SAFARI NJEMA

words of an over-opinionated travel addict

Author: Carolyn

Salt In My Wounds & Sand In My Hair 

Starting with a quick update on where I’ve been, I left Cusco in a hurry to get going again. Like a racehorse straight out of the gate, I’ve been (and will continue to be) nonstop. I haven’t spent more than 2 nights in one place yet, and that’s the way I like it. 

We headed straight for Bolivia, stopping first in beautiful Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, where we hiked the Isla del Sol, ate “chicken nachos” which turned out to be Doritos covered in tomato sauce, and tried to adjust to the altitude. I then continued to La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, and on to Uyuni for a tour of the world’s largest salt flats. This was a bucket list item for me, and it did not disappoint. Even when I suffered altitude sickness at 16,000 feet and spent the day with an unreasonably high fever and being a miserable bitch to my new friends who were trapped in the car with me all day. 

We ended our tour in San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile. It was the most interesting border crossing I’ve ever had, as in typical South American fashion, border control was on strike and refused to address the line of busses and trucks trying to enter the country until they were damn well ready to. This is where we spent Election Day, in a bar with an Australian and a Swiss, and I drank Pisco Sours and tried not to cry.  

In all seriousness, I’ve done my fair share of development work, interacting with other cultures, and making friends who were very different from me. The kids I’ve worked with, the young girls who became like sisters to me, and the people I’ve met along the way – taxi drivers and shop owners – all look to the United States as a beacon of hope. To them, we are the greatest nation in the world. When I tell them – adults and children alike – where I am from, their eyes grow wide with amazement. We are inspiration, almost like a fantasy. Some people dream of visiting our country the way we dream of visiting outerspace. I can’t help but be ashamed and terrified of what this means for these kids who look up to us, as the example we are setting for them is not a good one. 

Throughout my travels this year, I’ve interracted with a lot of people from different nationalities. I have not met a single person who supports, understands, or agrees with our new president. In fact, more often than not, I am looked at with pity, and people (many of whom are living in extreme poverty and facing various hardships we will never understand) apologize to me for my own country. I woke up at 4am this morning in the top bunk of a dorm bed, where I read the news and swallowed the lump in my throat. Friends and family reached out to each other, and we all asked each other the same question: “how are you holding up?” I haven’t been able to form a proper response yet.

This has been one of the most disappointing days of my life. As an LGBTQ woman, and as a decent human being, I refuse to acknowledge Donald Trump as my president. America is not my country under his presidency. People are afraid today for their lives. Minorities today are in fear the way we were all in fear the day after 9/11 – unsafe, unstable, and with nowhere to turn. I have been half-joking (mostly serious) about moving abroad again for his term, but I also know that that comes from a place of privilege. I have the ability to up and move away from him, but many Americans, specifically ones who could really be harmed by his, cannot. 

Today more than ever, I wanted to be home, near my loved ones, near people who were suffering and going through what I am currently going through. Instead, I write this on a 9-hour bus journey, where I have nothing to distract me from the horrors going on in my home. I don’t know what will happen next, with the US or with my own future, but I do know that this is time for a revolution. We cannot let this man go through with his plans. We must make his term as difficult as his supporters did for Obama. 

Next on my agenda are the beaches of northern Chile, Santiago, and into Argentina. In less than 2 weeks I will be stateside again, and the thought of it makes my stomach turn. I can only hope we come together from here.

sunset with the crew at the salt flats

Valley of the Moon, Atacama Desert, Chile

natural gysers, Bolivia

Cactus Island, Uyuni Salt Flats

Uyuni Salt Flats

we like wine

train graveyard

Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, Bolivia


2 Things I Never Thought I’d Say

1. I’m dating a boy

2. I’ve seen Machu Picchu twice

Anyone who knows me knows I’m an open book, sometimes to the point where it’s too much. I started a blog originally just to update about my travels, but lately (in typical me fashion) it’s becoming a bit more personal. Traveling is hard in so many ways. It’s so much more than sight-seeing, cool Instagram photos, and eating strange foods. Nine times out of ten, I go to sleep at night thinking about the person I am, and the person that I want to be. Last week was no different, and resulted in quite a bit of self evaluating. 

I like women. I mean, really, really, like women. I started to come out at 14 years old and while I “dabbled” with men a few times over the years, I had never actually fallen for one or dated one in any serious sense. My last relationship was extremely serious and when it ended I felt like I was grieving her death rather than grieving over the future that I lost with her. That relationship ended within minutes of me returning back to Long Island after months of traveling. Not only did I suffer reverse culture shock, adjusting back, and the fear of not having a next step, but my entire life at home as I knew it (with her) was gone. I went through a pretty pathetic and dark period, but I’m proud (and relieved) to say that I came out of it a better person. I did not become bitter. Our years together taught me invaluable lessons and have altered me forever. I have promised myself afterwards that I would no longer sacrifice myself or turn down opportunities for a relationship.

When I left for Peru in July, I was about 2 months into a new relationship. With a guy. No one was more surprised than me to find myself dating someone of the opposite gender, and I struggled with it more than I did when I came out of the closet to begin with. It has been almost 6 months, and much to the annoyance of my boyfriend, I am still referring to myself as a lesbian. Either way, he swept me off my feet and supported me 100% when I said I wanted to move abroad again, despite how early on it was in our relationship.

Not only did he encourage a long distance relationship, but he came all the way to visit me. I spent the last 8 days in a fantasy world. Craig came to visit me in Cusco, and it was an unforgettable trip for both of us. For him, it was his first international flight and first real trip abroad. For me, I expected the whole thing to blow up in my face (sorry, babe), but the opposite happened. I put him on 3 flights each way, then dragged all over the region via local public transport to save money, and he only complained once or twice. He didn’t know it, but he was being tested, and I’m happy to say he passed with flying colors.

I’ve now lived in 3 countries – in 3 different cities just outside out some of the worlds biggest attractions. Manhattan, Serengeti National Park, and Machu Picchu. This leads to me reliving the same large tourist attractions over and over. But somehow, it never gets old. My second visit to Machu Picchu was just as incredible as the first time…and I’m still not sure if it’s because of the ruins, or because of him. We spent the week eating, zip lining, exploring multiple Incan ruin sites, shopping, and laughing. 

While I still struggle a little bit with my sexuality (am I betraying the gay community? Am I one of those bisexual girls who takes the easy way out? What do I even identify as?!), and while I still have no idea how I got here, I’m happy that I did. I have just over a week left at Sonco Wasi, and then I take a few weeks to travel. The tentative plan is to cross into Bolivia for a salt flats tour, speed through part of Chile, check out the beaches in Uruguay, and fly home from Argentina! My next post will probably be from the road 🙂

They spoke no Spanish, but we still became friends 

Spent the weekend with my boss’ family in Quillabamba 

Took the special needs kids to the park – but they aren’t the only ones who got to play!
                          Machu Picchu

  Are there ruins behind us or something?

 He’s too tall for Incan doors apparently

Baby llama at Machu Picchu

Ollantaytambo ruins

Chinchero

Llamas. Alpacas. Everywhere. 

What I Do and Why

What People Think I Do

If I had a dollar for every time someone back home said to me, “you are so lucky”, “I’m so jealous of your life”, “I wish I could do what you do”, or “I can’t travel, I don’t have money like you”, I would probably be able to buy my own airplane. I’m going to very briefly explain why this is is a problem:

  • I am not “lucky” for living this way. Please don’t imply that this fell into my lap, like someone handed me a credit card and told me to get on a plane. Please don’t imply that I have some great luck that put me here. I work extremely hard to have gone where I have, to be where I am, and to go where I’m going. Expressing your “jealousy” negates my hard work, which I’m very proud of. I have every right to be proud of my accomplishments, the stamps in my passport, and the work I’ve done abroad.
  • If you, or anyone you know, expresses “jealousy” to me or anyone else traveling extensively – you’re hiding behind your fear. People who want to travel, do it. They find a way. If you are able-bodied, from a developed country, and have the desire, you too can be like me. Don’t tell me you’re jealous or wish you could be like me, when you could do it too.
  • We have different priorities. Do I ask you how you afford to pay for your house or your car? No, because that would be rude. I travel so much because I make it my priority. Implying that I have more money than you or anyone else is wildly offensive. We live different lifestyles, and you have no right to ask me how I afford to travel. People seem to think that I’m on extended vacation over here, meanwhile I work 6 days a week and my job is not without its stress and anxieties.

 

What I Think I Do

When you travel, you meet people, and the small talk is different. At home, we get to know people by asking what they do for a living, where they went to school, etc. But small talk in other countries includes sharing where you’re from, where you’ve been, what you’re doing here, and where you’re going. You sit at a bar in a hostel and speak with people from all over the world, filled with incredible stories and tips. My little autobiography of an introduction has changed drastically over the years, but now it sounds something like:

  • I’m from Long Island, but I spent most of last year in Tanzania. I then backpacked for a few months around Africa, India, and parts of Southeast Asia, and then I ended up here (in Peru). I do international development work for various nonprofits, and keep taking short-term aid contracts. I’m hoping to get an advanced degree in the field in the next few years, and hope to be back in East Africa long term after that.

I’ve somehow made myself sound impressive. Sometimes I get caught up with myself and the things I’ve done, but then I meet people and look around me and realize how much left there still is for me to do in this world. Meeting new people and hearing their stories is humbling, and inspiring.

 

What I Actually Do

I make a point to get involved with locally run organizations. There are too many foreign aid projects in developing countries that are doing more harm than good, too many Americans and Europeans on the ground in these places more worried about their reputations and salaries than they are about what the local community actually needs. Last year in Tanzania, I was working for an American-run NGO. For the most part, this is one of the good ones. There are a few out there – you just have to do your research. But it wasn’t without its hiccups, and that is why this time I was determined to only work with local communities. Sonco Wasi is run entirely by the same few people who started it, the director being my (Peruvian) boss and friend who bends over backwards to do the best she can and address as many needs as possible. While the kids we work with meet a lot of volunteers and people who fill my position, the same core group of people are there for them month after month, year after year. It is sustainable, local, and without the bureaucracy of an international organization.

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Taray, Sacred Valley, Cusco

It has been a huge adjustment for me to work in Peru, where there is of course poverty and hardships, but in my work, it doesn’t quite compare to some of the things I witnessed in East Africa. I came in thinking I knew a lot about poverty and need, but I was wrong. Need depends on what community you’re working in, and what they need, not what I think that they need. It has been an extremely rewarding challenge to adjust my thoughts and knowledge to focus on what this community needs, rather than what previous villages I’ve spent time in have needed. These kids come to our program day after day, and if a day goes by where we can’t go or have to cancel, they really hold it against us! These children are living in poverty that you and I have not experienced, and while there are still people worse off in the world, these kids can’t see a life beyond their small town without our help. They don’t receive gifts, celebrate holidays, travel, get advanced educations, live their dreams… but we are trying to change all of that.

I know I have fundraised for other organizations before, and everyone in my life has gone above and beyond to help.. but I’m asking again. All of my projects, past and present, have been extremely important to me. These kids need hope, they need something to remind them how important they are and that they make a difference in this world.. any small amount helps! And check out the video in my fundraiser here to get a sense of what it actually is that I do. I know a lot of NGOs and charities ask for your donations, but I can assure you that 100% of these funds raised are going directly to the children in Taray, to make their lives a little more special. Thanks for reading, keeping up with my life, and donating to a great cause.

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Long Weekend in The Amazon

Thursday night, I got on an overnight bus at 9pm. The bus was heading to Puerto Maldonado, which is about 8-9 hours from Cusco, near to the border with Bolivia. I had a little down time this week, and thought a nice warm long weekend would be good for me! I went alone, I knew no one, and had absolutely nothing booked or planned. I barely even read a guide before I left – I’m trying to be less neurotic than usual. I arrived tired, cranky, and sweaty at 6am the next day, and in broken Spanish managed to ask a moto-taxi driver to take me to the main plaza, in hopes of finding a tour leaving that morning. Only 2 agencies  were open at that hour, and one of those was a fancy lodge way out of my budget. But, by some stroke of luck, I met another foreign, female, solo traveler with the same problem as me. Only she is fluent in Spanish, and she saved me the whole weekend.

Most people visiting the Amazon from Peru go through the north, in Iquitos, but that isn’t possible for me while I’m here. I was hesitant at first to visit because of this, worried I would be missing out on some of the experience, but that proved not to be true at all. Puerto sees a lot of tourists, but less so than many other weekend trip options from Cusco and is often overlooked. I’m so glad that I made it a priority and made time to visit. I would have stayed a day or two longer if I could, but 3 full days was a good amount of time to get a taste of the jungle.


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I booked the whole weekend with an agency called called Tambopata Hostel, and I was really glad we did. That same morning, 2 hours later, we headed out on a day trip to Sandoval Lake with a group. Just my luck that everyone in the group was from Europe, so they were all fluent in Spanish. Every once in a while, our guide would remember and yell out, “Carolina, tu entiendas?” (do you understand?)… no! And he would repeat whatever it was he said in English. My Spanish is improving, but not enough to follow along a whole tour like that. During the day we enjoyed a short hike, boat ride, an amazing picnic lunch, and were able to see some wildlife and enjoy the beautiful views. While we were in the boat, we even saw a group of wild otters eating and playing in the lake! We  returned late in the afternoon and spent that night in the hostel in Puerto, and the next morning were up bright and early to head deeper into the Jungle, for a one night stay in their lodge bordering the Tambopata Reserve. thumb_IMG_7720_1024The drive out there was beautiful, and might be the highlight of my trip. I love long drives through rural communities because it gives you a sense of what life is like there, and lets you see things that you wouldn’t normally. It reminded me so much of Tanzania at one point, I had to remind myself of what country I was in.  I couldn’t believe that after nearly 2 months in cold Cusco, I was still in the same country. After about 2 hours in the car, we boarded a boat, and sped off down the river to our lodge. The lodge was incredible,and I was wildly impressed considering how little we spent on the tour. The lodge had many rooms, all with private bathrooms and showers, we amazing views, and each room was bordered with hammocks – where I spent bit of time reading and doing some much deserved relaxing. There was also a resident thumb_IMG_8076_1024Parrot, who is wild, but one day showed up at the lodge and made herself at home. She was really cute at first, but then she ate my entire tube of toothpaste right off our sink.

 

Our guide, Jonny, was excellent. He took us on walks through the trails behind the lodge where we were able to see 5 different species of monkeys, lots of birds and insects, and enjoy a swim in the river. We also went on a night boat ride, where he jumped out of the boat and caught a wild Caiman with his bare hands and insisted we hold it and get a better look. We had a few beers in the evening and chatted, I practiced a bit of Spanish, and went to bed that night with the sound of the jungle all around me. Around 2am, it rained, and I woke up and listened for a while, the whole thing was calming and beautiful. Our last morning, we were up at 4:30am and off to the reserve to the McCaw Clay Lick, where hundreds of different McCaws and Parrots swarm the cliffside to feast on minerals. It was an incredible site, and we spent the morning there eating breakfast and watching all the different birds and enjoying the sounds of the jungle.

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After we left the lodge, we headed back to Puerto and enjoyed the view, the weather, and a few drinks before getting back on an overnight bus. It was an exhausting weekend, and I am covered in mosquito bites, but it was an awesome weekend trip. Although the bites are the worst I’ve ever had, and I’m now on all kinds of creams and medications. I imagine this is what the chicken pox must feel like!

Last week, we had a group of 25 graduate students from the states come to do a day of volunteering. It was the most work I’ve had since I’ve been here, and I ran around all week like a crazy person preparing. But I shouldn’t have worried, the visit went well and a great time was had by all (especially the kids!). It’s insane to me that in 2 days it will be September, and that my departure date is creeping up on me. I have a few more trips from Cusco happening this month, a handful of volunteers are coming, and I have a bit of planning to do for Craig’s visit in about a month (!!!). I finally sucked it up and bought my flight home, November 22 departing from Buenos Aires, Argentina. My friend Alex is coming to South America in October, and he’s going to meet me in Cusco so we can backpack for a few weeks before I head home for Thanksgiving. I’m not ready for it to end, but I have a lot to look forward to and a lot to be grateful for.

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the life

 

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