved, don't you think?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Africa: So why did we have to leave Zanzibar?

Check out my 4 photos, isn't Zanzibar the greatest?

Once again, I can't upload photos from the internet cafe but I was able to put 4 of them on kodak gallery. We spent three days on that beach.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Africa: I sleep like a bush baby

We have settled into a little routine here in Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania. Eat the free runny scrambled eggs for breakfast, walk slowly to the beach, wonder why anyone would buy any of the thousands of tacky orange and yellow paintings for sale, swim (me), start drinking Kilimanjaro beer (me) and Tusker (Kathy) at around 5PM, go to Cholos bar after dinner of Vegetable curry (me) or pizza/chicken (Kathy).... And it really is so beautiful here. I am glad we came north, it was worth it. Stupidly, we've missed having actual DINNER at Cholo's, where tonight we are going to eat up in a treehouse.

We see the same people every night at Cholos, but strangely we haven't been our 4AM selves. The other night I was talking to one of the young local bartenders, and yawned. "I think I'm going to bed soon" I said.

"bed!. You sleep like a bush baby!"

yes, I do sleep like a bush baby. Somehow the bush baby name made it's way to another restaurant - they overheard us talking - and the waiter bid me goodbye "goodbye bush baby!"
We managed to stay up until 2:30AM last night - not from lack of action at Cholo's, but just because I'm such a damn sleepy bush baby.

One thing that amuses Kathy is how hard of a time I have understanding people here. They speak fine english, but that African accent is just so hard for me to understand.

Like my 22 year old admirer/bartender last night, Malek.

"I am a basket!"

"huh? you're a basket?"

"today I am a basket - is my basket!"

"huh? basket?"

"My is basket! I am 22!"

"oooooooooooh. Happy birthday, I mean happy basket!"

They were playing good music and I started dancing a little with the bartenders. I started to regret it when little Malek kept coming over and putting his arms around me.

"Where did you get your beauty? From your mother or your father?"

Poor little harmless Malek with his tattered two-day-in a row yin/yang t-shirt. I resorted to an old time-tested tactic of mine.

"Malek, when I go to the toilet, I have the diarhhrea!"

Malek gave me a puzzled look

"You know! Diahrrhea! When I go to the toilet (I sit down on invisible toilet and point to my behind)...bad smells and lound sounds come out! Bad, bad smells and sounds. And it is a liquid! No solid! Wow, actually I should really go to the toilet now. Hey, Kathy can I have some of your toilet paper?" (I hopped around gingerly for extra effect)

Malek left me alone for the rest of the evening. Actually I don't have diarhhrea, but I have enough experience in the area to make for a convincing display. I first used that little trick in Saugatuck, Michigan when someone asked me to dance and I didn't feel like it. It works like a charm.

Late last night we bid goodbye to our friend and neighbor, Marybeth. She had actually rented a house here for a month, and knows a lot of people in town, we've had some laughs the last few nights. We talked about that coming home feeling, hers a lot worse because she was here for 3 months and did some hefty and interesting volunteer work. How do you come home and explain all of that to people? Her family wants to throw her a party. "I mean, I saw people die, I'm not in the mood." She had great times in Africa too - it's just a lot of adjustment to come home, the good and bad. Like those people who travel for a year and come home and people say "so, how was it?" what do you say to that?

We also had more converstaion with Tarek, the Bosnian UN worker. He told us about living in the Congo. Basically, rainy jungle, not many roads and being stuck in a compound with the same 7 people for months at a time with shared bathrooms and no TV. They play games at night and only have eachother for company. The UN work is hard but addictive, he said. Once he brought some medicine into a village where most of the people had never seen a non-villager. They gave him a live chicken and were so grateful for the measles medication. He was on a little vacation by himself, probably happy to talk to the outside world for a bit. I told him about our other UN friend, Michiel in Nairobi.

Just like in Brazil, Kathy found some TV show she likes. we don't have a TV at our hotel, but most of the restaurants have one. She's managed to follow the storyline of some bad, public-access-like Nigerian TV show with plenty of baby-daddy drama. If Kate were here, I'm sure she would be watching it with Kathy - just like the two of them managed to follow the telenovella "Bang Bang". The TV here is funny. Aside from the CNN (which is MUCH better than our CNN at home), we have watched a bad chinese western, Kathy's Nigerian show and a program that appeared to be only a man getting a haricut to some WNUA-like smooth jazz.

Well, it's back to the hammock. Thanks for the comments guys, see you soon. Too soon. Wish you all were here to hang out with us tonight to hear about the basket and the toilet troubles.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Africa: The Slowskis

This morning Kathy said "I feel like those turtles in that commercial - you know, the Slowskis".

I feel like a slow turtle too. Africa makes me really lazy. After stonetown we negotiated a taxi ride up here to Nungwi. It's 60 km north, on the northern tip of Zanzibar. We picked a place from Lonely planet and were too lazy to look elsewhere. We came up here for the beaches. They are indeed nice. The water is like a flourescent turqoise and the sand is white. The town is completely devoid of personality after stonetown, but there is still freaky African music playing sometimes and Massai walking around. We have a nice place right on the beach - at high tide the water comes under the stilts of the room. Last night I ran out there and went swimming. The crowd is nice - there are no asshole cancun-esque spring breakers or package tourists that sometimes accompany a beach this nice. Just a lot of volunteers, a few UN people, European families, lots of stoners and locals. It's sort of hard to get up here - the road is really bumpy. Actually the Massai are everywhere! They all seem to have the huge earlobes and the traditional face burns under the eyes. Yosef told us about it the other night - at a certain age they get branded somehow.

Kathy and I have developed a complete fascination with the Massai. We bought a book in Stonetown, the one about the white woman who marries one, and Kathy is reading it now. I'm saving it for the plane ride home. Apparently it's really good because she's always reading it and says "are you sure you don't want me to ruin the surprise?!".

Last night we went to the one bar in town that was happening - some outdoor place called Jolos, which looked like a treehouse in a sandy palm stand on the beach. We just followed the Michael Jackson (from the Wiz - "ease on down! ease on down! ease on down the rooooad!") and pot smell. There were a few people passed out in hammocks and a busy bar. Every other song was reggae, of course. We drank with our next door neighbor, Marybeth - who was a volunteer in Moshi but later lived in this town for 5 weeks because she just never got around to leaving, and the UN Congo worker Bosnian Tarik who we met in Stonetown, and another guy from Stonetown who's name I can never remember. Every once in awhile a swahili song would come on and he would sing every word like it's his favorite song. "that's your JAM!" I kept saying.

Later we met another guy in the UN training program from South Carolina. We talked about how few Americans come here and how we might want to climb Kili, but maybe just to brag about it and do we really want to do it for the right reasons. I'm sorry but if I climed Kili I would never stop bragging about it and I would be so annoying.

Well, today we have to figure out when low tide is because we want to walk to the next village 3km away. I'm just not wise to the ways of the ocean.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Africa: Night out with the Massai

One of the places I wanted to see most in Africa was Zanzibar. It's an island in the Indian ocean just east of Dar es Salaam - spices are grown here, the whole island is lush and tropical, the main town is a mix of Muslim and African. After some of the places we've been - well, actually all of the places we've been so far in Africa, Stonetown is really touristy. I forgot about menus with dollars AND shilling on them, and seeing tons of other tourists walking around with huge cameras. But still, getting lost in the crumbly streets is awesome, and the town just has so much ATMOSPHERE.

After another early morning call to prayer, we woke up in our riduculoulsy posh hotel in Dar and bought boat tickets - which was chaos. They have different prices for locals and for tourists, and everyone pushes and shoves. It's so annoying. Our 1.5 hour boat was 3 hours, which actually was no time at all to me. Of course when you get off the boat you are bombarded with dozens of shady new "best friends" all wanting to take you somewhere or God knows what. We found the coolest hotel - Baghani palace. The decor is very "18th century opium den" - dark furniture, hookah pipes and tea pipes for decoration - mosquito nets on the beds, pillows on the floor in the sitting room, walls all different colors... it's totally cool. The vibe in Zanzabar so far is exotic and just what I expected.

I wandered the streets and was lured in by some middle eastern-sounding music, "taraab" music, which is from Zanzabar I guess - and saw $25 hour massage so of course I had one. When you get a massage in a new country, you just never know the protocol.

"do I take off this? all of my clothes? huh? Under sheet? OK"

I left my underwear on and the lady who told me what do didn't really speak english. She didn't really look at me either, and she was kind of fumbling around the room. Another lady came in and asked me what kind of massage I wanted and told me that Asan - my masseuse - was blind and only spoke swahili. I communicated "hard massage!" pretending to knead something hard with my hands - "hard massage in shoulder!" She communicated this to Asan and she went to work on me with Lemongrass oil. There were only curtains separating me from the street so I heard people yelling in swahili and kids shouting. I must say, the blind lady did a good job. She found her calling. Definitely a good place and not like the brothel I accidentally went to in Hanoi.

Later that night we ate on the beach at a place that had a little band - everyone in the band was wearing matching pajama-like outfits. Kathy and I had really underestimated the muslim-ness of stonetown. We get wierd looks at night when we wear our usual tank tops so I have had to wear one of my two t-shirts that cover my shoulders out at night and the same skirt that isn't rediculously short. This is the opposite of Brazil, where you can walk around in your underwear day and night and nobody bats an eye. There are a lot of veils and I even saw a burqua or two. But we're travelling, so wearing the same outfit two days in a row is fine by me. I'm also getting a little tired of everyone saying hello to me every day and me having to say hello back. It was the same in Malawi.

"Hello sister! hello hello hello hello hello! how are you? hello hello hello!"

Here, it's

"jambo jambo hello! jambo hello! where you from jambo hello hello hello!".

It's getting old. But still, I'd rather be here than home. Yes, I am dreading going home.

We sat at the bar and noticed, to my delight, that there was a Massai at the bar. Massai are a tribe that live in Tanzania and Kenya - they wear colored robes and beads, and have big stretched out earlobes. I've seen a few here and there but never at a bar. I tried to be sly and film the bar on my $20 CVS disposable video camera - but really zooming in on the Massai guy. A guy from Rotterdam came over to ask us to join them all at the other side of the bar. We drank with some Dutchies and British people, and flash forward a few hours and I'm buying the Massai guys beer and playing with their earlobes. They were really friendly. They actually initiated converstaion with US. You'd never see a Massai woman in a bar, but these guys own a shop in town that sells the beads and stuff to tourists. The one guy, Yosef, had a high pitched old man voice. I can kind of imitate him. If Kate A or Kate C had been there, we would have of course had the conversation "I dare you to make out with him!!!" hahaha...

We hung out with some people we recognized from the train and a couple from Connecticut, Tony and Lauren. We had the usual travel converstations "what malaria meds are YOU on?" "have you had a.b. yet?" "what animals have you seen?" "where else have you travelled"? "people in my home think I'm crazy too!" "Yeah, I also don't know what I want to be when I grow up!" Other travellers are great to talk to - people who come all this way are bound to have lots in common. When you are in a place like this, it's so easy to meet people. At a bar in Chicago, you can't just walk up to people like that, but here all the tourists see eachother and band together. It's very social. I've talked to a lot of people who climbed Kili and their stories are always good. Man, Kili sounds HARD. Inca trail was a walk in the park compared to that.

The Massai twisted their earlobes in funny ways for my video camera. They should be out again at the same bar tonight so we may have some good pictures. I've been hesitant to bring my camera out because it's SO shady here at night - but I might be able to swing it. For you guys.

Today we took a spice tour which was super interesting. We saw clove, vanilla, cardomom, annato, ylang ylang plants. They let us taste and smell everything right off the vine. For a foodie like me it was a great experience. We took the tour with an Italian, a swedish couple, and American couple (the guy reminded me of my dad with his comments and questions.. they would have been BFFs), a Czech guy, a japanese couple and a prissy German chick who wore a headwrap. I talked to all of them in the water. The Japanese girl and Czech guy were the friendliest. I think the Italian guy and German girl didn't like us at all. Actually I think the Italian had the hots for the german girl and I kept waiting for him to ask her out. Kathy and I eavesdropped on their conversations in the minibus. After that we saw a scary cave that was a slave prison and went to the beach for an hour. The water was so warm and crystal clear! It reminds me of Thailand here - white sand and palm trees. Tomorrow we're going up the island to a smaller town with a nice beach. Hopefully the doxyxycline-induced sunburn won't be too bad.

One other funny, random thing here. Africa uses the minibusses - the vans that 28 people crowd in a vehicle made for 6 or 8 people. But a lot of the busses have japanese writing on them. They are all old Japanese busses that Japan was finished with - they ship them through Dubai and Africa gets them second hand. It's just odd to see so much Japanese writing on the vans. Oh well, recycling.

again, I've tried to upload photos but the internet here is not having it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Africa: Giraffe day!

In Mbeya, we agonized over whether to take the 2 day train to Dar es Salaam, which would be a scenic, long train through the entire country, and supposedly you see plenty of safari animals out the window. Or we could take the quick 11 hour bus - that's right, I said quick. 11 hours is "quick" to me now. The catch was, if we couldn't get on the train, we could be stuck in Mbeya another day, because when the train station opens, the busses have left for the day. We gambled, and actually Kathy talked me into the train. Actually that's good because I was too cheap to actually take a full blown safari - actually I figured there wasn't time to do one. I have to take animals where I can get them.

We got there as soon as the ticket office opened, to try to get first class tickets in our own cabin. African trains are not like Amtrak, they are sort of like Italian trains but much, MUCH smellier. After waiting in the ticket office all day long (with no real restaurant, just a few guys selling pop and cookies outside), we were stuck in 2nd class in a cabin with a whole family. Fortunately, they separate cabins by sex so that you are never stuck in a cabin with any leering or stinky men. We stuck it out for a few hours with the family (3 ladies and three children) - then, luckily after dinner we were able to upgrade to our own cabin. They pull out musty sheets, blankets and pillows for you and deliver your food in first class (always chicken and rice). I actually slept pretty good once I put my earplugs in - the train is LOUD, maybe built in the 1930s. It had some faded elegance into it - like 50 years ago it was progressive and classy, but it was still totally ghetto. We agreed that it was a cool train ride - AFTER we got our own cabin. I have no idea how we would all sleep together in the old one. Still, definitely one of the most memorable train experiences, if not the most memorable I've had.

I laid down on my musty bed and went to sleep over the clack-a-clacka-BANG BANG-SCREEEEECH!-clack-a-clack-a-clack!!!.

The next morning we were really eager to see the animals we would supposedly see when we went thorough the game preserve. I have always loved giraffes - they are my favorite at the zoo. Kathy and I kept our eyes peeled and ran from window to window.

GIRAFFE!!!! SARA!!!! GIRAFFE!!!! Kathy yelled


All of the sudden, for the next two hours, we saw tons of giraffes, impalas, antelope and a few zebras. Oh, and the biggest anthills I have ever seen. Every time we'd see a herd of giraffes, we would run to the window and try to take pictures. It's hard, taking pictures through a moving train window. I got one good giraffe picture and Kathy got a couple. The only other person on the train who seemed as excited by animals was an older Japanese guy. There were about 8 other backpackers on the train - a few from England and a bunch from South Africa, none of whom were that excited, and preferred to stay in the old-fashioned, grubby red velvet decrated first class lounge, watching a chinese western that was mysteriously playing on the one TV, or reading.

The train pulled into Dar es Salaam at around 3PM and we tried to resist hawkers, got into a taxi and took it to a posh hotel, where we have a nice suite. After two days on a train, where my hygeine has really reached some new lows, I don't care. Plus, Dar is kind of dodgy and we need some air conditioning.

Through Tanzania, I've seen more and more gradual signs of the muslim world - more and more headscaves, islam symbols and mosques. At about 5AM in Mbeya, I was awakened by a call to prayer - If you've ever heard one, it's really eerie/spooky but sort of pretty at the same time.

Tomorrow - Zanzibar

sorry - I tried so hard to upload pictures to this one - the internet place just isn't very good. You'll have to imagine the giraffe and the train.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Africa: New Year's at the hippie village

Mayoka Village is my kind of place. Thatch huts, ($8 per night) and thatch hut dorm ($4 per night) were shockingly cheap after New Year's last year in Brazil. Turquoise and purple walls, a purple pool table, poetry painted on the wall - it was perfect. I ate two huge meals per day, downed more than my share of Carlsberg and Kuche Kuche beers, slept there for 4 nights and my total bill came to only $69. Everything you consume goes on some sort of mysterious tab and you don't really know how much you've spent until the end.
I met a lot of travellers from South Africa, Holland, England, Germany. Everyone kind of sunburned, sweaty and happy. There is a crowd of about 10 local guys who work/hang out there - all of them pool sharks. They all go by names like "Special", "Benjy", "G-Unit" and my favorite, "Happy Coconut". I thought about what my Africa name could be, I kind of like "sweaty Mango".

Normally I like to have a little more action in my days but I did absolutely nothing but lay around by the lake, in hammocks, on a rock, on my hut porch, for days. I entertained myself with the local Malawi newspaper, which had articles about how corrupt the Shire bus company is, and how the vice president is going on a hunger strike, (well, he's only consuming fanta). I read about Saddam's hanging and there were also enjoyable mysoginist articles such as "my point of view - Malawian women must remember their place in society" and a dear abby column that featured a lovesick teenage boy - "I miss her so much, I feel like a grasshopper who has lost his wings". The personals are good too - "22 year old man looking for god-fearing woman to live in rural area". well sign me up.

Every day I would go into town, down the path in the blazing heat to buy water from the grocery store. I line them up by my bed and go through 4 or 5 per day. I searched desperately for sunblock - a terrible thing has happened, the nurse at northwestern was correct in saying that my malaria medicing, doxycycline, would make me sensitive to the sun. I had to be cheap and buy the doxy instead of the more expensive Malarone, and now I'm burned where by now I would have already been a nice shade of burnt sienna. No sunblock in the dusty market of nhkata bay, but you can buy dried fish or tomatoes from a woman nursing an infant right at the food stand or a brown muumuu, or some "fair and lovely" cream.

One afternoon I heard singing and wandered into a little church for awhile to watch the choir. It was nice - I wanted to take a picture but felt conspicuous. Actually, there have been so many times I've wanted to photograph something but felt like an insensitive jerk - or bait for a thief. Sorry I couldn't post pictures on this one - hopefully next time.

One thing that I've noticed about Malawi that's pretty morbid - coffin shops everywhere. we passed one on the bus and I had to appreciate it's name - the "time will tell coffin warehouse". We passed several coffin shops on the way to Mzuzu and sometimes when I'd go into Nhkata bay town, a woman would be sanding away at a coffin. Death is close to these people's minds. I remember the taxi driver in Joburg was making small talk with me - I said "I'm jet lagged but I feel good!"

"as long as there is life in your body, you feel good!" he said.

Also, women here in Africa can carry anything on their heads. Everywhere they do it. Picture going to Jewel Osco, stocking up on your lean cuisines, diet coke and ice cream, then carrying it all home on your head. If you were African you would. Mostly women do this. Actually, it's the women that I see toiling away in the fields and carrying heavy loads. The men don't carry much. I kind of think the women might be doing all the work around here.

New Year's eve eve I hung out in the restaurant/bar for the buffet supper of curried beef and rice. I met Daniel and Tobias from Germany. They are travelling around Africa, camping. We had several beers and fun converstaion. We ripped on our respective countries and eachother's music a little bit and entered a pool contest. They matched each traveller up with a local, surprise surprise... And we all got our asses kicked. Later I played each of the Germans and won.

For New Year's eve, the owners suggested that everyone go into town and by a crazy african outfit, but spend no more than 450 kwatcha (about $5). I had my eye on a brown muumuu but I was so sweaty and lazy I couldn't bring myself to try it on and buy it. People started festivitites in the bar/restaurant at around 7PM. A crowd of funny peace corps volunteers adopted me and I hung out with them for a few hours. One girl, Laura from L.A, had some really funny stories about Zambia. We compared signs on the roads we have seen.


"Hygeine is safely!"
The Praise Jesus foto shop and barber
two vans with "Why God Why" painted on the front

she had a good one:

"Tiling your roof without Murphy tiles is like going to hell without your savoir"

Laura also had a man try to sell her a baboon tied to a tree, for eating. The next day she noticed the baboon was gone. She also told me some animal slaugher stories, I was thoroughly wide-eyed and entertained by them, but I will spare you. Africa is not good for the animal rights crowd, that's for sure.

Kathy arrived at around 8PM - hooray! We drank and danced with everyone, I have some really good pictures of us with some of the locals. It was a festive, happy, sweaty, perfect hippie New years. At 5AM from the dorm I could still hear Michael Jackson being played down in the bar while the roosters crowed.

I don't know if it was a hangover, or just the damn malaria meds but I woke up early to a chicken clucking outside the door, but I thought it was my friend Rob Murray. The chicken reminded me of his laugh, and I thought for a second "Oh! Rob's here!" before I came to my senses.

Finally this morning Kathy and I had to leave Mayoka Village or I was just going to stay there forever, or try to get a job there. This is one of the hardest parts of the trip - we had to get to Mbeya, Tanzania (our hotel is a hole) and tomorrow we take a (supposed) train to Dar. Supposedly it's this great train where you can see animals out the window. God, I hope I see a giraffe. We took a minibus today and talked about how much we miss McDonald's. The minibus, of course, was filled to the brim with people squashed together - and a man bought a live chicken through the window. The Tanzania countryside is beautiful - mountainous and lush. I have only eaten a luna bar and some cookies all day - we were dumb and couldn't figure out how to change money at the Tanzania border. Women pushed bananas in my face, and delicious looking pineapple, and I couldn't eat them. It sucked. The music on the bus was fantastic though. Traditional african singing, it was really catchy. The Tanzania border is filled with shady people. "Hello sister, hello friend, where you from? you have money for me?" I devised a brilliant tactic where I just say "No EEENGLEESH" "soy de costa rica!" "habla espanol?" Then I point to the costa rica patch on my backpack. It worked twice today. As if Kathy or I look Costa Rican. Oh well, if you can just get them to give up, it works.

From Dar es Salaam we will go over to Zanzibar - I hope to have some internet there.

Kathy and I got two separate rooms in this hotel that looks like a horror movie, or where a depressed person might come to commit suicide. We accidentally walked into a room where an indian guy was napping and listening to indian music. There is a cinder block bar attached to the restaurant with about as much atmosphere as the downtown DMV office or an elementary school cafeteria. We have high hopes for the "sombrero restaurant" and the "octopus bar". This town is lame. It's just a stopover though. Tomorrow morning we're back on the road.

allright, I need a beer desperately. see you all on Zanzibar