On Dune Climbing in Morocco

20170213_175106.jpgAaah Morocco!

I wonderfully diverse country with so much to see, do and experience! I spent three weeks here in March and it was one of my favourite adventures.

I have always imagined gracefully riding a camel, side-saddled (like the queen does on a horse) through the desert as the sun sets behind me as if it is the last scene in a movie with a very satisfying, everybody-wins type of ending.

This was not my reality.

Camels smell. And they grunt a lot. Apparently it is a sign that they are ready for mating and I was never quite sure whether to be offended or relieved that my camel was the only silent one in the group. I am going with a little bit of both.

After a rather stressful camel-mounting which involves nearly being thrown off the front of your camel as it groans under your weight, we were off on our desert adventure under the stars that involved absolutely NO glamorous relaxing-while-taking-in-the-natural-beauty. Camels are not interested in your comfort and I found myself hanging on for dear life as I was shaken about for the better part of two hours. Instead of the compilation of songs I had imagined for my movie-worthy camel ride, the Japanese man behind me had added his own soundtrack of gaming noises to my experience. I kid you not- the guy played some sort of candy-crush game THE ENTIRE TIME. By the end of our few days together I was so invested in his progress that every time his phone played that mwap-mwap- you-just-lost-a-life sound, a part of me would ALMOST want to log on to Facebook and accept his request for a new life.

Once we arrived at our base camp, we were gleefully told to start making our way up the dune that sheltered us if we wanted to be at the top for sunset. I found this a strange request as sunset was not for another two hours, but shrugged and set off for the top.

The dune was large. It was about the size of a hill that would take 40 mins of all-out climbing to get to the top of- had it been made of solid ground.

After about twenty minutes of huffing and puffing on the dune, I looked back at the campsite only to see that I had left my water bottle at the bottom. Reluctantly, I turned my body around, stretched, and grabbed my bottle which sat one metre below me. Alas, soft sand does not stay in place like ground does. With each step forward, you slide one step back. Take a break for long enough and you have slid all the way down to the bottom. It is nature’s own sadistic step-machine.

I groaned internally at the realisation that I might not be fit enough for this and the stubborn part of me took over: if Bay-Ming can turn his game off long enough to already be half way up the dune; I was not going to be the one that didn’t get to the top. I huffed and groaned and struggled for what felt like hours and thought that this might just be the end for me. The rest of the group was encouraging me from the top which was half-sweet, half-infuriating. How did the guy with CRUTCHES beat me?!

Two hours later, light-headed and on the verge of collapse, I heaved my body on to the top of the dune to find one of the most remarkable sights I have ever witnessed. The sky had turned a pink-ish colour and the shadows on the dunes made me feel like maybe I had heaved myself onto Mars- how could something this surreal exist on my planet?! Still lying on my stomach, limbs extended I couldn’t help but exclaim “IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!” as I finally got my movie-moment; complete with candy-crush background music and a throbbing headache.

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The flailing blob about half way down the dune is me!

On Hiking in Costa Rica

One of the first hikes I ever did in Costa Rica was certainly one of the most memorable!

I was halfway through a high to Los Chorros waterfalls when we arrived at the entrance to the park when we encountered a very interesting man. I wish I could remember his name! He looked like the human version of Rafiki from the Lion King. He was hunched over and walked with a cane and only had about three teeth. He seemed to be the guardian of the parking lot at the entrance of the park and all the locals watched with weary amusement as he approached my group of obvious-looking tourists.
As he hobbled towards us, he locked eyes with me and bellowed out a very confident “MACHITAAAA”; pointing his gnarled finger directly at my hair. He started speaking to me in garbled Spanish of which I understood absolutely nothing, but not wanting to offend Rafiki I smiled politely and nodded as he came closer and closer until he was right in front of my face and it became clear that he did not share most Tico’s obsession with oral hygeine. He only had about four remaining, brown teeth that emitted a very pungeant odour.
Trying to get away from smelly-breath Rafiki. I started backing away which he responded to by grabbing my face (with surprising force for such a bent-over man!) and before I could even register what was happening, Rafiki was licking the side of my face with his disgusting rotten tongue! My protests were useless as his smelly slobber covered my cheek and it took all my force to push him away! Shocked and scarred, I quickly ran away to the sound of chuckling locals who had obviously witnessed him doing the same thing to many-a blonde foreigners.
Even thinking about the story now, a year later, sends shivers down my spine! Rafiki and his face-licking antics will definitely be something I will never forget!

On Searching South America for Iguassu

Wonderful memories and so many smiles from this trip!

Wonderful memories and so many smiles from this trip!

My Buenos Aires to Rio trip was the best decision I have ever made.

Through G-Adventures, I travelled through Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. We started off in Buenos Aires, then took a ferry to Colonia before spending two nights in Montevideo. After this we relaxed on a Uruguayan farm in Mercedes, and witnessed the incredible Iguassu falls before heading to Paraty, then Ihla Grande, and finally, Rio de Janeiro. My guide, Giulia, could not have been any better and I made friends with all (well, almost all) of my tour group: Shane and Chetna from Canada, Andy and Shazia from Switzerland, James and Hannah from England, Matt and Andrea, also from England, and sisters Berina and Amela from Austria. There were also the solo travellers like myself: David F, NotDavidF and Chrystal from the US, Angela and Dan from Australia, Mark from Singapore and, last but not least, me!

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My G-adventures group on New Year’s Eve in Iguassu

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On New York City

So I have finally left home, and have spent the last week exploring New York City on my way to Costa Rica. 
Travelling across the world on your own is definitely stressful, especially without any internet. Lugging my 30+ kilograms of luggage through the very visitor-unfriendly Penn Station after 30 hours of smelly-plane flying comes in last on my list of things I enjoy. What made it worth it, however, was the knowledge that if I hauled my bags far enough, I got to see my very special friend Lee and be in one of the greatest cities in the world with her. To have been able to stop over and have a holiday in New York with such a great friend has been the best intermediary to moving to Costa Rica.

While New York may be one of the best places in the world it definitely was not what I expected in many ways. In fact New York is kind of like a hobo.

Firstly, it SMELLS. Worse than international planes. Every time I walked past a vent my face would involuntarily contract into a skowl as if I had just downed a shot of tequila. Secondly, the subways (while convenient) are not like those I have experienced in Europe. They are often late and packed so full that if you are ever in need of a hug all you need to do is stand on the subway and your craving for human contact quickly dissipates as more and more unclean strangers invade your personal space (that being said, this system is still a lot better than South Africa’s death-taxis and abandoned buses).

New York was also a lot frendlier than I expected. Not one person was overtly rude to me (because catcallers are not people). Most people would hear my accent and get so excited to be able to chat to someone who they thought was from either Australia or England. On the odd occassion that I actually made the effort to correct them, they were always surprised, intrigued, and so excited to be able to use the Mean Girls quote hated by white Africans everywhere: “if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” Thanks for nothing Lindsay Lohan.

I also was really surprised by the lack of overweight people I saw. For me I had always thought that obese and American were practically synonyms, but that was not the case! In fact, I actively looked for fat people, with no success! Lee says that it’s because New York would be practically impossible to navigate if you were too big (which I can attest to after having carried all my luggage through the city) but I am still suitably impressed with New-Yorkers health considering you can get 10 American-sized chunks of pizza for the same price as a wrap.

Yes, New York smells and is completely foreign. But it also has so much to it underneath the surface. Its a veteran city with a colourful past. It is full of culture and art. It surprises you in so many wonderfully interesting ways. New York is the the hobo with a story you want to hear. It’s a little rough around the edges, but its essence is infinitely fascinating.

All in all I had the best time in a city that I absolutely love. There wasn’t much that could have made it better. I got to see Lee; watch my favourite singer at Webster Hall; walk through Central Park with another very special friend; have philosplophical discussions in Times Square until 4am; see the most amazing views of the city; watch the Lion King on Broadway; make lasting memories and perhaps most importantly be reminded of the fact that I am perfectly capable of doing absolutely anything on my own (and be happy while doing it!)

When I wrote this I was an hour away from landing in San Jose for my new start. And while my stomach is still in knots, after New York there is no doubt in my mind that the next chapter will be nothing short of extraordinary.

On my Homestay

My host family is unbelievably great. They are the warmest people you have ever met and make me feel better no matter what is going on. The fact that I can’t understand them and they can’t understand me doesn’t even matter that much. I will sit at the table while I eat my rice (that they give me for breakfast, lunch and supper) and tell them about my day and they will listen intently, despite having no idea what I’m saying. When my voice gets that shakiness to it that means I’m on the verge of tears, my host mother will look me in the eyes and murmur quietly “tranquila, tranquila” in such a reassuring tone that I can’t help but calm down. And when I am excited they will all beam at me and start yammering away in Spanish excitedly with me. It feels as if they genuinely care about my well-being and I am so grateful for that, even if they do bring me a piece of bread when I ask for something for my headache.

There are other girls from America that stay in the homestay with me. Originally there were five, but two have moved out, so now it is just me, Kaylee, Jenine and Darci. Kaylee and I share a weirdly set up room at the end of the house. There is no glass in the windows to the outside and the room is divided by a strange half-wall thing into my half and Kaylee’s half. We share a bathroom (without a proper door) and we joked when we first got here that we were going to get really close really quickly as there is really very little opportunity for privacy between us. She has moved from Connecticut to Costa Rica to be with her Tico boyfriend, whom she met while studying abroad here last year. She has no “inside voice” and very little knowledge of the world, but she means well, has a great sense of humour and I actually really enjoy having her around. Also, she offered to take out the rubbish in the bathroom and for that I am eternally grateful because I would have puked. You have to put your toilet paper in the bin or risk flooding the entire house and I don’t think it’s something I will ever get used to. Ever.

Jenine, like Kaylee, is here doing a TEFL course. She’s a little bit standoffish but I actually like her a lot too. I have a feeling that if she gave me a chance to get to know her, we could be great friends. Darci is the only other girl that came here with a TEFL certificate already. She is not particularly friendly and when she speaks I feel like she is speaking through a megaphone. I’m not sure if there is something about me that she dislikes in order to make her so uninterested in me, but if I’m honest I’m actually not that bothered to find out. Let sleeping dogs lie. The two girls that moved out were also wonderful. Krystal has been a lifesaver in terms of helping me get to places and in general has just made everything about moving that much easier. I think it’s in her nature to take care of people and I’m really disappointed that she’s left. Maggie only overlapped with me for one night but she is so friendly and bubbly, and I have met a few other teachers through her as well. I think we could be friends.

There is always Costa Rican music coming from the house next door and it permeates everything because there are no windows. This, coupled with my pillow being made from stones and the fact that my host family is up every morning at 5:30 means that a lack of sleep and a stiff neck is becoming the new normal for me. Hopefully I can find a way to overcome this soon because it definitely detracts from the overall experience. To get to my homestay from Heredia City, one has to take two buses and walk along a dirt road for about a kilometre. This is completely normal for Costa Ricans, in fact, it is close. Open-plan living also seems to be a foreign concept in Costa Rica and every building I have been into is a maze of tiny rooms with a very specific purpose. My house has a dedicated room just for the washing machine, and another one just for the dryer.

I have another three weeks in this homestay and I am not in any rush to get out. I think I have been really lucky with the place that I have ended up and this post could have been very different. Even though I am here to have a Costa- Rican experience having some people around me that speak English has been very comforting, and I can now understand why so many people fall into the trap of only socialising with other foreigners while they are abroad. Even though this is something that I definitely don’t intend on having happening to me, some good old American English has been a welcome relief from the total immersion in Costa Rican culture.

On Landing in Costa Rica.

Yesterday I landed in sunny San Jose, Costa Rica! The experience was less than than pleasant.

After an amazing week in New York the last thing I wanted to do was say goodbye to Lee at 3a.m. and head off into the complete unknown, but the fact that the taxi company messed up my booking and arrived with a limousine made it slightly easier. Okay so I pretty much pushed her over to get into the limo. Sorrynotsorry.

My two massive bags obviously did not look too appealing to the baggage-loading guys because my bags were dead last on the belt. Even surfboards and some weird elephant sculpture made it out before my back-breaking monstrosities.

Panicking that I would miss my ride that was arranged for me after the wait, I bulldozed my way through the airport and pushed the doors open, and descended into absolute chaos.

As soon as I burst through the doors, hundreds of heads turned to my direction and I was bombarded as if these men had been walking through the desert for weeks and I was a bottle of water. MACHI MACHI. TAXI? YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. MACHI!!! LET ME HELP YOU. I CAN HELP. TAXI? MACHI!!

“What the f*** does machi mean?” … I avoided eye contact and grunted NO at the ones that were particularly persistent as I searched for my name on one of the hundreds of boards. And searched. And searched. And searched some more.

My luxury drop-off at the airport in New York could not have been in starker contrast to my pick-up in San Jose, because it did not exist. The idiot forgot to fetch me. After two hours and uncountable laps around the aiport, I relented and sheepishly approached one of the taxi-drivers that I had been blatantly ignoring, and made my way to my homestay.

Welcome to Costa Rica, Machi.

On six months of “pause”

It is such a cliché thing to say, but I cannot believe we are in the sixth month of the year. I remember the day I found out that I hadn’t passed my final university exam with painful clarity.  It was like being at that super-invigorating moment in your favourite series, when all of a sudden my professor and his stupid white moustache shows up, steals the remote, presses pause, and then runs away; leaving me to stare at my frozen-in-time dreams for the next six months as he laughs.

In the greater scheme of things six months is not such a big deal, especially when you are lucky enough to have the two most unconditionally supportive and loving parents to have ever graced the earth in your corner. But everything that the past six months was, has occurred as a result of that one failure. It defines me. The feeling of defeat, guilt, disappointment and frustration I felt in that moment has left an unhealed scab on my feelings.

I cannot help but wince at the inevitable small-talk questions of “what are you doing now?”… “so if you’re in Durban, you must be finished your degree?”… “Aren’t you meant to be overseas now?” Yes, wrinkly old lady whose name escapes me, I absolutely am meant to be overseas right now. Thanks for pointing that one out. You, my sadistic professor, and that judge-y Duolingo bird should all be friends.

To be able to stop waiting and finally press play will be a huge relief. Even though my degree is now done (Aced that exam- no thanks to you Professor Moustache) I am still waiting to get on that smelly plane and be where I am supposed to be: out there experiencing the world, one mispronounced Spanish word at a time.

On post-revelation Flying

In less than two weeks I get to squash myself into a crowded, smelly, flying piece of metal for 32 hours.

In my mind, I have divided my past flying experiences into two categories: pre- and post-revelation.  In psychology we learnt about the concept of differential thresholds, which can be explained with a (rather sadistic) experiment in which a frog will jump out of hot water immediately but if you put it in a kettle of cold water and then slowly heat it up it will stay in there until it dies. Frogs are dumb.

My Mom once told me that the people that clean the planes after those long-haul flights actually have to prepare themselves before they get on because the smell inside the plane is so repugnant. This led to my subsequent realisation that the air you breathe on an aeroplane is basically just the circulated flatulence of five hundred people mixed with oxygen, and you don’t even realise how putrid it smells because it happens so gradually. Like frogs in boiling water.

This is something that I wish had never been brought to my attention because ever since this epiphany, the only thing I can think of when I fly is how we are all just frogs in a massive, fart-filled kettle and we don’t even realise it. Luckily, Emirates now has free wifi on it’s flights to distract me from the increasingly saturated air I am breathing and the fact that their food tastes worse than that roast beef I tried to cook in the microwave for ninety minutes. I definitely added way too much salt.

Perhaps the weirdest part about post-revelation flying, however, is the fact that I don’t even mind it. In fact, I look forward to it, because I know that that smelly plane is the first paragraph of an exciting new story filled with adventure and experience that I cannot wait to begin.

“Every journey begins with a single hop” – Kermit the Frog

On My not-so-bueno Spanish Skills

Hola.

That’s the extent of my knowledge of the Spanish language. And people do this weird I-can’t-tell-if-she’s-joking laugh when I say it which I’m guessing means that despite putting on my best Gloria-from-Modern-Family accent I am probably not even saying that right. I even google-translated “bueno” for this blog’s title… (it means good).

This is especially concerning to my mother, considering that I am leaving to go and live in Costa Rica in two weeks time. I think she imagines Costa  Rica to be a backwards, drug-smuggling nation, and that me saying “oh-lar” is actually Spanish for “please-sell-me-into-your-sex-trafficking-ring.”

Of course that’s nothing to worry about and nobody would actually want me for their sex-trafficking ring. Try as I might.

I did download that Duolingo app but I couldn’t handle the Duolingo-bird’s judgemental “please try again” whenever I aggressively shouted “OH-LAR!” at my tablet, and the app was eventually uninstalled as my ultimate form of rebellion against that stupid green devil-bird and it’s pompous pronunciation. Screw you, devil-bird.

My hope at this stage is that when I get to Costa Rica I will have no choice but to communicate in an accent that they understand and that people will be comprehending my greetings in no time. And until I get to that stage I imagine I will just have to deal with the constant check-ins from my mom and the thinly-veiled anxiety in her voice every time I tell her I’m going outside.

In all seriousness though, one of the things I really do want to achieve during my time in Central America is fluency in Spanish. And if not fluency, then just a proficiency that’s greater than that of my cousin who has been living in Spain for the past six months and has taken to obnoxiously adding Spanish translations to the bottom of all her Facebook statuses. Show-off.

Adiós! (…And yes, I google-translated that too.)