words of an over-opinionated travel addict

Author: Carolyn (page 1 of 2)

5 Self Reflection Questions I Need to Ask Myself More

This post isn’t really about my trip, but I’m going to start branching out my blogs and expressing a bit more of what I’m feeling. And as I feel myself getting more comfortable and develop a routine, I’m quick to notice the things I’m doing differently living abroad this time around. It’s hard to find the balance between wanting to stay home and watch TV on your days off, and going out and exploring. I’ve also noticed that the more comfortable I get somewhere, the less motivated I am. The other day I FaceTimed home hysterical crying, and when asked why I was crying, I literally didn’t know. So I’ve been taking the past few days to do some self reflecting, and I want to share a little of what I wrote in my journal, because I think it’s important.

1. Why do I make everything about me? And how can I change that?
I tend to take everything personally, especially when traveling. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when first arriving someplace new – not knowing anyone, customs, the bus system, etc, is frustrating. And being hassled and paying more for things simply because you’re a foreigner.. it’s enough to make some people crazy. When living in Tanzania, on multiple occasions, I found myself yelling at people on the street, in Swahili, so that they knew I lived there and I knew how much things should cost and what I was doing. Things have apparently changed since then. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an outsider, or an expat. You can live someplace for years and years, and you’re still never going to fit in and blend in. It will always be “us” and “them”, no matter how many local friends you have. The difference is that we can leave. We can go home. We can change our paths, our lives, any minute we want to. But a lot of times, the people around us can’t. So the next time I find myself frustrated stuck behind the slow-walking crowd of people, or offered a souvenir on the street for a ridiculously expensive price, or ripped off at the bus station, or when something is stolen from me, I will remember that it’s not personal. It’s not about me. It’s a strange feeling, because when I came home from my first big trip, I was proud that I came back selfish. I came back stronger. I remember saying, “You have to be selfish. You have to take care of yourself. Your feelings come first”. Now, I think I’ve taken it too far. How can I be selfish enough to be a strong, independent person, but selfless enough to change a bit of this beautiful world we live in?

2. How can I make myself realize that happiness is a choice?
I’m quick to think that traveling is my end-all be-all, a cure for a sickness I can’t diagnose. But nothing can be that. On my down days, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling, but I can’t let it overpower me. If I need a day every now and then to veg out and watch movies and pretend I’m someplace else, so be it. But sometimes I have to force myself to go outside and experience the day, or I will get sucked in. Happiness is a state of mind, and I can control it. I have to remind myself every day, like a mantra, that I control my mood. My mood does not control me. You get what you put out, and if I’m always putting out negative energy, exactly what kind of experience am I getting here?

3. Why don’t I realize how rich I am?
I constantly find myself saying, “I can’t, I’m poor” at least once a day. But I’m not poor. I can be on a budget, I can be watching my spending, and I can be in a financial rough patch. But I will never be poor. After all the things I’ve seen and the experiences I have had, you think that I would be more sensitive and aware of these things. But instead, I bring it back to question number one – and I make everything about me. There are people, some of them close friends of mine, who are living in very real poverty. After everything I’ve seen, why do I still complain about things that aren’t worthy of complaints?

4. What will it take for me to be satisfied?
I’ve been in Cusco just over a month and I’m already finding myself googling and planning for trips away. Will I ever stop being bored? Will “the itch” ever go away? I don’t know the answer to that, but this morning I found myself planning a weekend trip I’d like to take soon. After a while, I realized I’m still in a new city. I’m still in a place where I only know a small fraction of what’s going on around me! So with the help of my boss (and friend), we went out shopping for the day in all the local markets, to places I hadn’t been yet, and was able to remind myself that again, attitude is everything.

5. How can I make myself a whole person?
I find myself split between two personalities. The person I am when I’m in the states, is not the person I am when I’m traveling in developing countries.  When I’m home, I find myself skeptical of everyone around me. I often look around a room and try to figure out if I actually like any of the people I’m hanging out with, or if I’m just so used to their company that it’s routine. But I’m also more realistic and goal-orientated. I know my routine, my friends, my life, and I stay in more than I go out because I tend to be more practical. When I’m abroad, I’m friendly, I’m open-minded, I’m less judgmental, etc. I’m more likely to go out, drink, make new friends, participate in intellectual conversations and learn new things. I grow more as a person when I’m gone, but find myself shrinking back inside myself when I come home. What steps can I take to be both of these people at once? How can I be happy with the life I’ve chosen, no matter where I am or who I’m with?

Since the first time I left home, in January 2013, these 5 questions have played over and over inside of me, often without me even realizing it. I’m taking it upon myself to put it in writing, and to work through these thoughts every day. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the answers, but the first step is addressing these issues. Traveling is meant to be fun, yes, but it’s also meant to be a learning experience. I don’t ever want to stop growing, even if that means having to feel difficult emotions.

Crash Course Cusco

 I’ve found that most of the long-term travelers I’ve met throughout the years are typically people who are running – either from something, or towards something. Most of the time, I don’t know which one I am. My previous blog posts give a snapshot of how my last two trips went for me, but there was a lot I didn’t share as well. Looking back on it, it’s pretty clear that I was running from something: the person I had been before I discovered traveling. Yet for some reason, last November, I woke up one morning in the Philippines with this overwhelming need to be on Long Island. I was on a plane that same afternoon.

Last year, I got fired from a job, ended my first serious relationship, and found myself once again broke and alone with my cat in my childhood bedroom of my parents home. I instantly regretting my spur of the moment decision to return home, and my first instinct was to leave the country again. I immediately began emailing out resumes to anyone and everyone who would read them, in all parts of the world. Despite this, as the offers came in, I found myself turning them down. Apparently, on top of everything, I was becoming a crazy person too. But then, I received a text message in my study abroad group chat that read something along the lines of: “anyone wanna go to Peru?”

Four of us committed to a 10 day trip, but if you know me at all, then you know I always have to go above and beyond. So when I was offered a temporary position Coordinating Volunteers for a non-profit based in Cusco, I accepted. Leaving finally felt right again. So here I am, still in Peru, hours after my friends have returned home, feeling both excited and terrified for the months ahead. The past 10 days with them provided me with a crash-course in my new home, and I am SO grateful that they were here to explore it with me (even if I did think I was going die on my way to Machu Pichu)!!

The main reason for this trip was my friend’s bucket list item of trekking to Machu Pichu. I agreed to this months ago, somehow not realizing what I was signing myself up for. Most people do the Inca Trail, but we decied to the Salkantay Trek, which is in National Geographic’s Top 25 best treks in the world. This trail is a remote footpath pretty close to the Inca Trail – it even overlaps in one place. One day, there are massive snowcapped mountains towering over you, and the next, you are inside a tropical rainforest. It gets it’s name from Mt. Salkantay, which translates to “Savage Mountain” in quechua. Despite the fluffiness of this post, this trek was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and probably will ever do, in my life.


Day 1: Pick up at 4:30am from out hostel. We were driven 2 hours to a village for breakfast and last minute shopping (I bought a walking stick for $1.50), and then we were off on foot. the first 2 1/2 hours of trekking were straight uphill, and I was not fully acclimated to the altitude yet, and I contemplated turning around while I still could. But up I went, trying to keep up with my friends and failing miserably. Our guide, Veronica, was outstanding and supportive. This kept me motivated for the next 5 hours of hiking on flat but uneven ground to our first campsite. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon, and were presented with an option hike up a mountain behind the camp to visit a lake. I nearly laughed at the thought of this, and then realized that the next day would be the hardest. One of my friends stayed behind, but I grabbed my hiking stick and said to the other two, “there’s a 50% chance I’m turning around half way up”.  It took me longer than everyone else, but when I reached the top, my friends were there waiting for me, because they knew all along I wasn’t going to give up.

The first night reached almost 0 degrees, and I wore every item of clothing I had to sleep, including my gloves and my hat. When we were woken the next morning at 5am with tea delivered right to our tents, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to join one of my friends on a horseback ride up the mountain instead of hiking, or suck it up and deal. Veronica, our guide, had heard my struggle and said that if I hadn’t decided, I should probably take the horse.

Day 2: Despite this, I chose to hike, though I regretted it almost instantly. For 4+ hours, we went practically vertically up the mountain. Snow was on the ground around me, I could barely breathe due to the altitude, and after every 10 steps I had to stop to make an attempt at catching my breath. I imagine that this must be what suffocating feels like. My friend had to loan me her inhaler on more than one occasion. I found myself farther and farther behind the group, but Veronica surprised me by falling back and encouraging me up the trail. When we reached our highest point, just over 15,000 feet, I had never felt better about myself. Veronica pulled me aside and said, “lady, I wasn’t so sure about you, but you showed me today that you’re a strong woman, and we have to stick together!” I obviously got her phone number and all but begged her to be my friend in Cusco when this was all over.

Though we had reached our highest point, and the toughest part of the trek was behind me, the day wasn’t even half over. We had 6 more hours of straight downhill through a rainforest to go before reaching our next campsite.

Day 3:  The easiest day! We had a free morning to decide what excursion to do, and we chose to relax in the hot springs before a 4 hour hike along the train tracks leading to the town of Aguas Calientes (hot water), where we would spend a night in the hostel before finally reaching Machu Pichu!  Carrying 20 pounds worth of stuff on my back during that long walk in the forest along the tracks, it began to downpour. To say that we were soaking wet and cranky upon our arrival would be an understatement.

Day 4: At 4:15am, we began the hike up to Machu Pichu. Had I been warned that it was straight up stairs for 2 hours, I probably would have opted for the bus, as my knees were NOT happy with me. But it all became worth it when we reached our final goal – words cannot describe how incredible it was.

We spent the remainder of our time together exploring Cusco and making memories. I’m really sad to have seen my friends leave, but I’m excited for the rest of my journey. This time, it’s starting to feel more like I’m running towards something

Salkantay Trek



Selfies in the rain

What They Don’t Tell You About Backpacking Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is easily one of the most popular backpacker destinations in the world. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s beautiful, it’s easy to navigate, and it’s cheap. So I thought, I’m a pro at the hard way of traveling (my first real trip being in rural East Africa), so why not breeze my way through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and learn about some new cultures and people? Reflecting on the past 7 or so weeks of travel has put a lot of things into perspective for me. Clearly, I had expectations for this trip and what it would teach me, but l ended up learning something entirely different than I anticipated. But for the purpose of this blog I will be reffering specifically to the month I have been in Southeast Asia. It is beautiful here – the scenery, the temples, the history and culture, the people. That being said, it is commercialized. It is difficult to feel like many things are truly authentic, and to me, everything seems to have been exaggerated (or created) for tourists. Let me explain. The places I’ve been have been fun, beautiful, and I enjoyed them immensely. But I have had very little interaction with locals since being in India. I’ve had a great time, making friends with travelers from all over. I’ve been on busses, boats, trains and planes – all of which crammed with tourists. I look around me and see Europeans, Australians, Americas. Very rarely have I even seen or interacted with Thai or Loatian people beyond market places and restaurant employees. Every cultural activity I have tried to observe or participate in has pretty much backfired and left me confused and disappointed. One time that specifically sticks out in my mind is in Laos. At dawn in Luang Prabang, we crawled out of bed to sit on the curb and watch as the monks went around accepting food offerings. This is called the Alms Giving Ceremony. But instead of feeling like I was apart of something, or like I was watching something religious and important, I was swarmed with Lao women trying to sell me packaged foods to give the monks. I refused, and later saw the monks throwing it all out because they weren’t respectful  offerings.

I’m between a rock and a hard place. I am excited to see westerners out exploring the world. What I am not excited about is that if I were to generalize the backpackers I have encountered, it would be as drunk and destructive. When I walk down the street, shop owners should not be trying to get my attention by yelling “Cheap beer!!! Cheap beer here!!!!”. When I try to book a Ha Long Bay cruise, I shouldn’t have to actively search out a boat that doesn’t identify as a “party cruise”. And when I do find one (sort of) I shouldn’t be out on the bay in beautiful scenery, trying to relax, listening to the loud music and drunk yelling from the boats around me all through the night. People don’t seem to realize that when they are out in the world, they are representing their home countries. Is this really how you all want others to think your home is like? What this trip seems to be for most of the people around me is a giant frat party. For example, I have not been to Vang Vieng, Laos, but in recent years the Lao government had to shut down a majority of the town because too many tourists died due to tubbing along the river while too drunk. Why are backpackers here so stupid? I mean really, would you ever swan dive into a shallow river while drunk without a decent hospital around for miles at home?! And the tubing has just picked up back where it started again, according to some people I have met. Not to mention this type of tourism does more harm than good to local economy. According to the UN, (more info here), out of every $100 spent on vacation in developing countries, only $5 goes back into the community. This is due to travel agencies, hostels run by forgeiners, safari companies, etc. And it is becoming harder and harder to participate in responsible tourism at this rate, especially because most of these backpackers don’t even realize they are doing more harm than good to the places they are visiting. And it’s not just their fault – locals don’t even seem to realize its happening.  

Currently, I am in Vietnam, and it has been nearly impossible to have any hotel or travel agent arrange a public bus ticket for me, as they all insist that we are only able to ride the tourist busses (for 3x the price). When asking directions at reception to the public bus station, we were flat out told tourists can’t take them (but we did). And don’t even get me started on the taxis – we nearly got into a fist fight with a driver (in a government regulated taxi) who rigged his meter, and took us the long way on purpose. This is all because we made it this way, through an endless cycle of throwing our money around and encouraging this kind of behavior. In relation to this, there’s voluntourism. Volunteering is okay – if done the correct way (more on that later). But in Cambodia, more ‘orphanages’ are actually not what they appear. Parents are often paid a small fee to pull their kids out of school to send them to these places, where tourists come to ‘teach English for the day’, take Facebook pictures with the kids, and leave. Every day. This was created specifically because westerners come in and think that they know more than locals. What makes us think that we have any right to show up and teach? Are you a licensed teacher? Do you know the local language or any local cutoms? Who do we think we are? We seem to think that we come in and help out for a day or a weekend, and change a kids life. Let me tell you something: you can volunteer in the same place for years, the correct way, and still not change anyone’s life. A good friend told me, “you can only do what you can, for who you can, for as long as you can”. The best thing you can do for developing countries, is to educate yourselves on responsible tourism and where to put your money while traveling, not by attempting to solve the world problems by teaching a child the abc’s (which no doubt they already know backwards and forwards).

When I say that my favorite thing about this trip so far has been India, people laugh at me. One person even accused me of liking to be around dirt and poverty….because why else would I like it there? I liked it there because it was real. It wasn’t catered to me. The things I did and saw were not massively exaggerated for tourists, to suck the money out of me. There were some things, in markets and shops, of course. But the actual lifestyle of the people there? They didn’t care who I was or how much money I had – but they were happy to see me, and happy to share their culture with me, with no price tag or exaggeration. Stephanie left India saying she was excited for Thailand, that she didn’t really like it so much in India. But now, weeks later, she says India is her favorite place in comparisson. Because it wasn’t this commercialized, and travelers around us were a lot more aware of, well, everything. And I get it. I’m on vacation. I’m not working or studying or volunteering. I am supposed to enjoy sightseeing and relaxing. But I look around me, at all the college kids with their backpacks and their beers, and I feel sad. And I know I am only one of few here who feel like this. But I like to think that that’s because I cared enough to dig deeper, to try harder, and to not take the easy route. Most of them will return home, back to their real lives, and be happy that they explored. But they won’t feel moved, or changed, or broken – because they won’t have learned anything deeper about themselves or the world around us. And I’m sad for Southeast Asia, because they never get a break from us.

This feeling I have, as well as a factor of other things, has lead to a change of plans for the last few weeks of my trip. Stephanie is having a change of heart, and has decided to return home a little early. She is leaving November 1st (this Sunday) and I am flying to the Phillipines to do two weeks of volunteer work for an organization doing work in the slums of Manila. Volunteer work any less than 3 months (although 6+ is better), has been proven to actually be more harmful than helpful. I like to think of myself as being very aware of unethical development work, but it has been hard to find the time to research reputabule organizations. However, I have managed to find one. Smokey Tours in Manila gives slum tours to outsiders to promote awareness. I know what you are thinking, as slum tourism is controversial in itself. But Smokey Tours is locally run, providing jobs as guides to people who grew up in the slums, and 100% (let me repeat: one hundred percent) of profits go to the actual slum community for feeding programs, medial aid, and education. Due to the limited amount of time I have, I don’t want to be too involved and do any damage, so instead I’ll help out behind the scenes. I’ll be staying in a hostel in the city and helping with office work, as they need help with social media as well as developing a better Volunteer Program (something I know quite a bit about)! They also have a few training sessions for new guides going on while I am there, so I’ll be joining a few tours to help with the English. If I can, I’ll spend some time in a slum family’s home for my own stimulation and education (I’m not expecting to move mountains in such short time), but that is completely up in the air.

From there I’ll fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to spend 2 nights before flying home on November 17th. My trip is winding down, and I am having mixed feelings about it all. I realize how negative this post sounds, but I don’t mean it to be. I have loved a lot of things here, and don’t regret it for a second. And what I do know is how much of a learning experience this has been, and what it’s taught me about myself: the kind of person that I am, and the kind of person that I want to be. 


Good Morning Vietnam!

Our last few days in Chiang Mai were great. Steph and I rented a motorbike and drove up the nearby mountain, stopping at temples and walking through cute local villages as we went. It was a truly magical day, especially when it ended at a Cat Cafe: literally a coffee shop with 15 or so cats running around freely to play with.

From Chiang Mai we ventured into Luang Prabang, Laos via slowboat. Geographically, it didn’t make too much sense, but it was cheap, fun, and we got some beautiful scenery! It started with a bus ride to Chaing Rai to visit the weird and unusual White Temple, then to Chiang Khong (the Thailand/Laos border) to spend the night. Along the way, we met 2 Danish travelers who we quickly befriended and traveled with for the following week or so. The slowboat took 2 full days, but luckily we had great weather and good company! On arrival in Luang Prabang, we spent a few days enjoying the seemingly endless night market, exploring the Kuang Si Waterfalls, and believe it or not – bowling! It’s apparently the thing to do after all the bars close at 11:30. On a more somber note, I’d like to give a shout out to the kitten we found wandering alone without its mother way too young. We fed her a can of tuna, gave her some love, and sent her on her way. Unfortunately, we saw her the next day dead in the road. So rest in peace to the beautiful baby kitten who stole out hearts. I loved Lao. I’m very disappointed I didn’t have more time there, and would love to have explored more of the countryside. It was beautiful and unlike Thailand and Vietnam, it was a colorful and wonderful country and I hope to go back some day.

Steph and I separated from Danielle after this. We went off to Vietnam, where we spent some time in Hanoi venturing into temples, museums, the Hao Lo Prison, and enjoying yummy food. We then spent 3 days on a HaLong Bay cruise with other tourists. The first day we jumped from the top of the boat into the bay, and although we aren’t really drinkers, enjoyed the “free” beer provided to us from 8-10pm with some new Danish friends we made. Apparently, that’s where all the fun people are from, the next day, we woke early to kayak the bay, trekked 2 hours up a mountain on Cat Ba Island, and swam on from the beach on “Monkey Island”. We stayed clear of the monkeys this time though!


So far, I love Vietnam. It is chaotic, real, full of history, and the people are amazing. This evening i approached a woman selling seafood on the street. I picked out my (still living) food, and she cooked it in a small pot right there on the road. Her other customers watched as I perfectly broke open the crab and with my bare hands, worked out and devoured every bit of meat inside. While none of us spoke, it was a great moment for me in which I really felt apart of something. Next on the agenda is Mai Chau, Vietnam for one night in a village. The more popular tour is to Sapa, but we wanted to do something a little less crowded. Tomorrow we take an early morning bus ride on the local, public bus. After a night there, it’s back to Hanoi, where we fly to Hoi An for the full moon lantern festival, and some time at the beach! We play to stay there for the last 6 days of our time together, to enjoy it and relax rather then nonstop moving. We are ready to relax a bit


One more kitten shout out. The news from home is that my poor baby Poa has a bladder infection and was in the emergency vet all night :(. He returns home today and they say he will be fine, but nonetheless I am really upset that I am not there with him.


In the next day or two I will be posting a blog about my reflections so far, what I think the reality of traveling South East Asia is, and what I would have done differently it. It’s not meant to be offensive to other travelers, but it’s my true feelings. Once I am officially done sorting all of those feelings out, it will be posted.








At 6am every morning, the monks participate in the Alms Giving Ceremony, where the locals all offer them home cooked meals. It is all that the monks eat.





Fish, turtles, eels, frogs. Yum. Hanoi, Vietnam.




Monkeys, Mud Baths, and Mealworms

The instant we arrived in the blue city of Judhpur, we knew we would love it. It was my favorite part of India by far. It’s known as the blue city because it is actually blue! Traditionally, homes painted blue were to signify the Brahmin people. However, as time went on, everyone else got in it! The streets of Jodhpur are narrow and winding, and you can feel the character of the city from all over. However, it’s most famous for the massive fort – Mehrangarh – that over looks the city. We started our adventure here by zip lining! The 6 zips go throughout the fort, and were so much fun. But the best part was our guide, Dheeraj. During most of our time in India, the 10 day Ganesh festival was being celebrated everywhere. But Dheeraj invited us to his neighborhood that evening to witness the celebrations for ourselves. So later that day we headed over, and were greeted by swarms of children. Dheeraj’s mother served us delicious chai, and we spent most of the evening with her and the other women. We ate, danced, and worshipped Ganesh. Every night the neighborhood had different events for the kids, and that night was basically a beauty pageant – and those kids went all out! The celebrations were the highlight of my trip, and I’m forever grateful for Dheeraj and his family’s hospitality.


At the celebrations 


Costume contest!

From there we continued through some of Rajasthan, onto Pushkar where we road camels, shopped til we dropped, and had delicious falafel sandwiches on the road. Then to Jodhpur’s sister city, Jaipur. Jaipur was fun, but a lot of our activities were soon forgotten when we hit the first real snag of our trip. We ended our day with a sunset visit to the Hindu Monkey Temple, which was exactly what it sounds like. We walked up hills and down winding roads, with hundreds of monkeys. The temple itself was incredibley old and home to the monkeys and locals who lived in the surrounding villages. On the way back, as I fed some baby monkeys some peanuts I bought from a local, one of the older monkeys got jealous. Long story short, poor Stephanie was in his line of fire. And so off we went, running down the mountain with blood dripping from her arm, leaving a trail of toilet paper (a futile attempt to cover the bite), and a swarm of Indian children. Thankfully we weren’t far, and our rickshaws driver (praise him) sped us off to the hospital where we were treated like royalty. Our driver helped us in every way possible, and we walked out with a well bandaged wound, 5 different medications, a tetanus and a rabies shot, as well as strict instructions and our doctors personal cell phone number…all for free!
Now, we are in Thailand. Bangkok was everything I expected it to be – a big city, and a party scene. We spent most nights on the famous Khao San Road drinking cheap beer and eating street food. I even tried a few fried bugs! It was a nice change from India, though I do miss the chaos and the unexpected. Being surrounded by 711s and other tourists is both comforting and annoying to me at the same time. We did meet back up with Danielle though, and the 3 of us took an overnight bus to Chiang Mai, though not without it’s problems. We got stuck in major traffic on the way to the station, missed the train that we already had tickets for, and were forced to buy completely new tickets for the next train. But, guess what? This train only had first class seats available…we all cringed as we swiped our credit cards, now having paid triple for 1 journey. But we arrived safely, and so far Chiang Mai is lovely! Today we spent the day at one of the many elephant parks. We chose the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, because it is one of two options here that does not encourage or participate in elephant riding. The other option was more expensive, so off we went! We were picked up bright and early and sat on what is essentially benches in the back of a pick up truck for the 2 hour journey to the jungle, most of which on a dirt road up a winding mountain. Upon arrival, we changed clothes and went into the jungle, where 2 large female elephants and one baby were hanging out. One of the elephants was even pregnant! There were more elephants farther in the jungle that was spent time with as well. The males tend to be more aggressive, so they roam free and come back to the base a few times a week for food and for mating. This left us with the females and the babies – no complaints there. All of the elephants besides the ones born there were rescued from an elephant riding camp, and since they can’t return to the wild, roam the large jungle sanctuary and get treated like royalty by tourists like us. They see no cages, and when the babies grow up are free to roam off into the jungle with the males and come and go as they please. After lunch, we bathed them in the river, joined them in a mud bath, and then cooled off in a water fall. 
Next up we go north to Pai, Thailand, for about 2 days. This was never part of the plan, just something we recently learned about through the backpacker grapevine. From there the plan is to take a slow boat to Luang Prabang, Laos, for a short stopover before flying to Vietnam.


        The Mehrangarh Fort, view from our hotels terrace.



Making friends in Jodhpur. We were told to take them home, but I think one international pet is enough!



Grand Palace, Bangkok



Scorpians, grasshoppers, and mealworms on Khao San Road


Giant beer tower for 3, Khao San Road in a nutshell



Don’t Worry, Chicken Curry, Hurry Hurry.

“Don’t go to India”, they told me. And when I told them that I was going anyway, I was often met with faces of disgust and the ever intimidating question of “why?“. I read and heard so much discouraging me from going, and for weeks leading up to my arrival I was scared and anxious. Now that I’m here, I can’t remember what I was so worried about. Don’t get me wrong, some of the assumptions people have are correct. It’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s (partically) poor. But to me, those don’t seem like reasons not to go somewhere. The whole point of experiencing the world is to see different cultures…not to avoid the realities of others lives out of fear that it might make me uncomfortable.

I stepped off the airplane in Delhi and felt heat. A kind of heat I have never felt before, and it took less than a minute to start sweating. On the ride to our hotel, I was wiping my dripping face with my shirt, while watching the chaos that surrounded me. I’ve seen a lot of questionable driving before, but India is pure insanity. Cars, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, cows, goats, pedestrians, dogs, all crowd the streets to create a dead stop in traffic almost everywhere. And they all make an unnecessary amount of noise. However, I’ve almost stopped hearing the car horns, the mixture of their different pitches and lengths now lull me to sleep at night.
In Delhi we walked into a tourism office for a free map, and ended up staying for a while. Over 2 cups of chai, the booking office had us sucked in. After carefully reviewing their credentials and their reviews online, we made a deal. I cancelled all previously booked hostels, and the company booked all new hotels, train tickets, pick ups from the stations, and excursions for us. He also added 2 new cities into our itinerary, because I had too much time planned in certain places. I do not doubt that we overpaid, as I’m already over budget, but what we did get for that extra was security. We had a home base, someone to call if something went wrong, and someone watching out for us. The following day, we did a tour of Delhi with the same company, all day, for $7. We saw a few Hindu temples, the tallest pillar in India (the Qutub Minar), visited the Indira Ghandi Memorial, the India Gate, and the president’s and parliament houses. The second day was a day of wandering, and we visited the Red Fort before heading on an overnight train to the holy city of Varanasi.

The train took 13 hours, but we were in an airconditioned car and I was able to sleep almost all of it. Varanasi was amazing. It’s one of, if not the oldest, living city in the world. It sits on the Ganges River (also known as River Ganga), a very holy river where many come to bathe every day.


Hindus and Buddhists alike come from all over India to see off their dead here. The river is lined with ghats, each of which serving a purpose. One day we got in a rickshaw, and the driver’s nephew came for the ride and decided he wanted to show us around. I thought it was a scam and that he would expect money, but really just wanted to hang out. He took us places we never would have found alone, so we did end up tipping him, and spent the following day with him as well. The most memorable experience has been at the burning place. One ghat sits on the water, connected to a small hospice, and 26 men work there cremating bodies – all day, every day. We watched from above as body after body was carried down to the river, covered in bright colors and flowers, to be bathed. They then let it dry out naturally for half an hour, before burning it in front of the male family members. The story goes that the wife of the man who started the burning ghat threw herself onto his dead body while it was being cremated, and this is one of the reasons women are not allowed to attend the cremations. Another is because some believe that crying brings bad wishes upon the dead, and the idea is that women are too emotional to attend. We watched while some workers created more wood piles, others bathed bodies, some sat in the river while shifting through ashes for gold and jewelry, and stray dogs pulled human bones out of the water to eat. The experience was incredibly moving, and I’m still not sure how to feel about it. No photos were allowed, but I took the following from as distance, on a boat. The tall brown building towards the left is where we visited to watch the 


From there, we took another overnight train to Agra. On this train we happened to be sleeping across the aisle from two other American girls – woo! And we had a fun time. However, after dinner, we all had a lot of trash. We asked where the garbage was, and followed the man working on the train down the aisle. He took all of our crap, opened the door of the moving train, and chucked it out. We gaped at him and he laughed, telling us we could do it ourselves next time. I didn’t make any more trash for the rest of the journey. In Agra, within minutes of getting into a rickshaw, we drove into a teenage boy on a bicycle. He got up, exchanged some words with our driver, and road away. It was all totally normal and no one seemed angry or upset besides us. After settling in, we hired another rickshaw driver to take us around for the day. He was very friendly, but fell head over heels for Steph, calling her his wife the whole day. Ahem. But, he did let us each take a turn driving his rickshaw!! It was fun but not something I would ever do on a busier road. 
On an unrelated note, one thing I’ve learned from visiting certain countries is that the term “third world” is no longer correct. It’s insulting, confusing, and outdated. When you look at places like India, you may want to say that it is under developed. You see things like poverty, dirtiness, disease, lack of resources. But if you look a little closer you will see incredible doctors, hospitals, and universities. You’ll see science and technology. India is ever developing, at a fast rate, but struggles to finally fit the category of developed. But at the same time, I wonder if this term of developing is correct either. It implies that all countries that haven’t reached the western standard of ideal to be lesser, despite the fact that the western world has its problems as well, especially socially. The term developing could also be seen as exploiting the people of these counties and I think, can perpetuate stereotypes. I could go on and on about this, but maybe I’ll save that for its own post. Just some food for thought.
Next stop is Rajasthan, where we visit 3 more cities and do a tiger spotting safari. We spend about a week there before heading off to Bangkok. It’s has been a crazy and somewhat stressful week, but I’m glad for the experience and excited for the rest of the journey.
blogger-image--616628912                               Me driving the rickshaw. Pure terror on my face in the mirror!


A temple we visited in Delhi, shaped like a lotus. It welcomes people of all religions to pray to whatever they believe in inside.
 blogger-image-67705596                              Sending out candles and flowers on the Ganges River
 blogger-image--353801801Making friends on the train. This little girl had more interest in adding to our henna by drawing on our arms than she did with drawing on the paper.
blogger-image--34302266                                                                           The Taj Mahal
blogger-image--1862816464         Inside one of the many INCREDIBLE marble rooms inside the Agra Fort.

                                     Steph’s birthday dinner- finally were able to find beer! 

Baadaye, Africa!

Since my last post, I have explored the Okavango Delta via canoe and horseback, visited Botswana’s incredibly developed capital city of Gaborone, and done everything in Cape Town we could physically fit into the short amount of time that we had.

Cape Town is a beautiful place. Most of the time I felt like I was in California rather than South Africa. Beautiful beaches and mountains, the scenery was definitely the highlight. Plus, the backpackers we stayed at was the best one yet. It has such a homey feel too it and we made some good friends. We had a long list of things to see and do, and I’m happy to stay we did almost all of them! The first day we did a hop on, hop off bus tour of the city and were able to see the Waterfront, Camps Bay beach, and get our bearings. We went to for great meals with some friends we made at the hostel, and enjoyed some margaritas! The following day we were met with rain, wind, and cold weather. This was a downer because a lot of our plans involved being out doors, but we managed to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. The tour was very well done, and given by an ex-political prisoner who spent 5 years there himself. The experience was very moving and I’m very glad to have done it.
Our last day, we got up early and finally saw some sunshine! We took the cable car up to one of the new 7 natural wonders (whatever that means), Table Mountain. We got an incredible view of the city, and pictures don’t do it justice. Later, we joined 2 new friends with a rental car and took a day road trip along the coast. We drove through Chapman’s Peak, had lunch on Kalk Bay, visited the penguin colony on Boulders Beach, and saw the most southern tip of Africa – Cape Point.
Cape Town was lovely, but with its downfalls. Just outside of the city is an incredibly large township (slum) that many hotels offer tours through, but no one ever seems to mention when they talk about the city. In comparison to the rest of Africa, I think it’s safe to say Cape Town is one of the most developed places, at least that I have seen. And while South Africa has made incredible strides, there is still a road ahead. I didn’t do a tour through the townships, because the offers were large groups going and I feel that is invasive. What I did in the larger slum in Nairobi was intimate and peaceful, and cost a donation. These tours here were expensive and made me uneasy to hear about, especially when it’s hardly ever mentioned. It has a large population and I believe deserves more discussion and attention than I noticed in my short time here. (Disclaimer: I spent 4 days in Cape Town and am aware that I may be ignorant about some things, this is just my observation!)

Once again it is time to say see you later to the continent that has stolen my heart. Now I being a long 20 hours journey to Delhi, India, where I finally reunite with Steph! I am both excited and nervous to see what India has to teach me, because I am sure it is like nothing I have seen before.



                                                            Okavango Delta, Maun, Botswana
blogger-image--2114317361                                                                        Camps Bay Beach!
                                                                         Nelson Mandela’s cell
blogger-image--1835771676                                                    The cable car up to Table Mountain

                                                      On top of the mountain, above Cape Town

blogger-image-912463699                                                                  So many penguins!
                                                                   New friends on our last night

Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana: At A Glance

This post is long overdue. New blog title name, credit to Danielle! I stopped writing in Tanzania for a multitude of reasons, mainly because I was becoming unhappy. Not with the country or the people, especially not the girls I grew close with, but with myself, the work I was doing, and the people that I was representing. I don’t regret the experience at all; I learned a lot about foreign aid, and about myself.  The spur of the moment decision to return home made the transition very difficult, and it was hard to leave home again after finally starting to readjust. But I stepped off the plane in Livingstone, Zambia on August 31st and breathed in the familiar African air. The smells hit me hard and I felt a pang of both happiness and nostalgia.  My stretch in Africa as a tourist feels very odd. I am not a student, or working. I am in the touristy areas, speaking English, eating western style food, and wearing pants daily. This has been the hardest adjustment of them all, to not know the languages and to be unfamiliar with customs. To what I’m sure is the annoyance of Danielle, my travel companion, I find myself comparing everything to Eastern Africa. Despite this, it has been an incredible so far.

The view of Victoria Falls is much better in Zimbabwe, but we had a great start in Zambia. On the first day, we met a local guide who (illegally) took us on a walk to the edge of the smaller falls surrounding the main one. We walked through streams and across rocks and swam in natural pools. The next day, we did the breath-taking Devil’s Pool and dangled over the ledge of the main falls. We also started what is apparently becoming a theme of our trip – resort crashing. We checked out the fanciest hotel in the area to use their wifi and have a beer. In Zimbabwe, we saw the amazing views of the falls, bungee jumped off the bridge right on the border of both countries, and I ate crocodile. The bungee jump was surprisingly one of the scariest things I have done. I thought it would be a breeze. But standing there with my toes over the edge, I was so scared that I forgot to hit “record” on the gopro attached to my chest. I remembered while dangling upside down, spinning in circles. 
From there, we did a 3-day safari to Chobe National Park in Botswana. This was my 9th safari, but my first outside of Tanzania. The animals were mostly the same, but the environment and experience was different. I saw three new animals, and watched lions mating so that was pretty cool. The campsites here were also actual campsites. Our toilet was a hole dug a few hours before we got there, and we had no electricity or running water. Compared to the fully powered camps in East Africa, this was a lot of fun and made for a more authentic experience. Our safari guide, Robson, was one of the nicest men I have met, and went above and beyond, even coming to our hotel after the safari to help navigate us around the town of Kasane. The hotel we stayed in was a splurge – way over my budget for sleeping. But it was also much needed after camping, as we had our own little cottage with a private bathroom and kitchen. After doing some laundry and crashing another resort, we climbed on a small 20-seater plane (although I have been in smaller!) and headed to Maun, also in Botswana. We have since checked into a lovely backpackers on the water, where we will be the next 3 nights. Tomorrow we set off on a Mokoro (dug out canoe) day trip on the Okavango Delta. 
It has been an exciting trip so far, and I am looking forward to what is to come. 
blogger-image-1731929434                                                               Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
blogger-image--1896670481                                “Boiling Pot”. That’s the bridge we bungeed from behind us!
blogger-image--1407795848                             We had a visitor at the pool of the resort we crashed in Kasane
blogger-image--435062877                                 Our off the beaten path (aka illegal) tour in Zambia
                                                                               The Chobe River
blogger-image--1024766077                                                                        Bungee!

Old Friends, New Adventures

IMG-20150430-WA0001 It’s been a while since I have updated, but I’ve been moving nonstop! Stephanie came to visit and we had a very busy itinerary, and I’m happy to report that it all went very smoothly! Unfortunately, it also went very quickly – the past three weeks went by in a blur. We started our journey by meeting in Kilimanjaro Airport. I arrived 5 hours earlier than her and wasn’t allowed to wait in the actual air  rt, so I had to sit outside all afternoon, but it was all worth it when she arrived! We headed back to my old stomping grounds, a hostel in Arusha, and called it a night. We spent 4 days in Arusha, visiting my old friends Baba Jack and Baba Jerry, my home stay family, and touring the city. It was so amazing to see them all again and even more amazing to share it all with Steph. My ‘Mama’ welcomed us with open arms, served us an endless fried banana and chai afternoon snack, and updated me on the past few years. My Swahili, though still broken and basic, has improved significantly since the last time I saw her. We communicated a lot easier than I remembered before, and that was pretty cool.



Then we headed out on safari, introducing Steph to her first camping experience! 3 of the 4 parks I had done before but they were just as incredible this time as they were the last! We saw everything and more – including the extremely rare sighting of a leopard hunting and killing a baby warthog! (I wish I had a picture, but I don’t). I had never even seen a leopard before, so that was incredible. We started out in Arusha heading to Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti.  We did a budget safari, literally the cheapest I could find, and we were pleasantly surprised with how well everything went and how good the food was (although I did have to eat goat).

Safari car selfie

After 4 days on safari, we drove through the Serengeti, away from Arusha. I had arranged for us to be dropped off at the other end of the Serengeti, closest to Mwanza, where a JBFC driver came to pick us up and take us to Mwanza. We spent 2 nights in a hotel there, where we were able to relax and do some laundry (in the shower), plus my coworkers were able to come meet us one night for dinner and drinks. Next, we were off somewhere new for both of us – Kigoma!
Kigoma is a small city on Lake Tanganyika. We had a few options of how to get there, and in the end decided to fly. Though extremely expensive (it was a charter plane), with such a IMG_4410limited amount of time it made the most sense for our plans. So we boarded the smallest plane I had ever been in, and we were off. I knew I loved Kigoma the minute we landed. It’s a very small rural area, I’m not even really comfortable calling a city (no supermarkets, but we did find an ATM!). We hopped in a cab and headed for the docks on the other side of town, where I was told we would find water taxi’s heading out to Gombe Stream National Park – the place where Jane Gooddall lived with the chimpanzees, and still visits twice a year. After wandering around the small market attempting to stock up on fruit and bread to snack on, we climbed onto our boat. The boat was large, uncovered (yay for sunburns – the trip took 3 hours) and filled with about 40-50 Tanzanians, a few huge bags of rice, large crates of sodas, and a handful of chickens. We also had the pleasure of a few not-so-subtle photos being taken of us from the water taxi next to us, because what’s funnier than white people on a boat? We managed to kill time on our long ride by having a few conversations with the one person on the boat who sort of spoke English. Mainly we talked about Obama, Tupac, and Rihanna, because America.
The one snag we hit was upon our arrival in Gombe around 4pm. It’s $100 per 24 hours spent in the park. Apparently as of 2014, once you step off the boat you are officially in the National Park, even if you aren’t trekking or doing anything other than sleeping in the guesthouse. You can’t start a trek until the morning, and you can’t get on a water taxi until the morning. So in order to do a trek we would have to spend 36 hours total in the park, most of which we would spend sleeping. After about an hour of arguing with the employees, and having no way off the island, we were faced with the option to either a) pay $100 just to spend the night (not including the guesthouse fee or food) just to wake up at 6am and get on the boat back, b) pay for two 24 hour permits – $200 each, or c) hire a $300 private boat to come and get us. After quite a bit of arguing, we reluctantly agreed to pay for both permits. When in Tanzania, right? And when their credit card machine wasn’t working, we handed over the only USD we had – $100 each. They promised the machine would work the next day, and we crossed our fingers and hoped otherwise. At 8am the next day we started our trek with a guide. Another guide elsewhere in the forest sent a message to ours (via a loud whooping sound he made – no cell phones or walkie talkies here!) about a chimp sighting, and off we went through the jungle. We found one chimp, a young male off by himself high above our heads in a tree. We sat at the bottom for a while until he came bounding down, running right passed us. The chimps are wild animals, and they know no paths or trails, so when you follow them, you follow them through the bush – a real trek. He lead us to his mother, who was in a tree with her 5 year old son, as well as a one-month old baby on her belly. The family was un-phased by us, and as soon as the fruit they were eating looked better in another tree, they climbed down and walked directly between us – the 5 year old stepping on my foot as he bounded after his mom. We spent a while there watching them, and to surprise ran into two more tourists – a Canadian couple who had hired their own boat to take them for the day. After visiting the waterfalls, spotting another chimp family, and hiking through the forest some more, we packed our bags and jumped on their boat, our untouched credit cards still in our wallets. Take that, overpriced park fees!

Stephanie with the mama chimp!

With 2 days still to kill in Gombe, we found a nice little hotel to stay in. For $10 a night each, we got a double bed, mosquito nets, our own bathroom and refrigerator, and free breakfast. Not too shabby. Each day we hopped on a bajaj and headed for beach on the lake. It’s the off season, and the beaches were quiet. We were lucky enough to pay $3 a day to lounge around in our own private cove. It was beautiful, and exactly what we needed. No seagulls here, however we did have to fend off monkeys trying to eat our food! Finally, we flew back to Mwanza and hung out around JBFC for a few days before Stephanie headed back home.

our private cove on Lake Tanganyika


It was a successful vacation, and I’m sad it’s over. Stephanie being here and then leaving has made me pretty homesick. However, I’m reaching the halfway point of my time at JBFC and feeling both happy and nervous for the summer to start. It’s my first summer ever away from home and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a good one!

During the annual migration, there are 2 million Zebras and 4 million Wildebeest in the Serengeti


The coolest photo I’ve ever taken – not zoomed in and right next to our car!


A hyena hangs out in the road


Overlooking Ngorongoro Crater


Stephanie with a herd of Elephants


Waterfalls of Gombe Stream


A Trip to Kenya and My 23rd Birthday

            On Tuesday afternoon, a coworker and I decided to catch a bus the next morning and head to Nairobi for a few days away. And by bus I really mean: A bus, walking across the border, a lot of harassment and bargaining, 1 large van, and a taxi. After 14 hours of traveling and a hit and run with a man on a motorcycle (Yes, we hit him with the van and kept driving), we had arrived at our ‘hostel’. We stayed in one of the nicest campsites ever: Wildebeest Eco Camp. The tents aren’t your typical ones, as they are large luxury ones with beds inside. We had booked a dorm, but they ended up being full so we were upgraded to our own private tent – no complaints there!

IMG_20150416_132117After a good night’s sleep we headed out
on our first adventure – the Kibera Slums. Our guide, Joshua, was born and raised there. He led us through narrow walkways, and I spent most of my time watching my steps as to avoid sewage, mud, and trash, which was impossible. As I slid my way down hills, dodging people, and waving hello to the children yelling, “mzungu how are you!” in a chorus of giggles, Joshua told us all about his home. Kibera is located right in the city of Nairobi, home to over 1 million residents, making up one fourth of Kenya’s entire population. It’s the largest slum in Kenya, and the second in the entire continent of Africa. The smell was distracting, as each breathe I took contained waves of trash, pollution, and sewage. The children were welcoming, excited, and eager to say hello to us. But with adults, I felt hesitant to say anything. It’s difficult to know what the appropriate thing to do is when we both know the reality of it all, and how far our differences divide us. As we crossed a narrow bridge, a dying woman was sandwiched between two women half helping, half dragging her as they ran across. Her face was filled with pain, and I tried to avoid making eye contact with any of them. Joshua explained how far away the one hospital in the slum is, and how most sick people never make it there in time. As I looked out from the bridge I could see children in the extremely polluted and trash-filled water, splashing one another and laughing. Usually when I’m around extreme poverty, I find relief with the children. At least they find entertainment, even if it is in a muddy river. But this was different. These kids wouldn’t know how important they were, and they probably wouldn’t ever get out of the slums. I was ashamed and horrified by how much I had been blessed with, and how little these children were.

              Eventually we arrived at a modern two-floor building that offered laundry services,
toilets, internet, and showers for 5 Kenyan Shillings  (10 cents). In the lobby, beautiful artwork hung all around the walls. We learned that they were done by resident children, selling them in order to pay their school fees. I bought a beautiful painting done by a 16-year old boy named Joseph for $70. While I thought the center had the right idea, attempting to change the lives of the slum, I couldn’t help but wonder how much good it could really do when most of the community can’t afford to go there. We continued along until we reached the office of the Kibera Community Empowerment Organization, where Joshua informed us of all KCEO does. KCEO runs a recycling program, where residents can go out and collect plastic and be brought to them to sell, where they have a machine that crushes the plastic and creates building materials. He also showed me a binder explaining every topic you can think of, from anti-corruption to sex education to personal hygiene. These are taught in a youth behavioral change program. Joshua is one of the co-founders of KCEO and it was moving to see his passion. He has been able to set up a local organization that was making a real difference in his community. His story was inspiring and gave me a sense of hope. If he could make such a change, so could others. After returning back to our hostel we reflected on what we had seen that day. I’ve experienced rural poverty before, and it’s always been difficult for me to put into words. I’ve constantly struggled with how to make people at home understand that this isn’t just something you see on TV. But this time was even harder to grasp, and as I tried to write in my journal I wasn’t even sure myself what I was feeling.




The next day was a day full of tourist activities, and I was more than okay with that. We started in the morning for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – Kenya’s haven for orphaned elephants. It was incredibly muddy and rainy, but once we saw the elephants it made it all worth it. We arrived in time for their feeding, where their keepers lead them out into a ring. We watched along with many other people as the elephants devoured their bottles before running around and playing. They came bounding over to us, let us pet them, and one even attempted to pull my hood off of my head, resulting in him spraying me with mud and water. I was covered and soaked, but couldn’t stop myself from smiling. Anyone who knows me at all knows how skeptical I am about tourist attractions like these and how the animals are hurt from this much interaction with humans. However, this organization seems to be one of the good ones. After a certain age the elephants don’t participate in these feeding viewings, and are reintroduced to the wild, but it’s a long and hard process and a lot of times babies are rejected by other herds. The Wildlife Trust rescues them from all over the country, and works hard to promote anti-poaching and education on the effects it has on these animals. Our next stop was the Giraffe Center, where we were able to feed and kiss some resident giraffes! The kiss was a little gross, but an experience for sure!

Finally, our driver recommended that we visit the Kazuri Bead Factory. We took a tour and learned how their jewelry was created. They make the clay on site, and then there are multiple stations. The first is where women shape the clay, each by hand with little to no molding or shaping tools, and leave them to dry for days, sometimes weeks depending on how large the item is. Next, they are each painted individually by hand and put over a fire for about 12 hours, before they are repainting and put back in the fire. The final step is to string them into beautiful bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and adorable animal figurines. They even make pottery, but that’s an even longer process. Of course by the end of the tour I was obsessed, and I still haven’t decided if I was lucky or unlucky that they accepted all major credit cards in their shop.

              On my 23rd birthday, I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof of our tent. I bundled the covers around me and waited for an alarm to go off in the dark before starting our 14-hour journey home. I spent my birthday in two countries, with good company, and although the journey was hard and stressful at times, I was happy to have a few drinks back in Tanzania, and to be back in my bed at JBFC that night.


IMG_20150416_105624                    Wall mural with the word “peace” written in 42 different tribal languages

He loved this shovel!
Having a moment with the giraffe
IMG_5089Anna & I hanging out with this guy!
IMG_3673Kazuri Bead Factory
IMG_3679Some of the beads
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