Madagascar. The first thoughts.

Interesting things that have happened to me since I have been in Madagascar:

1)      I have heard two rats fight in our common room. Just imagine what you think two rats fighting should sound like…and that’s pretty much it.

2)      I watched my roommate get punched by a crazy lady. There is literally an old lady who only punches white people. At night she tries to sell herself. Very strange. Haven’t figured out her strategy yet.

3)      As usual, I have a higher than average number of bug bites on my butt. This has to do with having to hover while going to the bathroom. Guys have it so easy. Reason number 2,589,010.5 why it is awesome to be a guy. But we still get free drinks at bars…so I guess that counts for a lot.

4)      I am learning to triple kiss as a greeting (three cheek touches/kisses/whatever).

A few interesting things I’ve noticed at airports:

1)      A life size Nelson Mandela made completely out of legos. He was smiling (Johannesburg Airport, South Africa).

2)      An advertising slogan, “Love making…it all started in a latte” (Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France).

3)      Why do people not eat airplane food? I think it tastes delicious. And heck, I’ve paid for it!

A few shout-outs:

1)      Thank you to the nice girl at the Paris Airport who didn’t charge me for the coke when I didn’t have enough change.

2)      Thanks to the man who sat next to me on the flight to Johannesburg. You were a fantastic seat mate, even though I accidently elbowed you. Twice.

3)      To the young lady I met on the way to Frankfurt Airport – it was nice of you to show interest in my work. I think what you do is awesome.

4)      South African Airlines: I like the fact that I could sit and listen to a personalized play list on the plane. That was cool.

5)      Thank you to my credit card company for NOT freaking out and freezing my accounts when I took out money in Madagascar. I may be jinxing myself here, but I do believe that you have finally listened to me…and it only took five phone calls!

In other news, I think my dad is awesome: he has been my personal secretary during this trip and I am publicly thanking him for that and just for being cool, in general. For the record, dad, I reserve the right to revoke these statements at any time.

To my sisters. You are just awesome…and I hope you know it.

To my friends. You guys are the bomb. I love the facebook messages, even when the internet is too slow to read them. Knowing that I have friends who write to me, even when I’ve been gone for so long, is enough to keep me going.

To the people reading this who do not fit into the above-mentioned categories: You rule! Please keep reading. I do appreciate it. And to those of you who are inspired to write me emails…I will get back to you, I promise!

As final words for this post: I found out my dog back home is being put down. As a friend pointed out, he was so awesome that he will probably be taken up to Mount Olympus to be king of the dogs. That would be pretty sweet. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to his furry face. He kept me sane during my year of organic chemistry!

Oh well, that’s life. That’s all folks!

Love,

-Guess who?

It’s only….

104 days until I touch down in the United States.

When I touch down, I will have been out of the country for 246 days.

Strange :-)

I have so many exciting projects up my sleeve though…I can’t wait to share them with you all! :-)

For now…all I can say is that I hope you all are keeping your fingers crossed for me :-) If you know me well, you know that secret keeping is not a skill of mine. So this is giving me more gray hairs than I already have. Curse my bad genes!

Cheers! In fact, I’ll make that a double cheers! Hopefully you’re drinking something better than me…I’m doomed to a three month existance of THB. First it was San Miguel in EG…now it’s THB here. If African countries are going to dominated by one beverage, can’t it be a first-class German beer from the barrel? No?

:-)

Here!

First, if you didn’t read the cool news yet, click here.

Just droppin’ a quick line to say that I am here in Madagascar! I don’t even know where to start…I have experienced so much in the past few days and have no idea how to even begin to convey it to you all. I guess, as usual, I will use bulletin points (don’t hate me for taking the easy route out!):

1) Was semi-stranded in Tana, but I ended up hiring an over-priced private car and driver to drive me 17 hours to my internship site, in the city of Diego. I got an AMAZING overview of the country…or at least half of it :-) I never knew that Madagascar was SO BIG!

2) The stars are amazing here. My weakness. I’m supposed to be able to see different constellations now that I’m in the Southern hemisphere. Too bad I don’t know anything about that. I’ll just keep pretending I know what I’m looking at! It’s all looks breathtaking anyway.

3) This whole country is very Indoneian-esque. Had I adequately researched this, I would have known that. I also would have known more about the cultural taboos. Like praying before you eat. My taxi driver was very surprised when I did not do that. Lesson: Always know the local culture before you get there!

4) There are a ton of fady’s in Malagasy culture. A fady is a local taboo/tradition, and must be adhered to. For example, it is fady to point at an island here (visible from the harbor) and it is fady for foreigners to set foot on it.

5) On the drive to Diego I kept seeing kids dumping buckets of dirt on the road in front of our car as we crept along (the roads at some points where awful). Eventually I realized that they were trying to fill the potholes in front of the car in exchange for tips. My driver confirmed this.

6) At 3:30am during our drive (we drove overnight) I started seeing people in the villages walking on the side of the roads…they had to get up that early to get to town and city markets to sell their goods.

7) There is A LOT of rice eaten here.

8) There is no coke light here! I think my soda habit needs to return to pre-trip levels :-)

9) I am now obsessed with the “500 Days of Summer” soundtrack. If you have not watched this movie…do it! It’s good for the soul! For reals.

10) I like my work and where I’m living. Way more amenities than I had in EG, but still with that “African flavor” :-) I plan on rock climbing, wind surfing, hiking, swimming, and doing everything I possibly can while I’m here.

I really should update my website “itinerary”, since that is now completely wrong…but as an FYI, I will be in Kenya/Tanzania in August with my beautiful sister (YAY!) and then heading back to the US of A after that for a couple of months!

I plan on doing a pan-America tour to visit friends and to spread awareness of my new charity project! SO if you are a reader or a friend and you want me to visit you…or you want to host me…or you just want to say “hi”…shoot me an email! You know what to do!

On the tentative itinerary are (in no particular order): NYC, Philly, Florida, New Orleans, L to the A (Los Angeles), Virginia, Portland, and Arizona. I want to add more to the list! Not sure if I’m going to fly or drive. I’m leaning towards driving. I’ve had enough of planes for awhile. Plus then I can travel in a more flexible manner. Hm…

With love from the land of lemurs,

-You know who.

The shoes.

I went shopping in Africa for a cocktail dress and shoes. Ten stores later I found them. The dress came easy, the shoes came hard. Apparently African women have tiny feet because a women’s size ten was nowhere to be found. One shopkeeper literally laughed at me – that’s OK though :-)

The shoes I eventually bought actually still had a “Ross” sticker on them, which is a cheap outlet store in Florida. I guess that the shopkeeper got them very cheap (for $19.95, in fact!) and I paid…way more than that. Such is life.

So, as promised in previous blog-post, I’m posting pics of the buys. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve uploaded them here.

Thanks to a water shortage in the city, my hotel room became the showering place for a family that I became very close with. One such night, the kiddies passed the time playing dress up with my new clothes.

The shoes…and some hot models! :-)

Calvin Klein Dress: $100.

Shoes: Way too much money (my little secret…smart women never report real prices!).

Dressing up for the first time in four months in clothes that do not smell perpetually like a camping bonfire and that haven’t been washed on rocks and in hotel sinks: Priceless.

The dress. :-)

Music: Soundtrack to my life?

A wildebeest in the Loskop Dam Reserve, South Africa

It is high time for a short list of songs that I´m listening to  and which describe, to some extent, the person that I am becoming because of my travels…or are just fun songs I like to dance to around my hotel room. I really like the videos for “We Are the World”, “Waving Flag”, and I think the “Africa” music video is just hilarious. What´s with the hair, dudes? Also, the song “Rotterdam” by The Beautiful South is my new go-to, feel-good song.

And without further ado:

1) Africa by Toto

2) Come Away With Me by Norah Jones

3) Hold My Hand by Michael Jackson and Akon

4) Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy

5) Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson

6) We Are the World by everyone who is awesome…love this.

7) Waving Flag by K´naan (This song really gets to me…don´t know why!)

8 ) Rotterdam by The Beautiful South (really good “feel-good” song. You know what I´m talking about.)

I love my camera.

Reality: Life as a Woman.

The last few days have been akin to a roller coaster ride. I recently had my first negative experience being a solo, female traveler…which has taken some getting used to and more than a few beers. Thanks to the wonderful friends I have here, I’ve been able to talk about the incident and feel much better; you know who you are, and I am thankful! For more information on this event, as well as my thoughts on personal safety during my travels, check out an article I wrote for the Naples Daily News. Rest assured I’m going forward with my trip plans….I just love Africa too much to leave!

Aside from that event, I’ve been working on a very exciting project, which will hopefully be ready to “reveal” next week! Stand by for more information :-)

 Finally, I would like to say that I continue to have amazing experiences everyday. Had a tarantula in my room two nights ago. A tarantula! Thankfully some friends helped me take care of it; unfortunately my conservation instinct flies out of the window when something with eight hairy legs is hiding in my bathroom. I also got to visit the city’s orphanage today – once again, I am made aware of how lucky I am! Truly.

Pictures coming soon…in four days I’ll be in Germany and will be catching up on work there :-)

Loving life, growing as a person, and eating way too much food…in Africa.

With Love,

-Yours Truly

Home Sweet Home. I mean…Tent Sweet Tent.

I been asked over and over again what it was like for me to live in the forest, and it occured to me how unbelievable it might be to some people that, along with three other people, I lived without electricity (well, we had a generator that we were able to use about once a week), running water, or regular contact with the outside world. We lived in tents, cooked over a fire, bathed and washed dishes and clothes in nearby freshwater sources, and used ‘latrines’ (AKA holes in the ground).

Despite all of these inconveniences, life in the forest was freaking amazing. We were surrounded by wildlife everyday; one of our camps had a semi-resident group of Pogonias monkeys that, on one morning, decided they would jump around in the trees over our camp.

During our time in the forest, we basically had two on-trail camps that we stayed in, one after the other.

The first was christened ‘Etepo Beta’, and sat on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. The camp was pretty awesome, but definitely had some unique topographical issues. For instance, our freshwater source was at the bottom of a soul-crushing ravine that involved a fair amount of controlled butt sliding to get down. It was literally sheer at some points, and I swear I had to use all available handholds to get back up again. Bathing here gave a new meaning to the word clean; by the time we got back to camp we were usually sweating again, so when we said that we were ‘clean‘, what we usually meant was that we had bathed at one point during the day.

Etepo beta bathing area. What you don’t see are the thousands of little crayfish that liked to nip at our feet and seemed to have exponential population growth during the time we were there.

Living in a tent was also not bad at all – I actually slept really, really well. Yes, when it rained incessantly (which it did…a lot), the tarp under my tent usually held some water, which made sleeping on it something akin to a waterbed. But, all in all, it was like a little haven of privacy for all of us.

My tent is the one all the way to the left!

Our kitchen/living room/hang out area. Our bubi porters built us the awesome shelf thing under the tarp.

Hanging out in our ‘kitchen’ on a early evening.

My boss found this plastic chair on the beach, and hiked it back up to our camp…the first of several good beach finds.

At any given point in time, at least 50% of my belongings were soaked or wet. Usually 95% of my belongings were at least damp. Drying out shoes was a losing battle…but I still gave it a go whenever I could, because there is nothing worse in the morning than a wet pair of boots!

After days and days of rain, I would just wake up hoping that enough sunshine would make it through the trees to dry my clothes. Fortunately, at the next camp we could use hot beach rocks to dry our clothes much faster.

Our second camp was like paradise. Really, it was. It was right on the beach and directly next to a nice river – one that did not involve a somewhat dangerous climb. Named ‘seven caves camp’, for the seven caves that were found along the coastline at that point, it was my favorite place during my time out there.

Boss and Seth doing laundry in the river right by our camp.

The kitchen/living area at our second camp was way bigger; Seth is sitting on a plastic chair (different from the first one…this was like a patio chair) that we rescued from the beach trash and sat on in camp.

When we did take days off from doing census we often worked on data entry or doing camp chores. This is me trying to sit away from the generator fumes :-)

Washing dishes was so much easier now that the water was close by.

The last night on the beaches, we had to hike to a different location that was easier pick up point for our boat ride out. We took about two hours to set up camp on a tidal beach that was basically surrounded on all sides by cliffs, ocean, and a river. This involved cutting a camping area in a narrow, densely vegetated piece of land.

Me with a machete…

Me actually using the machete.

For what it’s worth – I would go back in second.

All in a day’s work; yep, this is definitely not sexy.

Want to know what it’s like to start off a work day with a 1.5 hour hike on a rainforest trail involving several ravines and a small mountain?

Until I visited Bioko, I always thought that the cliche “dripping with sweat” statements were simply literary exaggerations. Well, I’m here to let you know that it is most definitely possible to sweat that much. Just moving around camp was enough to get a nice glisten (as my sisters would say). At the risk of forever eliminating myself from being on a reality TV dating show, I’m posting some pictures just to illustrate my point.

I rest my case.

Trail hiking…but without the trail.

During my time working for the BBPP, the objective of our work was basically to census a long coastal trail that stretched through long areas of unexplored Bioko Island habitat. Although we were technically on a trail, I would have to say that the use of the word “trail” became more and more loosely used as we worked our way deeper and deeper into the forest. I would often walk off the trail, at which point, I would have to backtrack to the last marker and try to find my way again.

The trail alternated between running along the beach, veering inland into the forest, going down into ravines, along riverbeds, and around fallen trees. It was marked every twenty meters (sixty feet) with pink flagging tape; it was often easy to see the next marker, but I would sometimes find myself spinning in circles trying to figure out where to go next.

If everything else failed, I usually stopped to look for machete marks. A machete cut is unmistakable, and was my last resort to try and re-find the trail I had lost.

When the trail went along the beach, or along a small bay, we had to hope that we weren’t catching the beach during high tide. Often, our “trail” (AKA the beach) was underwater, so we had to dodge the incoming surf as best we could. Even so, the beaches offered amazing views and were fantastic lunch spots. We would just strip our clothes wet off, hang them to dry on the beach boulders, and just soak up the sun.

Sometimes we would get fantastic glimpses of the coast; enough to literally stop us in our tracks and breathe in the sweet, fresh, ocean air. Other afternoons found us clambering up rock faces and narrowly escaping twisted ankles and bruised knees.

Sunrise on the beach.

Where’s Polly?


Posing in front of a dried waterfall drop-off, below which was a small pool of clear, clean freshwater.


All smiles during an afternoon swim.


Looking for monkeys.


Polly almost hidden by the trees, on an inland part of our trail.


Yep, we hiked up the equivalent of this multiple times every day.

Breathtaking view.


Seth trying to keep dry during a river crossing.


Trying to battle both high tide and the aftermath of a torrential downpour.

A quick check in :-)

Hello readers far and wide!

Just doin’ one of my usual check-ins…writing from Africa, and life is good here! I’m writing post-lunch and am too lazy to do anything other than bullet format, so here it goes:

1) The food here is amazing. Seriously. Considering that food is my vice, I am having such a hard time sticking to any kind of reasonable intake. I’m talking fish, chicken, rice, delicious desserts…I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again! Moral or this bullet point? All you picky American eaters would be perfectly fine here :-) Yes, I’m talking about you Ms. Ashley!

2) I took out my fake hair after only one week. It is wayyy too hot here for that….not to mention it was SO itchy. So I’m back to my Victoria Beckham inspired “do”. I have been told it makes me look German…I wonder why? :-)

3) My friends here have been amazing. I am really seeing this area through the eyes of the local, and not just as tourist. Or at least it feels like it.

4) Watched the el clasico football game here. It was crazy. Me, perhaps two othe women, and at least a couple hundred guys…all stuffed into an auditorium watching the game on a projector. Soccer truly is an international sport! A few comments on the experience in general: Ronaldo is very attractive, but Messi is the true star of the game. Obviously he has an incredible talent. To the barcelona player that is rockin’ the 1980’s hairdo…you go on with your bad self! To the madrid defensive player that had a white headband – you not only play dirty but you also look just a little bit evil.

5) I finally hung up a mosquito net in my room…and it fell down. So I’m back to having a million mosquito bites.

6) My Spanish is getting better…mission accomplished! I’m actually also getting to know people in the community. Yesterday I walked onto the university campus and saw six people I knew within thirty minutes, which was a nice feeling.

7) I have some very exciting news…but as usual, it is better left unsaid until things are really set in stone.

I think that’s all for now. Basically I’m having a wonderful time, I’m super excited that I came here, and I’m gathering my energy together for the next big developments!

:-)