Backpacking in Egypt, An Unforgettable Experience

Wow! The stories you’ll be able to tell when you return home of your adventures backpacking across Egypt – lonely desert sunsets, towering pyramids, ancient temples, bustling Cairo bazaars, cruising   the River Nile in a felucca, swimming in the Red Sea, walking in the steps of Moses. Unforgettable. Life-changing experiences. And the Egyptian people. Friendly, welcoming, trusting. Timeless memories. Enough to fill a travel book or two.

Cairo

Egypt’s capital city and usually the start of most backpacking journeys. A frenetic city filled with the old and the new, ancient architecture and brightly-lit steel and concrete office tower blocks. A city that never seems to sleep. Coffee shops, classy restaurants and down-market eating places at every turn. Sleek 21st century malls with designer stores and all the latest gadgets sitting easily with ancient souks filled with market stalls laden with aromatic spices, exotic fruits and brightly coloured fabrics. Watch artisans at work plying trades as ancient as the pyramids themselves. Cairo is a city like no other.

 

Cost of living

On the low side if you’re careful, but beware. Tipping is a way of life and can easily eat into the daily budget without you realising. Use the Metro to get across Cairo and local bus services to travel further afield. Both are relatively cheap but can be a bit on the crowded side. With a suitable international bank account at your disposal, accessing money shouldn’t be a problem either given the number of ATMs springing up across Cairo and other major cities and towns in Egypt.

 

Accommodation

It’s always nice to rest in a comfortable bed and to clean up after a few days on the road. There are plenty of cheap hostels available in Cairo, Luxor and elsewhere. Prices in Cairo should set you back about $8 (£5) per night, give or take. For that you’ll get a comfortable bed, shower and hot water, a tidy room, laundry facilities, Internet access and a good breakfast. Well worth the money. There are also a number of cheap hostels in Luxor, ranging from about $3.50 (just over £2) a night to about $11 (£7). Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh tend to be a bit more expensive.

 

Giza

Iconic. Must see. Touristy – yes, but don’t let that put you off. No backpacker worth his or her salt can say they’ve seen Egypt in all its glory unless they’ve included a visit to this last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World. You’ll walk away from The Great Pyramid and its two stone companions with a pile of memories and an increased sense of wonder.

 

Valley of the Kings

Tutankhamen and Howard Carter. We all know the story. However, nothing beats a visit to the Valley of the Kings where the hapless young pharaoh was laid to rest. Nearby Luxor makes an ideal exploration base. And while you’re there, naturally you’ll be visiting the Karnak Temple Complex, the largest ancient religious site in the world and the second most-visited historical site in Egypt after Giza. Karnak lies about a mile-and-half north of Luxor and covers an area of some 200 acres. It simply takes the breath away.

 

Useful Resources:

Click here for more information on Karnak.

Go here to find cheap hostels in Egypt.

Click here for personal banking services in Egypt.

The Captivating Contrasts of Egypt

Photo by Flickr User Cofiem

Egypt is a country of exciting contrasts, and there is nowhere else on earth where history feels so accessible and alive. From the colossi of Abu Simbel to the bustling bazaars and tranquil mosques of Cairo, thousands of years of tradition exist harmoniously with contemporary life. Touring holidays with Titan Travel are a great way to experience this fascinating country on journeys from Aswan to Cairo along the mythical River Nile.

Nowhere does this harmonious contrast exist so obviously as Cairo, where you can trace the country’s fascinating history from ancient to modern times. Begin 4000 years ago at the Giza pyramids, the only remaining of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Echoes of a lost mythology are brought to life on a guided tour, and the sphinx tells the story of the pyramids during an atmospheric evening light show. The construction of the pyramids remains awe inspiring, and an air of mystery surrounds the topic despite centuries of theories and speculation.

The fertile Nile valley is also an open history book, exhibiting the breathtaking creations of lost dynasties alongside snapshots of modern Egyptian life. On a cruise, passengers will witness riverside villages where life goes on in the same way that it has done for thousands of years. Traditions endure, from the natural building materials used to the farming methods. Approaching Abu Simbel by boat is a humbling site, the four colossi gazing proudly from the carved rock.

Tutankhamen’s death mask can be viewed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo along with thousands of other fascinating artefacts from ancient times. It is easy to spend a while morning in the museum, and every room reveals new wonders.

After exploring the many facets of the ancient world, fast forward to medieval times with a stroll around Islamic Cairo, where antique mosques and monuments conjure a bygone era. Minarets, spires, decorative tile work and tranquil courtyards set the tone a walking tour of the area, and mosque courtyards provide a tranquil haven away from the hustle and bustle of modern Cairo.

Modern Egyptian life comes in the form of delicious food, cosy coffee shops and contemporary art exhibitions. Sit out on cafe patios during warm summer evening with locals playing chess and backgammon around you, and dine on Middle Eastern cuisine with contemporary flair. Watching life and locals pass you by from street side cafes is one of Cairo’s most enjoyable experiences.

Top Ten Things to do In Cape Town

This is a guest post by Matt Hope from BackpackingWorldwide.com

Cape Town may be a wonderful place to visit but there is so much to do, it creates a “problem” to figure out which ones to choose! Impossible to fit in all of the amazing things to do in this beautiful town, I’ve decided to put together a “Top Ten” to help the adventure-hungry traveller!

Photo by Flickr User Fugue

1. Climb Table Mountain

Climbing a mountain may sound intimidating but I wouldn’t have put it on the list if I didn’t think you could do it! For anyone with an average level of fitness, this is more than feasible and even more so, rewarding! With access to many different trails, the quickest one via Platteklip Gorge is barely a mile to the top of Table Mountain! The beauty of nature makes the journey humbling and unforgettable. ‘Climb a mountain’ on the bucket list? Head up Table Mountain and check it off with pride!

2. Head to the Winelands

The breathtaking scenery of the Cape Town wine lands is a must, even if your taste buds don’t like wine. With the abundance of estates along the world famous Cape wine route there’s no way you’ll regret your decision to view this peaceful ambiance. I suggest if you do like wine, get yourself a few samples of the world’s best, order a meal, and picnic on the beautiful greenery of the estates. If you decide a sample isn’t enough, take home a case or two of wine at reasonable prices!

3. Atlantic Ocean (Caution: VERY Cold Waters!)

Grab your bathing suits and head on over to a Cape Town beach because you won’t want to miss the best way to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Dipping in the Atlantic Ocean, aka Mother Nature’s ice-bath, is definitively for the brave. Even the locals tend to stay on the sand and sun bathe than gather up the courage to experience these icy-cold waters. If you find that you don’t have the guts, try out the native ice cream, the Grandilla Lolly and cool off on the shore!

4. The Inner City

The Inner City of Cape Town has a spectrum of cultures and classes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Watch the city wake up along St. George’s Mall, grab lunch at a popular restaurant in Cape Town’s city center, or for a more traditional approach head up to Signal Hill and pick from dozens of restaurants and coffee shops! If you find that your’e looking night life, the Inner City’s Long Street is one of the most happening nightlife scenes! Party on!

5. Tour the Peninsula

Cape Town has the cutest penguins you ever will see! This is definitely not an hour’s worth of time. The best way to experience the peninsula is to make it a whole day’s worth. Start off at Boulders Beach to view the tuxedo-dressed birds waddle around in their natural environment, check out the many villages along the way, and make sure you have enough time to explore Cape Point to end your day. The landscape and views are unbelievable, making it a perfect spot to take those vacation pictures. There are many trails and beaches to keep the adventurers busy for hours.

6. The Sea Point Promenade and Greenpoint Urban Park

The Sea Point Promenade is a well-kept pathway that runs from Bantry Bay to Mouille Point on the Atlantic Seaboard coast. You can swim in one of the many public pools and then head over to the flat promenade perfect for jogging or a peaceful walk! And if you want to know about a new and best-kept secret, walk the promenade down to Greenpoint Urban Park. It’s an open public space and is a prime spot for a nice picnic or a relaxing sunset watching to wind down your day.

7. The Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill

In a sea of exchange students, hippies, and hipsters one can find the treasures of organic and locally grown foods that make up the Neighbourgoods Market at Old Biscuit Mill. But don’t be turned off by the jam-packed event, the whole reason it’s awesome to visit is because it’s jam-packed! It’s a union of all things food and drink. In one of the most chill environments Cape Town has to offer, the food set out and the beer is unbeatable. Multiple vendors offer an array of microbrews, coffees, meals and desserts galore! The market is located at 373 Albert Road, Woodstock, and is only open on Saturdays from 9am to 2pm.

8. South African Sundowner

To get into a South African tradition, the sundowner is the only way to go. Grab some snacks and your favorite drink and head to the endless locations that are perfect for watching the sunset. Some really amazing places to do this are any of the Clifton beaches, the rocks at Llandudno, Chapman’s Peak Drive, or more secluded, Bantry Boulders. But please do remember that these locations do not allow alcohol! Trade those champagnes and wines in for some sparkling fruit juices!

9. A Night Out on the Town

Looking for a nice calming cocktail overseeing Cape Town’s shore? How about a 4am bumpin’ party? Cape Town had BOTH. There is always something happening every night of the week in Cape Town. If you’re looking to dress fancy, any one of Camps Bay bars, clubs, and restaurants are the place to be. If you’re looking for that party party, Long Street and the City Centre offers dozens of places that go on till sunrise.

10. The Townships

Cape Town’s townships are the perfect ideal for an enjoyable day. There are many admirable locations to visit, but none as famous as Mzoli’s in Gugulethu. Despite what headlines may say, there are little to no risks in connection with these trips. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, which many of you are, it is best to venture out with a reputable tour company, and make sure you are completely comfortable with the idea before making plans. An afternoon of eating native meats and foods while dancing to some deep South African beats is an experience of a lifetime.

How to get a job working in Africa.

Hello my dearest friends!

Yes, it’s been a fabulously long time since you heard from me personally, but here I am, fresh faced and ready to dispense some sage advice to anyone who has ever considered, is considering, or might ever, possibly, probably, maybe consider working in Africa in the near future.

Who am I to give advice? I spent almost nine months working in Africa as a conservation biologist. Post-Africa, I’ve founded an exponentially growing and successful charitable organization that works to advance education and healthcare across the dark continent.

And…who are you to take advice? YOU are probably a bright-eyed, college-educated young sprite of a thing. YOU are rearing to change the world. YOU need some guidance, as you probably found your way to this blog post by googling the big question: “How can I get a job working in Africa?”

Working in Africa is bloody difficult. Therefore, getting a job to work in Africa (truly work, I might add) is also bloody difficult.

Why? Well, let me dispel some myths for you right off the bat:

1) Nonprofits will NOT pay for you to traipse over to Africa just because you have a big heart and an even bigger drive. Most of the time, you will make no money or will even have to pay for the first work experience, simply because no one in their right mind will ever hire someone who hasn’t had to literally walk through shit-covered roads in a developing country.

2) You will NOT get a paying job if you do not have experience working in Africa. Yes, I understand I just repeated myself, but if you’re anything like me, you read the first piece of advice and promptly moved on after telling yourself, “yes, but I’m different.” I hate to break it to you: No, you are not different. Why? Because nonprofits in Africa need every penny they can get their hands on, and no amount of resume action words will make a cash-strapped organization take unnecessary risk. For example, I once worked for a conservation group which had hired on eight interns at once. Four hated living in Africa so much that they actually quit before their contracts came to an end. In sum, the organization wasted thousands upon thousands of dollars in training costs and flights on people who left after a few months.

3) You are now thinking to yourself: “Yes, but I don’t want to work for a nonprofit! Surely a business will hire me!”
You’re slightly correct. There are, indeed, corporations who will hire expats to work in Africa without prior international experience . However, these positions are often highly technical and require a great deal of investment and education. For example, oil companies often send engineers on rotating shifts to work on their oil compounds. Or, large companies will hire you IF you have a highly sought after skill set, such as a fluency in three languages and an expert knowledge of GIS systems. Yes, my friends, IF you fall into this category, you probably should just stop reading right now and go and apply for a job, as the only advice you will need, is how to best negotiate your benefits.

However, if you don’t fall into this group of highly trained professionals, do not despair: there is still hope.

Jobs in Africa positively abound. In fact, after just eight months of work experience, I was offered two full-time positions, one of which was for the position of Program Director. How did I get there?

1) I got experience. This is done by either paying the cost for a legitimate organization to take you in and train you and/or to offer your services for free. My first job, only a three month stint, actually only cost me my plane ticket to the country. The rest of my in-country expenses? Paid!

You might be asking yourself where you can find these opportunities. Look no further than the following websites:

www.idealist.org – A clearing house for non-profit jobs.
www.stopdodo.com – A great non-profit and environment-focused job board.
https://listserv.umd.edu/archives/ecolog-l.html – Jobs posted by research groups looking for short-term assistants.

There are dozens of other directories out there, but if you want my honest opinion: don’t look at them.

The jobs listed at the above websites are vetted (to a certain degree) and you will likely avoid scams or annoyingly overpriced short-term volunteer vacation package.

One more word of advice: use your brain! If the internship is asking for $4000 a month, it’s probably a for-profit business making money on getting you a placement. If that’s the kind of security you’d like, go for it. However, just know that you don’t have to pay so much money. There are tons of nonprofits who would happily train you at cost (no more than $1500 per month, depending on the location/city…and can even be as cheap as $500 a month) – this means, that the organization will help you organize local accommodation and food for a small fee, make no money out of your presence, and be paid in kind by your service to their cause.

2) I impressed my African-based boss. As an intern (paying or not) in Africa, your skills will be utilized. If you ever find an organization that doesn’t have anything for you to do, you were either hired as a money maker OR the nonprofit simply isn’t running very efficiently. That being said, this is the rare scenario and 9 out of 10 times, you will find that not only is there enough work for you to do…there’s TOO much work!

However, instead of whining, realize that this is exactly the kind of situation you want to be in. Use the opportunity to impress your bosses! When you’re stranded in the middle of the work day in a rural village because your taxi driver abandoned you? Keep your cool! When your entire project crumbles down on itself because the school you were supposed to be teaching in, suddenly closes for summer vacation? Innovate a new outreach program!

Yes, all of these things happened to me, and instead of hating the work I was doing (even if it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea)…I worked to be the best employee I could be.

3) I networked!

There are a ridiculous number of job positions just waiting to be filled in Africa…but you have to be THERE to find them. For example, while living in Madagascar, I visited the local university and was offered a teaching position on the spot because of my English speaking skills. This position, never advertised online, will only become available to you if you are in the right place at the right time. Obviously the “right place” is not your faux leather couch in South-West Florida.

So, to re-cap:

1) When an organization asks that you pay your costs, they are not scamming you and you should be respectful of the fact that it is very difficult to spare the money to bring on extra staff, especially if they are untrained.

2) Work hard to get your job placement. Due to the distance, you may have to spend hours upon hours searching for openings and applying. When people ask me how I got my positions? The only answer I can give them is: Time and effort.

3) If you can’t put in the effort to find the job, you probably will not be able to survive long in Africa. I repeat: working in Africa is very hard.

4) If you’ve read all of this, and you’re still super excited to work overseas…that’s fantastic! I wish you all the best, and have full faith that you will go far. If you can read the “harsh” truth of this post, you will have no problem working and living overseas!

Questions? Email me ([email protected]) – I’m always happy to help guide people looking for a way to get to Africa and start working to make a difference.

Tantalizing Tanzania

Tanzania is surely one of the most breathtaking countries in East Africa. Home to the historic state of Zanzibar, the towering Mount Kilimanjaro and so many more beautiful sites and experiences, Tanzania is not to be missed on any trip to the continent.

After a considerable amount of advice and recommendations, I decided to start my trip in Zanzibar. Where better to start than Zanzibar city itself? Situated on the west coast of Unguja (the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago), the city offers something to suit every taste and interest. For a dose of historic architecture, The Stone Town is the place to see. The House of Wonders is probably one of most well-known landmarks. It was built in 1883 as a Sultan’s residence and is simply spectacular. The Old Fort, a heavy stone fortress is also well worth a visit. Live dance and music shows are held daily in the internal courtyard. After a day of sightseeing in sweltering heat, it was time for something to eat. The Forodhani Gardens, fronting The House of Wonders is the place to go after sunset for great food. Expect everything from grilled seafood to typical Zanzibari recipes. Pilau Meat with coconut milk and rice was my particular favourite.

With a belly full of rich and exotic food, it was time to burn off the calories. What better way to do this than trekking Mount Kilimanjaro? The climb is not an easy one. High winds and altitude sickness can put many people off. But the views are simply stunning and well worth the trek. The Rongai and Marangu paths are the best camping routes for beginners. If you would rather gaze at the impressive mountain from a safe distance, the plains of Moshi town are ideal. Expect to see some giraffes casually wondering about too.

If it’s luxury you are after, staying in Tanzania completely satisfies this need. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, quietly tucked away by a beautiful lake and mahogany forest is the perfect base to enjoy the Tanzania Royal Safari. Expect seven days of seeing all kinds of game and the stunning plains of Kilimanjaro. There are plenty of luxury safari packages out there to suit every budget and taste. Unfortunately, my wee budget could not stretch this far, but not to worry. The Zanzibar Palace Hotel in the Stone Town was my base of choice. With authentic architecture, friendly staff and yummy breakfasts, you couldn’t really go wrong. The Zanzibar Serena Inn is another great location in the centre of the Stone Town. With its historical features still intact, there is a real atmosphere to the place.

To be truthful, Tanzania completely exceeded my expectations. When people think of a great safari, perhaps Kenya or South Africa spring to mind. Or if people want a bustling, cosmopolitan city, maybe Cape Town would be top of their list? The truth is, Tanzania offers both of these things and so much more. Whether you are trekking Kilimanjaro, sightseeing in Zanzibar City or just looking at some spectacular game, it’s hard to know where to start.

For more info please see My Destination Tanzania

Getting Away to the Cape Verde Islands

By Travel Writer Bradley Fink

When planning getaways, many tend to overlook the islands of Cape Verde. Butthis archipelago is one of the world’s most spectacular island chains.Magnificently scenic, exotic and diverse, Cape Verde is a great escapefrom the hordes of Paris and London.And what’s more, withbudgetbungalows,mid-rangehotels, and a growing number of resorts, there are great Cape Verde places to stay throughout these peaceful islands.

Located 570 kilometresoff the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde is an easy flight from Lisbon or the UK. Several flights arrive each week from London, Birmingham and Manchester. Most of these will take you to the Island of Santiago, which is the largest and most populated island of this little chain.If you like romantic landscapes, then you’ll love the vistas here, with sandy beaches, beautiful blue seas, and high volcanic cliffs.While the capital city of Praia has some restaurants and hotels, the interior of the island is a realm of natural wonder. National parks abound with mountain peaks and fertile valleys, where hiking is the best way to enjoy the high terrain. On the shores of Santiago, you’ll find fishing, diving, wind-surfing, sailing, and a number of other sports.

The other islands offer differentthings to see and do. For instance, Santa Antao is known for hiking, while Sal is known for its water sports and holiday resorts.  On any island you can find some top-notch ocean fishing, either from the shore, or by hiring a local fishing boat. But if you really want to escape, then make your way toSao Vicente, which is often thought to be the most enchanting of these islands.In Mindelo, which is home to most of Sao Vicente’s population, you’ll find a rich tradition of music, culture,restaurants and nightlife. The city has a vibrant buzz of pubs and entertainment, as well as several festivals that many come to see. In August there is a beach music festival during the full moon, and in February the city comes alivefor the annualcarnival.

Toeat in Mindelo, make your way to the food stalls of the QuiosquePraca Nova, where for 2 euros you can have a traditional local snack. Cachupa, a slow cooked stew, is famous in Cape Verde, and many people consider it to be the country’s national fare. This is made with corn, beans, and fish ormeat, which may be chicken, goat,or beef. Another delicious treat is the Portuguese dish calledFeijoada, which is also a stew of beans and meat, which is usually pork or beef.

Travelling in Cape Verde is a fairly simple task. There are ferries with connections to all nine of the inhabited islands.You may expect delays, however, as seas can become rough, but it’s a fast and easyway ofhopping in between the isles. There are also international airports on Sal, Boa Vista, and Sao Vincente, which are cheap and easy ways to make the trip from shore to shore.

For more info, please take a look at Cape Verde My Destination

Enjoying Johannesburg

Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city is undoubtedly one the country’s many gems. While the city’s crime-riddled past may be of concern to some tourists (including myself), my experience of the city was anything but dangerous. So, here are just some of the things you can safely enjoy in Johannesburg….

Johannesburg places to stay are stylish and sophisticated. The Peech Hotel in Melrose is one of the city’s renowned, boutique hotels and offers contemporary, African cuisine in their modern restaurant as well as spacious and luxurious rooms. However, if like me you want to be right in the hub of the city, look no further than the Reef Hotel. While it may not measure up to the overstated Peech Hotel, it’s comfy, clean and convenient. What more could I want?

If it’s a good shop that you’re after, why not stay away from the typical shopping malls and head to one of the many markets? Bruma Lake Flea Market is one of the biggest markets in South Africa and you’ll find almost anything here. Textiles, clothes, jewellery, wood, furniture, there is something for everyone. It’s acceptable to try your hand at a bit of haggling too. Let’s just say my bargaining powers need a wee bit of practice… The East Rand Flea Market is another must for market lovers. Situated in Boksburg just outside of the city, the market is particularly famous for its abundance of artwork, particularly street wire art.

So, I couldn’t really go to South Africa without going on safari could I? To escape the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg for a couple of days fly out to Kruger National Park. As one of the top national parks in the world, it would be criminal not to pay a visit. With a safari to suit every taste and budget, Kruger has something for everyone. I set off on the ‘Great Trek North’ and witnessed all of the big game as well as rare, local species. There was also a tense moment with a hungry lion, but let’s not get in to that…

Upon my return from the wild I decided to dip into a little history and culture. Soweto, one of Johannesburg’s largest districts provides the best insight into the country’s past. If you can bare a museum, the Hector Pietersen Museum in Orlando West is well worth a visit. The museum gives a fascinating insight into the apartheid regime and is located two blocks away from where Hector Pietersen (a casualty of the 1976 Soweto uprising) was killed. Soweto is also home to a more recent addition to the country’s history- Soccer City, home of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Why not go and see some local football or just marvel at the impressive stadium?

Shopping, luxury hotels, lions and football. Johannesburg and the surrounding area really left me spoilt for choice. I’m just happy I got out of Kruger alive!

For more great info and insight into Jo’burg please take a look at Johannesburg My Destination

South Africa Begins with Cape Town

By Travel Writer Bradley Fink

Of all the countries I have travelled, South Africa is definitely one of the best backpacking destinations. The country is full of hostels, lodges, and cheap accommodations, from the Jungle Monkey at Port St. Johns, to the Coffee Shack in the beautiful and secluded Coffee Bay. The best way to see South Africa is along the Garden Route, which runs up the coast via the N2 Highway. On the way you’ll pass capes, villages, and flourishing scenery, including the continent’s most spectacular beaches. To make the journey, there is no better place to start than Cape Town.

Cape Town is a city with a bit of everything. It has beaches, mountains, gardens, nightlife, culture and history. The landscape is incredible when you see it from above, which can be viewed from the dramatic plateau of famous Table Mountain. To get to the summit, you can either make the steep, two-hour hike, or take the cable car for 170 Rand (approximately $25 USD). If you do go up, bring water, sunscreen, a hat and a jacket with you, as the weather at the top can be unpredictable.

For shopping and entertainment, make your way down Table Mountain, to the V&A Waterfront which sits on Cape Town’s harbour. This is a popular spot with visitors as well as residents. The Waterfront features an aquarium, a marine museum, various harbour tours, and helicopter rides to the Cape Peninsula. From the harbour you can also tour notorious Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner for nearly 30 years. If you manage to work up an appetite, the Waterfront also boasts some excellent Cape Town restaurants.

To see some local flora and fauna, stop in at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. These are mentioned among the best botanical gardens in the world. The grounds feature plants from every region of South Africa, including rare species, medicinal plants, and a giant baobab tree. The gardens cover 36 hectares on a 528 hectare estate, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife. If you want to spend the day, you can bring a picnic lunch, or have a meal at one of the property’s several restaurants.

Cape Town is also popular for its outdoor water sports, such as surfing, diving, and deep sea fishing. If you plan to scuba dive, you may need to get a permit, as the waters around the Cape Peninsula are a Marine Protected Area. These waters, however, are known for sharks, which you may not want to swim with. Instead you can try the diving at Two Oceans Aquarium, which lets you test your scuba skills in a 2.2 million litre tank. The tank is filled with many types of ocean wildlife, including fish, sting rays, ragged tooth sharks, and a lonesome loggerhead turtle. 30 minutes in this massive tank runs as much as 400 Rand (approximately $60 USD), or 325 Rand for those who bring their own scuba gear.

How could I forget?

Yesterday, I realized how close I came to transforming back into a my past self. A self whose life revolved around my credit score and the cleanliness of my office desk. What I was like thirteen months ago.

Thirteen months ago, I embarked on a journey which took me through seven countries, three of which I called home. During this time, I witnessed poverty, death, post-colonialism, and racism. But I also experienced love, joy, friendship, and laughter, and I shared this with locals and expats, the rich and the poor, the black and the white.

It is a vast understatement and an injustice to these cultures to claim that I was “changed forever”; the truth is, I was ripped from my comfortable, western ideals and thrust into a conflicted understanding of life that I have yet to fully understand. I don’t really think I have the writing skills to explain the full range of emotions I worked through, but I suppose you understand.

I did attempt to convey these feelings to my readers, but the fact remains: how could I explain the vastness of emotion to an outsider, when the deepest of thoughts were barely understood by the active participants…namely, me.

In any case, I returned to America more wise and knowlegeable than ever before, intent on changing the world. I know, the thick layer of cliche smeared on that previous statement makes me want to cringe; I’m sure it wasn’t easier to swallow by my state-side friends and family. In their eyes, I left as a normal college graduate and returned with nothing but two bags of dirty, hole-ridden clothing and, thanks to my housing in Madagascar, a weird phobia of rats.

As the months passed, I worked tirelessly on my two African-themed novels (still a work in progress, by the way); reliving snapshots of my past over and over again. Reminding myself of why I was driven to write these books in the first place…to show what I had not been able to tell. To write, free of censorship, and imbue people with a sense of wonder for the world and a feeling of global civic duty.

Writing late into the night, I would think in French, breathe African air, and yearn to be back in Malabo, side-stepping potholes to visit with friends and lunching on plantains and chicken. But dreams don’t pay the bills, and so I accepted a fantastic job offer. A massive career boost, the wave of which carried me away from Africa and back into America. Not that America is bad. I love it here.

But I forgot. I forgot what it was like in Africa. I forgot all the lessons I had learned.

And then, I watched the movie “Biutiful”. I had no idea I was signing up for a 148 minute heart wrenching, soul beating, journey where I would see harsh reminders of the friends I left behind. The movie, which touches on everything from gay relationships to illegal African workers in Mexico, prostitution, cancer, child abuse, and alcoholism, is an expertly crafted piece of film history that is nothing short of miraculous.

A club scene filled with prostitutes and rich expats echoed of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. A police chase and subsequent story-line involving illegal Senegalese workers reminded me of the Africans hawking goods just a few minutes from my home in Paris, France. The dialogue between the main, cancer-ridden character and an inept nurse holding a possibly contaminated needle tugged at my heart and I remembered the deplorable health care in Equatorial Guinea, and my five week illness in Madagascar.

Driving home, I was strangely quiet. I couldn’t stop thinking about why I’d traveled in the first place, and moreover, why I’d ever stopped. Obviously travel takes money, money takes work, and well-paid work appeared in America; but, why did I stop remembering Africa, why did I stop reading travel blogs, or stop seeking out like-minded friends?

The answer? I think I felt a little stupid talking about something that so few people could relate to. And so I just stopped! I re-focused my energies on thoughts that other people could understand, and lost track of a part of myself which was only just developing.

So, here I am. I’m back…I’m really back. I started writing this travel blog two years ago, so that I could connect with like-minded individuals intent of traveling the world. On helping the world. On opening lines of communication between cultures to facilitate understanding and cross-cultural interest. And now…I’ve made a full 360, and I’m back for more.

I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I just needed a reminder of what I was missing, and why I left in the first place.

Gay in Africa: Where is the closet and who is in it?

Last night I listened to an awesome techno version of one of my all-time favorite songs; the Amelie soundtrack…and I watched a very attractive transvestite dance along to it as well. Leaning against the bar, I was so happy to see a small, but enthusiastic crowd cheering and dancing along in this organized gay pride event. These girls were hot; I’m ashamed to say that they had better fashion sense than me!

As a side note, I will take this moment to throw out there that I was very proud of my outfit last night: this super cute jumpsuit thing, AMAZING heels that are really my work shoes…but needed to be showed off, and a pair of bright blue earrings. Before you judge me for wearing a jumpsuit, you should know that I was complimented on it by one of the more fashionable event participants. Awesome? I think so.

Anyway, somewhere after a quick salsa number and before a tear-jerker Celine Dion rendition, I fished an ant out of my caipirinha (only the second one in my whole life!), and thought about how long it’s been since I’ve seen anything resembling a gay, lesbian, or transgendered person.

In Equatorial Guinea, I was surprised to find out that being gay is not even a choice that people can make. In their culture (or at least I how I perceived their culture to be), it is literally unfathomable that someone would be gay; you’re either straight…or a monk. Questioning my EG peeps, not one person could name a gay friend. Nor could they remember the last time they had even heard of anything gay or lesbian related. One of my friends even remarked that he couldn’t tell me how many gay people there were in EG, because he didn’t know “what a gay person looked like”.

This attitude sort of pervades so many aspects of EG culture:

1)      You will sometimes see men holding hands; when you are in conversation with someone, holding their hand is a way to keep their attention (or so it was explained to me). Of course this isn’t considered gay; I don’t think it would even cross their minds that this contact is considered “gay” in the United States.

2)      Lesbianism is not considered attractive to many Equatoguinean men (or so they told me!). I believe this is very different from the United States; in EG it is almost viewed as being unnatural and simply unnecessary.

3)      Having children is very important to a lot of people in EG. Every person I met could not understand why I, personally, do not necessarily want to have kids. Upon hearing that I wouldn’t mind remaining childless, one of my friends got quite excited and said, “but what does your father think about that?”. I came to realize that there were many different cultural, societal, and social factors influencing people towards having children. If a culture views childbearing and rearing as an important goal of adulthood, I think it follows that it the culture might also be less open to gay and lesbian relationships.

4)      Being affectionate in public is taboo to begin with; gay or straight, you don’t see people touching or kissing in EG. Even if a person were gay, you would really have no way of knowing they are; I’m sure this doesn’t help unite the underground gay and lesbian community…if there is such a thing.

Here in Madagascar being homosexual is actually a lifestyle option (at least in Diego, which is the fifth largest city on the island), albeit not a popular one. That being said, my roommates, who have been here for several months, were flabbergasted when I told them about last night’s alternative talent show. In a city where gay pride stickers are unthinkable, it just seems so out of place to have an organized get-together.

I have to say, it was good for the soul to be a spectator to last night’s event. Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened by the lack of open-mindedness or freedom both at home and abroad; seeing people proudly and openly celebrating who they are reminds me that progress is being made in communities worldwide.

And if nothing else, I at least felt like I was super stylin’ last night :-)