Monday, November 29, 2010

Sugar Rush

"One foot after another, the swish, the frozen stiff air forced into spirals around my thighs, the engine within clamoring to toss more coals on the fire and steam bursting forth into a cloud sliced down the middle by my nose...

Ahead of me, the hills loom. I think I can, puff, slice. I think I can, puff, slice, swish.

Skirting trees dusted with powdered sugar, dodging patches of glazed sidewalk, an encouraging smile and wave from an elderly woman with a walker... reminds me why I run, while I can, in this sweet winter wonderland.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best Town Names

I found this funny little article in a Reader's Digest Magazine and thought y'all might get a kick out of it as well :)

"I was holed up in Boring, Oregon wondering whether I should try someplace different. So I hopped in my car and drive to Why, Arizona to figure things out. After a few days I found my answer in Whynot, Mississippi: I needed a town with some life to it. I made a beeline for Disco, Tennessee, where I danced so much, I wore out my shoes. The next day I headed to Loafers Glory, North Carolina, for a new pair. Afterward I looked sharp enough to take a break in Handsome Eddy, New York. Eddy wasn't around, but I knew where to find him - in Loveladies, New Jersey, where it seemed that all the women were trying to get to Husband, Pennsylvania. It was a tough town. One gal told me my romancing needed some work and sent me to Sweet Lips, Tennessee. Heartbroken, I put the car on cruise control and drove to Lonelyville, New York, for a stiff drink. I made a pit stop in The Bottle, Alabama and finally hit rock bottom in Condemned Bar, California. Not surprisingly, I woke up the next morning in Cranky Corner, Louisiana. I knew that if I continued like this, I'd be headed straight to Hell, Michigan. Pulling myself together, I grabbed breakfast in Oatmeal, Texas, lunch in Sandwich, Massachusetts and dessert in Pie Town, New Mexico. I should have stopped eating after Greasy, Oklahoma, because I was feeling pretty sick by the time I left Lick Skillet, Tennessee. In Brilliant, Ohio, it finally dawned on me - I had to cease my wandering ways. I parked in Do Stop, Kentucky, took out the map and chose my new home. I didn't need Wealthy, Texas, or Fame, West Virginia. I found everything I needed in Happyland, Oklahoma." - Andy Simmons

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Featured Post

Although I've fallen dreadfully behind in my own blog, I managed to submit a piece for my Alma Mater's Alumni blog. Check it out if you get the chance and let me know what you think!
I promise a personal update soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rwanda & Burundi

I spent a mere week in Rwanda, a country dubbed the 'Switzerland of Africa'. Although Uganda was also a land of dense green, scrunched hill upon hill, thick forests, and tiny villages, Rwanda did indeed surprise me with its sheer natural beauty, unique landscape as well as the level of development.

After leaving Kampala, (not without taking a bite out of the famed nightlife, two nights in a row working magic on the dance floor 'til dawn, watching movies and wandering the city with a fellow couchsurfer Stephan, getting my hair braided with super hero blue lightening bolts, (much to the glee of the salon :), and topping it all off by attending a ba'hai sunday service in a temple, in which they opened all 6 sets of double doors in around the circular chapel so that the light mixed with the choir voices, swirling around, up to the turquoise ceiling and back down to each person... enchanting!), I took a night bus to Kisoro. I was warned against doing so, but found no other option so off we went into the darkness.

Let me just say, in my humble opinion, Ugandan bus drivers drive like they clinically insane. The road was, as usual, underdeveloped, pitted and potholed as well a continuous series of winding switchbacks and you would not believe the speeds in which we were flying! I lost count of the number of times that every passenger was ejected from their seats and in one, very harrowing instance, the bus nearly crashed, grinding to the right, wheels on my side in the air, people tossed to the side, ladies calling upon "Jesus Christ!" clutching their babies and suddenly we pitched the other direction, a plume of dust filled the bus, we wobbled, found a balance, and amazingly did not slow down AT ALL! The passengers complained loudly, but there was a wall between the cabin and the driver and I, having remained surprisingly calm, kept trying to assure myself that I was going to see the gorillas. We were not going to crash, because I could feel I would see the gorillas... the power of positive thought I figured :).

Fortunately, we made it in one piece, I tracked down a hotel that had rooms with private bathrooms and hot water - I needed a shower after what turned out to be a 12 hour journey (vs. the claimed 8). Alex in Kampala had helped me arrange a permit so I checked in at the office and prepared for tracking gorillas the next day.

The visitors center at Mgahinga National Park is very well developed with a lot of information about the animal life in the forest and the history of the protective efforts for the endangered mnt. gorillas. I was signing in and suddenly there was a rustle behind me. The trail into the forest came to a T just a couple meters from the visitors center and a man came running from around the corner. A giant flash of gray whizzed by followed by a loud CRACK! BANG BANG! "Was that a gorilla?" I asked. Another man raced across the T following the flash with a gun in his hands. Another couple shots rang out and three hikers emerged, huddled together, one girl clutching her back. We had seen these hikers enter the forest just a minute or two earlier and apparently they had come face to face with an angry buffalo who had knocked her down and stepped on her before running away... THIS is why you go hiking in Africa!! It was an exciting opening to our own gorilla tracking.

After a short briefing, four paying trackers including myself, our guide, and our security set out to meet a man with a machete who would lead us to where the gorillas were last sighted and we would track them from there. Because of the buffalo incident, our guide chose to take us around the base of the mountain, outside the forest through charming settlements. As always, children came running from their hiding places and farm animals paid us no attention. Once we forged into the forest, the path, when there was one, was steep. We bushwhacked to an opening where we came upon the most beautiful creatures! I massive silverback gorilla, turned to glance at us and I imagined him thinking, 'Ah... they're back'. I wonder if they notice it's different people each time or if the presence of a few familiar faces is all that matters.

We were meeting the 9 members of the Nyakagezi family. The only family of the three in Mgahinga that is habituated to humans. We kept an average of 7m distance and were allowed to follow them as they moved from tree to tree to bush for a maximum of one hour. The babies swung haphazardly from limbs and the incredibly muscled silverbacks lazed on the ground, sometimes rolling around and even reaching over to caress the babies when they came near. They are so human-like! I wanted so badly to go up and cuddle with them, just to be enveloped in their enormous arms, a giant gorilla hug! They really seemed not to care at all that we were following them and the next thing you know, our time was up and we had to return, bidding farewell to our distant relatives.

The next morning I hired a motorcycle taxi to take me and my seemingly-heavier-by-the-day backpack to the border. Just 10k, but along the ubiquitous bumpy, rocky, uneven roads that I've become used to. My abs and quads were straining to keep me upright as gravity tugged on my bag. I have imagined myself falling off one of these moto-taxis on numerous occasions as we rumbled along, and now, I need not wonder any longer. On one particularly steep hill, the bike slowed to chug it's way up and I felt that hand of gravity tighten and yank me backwards. I'm sure with the upmost of grace, I fell off the bike and down the hill. Tangled in the straps, I lay there for a moment before righting myself and dusting off the scratches. My driver, horrified, rushed to help me and would not let me touch the bag, but insisted on carrying it in front of him, however uncomfortable, which actually made the ride a lot easier. Once at the border, I walked into no-mans land, signed out with the police in their little shack, signed out with immigration and for the first time, there was no visa fee to enter the next country!

My first stop, Gisenyi, a resort town for the Rwandan wealthy was somewhat unimpressive. I had decided to hop the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but recently the border rules changed due to corruption, so I would have to email some director in advance, receive an official letter of invitation and then proceed (with a possible tripling or more of the visa fee?), so that was out. Instead, I continued on down Lake Kivu, one of the most scenic drives of my entire trip through gleaming tea plantations, so many hills you'd think they stole them from neighboring countries, each with several little huts perched atop and interesting little villages sprinkled throughout. Kibuye is a small town and the real highlight has been the Bethany hotel. Set right on the water, a gorgeous view of the peaceful lake from my porch and wifi (such a luxury)! I went for a jog followed by a swim in my own little cove this morning and feel so refreshed!

My first stop, Gisenyi, a resort town for the Rwandan wealthy was somewhat unimpressive. I had decided to hop the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but recently the border rules changed due to corruption, so I would have to email some director in advance, receive an official letter of invitation and then proceed (with a possible tripling or more of the visa fee?), thus, with my limited schedule, I did not have the time to verify and so that option was unfortunately out. Instead, I continued on down Lake Kivu, one of the most scenic drives of my entire trip through gleaming tea plantations, so many hills you'd think they stole them from neighboring countries, each with several little huts perched atop and interesting little villages sprinkled throughout, often along the edge of a steep dropoff and the most comanding views! Kibuye is a small town and the real highlight has been the Bethany hotel. Set right on the shore, a gorgeous view of the peaceful lake with it's many hills tipping into the waters from my porch and I must not forget the wireless internet (such a luxury)! I went for a jog in the morning followed by a swim in my own little cove and wonder if there is anything so refreshing!

I made the short two and a half trip to the capital of Kigali through even more inspiring countryside and met Hannes, another couchsurfer who invited me to join him and a local friend to the Kigali Expo. A two week event focusing on commerce during the day and turning into a random bunch of stages with dancers and DJs. I was SO entertained! I think by this time it is clear that I like to dance, but for once I was more interested in watching the locals dance! The majority male crowd danced together so very enthusiastically, perhaps it had something to do with the late hour and the generous amounts of beer available, but I had never seen anything like it. Dressed to the nines, with fedoras and scarves and chic style, they had a repertoire of dance moves that made me grin.

The following day, I ventured into the city on foot, first crossing a valley, one of the many as the city is built on even more hills than Kampala. To get anywhere requires several ups and downs, but it was warm and quite a pleasant walk. The first thing I noticed was how very clean the city was. More so than any other capital and the streets were wide and fairly well developed. Rwanda is the first (and only that I know of) country that requires motortaxis to not only wear, but provide helmets and they actually follow the rules of the road. There was an order and a sense of progress absent in my previous travels that was impressive. Kagame, the president of Rwanda who was actually being sworn in for a third term of seven years on the Monday that I was in town, is apparently attempting to turn the city into an attractive place for investments and business development by, among other things, installing a network of fiber optics. I see a lot of interesting changes taking place here in the next decade.

That night, I was invited into a Rwandan home to celebrate a birthday and served dish after dish of delicious food and the following day, thwarted by bouts of serious downpoor as well as the inexplicable closure, I was unable to visit the genocide memorial, but did manage to try the popular Rwandan buffet for dinner and check out a couple afterhours hotspots.

The next morning, I awoke early to catch a 7hr bus to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. I had heard conflicting information about requiring a special invitation to enter, and the price of the visa ranging from $20-$50 USD, but I already missed out on the Congo so I was going to try my luck at the Burundian border. Luck was with me and the visa, with the assistance of a very helpful local, was easy to obtain and only $20! Yet another extremely helpful Rwandan (thank you again Fabrice!) who happened to study in the US, was absolutely a life-saver as Burundi is even more francophone and my limited french was very ineffective. We discovered, after a lengthy process and several motortaxi rides that there were no passenger ferries running to Tanzania, which is a shame because I had heard the trip down Lake Tanganika, one of Africa's deepest, is beautiful. This means my last week will be spent retracing my steps, busing back up and around Lake Victoria (rather than through Tanzania, which would take the same amount of time, but offers no direct buses and no paved roads... I debated for quite some time over which route to take, usually preferring the more rustic/scenic route, but in end decided to visit my friends in Kamapala and Nairobi once more).

Skipped Highlights

I've missed a couple major stories, so here is a quick synopsis:

The wedding in Arusha
The most random series of events that I have ever witnessed. Dan and I, dressed to the nines in our new, custom tailored African duds, danced and laughed our way through approximately 8 hours of one odd tradition after another, an absolutely stoic, straightfaced wedding party, standing in the back of a truck with the band as we circled the prominant round-a-bouts in town and stopped to take pictures in the middle of one, watched 60+ yr old ladies popin' their booty like they were 40 yrs younger, were called to dance down the aisle to the front and then fed bits of cake in front of everyone and watched strange performances including a man with socks on his hands dancing on his knees with empty glass bottles in his hands and mouth! This was one of the highlights of my time in Africa!

Hunting with the Bushmen
We awoke very early in order to find the Bushmen around dawn. Our lug of a bus trundled through the bush until suddenly we spotted a fire just off the way and could just make out figures hidden behind the brush. Once we disembarked, they wasted no time in frivolities, handed two of us bows (I got one! :) and began jogging away - no words necessary, we were off! To be honest, "hunting" with a bunch of tenderfoot westerners loping behind, I can't imagine they really expected to make a kill, although I have heard of others getting lucky. There was one point in which some little furry animal rushed by and although I drew my bow, there is no way I ever would have let an arrow fly. I ammused myself quite contentedly running around and shooting at random targets, developing quite a good aim if I do say so myself ;) Those trees and bushes didn't see me coming!
We visited the blacksmith in his shop made of twigs and branches. He showed us how he melted scraps of metal into bracelets and arrowheads and we took turns trying out the airbags and stoking the fire. The man commented that I was very good and that I would make a good wife - I'd better make sure to let my next suiter know!
Finally, following Dan's lead, I climbed onto the roof of our bus, while it was moving mind you, and we were soon joined by a couple of the other staff for some bus surfing and the very best way to take in the African countryside! The boys even got some mid-air high-fives with other buses!

Final Final Ceremony

The last ceremony in Mongola Ju was a day filled with both joy and early-onset nostalgia. They had set up a volleyball net and we played a few rounds surrounded tightly by the children who would squeal anytime a rally would end. We played a million hand games and danced and sang with the students. A group of older students sang several goodbye songs in english and it was so lovely and sad that it brought tears to my eyes. They unveiled a sign commemorating the work done by Rustic Pathways and gave us not one, but two gifts. Each of the female staff got kitenges, the cloth wrapped around by the women and the guys got super tight TShirts that said Dubai on them, ha! Then we were presented with a couple gourds on strings and were told that this was the traditional "lunch box" taken on long journeys. Wonderful! We then shared boxes of donations made by the students with the heads of the school as well as a big pot of Guacamole accompanied by their rice and chicken - An African Thanksgiving :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Country #40!

Today, I write to you from Kampala, Uganda - my 40th country, which means I've finally reached the countdown to 50! I am a list-maker and a count-keeper at heart and my competitive spirit grinned upon crossing the border :). So far, I've met a very friendly pair of couchsurfers that have opened their beautiful home to me as well as helped me shape the next stage of my journey. It is so nice to be in a home especially since I was feeling a bit under the weather with a cold and a sore foot (reason soon to be revealed ;).

Kampala, besides being a capital city is nothing like Nairobi. Nairobi surprised and impressed me with it's relative calm and order. The instant that I stepped off the train (after being given ample time to gather our things as opposed to rushed out) I noticed the platform was clean and there was a conspicuous lack of touts and cab drivers vying for our attention. Luckily, Arthur had a Kenyan friend from University here that came to pick us up and we walked into the city center to check out the business district as well as take in the view from a helipad atop a beautiful conference center. At the ticket desk, Arthur's friend Kigen and one of his friends tried to persuade the stoic man to let us in for the resident's price since we had been living in Tanzania and it was half that of the foreigners ticket. The man said that we had to convince him that we had been living there, so I tried some of my best swahili - to no avail. Suddenly I asked if we could sing and Arthur and I broke into the church song that we had learned in Mongola Ju village. There, in the midst of people in business suits and chandeliers, we sang for our supper and the ticket man, cracking a smile, gave in.

Over the next few days, we got an insiders view of Nairobi and the surrounding area. We tasted the night life including the strip of bars and clubs aptly named 'Electric Avenue' and Rafikiz (Friends) where we danced to a rhythmic mix of live and recorded East African hits. We visited Kigen's development project, were mobbed by more adorable children, drove through enchanting Kenyan countryside over more of the deeply saturated rust-red roads that I had come to love in Tanzania. We spent a night in, treated to a feast by Kigen's girlfriend Rachel - seriously the best meal that we have had in Africa and one too many glasses of wine to count inducing passionate discussions about life and travel and gender roles around the world - It was a splendid evening ('til 4am)!

The next morning, after about an hour and a half of sleep, I bid a fond farewell to Arthur who opted to spend his last few days relaxing on the beaches of Zanzibar and I joined Kigen in a drive 5 hours west to attend his friend's wedding. Another African wedding! This one was a lot different and since it was being held in quite a rural setting, I was probably the first white person that many of the kids had ever seen. Ha, the wide-eyed stares were amusing and I imagined what it must be like to see someone of another race for the first time... In America, I just grew up assuming everyone was American unless I heard an accent. I would never think of addressing someone by their skin color, but here, we have people shouting "Mizungu!" even in cosmopolitan Nairobi!

That night, after a nice meal of local food, Kigen and I met some of his buddies in his home town and after drinking my very first energy drink (I'm working on an hour and a half sleep remember, plus a couple brief dozes in the car), we hit up a place called Signatures - and ROCKED it! :) We claimed an area and the group of us danced until about 6am!!! Being the only white person in the club for most of the night, I had a plethora of people interested in dancing and/or speaking with me. Kigen and a couple of his friends declared themselves my personal body guards which was sweet and even then, I managed to have a handful of hilarious interactions. One massive bouncer took my hand as I passed by and said "I wish to be your very best friend". After dancing with one fellow several times he said, "I wish you were mine... I would have given you a heroic welcome" - Ha! One younger guy 'spelled my name' on his heart by holding my hand to his chest while he flexed his pec muscle and another older guy said that he really enjoyed speaking to... people of my... community, clearly struggling to be politically correct, which I gave him props for, however amusing the comment. Racism is a strange beast... a subject that deserves it's own blog entry at some point.

Needless to say, upon waking up around 8 am in order to visit Kigen's parent's orphan project, I was a bit tired. My left foot was tender to walk on - too much dancing? Never! ;) - and my voice was wavering. The facilities for the children were amazing and I enjoyed touring the compound, but waiting until midnight to catch the bus to Kampala, it was hard to muster much energy. So many nights out (not to mention those with Arthur in Mombasa and Mtwapa) in a row were beginning to take their toll and as I said, after bidding adieu to my new friend Kigen and an over night bus into Uganda, a day off to recover was much needed!

Now, after a day or two of relaxing and exploring the city (a chaotic cluster of crowded streets, cars and trucks and speeding motorcycles causing a choking amount of pollution, a golden mosque, a peaceful cathedral and a fascinating, but somewhat disconcerting market, all bunched together amongst an impressaive amount of green on 7 rolling hills), I'll take a jaunt out to the city if Jinja (love that name), one of the 3 places that claims to be the source of the mighty Nile and then I am organizing my next big adventure - a trek into the jungle to visit the endangered silverback gorillas! I cannot wait to track them deep into the lush flora, bushwhacking our way to observe one of the few families left. Just a couple months ago, Kampala's sole UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kasubi Tombs, were burned down due to civil violence which makes me sad that I came just a little too late and reminds me why I want to see as much as possible, before it's too late!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Safari Njema (Bon Voyage)

Wow. There is something so quintessential about journeying by train across the African landscape. Arthur, who has been an amazing travel companion, and I booked a compartment on the overnight train from Mombasa to Nairobi after spending 4 glorious days exploring Mombasa and relaxing on a beach north of the city in our own private cottage on the waterfront. We swam in the Ocean a couple times a day, wandered the rural villages through mud huts and forgotten pathways and even discovered an abandoned resort (an eerie shell of what was once perhaps one of the largest resorts in the area, ceilings deteriorated from mold, the pool quarter-filled with a mysterious golden liquid, spiral staircases covered in dust and broken glass and the most impressive building, built directly on a cliff above the ocean, a three bedroom house with a 270 degree view of the turquoise waters below. We bought bananas, avocado, tomatoes and a loaf of bread for about a dollar, snuck up to the master bedroom's balcony and served up a picnic with a five-star view - paradise!)

At night, after sharing a few drinks with a pair of fellow Irish travelers, I was rocked to sleep by the gentle creaking of our train car, my top bunk actually quite comfortable - like a swaying cradle. The morning suddenly began with the clanging of a bell announcing breakfast and we lifted the shade to scan for wildlife. Zebras and Gazelle were the first to be spotted :).

It feels so good to be back on the wild road. Day one of the adventure was Friday the 13th and although I am only mildly-stitious, the run of bad luck was quite obnoxious. Arthur, Dan and I had gone out dancing 'til late (highlight of the club was dancing to pop music with a Masai man decked out in full traditional dress including beaded bracelets up his arms and around his forehead :) so we pulled an all-nighter and upon arriving at the train station at 5:30am I could not find our train ticket. After a distressing period of looking for it and looking for our bus, we got everything situated and were heading north on what was supposed to be a 6hr express bus. There was no express about it. It stopped constantly, the entire journey actually took us nearly twelve hours and in the process, my shoulder bag's zipper ceased working, my flip-flop broke so I walked barefoot through Mombasa and the bus put a new hole in my backpack! What a day.

Amazingly, that night I was able to find a pair of used reef flips at a street stall for about $5 and the next day, without any fiddling, the zipper began working again! We also found some great food and a couple decent places to stay - thank goodness for Saturday the 14th :)

This summer of working for Rustic Pathways was brought to a close with a couple epic experiences. Three days of safari in the Serengeti, three days spent relaxing on the beaches of Zanzibar and two weeks of building classrooms in a tiny village near Karatu were simply Amazing! Not to mention hunting with the bushmen, participating in a local wedding and dancing at a club with a Masai warrior!

For safari (the Swahili word for journey), we packed our things onto one of the ubiquitous safari vehicles, old time landcruisers retrofitted so that the roof can raise to allow us to stand and take photos as we rumble past photogenic wildlife set against the legendary African backdrop of Acacia and Baobab trees. Even when the animals were hidden away and the landscape flattened into a broad expanse of dried grasses, it was incredibly inspiring to stand up, arms resting on the roof, camera in hand, Ancient African air whizzing around us and working it's way through my system... Searching for the actual pride rock and suddenly we would slow, shhhh, a lion, no two, no four, look at the two cubs! Truly, there is nothing like spotting these beautiful creatures in their own land. Watching them stretch, stroll, stalk and sleep - in the wild!

We slept in tents in a campground and the first night, just as I snuggled down into my sleeping bag I heard an elephant sound his trumpet not far off - SO cool! We went on game-drives twice a day for a few hours each time. One morning we awoke before the sun rose and drove to an open area to witness the day begin. A pack of spotted hyenas were already there, prowling for leftovers and our driver waved a red shawl so that they would approach us expecting meat. They were surprisingly cute! In just three days of hunting, we tracked down elephants, lions, leopards (one of which had dragged a gazelle high up into a tree for an evening feast), zebras, giraffes, ostriches, hyenas, warthogs, crocodiles, hippos, tens of thousands of gazelle, migrating herds of wildebeests, hartebeests, impalas, mongoose, jackals, waterbucks, Elands, and water buffalos! One of the highlights was visiting a hippo pool, severely receded in dry season, there must have been at least 75 hippos puzzle pieced together in a reduction of putrid sludge - approximately 4 parts waste, 4 parts rotting refuse and 2 parts leftover river-water. Hippos are apparently one of the most aggressive animals and we watched them fighting over the limited space, their massive maws emerging from the soup, stretched nearly 180 degrees, teeth bared, issuing gurgling growls and chomping down on each other. It was nice to be out of the cruiser for a time, observing the animals up close. The only animals that we wanted to see and were unable to find were cheetahs and the endangered black rhino (which I was lucky enough to spot on my next safari in the Ngorongoro Crater).

Once back to camp on our last evening, after hours sitting and standing in place, we decided to put on an impromptu Zumba session. Our guide and the other groups watched amusedly as we laughed our way through the songs. The following morning, we left camp early in order to get to the airport in time - at least a good 7 hour drive. Unfortunately, our safari vehicle had had enough and it broke down no less than four times and got a flat tire! On about our third surprise stop, we climbed out and into the middle of nowhere. As far as one could see, there were only a few speckled trees off in the distance and a nearly deserted road. Stuck in the Serengeti. I brought out catch phrase and we began passing it around in a circle. One by one, Masai began appearing on the horizon and drifting towards this strange group of wazungu (the swahili term for foreigners) passing this obnoxiously beeping plastic disc around between themselves shouting at eachother - what they must have been thinking! Soon, there were about ten adults and children standing just 5 or so feet away from our group staring at this crazy scene. Suddenly I thought, why don't we put on a show for them! We are always playing the tourist, wanting to see locals perform, why not the other way around?? I grabbed the speakers and my ipod, selected 'Shake Senora' which is an easy zumba routine and there, in the middle of the Serengeti, we shimmied and shook for a random group of Masai! It was epic.

We raced to the airport and our luck failed us once again. We narrowly missed the plane. But, our luck immediately returned when there happened to be a flight just thirty minutes later, so voila! Next thing you know, we were settling into our posh hotel rooms, canopied beds sprinkled with flowers, hot showers and balconies - fabulous! The hotel had a private beach, infinity pool facing the sunset, sports bar and fancy restaurant (that served the most delicious continental breakfast), live traditional music in the evenings, a spa (which I splurged on a special swahili scrub massage for my birthday) and a turn-down service. It was such a treat!

We spent the first day exploring Stone Town, famous for it's ornately carved wooden doors, and shopping, returning in time to take a dip in the Indian ocean, relax by the pool, watch the sunset and enjoy a candle lit dinner on the beach (I had the grilled ostrich steak :). The next day was one of pure bliss. We spent the day sailing on an African dhow to a couple different small islands including a pristine white sand bank that, by the time that we returned, had been completely submerged due to the tide. We snorkeled around coral beds through schools of shimmering fish that swirled around you like iridescent tulip petals caught in a breeze and making sure to avoid the menacing pitch black sea urchins the size of basketballs. Lunch was nothing short of manna from heaven - an all you can eat seafood selection including lobster, calamari, tuna, cod, scallops, local sauces made with tamarind and coconut and for dessert? An exotic array of fruits from the island that our guide cut open right in front of our table, one by one so that we could try them all. Sweet grapefruit, oranges, custard apples, rambutans, lady-finger bananas, red bananas, two different types of mango, passion fruit, star fruit, pineapple, sugar cane and even baobab seeds - Ahh, I'm salivating just remembering it! To wrap it all up, we were offered coffee and amarula, a sweet African liqueur and then given time to either sail on another type of boat or sunbathe. Sublime.

That night, we visited the fish market where the local fishermen BBQ their catch of the day, bake up special breads and display them in hundreds of stands set up by the waterfront. The lights and the people and the smell of BBQ make for an enchanting atmosphere. The winner of the evening was the "Zanzibar Pizza", a dough ball flattened and fried with several combinations of ingredients, my favorite being nutella and banana (the caramel mango was a close second :).

Alas, all good things come to an end and the next morning we were en route to Arusha. Yet another set of goodbyes and another set of new students arriving and just like that, another stage of the summer had begun. A whirlwind week of tasting the exotic side of Africa and my next charge was to spend two weeks living on a coffee plantation, working in a small village about 40 minutes away finishing new classrooms for the school with a group of ten students. An equally inspiring experience in an entirely different way.

I have now just arrived in Uganda and will hopefully post another 'catching up' entry soon - so many incredible experiences!