Tell me what you know about Baltimore!

The title says it about all…what do YOU know about Baltimore? I’m probably moving there in August, and want your thoughts! In the spirit of full disclosure: I will be commuting several times per week to attend a graduate school program in Philadelphia (YAY!), however, my significant other will likely be working Washington, DC.

What do you think? Where should I live? Prices? Restaurants that are mouth-wateringly delicious and must not be missed?

:-)

What is life without blogging? Nothing! :-)

Hey Guys!

I know, I know! I’ve forsaken you…I’ve returned to the life of American, desk-bound boringness, and haven’t blogged…at all!

I guess it’s a mixture of several things, but first and foremost: I work about 60 hours a week. NO ONE in their right mind can blog after that big of a shitstorm. Seriously. Just logging on to wordpress and seeing the number of spam comments that need to be sorted, and the emails from readers in my email…I can’t do it! But behold the wonder: here I am, albeit with less to write about. Thankfully, you can’t see me in person, otherwise you’d be blinded by the office white I’ve faded into. Oh, how I crave to be in sunlight again!

In any case, I’ve spent the past two months reflecting (when I can), on what it’s like to not be blogging. Perhaps it was never completely clear, but while I was overseas, my blog was the primary mechanism by which I communicated regularly with my friends and family back home. It was my link to civilization and I used to obsess (much more than a normal person should) about what I had, and had not, posted for the world to see.

Nowadays, this is clearly not the case. Facebook does the job just fine enough.

But I do miss blogging. I miss seeing what random (and sometimes highly inappropriate) stuff strangers will write on my posts. When I lost my diary? Condolences. When I bitched about some random topic? Jokes. When I doubted myself? Support.

So here I am. What’s changed since I’ve been back in the US? Everything, and nothing (cliche…I know).

I’m working in a legislative job that overlaps so much into other jobs I could probably call myself a press secretary, personal assistant, and social media expert. To be honest, the only reason I qualify for the job is because of this blog: because I spent 14 months teaching myself everything about how to build a website, build a following, etc. etc.

The perks? I get pretty awesome vacation bonuses and will even be moving to South Florida in just a few weeks. An hour outside of Miami? I think yes!

Aside from this, I’m looking forward to other educational opportunities. I’m wavering on what to do, but if I were to it would involve SO MUCH travel…and it would be free. I don’t want to divulge too much information…but it’s going to be awesome, and I’m going to blog all about it!

In any case, before I sign off…I wanted to point you to a really young blog that nevertheless resonates pretty clearly with me. It’s a long-time friend of mine, but to be honest, I didn’t think that she could write until I read this. It’s obviously not a travel-inspired blog but for anyone who is working on a career, it’s pretty relateable. What do you think? :-)

Hope everyone is doing well!!!

-Me

P.S. The book is still coming along :-) Chapter preview coming soon!

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.

The Backpacking Chica is BACK!

Holy Hell!

It’s been way too long since I wrote a post on here…but never fear, you haven’t been far from my mind! In my “absence” I was working behind the scenes trying to get more exposure for this site, which got me more readers…and more spammers. I do apologize if random posts of mine have weird comments attached to them; I do not endorse or condone any viagra websites or russian dating agencies at this time :-)

The last time you heard from me, I was chilling in North Florida working simultaneously on two books about my time in Africa. Nowadays…about a month later, I’m still in North Florida, but wonder upon wonders, yours truly got a J.O.B.

Yes! A job.

In fact, please imagine me putting on shades, raising my right hand, and wagging my index finger as I say, “I told you so!”

Why?

The sole reason I got hired, beating out dozens of other applicants who were definitely more qualified than myself, was because I went to Africa. Because I could confidently say: “I’ve run a blog, I know how Twitter works, and I promise I will get attention to your cause.”

It sounds stupid, but it worked! When I left on my trip fourteen months ago, there were more than enough people who swore I was doing the wrong thing: the money spent, and the time wasted could be better invested in my future.

Fourteen months later, the ONLY reason I beat out nine lawyers for my position was because, “if (you) can go backpacking around Africa by yourself, you can definitely work here!” In fact, my boss loves my whole little “crazy” story so much, he calls me the “Backpacking Chica,” whenever he’s particularly happy with my work.

In any case, my transition back to civilization is more or less complete: I’ve been able to vault my trip (and the accompanying work and blogging experiences) into an awesome job, an awesome boss, a great salary, and a new career path. Even BETTER is the fact that I get to accumulate 400 overtime hours to be used as paid vacation time…per year. How much does that ROCK? What this means to you, blogosphere and universe, will get more travel stories and no pesky advertisements on my site!

In addition, I’m finished with the first draft of my first book! I spend about six hours each weekend working on it, so while progress has slowed, my resolve definitely hasn’t! I am actually hoping to gather up the courage to post a few pages on here in a few weeks…just to see what you guys think!

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your great comments and uplifting support on my twitter and facebook. There are now more than 900 of you guys tracking my blog’s movements, and, without you the transition back to American life would have been much harder. While I have become more jaded, and I’m sad that the Paris portion of my trip wasn’t the disney wonderland I’d dreamed it would be, I am happy that I grew as a person, and could honestly not ask for anything more in life right now.

Cheers (and thank eff for American beer selections),

Backpacking Chica

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?

I am not ashamed.

I saw these shoes when I was shopping for Madagascar and fell in love. Maybe it’s the pattern.

I know, only a German could love them. Functional, semi-ugly, and they probably look better when paired with knee-high socks and lederhosen. Yet, I am wearing them in the Frankfurt Airport right now. Not much more needs to be said:

 

 

I fully embrace being German!

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.

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