A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

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Colombia: The Cartagena Edition.

Our trip to Cartagena wasn’t a big dream of ours. Honestly, there were other places in South America we preferred to visit, but with a limited amount of time (8 days), we didn’t want to spend too much time in the air. To be honest, I think we mostly went simply because I wanted to get in my 6th continent.  It would have been easier to book a trip to Cancun for some great diving & good food, but we both agreed we needed and wanted to continue visiting new places.

7.22.17 056DAY 1:

From Phoenix to Cartagena took approximately 10 hours with Delta, through Atlanta, which was incredibly reasonable considering. …and it was even better when we were upgraded to first class from Atlanta to Cartagena. Because of traffic below we had to circle several times for close to 45 minutes before we could land. This is when disappoint began to set in.

I had done all the research that I thought was necessary on the city & the things we could do & places we could stay. One thing I took note of was the beautiful crystal clear blue waters that are shared with the bahamas, the Caribbean Sea. As we circled through the air & I stared out below from my first class seat, I notice that the water wasn’t nearly as blue as I thought. In fact, it was brown …dirty murky brown. I hoped we were staying in a different area and that, maybe, what I was seeing wasn’t our beach destiny.  Those dreams were quickly crushed.

When we arrived at our hotel, Hilton Cartagena, we got checked in and laid down… It was lights out in the middle of the afternoon. What was supposed to be just a quick siesta turned into a major snooze fest. (Our flights left at midnight Phoenix time, so we really never slept.)  When we woke up… hunger set it in & we knew we needed to head out to search for food.  We walked off the grogginess in the intense humid air. We made our way down Carrera 2, a main road, and found ourselves at what would be a favorite for us, Carbon de Palo.  There, we were serenaded by a group of older Colombian men, we feasted on international cuisine like pasta with an incredible bolognese sauce & the best fried beef empanadas I have ever head. It made the damp heat tolerable, and put our bodies at ease.

7.22.17 446Because we were still tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. We felt like our meal at Carbon de Palo had made up for the oversleeping & missing out on the culture on day one. But… on our way back, we spotted one of my favorite things, CREPES!!!! How could I not… Nutella crepes and I were made for each other. I had googled where to find crepes, and I had found Crepes & Waffles. However, what we had found on our journey was Mr. Crepe (now permanently closed). …and Mr. Crepe understood my needs & fulfilled them… and my tummy.  With bellies satisfied, we stopped at the convenience store for a few liters of water, before we headed back to bed.

Day 2:

We awoke at a reasonable hour with enough time to hit the breakfast buffet… It was your typical buffet with a bunch of Colombian fare as well. I myself, went with the omelettes and fruit.   Once we were fed, we headed back to the room & readied ourselves for the day ahead. Which meant, I loaded up my bag with necessities & Brad put on sunscreen.

7.22.17 0787.22.17 079We headed downstairs & grabbed a taxi that could take us to the old city of Cartagena about 5 km away. We wandered aimlessly for a while. While we walked, Brad decided that he wanted a hat. It was the first time, in our travel history that he had decided he wanted to buy something before me. So we searched for a Panama hat for Brad in some of the small shops along the North wall of the old city. He walked out a happy man, and slightly more protected from the sun. As we headed back towards the center of town, we went in search of an antique shop I had found online prior to visiting, El Arcon Anticuario. After hours of wandering & trying to follow the GPS on our phone, we found it. The whole reason to visit was for a door knocker. The store was a decent size & filled with all sorts of miscellaneous things (pictures were not permitted). They had ample amounts of beautiful door knockers in all sorts of different shapes. However, since we still had another 5 days, we decided to hold off on buying in case we found anything better.

By this time we were hungry again, so we headed back to where we started at the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, searching for a place to grab lunch. We walked by cafes, one after another, looking at the menus for something that sounded interesting. Our choice, Atahualpa. Although Google labels it as Caribbean food, I believe it may have Peruvian influence, partially because every picture on their wall is of Peru in some capacity.  Our food was really good.  I had a rice and chicken dish, similar to Paella, that came with long fried potatoes that were like long tater tots & Brad had steak with what I think were fried plantains. YUMMY! Each of our dishes were preceded with a delicious soup. …but to be honest, it was way too hot for soup.

7.22.17 089After wandering a little more, and enduring as much sweating as we could handle for the afternoon, we headed back to our hotel to unwind & check out our beaches. Unfortunately, this is when I discovered the unpleasantness of our beaches. Although they were clean & private, the water was very murky from the up swept sand due to all of the seasonal weather (so I was told). Also, just because it was private doesn’t mean they don’t permit the locals from trying to sell you boat rides across the water, massages, and other miscellaneous things.  We tried walking along the south beach near our hotel, which seemed a little better. But I just have no desire to be in murky ocean water… Jaws! lol.  In this direction, people were also trying to sell us things, and the beach was a bit dirty due to it being public. We felt our only option was to turn around.

As the day wore on we made plans for dinner. We showered & got cleaned up, and then Brad led the charge to a Mexican restaurant he had found, DF COMIDA MEXICANA. To be honest, I had completely forgot about this meal. I don’t even remember what I ordered…which I think speaks for itself. I remember thinking it was decent food, but I think for Mexican I will stick to eating it here in Arizona. With the night still young, we headed on to just walk. Our walk, naturally, led us to Mr. Crepe where I indulged in my usual.   With that, we just headed back to the hotel.

Day 3:

This day was a challenging one. I think it was the only day we really thought that we didn’t like Cartagena & it was because we felt like we had been duped.

After breakfast, we were ready for something new. We had decided that we wanted to go diving, and had found a place just up the way along the lagoon. We were impressed with what they had to offer & booked three dives the following day. We were really excited to get back to it.

As we began our walk into town, we were talked into a trip across the water to another beach, Buru. We were so enticed by the beautiful photo we were shown of candy blue waters and bright white sand. We were told it was just a boat ride away for a set price (I think $20 each). We were sold. We went back up to the room to change & grab all of our beachy needs. We headed back down & met the guy who directed us to the boat. We loaded on & then were pushed out to sea. It took between 20 & 30 minutes to cross the bay, and to our dismay it was exactly the same as the other side, except worse. We were directed out of the boat and shuffled along the beach & shown a “cabana” where we could sit and set our stuff.  We were unsure about what to do at this point, so we tried to make the best of it. The water was warm, we had semi-cold beers to drink, 7.22.17 099and that was kind of it. I couldn’t get over how murky the water was here too. The air smelled of gasoline from all of the boats, there was load music blaring, it was full of people, there were jet skis screaming by & other water activities happening that just did not suit the relaxing mood we were looking for. Our dreams of just lounging on a picture perfect beach where we could relax and drink cocktails had been smashed.  We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to be under the cabana because really it was just a long tent crammed with plastic chairs and tables and other people & we didn’t want to be in the water because you couldn’t see what was going on… We opted to leave, less than an hour after getting there.

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We found our guide, and told him we wanted to go back. We asked him where the place was that he showed us & he then told us that it was another 40 minutes away. That the weather had made Baru all murky. He proceeded to tell us that we had to pay for the table we had been sitting at in addition to the beer.  7.22.17 107Brad started getting very upset at this point because none of this was communicated to us. We told him we would only pay for the beer, not the table. …and it turned into a whole debate that we finally ended up winning. It took another 20-30 minutes to get back on the boat since it had to come back from the other side. This time, they packed it full of people.

When we were off the boat outside our hotel, Brad paid the guy for everything. We were both frustrated at this point & had to just shake it off. We knew we would laugh about it later, and with beaches out of the question, we opted for the hotel pool. The area was clean & there was a swim up bar… (I should make a mention that I don’t typically use hotel pools, especially beachside ones.. so that should really tell you about the ocean water here.)

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We decided it would be a good night in for us after all of the craziness, so we made a reservation at the hotel restaurant, Tinajero Steak & Seafood House. This was probably the most low key moment of our trip. There was no pressure to find anything, deal with language barriers,  minimal sweating, and we didn’t have to go far. The food & vibe were great & we finally were able to laugh about what had happened earlier.  We enjoyed the setting of an old-fashioned Cartagena style home with loads of Spanish influence. It made the meal that much more enjoyable.

Day 4:

7.22.17 126It was scuba day!!!!!!!!!! We were so excited to dive & were at the dive shop, La Tortuga Dive school, bright and early.  We were loaded into the vehicle with another family, and we did our best to squeeze in. It really was a tight squeeze. They drove us a little ways to a dock around the bay where we boarded the small boat & headed for the open water. We  had two separate dives planned off of the Rosario Islands. We first headed toward an island where we dropped the first group who were doing a shallow dive.  Then we headed to our location. The first  dive was around a large sunken boat, we were able to swim all around it’s surface which was truly neat because this was our first time diving around a wreck. There were many little colorful fish & the boat was covered in colorful coral & large clams. When we were finished we boarded the boat, stripped off our gear, and headed back toward the other group.

Once the other group had boarded they parked the boat & we all jumped back in and swam to shore. It was so fun! This was another first. Usually, you are never close enough to an island to do such a thing.  This little event added to the adventure. We all rested on the white sand, some of us shade and others not. We had little snacks & just enjoyed the warm water rushing up onto our legs.

7.22.17 177Before long, it was time to head back to the boat. We swam for it. After we all climbed abouard, we headed to our next dive location. It was around a reef. There were loads of colorful fish, but nothing I found to be truly noteworthy. One way or the other, I was in my happy place, the ocean.

When we arrived back to the mainland, the guys unloaded the boat, and we were taken back to our hotel. Brad & I got cleaned up and headed back out. We wanted to get some food & in our American shame knew exactly what we wanted. Domino’s. Just off of Carrera 2, was our pizza paradise. A nice cheesy pizza with garlic crust was calling out to us!  We feasted.

7.22.17 185With our stomachs full, we decided to just walk. We walked, and we walked, and we walked. We walked in the rain a little ways, but as it started to come down harder we took cover inside of Juan Valdez Cafe. Brad sipped down some coffee, and I just hung out until the rain seemed to slow. As we continued on our way down the road, we did make a pit-stop for crepes… But this time we stopped at Crepes & Waffles7.22.17 191I ordered my norm, while Brad ordered nothing (a mistake). He insisted I share, and I did involuntarily, as usual. I enjoyed my sweet treat, but I assure you that it was not has good as Mr. Crepe (RIP). We returned to the street once again to dry skies and kept to our path. We walked all the way into the old city which was approximately 5 kilometers (from our hotel). It was necessary considering the pizza we had just scarf down… and the crepe. 

We spent the rest of our day here. The late afternoon turned into night. We explored the streets in the dark with the city lights shining bright. We encountered a musical performance and dancing in one of the squares, and were wandered in and out of small shops. In one of them, I bought a beautiful water color painting of the old streets of Cartagena. We ate skewers of grilled meat and vegetables and had salted corn on the cob from street vendors. We even tried the arepa con queso, a cheese stuffed corn cake (it is incredibly salty). It is safe to say that the meat and veggie skewers were our favorite since they cook their corn a little less than Americans.

It was a really fun night. I think possibly one of my favorites. I love wandering & discovering new places, things, and food. …but maybe not the arepa con queso.

With the night coming to a close for us, we decided it would be good for us to head back to the hotel. It had been a busy and active day for us. The heat had worn us down & we knew we would sleep well.

Day 5:

yosemite & cartagena 1333With a tinge of uncertainty of what the day would hold for us, we decided over breakfast that it could be a good idea to visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. So, we grabbed a cab back to the old city & started from there. Brad grabbed a snack & a local food cart, an amazing arepa con pollo (maybe), and snapped some photos of more of the lovely buildings. Even though our walk wasn’t extensive, the humidity on this day was insane. It was mostly cloudy, but we were dripping sweat. It was the Colombian Cleanse! Thankfully, I always carry an umbrella, which Brad used to guard himself from the peaking sun. …and I just managed. We wandered up to the top of the Castle (fortress), and through the winding tiny hallways throughout. To me, it seemed that Colombians were a smaller people (There is no way that vikings would have ever fit down the narrow corridors). After exploring for maybe an hour, we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We were melting & Brad was riding the struggle bus. (He should’ve brought his hat.)

Before we crossed back over the bridge, we both new we wouldn’t make it without water. We found a small grocery store & made our way in to the air conditioned mecca quickly. We tracked down the refrigerated liter bottles of water & checked out. Within minutes, our bottles were half empty. We were quickly restoring our bodies lost water contents.

Then came our desire for lunch. We made it back across the bridge into the Gethsemane side of the old city. We stumbled upon an Indian restaurant, Ganesha Restaurante, and thought, “why not!?”. We sat down in the cool restaurant & ordered chicken korma & naan. A perfect combination for the sweaty day. It was exactly what was needed. By now, the sun was out with a much stronger force. It was a brutal day as we pressed on.

I found another great shop full of imported goods and antiques, Casa Chiqui, they had beautiful things. However, alot of things I could buy here at home, and for some of the more local pieces the prices were way to high to be justified. It was a fun place to look, maybe dream, but not to buy… and definitely not with Brad by my side.

Instead, we ended up buying a brass iguana door knocker from the man on the street. Unfortunately, when we had gone back to the antique shop from a few days before, they were closed.  The one we had bought was very nice, and the price was fairly reasonable. It wasn’t my ideal situation, I don’t even know if it’s an antique (extremely unlikely).

yosemite & cartagena 1385-2.jpgAgain, we needed a break. So we headed up the stairs of a small cafe called El Balcon. We just got a couple of drinks, and tried to regroup, but it felt impossible. We sat on the balcony overlooking the street below and taking in the breeze, we did our best to let our bodies cool. Finally, with Brad tipsy and me hydrated, we hit the streets again. We were spent. We began to try to find our way back towards the outskirts of the old city to grab a taxi back. The inevitable heat had us stopping for gelato on the way at Gelateria Paradiso.

When we reached the outer wall, we found a line of kiosks that offered boat rides & a day on a private island in the Rosario Islands. We were very intrigued. We knew the water near the islands was far better than what we had by our hotel, and we were running out of things to do. Not to mention, a day of just chilling on a luxurious beach sounded great. We booked it for the next day, and went to grab a taxi back to the Hilton Cartagena.

7.22.17 325Once we got to the hotel, we decided to head back down to the pool for a bit to cool off. We spent maybe an hour goofing off in the water again. Then we did the usual showering before getting ready to head to dinner. We knew exactly where we were going, which felt rare. The restaurant was Kiosco el Bony, a beach side restaurant (it sits on the sand) serving up fresh seafood.  We grabbed a table near an open window in the muggy building and watched the sunset over the water. It was a gorgeous view in a fun spot. Since I am not a huge seafood person, especially in foreign countries, I let Brad order the fish, and I opted for a chunk of beef and a pile of fries. Safe… and worth it. We both enjoyed our meals immensely. It was a great recommendation from diving guide the day before & I would definitely recommend it to anyone else in the future.  After dinner, we wanted to stay out a little bit  loner & what better way than with crepes!? …That’s right we went back to Mr. Crepe,  wandered a little, then grabbed our bottled water at the market & headed back to the hotel.

Day 6:

7.22.17 353Once again, after breakfast we were out the door early to head back toward the old city. We made our way to the docks where we were instructed to wait with the large group of people heading to our tropical paradise with our own private cabana & luxurious beach.

We got our wristbands, made our payments and waited patiently before we were all boarded onto the full boat one by one. The large number of passengers made it somewhat uncomfortable, but I didn’t care. Paradise was waiting. As we began to slow down and made our descent into the small stone built dock my dreams, once again, began to slowly be dashed. It wasn’t quite what I was thinking of, and the pictures we were shown, once again were slightly misleading. Although we did each have our own private cabana on a private beach, the water was still a little ways away down a rocky set of steps, or from a small ladder off the dock that was down a set of stairs. The beach was littered with small sharp rocks and broken shells that made walking in slightly like torture. It was more pleasurable to swim around and exhaust your muscles than it was to walk in and out. I knew I had to make the best of it, this was as good as it was going to get. Hey! At least the water was crystal clear!

7.22.17 399The other bummer is that I anticipated a bit nicer of a facility. What they didn’t tell us was that our meal would be served at picnic tables on the much more 2nd world appearing behind-the-scenes facility.  I should preface that the whole situation wouldn’t have bothered me if I truly knew what I was getting into before booking. They made it seem so much more glamorous than it actually was.  I will say that the lunch (I chose chicken) was very delicious!

After lunch, Brad made friends while swimming & I sat on the beach for a little bit looking for shells that weren’t broken (there were none) before I joined him. We both donned our hats in the water trying to keep any further UV rays from turning us pink while we waited for the grey clouds on the horizon to push in further.  I think we were both happy to be in the beautiful aqua waters despite the rough entry. Sunburns or not…  “Deception” or not… It was a good way to spend the better half of the day.  NOTE: I feel like I may have made it sound like I was very unhappy with the whole experience, and I wasn’t, just caught of guard to be truthful. This was a far better experience than what we had in Baru.  

The boat ride back was a little different than the one going. Instead of just going straight back to the mainland, we made several pit stops to pick up additional passengers and their luggage. They crammed them in the best they could, and then we continued on our merry way. At this point, the weather was stirring and so were the waters. The boat ride became quite choppy and little more exciting than some may have wanted. However, we made it back safe and sound while taking in the lovely views of the old city.

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7.22.17 431Once on dry flat land, we made our way back across the street to grab a cab & head back to wash up. When we got to our room the rains had hit & it became a waiting game. When we walked out the door we had no idea what we were in for and headed along our usual route. We noticed the roads had flooded and anticipated a slightly more challenging excursion than usual. It wasn’t long before a set of cars made their way through (nearly a whole tire deep in water), pushing the waters over the curb and onto the side walk, drenching the lower portions of our legs. We were partly amused and partly disgusted thinking of having the dirty Cartagena street water all over our shoes and clothes.  We quickly turned back to the hotel to change, laughing along the way.

All changed up & re-rinsed, we headed back out, but decided to take the back way around the lagoon. We were in the process of looking for a place where I could get dumplings. We found a place not too far, Maii Sushi. This worked out great since Brad’s favorite food of all time is sushi.  He stuffed himself with sushi rolls & stuffed myself with chicken and pork dumplings… It was great. NOTE: That was the nice thing about Cartagena is that they have all sorts of different types of cuisine to enjoy!  

Afterward, you guessed it… Crepes… and then a leisurely stroll back to the hotel.

Day 7:

7.22.17 450It was our last day in Cartagena & once again we were unsure of what to do. We went back and forth until after breakfast when we decided that we should just go to Aviario Nacional de Colombia. We didn’t do much research on it. I just kept seeing it on all of the tour cards in the taxis. We aren’t huge bird lovers, but we love nature & wildlife and figured there was nothing better to do. We were a little surprised at the cost to get there & back, I think $60 or $80 USD, but the driver said he would wait for us. Because of the remote location there were no taxis there to bring us back.

7.22.17 457When we pulled up to the Aviario, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. We saw the quaint but nice, entry set up with a large hang out area for a bunch of Macaws and other types of parrots. We said our hellos to the birds, and followed the arrows leading us in to the first exhibit.  The very first exhibit was a large walk-in aviary full of beautiful exotic colorful birds. Many of them were not shy and loved chatting with us. Others played coy and we had to admire from afar. As a whole, we easily spent over half an hour in this one enclosure. It was that exciting. NOTE: I can tell you this now, what we experienced at the Aviario Nacional was hands down the best experience of our trip & possibly one of the top 10 in all of our travels. This was the best “why not, we have nothing better to do” decision of my life! 

We continued on our way down the path and saw many other stunning birds including more parrots in all the colors, large cranes, emus, flamingos, etc. The last encounter we had was with a bunch iguanas near the water that mingle with the ducks. There were bright green and deep brown and had no interest in being too close. They were truly something to behold though.

On our way out we stopped at the main parrot encounter near the entrance. We were having a lot of fun with some very interactive and quite cheeky small green parrots. They were not at all shy, and had no problem hopping all over at us, biting us, and just being flat out impertinent .

7.22.17 511As we were headed toward the exit, I couldn’t resist one more stop on the big enclosure we first enjoyed. We spent several more minutes inside snapping last minute photos, and Brad said goodbye to his favorites. We didn’t want leave.  As we made our final exit our two green parrot friends were now sitting on the railing out side the entrance of the large enclosure. They stalked us, so Brad decided to start talking to them again, and within a moment of my arrival one was on my shoulder and biting at my ear. I was at a loss, and Brad had to help me free. I said my last goodbyes to these little monsters, while Brad headed on without me. As I made my way behind Brad, I suddenly felt an impact with the top of my head. No joke…. There was a parrot on top of my head. The little fella loved me & wanted to come with. All I could think to do was call to Brad. “Braaaad….. Help!” When Brad turned around & saw what was happening he couldn’t help but laugh at what had unfolded.  (I think it will be one of his favorite memories of me until he dies, and I don’t blame him.)

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SHOP THIS PRINT

I was parrot-free when we got in the cab, but the last thing I wanted to do was leave. However, I was looking forward to escaping the mass amounts of mosquitoes in the park. TIP: If you visit the National Aviary bring bug spray or buy it at the window because you will get bit over and over if you don’t. Brad was craving pizza again, and I couldn’t blame him. He can’t get Dominos in the Congo, so we had our driver drop us off outside of the restaurant. We ordered, we sat, we soaked in the humidity… actually, it soaked the water out of us, and we chilled. We enjoyed the savory meal for a little while, but the wind was picking up & there was a light rain happening on and off and we thought it might be wise to head back to the hotel for a little bit. My feet were filthy from wearing flip flops at the Aviary (all the paths are dirt), and I wanted to just get cleaned up & start packing. It seemed reasonable.  We made our way back on foot. 

A little while later we were ready to go back out for our last supper in Cartagena. I was ready to go, but also, not. I would miss the great food & the Aviaro, but I would not miss all the sweating. We made the conscious decision to have our last meal back at Carbon de Palo. The same place we ate our first night. We figured with empanadas like that, how could we go anywhere else. The atmosphere was great and the food was good. It was all we needed to close out our trip. We enjoyed the singing of older men & feasted in the intense heat while praying the fan get stuck in our direction.  We talked about the women’s wrestling that was playing on the tv & soaked in our last night alone together.

We walked along the streets listening to all the sounds. Brad wanted ice cream so we stopped at a shop along the main road & then headed back toward the hotel for my nightly crepe. …and finished up our last night in the hot tub talking about life.

Day 8:

We woke up, ate breakfast zipped up the luggage, and headed to the airport a little early. We had plenty of time until our flight left & it felt like it never would. The Cartagena airport was fairly small, and getting out was challenging. Literally…. They did last minute random passenger checks while the flight was boarding and I was one of the lucky few. We were all grouped together and escorted to another room off to the side of the terminal. I thnk all of the Americans were a little sketched our and people were pretty upset to be missing their boarding groups for this. Brad boarded the flight without me& thankfully was able to ensure that our seats and baggage were all set, while I had my personal carry on sorted thru (again) and answered random questions. ….there was no coccaine to be found. haha. Once they had their way with my bags, I was sent on my way & thankfully got to cut the line for the plane since I had priority boarding. Finally, I was on the plane & and headed home.

There is no place like home… but those empanadas were the bomb!

Cartagena Travel Tips: Don’t go with overly high expectations… I feel like that was my biggest mistake. Cartagena is a neat city, but 7-8 days was too long for me. I could have settled at 5. Also, Cartagena isn’t a great beach city… Not like Phuket or Cancun… I, personally, wouldn’t go back to go the beach. As a whole the beaches were dirty, crowded, and full of muggy water… Unless you want to take the long boat ride to the islands… but even then there are better beach options. Go to Cartagena simply for the culture, and the Aviario… & get the empanadas at Carbon de Palo. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and be ready to sweat!

Thailand: The Phuket Edition.

iphone-2-363We arrived in Phuket in the late afternoon. Once again we had a driver to pick us up from the airport. It was a long ride to Karon Beach. We were finally dropped off at our hotel, Beyond Resort Karon. When we got checked in the first night, our first inclination was to spend some time on the beach. We went down for a quick walk & then headed back up to get ready for dinner. Within a short period of time, I noticed that we had a small problem. There were several bugs in our room. The alcove around the ceiling had several cobwebs and spiders, and there were a couple others in different spots as well. We called downstairs to see if it was possible to switch rooms, but instead they sent in a crew of 3 people to clean the place up. Within about 20 minutes, they had dusted and vacuum just about every inch of the room which was amazing. We appreciated their hustle and dedication to fixing the problem.

Once that problem was solved, we were free for dinner. We headed out onto the street lining Karon Beach in search of a meal.We went left as we exited the hotel and walked along the coast. There wasn’t much striking our fancy, so we kept on going. Finally, we reached a point where we decided that we needed to turn back because it didn’t seem like there was a future for us beyond. We crossed the road and walked along the opposite side to inquire further. We eventually ended up at a small Thai restaurant. I was beyond miserable. My body had reached that level of hot that you don’t know if you can come back from. My fingers were really swollen, and I was struggling to cool down. I was ready to lose it. As soon as my water came, I practically chugged it. For dinner, I ordered fried rice because I felt like it was a meal that wouldn’t make me any hotter because rice seemed like it cooled down quickly.

Post dinner, I was desperate for more water, so we made a valiant effort to find some. We stopped in at a 7-11 down the way to stock up. Not much more happened after that,and we ended up back in our room ready to stock up on rest for the next day.

The next day was all about relaxing and exploring the area. We got in a lot of walking and a lot of beach time.  After our complimentary breakfast, we headed down to the beach to do some light swimming in the sea. The water was warm, fairly clear, and the sand was so smooth. We had a great time goofing off in the water & and fighting the currents like a couple of kids. After our swim, we went back to our room to change.

It was lunch time, and we wanted to find something great to eat. We ended up at Buffalo Steakhouse because Brad was wanting a burger. They had a menu with a lot of options on it… Something for everyone! We ate somewhat quickly, and then were back on our feet. We wanted to see more of Karon so we continued on our journey down the rough streets. We followed a sidewalk that ran along a smelly stream, and it led us to Kata Beach.

iphone-2-364We walked along the coast and followed it to the end. We took a left and headed “into town”. As we turned in, we found a dive shop, Dive Asia. Diving was one of the things we wanted to do while we were there, so Brad made a quick inquiry. When he came back out, we kept walking with the intent to do a little research on the company prior to booking. TIP: Before booking with an adventure company it is always wise to check their reviews and ratings… You don’t want to be the next horror story… However, we were overwhelmed by the heat, once again, and decided to turn back. We ended up grabbing cocktails at one of the restaurants that may have been apart of Kata Beach Resort & Spa, I know we used the resort’s wifi while we were there.  This was the perfect place to do our diving research. When I pulled up Dive Asia on tripadvisor.com, I took note of their score. It was basically 5 stars or iphone-2-3675 green dots… however you want to look at it. I read some of the reviews, and check the website, and decided that I was satisfied with what I saw. So, after wrapping up our cocktails be headed back to the Dive Shop, and booked our dive. We decided to do 2 dives off of the Phi Phi Islands & 1 dive at Shark Point the following day. This was our first dive trip since doing our training in Cancun & we were thrilled! After filling out our paperwork, we began our walk back to the hotel. We hung out on Karon Beach for a while, and enjoyed an early afternoon stroll along the shore.

Soon enough it was dinner time, and we decided to go find a place. We ended up at Sorrento’s Ristorante & Pizzeria. Brad ordered a couple seafood dishes, and I went with an Asian dish. We weren’t fully thrilled with our choices… I think I was burnt out on Asian, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to embrace the culture.  Shortly after we were back on the streets wandering freely. As we wandered down, we stopped at a pop-up Mojito Bar… Freshly made mojitos by a young woman for a small price. They were so worth it! That girl knows how to make a mean mojito! We continued walking, and found the lady-boy bars. We laughed the whole way down the street, as they cat-called & offered to let us play some bar games. I found it interesting that they would call to Brad when I was right there, but I guess some people are into some weird stuff! We continued our way down the street, and ended up finding an interesting looking restaurant… for another night.  We popped into the 7/11 that was right there for more water and some J Chew Dehydrated Mango.

28On our way back to the hotel once again, we made a stop so that I could try the French Rolled ice cream that was being sold by one of the street vendors. I requested chocolate & he pulled out a recycled 2 liter bottle full of, what looked like, chocolate milk. In a flash, he quickly poured it over his frozen counter top & began to spread it into a loosely shaped square. …After shaping and freezing, he began to scrape it off the counter into lovely rolls. One by one he placed the rolls into a paper cup & handed it over. I was able to add my own chocolate sprinkles (the jars seemed like a germ trap, though), and I scarfed it down as we continued on our way. When we got back to the hotel, we were ready for bed because we had a fairly early pick up the next morning.

So, with an early pick up, we went and got our buffet breakfast, and then sat in the lobby for a while. I was bummed because I had bought a GoPro specifically for this day, but sadly I spaced on getting a housing for it. TIP: If you are getting special gear for diving, don’t forget that you dive in meters, not feet… like this dumbass did. But, We knew it was going to be a good time anyways. We had our backpack packed with all our necessities to get through a long day, which included our hotel towels.  We were picked up and loaded into an open back truck again. Slowly, but surely the number of people began to grow. We enjoyed the company of another young couple from Finland & eventually got talking with an awesome couple from Malaysia (…we are facebook friends now!). However, I believe we were all in different groups.  When we got to the main Dive Shop, we were all paired with a guide who gave us a tub of dive gear with our name on it with our requested sizes & had us try everything to ensure that it fits.  Once everything was in order, we were all loaded back into our trucks, and toted to the big boat.  Once we reached the pier, we were all unloaded and just had to wait for a free pink truck to take us down to the boat (it was a weird system).

1Once there, we took a giant group photo, and then we all boarded the boat. We were instructed to remove our shoes to prevent slipping, and we could gather them again once our trip was over.  From there, we climbed the ladder to go up stairs to the “hang out area”, and we all had to put on a life jacket until we were out of the policed waters… Once we begun to head out to sea, we had our “orientation”.  It was a while before we reached our first dive site. Approximately 30 minutes before, we were on the dive deck gearing up. Once we hit the first Phi Phi site, we shuffled off in our groups, and began our descent together.  Unfortunately, the first dive was a pretty clear indicator of how the day was going to go… fair visibility, and not a lot of great iphone-2-379sightings.  We got to see a beautiful cuttlefish as one of our last sightings of the day, which was truly incredible. Seeing one in real life is far more amazing than watching it on the Discovery Channel. haha.  The dive day itself wasn’t too bad. The staff was great, and looked out for us. Our guide was awesome because, considering this was only our second set after getting our certification, he looked out for us & treated it as a bit of a refresher which was definitely needed.  Dive Asia also, provided a great lunch. Lots of veggies and rice.. Something for everyone! I’m certain no one left hungry.  FACT: What I liked about Dive Asia is that we never felt abandoned, and the boat was large enough to prevent sea sickness… but I think we took something prior as well. It was well-organized and planned. The whole thing went like clock work. Beautiful! I would recommend them! 

iphone-2-384-1After our final dive at Shark Point, we all rinsed off, and changed into our day-to-day clothes. We were able to just relax, and some of us even enjoyed watching the sunset over Phuket as we rode into shore. I was really looking forward to showering, but still had a while until we returned to the hotel. Once everyone and everything was removed from the boat, we hopped on the pink trucks again to take us to the start of the pier. From their, we all broke down into our travel groups, and one by one we were dropped off at our hotels.

Upon return, Brad & i quickly cleaned ourselves up, and headed back out for dinner. This time we headed to the restaurant that we had found the previous night, Wine Connection. Don’t even ask me what Brad got, but I got a Mediterranean salad, and I ordered the Pumpkin Ravioli that changed my life! I’m not even kidding… It was, again, one of those things that I crave! We ate until we couldn’t fit anymore in, and then headed out for our usual… A stop at 7-11 for water, and our walk back to the room.

iphone-2-403The next day we decided to head into Patong. We walked down the street of Karon in search of a tuk-tuk. As we walked along, we tried to find someone who would offer us a decent rate. But the closer we got to Patong, the more we realized that we weren’t going to get a better rate for transport. Brad finally gave in and we loaded into the back of a black sedan, and our driver took us on to Patong. It was a decent length drive, and the roads were covered in mud from the rainstorm the night before. What we found out when we arrived, is that it was one of the biggest mudslides Patong had seen in in several years. The coating of mud extended down into the shops, even the shops with a step up. Many were closed for the day as we watched owners try to squeegee or mop it out.

iphone-2-405We wandered on looking for something to snack on, and ended up at Somero’s Ice Cream Paradise for ice cream. It was so delicious, and definitely a destination that I would go to again, should I go back.  From there we just continued to wander the streets. We were primarily looking for souvenirs aka “Buddha Bells” as I like to call them, but I wasn’t having much luck. Most the shops that were open were selling random cheap gifts like carved soaps. But we kept trying. After wandering, what felt like, most of Patong we were starting to wear down.  We needed lunch. We wanted another Indian meal, and somehow ended up at ICC Indian Curry Club, we ordered our date day usual, chicken korma & naan, and oddly, despite it’s high ratings, it was one of our least favorite kormas. We finished it out of politeness, but felt like we were not satisfied by the unique flavor.

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Brad’s strawberry cocktail… I got a beer. 

After lunch, we bumped into two of the guys from our scuba trip the day before. We engaged in quick and friendly banter before trying to continue on with our day. I decided that I wanted to stop in an antique & souvenir store that we had seen prior. I noticed that they had some “Buddha Bells” & to my surprise they were offering 30% off. So, with that I left with a big one, and a mini one. I was so excited that I finally had a Thai treasure to bring home!  From there, we decided to stop in at Tiger, a very large local bar & club.  The ladies working showed us a spot we could sit, and quickly took our drink order. As Brad & I were attempting to relax, the ladies decided that they wanted to play a couple different games with us. One was Connect 4, and the other was a dice game! FACT:It was a great addition to our day, and really showed how fun the Thai culture & people are.  SIDE NOTE:  I don’t think we got the full Patong experience because of the King’s death, from what I understand it can be really crazy. From here we wandered into the shopping center, Jungceylon. It was an impressive center. It was fairly small, but was comprised of 3 levels, and had many yummy-looking restaurants on the outside. It was a great way to kill a little time.

iphone 2 420.JPGBy now, Brad was wearing down, and was starting to get a migraine so we decided to head back to the hotel, so that he could take something for his head, and we could just hang out. Our evening resulted in another beach walk for me, and Brad rested for about an hour before he came to find me. Eventually, we met back up, and were ready to grab some dinner. It was unanimous. We wanted to head back to Sorrento’s to try the pizza. I know, I know… We are pizza freaks, who isn’t though?  We were actually incredibly surprised by how delicious the pizza was! We scarfed it down without any issue.  By now you should know what we did post-dinner: walk & 7-11.

We had considered booking another outing for the next day, but I just wasn’t feeling up to. Instead, we decided to spend the day in Karon & enjoy each other’s fabulous company. After breakfast, we decided to put on our swimsuits, and play in the ocean. …but at this point, we realized that Brad left his hat on the scuba boat. This meant that we had to make an impromptu trip to the scuba office, and thankfully we had found the Karon office which was near the Starbucks (that we never went to!!). When we made our inquiry they shared that they didn’t have anything but would have the crew check the boat, and that we would have to check back the next morning. With this plan in motion, we headed back to our beach.

iphone-2-375 The water was warm, and clearer than it had been the past few days. We played until Brad started to worry about turning pink, at which point he headed inland for cover. We ended up laying by the pool for a short period of time before deciding to grab a snack. We went over to the hotel restaurant, where I proceeded to order a ham & cheese toasty… I was so exciting thinking it would remind me of Europe, or something. It didn’t. It sucked. It was literally the worst thing I had on the entire trip… Okay, maybe not as bad as the lava cake in Bangkok, but pretty damn close.  Thankfully, it was small, so there wasn’t much to suffer through, but we knew that a real lunch was going to be required, so after a little more relaxing, and a little extra time in the water, we went upstairs to change into something more appropriate for tracking down lunch.  I should point out that neither Brad or I remember what we did for lunch… so I am just going to skip it!

After lunch, we just continued to wandered. We ended up a very small shopping quarter that had a massage shop. We each received an intensive foot massage, and I’m pretty sure I left feeling just as tense as when I left because, I just don’t enjoy being touched by other people…. From there, we began heading back toward Kata.. We followed the same smelly stream down toward the beach, and were there for just a little while before we decided to turn back.

All day, we had been planning on heading back to Patong for dinner to celebrate our anniversary at a fancy restaurant, but with only hours to go, we began to lose interest. We weren’t sure what to do, but we definitely were not feeling fancy. So I made the suggestion to have a beach date.  We ended up grabbing a beach mat for about $5USD from one of the shops lining the street, we ordered another pizza from Sorrento’s and grabbed beers and a twix from 7-11. Honestly, it was amazing! I think it was one of the funnest and most spontaneous anniversaries we have had so far because it was so low-key!  We laid the beach mat out on the sand and enjoyed our pizza & beer overlooking the Andaman Sea. The only downside, was the chubby man in a speedo in front of us, but it was all for the memories!

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After our mini feast, we left our belongings behind, and headed over to the granite boulders that I proceeded to climb barefoot, in order see what lie beyond the rock formations and in search of tide pools and claimed that if Pocahontas could do, I could do it… Why would I say that??? …because I swear I thought my feet were going to bleed… Those rocks were rough! TIP: Don’t climb granite boulders barefoot, especially when you have to leap from one to the other…  We watched the local fishermen on the rocks and on their boat as the sun began to set.  It was a great night.

 

 

iphone-2-476-1The next morning was our last. We got packed up, grabbed some breakfast, and enjoyed one last swim in the beautiful turquoise waters. We were sad to say goodbye, but it was so nice to think about seeing my dog again. Once we were all cleaned up, and everything was tightly packed away, we headed downstairs to check out. The trick now, was that we still had a few hours to kill. We first arranged a tuk-tuk ride to the airport. Then we headed over to the Dive Asia office in hopes of collecting Brad’s hat, and thankfully, we succeeded. Then from there, we just meandered around town, trying to find a place that would let us use our credit card for lunch, so that we would be able to pay our tuk-tuk driver with our remaining Baht. We ended up stopping in at a roadside restaurant, where we both proceeded to order our last Pad Thai of the trip. When we were ready for the check, we found out that we had to spend a certain amount in order to use our credit card, so we ended up ordering desert too… ice cream, of course.  We aren’t very mysterious, are we??

iphone-2-501Finally, after additional meandering, it was time to leave. Our driver met us in front of the hotel, and we loaded up the tuk-tuk with all of our luggage and us.  As we made our way to the airport (which was different the way we came), it began to rain. It was a beautiful way to end the trip. We were able to see the Big Buddha on top of the mountain, which was truly satisfying. Brad & I didn’t have much of an interest in seeing any additional temples while we were in Phuket, so this was a nice final touch.

At the airport, Brad and I had a little bit of time together, and thankfully, we were in the same terminal. We were able to be together until my flight began to board. He smiled and waved at each other, until we were out of each other’s line of sight. I was thankful that he got to wave me off this time, instead of having to sit alone for an extended period of time in a different terminal, but anyways… our trip was over. …and I was homeward bound.

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Brad’s plane was right next to mine.

LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) I definitely get burned out on Thai food

2) Brad can’t keep track of his belongings

3) Scuba Diving definitely gets easier the more you do it!

Cambodia: The Siem Reap Edition.

We arrived late to the airport in Siem Reap, and it was the most challenging to get through. We were paying for visas on arrival, which were $60 USD a piece, and then we had to go through customs. The airport was surprisingly nice inside. When we walked out with our bags we expected to find our driver from the hotel… However, no one was there despite having it confirmed. We ended up having to hire a driver to take us, but it was no problem. Our driver found our hotel, Chronicle Residence & Spa,  easily, and we went to check in. I informed the gentleman at the front desk, and he took care of the issues. We were escorted to our room & given a wonderful tour. It was unconventional, but shows their level of hospitality! It was bed time, but we still needed to book the sunrise tour for Angkor Wat the next morning… Brad called downstairs and took care of it for us.

iphone 2 314.JPGWe had requested a tuk-tuk but the next morning we were put in a car instead, which I think was their way of covering for their mistake the night before. Our driver drove us in & dropped us off at the ticket center. Once we had our day pass, we were brought to the front of Angkor Wat for the sunrise… TIP: Angkor Wat has a very strict wardrobe policy, so I suggest you have your knees and shoulders covered at all times while there.

The morning truly did not go as planned. When we were buying our tickets, it was raining pretty hard. When we got there is the lightest drizzle…. When I pulled my camera out, it fogged out so much that it was basically useless. …. It wasn’t much of a sunrise view,but we still got some gorgeous photos…  Here they are:

We called our driver, on the phone provided by the hotel, to come get us and take us back to the hotel. We figured it would be smart to get some of free breakfast before we did the rest of our exploring.  We journeyed back for a relaxed morning over breakfast. I was also able to get my camera back into working order, which was great.

iphone-2-322Once we were ready to go again, we headed out of the hotel on foot in hopes to find a tuk-tuk, We walked for about 10 minutes, and were even able to stop in a very small shop to get water, before we got in a tuk-tuk.  Our new driver drove us back into the park, and to the front of Angkor Wat. We started again… We crossed the bridge into the main entry in awe of the beautiful and intricate detailing. … We kept going… We wandered down the steps in the grassy fields below, away from the main path. There were dragonflies everywhere, and we even found some monkeys as we encroached up on the main structure.

iphone-update-042As we wandered up to the main structure, we entered through one of the side entries, and then went left to the main walkway. As soon as we walked in, you notice all the people taking in all the grandeur… …and all the selfie sticks and umbrellas for sun protection. It was overwhelming, and it was basically so humid that you were instantly wet from the amount of moisture in the air. We wandered around a little bit, and then got in line to go up the incredibly steep steps to the top of the temple. The view was incredible! You can overlook all the people coming and going, the view goes for miles, or should I say kilometres? Here are some of Angkor Wat photos:

12We eventually decided to head back down. We looked a bit more, and then headed back out, but this time we exited to the other side. We had a run in with a critter with many legs, and we headed to get lunch. We ate at one of the cafes outside of the park called Angkor Cafe.  I got a bowl of soup & Brad had a sandwich, and we finished it up with ice cream. It was all really good and delicious.iphone-2-325

Once we were done with lunch, we were feeling bold enough to go venture on… So this time we headed up the main way of Angkor Wat and cut through. Brad ended up having to go the bathroom, so we had to find the restrooms before we could do anything. That however, put us on another journey down a beautiful dirt road behind Angkor Wat. We followed it along, past a couple 7of ruins, and eventually reached a point of having to take a tuk-tuk, or attempt to walk.  We figured we would walk because we really did comprehend the area of temples actually was. TIP: I urge you to please, please, please get a tuk-tuk. Don’t be those dumb tourists like we were… I had read how big they were, but I really didn’t get it until we were there, and we didn’t have a tuk-tuk. UGH!! We continued walking blissfully unaware that we were getting nowhere anytime soon, and started to debate if we should turn back, when suddenly a couple of other tourists from South Africa stopped & offered to share their tuk-tuk with us. We were really grateful, and head to our first alternate Temple… Here are some of the photos before the story continues:

15sWe started at Banteay Kdei Temple… I just remember thinking it was really neat to be walking along ancient ruins… This is also where I bought my first piece of travel art (at the very end). We followed the long road in and followed it right back out once we hit the end, while simultaneously wandering through the ruins. We weren’t sure where the two girls were that we came with, but we knew we needed to get our own tuk-tuk anyways. We waited around for a little bit, with no luck. All the ones that were there, were already hired for other guests. We ended up wandering across the way to use the bathrooms, and then waited on the street corner in hopes that someone would see us and offer us a ride… Finally it happened after about 30 minutes, we had our own tuk-tuk.

He was taking us on an adventure to Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple) & Angkor Thom (Bayon Temple). He dropped us off at the front of Ta Prohm, and told us to meet us at the other end. He did the same with Angkor Thom… Here are some photos from both.

Ta Prohm:

Angkor Thom:

It was a really long day, and we were exhausted. So after our magical monk experience at Angkor Thom, we asked our Tuk-Tuk driver to take us back to our hotel… Our timing was just about perfect, as soon as we reached the point of Angkor Wat it started to rain… …and as we drove on, it began to rain harder and harder.

When we got to the hotel, we jumped out of the tuk-tuk, and ran in as quick as possible, feeling guilty about our muddy footprints that we left in the lobby. We went upstairs, took our showers, and then ended up napping for about an hour.

iphone update 057.JPGWhen we awoke, we were wanting dinner… but not just any dinner, Indian food. We looked for a place, but were coming up short. When we went down stairs to request a ride they made an excellent suggestion, The Curry Walla. Their chicken korma & naan was so delicious, that we just scarfed it down.  Afterwards, we wandered a little bit. We found a place called Blue Pumpkin, a small cafe offering pastries, light meals, and ice cream. It was a great way to finish off our dinner. With plenty of R&R we hit the streets once more and ended up running into Pub Street. iphone update 056.JPGWhat a funny place… There was lots of action here. Large karaoke bars open to the streets, more bars, more restaurants, vendors, shops… It was happening!  After the day Brad & I had though, we were tired and sore. We weren’t out for to much longer. We probably explored for about an hour before we headed back toward the restaurant. When we got back to The Curry Walla, we used the hotel’s phone again to call the driver. We ended up waiting way longer than we probably should have, but it’s Cambodia, what can ya do??… When we got in the car we ended up going back to Pub Street to pick up a couple of guys that had been partying. I was really happy for them, but really wanted my bed.

The next morning we woke up at a fairly normal hour, got our bags partially packed, went to have a delicious breakfast, then went back to the room to finish packing. We eventually made our way down stairs to check out and were then on our way to the airport for our next exciting chapter.

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Bye, Cambodia!

LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) You need a lot of bug spray in Cambodia… The mosquitoes were having a feeding frenzy on me…

2) Make sure you have a mosquito net & that it is closed all the way. I woke up our last morning and had a few brutal bites around my feet and ankles because of the way I sleep.

3) Cambodian chicken noodle soup is amazing!

My travel art: a watercolor painting of Angkor Wat complete with birds! iphone 2 927.JPG

Thailand: The Chiang Mai Edition.

It was a long journey from Phoenix to Chiang Mai. Iiphone update 160.JPG had stops in both Los Angeles & Hong Kong. By the end, I felt I was in desperate need of a shower, and some personal space.  I arrived in Chiang Mai around 14:30, and was settled into my hotel,  around 16:00. (I had a driver pick me up and drop me off.) I figured the best thing I could do was freshen up, and get some fresh air. So, I changed my shoes, washed my face, put makeup back on, grabbed my purse, and put some of my things in the safe. I was going to be on my own.

iphone-update-175Not 100% sure of where to go, but just remembering a little bit from studying google maps, I headed toward the night bazaar. From their a couple of left turns led me on a journey through souvenir shops, and Buddhist temples. I pushed on knowing that I had to wear myself down and go as long as possible before I could go to sleep. I probably lasted about two hours on the streets. Not feeling bold enough to sample Thai food yet, partially because I didn’t feel like making the effort to figure out what to order, I ended up ordering Pizza Hut because it was literally right outside our hotel.  I did my best to eat all I could despite the fact that I felt like I could pass out at any second. With a full belly, I took a quick hot shower, then waited to hear from Brad when he was in Phuket. I didn’t last much longer. I was trying to stay awake until he got there, but it wasn’t possible. I could feel myself dosing off, and immediately grabbed my phone to let him know that I wouldn’t be awake upon his arrival. Seconds after sending the text, I was gone. I remember, a little while later hearing the hotel room door open, and the sound of my husbands voice. We were finally back together.

The next morning we had to get our own breakfast, so we found a Starbucks. It was a nice choice because it gave us a little bit of our normal cuisine while we got “wild” with the Thai food. …and it was just a nice relaxing routine way to start our mornings together.

Our first day, we just stayed in the city. We wandered all over looking for fun treasures, and popping in and out of the small temples. As we wandered along the city walls, and near the river, we ended up finding John’s Place, this restaurant had the best Pad Thai in all of Thailand…. Here are some of our beautiful photos from that day, click to see where:

Tip: Make sure you have the appropriate attire for entering temple grounds… Some places may supply you with it, but not all… Shoulders should be covered, and often knees…

After a day of wandering through the city, we were tired, sweaty, and couldn’t wait to relax. We ended up wandering through the Night Bazaar, enjoying food & checking out the local vendors. Eventually though, it was time for bed, I had hung in there as long as possible.

iphone-update-247The next morning we woke with only one one activity in mind. Elephants. Our first task was to wander upstairs to the concierge to try to book an event. We ended up booking with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, mainly because it was within our time frame, and they don’t offer elephant rides.  They were picking us up late that morning to take us to the Sanctuary, so with the time in between we went to Starbucks to get our breakfast, and then did some light wandering through the city, a different area than usual. We ended up finding a fun temple with mother of pearl inlaid pillars, and mirrored mosaic detailing. We also, had fun taking pictures mimicking the Buddhas.36.JPG

We got back to the hotel, packed the back pack, and waited downstairs for our driver. It was an extensive drive in an open back vehicle with a group of about 10 other people. It was easily about 1.5 hours of driving, with a stop at a gas station for snacks. The drive was very scenic, but towards the end I was starting to experience some motion sickness from not being able to see out completely.

34Once we were out of the truck, we were instructed to put on one of the festive “ponchos”. Then we were shuffled over to the picnic tables for our orientation. Our guide/instructor walked us through the timeline for the afternoon & shared information about Thai elephants and the organization. Eventually, it was time to play. I was so excited to interact with Asian Elephants. Fact: Asian Elephants are significantly smaller than African Elephants. Take a look here: iphone 2 121.jpg

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We started off our interaction with handfuls of small bananas. Elephants love bananas! After probably 30 minutes of loving the beauties, we headed up the hill to meet the mama & her 5 day old baby. It was such a treat! We watched the little baby slowly wander around near its mom & practice using its trunk and ears. It was so cute! We all watched in awe wanting to love on the baby, but eventually it was time for everyone to have a mud bath. Our group scurried back to our belongings & readied themselves in their swimwear.  Here is some of our fun, click for a larger view:

The Thai employees had already begun working the elephants toward the mud, and were not far behind. Within moments there were 5 elephants and approximately 20 people in a giant pool of muddy water. The elephants began jubilantly rolling around, and the people gathered round throwing mud on the elephants and giving them mud massages.  It was so fun… At one point it became a bit of a mud fight as patrons began lobbing large wads of mud back and forth towards each other. No one was safe.

About 15 minutes after, we all made our way towards the river for our baths. We all grabbed old bowls and buckets & began rinsing each other and the elephants, splashing one another like children. It was one of the best times that I have ever had in a river.  Once play time was over, and everyone was “cleaned off”, we headed back up the hill to the outdoor showers, where we were able to rinse off river debris and remaining bits of mud.  Then it was snack time.  Elephant Jungle Sanctuary provided us with some amazing Thai dishes & some watermelon. It was all delicious, and great to get something before our long drive back.

Eventually, we arrived back at our hotel, which meant it was time for real showers before we headed back out.  We wandered a little bit, not fully sure of what to do. We explored the area a bit more, and ended up deciding to eat at one of the local restaurants, Pizza Hut. We couldn’t shake the “lame” away, and for some reason we were both craving it. So we went with it. It was surprisingly expensive compared to the Thai food, but really hit the spot.

We headed back to the hotel in an attempt to get some cool, dry air. We also wanted to scout out a potential zip-lining company. We found one. Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. I booked us for the JF3 package, with arrangements to be picked up in the morning.  We were so pumped.

I wasn’t ready for bed just yet, I wanted a little more time on my feet, so we headed back out for about an hour until Brad was worn down. The extensive rows of street vendors and tourists were quite overwhelming, and seemed like they went on for miles and miles, probably because they did. Finally though, the weather overtook us and we were back in our room with a movie before getting some rest for a very fun day ahead.

It was zip-lining day! We headed out to grab a quick McDonald’s breakfast before our big adventure. Next thing you knew, we were in an air-conditioned van headed for the bumpy Mountains outside of Chiang Mai.  Upon arrival, we were issued a locker and basically asked to leave anything that couldn’t be firmly secured to our person. We filled out our paperwork and then were geared up and broken into our groups.

They took us down to the starting point, and from there we were off! It was incredible! Especially the 1000M line…. The view of the canopy was so amazing that I wish I could do it every day. We didn’t see any wildlife, and the only loud noises you hear are those of other thrill seekers near by. It was a really fun afternoon… except maybe the “roller coaster” you are latched in & hold onto two handles over head and basically get voluntarily whiplash… It was truly thrilling, but also a bit painful at times. It is possible to get flung, but you are still attached and still make it to the end. We eventually ran out of lines to zip, and were led down the road to a local restaurant that had some cuisine prepared for us. Honestly, it was good, but it sketched me out a little bit so I didn’t go hog wild for it like I did at the Elephant Sanctuary.

When we got back to the hotel, we quickly rinsed off the jungle sweat and then headed out to wander and to grab an early dinner. We were thinking about going to Doi Suthep the next day, and I needed something to cover my shoulders so that I wouldn’t have to wear my lightweight pullover again because that was brutal. I had found something at one of the souvenir shops, but it was a little pricier than what I wanted, but I didn’t want a traditional Thai silk sarong… I wanted something that I could wear at the beach or wherever. …anyways long story short, I thought about it, looked at other places, but went with the one I like best.. Tip: Ladies – pack something lightweight to cover your shoulders with if need be, and that can just be tossed in your bag while you explore. It’s a game changer.  For dinner we went to a restaurant that sat along the river, The Riverside Bar & Restaurant (it doesn’t get more straightforward than that!). We had a great view, and great service. I went with Chicken Fried Rice, and Brad got something a little more exciting. It was a calm & a fast meal, but it was all I needed at the moment.

iphone 2 123.JPGWe headed back to the hotel after so that I could change into something more comfortable given the weather…. A dress and humidity just don’t go hand in hand when your thighs stick together. I’m not one of those stick leg model types…  Anyways, we then headed back out to explore more of the markets. We wandered for several hours, wanting to try several things and just experience Chiang Mai. We tried some of the hummus from the middle eastern couple, we tried Pad Thai from one of the local ladies (it was exquisite)…. We ended up at another market where we wandered for a little while, and then Brad ditched me to find Thai beer… While we were separated, I considered it a perfect time to buy a few pieces of fun jewelry.  With my purchase complete, and my first “negotiating” sale done, I went back to find Brad. He had  pitcher of Chang, and I couldn’t help but assist him with it. We enjoyed sipping our beer and watching the tourists and locals mingle and mix.

Then it was time for something new. Brad wanted to try another dish, so we went across the way to one of the restaurants and got a small table where we both proceeded to order soup. I’m pretty sure that may be part of why the Thai people are so skinny — soup and hot humidity just make you sweat even more…  I enjoyed mine as it was basically a chicken noodle, and Brad hated his… I think it was like a seafood soup that he said had a very strong ginger taste.  It was pretty funny to watch him try to suffer through it, but eventually he just couldn’t do it, so we got the check and left. We wandered on a bit more…. and found another market for Brad where he was able to find another snack…. Finally, we were both full. We were both exhausted, and we headed back to the hotel. We were leaving the next day, so we packed the bags the best we could, and headed to bed.

iphone-2-139The next morning we finished packing our bags, and got ready to head to Starbucks for breakfast. While we were eating we decided to go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple on the mountain. Once we were finished eating we needed to find a driver. The trick was finding one for a reasonable rate. Once we had our guy, we headed up and up and up. He stopped at a picturesque spot where you can overlook the city. This is also a spot with several street vendors offering food and souvenirs. We were able to snap a pretty great selfie, and then were quickly back in the car. We finally arrived at the top, and our driver agreed to wait for us until we were finished. We bought our tickets, and took the tram up. It was packed with people, and honestly… the stairs wouldn’t have been a problem. Anyways, when we got to iphone-2-133the top, we found the spot where we had to remove our shoes & we headed into the temple. It filled with tourists and locals paying their respects to Buddha, and many dressed in black to honor their late king. It was decadent and beautiful. Although I personally am not a follower of Buddha, nor do I understand Buddhism, I find it to be a very beautiful and peaceful religion. We spent probably about and hour to and hour and half wandering the grounds before we found our way out and back down the stairs.We wandered across the street and headed down hill past the street vendors. We grabbed some meat skewers, and perused.  Without souvenirs we crossed the street once again to find our driver. He found us first, went and got his “tuk-tuk”, and drove us back down the mountain, and dropped us off at our hotel.

We immediately regretted having this as our drop off point because we wanted to go to John’s Place again for lunch, and neither of were dressed for that journey. I was in jeans… It was a miserable, hot and humid walk. We drank through our water quickly, and scarfed down our Chicken Pad Thai once again, and then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags, get checked out, and just sit. We had a driver scheduled to pick us up early that afternoon to take us to the airport.

LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) For countries where religion enforces a dress code, make sure you have something comfortable for covering your shoulders

2) The best Pad Thai is in Chiang Mai – it isn’t overly saucy

3) Mud is way better when it involves elephants

Tanzania: The Zanzibar (I’m Not Referring To My Dog) Edition.

So you may know (from Instagram) that I have a whopping 11.5 pound Yorkshire Terrier named Zanzibar… If you don’t, well she is not your ordinary small dog… She doesn’t like sitting on your lap.. If you try to get close, she usually avoids you… and she lives for fetch. I label her as a working dog. I try to keep her mind busy and learning so that she never gets bored or too crazy. ….But she isn’t the point of this post, although I wish she were.

africa-extras-459The point is: Zanzibar the place. After a lengthy set of evening flights from Cape Town with a stop in Joburg, Brad and I eventually landed in Zanzibar. We had various documents we had to fill out on arrival, we had to have our pictures taken, and purchase our tourists visas. Thankfully, because it is not a large airport, this process was incredibly quick, they basically handed us our bags as we were two of the last people from our flight to pass through. Our driver was there waiting to take us to our hotel. Thankfully, Brad had rejected the idea of driving ourselves around because turns out there were no real road signs, bikes and humans were constantly in the street, and it would have been a nightmare!  A long night commute & an airport arrival brought reality to my attention. FACT: Zanzibar is primarily a Muslim population… You can imagine how uncomfortable I felt arriving in a tank top.

africa-extras-499-1Eventually, we arrived to our hotel, Next Paradise Boutique Hotel, after about a 45 minute drive. Upon arrival, one of the owners (a European gentleman) was there waiting. He quickly got us checked-in, and then informed us that we were the only guests there (this change each day that we were there, and was because they had just finished some light renovations, & we were visiting as the slow season was coming to an end). That part was amazing, and felt a little odd. They were nice enough to offer us dinner that evening, so once our bags were dropped, and we were ready. We headed out to the dining area to eat. The staff was incredible, and the service was fantastic… Literally, every day we were there, we were well taken care of. TIP: Coat yourself in bugspray at night, they go for your feet especially. After dinner, we headed back to bed to rest. Our time in Zanzibar was all about leisure, and relaxing considering the fact that the several days before were jam packed with events.

africa & extras 487.JPGThe next morning. We headed to breakfast. Again, we were the only one there. They offered a small buffet of meats, cheeses, fruits, small crepes, toast, etc. It was a good offering, and I never left unsatisfied. After that, we suited up to head to the beach. The view was stunning, unlike anything I had seen before. The water was so clear, and the sand was incredibly fine like white sugar. We couldn’t help but love it. We dropped everything & headed into the water. It was the perfect temperature. We just waded and played, and enjoyed what Zanzibar was offering.

As the day continued, we needed to cool off from the intense tropical sun, so we headed back to our patio which faced the pool. The staff was kind enough to come over africa & extras 472.JPGand offer us some drinks, so we ordered a couple of African beers, that turned out to be amazing! ..then it was time for more beach time & pool time… then lunch time came.. and we headed back in. We ate, and then decided to do a beach walk. We put some clothes on to protect us from the intensity of the sun, and headed left from the hotel. TIP: Be prepared to feel scorched, and don’t forget your sunscreen. It was a fun walk, and we found many beautiful seashellsafrica-extras-495. FACT: Taking shells out of Zanzibar is illegal, so I highly recommend putting them back unless an African prison is your idea of a good time. ….but there were some really beauties. Large, delicate, colorful, intricate… Skies the limit in Zanzibar. This was pretty much our day…. Low Key walks and talks and dining at our hotel and on the beach, it was a welcome break in an otherwise crazy trip.

africa-2016-682-1The next day was really exciting….. We spent the first half enjoying the ocean again, after breakfast & before lunch. We even wandered into town, where we observed the locals & livestock go about their business. We bought a small case of water & met a wonderful couple that owned one of the local small hotels which only had two rooms. They invited us to try their restaurant, and stay with them the next time we were in Zanzibar. If it wasn’t for Brad’s basic knowledge of Swahili, we probably wouldn’t have had the offer.

Finally the time came to head to Cheetah’s Rock. Cheetah’s Rock is a wonderful wildlife sanctuary on the island of Zanzibar. It was started by a leggy, German woman named Jenny who seems to wear cutoffs and converse as her uniform (she kills it!).  It was clear from start that she has a true passion and love for each of the animals within her sanctuary that had been rescued. We started with Chaka the Zebra. Jenny embedded into our minds, as we interacted with Chaka, that she trained him by building trust with treats and praise, not by force or tricks. This was a clear indicator of her love for animals. After each of us got to work with Chaka, we then moved on to the primates.. We were interacting with everyone, birds, lemurs, bush babies, hyena, her large male lion named Aslan, and even her Cheetah named Tyson. FACT: Cheetah’s purr like house cats. One of the things that I loved most about Cheetah’s Rock, is that Jenny was with us every step of the way, sharing each animal’s story.  Some animals were abused by humans, some were found abandoned… each story was unique. I think our time there was truly special, and it’s something I will never forget. It was another life changing experience about how love and trust can be between many species, like the fact that I was in a cage with a Cheetah receiving kisses. It was magical. FACT: Cheetah’s Rock does provide back and forth transportation. Here are more of our photos from the excursion – have fun!

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel in time for dinner. With such an amazing day behind us, the trip was all down hill. Unsure of what to do the next day, we planned on going to bed, and figuring it out in the morning.

africa-extras-643Arising at a semi-decent hour, we discussed our plans over breakfast and settled on a Stone Town tour. We had no idea what to expect, but it was something to do. We spent the better part of the morning on the beach as the tide was out…. We were able to explore the low tide waters shuffling through corals, looking out for urchin mines, and hunting for moving animals. We ended up being “picked up” by one of the locals who basically & automatically tries to give you a “tour of the area” and find animals for you to interact with… That was the hard part because even if you say “no, thank you”, they are relentless, and then want your money at the end. haha. TIP: Never commit if you aren’t interested. They won’t stop bothering you either. You have to outplay them at their own game. Some areas were a little hard to walk through, there were a couple points, I thought that my feet might bleed, but it was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop. We wandered past the kelp fields that the women tend to, but eventually we did have to get back and grab our things for our tour.

africa-extras-660Late that morning, our driver came and picked us up. He drove us into Stone Town which is on the other side of the island. He dropped us off near the market where we were greeted by our tour guide. He was great, but I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he wanted to be a News Anchor in London… He gave us the grand tour of the city, taking us through markets, leading us through the streets and telling us about the culture and the history… Also, he shared about the ornate doors on the homes lining the streets. He told us that the more ornate the door the wealthier the family, and their were two different styles, one that belonged to middle eastern families, and one that belong to Indian families. After trekking through the humid and crowded streets, we end up at The Seyyida Hotel and Spa near the Palace. This is where we had lunch, which turned out to be just fair, but the hotel itself was beyond beautiful, so my style! We also had great roof views of both the ocean and the roof tops.

From there we headed over to the Beit-el-Sahel africa & extras 664.JPGfor a very quick walk through. This was a former palace to the Sultan. It was interesting, but quite worn down. However, portraits of all the Sultans lined the walls around the large, creeky staircase. We saw the living quarters, and listened to the stories our guide had to share, but not long after entering, we were exiting. TIP: I’m rusty on the history so if you are interested, click the link above. On our way out, I snapped a picture of Brad with the tiniest cannon we ever did see.  FACT: This tour was really rough to get through because we did the entire thing on foot, and it had to be 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with extremely high humidity, so we were struggling. …Not to mention, I don’t think we had bottled water with us.  From here we continued southwest toward the Old Fort. We just basically cut through one end and back out the other, and then continued on what felt like a run through a maze. We were constantly turning different directions, but eventually it led is in a full circle, and we ended up near where we started.  The tour was interesting, but not my favorite. Our guide was fun and definitely had great information to share at the time. It’s too bad that the only thing I remember is the fact about the doors.

AWKWARD EXPERIENCE: Like I said, it was quite hot and humid, which is a big part of why I wore shorts. By no means was my bootie out, and they were probably towards my mid thigh, but it did create some awkward moments for me.  At one point a group of Muslim girls walked past me, stared & then starting whispering, I could only assume it was because of my risque attire & my amazing calves… but then another moment happened… As I was walking along with my husband and our guide, another man just stared at me as he walked by, so intensely that if felt like he was burning my alive with his eyes. It just made me realize how sensitive certain individual can be even though my level of dress was acceptable for an area so densely populated with tourists. It made me want a skirt. TIP: Ladies, pack a maxi skirt, or dress that passes your knees… I didn’t & that was a mistake. 

With our tour over, we ended up back at the hotel in the late afternoon. We went back to the room, and changed into our swimwear. We decided to do a beach walk. This time, we went right as we left the hotel gardens. We found a couple of the other resorts, and we found the Masai guys, or the salesmen of the beach. Each hoping they can convince tourists to buy things they don’t really need. They had beach tunics, tribal masks, jewelry, art, and various other goodies. We however, weren’t interested at that moment, but those guys would practically beg you and trick you into their small beach side hut in hopes that they can get more for it than its worth.  We however, were more interested in going back to the hotel to unwind for dinner. We wrapped up our evening with a hot meal in the cool Zanzibar air, and then headed back to our room to relax. We ended up watching the majority of Armageddon before we fell asleep.

africa & extras 671.JPGThe following morning, we decided we wanted to go scuba diving, but unfortunately, we were too late in trying to schedule, so we settled for snorkeling. We had a few hours of time to just hang out before our afternoon snorkel session because we had to wait for the tide to come back in. This warranted another beach walk down to the Masai. Honestly, I had my eye on a couple things the day before, and had requested that one of the guys custom make something for me. I requested that one of the ebony wood plates be carved to say “Zanzibar” because my plan was to put it in my dog’s corner once we have a home again. …and I got a fantastic African mask which now hangs next to my vanity in my bathroom.

africa-extras-677-2As we waited, we started to wonder if our snorkeling trip would be cancelled because the sky over the ocean was becoming incredibly grey, as we watched the women come back in from their work.

Eventually, it was snorkeling time, and they didn’t cancel which made me question how the visibility would be. Once again, we were picked up in a van and brought to a different beach north of our hotel. We wandered through the small village and had to walk through the ocean to get to the boat, little did we know… We were completely unprepared for walking  through urchin-infested water, and in some ways I think we are incredibly fortunate that neither of stepped on one. Once we were in the boat, we headed north once more, we passed the villagers coming in from fishing, and braved the waves. It was a fairly long ride, but the sea was a textured painting of rich colors. africa-extras-687-1I couldn’t get enough! Eventually though, it was time to jump out & swim… we were in the water for probably about an hour. We saw large bulbous starfish that look more like a rock, a striped sea snake, many fish, and periwinkle colored coral. It was beautiful. However, towards the end, we did have a run-in with a few tiny jellyfish. The stings were fairly painful. I had one that got my wrist, and one that felt like it wrapped around my torso. Brad also got stung a couple of times, and in the end even had his nipple bit by a small salty fish, which was hilarious!!! Our guides cut up fafrica-extras-697resh pineapple  & watermelon for us, and it tasted so refreshing, crisp & vivid after an extensive period in the warm water. Sadly, it was time to leave, and as we headed back inland the waters were even worse than before. At one point I was concerned that the boat may flip.  Thankfully, we made it back in the boat and in one piece. I was so happy when we hit land. Because the tide had come back in, we didn’t have to walk through the water. They basically were able to beach the boat.

What we found upon our return to the hotel, is that we had missed the rain. Turns out we were lucky because we passed it.

africa-extras-706-1It was our last night there, and we had no big plans… It was mostly to just relax once again, and pack. We were able to do one last beach walk in search of pretty shells & peace. We just wanted to enjoy our time together as it was beginning to run low. We found a fantastic crab that was behaving quite oddly, I imagine due it is egg sac, as it would wander and freeze on the beach, but it made for a fantastic photo.

After dinner we played a bit of very casual badminton in our room. It was the perfect blend of playful and competitive, as our games usually are. Then we did our best to get our things in order for our flight the next day.

africa-extras-719The next morning, we finished packing, had breakfast, and then got everything ready to be moved. Our driver eventually arrived to transport us to the airport, and like that our vacation was over. We were both headed back to Johannesburg where we parted ways after one last Indian meal together.

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LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) You WILL feel uncomfortable if you are not dressed for the culture

2) BUG SPRAY! BUG SPRAY! BUG SPRAY!!!

3) Lemurs fingers are as soft as the finest lamb skin leather

4) Lemurs are my new favorite primate

5) You can never interact with too many animals

 

Cancun Redo.

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view from the dock

Almost two years before, when we were returning from Bozeman, we had a stop in Salt Lake City. Delta offered us $400 flight vouchers each if we opted to take a later flight that day. We couldn’t turn it down. We weren’t sure where to go or when, so we sat on our tickets for almost the whole year we had them. Finally, we decided that we would just go back to Cancun, as it would be an affordable option.

 

We both wanted to learn how to scuba dive, and since our first time in Cancun was a little bit of a hot mess, we thought it would be a great opportunity for a redo. We also thought it would be a great place to learn to dive considering how much we loved our initial snorkeling trip (read about it and more here) . So in February we packed our bags and headed down south back to the Mayan coast. We were staying at Villa del Palmar Cancun. I knew it was going to a ways from the airport, and a little ways from the main drag, so we rented a car so that way we would be able to drive ourselves to and from our scuba lessons. What I didn’t realize was how secluded our resort actually would be. I had done the research, I studied google maps… However, realistically, it just didn’t compare to real life.

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Looking out over the hotel grounds

Our hotel was great. It was clean, had delicious food, and wasn’t hosting water aerobics or having kid’s pool parties. The beach was delightfully sandy and the wading and swimming area of the beach was comfortable (the last hotel was really rocky, you couldn’t go in at all). The only problem was that it was rather distant from the main hotel strip which was where our scuba lessons were.

We had a 3 day scuba course scheduled with Scuba Diving Cancun (FACT: they are very highly ranked at a 4.9/5.0).  We had a really fun instructor named Alejandro. He was great at keeping us calm and walking us through everything we needed to know. It’s safe to say that we definitely learned a lot from him, and would have him take us out on other diving excursions whenever we go back.

The dive training were surprising exhausting, but so amazing! Training in the pool made it seem so simple.  After a few laps around the pool, and going over standard practices, we headed to the boat. We were in the ocean in the first day in our scuba gear.  It was surprisingly unnerving at first. I found that I was having to truly focus on my breathing, and calm myself down.

The few days we were there the ocean was fairly rough. In other words, we were experiencing slight sea sickness and getting pushed around by the currents. They were great conditions for training, I truly believe that it made us better divers from the start. (Also, because this was scuba training, we did not take any photos or videos)

The first 2 days were intense. We’d be at the dive area around 9AM, and were done around 3PM. Although it doesn’t seem that long… It is a pretty exhausting activity. When we were finished we would head back to our hotel, shower, get cleaned up, and head for food, as our only really meal during the day was granola bars. Early dinners were officially our thing.  Evenings got quite cool, with the coastal breeze, so  TIP: Bring a light jacket or sweater.

iphone-back-up-094-1We had a day off after our two days of diving instruction… It gave us a moment to relax, so we laid on the beach & just hung out together. It also gave us the time we needed to complete our work book & all the quizzes. We ate massive plates of Mexican food and had a couple cocktails. It was my kind of heaven.

On the fourth day, and our last day there, we headed back to the Scuba facility to do our final review of all the quizzes, and finalize all documents for our certification. It was pretty easy, and felt like a weight was lifted once it was done. We passed with flying colors and were able to celebrate! (That’s the fun of doing it with a buddy, I suppose.)

iphone-back-up-106-1We got back in the car and continued on down the main drag to see what gems we could find. Once we found an intriguing area (don’t ask me where), we found a place to park and took the town by foot. We wandered in and out of small markets, and past large restaurants/bars, that you know are packed with tourists as part of the wild nightlife. We however, wanted tacos… and good tacos. We found a small joint, that looked adequate, and it more than was. The tacos had great flavor and were simple (TIP: that’s how you know they are good – less is more), and their chips & salsa were AMAZING… sometimes, I dream about them. The sad thing is that I don’t know what it was called, nor do I remember exactly what it was near…. but I can taste the chips and salsa, and slushiest rum-a-rita…. Perfect on that hot Cancun day. TIP: Take note of the places you enjoy!!! 

From there we continued, we found a great souvenir shop… It was huge with tons of options for any type of consumer…. Shot glasses, Guatemalan embroidered items,  Mexican blankets, and snacks… and let’s not forget the tequila.

iphone-back-up-103-1Eventually, we made our way down to the beach, and the site was truly something to behold. The jewel tone waters looked positively scrumptious…. like a tangy candy that you can’t wait to consume. After about a half hour on the beach, and the sun starting to change Brad’s skin color to pink, we decided it was time to turn back. It was hot, Brad was burning, and we had a decent drive still ahead. However, we still hadn’t had enough. We got back in the car, but continued to drive down the main road to see what else we could find. We quickly began to pass by the final hotels on the strip, and found various tourist attractions, but none that we were inclined to enjoy. Instead, we began to hunt for a quiet gem of private beach…. We found one very quiet beach, and although the water looked inviting, the beach was covered in rotting kelp, and there were a ton of bugs. So after that experience, we did call it quits. We headed back to our hotel for the rest of the evening.

iphone-back-up-075-1We had good a good meal, and got our last ice cream cones from the shop, and just hung out on the resort grounds. We walked the beach, and sat by the pool. We enjoyed each others company as the sun set and the temperature cooled to the point where I was wrapping myself in the beach towel laying on the lounge chairs.

Eventually, though, it was time to head back to our room to pack. We had to be at the airport around 7AM, and had close to a 40 minute drive there. It’s safe to say that we were in bed at a decent hour.

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LESSONS LEARNED:

1) Maps can be misleading

2) Always bring Dramamine when heading out on boats

3) Motion sickness becomes more real, the older you get.

4) Take more pictures, of everything… restaurants… activities, food… everything! Document it for when you go back!