Jake and I continue to have amazing experiences in South Africa - there seems to be no end to the good fortune that comes our way in the form of people, weather, time, and kindness.
Our host doesn't seem to be sick of us quite yet even though we've stayed here longer than we tend to due to not wanting to overstay our welcome. We feel very welcome and try to be the best surfers we can.
We've also had the fantastic opportunity to meet up with the parents of a girl we met in Morocco (remember our favorite hostel
in the entire world?). Caylee was this animated Canadian
whom Jake and I instantly loved and wanted to get to know more. Her stories had us rolling every night. So when she found out we'd be in South Africa some time, well that's where she was just at visiting her parents and "here is their contact information." As soon as we got into Durban we called to figure out how to meet and when we returned from St. Lucia, Caylee's mom Arlene offered o pick us up and show us more of town.
We had a very wonderful day around downtown Durban and the beach promenade, finding gifts for friends and some needed sandals for myself. That night her houselady made us lasagna that was to die for and we were able to see how open-hearted and generous both of Caylee's parents are.
Just about the loveliest people Jake and I have encountered.
What we'd like to do more of while here: HELP
The next day we asked Arlene if we could see the Township (aka the slums) and volunteer with her through the local Salvation Army. So late in the morning we headed over to sort bread and pick up soup. When we arrived, we saw the bread and soup had been taken care of and due to the weather, there was far less than what they were used to unfortunately. When the people lined up, they were a little agitated with me and Jake for taking pictures, assuming we were with the local paper and going to turn them in or get them in trouble. However, one of the lead ladies, Octavia, asked them in Zulu and in English if it would be okay that we photograph for our country to get more help to them. About 1/3 of the guys were okay with it and separated accordingly. When we weren't taking photos, we were handing out bread and soup with the rest of the Army workers and saying hi to the people ("Sawubona! Unjani brudda?").
After handing out at the church, it was time to drive up to the township and see the women and the children who line up. This is where we met a South African girl named Jo who drive us up in the Army van while Arlene drove herself and some other young workers in her car. Here we got to see the poorest type of neighborhood and how the people live day to day life. The statistic is 99% of the people have HIV and the ones with full blown AIDS are separated from the community like lepers. They have a school and shops to sell things and services to provide, just like other "self-sustaining" towns. But these areas need so much more help due to the economic crisis and the way the president Zuma has rid almost every good thing Nelson Mandela helped establish. Some of the pictures below show the housing that has recently been built due to government funding and donations. But the houses are poorly built and not suitable to put in furniture and other living requirements.
Meeting these children and mothers, grandmothers, and other townfolk, your heart immediately goes out to them and more than anything I'd like to be apart of a community that helps all over the world. But right now I'm here and I'll be honing my energy for this community. I'll probably set up a donation page soon, but more than anything, these people need more food and more people willing to donate their time. So I'm going to try and reach out to local hotels and restaurants that have a lot of leftover food that usually just gets thrown out. And then larger hotels that base out of the U.S. if they can donate as well. If anyone has more experience in this area, too, please let me know what you've done with success or other suggestions you may have.
Thanks to our latest couchsurfing host, Paolo, we are able to trek to some amazing places in South Africa (and Mozambique soon!). Last weekend we drove to St. Lucia just north of Durban to fish, see hippos, and drive some game reserve loops on our way to a beach for more fishing!
We have certainly fallen in love with this place in the few days we've been here. Jake and I agree it reminds us of winter in Hawaii and we are so thankful to finally be away from heat and sand!
So our weekend was spent in an adorable bungalow where we had monkeys wake us up jumping on the tin roofs and a gorgeous view next to a lake where hippos have been known to frequent. We saw crocs, hippos, zebra, rhino, buffalo, mongoose, warthogs, .... I'm sorry dad, but the zoo just won't be the same again.
If you're curious as to the final verdict on me staying or going:
Last time I checked votes, it was 50/50! Thanks guys, that backfired haha. Fun to see how many people stress like I do versus the people that say "phucket!"
However, I think I'm staying. Money problems will ALWAYS be there and really, I might struggle for a few months, but probably no more than that, and what's a few months in the scheme of life? It's much easier to see things now, get this experience now, and be better prepared for more experiences in the future. I'm having a blast, and I know people are there for me when I need help (if I ever get brave enough to ask for it other than joking around). So the plan is get to Ethiopia by October and fly home mid December. Probably going to buy our tickets back this week (maybe even today!). Wish us luck on good deal fairies!
These flavors need to be in America... or maybe not because then I would start eating chips.
Since they're "kind of a big deal" I thought I'd share my Giza pictures on our last day in Egypt. The day was pretty successful. We had good timing as far as seeing what we wanted to, then getting back in time to get our stuff together, buy more El Abd pastries, and walk to the bus stop to head to the airport (which took over an hour and a half! Traffic is nuts).
Our flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was really comfortable on a considerably large plane and then our second leg from Jeddah to Johannesburg was even better, being in something in the middle of first and economy class, plenty of leg room, and surprisingly comfortable sleep.
We wanted to steer clear of Jo'Burg because it didn't seem like much more than a typical city but with an extraordinary amount of crime we thought we'd avoid. Our mission was to get to Durban as quickly as possible. We usually bus or train it for cost-cutting, but across the board it seemed like we should fly there instead. So quick like a fox we looked into it before stepping out of the airport and found a flight which we had to RUN to get to, but it worked out and in about an hour we were touching down in Durban.
So I'm thinking of cutting my trip short and heading back to the states in two weeks. I don't have enough money to finish this trip and if I go back now I'll be able to pay my bills on time and have enough to hold me over until I find a job. If I stay, then I'll be at ZERO when I get back with a ton more credit card debt and things could be rough for a few months.
However, some of you are aware as to how resourceful I can be and I think I'm smart enough to balance some things out so I take the weakest blow from life. I just don't know what to do.
It's stressful thinking about money (and some of you are also aware of my stress levels and coping with such) but this trip is in a way that it gets BETTER and BETTER with each stop and experience. Without a doubt what awaits us in the next few months will be unparalleled and especially when we get to Ethiopia, what we'll be able to do with these coffee farms will be everything I want my international travels to be. It'd be a shame to cut out early and miss all of that.
So... vote? What would you do?
This is a little early, as we have one more day in Egypt (sort of, our plane leaves 11pm tomorrow night) and we plan on seeing the pyramids of Giza (hopefully we remember to wake up early) - however, I feel it's still a good summary (only 9 days here, WOW)
Well I completely skipped the Tunisia summary. I really liked it there but not sure if I'll ever write about it now, however, Jake is working on the video of that place
, whereas we will probably not have a video for Egypt (save the one with the Italianos singing in Alex).
So here we go! Cultural Differences
Egypt is a Muslim country (surprise!) and with it are the typical things we've seen in Morocco and Tunisia. Prayer five times a day through loud speakers. Friday is their holy day
(so their weekends are Friday/Saturday). Everything is closed on Fridays except for some food places. And people stare at me funny for my tattoos and any exposed skin (omgah ANKLES! Welcome to the renaissance).
On top of that, Egyptians seem to be much more forward
with me than Morocco and Tunisia. We had heard it is rougher here than Morocco hagglers due to the drop in tourism and needing to be more aggressive, but we thought it would be the touts and sellers that would be in our face. While some do not take no for an answer no matter how many languages you say it or hoow many times or how many various volumes, we found them to be much easier than Moroccans. What WAS rougher was the constant male attention I've received, regardless of having my male companion. I would hold Jake's hand (later to find out that is actually frowned upon many places) and confirm that we were married when asked, but it did not stop 15 year old boys ask to marry me, touch my legs and hands when sitting next to me, and being shouted at, gawked at, and receiving confessions of love, admiration, and compliments of my "magic eyes." Jake was often told "What a lucky man to have such a beautiful/good woman!"
and questions about our happy marriage. When walking down streets, men smoking shisha and drinking coffee sitting at cafes would often make "tsk" sounds, hissing sounds, or kissing sounds to grab my attention. I often ignored these because (A) I am not a cat, and (B) I was terrified that if I looked I would be greeted with much worse vulgar mouth gestures.
That being said, and knowing most of these compliments were probaby more aggressive ways of trying to get baksheesh
, the attention was all positive comments and compliments and though it made me uncomfortable, I can't hardly wait for southern Africa where we will be considered "white devils" and children being told bedtime stories about us eating babies to keep our skin white. Le sigh... What I Expected vs. Reality
Again, we expected to be grabbed more, forced to hold items in hopes we'll buy them, nonstop pestering for money,
and general "sell sell sell buy buy buy" annoyances. I was even piccturing revolution violence, protests, and maybe getting caught in unwanted political stresses among the people while walking around. I heard Sinai was the only real place for this, but I hear about Cairo protests often and the day we were leaving Tunisia, we saw news about another in some Cairo square. I was stressed. Reality proved much different.
Maybe I didn't realize how much dealing with touts in Morocco helped prepare me, but I just did not find Egyptian sellers to be quite so stressful and annoying. The people here have a GREAT sense of humor and we hardly encountered annoying touts
except for the train station in Luxor where the same man came to us over and over and over and over and when we toured Karnak and were pressured to buy statue souvenirs. However, these being the most touristy areas in the city and this city almost relying SOLELY on tourism, it came as no surprise, or rather, we were more understanding. Cairo and Alexandria were the easiest to be in due to many other industries than tourism for support,
and Cairo is so MASSIVE, we only had time to see a small part of downtown where it was very reminiscent of typical downtown city life you see anywhere in the world. Luxor was still great, but the relentless flies (they take lessons from the touts apparently, or vice versa!) and the tourist traps made it a bit tiring. Nuances
The funniest one is that at night almost nobody uses headlights
on their car. They feel they just don't need them since lights on the street and so many other cars light up the way. But when you step into the street, they will be sure to flash you often and with their brights. Thanks, maybe you should just keep them on so I can see you. Honking
is the other thing. They like to drive down the street honking abusively as possible and often for no reason. Sometimes it's a "Hey I see you walking on the sidewalk and I'm coming behind you, careful!" And same for other cars to let them know they're coming. But a lot of times, it's just layin on the horn drivin down an empty street. Other tourists here
We met one American at the airport we got coffee and shisha with later in Cairo. Ryan is a traveling folkpunk looking for anarchy-friendly places in the world and seems successful in that endeavor. He is eccentric and tells amazing stories with animated conversations and we loved him immediately. Check out his website http://www.riotfolk.org/
if you're interested. I know I'll be involving myself as soon as I get back to the States.
In Luxor we got to surf with FOUR other people at the same time. An Argentinian girl who was very nice and knew plenty about the area. Our host was from Uruguay, so they got to converse in their native languages often which I'm sure they both loved. Then three guys, two brits and a yank(sorta), have been bike touring the whole way down Africa raising money for music and children which is serendipitous because that's just what Jake and I want to do in South America! They are super cool to hang with and we spent most of our time in Luxor exploring the place with them. Be sure to check their site as well: http://daringdynamos.com/
and follow them through to South Africa.
Other than that, we had met people in Morocco who went through Egypt before coming to Morocco and they were all cool too. However, in Karnak, we were bombarded with tourists from a bus and generally I was a bit annoyed with them. All I kept noticing was the women in skimpy tank tops, short shorts, or tiny miniskirt dresses and all I could think about was "Why come here?" It was such shameless disrespect for the local culture and then having arrived via Tour Bus, all I can think of is that they're secluded on some resort and only want to see places a tour bus can take them to. It filled me with a sense of pride to be as sensitive as I was, but also made me even more self conscious and mad at myself for not going even further to cover up more parts of myself and try to figure out their hair scarves. Still, in long pants and a cardi in 104F weather, I hope they realize I'm trying. Feelings
This place immediately fills me with wonder, passion, curiosity, and amazement. The culture here is SO old
and feels proud in their history. I feel like an utter child here, being both young and out of touch with the political environment in context, as well as being American and from such a young country.
I've also come to have a certain respect for Islamic culture, but wish I had more time to understand the role they play in a society that is so much older than the religion they've adopted. I find myself wondering if anyone worships the old gods and keep to ancient ways. I feel like a western religion is a mockery to a civilization adept enough to have built giant pyramids 4000 years ago to almost perfect mathematical perfection. Ponderings..
One of my main concerns here though is with the drop in tourism
and how heavily Egypt as a whole has always depended on it. It has increased the stress dramatically for the locals and in just 2 days we saw three intense fights break out
, one that was clearly over us. The struggle is there are 10 men who own ferry boats across the Nile and now there are only enough tourists to support maybe 3 of them. So aggression happens when a ferryman convinces us to go on his boat and then maybe we're bombarded by another and in the confusion of language and figuring things out, we follow him instead, maybe thinking they are the same boat. So then ferryman #1 assumes his fare was just stolen from him. FIGHT. That's his livlihood, his food for the day. And while some cases are not so extreme (because they make enough money), I'm sure there are plenty of times it is that severe and families do potentially go hungry because of dwindling business. This is what we encountered most in Luxor (again, a city almost solely dependent on tourism) but we see it elsewhere too. It breaks your heart to see the tension rise and knowing that your choice to spend money so directly affects their lives. It's especially hard because neither Jake nor I have the funds to do this trip very properly and looking out for our own skins means we're finding food and activities with the person willing to give it to us for just $1 less. We're not even providing baksheesh in accordance with custom because the taxes and service charges that are added on to everything force us to not have funds for an additional 15% or so. It's a hard life, but I hope to make it up in many future visits to this place
with better planning and funding. Likes/Dislikes
I definitely do not enjoy the sexual harassment, even though I tend to receive a lot worse in America, the quantity received here is a bit much sometimes.
Other things aren't so much dislikes, but it's hard to haggle for everything all the time, and people wanting to talk to us constantly to have an excuse to speak English (or get money) and oh yeah! Jake and I are CONSTANTLY being asked to take pictures with them. We go to museums to see local art but end up being the subject! Likes, however, are plentiful, but notably, being the fatty that I am, FOOD.
Food is fucking delicious here and the cheapest I can ever imagine food being. We often spent MAYBE $3 between us for food all day. And filling good food. Kushari is one of our favorites, and we couldn't ever pass up Falafel sandwhiches which were anywhere from 15 to 30 cents each depending on where in town you were getting it.
One of the best sandwiches we got was in touristy Luxor where we had two Egyptian boys order for us so we could get the "Egyptian price" which was probably STILL higher than the actual price, but was also only 30 cents for us, so we weren't complaining! The falafel there was heavenly though and I'm inclined to find those boys so they can order again for us (though one was one of the 15 year olds trying to get handsy with me... But I guess for sandwiches, worth it).
Also, there is a famous bakery in Cairo with two locations called El Abd and OH.MY.GAWD.
For what we would have EASILY spent $30 on in America, cost us less than $3 here. Danishes filled with cheese, topped with jams, croissants of all kinds, large flakey pastries filled with sweet spreads, stuffed pizzas made with pastry dough, coookies, candied nuts, truffles, and heavenly layered cakes that weren't "cakey" (because I hate cake) but instead pastry like. Jake and I found every excuse to go there every chance we got and I almost cried every time because of how delicious and cheap it was and also to participate in something so famous among locals and tourists in a country so far away felt amazing.
Yeah between Barcelona and Egypt, I will not look like a starved African child when I get back... Overall rating: 9/10
- Need way more time when I come back. Summer vacation is just about over, anyone have any trips worth reviewing or talking about? Favorite thing you've done over the weekend?
I think my favorite to see this weekend was Karnak... Or maybe Giza pyramids...
Yesterday was my birthday and the first I've spent abroad (if you don't count Hawaii as being "abroad" but sometimes I do). It was pretty mellow and while I traditionally haven't thought much of my birthday in the past, it seems the older I get the more fun I have with excuses to do certain things. I think teenage Lauren was "too cool for birthdays" and was maybe a bit extremist in fighting The Man in all things which includes stupid obligations as excuses to buy into the system. Nowadays, I see it as an excuse to splurge on myself (even though, let's be honest, I splurge on myself all the time because screw you, that's why).
I originally wanted to wake up early and GO, but two things made reality happen in that area: one, we got home at 2am the night before and I didn't sleep until 3am because I NEEDED a shower no matter how exhausted. Two, what in Allah's name even opens before 10am in Egypt (or Nothern Africa in general)? Pretty much nothing. So I got up around 830 afraid it was like 1130 and mused around until Jake got up around 930ish (he always goes to bed much later than I). We made plans to see the library but seeing as we're [always] on a pastry kick, we decided to look for a bakery. Luckily, our couch surfing host Paulina had several Egypt guides and the Rough Guide (being sick of Lonely Planet) had a few to name. We chose Delecies and we're pleased with our decision by the large selection of croissants, danishes, and endless varieties of cakes.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened at 11am but I think we got there around 1200 or 1230 and bought a combo ticket that allowed us to get into two museums on top of the library all for about $7 each. Not bad if I say so myself and a worthwhile splurge to spend my personal holiday even though I grossly don't have the funds for most of this trip (ce la vie Serengeti National Park).
We weren't supposed to have bags in the library but both Jake and I had all our camera stuff in messenger bags. We were told we'd need to deposit our bags by the ticket booth for holding like everyone else, but like snotty white people, we scoffed. The signs nearby explicitly said "We recommend not leaving valuables in your bags that you check" so like hell we were doing that. Instead we asked to see one of the museums downstairs first and I think we were just hoping to sneak into the library later. However, the end of one of the museums led us back out to the original entrance outside and we decided to go American about it. We found someone more "official" looking and after showing him ALL that was in our bags were camera gear, the conversation went from "This is… not possible" to "Okay, not a problem" (imagine in deep Egyptian accent for full experience) and we were let in with our bags and saw the man tell all the security guys we were free to bring our shit. Yeah, sometimes you just gotta be American. Rules don't apply to us.
Finally, with only cheese danishes and ridiculous looking coffee in our bellies from the A.M., it was nearing 5pm and we were hungry. Where else to go when you're broke than Gad where the locals eat and partake in sandwiches that cost roughly 18 cents? Yeah that's right. They're small, but two is plenty filling, so when we spend less than $1 (5 Egyptian Pounds) for four sandwiches, we're not complaining at all. I got two filled with falafel and veggies (called Taamiya) and Jake got one Taamiya and one Foul (pronounced "fuul") which is just refried fava beans mixed with some creamy sauce stuff and both kinds are ridiculously tasty.
We brought them back to Paulina's flat to eat while we rest from our day and gather energy to go back out that night for someone else's birthday party (I love other Augustines!). Finally around 21:00-ish we go out to find birthday candles without luck and decide to forego the candles and head to the party. There were two parties that night, one for the birthday girl which was more family oriented. And then as someone at the party said "The bad guys came in so the good guys went out" and a more alcoholic party started thereafter.
I had fun taking pictures with the exceptional view from the flat and wanted to take high ISO people shots last night anyway, I came out feeling successful.
Then others were interested in my camera, so it got passed around a bit:
And Jake had his way with my camera too (what a surprise). He should also post a video with clips I did on my cam and he did on his G11 of the guys singing. It was a pretty priceless night:
With good company and gorging myself on blue cheese, lasagna, and far too many pastries, cookies, sweets, and cakes, I deem this a very good birthday all in all.
So much for keeping to my schedule. Unsurprisingly, our availability of internet is inconsistent. Also when we do have it, we don't like to spend a ton of time indoors on a computer unless we have to (Jake has work to do) and I don't like stealing his computer to blog (my tablet doesn't do weebly unfortunately).
Well this blog probably should be about Tunisia and its summary since we are now in Cairo Egypt! However, I may make that the next post because I feel so overwhelmed with how amazing Egypt is in just the few hours we've experienced it, I have to write about it instead!
Sorry for crappy phone pics, our seat window was really scratched up and I've been to wary to bring out my real camera in Egypt turmoil, but I'll feel it out better and may get better pictures later:
I had been pretty stressed out about coming here. I had no idea what to expect and kept hearing different things from everybody. Few tourists having a good time but suspiciously not even mentioning any political problems. And then Morocco and Tunisia locals being VERY concerned for us being there. I was a bit of a mess. But once we landed, all the weight lifted off my shoulders. Things didn't seem tense in the airport. People weren't looking at us weird. Everything felt normal.
Then we ran into some Americans in front of us in line to get our passports stamped and we asked them where to get our visas before entry. After chatting a bit and realizing where we had some commonalities, we felt even more at ease and I was especially looking forward to meeting people and see the area. After baggage claim, we exchanged some phone numbers and got our Egypt SIM card to call locals and our new American friend, Ryan later. We were unable to reach our first couchsurfing host, so we were forced to look for a hostel and decided to turn to our dreadful hit-and-miss Lonely Planet guide. We chose Wake Up! Cairo and proceeded to learn the bus routes. Taxi drivers had been bugging us about every 3 seconds the entire time we were in the airport but I must say, they were much more pleasant to deal with than any Moroccan people. Maybe it's our now-expertise on dealing with haggling people.
With some help from locals here and there, we found the right bus and headed downtown. It was nightfall by the time we were on our way, but the sights of Cairo were not lost on me.
This place is breathtaking from the first moment you lay eyes on it. Flying over it reminded me a bit of Manhattan and driving through the city on bus was oddly everything I'd imagine Egypt to be. It feels old and new at the same time, like imagining infrastructure and architecture of ancient Egypt but now modern. Difficult to explain, picture what Vegas might interpret Egypt to be as. The buildings are beautiful and reminiscent of European style, yet they are their own type as well. And dirty. Let's not forget we're still in dusty northern Africa. I felt very poetic last night gazing at every streetcorner, fountain, government building, and mass amount of cars that put L.A. and NYC traffic to shame. Today, I've lost my words, but to summarize, I now understand why people have been seeking to come here for hundreds and hundreds of years and why it holds amazement and wonder and curiosity after all this time.
Where I was questioning my every turn in Morocco and even Tunisia, wondering why I wasn't enjoying myself abroad like I felt I should being the self-proclaimed world traveler I am, Egypt in a few minutes on a bus reminded me full force why I this is my biggest passion. Beauty emanates from every pore here (even through the midst of a new revolution and grimy environment) and the history behind every corner is palpable.
My dad requested I speak more of some differences between the great here and the over there. He mentioned more of the weather, but maybe I'll venture off onto some other differences that immediately caught my eye.
First off, it's bloody hot here. And that's all well and good, it's not even as hot as the high desert some days nor as humid as parts of Tennessee. And walking outside can be okay... but for some reason it feels more sweltering than any other place I've been. And I think it's due to the stillness of the air. And this is the first country I've been to that doesn't believe in fans for any of the hostels or houses hardly. Restaurants have AC in places, resorts too (tourist places of course), but for backpackers and locals, you deal with it. And the air inside isn't even HOT but the stillness of air makes you sit in sweat when you're not moving or instigating any such reaction. Sleeping is the same. The room will feel fine, but you'll wake up sweaty and the bed soaked underneath you. Everything just RADIATES for some reason. For the VERY first time in my life, I'm wishing for cold weather. Throughout 120F days in Victorville I didn't complain, but here... I will be glad to be back in the States in December and I will faceplant in snow.
Smells. Morocco and Tunisia both kind of smell like a sewer. And it's because they are poor enough to have few resources dedicated to trash pickup. It's EVERYwhere. Shop keepers are pretty good about sweeping in front of their stalls, but otherwise, there aren't really good places to collect it out of sight, nor out of nose-range...
Shopping. These places depend on haggling. Egypt we hear is worse where you even haggle for hotel rooms. But here, it's mostly just goods and also kept within street shops. There are some grocery stores and shopping centers about with fixed pricing. Not sure why they chose to start implementing them, if it was strictly pressure from the west or people got sick of haggling (I'm sure sick of it, but I would never want that culture to disappear). I know when I'll get back to the U.S., I'll think "Why do I have to pay $5 for this? I'll give you $2, how about that?" and when I'm refused, I'll wish I was back here where I can make shopkeepers fall in love with me and give me whatever price I ask.
Toilets. I wasn't sure I'd bring this up because it seems silly, yet it's a daily occurrence, and one I'm sure we all take for granted. Morocco was good because they had squat toilets and every so often regular western ones. But here in Tunisia, they have western ones or ones that are slightly lower but without a toilet seat which means you can't squat OR sit but uncomfortably hover and it's stupid. Just rip the damn thing out or give me a toilet seat, seriously. And then there's this hose on the side that I'm assuming is their version of a badet? I haven't used it, but I have no idea what else it'd be for because the toilets have flushers unlike squatter ones where the hose might be handy... I don't know. They need to make up their minds about that one though...
Cafes/Restaurants/Etc. Most, if not all, places you just sit and let the waiter notice you rather than go in and ask for a table. We still do it sometimes out of habit and blind courtesy, but we're often looked at weird because we don't just sit. Ordering doesn't really differ, but what does is even in fast food places or cafes where you might order at a counter, you don't pay until way at the end. At restaurants it's common for us to pay when we leave, but they do it at EVERY place here. You're not often bothered and usually need to stand up and begin meandering over to suggest you're ready to pay and leave. It's kind of nice, like people just want to enjoy their shit and not worry about any bill until they absolutely have to. And people often hang out in cafes with one coffee for a very long time which is also due to the poverty (unemployment rate). So waiters and the like don't mind too much when you just sit around forever, and sometimes it could be awkward for us because Jake and I are more Canadian-like than American and hate feeling like we're taking advantage of people's time. We often forget it's the culture here, but we're slowly getting more comfortable just wasting space at a cafe with our one coffee.
Hours of operation. Everyone is very lax here, some might say lazy, but I just think of it as a cultural difference and having that American "work work work!" blood simply gives people a certain judgmental light. No hours are usually posted and people definitely operate at different times than we are used to. People tend to stay up very late, kids included, and I'm not QUITE sure if this was due to Ramadan (I'll be able to compare now that it's ended) but most times people were up until 4am at the earliest. We'd even see groups of 2 or 3 preteens and teenagers out walking by themselves at such hours. And due to that, shops and cafes tend not to open their doors until well past 10am, so it's a soft set of hours. One day it might be 10, the next 11am. But that's the benefit of owning your own shop, really, and there are few "chains" to speak of, if you can even call them that.
So right now we are on the island Djerba, in the town Houmt Souk and for two days we'll go to Midune just 5 miles away. We;ve had an interesting journey here, but for all our lack of planning, it feels like we've come across nothing but luck (and I hope I didn't just jinx myself!). The picture to the right is of the bus/train station in Gabès where we were forced to stay the night before catching a morning bus to the island. However, we were well taken care of and it couldn't have been better under the circumstances. Every other station we've come across until then we would NOT have been able to do that, so why we hoped it would happen here was foolish, but luck had it, and we didn't have a bad time with so many nice people looking after us.
I am very much in love with the Tunisian people and though I hadn't considered it beforehand, I would not mind coming back here for a very extended stay to do some volunteering in whichever form that needs to take. Something I will look into when I get back for sure and through couchsurfing, I already have someone who lives here who would have many resources and be of great help.
Well that's all I can really think to write on at the moment. But if anyone is curious about a place, let me know. If anyone has specific requests on another aspect of this trip or whatever you can think of I would be appreciative! I miss a lot of people and have become grateful for some places back home, which I didn't imagine happening, so I'm anxiously looking forward to being back and sharing experiences in person. Yet that's still 15ish weeks off, so until then, fill my inbox with love, I can always use it!
I've decided to make a schedule for my blogging. The pros do it that way and while I'm a far cry from a pro blogger, my mind is always going a million miles an hour in a jumbled mess and maybe a schedule will help me be that much closer to being an interesting blog like the pros.
With this scheduling, I can take requests for what people are interested in on this trip. My first request came from my dad in an email asking about what my senses are taking in and to really pen down the differences between here and places in America. It is quite overwhelming and while falling into a routine is easy enough once here, I'm sure all you wunderlusts out there would be more curious as to major differences in weather, cultures, people, architecture, lifestyle, etc. It all gets a bit mouthy, but I'll do my best to paint a picture.
Also, since I've thought of my scheduling (which I would like to do every Tuesday and Friday) I have missed two blogs thus far and the next one is actually supposed to be tomorrow, but as internet comings are inconsistent at best, I thought I'd take advantage of the time I have here at a cafe.
Well maybe I'll break off with a new blog to start it officially...
Also, I seem to remember many more comments on my blogs and journals of the past, was it a mistake to rid my facebook and nobody comes here to read, or are my blogs SO horrible they warrant no response? I'm hurt, but oh well.
Unfortunately, Morocco had to take the blunt of our first experience of North African habits, but with the horrible abrasiveness of Marrakech behind us, we can pretty much handle anything that comes our way (until Egypt's relentlessness comes).
Bring on Tunis, Tunisia. Immediately off the plane, I was less intimidated than when we first entered Casablanca, and thankfully the people here seem much more mellow (or I am looking with new Moroccan-experienced eyes). Jake and I have also gotten a lot better with hagglers and know how to firmly stand our ground rather than feel bad and give in (they're very good at feigning a saddened outrage that you're offering such a low price and the sentimental in me just wants to give them anything they ask knowing my lot in life is probably a lot better on the average). So after figuring out the cheapo busses had stopped running for the evening, we had to bargain a taxi but in the end got exactly the price we meant to pay, which felt like a small victory and I'll take any at this point.
One reason for happiness in small victories was that Jake and I goofed on our way out of Morocco and really had it in our heads we were leaving on August 6th but our "eh, things will work out how they will" attitude prevented us from even checking our travel itinerary once since we made it and we had no idea which airline we were flying. We went to the airport the night before because Chef is a 6+ hr bus-ride and we would not have made it in the morning, so sleeping at the airport was our only option. On our way there Jake checked his saved screenshot of our ticket purchase and lo and behold, our flight was actually August 5th in the morning! We tried to fix the problem at 10pm when we got in the terminal, but we were just waved on to the next person every time we asked what to do and reassured we could just check in like usual the following morning. Morning came and we were not able to check in like we were told and instead had to pay 100 Euros EACH to change our flight. Not a price we were willing to fork over. My weak attempt at tears and frustration did nothing to sway them. So we're stuck hoping our travel insurance covers it, but I'm not hopeful for such luck.
Basically at this point, realizing more of these unwarranted surprises lurk ahead, I am willing to accept a plane ticket back home for mid december from Ethiopia if anyone is willing. I DO have a birthday approaching and I'll gladly take it as a birthday advance for several others if you want to combine it as a "This is your late 20's birthday gift and you'll get no more until you're the big 3-0." and then I'll accept getting my skydiving license paid for on my 30th bday. Sound like a plan friends and family? You can combine efforts...
Enough selling my soul for money... That can come later when I really do run out my last cent and have to whore myself out for a little bread and rice.
We like it here. We found the cheapest hostel lonely planet described and I'm sure there are others, but we feel safe and happy here, though the hot still air in the common room is enough to make us buy a fan for the next 3 nights we plan on staying here. Holy fucking hell. Lit'rilly. I've learned not to care much though, because if I can't change my predicament, I'm going to be miserable thinking about it and I've coped most of my life in that fashion. So here I sit, sweat pouring off me in buckets even though it's barely 90 degrees and I'm doing NOTHING and wearing the skimpiest dress I've ever adorned. It's alright though, I'm sure the staff appreciates the view, the host has been considerably nicer since....
The streets of the Medina are barren due to Ramadan and that has been a blessing. I wonder if we'd like it as much had we been here before Ramadan started and while the answer is most obviously no, I think having Morocco under our belt allows us to still enjoy our time here much more regardless of the lack of people or not. The people just seem better with haggling (see below for the Saffron we prized) and not so abusive with your time and patience. The few people who have not let us be with a simple word really just talked to us for a few minutes then left on their business. In morocco those few minutes meant leading you to their store. Here, they just seem nice. It's very refreshing.
Today, we decided to try more deep-fried sugar since they look slightly less gross than Morocco's version, and got a little carried away and ended up getting a small box with an assortment of them. The seller we chose viewed my exposed tattoos and proceeded to lure me inside the shop with a crinkle-cut french fry shaped sugar piece so he could look me all over. We started with my map and pointed to where Tunisia was and then was asked where we're from, then he pointed to all the places he "wished" to go, though without any English spoken, it remains open where that was my body part or the actual place in the world. After being shown off to all the surrounding shops (and embarrassed laughter from me and Jake), he let us go with a few extra sugar pieces as freebies.
Then we came across tubs of Saffron and wondered what their price was in the land of all things cheap. We meant to browse and think on it, but the man there, too, was a precious haggler and after getting the price down less than a third just from saying "no" (because we really didn't have money!) we gave in. I'll let you guess the price we paid, and if you're a saffron lover like myself, humor me with U.S. prices.
So yeah, first impressions are positive. We're much more relaxed here. People don't bug us nearly as much. We're getting into the swing of Ramadan. And we're a lot better at immersing ourself into middle-east/north-african culture in general. The town isn't so pretty so far, but we're further than walking distance from the beach, so when we get our bearings and our schedule for our time here, we'll make that trip and I can update you on our findings. After my cousin's category medal ceremony in the olympics, we'll be heading south and hopefully to some couch surfing hookups. If not, we're scoping out a peninsula/island to spend the remainder of our time, hopefully reading books on the beach and getting some work done (the work part is mostly Jake, but I guess this blog counts as mine! Plus I get to play with all the best photo-manipulation programs on Jake's computer, fairly addictive).
As a reminder, Amanda will be competing in the hammer throw which according to my schedule is 10am London time on August 8th (tomorrow!!) so keep an eye out. The medal ceremony takes place August 10th.
**I didn't get to publish this in time for the above, but I did find her results and stuff online. I also found a Daily Press article with quotes from my grandma Trish in Hesperia. Pretty exciting!**
Also, how is everyone's August shaping up? It's my birthday month, so I'm always fairly fond of this time of year, even though I've never cared much about my birthday, I think it's a pretty cool month. Probably because I like heat so much... Whew got enough of that here that's for sure!
We'll get them in 2016!