Balkans- Conclusion


Blessed Are The Curious- For They Will Always Have Adventures

Kotor, Montenegro: charming, idyllic, picturesque. It was absolutely wonderful to walk around the smaller, quieter, and more relaxed feel of the city. The cobbled streets, small quaint shops, and way of life resembled a storybook! I’ve got this fascination with alleyways- the town square offered more than enough. Our time there was too short. On Sunday morning before leaving for the next country, we needed food for the long, twelve-hour train journey to Serbia. I ventured out alone, into the local market. I am African American, 5 ‘10’, with a two-toned mohawk. Some locals in the smaller cities, such as the one we spent the night before, don’t have televisions and haven’t seen a person of color before. Well, let me tell you, there was quite a commotion. I left them all with lovely smiles and waves.

Serbia! The journey to the country took us through one of the most scenic rails journeys in all of Europe. A mixture of canyons, gorges, and snow-capped mountains provided a stunning backdrop. Our first stop took us to the more laid back, and second-largest city of Novi Sad, and home of the Petrovaradin Fortress. Novi Sad has the largest preserved military base in Europe, is home to the Danube River. The stunning Roman Catholic Cathedral is not to be missed. To put it bluntly, I’m quite surprised by how rude people were in Belgrade! Having come from previous countries with kind, warm-hearted people, I was taken aback. The group collectively agreed this might be the default behavior. It was interesting to hear their side of the atrocities, that took place in Bosnia, and NATO’s bombing of Serbia. Nevertheless, we made the best of it. Serbia has incredibly delicious food!

Macedonia. We spent the longest time here. First stop- Skopje. A city rich in historical culture and Ottoman heritage. There is so much to love about this country and its kind people. I knew I was going to love this city, the moment we walked up to our hotel steps, and a group of young folks greeted us with warm, wide and inviting smiles! Welcome to Skopje!! The birthplace of Mother Teresa! We toured the small chapel where she was baptized, receive her first communion, and God revealed her life’s mission. On display are some of her last writings, copy of the Nobel Peace Prize Diploma, etc. Skopje is saturated with statues! The main square boasts one of Alexander the Great, riding into the city. The street fighters, aka dogs, customarily run after bikes, mopeds, cars… anything with engines, and cause quite a ruckus. Other POI’s are the archeological museum, old train station- the hands of the clock still at time the earthquake hit.

In Northern Macedonia, we stayed in Bitola; boasts a relaxed coffee culture, that is popular in Europe. This ancient city of Heracles, named after the Greek god, Heracles, dating back to the 4th century BC. Archeologists discovered it in the 1930s. Heracles was built by the father of Alexander the Great. It was a once prosperous city; the ruins were excellent, the amphitheater, once used for gladiator fighting is impressive, and of course some amazingly preserved mosaic floors. The 1km long” BSeen” is the most famous street in Macedonia. One of the most beautiful church interiors I have ever seen is at the 170-year-old St Demetrius Church. It takes your breath away

A scenic drive through the beautiful Galicica National Park brought us to stunning Lake Ohrid-one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes. Saint Naum Monastery, built in the 900’s, with the original artwork still in place, is the most photographed place in Macedonia. the surrounding it took my breath away. A highlight of this visit was an afternoon boat ride on the lake; enabling visitors to soak in historical settlements reported to be some 3000 years old. The architecture is captivating, as is the culture. We roamed around the city built by Phillip the First, the Father of Alexander the Great, and the home of the Cyrillic alphabet. No visit to Lake Ohrid is complete, without the view of the sun setting over its expanse.

Kosovo. We traveled through Monrovia National Park, as we made our way to our seventh and final country, making several stops along the way. We roamed around the grounds of the thousand-year-old St John The Baptist Monastery, saw pieces of the cross, on which Jesus was crucified, a small piece of John the Baptist’s rib, and was in for a treat, as we witnessed a Muslim wedding. By the time we arrived in Kosovo, everyone was knackered. There is a huge Bill Clinton statue in the center, along with a Hillary Clinton dress shop. For some time, Bill and Hillary were popular names given to children at birth.

The US Army base is one of the largest and most well-paid employers in the country. Kosovo is the poorest of the Former Yugoslavia nations, with unemployment at over 30%. Immigration to countries such as Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland remain high. Our hotel was five stars… go figure, the poorest country, offering the best accommodation on this trip. While clearing through customs, the immigration officer chatted me up, wanting to know about my experience. His parting words were “You’ll always have a home here”

I had a glorious time in the Balkans, with the exception of Serbia. The majority of the group shared the same opinion. Two months later, countless photos remind me of how blessed I am, to have had this magical adventure. For the first time, I am able to say I ate breakfast in Bosnia, had lunch in Croatia, and dinner in Montenegro. Travel is fatal to ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and narrow mindedness, sometimes it’s the journey, not the arrival that matters, and adventure is always, always worthwhile.

Enjoy your next one!

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

Solo Traveling Made Easy!


 

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia)

A few days ago, I returned from a 16 day/7 country Balkans adventure. My head has been spinning ever since, and honestly, I am still trying to catch up on much-needed sleep. On average I slept about 5.5 hours each night. But, who needs sleep for an undertaking of this nature? You sleep when it’s all over. What a thrill ride! It started in Slovenia, then onto Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and ended in Kosovo. Yes, I am knackered.

In the coming weeks, I will share with you my experiences. I need to finish gathering my thoughts, and catalog everything I saw, felt and experienced. I traveled through the Balkans with a group of strangers, who later became friends. I’ve also done solo travel. I thought it fitting to share some helpful advice, that has served me well over the years. It’s intimidating traveling alone. There is a fear of loneliness and boredom, staying safe, budgeting, and so many variables to consider. I hope you find today’s entry most helpful!

Traveling solo can be a great adventure. If you travel alone, you’ll get to know yourself better and follow your own schedule. If you’ve been holding back, these tips will make it easier for you to head out alone. You’ll learn how to deal with three of the most common concerns.

Coping with Loneliness and Boredom

You may wonder whether you’ll get lonely if you travel alone. The truth is that learning to enjoy your own company makes solitude rewarding. On the other hand, you can surely find companions if you feel like mingling.

Engage fully. Be mindful of your surroundings. Getting caught up in new experiences as you travel will leave little time for boredom.
Take a tour. A day tour is ideal for meeting new acquaintances. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you share the same interests with others and you’re away from your usual routine.
Dine out. Look for places with communal tables or ask your hotel to recommend them. Eat at the bar if you feel conspicuous at a table.
Stay at a bed and breakfast. The owners of a bed and breakfast may be happy to talk about local attractions. Hostels are another good choice. There will likely be other guests and maybe even other solo travelers at these types of places.
Frequent local businesses. Visiting the same fruit stall every day will quickly turn you into a regular. Exchange greetings and let them know you appreciate any advice on what to see.
Talk to new people. Approach your fellow travelers or locals who seem friendly and helpful. Trains and coffee shops are two good places to start.
Do volunteer work. Sign up with a non-profit organization and perform group volunteer work. For example, travel to exciting places while building new homes through Habitat for Humanity.
Pursue solitary activities. Visit an art museum or lie on the beach with a good book. Enjoy the peace and relaxation you get from being alone.

 Protecting Your Safety

Security is an important concern for any traveler. Some basic precautions will reduce your risks.

Blend in. Looking like a tourist may leave you vulnerable. Walk with confidence and step inside a hotel to check your map.
Be alert. Observe what’s going on around you. Ask your hotel to advise you about where it’s safe to walk. If you’re near an unsafe area, avoid unnecessary risks by taking a cab to your destination.
Watch your money. You may want to wear a shoulder bag strapped across your body or under a coat. Consider using a money belt or clip. Solo travelers are often the perfect target for pickpockets.
Assess your fluency. Language skills also matter. Ask yourself if you can communicate clearly in case of a medical emergency.
Gather your documents. Put a copy of your identification and health insurance in your pocket. Leave a second copy with loved ones at home.
Check-in at home. Speaking of home, give your full itinerary to at least one person. Call or text them every few days to let them know you’re okay. There have been way too many instances of travelers disappearing on a trip and nobody realizes it for quite some time.
Pack light. Leave your valuables at home. Traveling with minimal baggage increases your comfort and your ability to move quickly.

Sticking to Your Budget

You may run into what’s called “single supplements” on cruises and tours. This is when the venue charges single travelers extra to try and make up for the lack of a second customer. Still, there are plenty of ways to vacation affordably on your own.

Save up in advance. Put money aside gradually. Small amounts add up over time.
Be flexible about timing. You’ll tend to find the best deals at the last minute or several months before your departure. Be open to traveling during the off-season for further monetary savings.
Look for special bargains. Check discount travel sites and look for deals. Some venues may even be willing to waive the single supplement.
Accept roommates. Contact travel companies who specialize in solo travel. Ask to be paired up with another single traveler who is headed to your same destination.

Spend a whole week at a pumpkin festival or browse the Louvre at your own pace. Avoid being intimidated by the thought of traveling alone. Solo travel creates memories you’ll treasure for life.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

Before You Go!


Views on The Inca Trail

Who LOVES to travel?

I do!

I get a massive buzz from it. For the past several years, my life has followed somewhat of a pattern. I work, save money, travel, return, rinse, and repeat! In the US, vacation days are like gold dust! There is something to be said, about the thrill of hopping on a plane, to a place you’ve never been, where no one knows your name, and the excitement of a different experience every day! I’ve told a loving universe, of my desire to travel for months at a time, volunteering from one country to the next, without the worry of having to return home, because I’m out of vacation days, or need to earn money!

Getting away can also be stress-inducing, especially as your departure gets closer. Years ago, I put off my trip preparation for weeks! The anxiety drove me nuts. I am so much better now at planning. In recent months, I’ve gotten inboxes, asking travel-related questions, from friends and co-workers alike. I am always happy to share my love of travel. I come alive giving tips, and hacks. Recently, I found myself reliving so many experiences, as I looked through multiple photo albums, containing years of memories. I am so grateful for the people, experiences, and opportunities presented to me.

In a month, I am off on a two-week adventure to Europe. I am so damn excited. This vacation is different, because it’s the longest one I’ve taken to date, coupled with the number of countries I plan to visit. Earlier this year, I set a goal to visit fifty countries, by the time I am fifty. I am approaching my mid-forties, and only just realized, by the time my birthday rolls around next year, forty countries will be off my list! So, I figured, why settle for fifty? Not me! So, it’s now sixty I am certainly going to try and smash this number!

The questions gave me an idea for this topic. Listed below, are things you should take into account before you go. Of course, the list is not exhaustive. If you find them helpful, have suggestions, or questions, I’d like to know! You can also email me, using the contact form above. In the future, I plan to blog about more travel-related topics; surviving the airport wait, long haul flights, trip planning, in-country support, etc. Follow my blog to get instant updates on new posts.

Ready. Set. Go.

What are the vaccination requirements for your destination?! If you are traveling to parts of South America, Africa, and Asia for instance, you need to be prepared. In some cases, you will not be allowed to leave the airport without proof of certain vaccinations. Consider the fact there might be a nationwide shortage of the one (s) you need. Always check at least 3 months in advance. There is a chance, you have not graced the door of your Doctor’s office in a while, for an annual checkup, no time like the present. Some health insurance plans, do not cover certain travel related vaccines. I needed Yellow Fever for Ghana, and was close to $200 out of pocket.

Seriously consider getting travel insurance! This aspect of trip planning is often hotly debated in groups. To me, it’s a no brainer. While I love the excitement and unknown in distant lands, there are some things I need to prepare for. Sickness, accidents, evacuation, repatriation, and yes, even death! I have seen, one too many Go Fund Me’s on social media, from families, begging for donations to bring their loved ones back home. Have you planned, and paid for a trip you can no longer take? You’ve lost out on thousands, in most instances. Consider annual plans if you’re a frequent traveler. Buy shortly after your initial trip payment, to save time and get better coverage.

If you are traveling with a friend or spouse, try selecting the middle and aisle seats respectively. Not many travelers want to sit in the middle. Unless the flight is full, you will end up with a seat between you two, giving you space to get a bit more comfortable. Go to sites such as Seat Guru, enter your flight details, and get advice. Sitting in the back of the plane, is also a good way to go if you are not fussy.

Make copies of your flight information, itineraries, and other travel documents, especially your passport. Take an extra step, and email a copy of the front page to yourself. There is nothing worse than being the victim of pickpocketing, lost/delayed luggage, etc., and not having access to this most important document. In the unfortunate event, you need to apply for a new one, it will speed things up. Always give a copy of your travel plans/itinerary, to at least one trusted person back home. Notify your State Department/Foreign Office of your travel plans (can be done online in most instances). Write down the address and phone number of your country’s embassy.

I don’t know about you, but I easily get lost in my handbags; so it’s crucial to be able to navigate new surroundings. Duh, get a map! Of course, some have a preference for paper versions. Furthermore, you might not have access to Wi-Fi/data to access one electronically. I love offline maps, such as maps.me, which gives turn by turn directions, of practically anywhere in the world! The app is FREE, detailed, and very functional. Another good option is Tripso; which doubles as a guide and map. Roam at your own pace, and discover thousands of locations, packed with experiences to suit a variety of tastes. There are many paid apps available.

Take a mini first aid kit, or at least, the essentials. Use items already in your medicine cabinet. When I hiked the Inca Trail earlier this year, altitude sickness was a beast! Headaches every day, lack of sleep, tiredness, and sore muscles, only contributed to the discomfort. I didn’t need to purchase extras. Walking around all day can result in calluses, blisters, and tired, aching feet.

Roll clothing, or fold them the Marie Kondo way. I have not used her methods. However, I can attest to using packing cubes and rolling clothes. Cubes are space-saving, allows for easy identification of items, and avoids clutter. Total game-changers. I have not reverted to my old habits! I always pack two extra outfits in my carry on. If your checked baggage doesn’t arrive the same time you do, you’ll have clean clothing to tide you over.

Regardless of what’s in your suitcase, mark FRAGILE on the outside! This tip came directly from an airline employee. I’m willing to bet, all of us have seen videos of the total disregard shown by baggage handlers. Marking your items as fragile reduces the risk, of them being tossed around, and protect them from damage.

Invest in a decent international adapter, and a portable charger. When I volunteered in Dodowa, Ghana, electricity was unstable. To my dismay, I couldn’t charge my phone using the outlets. To make matters worse I had left my charger at home, relying solely on the mercy of others. Ugh. An extra battery would have come in handy. I was a lot more prepared for the Inca Trail, as we couldn’t charge our devices for almost four days.

Today, with so much technology readily available, it’s easier for us to remain in touch with family and friends while traveling. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are great for this purpose. Add your friends and family, on the latter, before you leave. Notify your cellphone carrier of your travel plans. Turn OFF data roaming BEFORE you land. Unlock your phone before you leave, this allows you to purchase a cheap local sim plan if you chose to. Most major US carriers, have long-distance plans either already included or available to purchase, with slow speed data.

Look up monetary conversions ahead of time, though exchange rates change daily. Buy local currency before you go. With proper notice, most banks will order these for you, charge the regular exchange rate, minus fees. Avoid airport exchange counters. If you need more, use a bank or ATM at your destination. Some travelers prefer to load money on a cash card. Find what works for you!

Finally, let your bank/credit card companies know you are traveling! Nothing worse than having a transaction declined abroad, for being flagged as fraudulent. Same thing for credit cards. A simple phone call will do, or in many cases, use the mobile banking app. One extra thing to note, if you live in the West, look into travel hacking. Please be responsible with credit! With that being said, you are already paying monthly cellphone, cable, rent, and other bills, but are they translating into rewards for flights, hotels, activities, etc? Stop leaving money on the table. Travel hacking has revolutionalised the game for me.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Traveling has changed my life, which only began, outside my comfort zone.

Where will you travel to next? Perhaps a fun quiz can help!

Wherever your next flight takes you, remember, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal.”

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

In Honor of Black History Month


Cape Coast Today: Slaves Departure Point

Dear Readers,

Yes, I am fully aware that BHM is relatively an American tradition. And yes, I meant to post the article below a few days ago. It’s been a busy month. Getting ready pursue a different path,  more in line with my life’s calling.

I will never forget my trip to the Motherland. Having spent two weeks among some of the most beautiful and kind-hearted people I have ever met. The visit to the slave castles, left an indelible impression on my soul. How I wished that I had more time to return again, and again. I plan on returning to Africa, until then I have memories.  So, there was no doubt in my mind, when I found this piece below, what I would share to honor this month, and what it represents to me, as a black woman.

Read on.

“Soooo you mean to tell me that someone down your ancestry line survived being chained to other human bodies for several months in the bottom of a disease-infested ship during the Middle Passage, lost their language, customs and traditions, picked up the English language as best they could while working free of charge from sunup to sundown as they watched babies sold from out of their arms and women raped by ruthless slave owners.

Took names with no last names, no birth certificates, no heritage of any kind, braved the Underground Railroad, survived the Civil War to enter into sharecropping…

Learned to read and write out of sheer will and determination, faced the burning crosses of the KKK, everted their eyes at the black bodies swinging from ropes hung on trees…

Fought in World Wars as soldiers to return to America as boys, marched in Birmingham, hosed in Selma, jailed in Wilmington, assassinated in Memphis, segregated in the South, ghettoed in the North, ignored in history books, sterotyped in Hollywood…

and in spite of it all someone in your family line endured every era to make sure you would get here and you receive one rejection, face one obstacle, lose one friend, get overlooked, and you want to quit? How dare you entertain the very thought of quitting. People you will never know survived from generation to generation so you could succeed. Don’t you dare let them down!!

Give this to your young people who don’t know their history and want to get weak!

It is NOT in our DNA to quit!” – Author Unknown

 Until the next post, take care of yourselves and your families.

Best,

 Juan

 

 

 

تغذية طبيعتي التجوال!


Our group, watching the Sunset in Wadi Rum

I just returned from a truly epic thirteen-day adventure through the spectacular, history-steeped landscapes of Jordan and Egypt. We wandered the ancient city of Petra, bathed in the Dead Sea, experienced firsthand the true hospitality and friendliness of the Bedouin people. Saw the great Giza pyramids in Cairo, toured this land of mighty pharaohs, and returned with amazing memories of a land and people, hardly ever depicted in the news.  I spent a few extra days solo in Egypt, which has not seen the last of my face!

Coincidentally, less than a week before I was due to leave, a friend from the UK was vacationing in Petra. He posted about the recent flash floods, which killed more than 20 people, including school children, whose bus was swept away by the floods. Tourists were evacuated from the same gorge, I was planning on exploring with the group. It was the worse flash flood related deaths; the country had experienced in more than 50 years. As for Egypt, well, we all know what happened in recent years. One cannot escape a certain amount of uneasiness, that the media portrays.  I had looked forward to this vacation for months. It is not often that I would get to see two ancient wonders of the Middle Ages and modern world in one trip. I had faith it would all be okay. It turned out more than okay. It was spectacular!

أهلا وسهلا بك إلى الأردن

I arrived in Jordan a day early to ward off jet-lag and see the sights not included on the itinerary.  The hotel was simple and functional. The following evening, we had a group meeting, where the leader asked everyone to introduce themselves; I got serious travel envy when I heard two members had visited 114 and 86 countries! The rest of the trip would was spent living out of suitcases, with never more than two nights in the same place. I adored the people of Jordan, who, thankfully, lived up to their reputation for being hospitable, kind and helpful. Everywhere we went, locals, with wide smiles on their faces often shouted: “Welcome to Jordan!”

Highlights

Mt Nebo: the spot where the prophet Moses saw the ‘promised land’ and is supposedly buried. We had time to explore sanctuary and view the remarkable mosaics of the 4th century church. Luckily enough, we were blessed with glorious weather, which gave us magnificent views over the Dead Sea, to Israel, and neighboring countries. I reveled in the experience, as I stood in the same are the prophet Moses did, thousands of years ago. You can’t help but wonder how he and the Israelites felt overlooking this majestic place

The Dead Sea: considered the lowest point on earth, at 420 meters below sea level. A few of us, covered our entire bodies with nutrient-rich natural mineral mud bath, which is supposed to have healing properties. A good soak in the sea, with a delicious meal, is a must. I wished we had more time here!

Petra: most arguably, the highlight of any visit to Jordan. The magnificent Jewel of Jordan, and lost city of the biblical Nabateans, an impressive series of tombs and dwellings hidden behind ornate facades carved directly into the rock, and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. We left the hotel at 7:30 am, and never made it back until around 5:30, having walked some 20+km.

I’ve seen hundreds of photos, of this magnificent wonder of the world. However, when I walked through the passageway and came upon the stunning vision of the Treasury, all I could think of was the song “This is what you came for”.  I challenged myself to climb 800+ steps to the Monastery, and another 600+ to the Hill of Higher Sacrifice. It was very tiring, my feet ached, I wanted to turn back, BUT, once I got to the top of both places, nothing to could prepare me for the obvious sense of accomplishment, elation,  surprise, and of course the views!

Meeting Raami : and having my photo taken with him. He is the son of Marguerite, the author of Married to a Bedouin. In summary, she was from NZ visiting Jordan many years ago with a friend, when she met Mohammad. They fell in love, she moved to Petra, married him, and lived a cave. They had three children. She wrote a book about her experience. I purchased a copy, which was signed by her. So, freaking cool!

Wadi Rum:  the extraordinary desert scenery and rugged moonscape of huge sandstone mountains. This Wadi Rum is full of weird and beautiful lunar-like rock formations, and traces of ancient civilizations can be seen in the many carved inscriptions found throughout the area. We arrived at camp shortly before sunset, which we watched together as a group. We then enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked in an earthen oven by our Bedouin hosts, and slept in a simple desert tent. My heart was overflowing by this point in the journey. I didn’t know I had to make room for even more joy as the journey continued.

This following day, the group boarded a ferry to cross over into Egypt.  I was particularly nervous about this part of the trip, as I suffer from sea sickness. I didn’t need to worry, I had taken precautions, prepared, and fared very well. We arrived into Egypt around 1:30 am, where we were met by our Egyptian guide, Ahmed. It was close to 3 am, by the time we fell into bed, nestled in beautiful beach huts, on the Red Sea.

Egypt: Land of Pharaohs and Gods

I didn’t know, prior to this trip, that the men in Egypt, are notorious flirts, and the country is listed as one of the top ten most aggressively flirtatious countries! I see why now 😊.

Dahab: before heading off to Cairo, we spent two nights in Dahab; once a Bedouin fishing village, but now a very popular tourist town. While I was not keen to explore the 100-meter-deep, Blue Hole, which is second only to Australia, for some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, Dahab will always be remembered as having some of the best food I’ve eaten on the trip, and impeccable customer service.

Cairo: a short one-hour plane ride took us to Cairo. Sure, I’d heard about the traffic situation in this chaotic city. The experience on the other hand, was out of this world!  One-word TRAFFIC LIGHTS. I saw about four lights, and two pedestrian crossings, in all the days I spent in the city. My guide told me that they are only found at major intersections. I did see a few traffic Police directing traffic, otherwise, it’s every man and woman for themselves. To cross the street, you simply motion for the drivers to stop, and take a risk. Car horns serve as traffic lights.

The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx: yet again, I was transported to a time, when I gazed in wonder and awe at the photos posted on travel sites and in groups.  These marvelous structures have managed to stand tall for 4500+ years, and maintained their mystique and power. Being up close to these tombs is amazing. I chose not to enter the largest tomb during this visit, preferring instead to take the time allotted to us, to walk around them outside. What can I say about the Pyramids?! Just visit, if you haven’t been already!

The Egyptian Museum: a building which boasts the world’s great collections of antiquities. Of course, I couldn’t come this far without paying a bit extra to see the mummy room. No visit to the museum is complete without it.  The recovered tomb of Tutankhamun is among some of the treasures of this place; the gold jewelry to the famous golden death mask and his gilded sarcophagi. Egypt is now building the world’s largest museum, set to open in about two years. Interestingly enough, there are thousands of items in the current museum’s basement, that has never been seen by the public, but will be displayed in the new space. Another reason for me to return to this historically steeped country!

I had two days on my own, one of which I spent in Alexandria. In America, I would never jump into a vehicle with two strangers, who happen to be men, drive 2.5 hours each way, and spend an entire day in their company. I didn’t feel any fear. I had talked to the guide for months before my arrival, researched him, got referrals, and even though he sent his colleagues to be my guides for the day, there was nothing for me to fear.

Alexandria: Egypt’s second largest city, main port, and once the capital. We headed underground and delve into the mysteries of the Kom ash-Shuqqafa catacombs. A donkey fell into a shaft thousands of years ago, and incidentally, led to the discovery of this Roman burial site,  the largest of its kind in Egypt. I was taken to Pompey’s Pillar, Mohammad Ali Mosque, Alexandria Lighthouse, which at one point, was a wonder of the Middle Ages. The last stop was the Alexandria Library; one cannot visit this amazing city and not step foot inside the strikingly beautiful building, which holds over 8 million books, with 200 more being collected every day.

Islamic Cairo Tour: I decided to spend my last day, touring the city’s renowned Islāmic sites. Highlights of which includes Citadel of Salah Ed-Din. Located high atop Cairo, the Citadel boasts magnificent views of the city, the famous Sultan Hassan Mosque, which dates to the 13th century, and considered to be one of the masterpieces of Islamic art and architecture. The Mohamed Ali Mosque, one of Cairo’s most visible landmarks, is not to be missed. The last stop was to the local bazaar, Khan el-Khalili, one of the world’s largest bazaars, dating back to 1382.

I had the most magical time visiting these two wonderful countries, with warm welcoming people, whose only wish was to make sure we had a great time, only asking one thing of us; to be ambassadors and spread the word that the Jordan and Egypt are open for business, and safe to visit. I live in NYC for the time being, and felt ten times safer on my vacation, than I do in NYC!

There are some things to be aware of; in Jordan, your hotel will most likely be near a mosque. Every morning, apart from when we were in the desert, we were awoken at 4:30 am, by the prayer calls.

Egypt’s traffic is not be trifled with, especially in Cairo! When visiting the tourist sites, you’ll be harassed by local vendors, trying to make a living. Tipping is always expected. The men are incredibly flirtatious, I did find this harmless. No one takes stock of the time…if you prepare for your visit, with these caveats in mind, and stay open-minded to having a wonderful time, you will have one of the best vacations of your life.

I’m so grateful that I didn’t let the media influence my decision to visit two incredible countries, meet some amazing people, receive the best customer service I’ve ever had, and form new friendships. I’ll be back to Egypt, as I only scratched the surface of this magical and mythological place.

Jordan and Egypt, tour guides Mohammed, Ahmed, Sherif, Mido, and Dalia, and the people I met in the group I traveled with, thanks for the memories!

I’ve already made plans to travel to South America, India, Nepal, and Iran next year. Life is meant for living. A few years ago, I discovered my passion for travelling, haven’t stop. Have no intention of doing so. If you are planning a visit, or thinking of doing so, and have questions, please either post them below, or send me a message using the contact form above. I’ll be more than happy to help

I’ll be back with my last post of 2018!

Until then, take care of yourselves, and your families.

Best,

Juan

 

 

 

Mama Africa. Thank You!


A week ago yesterday, I was in Turkey, waiting for the last leg of my flight back to the US. As I sat in the lounge wafting for the flight to begin boarding, I took time to look at the hundreds of photos I had taken over the past two weeks. You see, I was returning from a multi dimensional trip to the Motherland. My time in Ghana is indescribable. I had no expectations going in, but by the time I left, a new, bolder, and very ambitious vision had taken shape. One that is set to change the course of my life!

One post cannot deliver a suitable narrative for all the things I did, the experiences I reveled in, people I met and formed instant, long-lasting bonds with, and the emotions which overtook me every day.  I spent the first week volunteering at a village orphanage, and would wrap up my two-week stay exploring the sights and sounds of Ghana! What an incredible life-changing and affirming experience.

The overcrowded village orphanage houses more than 140 children and young adults, ranging in ages from 0 to 26 years.  Frequent medical care is needed. At least 2-3 children share a single bunk bed. Children sleep outside on the veranda. School is also held outside and under a mango tree. Many orphans have experienced bullying, when they tried to attend regular schools. Basic toilet/bathroom facilities are nonexistent.  Malaria is prevalent, and some of the children have HIV. The orphanage is in dire straits in many ways, but thriving in some areas. A new facility is being built, but progress has been slow. More on that later.

First I wanted to tell you a bit about some of the children I met, and have now become my adopted 6.  As soon as we pulled up to the volunteer house, six-year-old *Shelly * (names have been changed) and three other girls ran out to meet us. She and I bonded instantly! Shelly has called the orphanage home for the past two years. You see, her mother has sickle-cell anemia, and is often hospitalized for weeks, as she battles the life threatening disease.  The father had long since abandoned her mother. Unable to care for Shelly any longer, she was handed over to the orphanage. Apparently, African men often abandon their families without a second thought.

*Jenny* is smart, beautiful, talkative, and very intelligent. She enjoyed the crossword puzzles I bought, and often asked for help finding difficult words. On my birthday, a celebration was held for me; they sang, some danced, and performed, while I sat at a table looking on. They asked for blessings on my life, health, and everything else. Good thing I had it recorded. Jenny, wrote me a beautiful letter, and by some miracle, gave me a pair of earrings. I don’t know how she did so, but that night as I read the sweet, beautifully penned words, the tears were free-flowing. I don’t know much more about her story (I did ask). Her parents are still alive, however, they don’t visit as often as they use to.

*Erika*, is from a family of 6 siblings, however, she was the only one who ended up at the Orphanage. Apparently, the house they were living in fell down on her mother, killing her. The father left, and she ended up there. The older siblings visit when they could. Erika always has a smile on her face. She is one of 5 girls who were chosen to help out at the volunteer house. Erika works tirelessly, and not once did I hear a complaint. One day, she will become a respected Dentist.

*Deborah*, is one of four siblings at the orphanage. After her father died, her mother was suspected of having a role in the death (this is unfounded). His family shunned her, and she was no longer able to take care of them. She was left to make the heart breaking decision, to turn them over to the Orphanage. *Deborah’s* dream is to one day become a banker.

Deborah’s sister *Hannah* is more quiet and reserved. She reminds me a lot of myself at her age. Still trying to figure out the world around her. I could tell she misses her family being together. I think if I had more than a week there, we would have developed a stronger bond. I could tell something was very much troubling her, and tried to get her to open up, but she held back. The sadness in her eyes broke my heart in so many pieces. She wasn’t interested in much of the activities;however, she did want to skip. So on my last day, I gifted her a pink skipping rope.

*Suzy* was one of the older girls who fixed us delicious meals, and took charge in Auntie B’s absence. She spoke with a smile, and just brought so much joy to the experience of us being there. She is in senior high school, and does a great job of keeping things running smoothly. On our last night, I wrote her and the other girl’s letters of encouragement and support. I could tell they were surprised by the gesture. They all happily returned the favor.

I decided to spend a lot of time with as many kids at the orphanage as I could; their dreams are so much bigger than I had at that time in my life! If you met them on the outside, you would never guess their plight. The stories will break your heart, BUT, the smiles, playfulness, and all around good nature, is beyond anything I have ever seen, from a people who have absolutely nothing. I bought puzzles, games, play doh, stickers etc. You CANNOT imagine how joyful they were to take part in these activities. Once they completed an activity, they were rewarded with stickers. Such a small reward, but to them, it meant so much more. I made sure that on my last day, I would have nothing left over.

As mentioned above, my birthday was spent at the orphanage, and a celebration was held for me. There was music dancing, singing and well wishing. I sat a table, and looked on as the children and adults wished me well. It’s not often I will have the opportunity to spend my birthday in this most special way! I was asked to say a few words, and could only manage just that much, as the tears were free-flowing. As I looked over the faces of so many young ones, I tried very hard to memorize them all. It was incredibly important for me to immortalize this moment. According to tradition, the birthday person supplies the drinks and snacks, and a friend gets the cake. The guide I had been talking to for more than a year, before my trip, did just that. The pure delight at being treated to something so simple and abundant in the West, brought me to tears. We gave out seconds and thirds. My heart was heavy, and bursting with so much love for people, I had only known for a few days.

It was very difficult to say goodbye, especially to *Shelly*. As we piled into the SUV to leave for the last time, she and I started crying. We hugged for a long time, but it wasn’t enough, could never be enough. I hoped she knew how much I had come to love her, and just how much I plan on helping her for as long, as I walk this earth. I left a donation to the orphanage, and two of the girls for simple things they needed. I knew then, what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I will always have more than I will ever need. I made a choice to help change the generations that will come from these loving and gentle souls.

My British bestie, Maggie, joined me for the second part of the trip. It was a perfect way to wrap up my first visit to the motherland. We journeyed to Cape Coast; the main attraction is the slave castle, which once housed thousands of slaves, before they were shipped off to the Americas and Caribbean, bound for a life, they were certainly afraid of. We saw the room and conditions the rebellious slaves were kept in. After being publicly flogged, they were left to die in a windowless room. No food or water was given. A soldier would occasionally check in, to see if they had passed on. Once this was the case, the bodies were dumped in the ocean. For effect, the guide closed the door for less than a minute, while we were inside. Chilling.

We toured the male dungeons, where coincidentally, church services were held just above. Female slaves and children were housed together. We saw the observation rooms, where soldiers stood guard and kept on eye out for any planned rebellions. To overcome the language barrier, spies were planted among real slaves. Their sole purpose was to bring back word to the Governors.  The Door of No Return symbolized the end of one nightmare, and the beginning of another. Once the slaves passed through, they were loaded onto ships, bound for their new homes. I now understand fully, the meaning of the phrase “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, for they knew that death was better than bondage”

It was also in Cape Coast, where I was blessed with a beautiful African Naming and Welcome Home Ceremony. The proceedings were watched over, and performed by the third Queen of the one of the tribes, and a village Father. The love, warmth, welcome, and total acceptance directed at me, was indescribable. I honestly felt that I was HOME. The Queen invited me to visit her home, the next time I’m in Ghana. For now, she welcomed me back, and expressed gratitude for the visit. It was a proud moment.

Back in Accra, we got involved in so many activities; survived the infamous, and nerve-racking canopy walk at Kakum National Park, toured the magnificent Aburi Botanical Gardens, visited the Mausoleum of the country’s first prime minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, learned how to play drums, ate too much delicious, freshly prepared dishes. Shopping is quite the experience, as we left it up to our guide to haggle for us. We had to spend the last night at the DC 10 Restaurant. It’s housed in an old airplane, formerly belonging to Ghana Airlines. We got dressed up in matching outfits. While waiting in the lobby for our guide/driver, we attracted the attention of the male hotel guests, who began taking our photos:). The front desk clerk asked if it was okay, to place the photo on the website.  How cool is that?!

I’m back in the US now, and trying to catch up on my projects, business, and platforms. I had the most amazing time in Ghana. There is work for me to do, and a lot of newly adopted kids who to help. Working in Social Services, I know the difference it makes in the lives of my clients. However, the work I’m about to embark on, is so much bigger than anything I have ever done. I’m asking for prayers to guide my steps. My heart is full, my eyes are wet, so help me Lord, lest I forget.

A myriad of life choices led me to a small village in Ghana, where I am convinced; they were waiting to change my life, instead of the other way around. I have been given much, and now I must share with those who have nothing, in ways I’ve never dreamed of. Thank you Mama Africa, and especially to the wonderfully kind people of Ghana…till we meet again.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

Why We Marched


22march18-superjumboPhoto Credit : Nicole Cainer (NYT)

Two weeks ago yesterday, I was on my way to Manhattan to do some sightseeing. As I boarded the train, I remembered there was a Women’s March in DC, and cities all over the country. I hadn’t taken part in any marches for almost five years. I am ridiculously spontaneous, and thought to myself, “Is the activity I’m about to take part in, more important than what was happening all over the world today”? No! I wasn’t wearing a proper jacket, which would keep me warm outside for hours. The shoes I wore were another story. I would also be flying solo. As is my nature, I threw caution to the wind, and forged ahead anyway!

As the train headed deeper and deeper into Manhattan, it got VERY crowded. Pretty soon, everyone was rubbing elbows. My eyes met and held those of other women, obviously all heading to one central location or another. One of them smile widely at me, I smiled back. No words were needed. It was then I knew I was doing the right thing. I needed to catch another train to the destination I chose, Grand Central Station. The subway was literally crawling at a snail’s pace. To give you an idea, hundreds would move forward and board. Once the train took off, then another throng would do the same thing.  There wasn’t any pushing or shoving.Wash and repeat.

I cannot begin to describe the atmosphere of the city. As I exited Grand Central Station, I was greeted by the sight above. I joined the swarm of men, women, children, the elderly, all together for a common cause. Every few minutes, we would all chant the same things, after which a loud roar would start from the back of the crowd, and make its way to the front. There was literally no place to walk. The march was a crawl; we could only move every few minutes. I won’t forget January 21st, 2017.

The next day, social media was saturated with stories, and videos, of millions sharing their experiences. The march was held on every continent. Imagine that!! I found this rather beautiful and phenomenally written piece below.  The writer encapsulates all my thoughts and feelings on why I marched. I knew some of my more conservative friends were taken aback by my participation.  It’s too bad really. I’ve learned to live my truth. A few have posted about it being a waste of time etc. To them I say, please read the piece below, over and over, until it is fully understood:)

The battle goes on. There is a reason why I feel so content and happy working in Social Services. It’s where I belong. I absolutely LOVE this quote: “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence” Christopher Hitchens.

“Say thank you. Say thank you to the women who gave you a voice. Say thank you to the women who were arrested and imprisoned and beaten and gassed for you to have a voice. Say thank you to the women who refused to back down, to the women who fought tirelessly to give you a voice. Say thank you to the women who put their lives on hold, who –lucky for you — did not have “better things to do” than to march and protest and rally for your voice. So you don’t feel like a “second class citizen.” So you get to feel “equal.”

Thank Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul for your right to vote.

Thank Elizabeth Stanton for your right to work.

Thank Maud Wood Park for your prenatal care and your identity outside of your husband.

Thank Rose Schneiderman for your humane working conditions.

Thank Eleanor Roosevelt and Molly Dewson for your ability to work in politics and affect policy.

Thank Margaret Sanger for your legal birth control.

Thank Carol Downer for your reproductive healthcare rights.

Thank Sarah Muller for your equal education.

Thank Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Shannon Turner, Gloria Steinem, Zelda Kingoff Nordlinger, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Malika Saada Saar, Wagatwe Wanjuki, Ida B. Wells, Malala Yousafzai. Thank your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother who did not have half of the rights you have now.

You can make your own choices, speak and be heard, vote, work, control your body, defend yourself, defend your family, because of the women who marched. You did nothing to earn those rights. You were born into those rights. You did nothing, but you reap the benefits of women, strong women, women who fought misogyny and pushed through patriarchy and fought for you. And you sit on your pedestal, a pedestal you are fortunate enough to have, and type. A keyboard warrior. A fighter for complacency. An acceptor of what you were given. A denier of facts. Wrapped up in your delusion of equality.

You are not equal. Even if you feel like you are. You still make less than a man for doing the same work. You make less as a CEO, as an athlete, as an actress, as a doctor. You make less in government, in the tech industry, in healthcare.

You still don’t have full rights over your own body. Men are still debating over your uterus. Over your prenatal care. Over your choices.

You still have to pay taxes for your basic sanitary needs.

You still have to carry mace when walking alone at night. You still have to prove to the court why you were drunk on the night you were raped. You still have to justify your behavior when a man forces himself on you.

You still don’t have paid (or even unpaid) maternity leave. You still have to go back to work while your body is broken. While you silently suffer from postpartum depression.

You still have to fight to breastfeed in public. You still have to prove to other women it’s your right to do so. You still offend others with your breasts.

You are still objectified. You are still catcalled. You are still sexualized. You are still told you’re too skinny or you’re too fat. You’re still told you’re too old or too young. You’re applauded when you “age gracefully.” You’re still told men age “better.” You’re still told to dress like a lady. You are still judged on your outfit instead of what’s in your head. What brand bag you have still matters more than your college degree.

You are still being abused by your husband, by your boyfriend. You’re still being murdered by your partners. Being beaten by your soulmate.

You are still worse off if you are a woman of colour, a gay woman, a transgender woman. You are still harassed, belittled, dehumanised.

Your daughters are still told they are beautiful before they are told they are smart. Your daughters are still told to behave even though “boys will be boys.” Your daughters are still told boys pull hair or pinch them because they like them.

You are not equal. Your daughters are not equal. You are still systemically oppressed.

Estonia allows parents to take up to three years of leave, fully paid for the first 435 days. United States has no policy requiring maternity leave.

Singapore’s women feel safe walking alone at night. American women do not.

New Zealand’s women have the smallest gender gap in wages, at 5.6%. United States’ pay gap is 20%.

Iceland has the highest number of women CEOs, at 44%. United States is at 4.0%.

The United States ranks at 45 for women’s equality. Behind Rwanda, Cuba, Philippines, Jamaica.

But I get it. You don’t want to admit it. You don’t want to be a victim. You think feminism is a dirty word. You think it’s not classy to fight for equality. You hate the word pussy. Unless of course you use it to call a man who isn’t up to your standard of manhood. You know the type of man that “allows” “his” woman to do whatever she damn well pleases. I get it. You believe feminists are emotional, irrational, unreasonable. Why aren’t women just satisfied with their lives, right? You get what you get and you don’t get upset, right?

I get it. You want to feel empowered. You don’t want to believe you’re oppressed. Because that would mean you are indeed a “second-class citizen.” You don’t want to feel like one. I get it. But don’t worry. I will walk for you. I will walk for your daughter. And your daughter’s daughter. And maybe you will still believe the world did not change. You will believe you’ve always had the rights you have today. And that’s okay. Because women who actually care and support other women don’t care what you think about them. They care about their future and the future of the women who come after them.

Open your eyes. Open them wide. Because I’m here to tell you, along with millions of other women that you are not equal. Our equality is an illusion. A feel-good sleight of hand. A trick of the mind. I’m sorry to tell you, but you are not equal. And neither are your daughters.

But don’t worry. We will walk for you. We will fight for you. We will stand up for you. And one day you will actually be equal, instead of just feeling like you are.” ~ Dina Leygerman, 2017

 Until the next post,

Best,

Juan