In Praise of Men

I often have to wait a while for the afternoon bus, so when I saw it approaching after only a few minutes I jumped on, but only to turn around to see that someone had just sat in the last available seat. I grabbed the back of a seat and tried to brace myself against the herky-jerky motion of the bus all the way home, but today (as always) was really my lucky day. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see two gentlemen offering me their seat. I graciously accepted one and as I sat down I saw an even older woman climb aboard the bus. Now, in Medellin, all the buses have really small turnstiles that everyone must go through and I wasn’t sure this woman was going to fit. She managed to squeeze herself through and another gentlemen stood up and offered her his seat. As she sat down, her change purse opened and coins scattered on the floor. Since the coins looked close, I bent down and gathered them up and returned them to her. Then I noticed some coins on the other side of the bus and tapped the woman on the shoulder and pointed to the coins. From behind me, a gentlemen saw the coins, came forward, knelt down, gathered the remaining coins and returned them to the owner. It was a real team effort and I couldn’t help noticing how courteous the men were. At this point, all the passengers were watching this unfold and there was a chuckle from most people because the whole scene looked kind of funny.

No sooner did I settle in my seat once again, that I saw that the bus diverted from its intended route. I thought that perhaps he was avoiding an accident or the traffic was re-routed for some reason, but when the bus didn’t get back on track after a few blocks I started to worry. I looked at my GPS and, sure enough, I was headed in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go. OK, don’t panic, I said to myself. I didn’t know if I should get off the bus and get on the return bus going the other way. I thought I remembered hearing something about the buses go circular in one direction only. So I stayed on for a while, thinking of what my choices were. I pulled out the phone to call Bill and his phone was off. Still not panicking!

I turned on my translator only to find I had no service. Now, I’m starting to panic. I am a beginner Spanish speaker. I just started speaking in a classroom situation. I make my way to the bus driver to try and tell him where I wanted to get off and when I opened my mouth, I forgot every word of Spanish I learned. I choked! When I finally mumbled something about San Diego, the bus driver realized I didn’t speak English and his eyes bulged out like he was thinking, “Hey lady, I’m only the bus driver. I don’t speak English!” He looked over to the passenger seated next to him and asked her if she knew what I was talking about.

Well, she tried really hard to get her point across in English, but after the first two or three words, everything was in Spanish. I just nodded my head and hoped I would be able to recognize the stop I got on so I could get off and get on the right bus. The lady continued to talk to me and it was clear to all on the bus that we were having trouble communicating.

Again, another gentlemen came to the rescue. He stepped to the front of the bus and asked, in almost perfect English, how he could help me. I told him where I wanted to go and he said he would show me. I thanked him and settled in for a long ride back to town. When things started to look familiar, sure enough, the gentlemen indicated to me that it was time to get off. I saw what I thought was a familiar landmark and started to walk towards it. The gentlemen stopped me and said that this was only a transfer point and we needed to catch another bus. He not only escorted me across a very busy street, he paid my fare on the next bus!

I grabbed the last two seats on the bus and that’s when I had an opportunity to meet Diego, who grew up in Medellin. We had about a 15 minute ride to my stop and Diego and I chatted the whole way. Diego pointed out my stop, told me what direction to go, and I was off. I made it home only an hour later than usual, but what an experience.

I wanted to share this story with everyone because it’s always when you least expect it that you experience random simple acts of kindness. I’m truly grateful to the men who helped me today — from Chucho, who made sure I had the money for the bus, to the gentlemen who offered me their seats, to the bus driver, who never lost his patience, and a special thanks to Diego, who guided me back to my home base.

I’ll save my story of what happened when I went to add more data to my phone for another day!

Buen Dia everyone!

Gratis dancing on the street

Gratis dancing on the street

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The wrap on NZ

The wrap on NZ

Once back on the coast of the Bay of Plenty, we spent a couple of days in Whakatane. It wasn’t until near the end of our time in New Zealand that we found out that the accurate pronunciation of Maori words and names with “wh” is actually an “f” sound. This explained why there were several places that sounded like curse words. Say Whakatane out loud three times fast pronouncing the “Wh” as an “F” and you’ll see what I mean.

Whakatane from Kohi Point Reserve

Whakatane from Kohi Point Reserve

Ohope Beach

Ohope Beach

The last stop was the Coromandel Peninsula. A gorgeous area that juts out into the Pacific Ocean just south of Auckland.

Whangamata on the Coromandel is the surf capital of NZ

Whangamata on the Coromandel is the surfing capital of NZ

One of the hot spots, literally and figuratively, was called Hot Water Beach. It featured hot springs that fed the beach where it meets the ocean. People go there with mini-spade in hand to dig holes on the beach so they can sit and relax in the hot sand.

I love the guy with the sunglasses on the left. He looks reeeelaxxxed!

I love the guy with the sunglasses on the left. He looks reeelaaaxed!

It sounded like fun so we borrowed a spade from the folks who owned the BNB and hit the beach. Once we learned where the springs were, Cindy and I simply dug our feet a couple of inches into the sand to find it was indeed hot. Really hot. It was so hot people were laboring to mix in the cooler ocean water by digging channels into their spring-fed holes or by taking buckets of sea water and pouring it in. In the end, we decided not to go through the trouble so we just enjoyed watching the scene.

hot water beach scene

Just north of there we took a hike to Cathedral Cove.

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove

Near the north end of the Coromandel Peninsula was the Driving Creek Railroad, a narrow gauge railroad which zigzags its way up a mountain side.

Driving Creek Railroad

Driving Creek Railroad

On our last day on South Island I met a local who asked me if I’d gotten off the beaten track while in New Zealand. It was a great question but I had to think about it before answering that yes, I had. Always on the lookout for that rarely visited great nook or cranny, it’s hard to do when there’s so much to see and there are so many ‘don’t miss’ places to visit. Getting away from other tourists and the much frequented attractions are the goal of many travelers, though the reason tourists go to the most visited places may be because they are, in fact, some of the best places to see. And it’s easy to be fooled by a guidebook’s call on a ‘hidden gem’ or ‘secret spot’; if it was hidden or a secret, it is no longer since you and millions of other readers just found out about it. Although New Zealand is not an especially large country, places of interest are spread out requiring some degree of effort to get to many of them. Though there’s still much we haven’t seen, we felt like we did New Zealand right. Special thanks go to our Kiwi friends, Sue and Dave, for guiding us with a blueprint for exploring their vast and special country.

Opito Bay

Opito Bay

Lessons learned on the road

Lessons learned on the road

Before we started our journey, I considered myself a seasoned traveller. Little did I know how much I would learn. Here are a few examples:

1) There’s a hole in the ozone layer over Australia. Yes, that’s right! Just over Australia. Now, some people say it’s moving, while others say there’s a hole over Thailand, but since Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer, I’m applying sunscreen multiple times a day, and I see everyone else doing the same.

2) Always carry toilet paper. Whether you’re in Africa, Indonesia or anywhere in between. You’ll never know when you might need it. Don’t think that just because you’re in an international airport, they would have TP, because that’s just not the case.

3) There’s no such thing as calling collect to your credit card company in third world countries. That 800 number that’s listed on the back of your credit card does not work outside the United States. It’s almost impossible to find a landline, let alone an operator. I’ve tried googling how to make a collect call and there is information on how to do it, but it never worked. I bought Skype credit very cheaply and it works well (even if I have to call on my dime).

4) Your international debit or credits cards don’t work in all locations. In developing countries, the cost of using cards is too high for vendors, so there’s a service charge added to your bill if you pay by credit. Cash rules. You’ll just need to find an ATM that accepts your card — and hope it has enough cash!

5) Always carry a flashlight when walking at night. I’ve seen sidewalks that have two foot gaps in them leading to the sewer 8 feet below.

6) It’s hard for a woman to get a good haircut. Now Bill wouldn’t say the same for men since he has had a few inexpensive haircuts that he’s happy with. But that hasn’t been my experience. I ask for a trim and end up getting it chopped off. I had a rather difficult time explaining that I only wanted my hair to be thinned out. I had to look for the right scissors and show them to her.

7) When checking out hotels on islands in the developing world, it’s a good idea to ask if they have freshwater showers (hot water helps as well). You really can’t get you or your clothes clean using salt water. White shirts don’t stay white for long with salt or fresh water. For long-term travel, pack dark colors only.

8) You don’t always need to make advance room or tour reservations. Booking in advance costs more. Most of the time, you get a better rate if you walk in off the street. If you have to make an advance reservation, make it for only one night. The hotel could be quite different from what they advertise online. You can always add more nights once you’ve checked out the hotel. This doesn’t apply during high season.

9) There’s the locals’ price and then there’s the tourists’ price; and there’s a big difference between the two. You can be sure that the locals didn’t pay $65 for a “nurse’s” visit on tiny Gili Air. I’m guessing they would pay about $2.

10) Always shop around. Don’t buy something in the first place you look and never pay full price. Negotiate. If you think you’re offering a fair price, and the seller doesn’t budge, walk away. 99% of the time, they will call you back and accept your price.

11) In developing countries, cigarette smoking is very popular and people can and do smoke in restaurants and bars.

12) Massages are really cheap in the developing world where labor is inexpensive. ($10 for a 90 minute massage.)

13) English is spoken (or at least understood) in most countries. Be careful what you say — people might be listening.

14) Squattie potties are difficult to use if you have bad knees and offer little, if any, privacy.

15) It helps to know the metric system. It’s used almost everywhere outside the US.

16) Most people are friendly and helpful. They are more than happy to give you directions or offer advice.

I’m looking forward to new experiences and what else I might learn.

What about you? What have you learned in your travels that has surprised you?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

We are missing our friends and family around this wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving and would like to send our love and great tidings to everyone!

At the same time, we’re inviting everyone to send personal updates, stories and pictures to our personal emails so we can hear how loved ones are fairing as we begin to close in on the end of 2013.

Tsitsikamma…..mama!

Tsitsikamma…..mama!

It’s hard to believe it’s winter here, though, it’s been unseasonable warm from what we’ve been told by locals. Low 70’s during the day, early morning and evening have been cool, fleece-wearing temperatures.

We left Buccanneers Lodge and Hostel to head for the Garden Route which spans part of the “Eastern” and “Western” Cape. The names are a bit misleading as they are both north of Capetown, one is more “West” and in a southerly direction than its Eastern counterpart. On the way, we stopped at the Port Edward airport to exchange cars since our Chevy Spark, though running well and extremely good on gas, was making a high pitch wining sound when using the fan. We made the switch and picked up a Tata (Indian-made?) something-or-other. After driving just about 25 km, the windshield wiper broke. I didn’t intend on using the wiper; I was trying to use the turn signal which is located on the opposite side of the steering column. The wiper turned on and the blades got stuck in the up-motion, one inside the brace of the other. Back to the airport we went and swapped cars again, this time getting an upgrade to a Ford Figo. It’s a sporty, stiffer drive with more power and pep but not nearly as good on gas as the Spark.

The next stop was Jeffreys Bay, a mecca for surfers as it’s known for its consistent, perfectly shaped waves. And with beaches named Supertubes and Megatubes, how could we resist! We got there a bit late in the evening but caught some great surfers the next morning, dudes.

Then we headed down the Garden Route to stay in a small village called Storms River. The drive down was wonderful, highlighting why they call the area the Garden Route. Rolling hills of multitudes of shades of green, mountain landscapes, timber (European Pine and Australian Eucalyptus) plantations of varying sized trees, roadsides dotted with yellow flowers– very lush, indeed. After parking our bags at the hostel, we were itching for some hiking and headed right back out to Tsitsikamma National Park which was a short distance away and sat right on a wild part of the shore of the Indian Ocean.

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Tsitsikamma River mouth

We had just enough daylight left to do the 3.7km, 2 hour-hour long Blue Duiker (Africaans pronunciation: blu-de-ker) trail. We hiked down the park road to the trail-head which shot off west up and into the mountain away from the ocean. Cindy and I thought it was the nicest smelling trail we’d ever hiked. We found out later it was the smell of sage. The trail went up on the hillside and came back down to cross the park road, finally linking up with the Waterfall Trail by the oceanside before ending near the park store and restaurant. At the end of the hike we were rewarded with the sight of these Blue Duikers sparring.

Blue Duikers: smallest of the world's antelope family

Smallest of the antelope family

One of the cool things about the park is the spectacular rough surf and waves all along the shore. This is right near the spot where the Blue Duiker trail meets the Waterfall trail. Turn up the sound to get the full effect……

Watching ocean waves can be like watching a fire burn. You can only take so many pictures because they’ll look the same to some degree or other, but you can watch the wave action for a really really long time.

Wild surf!

Wild surf!

The next day we got an early start since there was a lot to do. We started with snorkeling the cove which was Cape Cod-ocean-side-temperature water. That is to say, COLD! We rented 5mm wetsuits and booties but once our faces and heads went in, it was still quite cold. I added a weight belt with an extra 8 kilograms to help me stay under, but Cindy had none and bobbed up and down like a cork. It was near low tide which helped flatten out the waves but there was still a good amount of swell and lots of wave surges. We watched as the fish got tossed back and forth in the surge and I thought, “We’re with you, little fishes!” We explored the cove for almost an hour which was plenty considering the water temperature.

Snorkeling entry point. I wish the water was as flat as that when we went.

Snorkeling entry point. I wish the water was as flat as that when we went.

We ate at the restaurant in the park. It’s remarkable that there, and most other similar foreign venues, the prices are reasonably close to what you’d find outside the park. It’s so unlike what you find the US which are utterly inflated “captured audience” prices.

In the afternoon, we hiked the Waterfall Trail which hugs the coast for about 1 1/2 hours one-way. This was such a remarkable venue, I have to say this is one of the nicest trails I’ve ever hiked. It was a bit reminiscent of the rocky Maine coast but with constant crashing and surging waves on one side and mountain forest on the other. The trail undulated up and down with occasional assists from wooden ladders and bridges.

On the Waterfall trail

On the Waterfall trail

The waterfall. For scale, check the picnickers at the base on the left.

For scale, check the picnickers at the base on the left.

Beyond the waterfall it becomes the Otter trail which is a renowned hike that continues along the coast for a 5 days.

Who're you lookin' at?

Who’re you lookin’ at?

We saw a lot of these guys (Rock Dassies or Rock Hyrax) around the park. I caught one on camera on safari back in Tanzania but it was so camouflaged with the rocks, the picture didn’t come out well at all. Despite its size difference it is the African elephant’s closest living relative!

After we got back from the Waterfall trail, I added a quick spur hike to the suspension bridge that hangs over the mouth of the Tsitsikamma River.

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The Tsitsikamma river

The Tsitsikamma river

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South Africa in living color

South Africa in living color

View of  Durban waterfront from Moses Mabhida Stadium

View of Durban waterfront from Moses Mabhida Stadium

Cable car to the top of stadium

Cable car to the top of stadium

It costs about double the price to walk up to the top vs taking the cable car. Go figure.

Ragged tooth shark

Ragged tooth shark

Moray eel

Moray eel

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Oribi Gorge

Oribi Gorge

Ready for Zip-lining...or deviant behavior

Ready for Zip-lining…or deviant behavior?

Longest zip-line across Oribi Gorge

Longest zip-line across Oribi Gorge. Speeds reach up to 100 km/hr

(Next video I’ll be sure to ‘right’ the camera)

Hangin' out at Oribi Gorge

Hangin’ out at Oribi Gorge

The view from our deck at Buccaneers Lodge and backpackers hostel, Cintsa

The view from our deck at Buccaneers Lodge and backpackers hostel, Cintsa