‘Kusewera’ Malawi, Africa

I remember when Karen Osborn embarked on her first journey to the Mtendere village in Malawi in 2008, and I remember how incredibly moved she was when she returned. She is a good friend of mine of ten years and she fell head over heels in love with these children. She was determined to see them again, to make a long term commitment but only if she could go with her own team.  She believed she could provide the kids with a lot more and has impressively put in hours upon hours of her free time to successfully create Kusewera, and the mission that gave me the opportunity to fall in love with these children as well.

It’s been about 5 years since she first asked me to join her and I just never really felt like it was the trip for me. She was very persuasive, nevertheless, but my travels over the summer always seemed to take me elsewhere. If you read my first blog about my 2 month trip that started on June 12th, you would be privy to how this all came about. After a visit in her office, Karen suggested I look into a flight from Malawi and extending my trip in Europe to make this experience finally happen. There was a part of me that genuinely felt like maybe now was the right time, and when I could no longer find a frequent flyer flight from Europe to LAX and one from Malawi instead, I knew that it was.

Fast forward to Lilongwe airport, July 27th, twenty of us after a solid 30 hour travel journey, exhausted, hungry, dying for a sprightly clean up, and enthusiastically waiting for at least 40 fully-stuffed donation suitcases glowing with neon pink tape. Stacked high on top of each other it was a sight to see them all safely make it through almost unscathed and with only a small handful of items missing. Karen cleverly made signs for each suitcase stating: PLEASE DO NOT STEAL ITEMS FROM THIS BAG. ALL ITEMS ARE FOR CHILDREN IN AN ORPHANAGE IN AFRICA, and it seems to have done the trick for the most part. We made fast work of filling up our minibus and making our way to the Mtendere village!

Being able to stay in the living quarters inside the orphanage was a privilege that didn’t take long for Karen to earn. We were literally a stone’s throw away from anyone of the 165 children living here, kids who all lost either one or both of their parents, siblings, and family members to HIV/AIDS, Malaria outbreaks and the country’s 2004 famine. We drove through the Mtendere gates, beautifully painted by Jordan, one of the kids at Mtendere, and were instantly graced with bright smiling faces bustling with eager energy. They were yelling out names of volunteers they already knew, bounced around spreading love literally giving away hugs and tiny, little hands found their way into yours from every which way and wouldn’t let go. Not having any expectations, I was completely overwhelmed, in a very good way.  A bell was rung and we made our way to the main hall for our celebratory welcome and found hopeful, anticipatory eyes laid out for us ready to give their performance of a lifetime. I just got goose-bumps thinking about how to explain the sound of that first song. A small hall in the middle of a red clay field surrounded by about 16 homes that house 9-12 kids each, filled with picnic tables, and 165 shiny faces singing with total and utter abandon! It’s singing, I felt, like I’d never heard before. It echoed through the hall, through your skin, your ears, and tugged a hold of your heart so strong you knew this moment would be embedded into your mind and heart forever. They went on to perform numerous songs and dances and they had us completely mesmerized. They were singing and dancing from a place much deeper than we possibly know and when all was done, the hall let loose and we were bombarded with love! Every which way you turned you received a hug or a ‘Malawian’ handshake or a thank you or a little hand squeeze or a ‘will you be my friend’ look and little chunks of love that held on so tight you’d think they were your very own. We made our way out of the hall and to our ‘home’ and it was like we had all been hit by something very powerful. This is what Karen was talking about.  I get it now.

Our group consisted of varied ages between 14-64 years old and talents ranging in sports, arts, crafts, among other specialties. We had an open schedule planned to teach dance, photography, painting, music, basketball, volleyball, football, soccer, yoga, English, as well as a couple of girls and boys nights to help them set up career goals, create good hygiene habits, discuss the ‘birds and the bees’, etc. We were an interesting combination of people thrown together in a tight, fairly minimal living situation with six beds to a room, 3 bathrooms, no hot water or electricity at times, and a need for rationing of food and water that wasn’t for everyone. Some having never set foot in a third world country, some incapable of unplugging if even for a day, reality show ‘stars’, a scattering of beliefs, and all with a different journey as to how they came about Kusewera and Malawi in the first place. What mattered and what brought us all together was working with the kids, and that’s when magic happened! As much as we thought we were there to teach them, in the end it was the kids that probably taught us more, about living simply, happiness, color blindness, and unconditional love.

While I was out traveling Europe with Simon, each class was allocated a lead instructor, and thus needed a couple of helpers. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to move around because it allowed for me to participate in teaching more than one subject: dance, photography, painting, muay thai, volleyball, and music. The kids were disciplined, focused, listened and took notes extremely well, which made for very quick improvements. One of my favorite class experiences was photography and I ended up with a group of 4 insatiable girls: Eneles, Nelita, Mdwaziti and Hannah. We met up and I told them to meet me in the garden of which they immediately took off skipping and singing. I don’t know if there’s anything they do without singing. Two Ipods were donated for the children to take pictures and would be theirs to keep after we left. After a little group lesson, I put my purse, jacket and good Nikon camera down on the ground to take a moment to stress subject matter, action shots and ‘no heads’ cut off and as I turned around to grab my camera to demonstrate I found Hannah with my jacket tied around her waist, my purse hanging off her shoulder, my camera slung over her neck, lens cap off and working all the buttons standing in a very serious, copied version of, I guess, our ‘photographers’ stance. Jennifer Parsons walked over to check on me since I kind of got wrapped up in their awesomeness and we were absolutely beside ourselves. We quickly realized that I had another point and shoot and she had her really, really nice Canon that she wasn’t afraid to hand over and decided to hand them all a camera so they could shoot away. It was priceless, as you will see in the pictures! They just got it! They would take pictures, come back and show us and we would guide them to make the next shot better and then they would seriously come back with a better shot! They ran around capturing everything and by the end of the class had house moms posing in trees, changing angles and positions, getting close ups, capturing group shots with all heads and limbs inside, action shots with action, and passing on their knowledge to other kids who weren’t able to join because they had to stay at home and do chores. It was very impressive, especially since it was their first time holding a camera or an ipod in that capacity and it was an incredible experience for us to see their confidence and talent grow in such a short amount of time. What a treat, especially for us to get to sort through all the pictures they took later that evening! Thanks to Pete and a donated portable photo printer, we were able to print up some of their best captures and post them in the main hall on our final day for them to see. It was brilliant!

On the second morning a group of us taught the older boys Muay Thai. It was a spontaneous addition to the schedule and I jumped at the opportunity to participate. Karen thought it would be great for them to see a strong, fit woman capable of performing this art form, showing strength and incorporating some boxing from a female.  As with every other class so far though, they were super hungry to learn and that only made for total enjoyable teaching! By the end of class we had them paired up and sparring, but they weren’t quite grasping the art of it.  I went around and sparred with as many as I could to get them to understand the game of the sport. I showed them how to find the opening and got them when they didn’t block it. They got such a kick out of it, I felt like I could teach forever. A couple of the leaders thought the kids were tired and wanted to end the class. I was bummed, but when I went to grab my stuff I found myself surrounded by boys. They bombarded me with questions: “Why do I know how to do this?” “Why would a woman know how to fight?” “Why am I so fit, for a woman?” “What do I do back home that I know how to do this?” “Is this part of my job?” I explained and then asked them if they were tired from class and I got a simultaneous no! I asked them if they wanted to learn more and I got a simultaneous yes! We walked down to the basketball court and continued training for another hour or so adding in 100 push-ups, a 20 min. core workout and some plyo-metrics. They loved it and asked me if I was willing to teach again, maybe a morning workout? So we set up a 6:30 run with a workout after. Since no one ran around with a watch, I was skeptical they would actually show up on time, but I walked outside the next 4 mornings and found them patiently waiting for me, on time and ready! I was a proud mom!! We ran for a good 45-60 min. and then trained for another 30-45. They ran in broken crocs, socks, ripped up loafers, sandals, old sneakers without laces and holes, etc. One morning a group of girls walked by during some of the tae kwon do training and instantly the boys stopped and looked away. I didn’t know what was going on, but found out afterwards that women shouldn’t see a man ‘fight’. It’s a good thing I guess, because I tried to gather a couple of the women to join us and though I had a couple of them say yes, they didn’t show. Really unfortunate because it would have been good fun to mix it up. Again I was blown away by their interest and eagerness to learn and on the last morning when we had to run at 4:30 am and were limited on the workout time they requested the second course if nothing else. What’s the second course, I don’t know what that is? “Six pack!! Six pack!! Alice! Tanana!”

At night after dinner they would always gather in the main hall and with their boundless energy sing and dance through the night. Africa actually has a winter believe it or not and it was just as cold inside as it was outside. One night I found myself keeping 2 boys warm with one sitting on my lap – Fatsani. He had a very long face that always seemed disinterested until he opened up his mouth to sing. The light that bounced off his face, wow! Anyway, he chose not to dance much this night, but sing instead. All I remember is a little body with a little belly and a voice that vibrated straight through mine. The 2 of them sang at the top of their lungs song after song after song, as did all the others. That’s what made that sound so incredible. I walked back home and fell asleep to that magical vibration.

Then there was music class, and a moment with the women I will never forget! A group of women thirteen and older, that only recently became comfortable, through Kusewera’s help, to be confident with their power and unbelievable talent.  Delonte chose to give the women the freedom to teach us something in the beginning of class. His little helpers, Jordan, Siobhan and myself, were a bit uncomfortable with this because our time with them was so short that we were insistent on making the most of teaching them something new. I’d spent the past few days diligently watching them do this dance/game circle and really wanted to jump in but couldn’t figure it out. I asked one of the girls earlier that day if she could teach me, and little did I know it would be in our afternoon class. But, first up, was the Sanga, or that’s what it sounded like, I have no idea if that’s the correct spelling.  It’s sort of like a belly dancing roll but not. They pulled us in, surrounded us, grabbed each one of us and wrapped their ‘Chitenje’ above our waists. Then they watched us in serious silence while we struggled to get the ‘Sanga’ move right. It was awkwardly intimidating and almost felt like if we didn’t get it right we would sadly be letting them down. They said no hip or butt action, but when I turned one of them sideways to get a better view, I noticed that they were moving hips and butts. I copied what I saw and the serious turned to a loud uproar followed by lots of hugs and giant smiles. It was a magical bonding moment.  I got to experience that again with the women in the village across the way. A village where one of our cooks lived. One of the women gestured for me to join, I threw down my jacket and purse, since I had some moves of my own now to contribute and tried to copy and one-up everything she did. It was like a dance off! Ha! Once again, loud uproar and joyous respect followed by many solid hugs. It was truly a treat and having such a connection to dance already made this moment for me that much more spectacular and unforgettable!

One of our drivers was Knocks. He had a family of 6, three of his own and 3 from his brother who passed away. At 42, he is the only one of his 6 siblings who is still living.  When he told me how grateful he was for Karen and Michelle and Kusewera he told me if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be sitting there right now, in those clothes with this job able to support his family. He said, he was poor, very, very poor. Michelle and Karen were able to get donations from Delta Kits and have set him up with a windshield fixing business in hopes that he can have a sustainable business on his own. Some of the Kusewera volunteer guys got to help him work out more details. He couldn’t stop telling me how grateful he was. In fact, I can’t remember how many people came up to me telling me how grateful they were for Karen and Kusewera and all that she had done for them. It brought tears to my eyes and definitely made me take some time to think about ALL that we take for granted.

We finished our trip with a one day outing in Zambia with 3 safari opportunities. One in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one more very early the second day before driving back. I committed to all three and six of the kids who had sponsors in our group joined us for the first two. We stayed at a nice lodge with hot water, that had elephants and giraffes making their way through on occasion and a pool, that after watching Nick and Abby play with the kids, decided I had to join. I sort of joined when everyone was nearly on their way out, but I found Hannah still sitting on the edge, still torn with whether or not she liked water and swimming and all that was new. I coaxed her back in and made a faithful new friend. She handed her trust over to me as I got her to relinquish the near death grip she had on my shoulders and got her to float, and kick, and hold only my fingertips. Then she came back in, her heart no longer beating a mile and minute, and she slowly patted down my hair with water. It was lovely as were the wild animals, and the insane sunrises and sunsets, the salads we were so longing for, and the special guard that guided me around at night to spot more wild things.

There are so many moments I will never forget about this experience and will probably continue to add to my blog as I start to miss them. You are never supposed to tell these children that you will be back because they will never forget that you made that promise to them. I told them I would do my best and I told them I would do my best to get the older boys some real running shoes. My goal is to go back next year after completing a TESL course, tutor them in English and get a co-ed boot camp happening with a possible ‘running project’! I’m writing this to hold myself accountable. These kids let me in to their heart and it’s my responsibility now to keep them there. Thank you Karen and Michelle and all the amazing people that donated to make this Kusewera trip possible and allow for one beautiful life changing experience!!

Photo credits for Photography Workshop Gallery: 95% the girls, 5% Jennifer and myself.

More Galleries to come by the end of the week! Stay tuned…




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“We made it!” Athens and Prague

This gallery contains 105 photos.

After almost 6 weeks of traveling, the 2 of us were like a well-oiled machine and proved to be quite the team in Athens. Having only 2 hours to find a room and see the Acropolis before sunset would not … Continue reading

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‘The shot’ Santorini, Greece

When you picture Greece and the quintessential shot with white washed walls, steep cliff drop offs, crystal blue water, you end up in Santorini, specifically Oia, in the north of the island. We only had 2 days here since we struggled saying goodbye to Kalymnos and sightseeing turned into a whirlwind mission.  We rented a scooter early in the morning, mapped out our plan of attack and took off. The lady who guided us through the map was a little slaphappy and 2 hours into it, we could no longer make sense of what was noted.  We saw some beautiful beaches, some stunning views, but the quintessential shot, not yet.  We made it to the middle of the island on the caldera side in Fira, where supposedly, according to our map is the site with ‘the shot’, but we squeezed through hundreds of tourists vying for an opening in the view and found ourselves pretty disappointed. This can’t be it we thought. Tired, hot and hungry we made our way to some large beers and silly, delicious food. Our plan had been to leave Oia for day 2, but the crowds had us screaming to get out, so we made a move for the north.  A little sidetrack took us for a nice ocean swim followed by fruity cocktails and a nap. We hit Oia near sunset and ended up in this incredibly stunning bay, an old fishing village where we just had to stop for dinner. Santorini finally got exciting since this was way more along the lines of how we pictured it.  Fresh fish, stunning sunset, wine, quaint and lovely and wonderful it was!  It was a no- brainer, day 2 would definitely be spent back up here. Since we had covered the entire island in one day, our whirlwind mission took on a state of relaxation.  We enjoyed some morning beach time in Perissa where we were staying and the water was so crystal clear it didn’t seem real. It made us question why we didn’t choose to scuba dive here, but we missed the morning boat and the afternoon one was full. Se la vie! We rode back to Oia and were pleasantly relieved when all of a sudden every corner we turned was the quintessential shot! There it was in all of its glory, Greece as we’ve known it through books and film and we strolled around for hours. Always making good use of our snorkeling gear, we got to pull it out one last time. There was a trail at the end of the village in the bay that led around to a giant rock situated about 50ft from the edge and snorkeling around it totally made up for not being able to dive! Mysterious rocks, beautiful formations and visibility for days! Satisfied with our sightseeing attempts, we rode home to our cute “Amelie” hotel and spent the evening along the water reminiscing about our ‘honeymoon-like’ adventure, stuffed our faces with more delicious food and had a waiter tell us we shouldn’t order more because we had ordered more than enough, tried new cocktails, went back to old cocktails, listened to live music, danced, and finished the night off at the bakery with gluttonous baklavas!  It was a good time and it made for a slow morning crawl to beans and toast, double shots of coffee and packing for our final day in Greece and ferry to Athens…

Picture credits: Simon and Alice


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‘Sweet Simeon’ Kalymnos, Greece

When people told us about island hopping in Greece and Turkey they made it sound like there were ferries and catamarans and speedboats galore. Ferries, yes, speedboats no, and a convenient schedule, that would also be a no. To get to Kalymnos from Kastelorizo we had to spend a night in Rhodes, and once again with no accommodation booked, we strolled off the ferry around 5:30PM in complete awe of the very impressive Medieval Castle staring right at us and within seconds had a little scraggly, big-bellied Grecian, pulling at our packs hitting us up for a room.  He got on his scooter and told us to follow him on foot through the castle, up and down cobblestone alleyways and within fifteen minutes, the hotel. He gave us a tour of a very below average room, one of the worst so far, that when he saw my reaction to the bathroom, he dropped the price, threw in a couple of beers and all was well. Since we only had about two hours left of daylight to view historical Rhodes, it didn’t exactly leave us much room to be choosy. The castle was overwhelming, but the tourists and souvenir stalls inside were even more overwhelming. A bit of a shock considering where we just came from that we quickly realized a night would be ample enough time here. We ran around for about an hour taking in the castle’s beauty from the outside content with our exploration for the evening, found a quiet little restaurant on the outskirts to feed our hungry tummies and called it a night. I thought for sure we would open the door to our room and find cockroaches scurrying for cover, but to my surprise there was not one for me to find. I had already put Simon in charge of cockroach duty, but he was happily relieved.

Early morning start and we were psyched to finally be on route to the long awaited island of Kalymnos and world class climbing! Michael, from Kastelorizo, greeted us with a giant smile at the ferry harbor, but was saddened because he had bad news. Unfortunately, his house was filled with unexpected guests and there was no longer room for us.  Still eager to help us out, he hooked us up with an uncle for a scooter rental and a cousin for a hotel room, another family affair! Michael had to get back to work, so everything moved fast and since Simon held the International Motorcycle License, the men took care of business, while I tried to ‘patiently’ wait in the car. This being the island I planned my entire trip around, I was starting to get a little nervous. Since we weren’t going to be staying with Michael, the Kalymnos local we met in Kastelerizo, I didn’t quite see the point of staying at the ‘Panoramic Hotel’ overlooking the not so scenic harbor. “Very, very beautiful view, you will see madam!” … um, ok, but how far is the climbing from here? “ No more than 5 minutes. Very close!” I look at Simon and he’s stoked, everything is just falling into place perfectly, but he’s sort of at a loss with my expression since it doesn’t exactly match his. This would be our longest stay so far and I’m staring at a tiny room with two twin beds, a congested view of the harbor with a mini balcony that barely fits the two of us, no mini kitchen and no climbing crag in sight. We ask him how much the room will cost and he shushed us saying “very special price.” Right. We thank him, close the door and I turn to Simon and say, when we make our way to the climbing area and it’s more than 5 minutes, which I was sure it would be, and we love it, can we move? He nods yes. Good. We made our way to Masouri on the scooter, which took a solid thirty minutes mind you, and first glance down the hill overlooking the town, we were smitten. As Simon ordered food, I ran around looking for a cute little studio. Studios were going for 18-22 Euros a night with a mini kitchen right over the water! What???? I ran back to Simon, now with a stoked look on my face and suggested we ride back, grab our stuff, and make our move now. Satiated, he was game, but hesitant about offending Michael and his cousin so I offered to do all the talking. I presented a good story about how important climbing was to us, how we needed to be much closer and sort of threw in that it really wasn’t ‘5 minutes’ away and I think they got it. Not necessarily happy about losing out on a week or sending us away with pleasant farewell wishes, but understood. With our 50 CC rental scooter, my backpack, his backpack, and our 2 daypacks, we chugged our way up and down hills to our new little home with a fantastic new view. The ocean on one side, the climbing crag on the other, room to walk around and unload, a fridge now full of fresh food and an 80 meter rope / 20 draw hook up from a guide named Hans that offered it to us for free for the week! Yeah baby!! That’s my kind of everything falling into place!

We spent the next 7 days climbing non-stop. It’s impossible to take a rest day when the access is so easy and the climbing so fricking good! Simon’s extent of climbing was a day at Malibu Creek before our trip and some gym climbing years ago, but since there was no surf and a dire need to exercise, he threw himself in and crushed it.  A couple of days of getting back in the swing of things, a couple days of trying hard and feeling sore, a couple days of needing a rest day and a final day of wishing you had more time so you could finish strong! Haha. We hit up 9 walls in 7 days: Odyssey, Spartacus, Afternoon, Summertime, Panorama, Sikata Cave, Secret Garden, the Grande Grotto and Argenonta. It was phenomenal, the ultimate climber’s paradise. You can literally spend a month or more climbing a new wall with new routes every single day. I was blown away and wished I had planned for longer, but the fact that I love traveling and scuba diving sometimes equally or more than climbing is how I found myself with only 8 and half days. I climbed in Kalymnos, it was awesome, and that’s all that matters! Thanks to Mark and Karis and the Norwegians for good times on the rock and no thanks to all the mountain goats who were relentless at stealing our food!

Since most of the climbing had to be done before 2 PM or the sun would crush you, we had tons of down time to enjoy the beach and cooking class and drinking Ouzo and saving dogs and a new bucket list check -nude snorkeling on the ‘special beach with yellow umbrellas”! Our cooking class consisted of making Mousaka with two women from Telendos who own a local restaurant in Massouri with their husbands and it didn’t take long for the men to jump in and get involved. The men, sitting together on the seats directly outside the kitchen, couldn’t resist putting their two cents in and since there was an unlimited helping of white wine throughout the class, it was silly fun. We have it all on video and followed suit with three more lovely dinners there that included bonus invites after each meal into the kitchen for more lessons. Everything either organic, straight out of their garden, homemade, or fresh, and made by very proud chefs, so in addition to our Egyptian date night it looks like we will be adding an evening trying to recreate these local Greek dishes!

On one of our last few days I ran across the street to ‘use the restroom’ before heading up the trailhead to Argonanta wall and came across the sweetest puppy full of energetic puppy love, chained to a drainage pipe with no food and water. I lost it and immediately insisted on a rescue mission.  We gave him some of our food and he basically swallowed it all whole. I couldn’t focus on climbing and was happy when the sun came out so we could work out a game plan. Our hotel had a few dogs running around, so I figured hitting them up about him might help. I begged the daughter, Katerina, to drive back over with me and of course, once she saw him, she instantly agreed that we had no choice, “The owner of this dog does not deserve this puppy!” The two bleeding hearts drove home giggling with rescue contentment and sorted through name options. After a good chuckle, I threw out ‘Simeon’, Simon’s name in Greek and Katerina loved it! Lol Word spread fast though and within hours we were told Simeon belonged to a crazy shepherd who threatened to kill whoever took his dog. Heartbroken, we had to dig the chain out of the trash and tie him back up to the pipe. Fortunately, Katerina was good friends with the county vet and had already devised a plan. To make a long story short, the vet had the capability of taking away both Simeon and his sheep and after checking on him, stopped by the shepherd’s house to give him his first warning. If the condition didn’t change within a week, she would remove both. From Katerina’s updates it looks like he’s no longer chained to the drainage pipe, in better care, and under the vet’s careful watch!

Everything seemed to be a highlight in Kalymnos, but there was one more for us and that was Marius, the cashier that worked at one of the mini super markets. No matter how long the line wrapped around the aisles or out the door, if a question was asked about Greece he would drop everything.  We had to get him on video because he just tickled my heart. He was so staunchly passionate it was a treat to hear him speak. We were buying coffee one night, dropped it on the counter and he stopped abruptly eyeing us up in dead silence.  Did we know how to ‘properly’ make this coffee he asked. Since he was so serious, we thought we might but shook our heads no. He went into extensive detail as I turned around several times to the long line behind us and apologized profusely. I woke up to superb Greek coffee made by Mr. Simon himself, freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli with Greek yoghurt and honey and fresh croissants. This was our morning for the next six days and we never tired of it.

Kalymnos was a treat and it’s highly likely it will get another visit from us! Maybe because we settled in for a little more than a week, maybe because of the insane climbing, maybe because of our seriously rad studio overlooking the ocean, maybe because of all the wonderful locals, and maybe all of the above and then some! It’s been on my list for a very long time and I’m thankful I finally got to experience it in all of its glory with Simon. …and Simeon!

Picture credits: Simon and Alice

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‘Aliki and Simeon’ Kastelorizo, Greece

Waiting for the morning ferry to Kastelerizo, a 20 min. ride from Kas, Turkey, we ran into an older Australian couple that seemed to have done a lot of research on this island. Seeing our backpacks, they wasted no time in warning us that there were only three hotels on the entire island, two of them already fully booked, and everything was extremely expensive. We, of course, had nothing booked and planned to stay there for maybe four days, so this was making us a little nervous. They continued by telling us story upon story about getting ripped off everywhere on their trip so far, and the only one that we could even possibly share was our direct fiasco to Kekova. Our trip has been so fluid and easy going, we had trouble relating. They were very excited about seeing this island though and passed on some of its history, as there was also a very informative documentary we had to see, shown everyday at the main church at noon. The harbor looked like it came straight off a Disney set, or “Greece” in Epcot Center, and at first glance didn’t come across as quiet or as quaint as The Lonely Planet described it. It said you would either absolutely love it or undeniably hate it because you’d be bored out of your mind. We strolled through immigration, made our way around the harbor drooling over all the new food we were going to get to try, started to get a feel of the town, checked out a few rooms and by our second one, found the one with a balcony and view we were looking for including a mini kitchen for 40 Euro. Score! Being as small as it was, no doubt we would run into the couple again, but we didn’t expect it to be as soon as we stepped out. Instantly they started going on about their hotel and how once again they had been ripped off.  They paid three times the price of our room and to add insult to injury found out that the following day on a tour of the infamous Blue Grotto they paid 30 each to our 10 each. Poor guys, not sure what their deal was, they seemed nice enough. We’ve been traveling for almost four weeks now, and other than a few little bites in Egypt, we’ve encountered one ‘getting ripped off’ incident. Funny enough, we had to run into them one last time on our stopover in Rhodes and it wouldn’t be the same without hearing one last getting ripped off story. Unfortunately, it seems like that’s all they are going to remember from their trip.

Anyway, Kastelerizo was the solitude we were looking for and we absolutely loved it! We did our own laundry, went grocery shopping, and chatted up the locals. It just so happens that this little island is inhabited by tons of Australians, and everywhere we turned there was another Aussie to introduce ourselves to. After all these weeks, it was very exciting to be able to make our own food. With our left over Turkish Lira and a disgruntled cashier, we bought tons of fruit and veggies, muesli, Greek yoghurt, wine, honey, feta cheese, and sat on our sweet balcony overlooking the bay to chill out. It was finally time to settle in a place for more than a day or two. Exhausted from feeling the need to rush out the door to try and see as much as possible, we thoroughly relished our down time. I couldn’t wait to relax and finally spend some time writing, reading and sorting through pictures…

The sitting down didn’t last long, though, ha! The water looked so beautiful we couldn’t resist and within five minutes of looking for a suitable entry point we spotted two big turtles near the edge peeking their heads out between a couple of fishing boats. I literally threw my clothes off and my mask and fins on and into the water I went to follow them with Simon’s camera. They let us follow them to the middle of the bay for quite a long time, then the sound of boats moving in burst our bubble and we had to say goodbye. What a treat!! Since the Mediterranean doesn’t offer much in the way of marine life, a pity since the water is crystal clear and has visibility for days, it was more than a treat to get to play with turtles. When would you ever consider jumping into a working harbor to snorkel? We could see the turtles from our balcony and made a few more running attempts to view them again. We explored, we tried new food, and on our way back to the hotel we ran into a wonderful man named Michael, whom after Simon asked what the interesting coffee drink sitting in front of him was, he invited us to join him for one.  He ordered us drinks and when we inhaled that, he ordered us large bowls of ice cream. We tried to share, but he wouldn’t have it and rightfully so because we easily inhaled those as well. He lived in Kalymnos and insisted we stay with him when we got there. We ran into him again later that night while we were having dinner and he ordered us wine and a traditional eggplant dish. The following night at dinner his name came up because I ran into him earlier in the day at the ferry office and found out he missed his ferry. Everything but him made it on and he was looking into buying a flight. He was covered in oil and from what I understood had some trouble getting a couple of machines on, but everything, including his luggage, made it but him. As soon as we spoke his name, we looked across the restaurant and saw his kind face light up delighted to see us. He joined us for some wine and we wrote down his number, in total agreement that we would be staying with him in Kalymnos.

There was tons of hiking to do on this island and we spent three evenings doing so. The first was spent sprinting to the top of the stairs that lead to an incredible view of the town and we did so in 8 minutes flat, the most exercise we had done since diving in the Red Sea! We might have been a little bit proud of that time. Exercise is definitely something the two of us can’t do without for very long and it felt great! There was an old monastery over the back we were told, where the Greeks used the basement to hide from the Italians and teach during their rule, but the doors were locked and we couldn’t make our way inside. Supposedly there’s a key you have to ask for beforehand, but unfortunately we didn’t know that. Except for the occasional goat yelps, we were the only ones out and about and it was stunningly beautiful and quiet. Eight-thirty sunset, and we strolled through the village, enamored by all the tiny alleyways and found our way back to our room. Night number two made way for the other side of the island and instead of going back the same way we found a paved road that we thought for sure would lead back to the harbor. Around 8:15, we found ourselves standing in front of the military base with no way out but back the way we came. I assured Simon that we would be fine making our way through, but he shook his head at me thinking it was a horrible idea. We didn’t have a choice, hiking all the way back in the dark was not really an option. Five minutes into our hesitant walk we heard dogs barking and I’m getting anxious thinking we’re going to get jumped when a soldier with a machine gun makes a move towards us. My immediate reaction was to raise my hands high, which made me laugh as I quickly realized how ridiculous that was. He asked us where we were from, made a call, we heard Los Angeles said a few times and cleared us for the rest of the base. We had a good chuckle thinking Simon actually considered bushwhacking our way around the base in the dark instead. Day three was another incredibly beautiful hike with more incredibly beautiful viewpoints of the surrounding islands and towns and sunsets and as small as the island may have felt, there was still so much more left to explore.

On day two we also spent the morning going to see the Blue Grotto where we had to duck all the way down in the boat to make it through the opening. It was very, very blue and we jumped in to take some fun photos. The older couple told us that it’s supposed to be much grander than the infamous Blue Grotto in Italy. It was a pretty blue cave we thought.  George was the captain and Luise was his wife and Mary was her mom and Barbara was his mom. It was another family affair and their café was situated just caddy corner to our hotel room, which meant every time you passed there was a conversation to be had or coffee to be drunk. We were told that many people come to the island just for Barbara alone! She made a mean version of Loukoumades, Greek donuts, and laughed when we asked to just try two. It was about 11pm and we were stuffed from dinner at ‘George’s. He could describe anything on the menu and we would instantly say yes to all of it! The donuts were freshly made and we were warned that they went fast and may not be there in the morning. It was either a plate full or nothing at all. So a full plate it was! Barbara, the quintessential heavy set Greek woman you know so well from films, sat right next to us and not to offend, we felt obliged to eat them all. They were delicious, but ouch! We literally rolled home and fell into bed holding our bellies.

It was a nice change to spend more time with the locals getting a bit of insight into their life here. Everyone had a story to tell and everyone had the same proud story to tell about Kastelerizo’s incredible history. It’s been ruled by the French, the Germans, the British, the Italians, bombed and rebuilt numerous times and each time they came back strong. “Aliki and Simeon” they called us because that’s what our names were in Greek. They made us feel at home, extremely welcome and special for giving us a peek into their wonderfully magical place! Luise and Mary sent us on our way and couldn’t resist mentioning that Kastelerizo is a great place to have a wedding! Lol. Farewell for now!

Picture credits: Simon and Alice

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‘Turkey’s last leg’ Kekova and Kas,Turkey

We were told we had to hire a direct bus to Kekova if we didn’t want to spend a whole day mucking around waiting for minibuses and taxies. Kekova is off the beaten path and supposedly not an easy place to get to, but obviously well worth the trouble since everyone we met in Olympus told us it was a must see and we couldn’t leave Turkey without it. It was the pearl of Turkey!!  After our mojito afternoon in Olympus, we walked to a travel agency, splurged on a ride for a pick up at 9am, and felt psyched on our new committed destination. 9:15 the following day and no van, the hotel calls and it looks like they’ve decided on a new time, they will come around at 10 am. Well, I guess there’s nothing we can do about that and I guess that means going to town on more of the amazing breakfast spread laid out for us. 10:15 rolls around and a van finally showed up, took us to the top of the main road and dropped us off at the bus station that would normally cost about 4 Lira or $2. The driver was never told we paid for a direct trip and had zero interest in driving us there. OK, we put down a bit more than $2 and were definitely not happy with this situation. Nerves were touched and though I was pissed, I wasn’t as much as the show I was putting on. A bunch of angry back and forth phone calls with the travel agent that didn’t get us any further, I felt it was time to demand our money back. We storm over and grab our packs and I hold out my hand for the money with a look that he better fork it over or else. Our whole day had been shot now since it would probably be hard to make it over there before dark. We’ve missed the main bus, etc. and I’m ready to walk out to the road to hitchhike. To our surprise he gladly gives us back 50 out of the 60 Lira we put down and takes off. Two minutes later he drives back asking us to please wait since a car has been sent our way. “Please wait! OK?” A driver and decked out van showed up 5 min. later and we made our way to Kekova for a lot less! The driver was really nice though and introduced us to his sweet wife and kids working at the grocery store he quickly stopped by at to say hello. We started to feel bad that maybe he would be taking the hit on the ride because we definitely weren’t going to pay full price, but we convinced ourselves it would be the agent instead.  Anyway, we made it and it was beautiful and we still had plenty of time in the day to enjoy this town. We found a captain right away that took us on an underwater ruin and snorkeling tour and then a drive by to the 4 hotels on the Kekova peninsula. The main ruins were off limits to snorkelers as of recently unfortunately, but we could snorkel everywhere else. He suggested we go check out one of the hotels on the ‘island’, the one his brother owned of course and consider staying there instead. His cousin showed us the way, it was like the island was mafia run, everyone was a brother or son of someone and all the women were wives of one of them. One look at the room and Simon was hooked. I’m not sure I’d ever seen him so gung-ho about a place yet. It was a little piece of paradise for sure, four hotels, no cars, a beautiful ruined castle at the top of the peninsula, everything family run and stunning turquoise water up for exploration all around. We swam, we kayaked, we jumped back up on the pier and devoured salad and bread with homemade olive and pomegranate oil that we literally sucked dry, then made a sunset hike to the castle viewpoint with a bottle of red wine! It was my Mediterranean romantic getaway bucket list and I got to cross it off! Dinner was on the water with no menu, we had to walk up to the front and make our choices from whatever was fresh that day. No chemicals, nothing processed, nothing genetically modified, hormone free, everything straight from the garden, farm or neighbors farm, and bread dropped off fresh daily every morning! Breakfast was on the terrace, an unbelievably laid out meal covering everything from fruit to eggs to vegetables to olives to fresh bread straight off the 9am boat to fresh juice and strong Turkish coffee. I don’t know how many times a day I said, “why does it taste soooooo good???” and I may have added an expletive in there! It comes straight out of the ground and the difference is so huge, we already said this trip will forever change our eating habits when we get back home. We were told a story that an American stayed there for a few months and had a care package sent over from home. He offered up the food and no one could eat it. I don’t know what it was, but people were apologizing because to them it tasted like plastic! Wow. Like I said the taste is undeniably different because everything is undeniably fresh! We watched the town run to the pier at 9am sharp and stand in line for the bread boat! It was pretty fricking cool. We grabbed kayaks and took off for more exploring. We came up to a cove with murkier waters and found loads of turtles popping their heads up all around. We couldn’t find a place to tie off and snorkel after them unfortunately but had fun waiting around and turned it into a little turtlehead safari. Around 4pm we got on a day-tripper boat and paid for a one way to take us to Kas, almost like hitchhiking on a boat. They fed us cookies and tea and a half hour snorkel about 2 hours later. We got to Kas and the captain hooked us up with a friend of a friend who was also a cousin, who knows someone, who had a connection with a hotel. They showed up and told me to get on the back of one scooter and Simon on the back of another. Drove us to the hotel, dropped us off and that was it. Thankfully our room was great and we could relax and enjoy Kas for the rest of the night. It was a quaint fisherman’s town with beautifully lined cobblestone streets, loaded with restaurants and bars. I’m sure it had tons more to offer, but the isolated, quiet is what we were enjoying, especially after our Kekova experience. Our morning consisted of a quick wake up swim in the sea, waiting for the bread to get loaded in a bucket and hauled up to the terrace for breakfast and having to say goodbye to Turkey. As excited as we were about heading to Greece, we weren’t sure if we were ready to say bye just yet…

Picture credits: Simon and Alice


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‘The Climber’s Garden’ Geyikbayiri and Olympus,Turkey

It was the 9 hour overnight bus for us from Cappadoccia to Antalya since the flights took more than 4 hours having to make a stop in Istanbul. Simon was told by Amid that the busses in Turkey were super decked out. Scattered seats, meals, movies, AC and though it seemed quite out of the ordinary, I hoped for Simon it was the case. Unfortunately it wasn’t, not even a bathroom and the air kept falling out every hour or so leaving us sweating profusely dying to open a window of sorts. Just as you felt yourself slowly falling asleep, the lights burst on and it was time for another half hour break. Ugh. It was a long ride and Simon showed up with 2 wonderful chocolate bars at about 4am to make the ride less miserable. At the bus station, Murat from the Climber’s Garden, picked us up in a little yellow BMW station wagon, and he moved extremely fast for a Turkish guy. Since it was off-season, which we didn’t know, he told us that all the restaurants would be closed up there. Simon turned to me and I looked back with a shrugging, baffled look because I used their website to entice Simon into going, showing him all the incredible food pictures! Breakfast is by far his favorite meal of the day, and the fact they had pictures of muesli and crepes was all the assistance I needed. We stopped 3 times for food, beer and bread and Murat was literally in and out in 5 seconds flat. It was like a treasure hunt for us at the grocery store that when we finally figured out what we wanted to get and where it was and what it looked like without being able to read the labels, he was already waiting for us back in the car. He didn’t say much in the car ride there, gave us the key to our adorable little cabin, a tour of the kitchen and handed us some draws, a rope and a guide book. A quick summary of the entire climbing area and he was off. There we were, staring at the Climber’s Garden that I’d heard so much about from my friend Sebastion and we had it all to ourselves! Little cabins in the middle of pomegranate trees towered above by limestone cliffs and intimidating caves. No one was around to ask anything. We were in the middle of Geyikbayiri in the dead of summer, not exactly the smartest move since the heat was turning us into sluggish thugs. We threw ourselves down on the bed that nearly took up the entire room, door and windows wide open, and fell fast asleep. Two hours later we woke up to an Australian girl named Lucy on her own for a few days from Olympus looking for a climbing partner. We had ourselves a trio and it was the 3 of us who found our way through the Climber’s Garden for the next 3 days. 3 days of climbing, cooking our own meals, hitchhiking our way to the nearest town sandwiched in between tomato crates to get more food and cold beers, hiking to the river to cool off and having the cutest dogs ever follow us around everywhere. If I could, I would have taken them all home with me. They slept on our doorstep and I of course fell in love with all! The heat definitely took its toll on us, but the climbing was fantastic and we could see the main crag from our cabin window! Lucy and I struggled our way through a 7a, sweating our asses off and Simon sent some easy 5’s and 6’s climbing extremely well for only having climbed outdoors less than a handful of times. We had fun and though we would have loved to stay longer, the heat had us dreaming about the ocean. Simon and I were in fact drooling over the thought of swimming in luscious Mediterranean waters! Lucy convinced us to make our way to Olympus, as we were contemplating flying to Bodrum. She had some party plans for us and we were loving the idea of some dancing, but 3 busses later and a town jam packed with restaurants, bars and teenagers screaming “omg” and “like I totally want to do that” we decided to make a move for Cirali- the ‘older’ person town much more quiet just down the street from it. Ha! It was perfect. Lucy helped us find it since it was either getting 2 busses back the way we came or our hike through a riverbed, some ruins and the beach to get to it. After a bit of searching with our packs on, dying to go for a swim, we finally found a great pension with a brand new cabin in the middle of an orange grove with a 2 min. walk to the beach. The owner was an extremely proud Turkish man as he introduced himself while pounding his chest saying, “Me, Turkish!!” We changed clothes immediately and sprinted for the water. It was about 8PM and the sun was just about to set. Brilliant! Water made for a very happy us! We spent 2 nights here chilling in the water, drinking mojitos, celebrating 4th of July, exploring on a scooter, and eating ourselves silly. This is where it all started – the olive oil, bread and salads! Loaves of it we ate, and bottles of oil we drank. We couldn’t seem to get enough of it. We met some interesting people here, one woman from Croatia who was so passionate about yoga that she couldn’t stop showing us moves on the beach in her bikini! I had to keep myself from laughing. Splits, legs pulled up to her head, feet coming up from behind her head and sometimes her husband would even chime in. But the best part of all was that everyone we met told us that Kekova was the pearl of Turkey. They all said, “We must go, we must!” We couldn’t possibly leave Turkey without seeing it. So after enjoying a few more Mojitos we decided on a change of plans. Kekova it would be!

Picture credits: Simon and Alice

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“Tamam!” Cappadoccia, Turkey

Going back to the compromise moment of Istanbul, we took an airport shuttle to the airport per Simon and made no arrangements for Cappadoccia per me. I insisted on taking local transport and not booking an accommodation wherein the hotel would pick us up. We keep landing great hotel finds and ditching our reservations, so I thought it would be a solid plan.  I assured him it would be way more fun! In total it ended up costing more, took a good 2 hours more, and wasn’t ‘filled’ with adventure. It was fun regardless because Simon took way too much enjoyment out of watching me squirm and seeing the sheepish look on my face whenever we got to a stop that wasn’t quite what they said it would be. As soon as we left Istanbul, the English spoken was next to nothing and our Turkish didn’t get us very far. Our final leg was confirmed we thought, to be Cappadoccia, but we got dropped off about 15km outside of town. Simon had a good laugh and just shook his head at me as I caved in to calling the hotel he suggested we book ahead with, but it was too far for them to pick us up at that time. Feeling totally ridiculous now for wanting to take the hard route, I broke down and got us a taxi to take us directly to The Flintstones Cave Hotel. It was perfect, the pool was an added bonus and Simon thoroughly relished my confession that he may have just been right.

Cappadoccia was magical and an unreal sight to see that we couldn’t wait to start exploring. Our room was literally a cave like it said, but I was concerned I might find it claustrophobic. It was awesome and we threw our stuff down and made light of our time. Mameed was our information man but once again there were doubles, so Mameed number one passed on some great hiking tips. We were so ready for some exercise but the 40degree heat didn’t give. It was brutal and just as we decided to give up and head back to the pool, we see this man across the valley waving at us and gesturing for us to come over.  To make sure it wasn’t a mirage, we hiked a bit closer and sure enough, there he was madly waving for us to join him. So we did. Why not? Maybe the local adventure we were looking for? We found two Turkish men huddled in this little cave drinking Raki, smoking cigarettes and glowing about having international visitors! They made us get comfortable and immediately poured us some red wine out of an old plastic water bottle. It was fantastic! Our limited Turkish, of what we could even remember without our book, didn’t leave us with much to converse, but somehow we managed to understand each other. We found ourselves having a little Turkish lesson and an invite for dinner the following night. No idea where our plans were going to take us tomorrow, we didn’t know how to semi-confirm, and since they wouldn’t take no for an answer, we looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and nodded yes to meet them back at the cave at 5pm. Then they filled our water bottles and made us eat the rest of their lunch – a bowl of brown lima beans with cucumbers, onions and tomatoes.  We took one bite and couldn’t believe the taste! It was loaded with flavor! Wow! Everything grown right about the cave: beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, apricots, walnuts, almonds, watermelon, grapes, who knows what else. We walked back at night, cool refreshing breeze, thinking what a treat that was. Dinner in town later that night, with all the lighted fairy chimneys, was truly a sight and again a meal that we devoured instantly. The food here was to die for!

Our plan for day 2 was to do our hot air balloon ride and then rent a scooter or motorcycle to sightsee as much as possible. We got picked up at 4:30AM and the ride was absolutely spectacular! The sky was filled with maybe 40 or more balloons, 90 plus in the high season. The fairy chimneys, old churches turned homes which were also homes to pigeons wherein their poop was collected for fertilizer we were told, was even more incredible with a bird’s eye view. The collision free ride ended with champagne, snacks and a ‘Pilot’s Graduating’ certificate and by 8am we were back at the hotel. Filled up on breakfast, took a quick dip in the pool, and off to bargain for some transport. Simon finally catching up to speed on the bargaining game, as I’ve had to give him some good nudges on times he was too quick to say yes, scored us with a sweet new bike. Unfortunately, by 2PM we were fried. The sun was unbearable, and I was getting slight heat exhaustion. We recovered in the pool and then spent some time using the bike for a nice little riding lesson for me, wavering about actually going to meet the cave gentlemen. Since the night was still young, we had the time and daylight till 8:30, we figured it couldn’t hurt to go see them again. Why not? The indecisiveness made us a bit late that when we went to greet them and apologize for our tardiness, they were unbelievably relieved to see us. They thought we had ditched them and were super bummed. They said they looked and looked and looked, but no us, and so they sadly sat down to eat. It made us feel horrible for even considering not showing up at all!  A giant plate of fresh cooked chicken and salad was pushed before us and immediately we were urged to eat. Wine poured and once again, the food was incredible. We couldn’t stop eating. They repeated their story of looking and looking and looking for us quite a few times, it was wonderful to see such genuine kindness. We meant to buy them some Raki on the way, but forgot and thought we came empty handed when I remembered all the nuts and dried fruit we bought earlier in the day. Yay! We have something to offer them! All of sudden we were making a move out of the cave, “come come! “ Picnic in the vineyard above the cave to watch the sun set! Big blanket, fresh apricots and apples, wine, nuts, a nice breeze, shoes off, and the 4 of us chugging wine like it was going out of style! One of them left to go back home to get more! “Only 1km away. Winehouse. Tamam?” We had no idea what tamam meant and they kept saying it. It wasn’t in our book, but we finally figured it out. It meant OK. Yes, we were definitely OK, in fact more than OK, and yes, more wine is also OK! Lol. The town of Cappadoccia literally looks like it’s straight out of a children’s storybook, and watching the lights slowly light up from our view above, as the night set was absolutely stunning. We kept looking at each other with big smiles thinking how lucky we’ve been on this trip so far! The hours seemed to pass easily and by 10PM we had agreed to follow them into their hometown to have some Turkish coffee. I couldn’t stop laughing on the back of the bike. Here we are quite a bit tipsy, me more than Simon, following these 2 guys, after all the wine we downed, into town to have coffee at 10PM at night! We thought one of them lived in that cave, but it turns out it’s really just their ‘man cave’ that the older one spent 3 months digging out about 40 years ago! They are neighbors and have been the best of friends for 30 years and you could tell. A great cup of coffee we had and again we were invited to meet them the following day for homemade kababs. We didn’t even have to look at each other this time to answer. Yes! See you tomorrow at noon!

We ended up renting the bike for another day because it just made life easier in the heat, squeezed in another riding lesson for me and this time we weren’t late. Wine was poured and we watched the two of them work out another meal for us. We tried to help but they wanted us to just drink and relax. Fresh ground meat, onions, a bag of seasoning, some egg to roll them into little balls, and that was it. Once they were on the grill, the vegetables were cut up for the salad and the bread was laid out. I was asked to try one of the meatballs straight off the grill and I nearly had an explosion in my mouth! I called out for Simon to come try and I can’t even remember how many we quickly devoured after. Simon found it fascinating how many I ended up eating. They were so good. So good! So good! Hahaha. The heat started to kick in, and after sharing another full water bottle of red wine we said our goodbyes and promised to send them pictures of our experience. When we got back to the hotel, the Australian owner wondered what these men wanted from us and thought it was strange for us to have spent so much time with them. They genuinely wanted some company we felt and to us it was as local an experience as we could get! Thanks Bekir and Hussein, you were the highlight of Cappadoccia for us!! Tamam!!

Picture credits: Simon and Alice

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“She’s like a bottle of water, when you’re thirsty you just drink…” Istanbul, Turkey

“Whatever you do, please don’t go to Egypt or Turkey!” Those were a few of the messages left on my cellphone a couple of days before we left, a little on the late side since our flights were already booked and we were charged to go, but concern duly noted. I’ve seen plenty of travel warnings before a trip and they have most always been exaggerated. Here we are flying into Istanbul, peacefully taking the subway from the airport into the old part of town and all is just fine, in fact, beautiful, romantic and bustling with life! Since we found outrageous hostel prices online for Istanbul, I thought it might be a good idea to try out the dorm thing. As soon as we took one look at the dorm we made a reservation for we realized what an absurd idea it was of mine! Why on earth would we want to share our room with 2 other people? We turn around, headed down the street, hot and sweaty with slightly over packed packs on and conveniently ran into Amid, who is feeling very generous today, enough to give us a great deal on a new room. This is the kind of luck we keep having, and we look at each other and just laugh!  Settled in, showered and happy, we take off to explore the town, but don’t get very far when a Happy Hour sign stops us right in our tracks. Beer, nuts, spinach pancakes made by this wonderful woman sitting up above us slaving over a hotplate, great story telling by the Turkish waiters, they literally have us tempted to stay the rest of the evening. Overwhelmed by the romantic-ness of it all, probably because we just came from filthy Cairo, we decide to make a break for it and try to absorb a little more before the sun goes down. The protests in Tahrir Square have taken a toll on tourism and every establishment seemed hungry for business. The harassing was nothing like in Egypt, but they definitely made it hard to say no. We met a waiter from Syria who told us his whole life story in about 15 minutes. The first thing he told us was that he misses his very pregnant wife’s smell and took a big whiff with a dramatic waving hand gesture and looked at Simon and said: “I’m like a bottle of water – when you’re thirsty you can drink me…” and smiled and pointed to me. Lol. His wife has to stay in Jordan with her family while he works day and night in Turkey to save money for the baby and is clearly in need of seeing her! He was so passionate about food and swimming and the ocean and life and love it was heartbreaking to have to tell him we weren’t quite ready to sit down for dinner just yet. The Turkish were way more laid back and so far we were having a little love affair with Istanbul.  After walking around for a couple of hours tasting local treats we ironically end up right back at our Happy Hour place and splurged on a fantastic lamb dish with a bottle of red. After Egypt, no doubt we earned it!

No decision was made yet on our destination move after Istanbul, it was either to head to Greece via Efesus or south through Cappadoccia. Amid was from Cappadoccia and he didn’t need to do much convincing, he made it sound like an unbelievably magical place and we found a $60 flight, so sweet, done! Booking flight arrangements was enough organizing for me, but Amid highly recommended we make all of our arrangements from Istanbul. I start to slowly feel a panic attack coming on. It’s been nothing but big cities and sight seeing since the Blue Voyager and I’m getting a little claustrophobic craving some rural, non-touristy country time. I try to explain that that’s not how we travel and we can figure it out when we get there, but once again, we’ve come across another very persuasive hotel owner. He insisted on taking us over to the travel agency and Simon thought it couldn’t hurt. He had us booking our airport shuttle, hot air balloon ride, some stupid underground city tour and god knows what else. Simon looks at me like sure, why not, makes it all nice and easy, and I’m shaking a big fat no! To me, traveling is not necessarily about everything you get to see but about the incredible experiences you have with the people you meet along the way. Sitting on a tourist bus crammed like a herd of cattle is not my idea of a fun way to see the sights. I’d rather not see them then at all if that’s the only way to see them. I said no to just about everything but the balloon ride but still felt it was idiotic for us to pay that in Istanbul and thought there’s no way possible we were getting a better deal from a city that’s 9 hours away by car. I got upset and felt uneasy about our view on traveling. I’d like to make my money last a little longer, and when you take the local out of backpacking things start to add up and the adventure goes out the window. Here it was, the dreaded moment. Simon went up to the room because his stomach was still bothering him from the bad water incident in Egypt and I sat downstairs to have some tea. Amid walked over and asked what was wrong? He was in the travel office with us and saw my very unhappy face. I just told him that we’ve never traveled before, and that this is Simon’s first backpacking trip and I’m stubborn about the way I like to travel. He starts telling me that his last girlfriend was just like me, likes to travel the same, and that he enjoys the finer things, like Simon. He told me to back off and compromise and I laughed. Did I just get put in my place? When Simon came down Amid pulled him aside and told him to keep in mind that without me, he would die! Hahaha.  So there you have it, life lessons from the Turkish owner of the Lamp Hotel! We sat down, had some apple tea courtesy of Amid and figured out a way to travel with a little of both! Then we took off for his recommendation of a Turkish Bath ( Hamam ) – kind of like a Korean spa but with a soapy bath massage on hot marble stone and then wash your hair and shower you down. A first experience for both of us, and it was exactly what we needed!  Then it was date night! Simon had this grand idea of getting dressed up at least one night in every new town and Istanbul was date number one! Cobble stone streets didn’t lend well to high heeled wedges, but I still worked my nice long dress and Simon rocked his matching green shirt, all wrinkled from our packs, we styled the streets of Istanbul and ate at another one of Amid’s recommendations: local fish restaurant that left us speechless and me trying to feed all the kittens at the end of our meal. Baklava treat on the way home and then more tea with Amid. Three days in Istanbul with still intermittent rough patches from our bad water bout, but not enough to keep us from thoroughly relishing the food, people, mosques, artwork and looking forward to much more Turkey! Amid woke up at 5am the next morning to send us off with well wishes for a safe and happy journey! Gewle Gewle Istanbul!!

Picture credits: Simon and Alice

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“Close your eyes, run and look to Allah!” Luxor and Cairo, Egypt

Standing on a busy intersection looking a bit overwhelmed, this Egyptian man walked up behind us and said, “Close your eyes, run across the street and look to Allah!” Then he grabbed my hand, as I quickly grabbed Simon’s and we ran across 5 lanes of insane traffic. “Welcome to Egypt!” he said laughing then passed on a ton of local Cairo knowledge and sort of jokingly offered to buy me for 20 camels. He said I looked like I could be a hard worker but Simon thankfully thought I was worth a bit more than just 20 camels! He then sent us on our way to find the “Fellafella” restaurant. “Good, cheap food for tourists!” When we came upon a falafel place that we thought could work just fine, we realized that’s exactly what he meant! A-ha! Fella fella!

Egypt was a whirlwind of incredibly generous people, race-car taxi drivers, astounding history, 40 degree dry heat, streets filled with camels, horses, donkeys and piles upon piles of trash, smog that outdid LA, lots of invites for tea and coffee, blank stares and big smiles when we waved and a superb introduction to Luxor by Mr. ‘Scottish’ Bob at the local bus station. He was a man of persuasion, and even though we had a reservation at a camp on the Nile on the West Bank, we ended up following him to his hostel, ditching camp and staying there for 2 nights. The Everest Hotel, Bob Marley inspired. Bob had a bootie to match his belly and without either I couldn’t imagine him walking upright.  A bit dazed from our five hr. bus journey, he wasted no time jumping in and efficiently organizing our time for us. It was impossible to say no to this man, and before we knew it, we were both sitting on the back of his little Honda 125 whose back tire was near flat, crisscrossing through the streets like a mad video game. We circled the Luxor Temple, he said “What you see outside is same as inside, so no need to see”.  Sweet, that was an easy cross off the list. Made a few stops, caught a nice breeze, and then came back to await our Banana Island guide. Bob assured us we needed to get on a Fluka on the Nile, ride a camel through the village and then see the Karnak Temple at night. We nodded and said yes, and drank the welcome tea.  With a couple of hours to kill, we strolled through town and met Jusseim, the owner of a sweets stand. He literally demanded we join him for coffee and try some of his sweets. After loading us up with sesame, peanut and nougat bars, as a gift mind you, he invited us to his house to meet his family. His mother, father, grandfather, sister and niece were all sitting around the TV watching the news about the revolution it looked like, supposed to happen on the 30th and the sister quickly jumped up to make us coffee. The Turkish coffee is no joke and cups of it we were having. We stared at each other a lot, smiled, took some pictures, a couple of me solo with the men -wink wink, received a tour of the house and Jussein’s house upstairs along with his 50 page wedding book, and were told that we would be staying with him for our stay in Luxor. Hmmm, that’s very nice, but we already have a place to stay. “No problem, OK, you stay with me!” But we already have a hotel… “No problem my friends. You will stay with me! Hmmm…. We finagled our way out the door, walking backwards, nodding, smiling saying thank you and met up with Mr. Bob #2 – our Nile guide, who also had an affinity for Mr. Marley. A beautiful, cool ride on a small sailboat, dangling our feet in the refreshing river Nile, when all of a sudden Mr. Bob #2 starts playing footsies with me! What? Did that just really happen? It seems that girlfriend/boyfriend bares absolutely no weight.  You are free to be flirted with, as we both were quite a few times already directly in front of each other. So here we are, going on 6 weeks of dating, now ‘married’, on our one yr. wedding anniversary and working on ‘making babies’! “Making babies is very important and maybe your time in Egypt will be lucky baby making time!” Laugh laugh.   But it worked, and we were no longer aggressively flirted with.  The Karnak temple was absolutely magnificent but I’m sure we could have seen a lot more detail during the day. Bob was worried about us sweating our asses off, but it’s all good, we got a taste of its magnificence. Day 2 consisted of The Valley of the Kings, the real mummy of King Tutenkhanum, tomb of Hotsheput, the Hebu Temple and a papyrus museum. It was mind-blowing! You’re standing there amidst all the grand-ness, everything you’ve read about in school and it’s surreal. I may have to side with the point of view that the Egyptians had extra-terrestrial help because it truly leaves you feeling speechless. The rest of the day was spent stuffing our faces with delicious Turkish food and hiding from Jussein. He was like Tony Soprano, every corner we turned someone was nodding to us that he wanted us to join him for coffee. We left Luxor on a night sleeper train and walked past Jussein to say goodbye. He pulled Simon in very close and puckered up his lips for a kiss.  Simon pulled his hand back so fast, looked at me with this dumbfounded face, I wish I had video rolling. It was a good laugh. Making our way to the train station it was and sleeping on a bumpy train ride we did, like straight out of an old classic film.  We woke up to a dirty, bustling Cairo bright and early in the hazy, heavy smog filled morning. Trash everywhere and just outright filthy, we couldn’t believe our eyes, when all of a sudden, there they were, the infamous pyramids, right in the middle of it. Our hotel was surprisingly clean and our view from our room was trash, broken down buildings and pyramids. We were wiped from the heat and it wasn’t even noon yet. Moving slowly and tired of being harassed and having to say no every 5 minutes, we somehow got wrangled into a camel tour through our hotel and thankful we did. It was definitely a highlight and the perfect option to seeing the pyramids. Again, magnificent, and guides believing there was ‘outside’ help, it’s hard to imagine how they did it without. On the way back we got picked up by horse and carriage and stopped off to get some more bottled water. Simon took a sip and his face turned sour, I took one next and wanted to spit it out right away. Smelled of mildew which led me to thinking they reused the plastic bottle.  Seems it was tap water, seamlessly bottled, and it turned our last little bit of our Egypt trip into days of recovering. We were SO close to not getting sick! Ugh. The last day in Egypt was spent strolling through the museum. Overwhelming amount of artifacts, we bolted for King Tutankhanum’s section and then 2 levels later walked out like zombies unable to absorb any more information. We decided on having an Egyptian date night when we got back to absorb some more Egyptian history through documentaries and cooking a local dish. I’ll let you know how that goes.  So! Let’s recap on my bucket list.  I believe I get to cross off one item: Riding through the Sahara desert on a camel. Running to the top of a pyramid is no longer allowed and seeing schools of Hammerheads I guess I’ll have to do in the Galapagos. We did run up about 3 levels of stones on the pyramids and saw 2 Hammerheads in the Red Sea, but that doesn’t really count, or does it? No matter, a good time was had trying! “Later alligator, for awhile crocodile!” Turkey here we come!

Picture credits: Simon and Alice


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