Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 3 & 4: Tikal - Ancient Maya City

I took a shuttle from Belize across the border to Guatemala to visit the Maya Ruins of Tikal. Possibly, my favorite part of this trip.

I walked through a rainforest and then voila, I entered a clearing with ancient ruins surrounded by the remains of temples that tower over 70 metres (230 ft) high.

There were 2 memorable parts of this visit:

1) Sunset in Tikal

I went up the tallest (70 metres) temple, Temple IV, with another traveller I met in Belize. At the top of the temple steps, you have a view of the endless rainforest below. It was nearing sunset and the park was closing, but 20 Quetzals to the guard bought us more time and he let us stay to watch the sunset. It was pitch black as we descended the temple and luckily the guard escorted us out of the park or else we would have likely got lost in the forest and would have had to sleep on an ancient sacrificial stone slab - an adventurous idea, but it was super cold out and my bed sounded less eerie.

2) Sunrise in Tikal

A few hours later, we woke up at 3:45 am and went with a guide, who paid off the guards at the park entrance to let us into the park early.

We returned to Temple IV where we sat above the expansive forest floor and underneath a clear sky with shooting stars. It was so serene and unforgettable.

Then the light started to creep in and all of a sudden a spooky howling sound began to permeate through the forest. It was the Howler monkeys waking up the rainforest animal kingdom. They literally `howled` for 20 to 30 minutes until the sun rose like an orange egg through the clouds.

Good Morning sun!
Good Bye moon!
Hello ancient maya temples poking through the trees!

NEXT STOP: Antigua and a hike of an active volcano

Belize - Cave Hike and the Townies

This will be a boring post for some of you. I went on a cave hike - completed it with no broken bones or dislocated joints. My bag arrived - no more white velor shorts.

The cave itself was pretty cool. I have explored a cave in Batad, Philippines but this cave was bigger and with Belize regulations - or the lack there of - ancient ruins have not been removed and are scattered throughout the cave. The Mayans performed rituals in this cave and there are remnants of ceramic pottery and even skulls and bones.

You had to swim into the cave and at some points the water was chest-deep. My outfit worked out well and I blended right in because a plastic surgeon from Vegas was in my group and she actually chose to wear white daisy dukes and a white tank top. Oh, Americans....

In the evening, tourists and locals convened in the town bar. Everyone spoke perfect English - so much for practicing my Spanish. To name a few of the local characters -

- Local Prostitute- she manned the jukebox and i quickly learned not to invade her territory and let her pick the music.

- 20yr old Bartender - She sat on the other side of the bar more than she served drinks.

- Sleazy Tour Operator Owner - He, like most people in town, bad-mouthed other local business owners. They all seemed to talk shit about each other behind everyone´s backs but then be chummy pals.

- Town Drunk - He kept coming over and repeating the same incoherent slurs, but my favorite was that he´s "still waiting for Bob Marley to come to Belize."

- Dart Champion - My favorite town local. He was the #1 Belize national champion dart thrower. Currently, he´s dropped to #20 because he has gotten too in his head and he has tennis elbow from 9 hours of daily practice, so he´s off his game.

Now that´s what I call a night out!

Next Stop- Tikal, Guatemala

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kiss Me I'm in Belize!

Monday - 11/16

After a 4am pick-up from SuperShuttle, a myriad of schedule change issues upon arriving to Newark airport (I'll spare you the details), and 12 hours of traveling including layovers, I arrive to Belize...without my bag.

I was set to do an early morning cave hike, so the tour company suggested i buy shorts and a shirt in town. Along the quarter mile strip, I had an option of 6 tienda type shops - all selling similar items - short jean skirts adorned with crystals, hoochie pastel and plaid 'fashion' shorts, lycra tops, etc. I should also point out that every pair of shorts they offered for me to try looked like they would fit only one of my ass cheeks.

I found a somewhat reasonable looking pair of spandex pants until I discovered a dead cockroach smashed inside the pant leg - lovely. SO, I settled on a hot pink tank top with 3 figures doing what resembled yoga poses and a pair of white velor shorts embossed with a stunning gold design that says: "Kiss Me."

If my bag does not arrive tomorrow, I'm curious how I will blend in with the locals and avoid unwanted attention while sporting my new Belizian fashion...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Final Blog Post:: Links to my Pictures

Hi all!
I am back from an amazing 7 week adventure in Africa and a relaxing 2 weeks in Thailand. Thanks to all of you who virtually shared my experiences with me! Your emails and comments made me feel like I was not traveling alone (once Sharon my fabulous travel companion left after 3 weeks). And all of you fantastic people that I met along the way, you ABSOLUTELY made my experience and added to my adventures!

I took A LOT of pics, but I tried to narrow down the selection and organized my shots in a way that hopefully would capture your interest. I organized each segment of my trip into its own online album. I then took my favorite shots from each segment and put them into a ‘Favorites Africa’ album. So, you can take a look at the favorites and if you are yearning for more, you can choose the individual albums for further viewing pleasure :)


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Table Mountain and Table-Top Dancing

I met a German guy travelling with his dad and brother who offered me a ride to Table Mountain. The one son, who stayed behind with his dad, suggested that I hike a 'different and more fun' route with his brother. The words 'different and more fun' instantly appealed to me, but really they should have been a big neon sign that said 'bad idea.'

We set off for the 'different' route that zig-zagged up and across Table Mountain from the backside. Everything was going great until the trail dead-ended right at a big rock/boulder. Turning around and going back down the steep rocky mountain was not an ideal option, nor was climbing rocks with my shoulder but this option seemed more likely to get us to our end destination...SO, after some exploration, we found that we could climb up and over this rock and get to something that seemed like a trail. Throughout our ascent, we had several moments of disappearing paths, and 3 big rocks/boulders to climb and one rock boulder that I had to have the guy pull me up and over (a bit reminiscent of Mt Kili!). As the mountain got progressively steeper, so much that I was too nervous to look down below me, I silently cursed myself, wondering why I can't do anything the 'normal' way.

The good news is that we finally joined a real path. The bad news is that we ran into 2 South African guys who said that in all of the mist and rain, we missed the connecting path to the 'normal' route to the Table Mountain viewpoint and if we continue in the direction we were going in, we would hike for 5-6 more hours and reach a dead-end. And if we turned around and tried to find the path connecting to the 'normal' route, we would probably get lost in all of the mist again and end up camping on the mountain. (Oh, and we also apparently missed the wooden sign in the bushes that said: 'Dangerous - Do not go on this trail.')

So....I chose Option C) hike down the mountain with these 2 South African guys and then get a ride back with them to the main trail head and go home. I made it back safe and sound. I just did not get to the Table Mountain viewpoint where the cable cars (and normal tourists) go... :(

But no time to lament, on to an evening of dancing. We did dance the night away, but don't worry, there were no table tops involved....Despite the stories that Patty had told the guys. Patty, you got the part right about me being a dancing queen, but me dancing on bars and table tops, really? Ok, so I did do that when I was 22 in Australia (and I should add that I won a 3-day island excursion off of the East Coast in Oz for my fabulous dance moves) BUT those days are over. I am so much more refined now in my 'old' age, dancing ON the dance floor...until the club closes.

And this is exactly how I left South Africa - a mini pub crawl with Dumi, Kieran and Stu and then we danced at the Mercury Lounge with all the 18 year olds in Capetown who were out for a big Monday night.

Dumi, Kieran and Stu, you questioned my tolerance and whether I liked to dance - Well, I believe that question has been answered :)

AND after my 4:30am arrival home, I did manage to wake up at 7 to take the Cable Car to the Top of Table Mountain, so I could actually step foot on the 'table' (flat-part/viewpoint) of Table Mountain where the normal tourists go.

And with adventures in Africa have sadly come to an end.

Dirty Skirts - Tight Pants

While I do have a dirty skirt in my bag - it was once gray and now it is borderlining a light brown color...soon to be viewed in almost every photo of me in Africa - this is not what my blog title is referring to. On Sunday night, I went to see an Indie rock South African band called the Dirty Skirts at this killer outdoor venue in Capetown (Kirstenbosch Gardens). Everyone sits on the grass and there are stunning views of mountains and Capetown around the stage. Plus, you can bring in all the food and alcohol that you want and there are no long queues to security check your bags like in the States.

My good friend P.B. (Patty Buckley) put me in contact with friends that she met when she was working in Capetown - Stuart, Dumi and Kieran. I had the pleasure of their fabulous company and only had to endure an American joke here and there...and some poking of fun of my one-armed shoulder concert dance.

Check out the band's music at:

The lead singer of the Dirty Skirts quite possibly wore the tightest pants I have seen on a man. Looks like Indie rock fashion is universal.

NEXT STOP: Hiking Table Mountain

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Keeping Left...While Stopping Off at a Winery or Two

There is something very freeing about hopping in a car with no specific plans and just driving. I managed to stay on the left side of the road and I circumvented the round-abouts with ease.

(Moment to pause as I am patting myself on the back)

I stopped off at places from locals' suggestions. I ended at a lodge called Tranquility Lodge in Nature's Valley and decided to stay for 2 nights there because it was pure relaxation...and stunning. AND there was a gourmet chef at the Guesthouse and I can't pass up on phenomenal food! Each night consisted of walking along the beach, starry sky, but not too starry because it was a Full Moon - again Stunning!

I then drove a scenic route to wine country - 10 hours. (Thank You Apple for the iPod.) I stopped off at a Port winery and did some port tasting. I then realized that port makes me sleepy. So, I stopped off for a coffee. And you all know how I don't drink caffeine, so that wired me to drive all the way into wine country where I stopped off at 4 wineries and did some 'mild' wine tasting before I ended up at a quaint guesthouse surrounded by mountains.

Saturday: the grand master plan was to do a half day wine tasting and then drive into Capetown. After testing out my swirling technique with my red glass of wine and having that glass end up on my only clean shirt, I realized that I should spend another night in wine country and forego the drive back to Capetown.

So naturally, I extended my wine tour to a full day...and drank more.

Oh, the life.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Taking the Plunge: 216 Meter (709 feet) Bungee Jump

I arrived into Capetown airport with no plans/reservations. I finally found a car rental place that would rent me an automatic car AND i managed to talk the guy down on the price, paying the same amount I would have paid for a week bus pass. It's amazing how a little smile can go a long way! :) I drove straight out of Capetown. Destination: One of the World's Highest Bungee jumps. A pure freefall swinging bungee from a single cord.

I am not going to ask for bets from you on whether I did the jump because I know you would probably think the following:

- Why wouldn't she? She has already jumped off a bridge in New Zealand.

- Why wouldn't she? This jump is even higher at 216 meters (709 feet)

- Why wouldn't she? the 2nd bounced after she jumps will take her as high as the Vic Falls

- Why wouldn't she? It's been close to a month since she dislocated her shoulder.

- Why wouldn't she? It's Jeanne, and we all know that she's crazy :)

You guys know me so well! Of course, I did it and I am STILL on a high! They literally duct-taped my arm to my body to make sure I would not dislocate my shoulder again. I turned off my brain and jumped! My thought process went a bit like this:

* Holy Shit, I jumped
* Of F*ck, I am falling fast
* Crap, my face feels like it is flattening
* Is this painful?
* Am I having fun?
* Shit, that's the ground coming at me
* Wow, I am being pulled back up again
* Is my shoulder still intact?
* Oh F*ck, i am falling back down again and i think i am spinning
* Shit Yeah, i think i am having fun!
* Oh my god, look at that view
* Oh no, is it done already?!?!

And with that, i got pulled back up toward the bridge.

My other great accomplishment on that bridge was that there was a girl who was 80% convinced of jumping and was about to say no. I walked over to her and asked what her concerns were. I helped her breakdown her worries. I gave her some words of encouragement and told some motivational stories and she ended up doing it! ANd she survived AND she liked it! I may have my new profession: Motivational Bungee Jump Coach.

NEXT STOP: Hiking in that Tsitsikamma Mountains in Nature's Valley on the Garden Route

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Trip to a South African Health Clinic: Malaria or Malaria-Free?

So, I was planning on a different post. It was supposed to talk about .....(Is this deja vu from Feb 1?) my trip to Zambia (which I am going to tell you about anyway...malaria story to be continued).

...I was supposed to talk about how I got pissed and pissed on at the Vic Falls (that's drunk and rained on for my American counterparts). I did a sunset cruise of the Zambezi river with an Irish guy, Steve, and 3 English couples - a great crew really. It turned not only into a sunset cruise, but a booze cruise as John, the boat captain, kept pouring me glass upon glass of free wine. After the trip, we slightly stumbled out of the boat and got into the van with the driver, Franco. When Steve and I were the only remaining ones to be dropped off at our hotel, I asked Franco, 'What do locals in Livingstone, Zambia do on a Monday night?' Without hesitation, he said: 'drink.' So, I naturally said, 'Well, why don't we take a detour and go to the local bar and we will buy you a drink.' I was speaking for Steve, but luckily, he was a good sport and went along with my plan! The dive bar had a pool table and we took on some locals in a few games of pool. I think I made 1 shot during all of the games, BUT i sure did make a lot of friends. I was such the social butterfly that the next day when I got a drive to the Vic Falls, I was chatting with the driver telling him how I checked out his local bar last night, and he responded: 'I know I was at the bar playing pool with you.'........

The Vic Falls. One Word: Stunning.

They are almost a mile long and the spray was so massive that it felt like it was raining, more like pouring, on us. I was absolutely drenched. I don't think pictures will do the Falls justice.

I also planned on sharing about my drive from Zambia to Jo'burg via Botswana with the guys (Willie tour leader from SA, Chris tour leader from Zimbabwe, Steve from Scotland, Glenn from NZ) - a fun group of guys. I introduced them to S'mores, but they preferred their beers and ciggies. They really don't know what they missed!

Ok, I guess i should get to the story behind the title of my blog.......

Long Story Short: I was puking like the exorcist, showing signs of malaria - puke, fever, body ache, headache, exhausted. I was told that I looked like death. We were in Kruger National Park where the gates closed at 6pm and there was no doctor in the gates. So, I had to pull through the night, listening to music, chatting with Willie and staring at the ceiling of my tent. Don't worry though...there is a happy ending to this story :)

I went to a doctor at a private health clinic. (I am apparently doing a tour of the African healthcare system). Doc confirmed that I was malaria-free and that I got some sort of African virus. Best news I have ever heard.

They then took me to a 5-star lodge and I just slept...and slept...and slept. Now it's March 9th and I am starting to feel human again! And according to the guys - looking a lot more human and pleasant than before the UAV: Unidentified African Virus.

I always say that you should try everything at least once.

Puking my brains out from UAV: Check

Next Stop: Capetown - maybe renting a car and driving up the cape....maybe a bungee jump?....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Uganda Highlights

I had a week in Uganda. A large portion of my trip was on the road, but I would stare out my window for hours and still be entertained. Some highlights during my stay in the "pearl of Africa" were:

Street View

- men biking with bananas or mataoke strapped to the sides of the bike
- women walking while balancing bananas, sacks or other miscellaneous items on their heads
- children playing with sticks and tires on the street
- my favorite: children running and smiling and waving as we drove by. It warmed my heart and made me smile and wave enthusiastically back each time!

Chimp Tracking
- I saw chimps at Kabale forest. They were so high up in the trees, they looked like piles of leaves in my pictures. I knew they were not leaves because every once in awhile they would throw a fig down at us or one of them would start peeing. Right when we were about to leave, the Head chimp decided to come down and then 8 or 9 others followed and then we followed them to into the forest!

River Rafting on the Nile

I was not sure if this was the smartest idea and I knew that if I got hurt I would have absolutely no sympathy from my friends or family. But I can't pass up on an opportunity like this :) and my shoulder is SO much better! The Nile was amazing. It was peaceful and beautiful and then there would be a huge rapid. I flipped out once and grabbed for my shoulder for dear life. All was ok. On the grade 5, 13.5 foot drop, I sucked up my pride and road in the safety boat. I did not need to dislocate my shoulder again. Still, it was loads of fun. After the raftintg, I drank a Nile beer on the Nile. Had to be done.

Drinking with Locals in Uganda

On the drive back to Kampala from River Rafting, there were 4 people from Kampala on the bus. I could tell instantly that they were loads of fun so I sat near them..and we drank 1 Nile, 2 Niles, 3 Niles...and were a bit Tipsy by the time we reached the city. I was staying outside of the center because I was flying out at 7am then next morning. I could go home and stay at the crappy hotel by myself...OR, I could take a taxi back into town and stay out all night with Brenda and Moses. Obviously, there is no question what I chose to do. We went to a local Rugby bar and then an African Dance club. I made it home in time to get an hours nap in before I had to wake up for my plane. Now, that is leaving Uganda in style...

NEXT STOP: Zambia to see the Victoria Falls..Then Botswana.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ode to Sharon, my Sherpa

Written on Feb. 24

Today my cousin, Sharon, departed after 23 days together. I'm sad to see her go and my 6hr ride to Uganda was very dull without her. So, I entertained myself by writing a poem in her honor.

Note: I am not a poet. I'm merely a girl with too much time on my hands.

So, Jocelyn and others, I'm sure you will have a little chuckle out of my attempt to rhyme, but at least I kept my verses consistent with 15-count time :)

Ode to Sharon, my Sherpa

You tied my shoes, even when I had to pee late in the night.

You even shaved my armpits, somehow that just doesn't seem right.

You never once audibly complained, self-pitied, moaned or whined.

Not even as you were puking up butter soup, while we dined.

You were my stylist, braiding my hair each day without a curse.

But later a mirror revealed, keep your day job as a nurse.

You joined my V-day game, singing tunes with 'love' words in the song.

2-plus hours later I can't believe you played with me that long.

You shared in my excitement, each day I could move my arm more.

Are you a good actor? Cuz to me that would have been a bore.

You were patient and fun, always laughing and sharing with me.

What more to ask in a travel mate, how lucky could I be?

We vowed we would never again hike in altitude that high.

But I heard there's an Argentina hike, higher in the sky.

Oh Sharon, my great Sherpa, what do you think of this new plan?

Next time, I'll be your devoted Sherpa and number one fan!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Chilling with the Mountain Gorillas: Another Inexplicable Experience!

A video/pictures really would be the best way to bring alive this experience...but you will have to wait until I get home (March 18) when I will be able to upload them. For now, here is a brief summary:

6 of us hiked with a guide, 3 guys with guns, 1 guy with a machete and 2 trackers. After a 2 hour steep hike uphill on a narrow, overgrown, muddy path, the trackers began to make gorilla noises, calling out to our gorilla friends. We then were led off the path and literally began walking through the forest's mountain side - over bushes and through trees with a machete swipe here and there to clear the path.

And then there he was, a huge Silverback, named Charlie, sitting there munching on bamboo. He then got up and walked to the rest of his family. We followed him and then just sat there in the forest with the gorillas all around us. At one point, a young gorilla came out of the trees and stared right at me - an arms distance away. The guide calmly told me to move to the side. Me, not so calmly, shuffled to my left as the juvenile gorilla playfully crawled right by me. Amazing!

NEXT STOP: Saying goodbye to Sharon, Bwindi Forest Walk, Chimpanzee Tracking.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zanzibar: Oh, the People You'll Meet

It's amazing how beach fronts can look similar no matter where you are in the world. When you look at the long sand coast with palm trees and blue water, it could be Hawaii, the Philippines, or in my case, Zanzibar, Africa. However,there are some interesting experiences that came out of the various characters we me during our 3.5 day Zanzibar island excursion:

1) The Passengers: We stayed at a remote resort on a beach cove on the East coast. It was an hours drive from town, $100 return taxi drive. To save $$ and to add to the adventure, we took the local transport, 'dala dala,' for $2. It's an open-air truck bed with 20 passengers sitting on top of each other - an intimate setting and a great way to meet the locals. People got on and off carrying their belongings that either joined us in the truck bed or got strapped to the top of the truck. Along the way, we were accompanied by sacks of coconuts, a bike, brief cases, a car rear-view mirror, bags of mangoes, and stacks of banana/straw leaf sheets (enough to make a thatched roof of a home). My favorite passengers were the mothers, who passed their babies, like a sack of potatoes, from stranger to stranger as they got in our out of the dala dala.

2) The Muslims - Zanzibar is unique from the rest of Tanzania in that it was influenced by Omani Arabs and it has retained the Arabic-style architecture, cobbled, mazed-alleyway streets and a Muslim society. When roaming through the streets, it sometimes felt like we were in the Middle East, not Africa.

3) The Shopkeepers- "free to look, Free to touch" or "i make you a good deal" was the chorus we heard from the persistent shop owners.

4) The Greeks - There were two 40 year old Greek guys that we kept running into on the island. They were disappointed with Zanzibar's island offerings, constantly comparing it to the Greek isles. I found it humourous that they were expecting a better nightlife in a Muslim town.

5) The Saints - The 2 most directionally challenged travellers falsely had confidence that we could guide ourselves through the labyrinthed streets back to the Dala Dala station in the evening. We smartly realized the flaws in our plan and stopped into a hotel for directions. Artheman, a hotel employee, was getting off work and offered to walk with us to the station. Kenyan-born and an Obama fan, he weaved us in and out of the alleys.We arrived to the station to find that our Dala Dala was no longer running. It became his mission to get us home safely. He did not trust us to go with the taxi drivers at the station. He wanted to call his friend to pick us up, but his phone was dying. So, he went to the local market and asked a stranger if he could use his phone. This man happened to be an off-duty taxi driver. It too became his mission to get the Americans home. A round of Fantas later, the off-duty taxi driver's friend arrived and safely drove us home. No money was expected for their assistance, only big smiles and waves were exchanged, along with 'Hakuna Matada' (no worries).

6) The Runners - Sharon and I watched the sunset on the beach in stowntown because the people watching was enthralling. Kids were jumping off boats and restaurant owners and fisherman set-up stalls, selling cane juice and every seafood imaginable. My favorite was the group of men, who ran laps back and forth on the beach and then would line up to do aerobics..meanwhile guys were doing flips behind them.

7) Rain Man - We had a 45 minute taxi ride to town driven by Rain Man. He literally read each English sign to us on the drive and shared the ethnic origin of the hotel owners for each hotel we passed. He then became 'The Pusher" letting us know, he can get us marijuana or whatever drug we wanted. His Rain Man antics began to make sense and I'm convinced he smoked a big blunt before driving us.

8) The Gapers - As we left Zanzibar on a ferry, I sported my sling and Sharon carried her pack on her back and my pack in front of her. Tourists and locals gaped at us, and no one offered help. But, Sharon was a champ, patiently waiting to board the ferry,with 80 extra pounds hanging from her.

NEXT STOP: Drive from Uganda to Rwanda to chill with the Mountain Gorillas.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Taking Bets...Did they make it to the Summit of Mt Kili?

Apparently, the porters told their friends and family that they were supposed to be on the mountain for 8 days, but the 2 women likely will only last for 5 days. Well, we made it to Day 6.

The stakes were raised. The porters were now asking themselves, what are the odds that these two women will summit on Day 7 and should they bet their tip money/drinks/load to be carried in favor of the American Duo? From their point of view, the odds were against us. Sharon started getting nauseous from the altitude and puked on Day 2. And again on Day 4. And me, well, my handicap was obvious.

On the morning of the summit, our guides lagged and while everyone began hiking to the summit at 12 a.m., Team 'Ralph and Gimpy' did not start ascending the mountain until 2 a.m.

I looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, dressed in the following:

Feet: 3 Smart Wool socks and Toe Warmers
Legs: 1 thermal, 2 running pants, 1 ski pants, 1 gaiters
Top: 1 running tanktop, 1 hooded thermal, 2 running long sleeve tops, 1 North Face Shell jacket, 1 North Face down jacket, 1 water-resistant ski jacket, and of course, 1 sling
Hands: Latex gloves, 2 pairs of ski liner gloves, hand warmers
Neck: Scarf
Head: Running cap and ski mask

Our guide wanted to catch up with the groups that left earlier, so he led us at a quicker pace than I was expecting. As we kept getting higher and kept going at a brisk pace, it was getting harder to breathe through my nose and I felt like my heart was beating fast.

To be honest, it was more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. My first distraction technique was to sing songs in my head that had the word 'walk' in it.

Placebo: "Walk away to save your face. You never were a genious."
Violent Femmes: "When I'm a walking, I strut my stuff and I'm so strung out...."
The Police: "Giant steps are what you take...walking on the moon."
Frightened Rabbit: "I been working on my backwards walk. There's nowhere else for me to go.."

Then I got sick of hearing myself sing in my head. So I turned on my iPod, set it to shuffle and I broke down the hike into music sets. Each set contained 5 songs. When I listened to 5 songs, I cleared the set. I figured that 3 sets of 5 songs = 1 hour.....Oh, the things you do (or I guess what I do!) to keep my mind busy. So, off I went 'clearing my sets' and I followed the Big Dipper up the mountain.

In less than 6 hours, we DID it! We reached the 'Roof of Africa!!' We saw the sunrise near the top and the glaciers were sparkling in the sun. I can't tell you what a sense of accomplishment it is to know you reached an elevation of over 19,000 feet!

The return down the mountain was nuts. It was a steep, downward slope, consisting of a silt/sand-like texture. My guide took my arm, told me to just let go and to trust him. I tightened my sling and off we went, flying down the mountain. It felt like we were cross-country skiing downhill.

My return to camp was priceless. The porters popped out of their tents when I arrived. I had a big smile on my face and I gave them a thumbs up. There was some murmuring and my guide confirmed that I made it to the top!

Two porters, who I did not know, came up to me and asked to take their picture with me. (My 30 seconds of fame :P). I assume that these are the porters that won the bet...they either will have a lighter load to carry on the way down or someone owes them drinks after the mountain!

And on Sharon's descent down, she puked one more time, just to be sure she left her mark and lived up to her mountain nickname, 'Kilimanjaro Ralph'.

Overall, I am still in disbelief that I just hiked Mt. Kili. It seems like a dream.

And while around 4 a.m. during my summit, I vowed to myself that I would NEVER do something like this again, I now can't help but think.....What's next?!?

Top 10 Dislikes and Likes while hiking Mt. Kili

Instead of recounting every detail of the 6 days leading up to the day of the final summit (19,340 feet), here's a summary of our hike highlights in a Top 10 format:

Top 10 Dislikes

10) At first, I had the hot soup on my list of likes, but by the end of the trip, the daily bowl of soup began to taste like hot melted butter and became nauseating.

9) Hiking in the morning/day, but not getting lunch until 3p.m. We all know that Jeanne gets crabby when she's hungry.

8) Waiting in the cold, drafty mess tent for lunch or dinner and feeling frozen, despite the fact that I'm wearing all of my layers of clothing.

7) Loose rocks on a steep downhill.

6) Potentially being the dirtiest I have ever been in my life, smelling of a mixture of sweat, dirt and tiger balm. Jenn, aren't you glad that you did not come now?

5) Walking so slowly to prevent altitude sickness that it felt like we were on a death march up the mountain.

4) Arriving to the camp to find that our tent has been perfectly placed on a slanted slope, causing me to spend the whole night sliding out the tent door.

3) Waking up in the middle of the night with the urge to pee and having to decide whether I can hold it all night or whether I could find the starry sky as enough motivation to get me out of the tent.

2) Outhouses with small holes where people have aimed poorly, resulting in puddles of piss and piles of poo.

1) Climbing up a steep, rocky mountain side (Barranco Wall) with only 1 arm. Imagine rock climbing with one arm tied behind your back and no harness. 1 slip and I would tumble down the mountain or one wrong movement and I feared dislocating my shoulder again. At this point, I stopped and wondered, "Maybe I am truly crazy for attempting this." I could not have made it up that wall without the help of my guide (see Top 10 likes #2).

Top 10 Likes

10) Arriving to our campsite after hiking in the morning/noon and snuggling in our sleeping bags, drinking tea, reading or snoozing.

9) Having mastered the art of putting my contacts in with one hand.

8) Learning Swahili and carrying a conversation with the locals using the 11 words I know.

7) Looking down on the clouds below us.

6) Seeing the mountain that we'll attempt to summit on Day 7 get closer to us at every campsite.

5) Our daily serving of hot porridge.

4) Our -30 degree celsius sleeping bag. I wish I could summit the mountain in it.

3) Sharon's endless patience and asistance since I am a gimp and can't tie my shoes, brush or braid my hair, roll up my sleeping bag or mat, etc.

2) Shabaz, our guide. Out of all my trips and tours worlwide, I have never had such an amazing guide. He never doubted my ability to hike the mountain. He was a chatty Kathy, full of mountain knowledge, tourist stories and motivational talks. He was acutely aware of our needs and was there to help me through every slippery patch or rocky slope. At one point on the Barronco Wall, I hugged him with all my remaining enery after he literally pulled me up the steep, rocky mountain side when I could not pull myself up the rock and I though I was going to plummet to my death.

1) Peeing under the most beautiful, clear, starry sky that I have ever seen with a view of the glacier capped Mt Kilimanjaro. The stars truly twinkled.

NEXT STOP: Attempting to summit Mt Kili (19,340 feet)

Pole Pole

Written on February 9, 2009

When I first arrived to Tanzania, the common phrase I heard from the local people was "Pole," which means I'm sorry. They wanted to let me know they were sorry for my injury. From the tourists, the common question asked, accompanied by a look of fear, was "did you do THAT on the mountain?" Once I told them 'no,' but I'm climbing the mountain in a few days, their frightened stare was replaced by a look of disbelief, as if I was crazy.

90% of the comments seemed to be negative, such as "how are you going to climb the mountain with 1 arm?" or "you'll get too cold up there." I brushed off their remarks by cheerfully replying: "I will do my best" or "It's no colder for someone with 1 functioning arm than someone with two!"

And for the remaining 10% of the replies that were words of encouragement, I was grateful. So, when they said, " You're climbing the mountain? Good for you. You can do it!" I smiled and said, "See you at the top."

With that, Sharon and I left the sea of stares and comments from the peanut gallery and got into the jeep with Shabaz, our guide, who looked at us and said: "i will make sure you summit." I liked him already!

We drove 4 hours past sunflower fields and pine forests and finally arrived to our more remote path up Mt Kili, Lemosho route. With a porter carrying my pack, an assistant guide carrying my day pack, and a helping hand from Shabaz or a hiking pole for balance, we started ascending up the mountain.

The persistent phrase that we are bound to hear for the next 8 days is "Pole. Pole." When you just say "Pole," it means "sorry." When repeated twice, it means: "slowly, slowly."

I don't know where "Pole, Pole" derives from, but my interpretation is, if you don't go "Pole Pole" (slowly) up the mountain, you'll be "Pole" (sorry) because the altitude will wipe you out.

So, "Pole Pole" it is.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Circle of Life

How do I describe the last 5 days in Tanzania? I was brainstorming titles for this blog post, looking for a phrase that will encapsulate the experience:

- Be very quiet, I'm hunting Rhinos
- Animal Planet
- Garden of Eden
- The Big Five - Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards, Water Buffalo
- The making of Simba
- Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my! (minus the tigers and bears)

I settled on The Circle of Life since I witnessed both the mating of lions and killing of prey (to be described shortly). They did not show this in the Lion King! A 4 to 10 word title can't capture the experience, but I will try to give highlights of the trip and supplement the description with pictures and videos at a later date....

Day 1

- Found out from the pharmacist that I was overdosing on my pain meds. I now know each pills pupose and prescribed amount. (This is a highlight for my liver. The rest of my body/mind rather enjoyed the drug induced state).

- In Lake Manyara Park, an elephant, who I call Keyser Soze, stepped out of nowhere and crossed the road in front of our jeep with his big ears flapping. He continued to walk into the bush " And like that, poof. He [was] gone."

Day 2

- Drove through the land of the Maasai Tribes (cattle herders). The Maasai people dress in bright red/purple cloth, are adorned with beaded jewelry and have stretched out earlobes. It is an amazing view to see massive fields of green and then a splash of bright red surrounded by cattle.

- Was petted by a Maasai person, who wanted to touch my sling.

- Crossed the lush green hills and into the Serengeti, which stretches for miles on end. The land is arid with dry grass, but then there are pockets of green trees and vegetation. Words can't describe the immensity of the Serengeti, nor can photos paint a clear picture.

- There are over 1 million Wildebeest in the Serengeti. As we entered the park, we were surrounded by a sea of Wildebeast on either side of the road.

- Saw the original fossil footprint of "Lucy," Australopithecus afarensis, who walked in this area of Africa almost 3.6 million years ago.

- Saw 2 lions sleeping. The female woke up, followed by the male. He proceeded to mount her in front of us, despite her lack of enthusiasm. After a mere 10 seconds, the action stops and the female walked away...likely underwhelmed by her mate's poor performace. (video to be posted shortly).

Day 3

- Saw a leopard jump from a low branch to a high branch.

- Watched 2 giraffes swinging their necks together, like a synchonized dance

Day 4

- saw a hippo outside of the water, which is rare, and he ran across the road in front of our jeep. For a 300+ lb animal, these creatures have some wheels.

Day 5

- Drove into the Ngorongoro Crater, which is the only crater I have ever seen that is filled with life - 30,000+ animals are here.

- And a rhino crossed the road. Learned that he can beat a hippo in a race. And if he charges you, move to the side b/c they do not have lateral movement. They are dumb as stumps apparently.

- Finished my artistic creation called "The Butts of the Beasts" - a montage of rear-end shots of my favorite animals. A true work of art.

- Saw a pride of lions slowly take down a buffalo. They literally sat there and gnawed on his ass while the buffalo was still alive and standing - lasted for at least 3 hrs...a bit disturbing. (And yes, my non-vegetarian friends, video to follow.)

So, all in all a successful and entertaining safari shared with Sharon (cousin), Chris and his two sons, Chris and Charlie from San Diego, and Natalie from Alaska.

Next Stop: One-armed Jeanne (inspired by the nickname one-eyed Willie from the Goonies) and Sharon are ready to take on Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,000+ ft)...

Stay tuned for the update in 8 days!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Final Trip Summary - Kenya to Tanzania

Written on February 3, 2009

# of hours: 10 hrs
# of passengers: 28
# of pee stops: 1
# of bumps in the road: infinite
# of off-roading detours: every 800 yards
# of pain meds: 11 pills
# of people staring at me: everyone (including tourists)
# of inquiries about my shoulder: 9
# of people sharing their dislocation stories: 5

Final Trip Report: Drugged up and happy to be off the bus

Next Stop: Wildlife Safari (5 days)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pebbles is off to Tanzania

I have left our luxurious set-up at Lisa and Kristoffer's house in Nairobi. Rebecca, thanks so much for putting me in contact with them. They were amazing. I feel like I have known them forever!

My cousin, Sharon, is here with me. She is a life-saver, packing my backpack, tying my shoes, etc. I am a gimp.

I am a bit of a site to see. I asked Sharon to pull my hair up into a high ponytail so it will stay out of my face. I look like Pebbles, And I think I will sport this look until I can take off this tank-top and shower. And let's be honest, that is not happening any time soon. This tanktop and I are becoming one. Sorry Sharon.

I have a large, foam, peach sling wrapped around my body. When I first arrived to Nairobi, I was surprised that noone stared at the white girl. Now, I am a walking freak show. Any plans to slide under the radar and be somewhat inconspicuous are over.

So, Pebbles, in Day 2 tanktop is off on an 8 hr bus ride to Tanzania. I'm a slightly concerned as to how I am going to make this journey. The small van / bus is packed with 27 people. I don't think it is physically possible to fit anyone else in here. But, never say never - it will be a cozy journey. Also, the bus seems to get air time with every pot hole. I think this situation is calling for the yellow and blue pills - no more messing around with just the pink and purple ones.

An experience, right?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Trip to Nairobi Hospital

So, I was planning on a different post. It was supposed to talk about how i wore the same clothes for 72 hours waiting for my bag to show up to Nairobi. And how I experienced how Kenyan government works when all of my property was demolished by the government in our game of Kenyan Monopoly. And how I spotted my first giraffe, zebras and warthogs on our way to our Gorge walk at Hells Gate park. But of course, leave it to Jeanne to have the following happen to her..........

I have done Gorge walks before in Australia where I was scaling the sides of gorges and i thought i would plummet to my death. Hells Gate was a relatively tame hike with occasional rocks that needed to be scaled or climbed down from. 

So let's just cut to the chase. Over halfway through the hike, i was lowering myself down from a rock to the ground and i heard a pop and then another loud pop. This was followed by a plethora of expletives - all with different variations of a 4-letter word that starts with F.  

I had a moment of envisioning Lethal Weapon. So, while i was on the ground, i tried to thrust my shoulder toward the dirt, trying to emulate Mel Gibson to pop my shoulder back into place. Damn Hollywood. It does not quite work that way. 

After realizing i was in the middle of a gorge and no one could carry me out and i was not going to get air-lifted out, I sucked it up and finished the hike - luckily it was only 15 minutes.

We then made our way to the local hospital (7 minutes). Pictures to follow. I was with Kristoffer (lisa's husband) and his two Danish friends, Stig and Stefan. They were awesome...and I think i almost broke Stig's hand as I was using it like a squeeze toy to help me ignore the pain. The doctor played around with my arm to test the mobility, and I screamed out more eff-bombs. It was then advised we drive to Nairobi to get x-rays since their xray machine was broken. I passed up on the injection of pain meds. The idea of getting poked with a needle in Africa sounded worse than the pain. So, the doctor made me a make-shift sling.  I should note that he had to borrow Kristof's swiss army knife to cut the bandage. Why the hospital did not have scissors... i don't know.

So we purchased some oral pain meds and we drove back to Nairobi (2 hours) through the pot-holed streets. Good times.

So, to make a long story short, i got expedited through the queue  at the hospital in Nairobi and the doc said my shoulder was dislocated, but it popped back in on its own. Maybe my Mel Gibson move worked after all. The x-rays said i did not fracture anything, so that's good.

So here I am recounting the tale. I have a fabulous cocktail of pink/purple pills and red ones and a glass of wine. I am in a sling, pictures to follow...

But i am still hopeful that i will be able to make my safari and walk up Mt Kili...very slowly. The bungee jump might be out. 

This is one way to start Day 2 of my 49 day trip.....


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And I am back.....anyone want to see a movie?

After 3 hours of restless sleep, I arrive to the airport....and there is no flight out. They changed it to tomorrow.

And while Air Canada is a Star Alliance partner with United, whom I have flown with over 10 times in 2008 and have a flight notification set-up via email and phone, Air Canada claims they did not have my contact details to notify me. I am back in bed in San Jo! Think I will see the 12:50 movie of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in Mountain View.

Any takers?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Africa Itinerary

I am off to Africa! And I am no longer going to be solo the whole trip. My cousin is joining me for 3 of the 7 weeks.

I am up in less than 5 hours to depart, so here is a quick post of my itinerary:

1/29 - 2/2: Nairobi
2/3: Bus to Tanzania
2/4 – 2/8: Safari
2/9 – 2/16: Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,000+ feet)
2/17 – 2/20: Zanzibar, Tanzania
2/21 – 2/8: Uganda / Rwanda (Gorilla trek, River Raft on Nile, Chimp Trek)
3/1: Jo’burg3/2: Vic Falls, Zambia (maybe a bungee jump!)
3/3 – 3/10: Overland From Zambia via Botswana and Krueger Park to Jo-burg
3/11 – 3/17: Capetown
3/17: Depart for SFO

(I then have 5 days in Cali and then I go to Thailand for 2 weeks).

If you want me to send you a postcard, send me your address!

Wish me luck,