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April 2019

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Jordan Day 20

I never thought that I would one day sleep at the airport, it sounds like a dreadful thing to do. I mean, a layover that is more than 2 hours is bad enough. Now imagine having to sleep at the airport, where do you even start? Do just pull out your inflatable bed or sleeping bag? I’ve heard a lot of horrific tales of people who slept at the airport and I thought they were just deranged.

I had to make a crucial decision based on two options.

Option 1 was to book an earlier flight, one that will land in Amman the capital of Jordan at night and then book a hotel for the night. But the challenge would be that there is only one bus that leaves Amman daily going to Petra. And the worst part is it leaves at 6 am. This would mean that I need to wake up at 3;30 am to bath and pack my luggage, then take a taxi for an hour to the bus station. If you’ve been reading my previous posts, I’m pretty sure that by now you know that I’m an early bird so this option was not gonna work for me.

Option 2 was to book an evening flight, one that would arrive in Jordan in the morning and then just hang around the airport until 05;00 am. Then I would just take a taxi to the bus terminal. This sounds pretty simple but the challenge is the flight lands at 01:00 so that means I’ll have to hang around the airport for four hours. At that time, no restaurants are open, so I’ll just have to sit on those cold steel chairs at the arrival section.

It’s 01:00 and I just landed at Amman in Jordan. After passing through customs, I scan the airport thoroughly for a good spot because I’ve opted for option 2. And to my surprise, most benches are occupied by travelers who are sleeping with their faces covered with their jackets. So I just join in, pull out a blanket I got in flight, set my alarm and then dossed off. Not the most comfortable sleep, but well it was way better than waking up in the morning.

At 05:15, I’m starting to panic because the Uber I’ve requested 15 minutes ago has not yet arrived. I’m in constant communication with the driver who doesn’t seem to find me. I am starting to think of taking one of the expensive airport taxis just so that I don’t miss my bus. Eventually he finds me, a decent old man. He helps put my luggage in the car boot and opens the passenger door for me. As soon as he closes his door, a police officer shows up next to him and they start talking in Arabic. He then hands the officer his driver’s licence and drives off. He starts talking to himself as he gets more and more nervous. I observe without saying a word. Outside the airport, he pulls aside and my blood stars to boil. We patiently wait for the officers who showed up 15 minutes later only to give him a fine together with his driver’s licence because Uber is prohibited at the airport.

After a 4 hour bus drive, I step out shielding my eyes against the dazzling sunshine. The bus driver didn’t stop in front of the hotel I had book although we passed right at the door. He claims that it’s prohibited and he can only stop at the main bus stop. I’m kinda excited though because I’m over the pressure of asking around for directions to my hotel. I start the short uphill walk to my hotel only to find that it’s just everything I never wished for. The room has brown curtain, suggesting that they have never been washed. The bedding sheet was once white and there is a stack of 8 mattresses on the one side. The shower just killed my soul, the shower head was covered with green mold, and stacks of black mold were just chilling on the floor corners. There was just no way I’m gonna step inside there. Luckily the toilet was clean. But the hotel owner was super nice. He probably saw the look on my face (even though I tried so hard to put on a brave face), then offered me breakfast which was not included on the first day. I only had 2 cups of coffee but couldn’t bring myself into eating the food due to lack of hygiene I was seeing.

I desperately wanted another hotel, but they were fully booked. So as tired as I was, I took a 30 minutes walk to Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the world. I have written a blog just about it where I share everything you need to know about Petra.

Although I was on a tight budget (because Jordan is quiet expensive), I had to add another expense which was buying bottled water to bath on the basin. Then I laid the 2 blankets that I had taken in flight on the bed and tucked myself in them and finally dosed off. The following day I had booked a tour at the hotel to Wadi Rum to go spend a night in the desert. While in bed, looking at the stack of mattresses across my bed, a thought crossed my mind “If the hotel lacks hygiene, imagine how bad the desert experience will be. You have managed to fall asleep, stay in bed until you checkout tomorrow.” I didn’t dispute the thought, but submissively gave in. It was at that time when I started to be homesick. I started looking for flights out of Jordan going home or to anywhere in the world but there was none that day. I just didn’t wanna be in the hotel anymore. What gave me comfort was a traveler’s group on Facebook when they gave me advice on how to overcome the homesick feeling which they regarded as pretty normal.

Checking out was such a relief. I’m going to spend my last night in a bedouin camp. Upon arrival, it was love at first sight. Instead of walking into a hotel lobby, I walked in to the beautiful black with white stripes beit shar tents nestled in the rocks of Little Petra. The staff was so friendly and embraced me as one of their own. After spending the day in a nearby desert called Wadi Aqaba, we (staff and other guests) sat on the floor inside the main dinig hall to enjoy tea and a good laugh.

We learn every day and from all our experiences, be they good or bad. What I took home from the whole experience was how a simple thing like a bad hotel experience almost made me cancel the remaining 10 days of my 30 days adventure. How many times do we quit jobs, businesses, relationships even friendships based on one unfortunate occurrence? Nobody is exempt from the trials of life (not even travelers), but everyone can always find something positive in everything, even in the worst of times.

I’ll let the pictures to do the talking now, As you know, they say a thousand words.

Egypt…Day 11


Let me first tell you about Karim…
Five years prior… I went on my very first backpacking trip to Cairo in Egypt. I was too timid and decided to find out as much info as I possibly can about Cairo. Google didn’t help much, which made me to turn to a travel buddies group on Facebook. I asked questions, a lot of them and got answers from both travelers who had been to Cairo and locals as well, one of them being Karim.On my second day in Cairo, he sent me an inbox asking how am I finding Cairo and that I should feel free to ask him anything about the place. He became very helpful and gave all sorts of recommendations. He also asked that we meet for coffee, to which I agreed but gave him a big no when he suggested that we meet after 22:00. You see, I come from a country where chances of you getting mugged at night are higher while life in Cairo starts at 22:00. Everyone goes out at night to do some shopping or to enjoy tea and shisha with friends. So as much as I was looking forward to a coffee date with my new Egyptian friend, the idea of meeting him at night scared me to death. I didn’t wanna become another statistic, “a solo female traveler disappeared” written in bold letter on the front page of the local newspaper. I started analyzing all his social media accounts and he seemed harmless, but I was still like a cat on hot bricks. Like they say, fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.


My flight back home was at midnight, so I decided to take a chance and meet him for coffee just before my flight. I then told the receptionist at the hostel of what I’m about to do and asked him to call me just before takeoff to make sure I’m not kidnapped. He must have thought that I’m deranged, but nontheless he agreed and did check up on me before takeoff. I actually wanted us to meet at the airport but unfortunately there are no coffee shops there. So we agreed to meet at a shopping complex which is 5 km from the airport.
Have you ever met someone for the first time but felt like you’ve known them all your life? That’s exactly how I felt upon meeting Karim. We only had 30 min for coffee, but had so much to talk about that I almost missed my flight. I kinda regretted not meeting earlier, but hey, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Five years later… As part of my 30 days trip I’m presented with another opportunity to visit Cairo. It’s been 15 days from the day I had bid my family adios and embarked on a solo journey to 7 countries starting in Germany and going all the way to Jordan and ending my journey in Spain . Europe has been colder than I had anticipated and I had not packed warm clothing. The past 2 days had been emotionally draining, from being stuck in a Greek island due to strong winds which prevented any flying to almost missing my flight to Cairo. The difference in time zones is making me loose my mind. I flew for an hour from Santorini to Athens and had to get my luggage from the hotel which was an hour drive away making the return trip 2 hours. Then fly another 2 hours to Rome which is 1 hour ahead but since my flight was delayed by an hour, I have to run to the border control, hoping I won’t miss my connecting flight. Then finally 3 flying hours to Cairo. So emotionally, I’m a mess. I just want a warm hug from mom telling me it’s okay, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.


So still in that bad emotional state of mind I land in Cairo International airport and guess who’s waiting at the arrival section to paint a ray of sunshine all over my face with his big bright smile ? Yes, you guessed right, Karim. We walked out to the parking lot to find the moon swiming naked and the stars whispering to each other. The kinda view that has instant healing and reviving powers, because the sun sees your body while the moon sees your soul. He had asked his sister to host me and she welcomed me with open arms which made me feel at home. I woke up to a home cooked breakfast by Karim’s sister and spend the rest of the morning listening to all her interesting travel stories.


Midday, I took a taxi to the hostel in downtown Cairo, the same hostel I had booked 5 years ago and guess what? The hostel owner and receptionist recognized me, and it just felt like one big family reunion. I spent most of the day catching up with them over a cup of tea and we even had dinner together. I really didn’t care much about sightseeing since I’ve been here before hence I decided to just go along with the flow.


The following day, Karim took me to the Cairo tower where you have a spectacular 360° view of Cairo. Starting from the two Nile tributaries that join together to form the renowned Nile river which is the longest river in the world. A distant view of the pyramids of Giza and also the view of the whole city. Then we went downtown to a hidden coffee shop called Oldish which, like the name suggests has a classic vintage decor and a beautiful indoor garden. And I got to indulge a delicious chocolate cake topped with a warm chocolate sauce. That evening, I went to downtown with my hostel mates for tea and shisha, something that most Egyptians do in the evenings.


There comes a time where you get tired of early morning flights and I knew that with 30 days of traveling to 7 different countries I’m bound to get tired. So the plan was to rest as much as I can in Cairo so I can be energized for my next destinations. From the hostel, I went to spend 3 nights in a 5star hotel where I spent most of my time by the pool area catching up on some reading and waking up late to enjoy room service breakfast with a bit of exercise in-between.


“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

There is something about traveling solo that makes you vulnerable. This vulnerability comes from the nature of travel itself. You have to be open to new opportunities, experiences and even people to truly absorb the culture and feel of a destination. When you open yourself up like this, you also welcome like-minded travelers and locals. However this does not mean you will connect with everyone you meet. Just remember to build bridges and not walls because each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not yet born until they arrive and it is only by this meeting that a new wold is born.

My buddy and I

Believe that Santorini hype…Day 9

I bet for most people when you mention Greece, the first thing that comes to mind is that tall lady posing in a long yellow silky dress. Or maybe that perfect couple, the guy in a black tuxedo, white shirt and black bowtie and the lady in a long red silky dress that’s being blown by the wind standing on top of the crisp white dome shaped church on the cliff overlooking the Aegean sea.

So now what about solo travelers who don’t have those well dressed men to pose with them? Is it really worth going?

Look, I had made up my mind that I’m willing to be the odd one out. I’m willing to be the only single person on the tour group. I’m ready to get those funny stares. As long as I’ll get to see the towering cliffs, inky waters and white-washed villages. Little did I know that my problems will be far worse than that.

Despite many calling the island “Santorini” that technically isn’t true. Santorini is the name of the region while “Thira” is the actual name of the island itself. This area used to be a volcano. It exploded and created an area with multiple islands. The “caldera” is a volcanic feature that forms by the collapse of a volcano. Therefore, the region of Santorini is a circular shape and refers to the other small islands that make up the circle. But Santorini in the most popular of all the Greek islands.

I had booked 2 nights in a hostel in Athens. The plan was to arrive in Athens by bus from Thessaloniki and maybe do some sightseeing on the first day. On the second day, do a return trip to Santorini since I got a very cheap return flight ticket on Ryanair, for only R600. And on the third day, checkout very early in the morning so that I can do more sightseeing and then go to the airport for my 18:30 flight to Egypt via Rome.

Sounds like a very simple plan.

It’s too cold for me to wear a mini white dress for those perfect Instagram shots, so I just go for white pants and a blue blouse and pack 2 jackets on my backpack. When I arrive at the checkin counters, I get the biggest shock of my life. I’m told that online checkin is free and closes 2 hours before flight so now I have to pay R1500 to get my boarding pass. I was so upset, that’s double the amount I paid for a return ticket. But then I remembered reading an article of how budget airlines make their flight tickets cheap and then find ways to milk you dry. Some of them will charge you 2 Euros to use the bathroom.

It’s 7am and just touched down at Santorini airport which is very small and has no restaurants but then again, it’s understandable seeing that it’s an island. My biggest challenge was that the tour guide is only coming at 10am and I have no where to sit. So I must just stand in the cold and read a book for the next 3 hours. Cold started licking up my face and crept under my clothes, spreading across my skin. Fortunately I had carried an extra jacket which came in very handy.

The tour started at the Akrotiri Archaeological Site which is the most important excavation in Greece. It is a prehistoric town which was built in the late Neolithic and was buried by volcanic ashes during a great volcanic eruption. From there we drove along the sea side to the Black sand beach where we had lunch. After a mouth-watering and flavoursome meal we drove passed Pyrgos to admire the panoramic views of the medieval village and learnt its history as we were driving around it. Then we stopped at the Monastery of Profitis Ilias for photos at the highest point of the island. Wine lovers will love the next one, Koutsogiannopolos which is a local winery and has a museum where they display the wine making process and you also get to taste a few bottles of their finest wines. They saved the best for last, that being Oia. By the way, the O is silent so you pronounce it as “ia”. That’s the most beautiful part of the island, the home of the Instagram shots. I spent the rest of my afternoon there waiting for the sun to set. Whenever I admire the sunset, my soul expands in worship of the creator.

After a fun filled day, I just can’t wait to lay my head on the bed. I’m 3 hours early again, so I decide to grab a cup of coffee which accidentally landed on my white pants leaving a dark brown stain on it. So now I’m a bit uncomfortable because I can’t remove the stain even after using soap and water from the bathroom basin. That’s was just the start of the second half of problems

2 hours before boarding, flights are now being canceled. I try not to pay much attention on that to avoid being stressed out. The airport is getting over crowded now with all those honeymoon couples with anxiety on their faces. Finally, an announcement is made and all flights are cancelled due to strong easterly winds which prohibits any takeoff or landing. I know that it is the airline’s responsibility to book accommodation in such cases. My biggest challenge is my flight to Egypt via Rome. I cannot afford to miss that flight. But then, I choose to live this moment and enjoy my fancy hotel in Santorini. The downfall to this is my stained white pants and I have no makeup bag.

Waking up in Santorini to a breakfast with a view is really “life goals”. It’s a pity I have no partner to share this experience with. I’m so happy, regardless the number of challenges I encounter. The next challenge is, I’m supposed to checkout at my hostel in Athens, and sadly I left stuff all over the place. Clothes on the bed, shoes under the bed, accessories everywhere. I try calling the receptionist but the number doesn’t go through. Thank God she responded to my email immediately and told me that she will put all of my stuff in locker numbers 16. Now that’s out of my way, I need to board the flight as soon as possible.

Winds are still too strong and the first flight of the day will only takeoff at 14 :00 but now there’s 300 of us, waiting in a very long line outside in the cold. I’ve never prayed so hard in my life, my chances of missing my flight to Egypt are increasing. And don’t forget that I have to take a taxi for 45 min to the hostel to get my luggage.

17:00 I touch down at Athens international airport. My flight to Egypt via Rome is boarding in exactly an hour. I look like a junkie with my stained pants and cracked skin because I had to endure strong winds for several hours with no body lotion. So I decide to take chance and tell the taxi driver that I need to be back at the airport by 18:00. He says that’s impossible especially since it’s rush hour but he will try his best. It’s a pity I didn’t get his name but that guy really came through for me. He drives as if we were being chased by police. When we get to the hostel, the receptionist is assisting 2 girls and I really can’t wait. I apologize without even greeting them and then locker 16 is my next sentence. The receptionist can notice the sense of urgency and without saying a word, he just points to the locker which is behind him with a smile on his face. I open the locker and embarrassingly, everything starts falling out, socks rolling towards the door. Without being ashamed I pick the first batch and run off to the taxi. The 2 girls still shocked, see me running back to collect the last batch, picking up the socks as I go along. When I get to the door, I turn with a big smile on my face ” Thanks! I appreciate it”.

On our way to the airport, I’m trying to fit my clothes into the backpack but they just can’t seem to fit anymore. At 18:00 I’m that odd one out in the line at the checkin counters. Now I’ve moved from being just a junkie into having the homeless kind of a look. The temperature is 30degrees and I’m wearing 2 jackets, holding 3 pairs of socks on the one hand and shoes on the other hand and can’t even wipe off the sweat in my face. It’s my turn and I can’t even explain my story. The lady politely tells me to come down, my flight is delayed. I felt all the weight coming off my shoulders. So I decide to pack my clothes neatly into my backpack which is being checked in and take my toiletries together with a new set of clothes. I bet she did didn’t recognize me when she saw me at the gate.

Despite all of these challenges, I really had a time of my life. Picture aren’t doing justice to what Santorini really looks like. And to my surprise, there were more solo travelers on the group tour than couples. So I’m glad that I didn’t let the fear of being the only single person cripple me.

Kalambaka-Greece Day 3&4

 

Day 3

I hate morning flights, but I have to use my time wisely. I arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece airport at 8am from Munich, Germany.  I have to take a bus for 4 hours to a small city called Kalambaka. I can’t find anyone who speaks English here, the ticket sale officer explains to me in Greek, I read his lips and hand movements and I think I get what he’s saying to me. I join the line and we wait for an hour for the next bus.  When the bus arrives, l sat behind someone who luckily speaks English. He started a conversation and before I could answer his question, I asked him if I was in the right bus. It turns out that the ticket sale officer was trying to tell me that this is not a direct bus. This bus goes to Trikala. And when I got to Trikala, the guy took me to a bus which goes to Kalambaka.  This is proof that once you’ve set your heart to something, the universe will work in your favor.

I arrive in Kalambaka at 16:00 and it’s love at first sight. I just love small quiet cities. The plan was to book tours at the hostel but they don’t have any.  They recommend the tourism company down the road. I got there and booked two tours. A morning hike tour and an afternoon bus tour.

Then I went for dinner at the Meteora restaurant and had the best meal of my life. I love Greek cuisine and I was looking forward to all the food I’m gonna eat when I get here. The potatoes were so delicious and I couldn’t even make up what ingredients they used, not to mention the meatballs. After eating, I knew that I’m definitely coming back for dinner the following day.

Spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city. Didn’t go too far because I wanted to sleep very early so I can be well rested for the morning hike. As I was walking and taking pictures of the city, an old man approached me and offered to take me a picture. He spoke no English, but like Paulo Coelho says, “there’s a language of the world”. I then showed him how to take a picture and he was very impressed with himself and asked that I take him a picture as well which got him so excited. 

DAY 4

It’s raining and I’m worried the tour will be cancelled.  At 8:30 the tour guide knocks at the door, I’m waiting at the reception so I go open the door for him. He asks me if I’m ready, I say yes without asking about the rain.

The hike starts at the foothill of the Doupiani rock . The tour guide handed me a raincoat because my jacket wasn’t waterproof. Then we cross through the immense rock formation to the northern of Meteora. Over that side we discovered the hidden monastery of Ypapanti and the ruins of St Dimitrios. We went inside the monastery of Ypapanti and met the monk that stays there alone. He even allowed us to go inside the prayer room but we weren’t allowed to take pictures. He then offered us drinks and bread.

So the early monks would separate themselves from society and go live up the mountains in the caves. This allowed them to focus only on worshiping God and living pure lives. The locals would go offer them food and they’d use a lift the monks had built to transport only food. 

 

We continued to the monastery of the great Meteoron, the biggest and the most important among the monasteries of Meteora which are preserved today. It was built by Saint Athanasios around 1302 and dedicated to the transfiguration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It takes 330 steps to get inside, yes 330! It kinda gives you a feel of  how life was for the early monks. These are the very steps they took while building the Monastery. At the time of my visit, only 5 months and 3 trainees lived there. The majority of the monks left  Meteora due to the high number of tourists visiting the area and they went to more quiet areas.

 

The popular series called Game of Thrones wanted to shoot some of their scenes in the monastery but they were not allowed to do so. They only gave them permission to take pictures outside.

Winter has come

Later, I went for the afternoon bus tour which took us to see the other monasteries. So I got to see the whole of Meteora in a day, by foot and by bus.

Munich-Germany, Day 1&2

It’s Monday afternoon,  a few hours before I board a plane and be away from my home country for a month. I’m not excited neither am I anxious. All that’s going through my mind is the checklist, did I authorize my card for international use, did I pack my power bank, extra charger, universal plug, and the list goes on. Mom is very nervous.  Her daughter has never been out of her sight for that long. She calls everyone to the lounge to pray.We all say a prayer and she kisses me goodbye with teary eyes. I avoid eye contact as I put my backpack in the car. My sister drops me off at the airport, she’s excited. We keep our goodbyes very short. Reality still hasn’t kicked in, I’m still very calm and a bit tired because I was working the previous night. My itinerary starts in Munich, the capital of Bavaria in Germany and I’ll spend two days there. DAY 1 My flight to Munich is 10h 45min and I slept most of the flight. When we land in Munich it’s 6am, I get called by 5 customs personnel into a room for questioning. I’m not nervous, just bored. My schengen  visa is in my new passport, so they think that I’m a first time flyer.  We arrive in the room and before they asked me questions, I took out my old passport which had only two free pages and a file which had my itinerary and all my bookings. They look into it, spoke among themselves in German. They asked me to unpack everything in my backpack, now the nerves kicked in. What if someone put drugs in my backpack? I took everything out, it was just shoes and gadgets, one of them being an extra phone, now that looks suspicious. The one lady asks a question I’m kinda expecting, “why do you have two phones?”. In a nervous voice, I start explaining how I got to experience Murphy’s law. in my previous trip. They spoke among themselves again in Germany. The other lady reached for my travel journal which saved my life. She went through it, spoke to them in German and then turned to me and said, “we called you out because your passport is new so we thought you’re traveling for the first time, but now we see that you are well traveled. Now I’m very nervous by whole customs encounter. I rush to get my luggage only to find that the one wheel has been broken. This is really not a good way of starting a trip. I went to report it at the baggage claim office. The lady working there temporarily fixed it with tape and gave me a reference number to use when I get back home. By the time I got to my hostel I was emotionally exhausted. I spent the whole day in bed. Woke up at 17:00, went out to buy chicken and fries, had that meal at my hostel and went back to bed. The beauty about traveling solo is that you are in charge and can change plans according to your mood. Day 2. I wake up at 10am, no alarm was set. Now it kicks in that I’m on vacation, I can do anything at anytime.I can choose to go out or just Netflix and chill. Thinking about this just makes me happy, I love my life. I’m in a much better mood than yesterday. According to my itinerary I have to take a train to Hallstad in Austria. I look out of the window, it’s sunny, so I decide to spend the day in Munich and  go for a free walking tour. My hostel doesn’t serve breakfast, so I ask for recommendations from the receptionist. A place which has good German breakfast and good coffee and view if possible. She suggested Coffe Fellows and I loved it. After breakfast I went to the meeting point of the free walking tour in Marienplatz.  My guide is an American student who has been living in Munich for 5 years. He’s very informative and funny. He takes us to see some historical buildings and tells  all about the history of Munich and some of the wars that it had conquered.
                                             New Town Hall
                                           Bavarian State Opera
                                     St. Peter’s Church
He took us to the statue of Julia which is believed that if you touch her golden breast, you’ll find the love of your life. Let me not talk about what happens weeks later lol.
                                        Julia
Munich has many beer parks and we visited a few on our walk. The city is well known for its beer festival called Oktoberfest which happens every October with an attendance of about 6 million people. On the 12 of October 1810 Crown prince Ludwig married Therese Charlotte Luise and invited the citizens and arranged free food, beer and horse races in a field outside Munich which was named Theresienwiese. It was so good that the locals kept observing their anniversary. After the tour, I spent the rest of the day with a friend from Argentina. We walked through the city, visited a few churches and ended the day at the English garden where we sat down and he told me all about Argentina. I decide to try out the alcohol free beer but it didn’t go down well in my throat. I’ll just stick to coffee. Apart from the beer, Munich is rich in history. Two days isn’t enough to explore, so I guess I’ll have to come back again. When I got back to my hostel, I had to pack my bags and get read for my morning flight to Greece.