Saturday, December 5, 2009

Out of Africa

Hello all - A quick note from Victoria Falls, Zambia to let you in on my latest adventure. Yesterday, I traveled via boat to Livingstone island and then swam in the "Devils Pools" at the lip of Victoria Falls. The picture below is pretty self-explanatory. I was lucky to have two completely mad Australians - the Fairley brothers - who promised to catch me if I went over. This may top camping in the Okavango Delta in Botswana amongst the elephants and hippos.

Once in a lifetime!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Capetown, South Africa: Cherish

Let's be honest.  I could write a long, witty post about the amazing week with Addie Lane in Capetown, South Africa, but all you really want to see are the pictures.  So here they are:


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Buenos Aires: Don't Cry for Me Argentina

I cannot believe it has been over two months since my last entry. I've started stories several times, but the sheer overload of experiences that have made up the trip thus far have led me to: (1) become distracted and actually live life as opposed to writing about it; or (2) panic, write, re-write, panic again, take down the post, and post a pithy Facebook status update instead. In addition, do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to plan and fill one's day when one is not working and not fluent in the language.

I hope to get my act together and post some pictures/stories here in the upcoming weeks. But for now, I am using this as a forum to show off the next leg of my trip: The 20-day Dunes, Deltas, and Falls Explorer with GAP Adventures. After a week in Capetown, South Africa with Addie Lane, I will join a group to explore the absolute best of Africa:

Day 1 Arrive Cape Town

Day 2 Lambert's Bay (B)

Travel to the picturesque Lambert's Bay area, on the west coast of South Africa. Enjoy an optional visit to the well known “Bird Island” where you can find more than 25,000 Blue-eyed Gannets.

Day 3 Gariep River (B)

Travel north through this dry and remote portion of South Africa. Cross into Namibia into a more arid region, and we stop at scenic Gariep River for the evening. Take a walk in the nearby village, have a swim, relax, or take a ride down the river in a canoe.

Day 4 Fish River Canyon/Aus (B)

Journey to Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa, and take in the majestic beauty of the canyon, arguably the second largest in the world. Enjoy lunch in the area, and continue through the vast landscape north to Aus for the evening.

Day 5-6 Namib Desert (2B)

Head towards the incomparable Sossusvlei, a clay pan enclosed by the world’s largest sand dunes. En route, we'll make a stop to visit the unique and educational Wild Cat Project near the village of Hammerstein. In the Namib Desert, spend a full day exploring the dunes, and the natural wonders of this bizarre environment. Here you will really feel as though you’re in the middle of nowhere, or even on another planet!

Day 7-8 Swakopmund (2B)

Today you will really get a feeling for the Namib Desert, as you spend hours crossing this void region en route to the west coast of Namibia. We will spend two nights in the area, where you can explore this historical town, the surrounding lunar landscape, or try some of the numerous activities available, such as dune boarding or a dolphin cruise.

Day 9 Damaraland (B)

Look out over the beautiful desert landscapes as far as the eye can see as we begin moving north into the stony desert landscapes of Damarland. From our base near the town of Khorixas, take a unique donkey cart ride through the village to learn about culture and local traditions.

Day 10-11 Etosha National Park (2B)

Etosha in waMbo means "the great white place of dry water". As one of Africa’s highlights, the Etosha National Park offers a variety of wildlife and phenomenal natural beauty. Explore the pans and the park on game drives, with excellent opportunities to spot lion, giraffe, elephant, rhino, and antelope. Spend your nights at a scenic lodge on the outskirts of the park.

Day 12 Windhoek (B)

Travel south through varying landscapes to the capital of Namibia. Take the afternoon to our the historic city or visit one of Windhoek's many handicraft markets.

Day 13 Greater Kalahari (Gobabis) (B,D)

After a morning tour of Windhoek, begin your journey, travelling to the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Visit a San Bushman village to learn about the local desert people, and embark on an included game drive to the Kalahari Forest area in search of kudu, blue wildebeest, and small antelope.

Day 14 Maun (B)

Today we cross the border into Botswana, travelling along the northern portions of the Kalahari Desert throughout the day - this is a severely arid, barren, though awesome landscape. After arrival in Maun, the biggest town in the Okavango Delta area, you can pick up any supplies and prepare for your journey into Moremi.

Day 15-16 Moremi Wildlife Reserve/Okavango Delta (2B,2L,2D)

The Moremi area and Okavango Delta Excursion is an experience not to be missed. On our camping safari adjacent to the world's largest inland delta, enjoy game drives and a sunset river cruise, marveling at the wide variety of wildlife that call this area their home. This is truly an African experience!

Day 17 Makgadikgadi Area (B)

Wake up to the African sun rising over the beauty of the Delta. Today we travel back to Maun, and continue to one of the villages near the Makgadikgadi Pans, where we take the late afternoon tour to explore the fascinating flat landscape of the salt pans.

Day 18 Kasane/Chobe National Park (B)

Today we journey to Kasane, your base for a visit to Chobe National Park, home to one of the largest elephant populations in Southern Africa. The best way to appreciate Botswana's largest national park and its thousands of resident elephants, crocodiles, and hippos, is on the included afternoon sunset boat cruise on the Chobe River.

Day 19-20 Livingstone, Zambia (2B)

With time for an early morning game drive before departing, today we cross the mighty Zambezi River by ferry as we enter into Zambia. Spend the next day exploring the breathtaking Victoria Falls, or try some adventure activities - go white-water rafting or canoeing on Zambezi, take an elephant-back safari, or even fly over the falls for some fantastic views in a "microlight", a motorized hand-glider.

The tour concludes December 5th. Then? We'll let the next chapter unfold from there.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Peru: The Gringo Trail

Have arrived in Peru safely. Am currently camped out at the South American Explorers clubhouse, which makes me feel something like Sean Connery in A League of Extraordinary Gentleman. From Lima, I will loosely follow the somewhat derisively named Gringo (or, in my case, Gringa) Trail, until I meet up with Rachel & Company on September 4 in Cuzco, Peru.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Galapagos Islands: Evolve

A few pictures from the Galapagos Islands for those that do not have a facebook account.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Samara: Spanglish

Two things are happening as I learn Spanish: (1) I´m forgetting English. This would be fine if my inability to speak English was in direct correlation my ability to speak Spanish. But its not. I now communicate poorly in two languages. (2) The ghosts of languages past are haunting me. I was by no means fluent in French by the time I left high school, and I took the bare minimum of Italian to fill the language requirement at Carolina. Now, ask me a question in Spanish and I´ll answer in some mangled version of either of these languages - any language but Spanish. What is this number? Sept. I mean, come on, five year olds that watch Sesame Street know that seven is siete.

Both of these problems are clearly illustrated by the following scenario that happened yesterday on the beach. While laying out, a little boy - probably five or six - came up to me and asked:

What time is it? (in English)

Me: No hablo espaƱol

What time is it? (repeated, again, in English)

Me: Oh. Excusez-moi
. [I look at my watch]. Il est deux heures.

What time is it?

(This time he asks in Spanish because I think he can tell that I´m trying to answer in Spanish, its just not coming out of my mouth. Poorly pronounced French is.)

Me: No se.

(Good for me. That´s Spanish, but I´m trying to say ¨I don´t understand¨ his question, which is confusing for me because I do understand his question. My brain just isn´t processing the correct response. It is also confusing for him because I´m actually saying ¨I don´t know [the time] But, clearly, I just looked at my watch and told him the time, albeit in poorly pronounced French).

I finally just show him my watch.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Arenal: One is the Lonliest Number

Upon arriving in La Fortuna, I am psyched to go on a tour of the nearby volcano. Only problem is no tour company would take one person. Me. Solo. Uno. And no one else in the entire town of La Fortuna apparently wanted a guided tour of just the base of the volcano, so I couldn't join a tour. The reception guy at Hotel La Fortuna couldn't have been more nice, but it didn't change the outcome. He called 5 tour companies and no one would do a trip for just me, even when I offered to pay a premium. "No, they want at least two people. Its just not worth taking one person." Every time he hung up the phone with a different company I felt a little more worthless - do I not have enough value to be taken on a two-hour tour around the base of the volcano? A paid tour? Really?

Finally, he found a tour company that had already booked two other participants for the "Cerro Chato" hike. As this same guy had described to me the night before, this was a quite difficult hike, and one that he would not recommend because it took all day (he stressed the all day part - like the fact that it was an strenuous climb was secondary. The more important reason not to do it was the length of time devoted to one activity). But this morning, he changed his tune, saying, "Oh, no - if you can do the base hike, you can do the Cerro Chato hike. Its quite beautiful." So why not? It´s just me. I've got all day.

The two other people on the trip were a honeymooning couple who were - get this - 21 and 22 respectively. They are every bit the kind of hippy-dippy-just-married couple who could have spent their entire honeymoon on the side of a mountain. In short, they are ridiculously annoying.

The hike started off well - We took the minibus to the Observatory Lodge Hotel at the base of the volcano, which had -- as promised -- a beautiful view of La Fortuna below. I was outfitted in my Northface pants, rolled up on account of the heat, my backpack stuffed with my camera, my journal, and my poncho - because we are going up through the cloud forest. I am nothing if not properly attired at all times.

Posing at very early point in the hike - but already so sweaty.

Into the rainforest, then clouds.

The path quickly turned into no path at all when we entered the forest. Then it became the most difficult physical thing I have ever done. Not only was there no path, there was no path on a steep incline. I had to grab on to tree roots that would tear away, forcing me to fall backward, or climb what would be the equivalent of 5 or 6 stairs at the time to get from one plane to the next. The hippy-dippy-married couple decide (without consulting me) that it would be best to be SUPER positive throughout the hike up, exclaiming mantras like "This is the best thing I have ever done," and "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now," and "I'm so glad we didn't go to Hawaii, you don't have volcanoes there - this is so COOL!" Then they decide to sing "Don't Worry Be Happy".

We hiked like this for 3.5 hours. Through the regular forest, into the cloud forest where it became a bit misty and I was treated to the hippy-dippy-married couple´s impromptu "Singing in the Rain." To "Cerro Chato," which, I understand, is like a second summit to the volcano and looks out on a crater with a green lagoon. I can't tell you exactly what it is, because, upon arrival, all I was greeted with was a cloud. Quite literally, a cloud. There is an overlook, and then, a massive, white barrier of fog right on the other side of the overlook fence. You couldn't see a lagoon, a crater, or the summit of Arenal. The hippy-dippy-married couple was PSYCHED about the cloud - "Oh my goodness, its like we're right next to a cloud! You can't be next to a cloud in Hawaii!"

On the way down, it started to rain. Which I was ok with because its a rainforest, and I'm not a complete American asshole who complains about rain in a rainforest. Then it started to pour. The little inroads that we had climbed up turned into streams, then rivers, with the mud giving way under our feet. The hippy-dippy-married couple finally quieted down because you needed all of your concentration to figure out where to place your feet so you didn't get swept up in the raging torrent going down the mountain. I spend most of the way down on my butt - by 1.5 hours on the way down I decide I have never been so wet or so dirty.

And then I remembered I had my camera. My nice camera AND my little Elph (because I'm an idiot). "$%"$·.

Before I could think about the $600 of digital photography equipment drowning in my bag, it starts to thunder. But because we are at such high altitude in the cloud forest, this is not the far off rumble of thunder. It is RIGHT NEXT TO US - booming, immediate, thunder. The guide informs us that, this is, in fact, thunder, not the volcano erupting - apparently sometimes they sound the same. Oh good. It didn't even occur to me to be worried about lava flows. He d is not concerned, so I decide I have a greater chance of killing myself falling down and drowning in the 10 inches of water swirling around my feet than by lava coming down the mountain. Press on.

But then, there is lightning. Large bolts RIGHT NEXT TO US. I am close enough to the guide to watch him completely lose his composure and put on a happy face for the gringos in one rapid moment. "We should move as quick as is possible please." The guide explains that he does not like lightning. It might be the only thing the hippy-dippy-married couple is not a fan of either. My fear stems from actually being hit by the large bolts of lightening emanating from the sky (which we are hiking in - so one and the same). I find out later the bigger danger is being hit by a tree that had been hit by lightning. The threat is evidenced by several newly-felled trees which added some additional cardio on the way down. So, now, in addition to finding the correct pigeon hole to place your feet, and making sure you do not completely lose yourself in the torrent, we now have to straddle large trees in the process. Awesome.

In the end, the rain slowed, but by hour six my legs and feet are rubber and refuse to cooperate. I am so tired and so nervous that I kind of wobble down the rest of the mountain. I fall, I get back up, I fall again. When we get to flat land I think I am fine, but now my legs will not follow where my brain wants them to go. This presents a challenge because I am now constantly in danger of running into the barbed wire fence keeping the vacas (cows) from the path. Lucky vacas. The guide finally decides to just take my arm and steer me.

So back at the hotel, bruised, bleeding a little bit, sooo dirty, and soooo uncomfortable - my wet clothes had been rubbing against me for the past couple hours. I took out my cameras and dried them with the hair dryer. Excited for a shower, I get in with all my clothes on. The water runs black.

After about 10 minutes, the water clears up, I wash out my clothes, I wash my hair, soap up, and get out. But its like I'm still in the shower. There's water all over the bathroom. Ok. Then I walk out to my room. There's an inch of dirty water ALL OVER MY ROOM. My suitcase, on the floor, is soaked from the underside. My backpack that I tried so hard to keep dry on the hike down - is on the floor - and is now wetter than when I arrived from Arenal. "Eat, Pray, Love" has come in handy in that it has absorbed about a third of the water judging from its new inflated size and illegibility.

EPILOGUE-I did get another room, after being told by the reception guy, the housekeeper and the hotel technician that there is mucho agua in my room. Right, that's why I asked for a different room. They imply that I put it there - like I wanted everything to be wet and now they are burdened with cleaning up my stupidity. My clothes and cameras dried out, although everything has retained a funny smell - a combination of sweat, damp, and mud. Eat, Pray, Love was not as lucky and will have to be tossed, even though I have only read the first few chapters.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Atenes: La Pura Vida - Part Dos

I've taken a week off from language classes to spend a couple days with my friend Sara Marcy at her family's house in Atenes, Costa Rica, and then venture up to the volcano in Arenal.

Sara's house is gorgeous - a complete departure from my homestay in Samara. Designed by Sara's mother, it is an open and luxurious retreat that showcases the art that she has picked up on her travels around the world.

A view of the Marcy's house from the pool

The "formal" living room

"My" room

View from the back porch

After a hot shower and arriving at a near-euphoric state after using a hair dryer for the first time in two weeks, we took advantage of all that the property had to offer. This included relaxing by the pool, cooking (well, Sara cooked) in the gourmet kitchen, and a trek to the on-site waterfall.

Me, exploring the "grounds"

Coffee in its natural habitat. Sara explained that the Costa Rican government requires that property owners harvest all coffee on the property because, if left untended, disease could spread to neighboring coffee plants, and cause the country's cash crop to suffer. So the Starbux you're inhaling right now could be from the Marcy grounds!

Coco, ahead of us on the trail to the on-site waterfall


And even though I could have spent our three days together simply wandering the property, Sara was kind enough to arrange a little road trip to Jaco Beach on Tuesday. Jaco itself was lovely - but a beach like many others in Costa Rica. The notable points of our little road trip were stops on our way to/from Jaco. On the way, we stopped to see where the Costa Rican crocodiles hang out.

Who knew that the best. fish. tacos. ever. would be at a place called "bubba's" in Jaco Beach.

On our way back, afternoon cocktails at a resort* high above Jaco, overlooking the ocean.

*Teresa Bernstein just informed that this is resort is Villa Caletas, where she and Bob got married. This is what this blog is all about - connections, awesomeness & making my friends fill in the gaps.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Costa Rica: La Pura Vida

Hola amigos! I´ve been taking a pause from blogging to adjust to life here in Samara, Costa Rica where I am studying Spanish, practicing yoga, and generally trying to take a step back from the rat race. Last week I was in Nosara, Costa Rica, doing even less than I am doing right now (yet still finding myself too exhausted to blog). Fortunately, my new friends Kent and Sally from Texas have me covered - check out their video which provides a bi-lingual tour of the Harmony Hotel where I stayed the week. Check for me and my ¨pearly white¨skin (as described by the resident ticos) at the two minute mark. My fair complexion betrayed the fact that I was new to the country, but, as I explained to those who pointed and laughed, I´m not sure any amount of time in Costa Rica is going to give me that glorious Costa Rican color.

And, to tide you over until I get my photos up, here is video of the
monkeys that lived above my room. Thanks Kent and Sally!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

USA: "Let's Hear It for the Rainbow Tour"

It's been a phenomenal success. The East Coast Farewell Tour kicked off with a short drive up 95 North into the wilds of Long Valley, New Jersey. The drive up was beautiful, but ominously turned cold when I crossed into NJ. Upon arrival at my cousin Kat's house, I promptly unloaded my three suitcases and various garbage bags, dumped them on the floor, and scavenged a cold-weather outfit out of the random items of clothing and gear that did not make it into storage. This was deeply appreciated by my cousin's daughter, Marin, who employs a similar approach with her toys at bath time:

It had been about ten months since Marin and I had seen each other. And she just turned two. So I expected name recognition would only come with some gentle prompting. What I did not expect is for her to respond to Kat's question "Who's that, Marin? Who's that?" with my ex-boyfriend's name. Wait . . . what?

In the fac
e of such a humiliating re-introduction, I immediately employed my go-to strategy for winning people over: bribery. Plied with Pez and toddler jewelery, she was saying a bastardized version of my name in no time. We became further acquainted when I changed her diaper, washed her hair, and had a short tete-a-tete about the differences between old school Sesame Street and the the new one ("I agree, Marin, Oscar does seem more depressed in this episode.") By the time I left, there were some tears and even a "Noooooo . . . .not MereMere!"


Next stop: Durham, NC and the home of "Triple-A": Anna, Andy, and, now, Aiden. On my drive down, I reflected on the fact that at every major transition in my adult life, I find myself back at Anna and Andy's. Maybe its because I entered adulthood with Anna (we were college roommates) and when on the precipice of another transition I find it reassuring to go back to the place where everything began. Maybe its continuity - her home affords me the opportunity to look back at every other time I've laid awake in her ridiculously soft guest room sheets and wondered if I was doing the right thing, only to come through
ok. Or maybe its because she's always a couple steps ahead of the life curve, and she makes me hopeful about what could come next. For example, anything this cute can't be all bad, right?:

Aiden O'Connell at the beginning of his baby-modeling career. On this day, he waived his fee.

The next day over to Dori and Jack's for some adult playtime. We had a lovely meal in the revitalized downtown of Durham followed by a long stint at the wine bar across the street from Dori and Jack's condo (so convenient). The evening almost came to an abrupt halt when, walking over to the wine bar, I stepped in (and got seriously stuck in) wet concrete. Once I freed myself, I was pleased as punch that my platform heels are forever immortalized in the Durham sidewalk. I'll have to go back and sign my name next to the imprint, Grauman's Chinese Theater-style.

And finally, on to Greensboro, NC. Normally a week in Greensboro would make me want to pull my hair out. Driving into the city, I let a waive of anxiety float over me and just let it go. There was too much to do. Backpacks to decide on, PacSafe equipment to buy, convertible pants to scope out. All of this was assisted by the fact that Greensboro has been undergoing its own little renaissance while I have been in DC, complete with an REI store. Since arriving in Greensboro last Sunday, I've made no fewer than 12 trips to the Friendly's store, carefully mulling over the choices in one or two designated categories and buying only items in that day's pre-selected categories. Its not the most efficient process, but its my process.

More fun than picking out travel gear was visiting with two of my best friends from high school - Jennifer and Debbie - and their daughters - Emory and Molly (respectively). I took my mom with me in the hopes that holding their babies would satiate any immediate need for grandchildren.

Jennifer Leary and her daughter, Emory

Debbie's daughter, Molly (being held by an overly-ecstatic Lois Bailey)


On Sunday, my family bid me "Bon Voyage" with brunch and a cake (see below) at Lucky 32 in downtown Greensboro.

Daie and Wodie at Lucky 32 Farewell Brunch

Align CenterMe with Eight-Year-Old Version of Me Plastered to "Bon Voyage" Cake

If I had it to do over again, I would have left the country a week sooner. At three weeks out, the time has started to drag. Plus, this much downtime makes my going away seem anticlimactic. Nevertheless, its been nice to visit with friends and family on their schedule, and taking my time getting reacquainted with old friends.

Tomorrow I leave for Costa Rica. Hasta la vista amigos!


Thursday, May 28, 2009


One of the purposes of this blog is to answer questions about my upcoming sabbatical in a common forum, the most asked being:

Where are you going?

In life? . . . unclear. But my tentative sabbatical itinerary is as follows:

  • June 1-15: East Coast Farewell Tour with stops in New Jersey and North Carolina.

  • June 16-21: Nosara, Costa Rica

  • June 22-July 30: Samara, Costa Rica (studying at Spanish at Intercultura Language School)

  • July 31-August 10: Galapagos Islands

  • August 11-September 1: Ecuador/Peru

  • September 2-10: Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes, Peru

  • September 11-October 20: Chile/Argentina

  • October 21-November 1: South Africa

  • November 2-November 30: Africa (including Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania)
  • December: Seychelles Islands
I don't understand how you can take six months off. Were you fired?

No. This heavily circulated New York Times article explains why several large law firms are providing their associates with the option to take a sabbatical in the wake of the economic downturn. Proskauer offered its associates two options: (1) unpaid sabbatical for six months to a year with a guaranteed job upon return; or (2) a community service option for one-year with reduced pay. I chose the former because I wanted the freedom to travel.

Can I travel with you?

Of course. I welcome travel partners for any segment of the trip. I have had the opportunity to do a lot of soul searching over the last year, and, believe me . . . I'm good. Its time to reconnect with the world and the people in it.

Have you read "Eat, Pray, Love"?

No, but I plan to read it while sipping a cocktail by the pool in Costa Rica thus fulfilling every cliche of a woman travelling by herself.

Would you like to borrow my copy of "Eat, Pray, Love"?

No, thank you. As you can see from the picture above, I have my own copy. [Side note: No wonder this book was a best-seller. Every woman I've talked to seems to own a copy.]

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