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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Paradise Found: Dahab

Day 121 - 125

While working at the hostel, a couple of people had told me about this place called Dahab in Egypt…a big scuba diving destination, I wasn’t sure if I’d really be interested in going being that I am from Hawaii and to be honest, beaches don’t really impress me too much, especially when compared to Hawaii’s own.  But the last Australian I had met could not stop talking about it.

After we crossed the border, somewhere in the Red Sea, we arrived in Nuweiba, Egypt.  Luckily, I was able to convince Lee that we should try to spend a few days in Dahab before moving on and seeing all the famous sites of Egypt.  The problem though when we arrived at the butt crack of dawn was that we couldn’t find the shuttle that I had read about.  We also couldn’t find the town of Nuweiba.  All the drivers who were desperately waiting for passengers all gave us the same story and told us the ‘town’ was far and that we couldn’t walk there and that the bus to Dahab wasn’t until 4:00PM.  I didn’t want to go with these drivers who were obviously taking advantage of our situation.  All I needed was internet but we didn’t see any signs of a town and I wasn’t catching any wi-fi signal.  So…reluctantly, we agreed to go with one of the drivers at a rate of 60EGP ($10.50), each.

We arrived in Dahab about an hour or so later, it’s about 80km away from the port of Nuweiba.  We arrived and the driver took us to a place called Auski Camp (stands for Aussie + Kiwi) and was actually one of the places we had considered.  Ready to take no survivors, I bargained down Osama, the young guy that worked there, for a room WITH air conditioning + bathroom ensuite.  I told him that we would stay for two days but perhaps longer.  Contrary to any other person I had tried to bargain with in the past, he refused my business and agreed to my rate of 50EGP ($8.80) a night but said that we shouldn’t stay too long…ha. Okay, we shook on the deal and Lee and I shared a room for less than $5 a person!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Aqaba on to Egypt…

Waiting for someone to take us to Aqaba

Ali dropped us off on the highway, as he said he would and again, thank God, I was with the guys.  Seriously, I would have freaked out if I was dropped off at the highway by myself; at least we had each other.  The owner, who was driving in front of us, was also taking his cook, who was Egyptian and who was also trying to make it to Aqaba so that he could take the ferry over to Egypt. So, Ali told us that he would help us get to Aqaba.  We waited in the hot sun for a while and there were a few buses that passed us but none of them stopped.  Finally a taxi stopped and we were able to get the 4 of us in.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Drama in the Rum…

So the next morning, I got up and went downstairs to meet Ali at 9:00AM to do our Wadi Rum tour.  The tour which was an overnight in the Wadi Rum desert wasn’t cheap; the guys paid 65JD (USD$91) for the tour that included dinner, breakfast and transportation to and from Wadi Rum.  As an employee, I received my employee discount and paid significantly less but it still wasn’t cheap.

We headed straight for the hotel where the two guys were staying.  Just as I walked in, I spotted Peter but Lee was nowhere to be found.  They had actually thought that they were getting picked up at 1:00PM (they sent me an email confirming time but I never received it) and Lee had stepped out to find a place to cut his hair (he had been traveling for about 3 weeks at this point).  So, Ali and I hopped back into the truck and went around town looking for him; I had to show a photo of Lee since he hadn’t met him yet.  We drove around and because the town is so small, we quickly found him walking down the hill towards Petra.

By about 9:45AM, we were on our way…we drove through desert landscape but it wasn’t anything that I hadn’t seen before.  I had seen similar scenery in Namibia and even in Arizona….the other thing was that Ali wasn’t much of a communicator so we didn’t really know what was going on half the time….as we were driving, I didn’t know the tour had already started!  I actually thought we were driving somewhere and then were going to head out.  So all the while, didn’t pay too much attention to the scenery since I thought we were just passing through.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lost in the Lost City…

A few days later, there was interest stirring up at the hostel of doing a trip down to Petra. Finally! I had been spending my days at the hostel waiting for someone to book a trip so that I could tag along.  There were some Greek girls who were interested in going and there were two other guys who were planning to do the trip on their own and were leaving the next morning. I thought it would have been great to have left with the two guys because one of the guys, Lee, was making his way back to Egypt and Egypt was in my plans. But, I was only finding out about their plans on Tuesday night during our rooftop barbecue.
IMG_1671   IMG_1672
Either way though, I was hoping to meet up with Lee later in Egypt because he was telling me that he was planning to climb the Great Pyramids of Giza! Apparently he had done a lot of research on this subject and I thought if it weren’t too dangerous, it'd be something I was interested in doing too!
The following day, another guest, a Canadian guy, decided that he wanted to go down to Petra the next day. At first, he was going to be joining the Greeks and in that case, there would be no room for me but it turned out that the girls were going to make their own arrangements by going with their local Jordanian friends and so the the Canadian would be going solo;  I decided this would be a good opportunity for me to finally go!
If I were going to Petra, the other idea that I had was that I could actually meet up with the guys and go down to Egypt with Lee. But, that would mean I would have to meet up with them somehow since they had already left….

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You’ll never know who you’ll meet….

My first morning in Jordan, I was awoken rather early (I thought it was 7AM but apparently it was more like 5:30AM) by the sounds of the ‘Call to Prayer’. In the predominantly Muslim country, the Call to Prayer is heard several times a day (5 to be exact) urging Muslims to pray towards Mecca…or at least this is my understanding of it. I must have been startled by the sounds and woke up but quickly realized that it was way too early to wake up and decided to go back to bed. I didn’t emerge from my room until 3:00PM on my first day there. It was too late to go to the Amphitheater or the Citadel as I was told that it closed at 4PM. So I just hung around the hostel.

I never heard the early morning Call to Prayer after that. The following morning, I was the face you’d see when you walked into the the hostel (granted that it was after 10:00AM).  I hadn’t seen anything of the city except for a walk down the streets of downtown with my co-worker, Khaled, the driver. I absorbed everything and was glad to be escorted by a local male.  I had heard stories about single women in the Middle East…It’s a hard place to get by, on the one hand, constant stares of desire (or so the say) by the men, and often times looks of disdain, mostly from other women, if you’re wearing anything that exposes some skin: tank tops, sleeveless tops, shorts, skirts, you get the picture.  But, if you’re with a guy, somehow it’s as if you got an ‘Get out of Jail” card and you don’t seem to get as much attention than if you were walking alone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It was love at first sight and so I said yes…

I was on the plane heading over to the Middle East…The Middle East! It’s that faraway place you only hear about on the news?!  I was finally going there! First inspired by one of my political science professors, Dr. Nasr, I knew one day I’d like to go to his home country - Lebanon.  Jordan is not quite Lebanon but it was close. Other than the association with my prof, the only other knowledge I had about Jordan was what I saw on a 10 year running reality TV show in Japan called Ai nori where 4 men, 3 women, always random, travel around the world in search of love. (Yes, I like cheesy shows like that and quite bummed that they’ve ended the show!) Besides finding love, they visit with people around the world and see famous places. Petra and Wadi Rum, two of the most famous places in Jordan, left a lasting impression on me… After seeing that episode over a year ago; I knew I wanted to go there.

So I was going here. Usually before I start any trip, I always try to find someone who knows someone…especially if I’m traveling alone. Unfortunately, of all the people that I know, I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone in Jordan so I was going alone. Traveling to a foreign land alone can be quite terrifying; traveling to the Middle East alone can be traumatic. But it wasn’t! With a travel guide - where I must pause and thank my dear friend Stephanie again for buying me this book when I was staying with her in Breedon-on-the-Hill! Thanks Steph! - for the first time on this trip, I was reading about how nice the people were and how incredibly safe it was; this laid to rest a lot of my anxiety.

The Venice of the North

Is what St. Petersburg has been dubbed and it truly is…when you walk down the streets, you’ll be amazed to see how many canals there are and how the architecture is something out of Western European. We also heard that many of the early urban planners modeled the city after Amsterdam. Whatever city St. Petersburg tried to imitate, it’s definitely not what you’d expect from Russia, or at least in my head.

The city changed its name three times (St. Petersburg - Petrograd - Leningrad) and finally reverted and settled on its original name, St. Petersburg, named after St. Peter who founded the city; contrary to many who assume that it was named after Peter the Great. Upon arriving in St. Petersburg, we sensed a different vibe from the one we left back in Moscow. Maybe it was our imagination but the people here seemed much friendlier and a few people even stopped to ask if we were okay and needed any help. We also recalled that the girl who helped us with our train back in Moscow was actually a native of St. Petersburg! There exists a longstanding rivalry between the cities and each will have their own opinions but for me at least, St. Petersburg was much more welcoming and here made me feel like I was traveling in a not-so-foreign place.

After we got off the train, we quickly found the metro and found our way to our hotel. The hotel, which we found through was located right in the center of the city and for $120 a night, we each had our own bed, breakfast and free wi-fi! Not to mention, the company also provides the necessary sponsorship documentation(for free) which is required for all foreigners applying for a Russian Visa. I later learned from others that hotels charged about $30 for this service.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From Russia with Love

Day 86 - Day 100!

So, I finally made it to Moscow!  After all the hassles that I had with the visa, again, I was admitted into the country with very little questioning.  We were about an hour delayed and so I needed to quickly find my luggage and make my way out towards my friend Eleanor’s house.  Eleanor and I also used to work together; she is also good friends with Yvonne, Maggie and Andy!  Eleanor has been living and working in Moscow for the last year and a half so I was extremely lucky to know someone in Moscow who knew the area and could speak the language.  Russia is rumored to be one of the most expensive cities in the world and I wasn’t entirely excited to see if this rumor was true!  

I was also very lucky to have two friends come out to see me!  It was definitely a special treat to have a visit from friends!   There haven’t been many moments that I was completely alone on my trip; I was always surrounded by good people, but it is definitely much more fun to be able to discover a city and experience things with dear friends.  So my two visitors were: Judy and Simone.  I met both of them on my study abroad to Japan almost 13 years ago!  Judy is a very close friend of mine and we have traveled to many countries together.  She is and has continued to be a great supporter of my current soul searching mission.  Simone, who is Dutch, also came along on the journey.  I haven’t seen this girl in years!  10 years to be exact!  The last time I saw her, was in her hometown of Amsterdam.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Case of the missing underwear…Travel gone bad…happy endings in Moscow

I pulled an all-nighter…the first time in a while.  I had been on a mission for the last week or so to finish the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert so that I could leave it for Stephanie.  I didn’t finish it in time when I was in Breedon on the Hill so I thought I will definitely finish the book while I’m in London and I’d see if maybe Gogz could take it with him when he went to visit the family in Breedon.  Well, I never got in touch with Gogz, and in the meantime, I got Maggie interested in the book so the new plan was to leave the book for Maggie who could then post it to Stephanie after she was done reading it.

So I stayed up all night and didn’t get any shut eye so that I may try and finish the book. Until the final minutes, I was reading the book!  I was getting worried that for only 20 pages or so, I’d have to take the book with me and then post it to Maggie so that she could post it to Steph.  At about 5:04AM, I finished the book! I then put away my laptop and all my other knickknacks spread out and thought my driver should be here any minute.

The house phone rang at 5:07AM and I told the driver that I’d be down in 5 minutes. He started arguing with me asking ‘didn’t you want me here at 5:10?’ I told him, ‘I need to hang up the phone now so that I can get ready.’ I didn’t really see the point in arguing when I could be packing my things and getting downstairs as soon as I could.  I really thought that maybe the driver left though…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Celebrate Good Friends

Day 73 -86

I arrived safely in the United Kingdom. It was a long flight but I was able to sleep most of the way. It’s one of the gifts I have been blessed with, I can sleep anywhere! I have been to London several times so it wasn’t anything new for me. I was hoping to be able to sort my bus ticket before arriving but for some reason, I wasn’t able to pay online. When I contacted my credit card company, I was told that due to the increase of fraudulent activity in the UK, you need to call in to request that your card be activated. Since I ran out of time, I didn’t have a choice but to get my ticket upon arrival; which worked out to my benefit because I was able to find a ticket to get a ticket for much less than I had originally found.

The only trade-off was that I needed to go into the city and then board a bus from there; which was fine by me because after I returned from visiting Steph, I would be spending my final days in London anyway. So, I found my way on the tube to Victoria Coach Station. I’ve done this route before, most recently as 2006, so it was all vaguely familiar for me except this time I had so much more to carry! I was still carrying the tent, 2 bottles of champagne, books for the kids and my two backpacks…

Managed to find my way and arrived safely in Leicester at 12:40PM. Steph lives about 45 minutes away; in a smaller town called Breedon on the Hill and was trying to time my arrival to come get me. There were no loading zones so I had no idea where Steph would be coming from. Somehow, she spotted me and waved to me from across the street. It was soooo nice to see her after all these years! The last time I had seen Steph was in 2006 when I came to surprise visit her for what was supposed to be a weekend trip (4 days + 2 days traveling) over Thanksgiving. That was before all the little kids came; it would be almost exactly a year later that her daughter Maya would be born. Now, there were two!  And coincidentally, I was coming just in time to celebrate little James' 1st birthday!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The beautiful people of South Africa…

So I arrived in Gaborone 30 minutes earlier than planned. My bus driver was awesome he got me there safely and early! What more could I ask for? When we arrived, I asked him if he thought there were still buses that were leaving for Joburg. He said that there should be and pointed me in the direction that the buses usually wait to fill up before making the 6 hour drive across the border. It was all the way across the parking lot so with all my gear, I made a mad dash for it. I would have loved to stay and see Gaborone but not only was it rumored that Gaborone was expensive, but the hostel listed in Arlene’s Lonely Planet was located about 10km outside of the city so…it would be a similar situation to this morning where I’d have to wake up at the butt crack of dawn, arrange a taxi to come get me and get to the bus stop early. I suppose I would also be able to take a later minibus but I was trying to get out of Botswana early because I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Johannesburg since it was already Wednesday; I was leaving on Saturday and wanted to try and have 3 full days there: Thursday, Friday and Saturday since I missed it coming in 2 months earlier.

So I ran across the lot and after hitting up a few wrong buses, found the last bus going to Johannesburg that night. So, if we left at 3:30PM (it was still 3:05PM)…I’d get in at 9:30PM. That was a decent hour and I could probably have Karen come and get me…that would have been a great plan if we actually left that early! We waited around for an hour and a half! I felt sorry for the family with 3 young children sitting next to me…they were there since 2:00PM! The bus ride was SAR180…which I had but wanted to get rid of my Botswana Pula…I tried to only withdraw the amount that I needed but I had BP30 and tried to pay my fare with a combination of Pula + Rand but the guy told me to change my money. So I found a couple of ladies sitting on the side who offered me money. I questioned why they gave me so little and I guess their math wasn’t too good because then they gave me extra money back; I took it and left. Paid my fare and waited for us to leave.

I think after my arrival, there were about two more seats that needed to be filled. In order to make these runs profitable, these minibuses or combies as they call them do not leave until they are completely full. So we waited. With each person that came, people’s faces started to brighten up because we thought we were finally leaving! But the whole waiting process took 2 hours!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A night in the Okavango Delta

So the following morning, I got up bright and early and had a taxi come and get me at 6:15AM; due to some miscommunication, the driver, 'Small', went to the place that he was supposed to drop me! Good thing that I had him come early…he ended up coming to get me at 6:40AM instead and we went back to the Okavango Delta Lodge so that I could start my tour on the Delta.

Back in Windhoek, I had met up with two Kiwis and they had just come from Botswana and were very kind to give me a lot of detailed information. They told me how I could go about organizing my own Makoro trip on the Delta. The only challenge with their advice though was that I would need to find my own transportation to the Buffalo Fence which is located on another island out in the Delta. The only way that I could get there they recommended, was by way of 4 wheel drive. I later found out though that an alternative option would have been via boat. However, since I couldn't figure out how to get there and being pressed for time, I just ended up joining a tour. Either way, I think I would have only saved $20 which is a lot of money but not worth all the work that would have come with trying to organize it on my own.

I ended up getting paired up with another lady who reminded me a lot of my University buddy, Tess. She was an older lady (60?) and traveled every year for 4 months out of the year. She was older but a bit crazy, freaky, wild…if you know my friend Tess then you'll know what I mean…I am at a lack of words in trying to describe Tess' wild and entertaining energy when you're around her…crazy, freaky wild is the best I can come up with (all in a GOOD way, of course)! Anyway, it was a nice surprise to be paired up with an American. We were equally cheap and resourceful so she really gave me a run for my money! She told me a story about how she had managed to get a free ride on a tour bus and recommended a good restaurant to them and then relayed to the owner of her success in bringing this big group over and that she deserved a free pizza. She got it! I have never tried that one! I was actually learning some new tricks! And I'm usually the one dishing out the advice!

We were going to be going on a Mokoro which is a hand-carved wooden canoe that is used to get around through the Delta. I didn't really know what to expect only that many people that I had consulted strongly encouraged me to make a trip out here. It was good that I was paired up with Arlene because obviously she had done her homework and being the outspoken American that she was, she made sure that they didn't give us a fiberglass boat (which is how many of the Makoros are made out of nowadays) and that we had the best guide that would give us a good tour. Thank goodness she was there to sort us out otherwise, I would have probably been quick to jump in a fiberglass Makoro, not knowing the difference, and being happy with just a quick ride around.

This here is a web catches all the spider webs....

The boat ride was awesome; incredibly relaxing! I got to sit in the Makoro barefoot, stretched out with my feet hanging over the edge, soaking in the sunshine as we maneuvered through the reeds in the Delta. It was a nice relief because up until then, I had many cold days in South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia. Our poler/guide, Julius, navigated us around the Delta with remarkable ease. We stopped at one of the islands and had our lunch there. Camilo had actually taken me to a take-out place the day before and it was a good serving of local Botswana food…not to my surprise, the restaurant was run by Chinese! Since I couldn't finish my food the day before, I brought along the leftovers with me and ate it for my lunch…it was still good the next day!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creative Traveling

Day 62 - 69 

Windhoek, a very small town, had very little to offer. They had a city bus tour that was extremely overpriced ($30) Antonia and I ended up just going around by foot. Gogz also took me to see the new State House which was very beautiful and grandiose, its perimeters lined with black and gold fencing going up along the hillside, stretching for at least 1km (would be my guess)…or at least that's how impressive it appeared to be. Gogz also treated me to some local specialties including, but not limited to, Steph and Dan's favorite champagnes: Pongratz and Simonsig. I am not sure but immediately after having the Pongratz, I started to have a very adverse reaction and ended up getting really sick but Gogz, Aiesha and Elike took very good care of me and even cancelled their dinner plans to see to it that I was okay. Talk about incredibly genuine people! Anyway, there's more to this story if you're interested…I can go into detail on other reasons that Gogz and I boiled it down to but it's just too much to write here, too many factors…

That night, was Antonia's last night and we were supposed to have dinner together but because I fell ill, I ended up getting back to the backpackers a little late (10PM). I think a lot of it was fatigue and I just went to sleep. Antonia was departing early the next morning. I woke up with her at 3:30AM to see her off at 4:00AM. She had an early morning flight to Johannesburg in time to catch her flight out to Paris. Too bad she couldn't have stayed longer as it's always fun (and cheaper) to have a travel buddy!

Iroquois Point Elementary t-shirt!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

And then there were two…

Day 53 - Day 62

The following morning, Antonia and I were off. Jolanda was sweet enough to wake up early and have breakfast with us at 7:00AM even though it was one of the few days that she'd be able to sleep in. We had a nice breakfast at the place we were staying at and Spencer even woke up to say good-bye; by 7:20AM we were on our way.

Two nights earlier, Antonia and I went around town trying to get rental car prices. Apparently because it was peak season (or maybe it had to do with the World Cup just ending) there were no cars available! We decided to stop in the visitor's center and the lady suggested a local company stating that she always preferred to help the local companies. Later, I would find out that these local companies paid them a commission.

Anyway, we got in touch with Silvester who was willing to rent us a car for N$380/day, $50 a day. I didn't really want to pay $25 a day but what were my options? I had come all the way to Namibia and I wasn't going to see the sights? My option was that I could join a tour but that would be significantly more. So Antonia and I agreed we would rent the car for a minimum of three days (this was the minimum amount of days to qualify for unlimited km otherwise, they only allow you 200km per day at ND0.20 for any additional km driven). Antonia was planning to book a flight out from Windhoek back to Johannesburg in time to catch her flight back to Paris so we would need to drop the car back in Windhoek. This would cost us an additional N$600. It was adding up but again, this was still going to be the cheapest alternative for me. So we agreed, and Silvester said he would come by at 2:00PM the following day to drop the car.

Instead of Silvester, someone else came and dropped the paperwork off and had us sign some papers. Being a small company, it was a bit nerve-racking signing these papers. Instead of the standard insurance, we were asked to give our credit card number and in case of any damage, we would be charged a maximum of N$9,800 ($1350) which wasn't too bad but it still didn't rest well with us that they had our credit card number. Then after discussing with Sizzy, our tour guide, and the guy who brought the car, they discouraged us from going that night and that our plan to go to Cape Cross was a bit unrealistic since the seal colony at Cape Cross was part of a National Park so opening and closing times were directly related to the sun. So since it was almost 3:00PM, and over 150km away, we would probably not make it by sunset and after we got there, we would have nowhere to stay. So we were able to ask the guy if we could start our rental from the following morning. He agreed and also left the car for us so we could have an early start. So we scored with an extra day although we didn't take advantage!
Our rental for $50/day!

KC Waffle Dog and Sandboarding

I would like to take the time to recognize my second sponsored activity and thank Dayton Asato and his family and KC Waffle Dog for providing this opportunity to me! I would have much rather been given a free year's supply of KC Waffle Dog but instead I was just as lucky to get a nice farewell card, a KC Waffle Dog tshirt (which has made it on this trip with me), and sponsorship money that I would later choose to use toward sandboarding for the first time! It's such a new sport and only available in some limited locales (places with sand dunes) that as I write this the red squiggly line to tell you that you have misspelled a word comes up under 'sandboarding'…there it goes again. As you may have guessed, sandboarding is going down sand dunes instead of snowy slopes with all the usual snowboard gear. There is also lie-down sandboarding which is like bodyboaring in the water but instead you're on cardboard/wood (I don't know what you call this material) rectangular boards and you go down the sand dunes lying down.

Classic KC Waffle Dogs
Firstly before I begin my story of sandboarding, let me tell you the story of how I know Dayton. Naturally, you'd assume that we knew each other because we were maybe related; he's Okinawan. Dayton's last name is Asato which is the same surname as my paternal grandmother's; you know how they say that all the Okinawans are related (which is about 80% true). But that is not how I know Dayton. Dayton's family owned the very famous, KC Drive-In which was bought by the Asato family (Dayton's grandparents) in the 1930s. They are most famous for their waffle hot dogs with crisp edges. Although the waffle dogs can be eaten 'as is', the secret being in the batter mix, I usually like the added toppings that they have available: chili, cheese, homemade relish, etc. together with their equally famous 'Ono 'Ono shake which is exactly what it is, **'ono! The 'Ono 'Ono shake is a thick chocolate peanut butter shake; if you ask me, the best two flavors that you could possibly combine together. So, being that we are an Okinawan family with a family restaurant business, we would know the Asato family through the business…Or maybe because I'm a regular customer and because I like to eat that I'll go back to the same restaurant over and over again if I like it. But no, that's not how I know Dayton either. I actually met Dayton (I don't even know if he remembers this) because in 2005, I was looking at upgrading our one cash register to several digital cash registers that would sit on a network and allow me to accommodate more customers than what we were doing with our one cash register, eliminate any mathematical errors (our bills were tabulated by our waitresses and their hardy calculators), have better knowledge of my sales, etc. But the problem was that I was going to spend tens of thousands of dollars but didn't know which company to go with. And so the company that I found told me that I could go and see the system that KC Drive-In had in place at their restaurant located on Kapahulu Avenue. This was how I met Dayton. I called him and he was really nice and willing to show me how his system worked and what you could do with all the information from such a software system. Having only been running our family business for a little over a year, this was the first time that I was actually going to see the operations of another restaurant business. Dayton probably doesn't realize this or know how helpful he was to me and how grateful I was for all the information that I gathered that day.

Sadly, it would be later that year that the family would make a difficult decision to close their restaurant, a landmark of a place that had greeted so many local and visiting customers for close to 70 years, due to dwindling customers and the rising cost of running a restaurant business. I read about this news in the newspaper along with the rest of the Hawaii population and like everyone else, I was standing in line on their last day of business. Standing in line for over an hour, I saw Dayton running around trying to get orders out. The power of the media. Had they been able to make any mention of this business even 6 months prior, maybe sales wouldn't have been so bad to force the family to close down? But that's always how it is; it only becomes newsworthy when something negative happens (fire, robbery, etc.) rather than 'just because.' Just because this family has survived 3 generations (70% of family businesses, restaurants with even smaller numbers, don't succeed from second to third generation), because it had survived for close to three quarters of a century, because it was a local staple, any of these reasons could have been fodder for a nice 'just because' article but media doesn't believe this makes for public interest for some reason.

I stood in line, shouting (in a nice way of course) out to Dayton, asking him if I could help him. Yes, I am not an employee there but, hey, I run a restaurant, I am sure I can find a way to help. 'No, no,' Dayton said as sweat dripped down the sides of his face. Finally after waiting another 20 minutes and me seeing that they were struggling to keep up and I was not moving any bit, I said, 'the heck with it' and I went back there behind the KC Drive-In counter and tried to see what I could do to help serve all these hungry customers who had been lining up for hours (the dream of any restaurateur). It was actually so much fun to be able to just plop yourself into a new restaurant, having no background on how they do things, but able to just pick up and be part of the team within minutes. One of my best restaurant stories to date, which is another reason why I think I could easily consult restaurant businesses! It's more or less the same. Serve quality food in a timely manner, accurately and with a courteous attitude and service.

Shortly thereafter, Dayton would kindly remember me and Highway Inn when he was asked to help out with a new restaurant delivery service business. It was an equally exciting opportunity for us to be able to bring our food to the doors of our customers who may have otherwise not had our food that day because it was out of their way. It was through this business arrangement that Dayton and I would again have the opportunity to work with each other. His delivery service brought us a few new customers, additional sales and even an opportunity to get on to Oceanic Cable and have our own channel allowing customers to order food right from their living room through their remote controls! Since then Dayton and I have now become great friends!

So before I left, as busy as he is, he made a stop at my friend's bar, 8 Fat Fat 8, and dropped off my going away gift. So this blog is dedicated to KC Waffle Dogs, Dayton and his wife Jean and their two beautiful children, Angela and Andrew and he also wanted me to mention their furry family member, Eddie. Although the restaurant is no longer on Kapahulu, Dayton still does events, especially fundraisers! Please get in touch with him if you are interested in finding a quick and easy way to raise money for your organization and treat people to a nostalgic taste from the past! Children these days shouldn't have to be deprived!

Day 7

We would have wanted to leave Swakopmund sooner but there were activities that were available to us and many from the group were planning to sign up to do something so I thought I should see what was offered. There was sky diving, dolphin cruises, Quad-biking and sandboarding to name a few…Everything seemed rather boring and/or something I could do back home. Earlier in January while I was in the Philippines, you may also remember that I got to ride an ATV for 20 minutes…after the first 5 minutes, it gets boring…or maybe that was because I was riding in circles alone? Whatever the case, I thought sandboarding was an opportunity that I may not have again for a while…and it was the only activity that included lunch and a video! So, for about N$350 ($50), I was able to go sliding down the sand dunes near Swakopmund!

I had tried to teach myself to snowboard when I lived in Japan and managed to ride the slopes but here I told them that I was a beginner thinking that I would receive proper and formal instruction and maybe an extra eye would be on me. It was a bit of a waste of time though because they didn't really teach me anything that I didn't know. The instruction took about 15 minutes while the others already started riding down. It was a lot of fun but I was so afraid! I am not sure what I was really afraid of as I knew it wouldn't kill me…the sand was incredibly soft but I was afraid. The hardest part about it too was that each time we went down, we had to trek back up in our gear and boy was it hard! I wanted to keep going down but I just couldn't get up fast enough! In the end, I got to go down about 4 times, I think? Which isn't that many times for $50?!

After about an hour and a half or so, we were told that we were now going downhill lying down. Somehow I got called up to go first in a group of 30+! This time I was really, really afraid but I had to do it and the guy pushed me down. That was a lot of fun as well but I must have been so tense because my neck was sore after I got done! They had a speed gun and clocked me in at 70kmh! I decided to do this a second time to see if I could beat my time but I came in with the exact same speed. At least I'm consistent!

After that, we had one final ride down with our snowboards.  On my last ride down, I challenged myself to go off the ramp! At first I said 'no', then changed my mind and decided to go for it! The first time I totally bombed and thought I hurt myself and that sand got into me from my behind! I hit the ground so hard and in a weird way that it took me a while to stand up. Call me crazy but I got up and wanted to try again. The second run down the ramp was just as bad but at least the second time, I didn't hurt myself!


I am not sure when I'll have the opportunity to do it again but I'm confident that next time, I'll go down without so much fear! I want to thank my sponsors again, KC Waffle Dog and the Asato Family for letting me have the best ride on sand you could ever have!

** 'ono means delicious in Hawaiian

Friday, August 27, 2010

Namibia, 7 years later…

I set out to the meeting point of my tour at about 7:45AM…I had made sure I knew exactly where I was going so had scouted out the place the day before. I didn't want to walk around with my entire luggage and get lost! At the entrance of the building, in the small lobby area, mountains of bags piled on top of each other. Walking upstairs, there was a small room and another adjoining room with about 30 or so people squeezing through, politely exchanging pleasantries. There seemed to be two groups assembling here and those of us who were 'camping' where instructed to go to the smaller adjoining room. A quick survey of the room, it didn't seem that our group was as 'young' as I was hoping it would be. I was told that most of these trips sponsored by Nomad, consisted of people between the ages of 20 and 40. Checked around, no potential bachelors either! Oh well.

My main purpose of doing this tour was that I really wanted to see the towns in the southern part of Namibia. If I didn't do this tour, my options were to take a 20 hour bus to Windhoek, the capital, then find day tours to go out to some of the places. Due to an almost non-existent public transportation system, I wouldn't be able to stop through some of these smaller towns. Additionally, Soussisvlei, one of the main highlights boasting commanding sand dunes, would also cost me at least $150-$300 to do for either a day trip or a weekend tour. So for almost $700, I pulled the trigger and decided that it was better if I joined the 6 night, 7 day tour that would take me and 22 others from the cities of Cape Town and Citrusdal in South Africa onwards to Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Solitaire and Swakopmund. The tour would include tenting equipment, 3 meals a day, guides and some activities.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Final Days in the Cape...

After my EXCITING weekend getaway, I only had TWO days in the city...I had felt as if I really hadn't seen much though I had been in Cape Town for nearly two weeks. I didn't see much because I spent most of my days waiting for my paperwork to process my Russian Visa. Since I had signed up for the overland tour, I only had TWO days left to see whatever I hadn't yet seen in Cape Town.

The following day, Peter was kind enough to loan me his car again and I went back down to the Cape Peninsula. I got up early, 7ish, but perhaps I should have gotten up earlier. By the time I got there, it was nearly 9AM. I had also signed up for the Robben Island Tour that day which was scheduled for 1PM. I thought I'd save the Robben Island Tour for my last day but then I heard that many trips are canceled due to inclement weather and in Cape Town, you really didn't know. So I booked my ticket online and needed to make my way back to the Waterfront by 12:30PM. I also needed to allow myself extra time too since it was my first time driving there and I didn't know how the parking situation was going to be.

I spent about 1.5 hours or so at the Cape Peninsula which I felt wasn't enough. Well, maybe I saw enough but I didn't like the idea that I was rushing through and the idea of not getting my SAR75 value was probably what was killing me more. I was insistent on coming here because this is where I thought the two great Oceans meet: the Atlantic (US east coast) and Indian Oceans. I was surprised to find that this belief is incorrect. Many probably are led to believe this because it is actually the most southwestern part of the African continent. A bit westward, Cape Agulhas, is actually where they meet and it is said that it's an interesting sight with different shades of water meeting at a random point in the ocean, pushing against each other in different directions. A National Park, Cape Agulhas is only a stone's throw away from Betty's Bay and had I known that this was the real location, I would have, no question, stopped here. Oh well, I suppose I have to save some things for my return.

Cape Peninsula
Cape of Good Hope

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Kiss with Death

So one of my first sponsored events was my Shark Dive and again, none of this could have been possible without the very generous donation of my sponsor for this activity: Courtney Takai of Remax Honolulu and her family: husband, Ted (Royal Adventure Travel), Victoria (7), Madison (5), Jordan (2), Alexa (15 months) who I must say are the cutest hapa kids! Allow me to give a little background on my benefactor and her beautiful family.

Courtney and I met in the 5th grade when we were both in the same class; we’ve known each other since we were 10 which makes it more than 2/3 of our lives! When we were younger we would always share our dreams together and promised how each would be there for each other at the biggest moments of our lives…in high school, we mostly talked about the day we would get married. Back then, I was not bit by the traveling bug yet and could never imagine my life now. Courtney runs a very successful real estate business and of course I went to her to purchase my very first home. She was with me every step of the way and made sure that what I was getting was the best choice for me. It was actually because of her that I got my place because at the time I made an offer there were 4 other offers put on my home. Courtney wrote a very compelling letter to the owner and somehow it must have resonated with her because out of the 5 hopeful buyers, I (without the highest offer) was chosen. The best part about being her customer? The boundless level of customer service that she takes seriously; the THANK YOU gifts for being her customer don’t hurt either. So if you need to buy or sell a property, be sure to look her up; I’m sure you won’t have a hard time finding her as she has her beautiful picture in the yellow pages! But to make it easier for you: 561-8200.

My Solo Weekend Road Trip

I waited for Peter to come home from work on Friday and then I was to head off on my solo road trip for the weekend. You read articles about carjackings in South Africa, let alone I have no idea how to change a tire so I was really apprehensive to drive in the dark, in a foreign country, on the other side of the road, in a manual car. But I had an ambitious agenda ahead of me that I needed to leave Cape Town on Friday and so I had no choice but to leave after Peter got home from work, unless I wanted to pay to rent a car (we know the answer, you don't need to answer that)….

My friend Peter is soooooooooo nice and encouraged me to take his car; alternatively I was going to take a train to Stellenbosch but when I phoned Hermanus (the town where I am doing the shark dive); I was told that it is difficult to find transportation between the towns. Additionally, I would have to pay SAR100 ($13) if I wanted to get picked up from my backpacker's to the shark dive. I also wanted to drive to Franshhoek which is known for great French cuisine so it just made more sense that I drive than try to figure it out after I got there. So Peter got home around 5:45PM and he spent some time showing me my route and gave me great directions. I started out when it was still slightly lighted but within 15 minutes, it was dark! I managed to get into Stellenbosch okay, based on Peter's verbal directions but I didn't review a map of Stellenbosch so I didn't really know where I was supposed to go; I just knew that the place that I was staying at was close to the train station so I was trying to look for signs to the trains...I drove and drove then I finally see a gas station so I turn the street to go there but then I decide that I don't want to go there because then I will feel like I have to tip them and I don't have money to do that so I pull to the side to have a look at my map but then I think that it's not safe here on the side of a fairly busy road because people will notice me looking at a map and know that I have no clue where I am going! So I start my car again and then turn into the first left street. Pull over and take out my map/ I do that, I look up to the right and "Stellenbosch Traveler's Lodge" is written on the building to my right...that is the place that I am staying at! Can you BELIEVE that? How ridiculously amazing is that? Seriously, I had absolutely NO idea where I was going but I drove right up to it! I really felt at that moment that God was and continues to watch over me! I don't go to church nor do I affiliate myself with any one religion but I do believe in God and this trip has in some ways strengthen my faith in a higher power and I truly feel that I am constantly being protected and looked after; my gratitude in the blessings I receive are always in awe and endless.

So back to my weekend….Stellenbosch is most famous for their world class wineries and also the University of Stellenbosch has also established quite a reputation for itself. So I get into the lodge and of course everyone who comes to Stellenbosch must go on a wine tour! So upon arriving, I quickly decide that I will do the "Vine Hopper" tomorrow which is where a bus will take you around to the different wineries so that you can go for different tastings; it's late but I phone them to book my tour. But then I realize that the tour doesn't cover your wine tasting fees. So after thinking about it a little more decided that doing the tour is not really worth it because I need to leave by 2PM or so and will only have enough time to visit 2-3 wineries because they don't open until 10:15AM. With so little stops, I could really just drive myself to the wineries. So less than 24 hours later, I phone Vine Hoppers again to let them know that I won't be doing the tour anymore. Instead, I decide to call Jondre, the son of the Mossel Bay family, Pieter and Zelda, to see if he could recommend any wineries to me. He seemed excited to hear from me and said that he would like to take me to a couple of wineries but that he had to go to watch his younger brother play in his schools' rugby game right now. I hadn't seen a rugby game yet so I thought I would see if I could come along to watch Piet-low play. Jondre was surprised that I showed an interest and told me that Nicola (his girlfriend) would be coming to get me. Within 15 minutes she was there and it was nice to see a familiar face in a new town.

Jondre and Nicola both study here so they knew Stellenbosch very well and so we drove through the streets of Stellenbosch and before I knew it we were at the rugby field. We quickly picked up Lee, Jodre's older sister, the last family member that I had not yet met (she wasn't home the weekend that I was there visiting). So that was really exciting to complete the family picture! So, the 5 of us, Jondre, Nicola, Lee, Johanes (Lee's boyfriend), went to watch the rugby came. Shortly after we got there, out of nowhere comes Zelmarie and her boyfriend Constantine! They had also driven from Cape Town to watch Piet-low play. After standing around and talking for a bit, Zelmarie suggests we go to the other side to where her parents are. WHAT? Your parents are here too? How awesome is that? Since Zelda is such a busy lady, I didn't think she would be able to make it out to watch the game; Stellenbosch is about 3.5 hours away from Mossel Bay. It was nice to have the whole family with add-ons and me there supporting Piet-low! Unfortunately our presence didn't help much because Piet-low's team lost by 2 goals. Rugby is such a confusing game and very physical that it can be a bit difficult to watch.

After the game ended, we were on our way. Jondre, from what I gathered, made quite a name for himself as a rugby player (he's an alumni at his brother's school) and so he kept running into people that knew him. One of the guys that he saw was also from Stellenbosch so he asked his friend where would be a good winery to take me to. He suggested Uva Mira which was located right next to Ernie Els' winery…I thought that guy just golfed! Apparently he also has his own winery and by the way, he is from Mossel Bay! So Uva Mira was where we were headed and one thing that Jondre's friend was confident to tell us was that the view was amazing. We couldn't find it right away since it was far from the main streets and inland up on a hill. His friend was right though; when we got there we took in a spectacular sight of the ocean and the mountains behind us. We were given 4 wine tastings for SAR20 ($2.70) unless we decided to purchase something then our tastings would be complimentary. The wines that we tried were quite good (though I don't claim to know anything about wines!) and so I decided to purchase the first wine we tried plus another wine that was not available for tasting but this wine had won a 'Best in the World' award in 2006 so I ended up buying that as a gift for Peter and Claudette. Jondre was really tired, having pulled an all-nighter the night before so we decided to drop him off and Nicola would continue the wine tour for me. We only had time to do one more wine tasting though because I needed to be on my way and the couple had plans and needed to be somewhere in 45 minutes. So we quickly stopped at Tocara for some (free) wine tastings. The winery sounded a bit Japanese to me but found out that it was aptly named after the owner's children To = Thomas + Cara. Here the winery offered 6 complimentary wine tastings but since we ran out of time, we just did 2 and quickly hurried out. Nicola brought me back to my backpacker's and I checked email while I sobered up a bit. Then I was on my way to Hermanus via Franschhoek.

Franschhoek is known for the French Huguenots that settled in the area some hundreds of years ago and were popularly known for their great French influenced food and wine. Peter also told me about the drive here and that it was amazing if I would be able to go through the Franschhoek Pass as the view would be breathtaking. I mainly wanted to come here and have good food. I still often forget that I am now traveling on a budget traveler's budget but the first thing I think of is: I must try the food! So this time was no different. The drive was a cinch, mainly thanks to Nicola who pointed out the road I would be driving on and the direction that Franschhoek was. Within 20 minutes, I pulled into a town with people out in the streets, sitting in parks having wine, listening to music. I had come to town on the day of the "Bastille Day Festival". The French holiday also took place on Thursday but they were celebrating on Saturday and the town was filled with energy, color and aromas! I wanted to sit down and have lunch but it was nearly 4:00PM and I needed to be on my way because I would be spending the night in Hermanus that night and didn't want to travel at night if I could help it. I quickly noticed a "SAR30 parking" sign and although I thought it was more than I was willing to pay, I knew that I would be wasting time that I didn't have driving around for parking and I would be crazy to think that there would be cheaper parking elsewhere so I pulled in. The parking attendant tells me 'SAR20 for parking after 3PM! So that was a nice surprise that I wasn't expecting!

After parking, I made small talk with the parking attendant and asked him where he thought I should go to eat. I had gotten a recommendation from Nicola's uncle who was actually there but according to the parking attendant, he thought there were other restaurants that were better. So I ended up going to the one that was started by a local chef who went to train in France and ties in some South African influences into his dishes. They were actually serving festival food so I ended up having their dessert – crepe with orange liqueur and Chantilly cream; no it wasn't as good as it sounded. I didn't have time already because it had taken me almost 20 minutes to find the restaurant and then another 10 minutes to wait for my food. So I decided that I should try to make my way back and see if I could pick up anything along the way. I walked back towards the car but didn't notice anyone else selling festival food. I found the restaurant that Nicola's uncle had recommended so I went to check out their menu. When I went in to ask how long the food took, the lady apologized and said that they were already closed and would reopen in about an hour or so. I thanked her and decided to go back to the first restaurant and try their BBQ steak roll. It wasn't until I was walking back to the car the second time that I noticed some festival food across the street! Before leaving town, I decided to see if I could stop at the Tourist Information to get directions to Hermanus since I wasn't really sure how to get there. The girl there gave me very good directions (except for a part where I thought I made a wrong turn) and I was able to have a beautiful drive through the Franschhoek Pass and even see Baboons in the wild on the side of the road! The only hard thing about driving by yourself is that you really can't take photos and so I was randomly sticking my camera hoping that I'd get lucky and snap a beautiful photo even though I couldn't see what I was taking.

I arrived in Hermanus a little after sundown, around 6:30PM; my timing couldn't be any better because I got to see the beautiful African sunset as I made the drive. This time I didn't get so lucky and didn't pull up to my backpackers so needed to call and find out how to get there but fortunately I was only a mile or so away. I pulled in and was warmly greeted by the staff. The guy who checked me in was super laid back and gave me directions to my shark dive the following morning. Through Coast to Coast, I had found this shark dive tour for SAR995 ($131.15) which included a free dorm bed at this backpackers that I was checking into along with a light breakfast, lunch, alcohol and the shark dive. I thought it was a good deal! I would be going out on a boat and then jumping into the freezing Indian Ocean as I would be put in a cage and watch Great White Sharks pass us. They also have something like this offered in Hawaii but the shark feedings that happen off the shores of Haleiwa are not with the Great White. So this was something to write home about!

After my early morning shark dive, I would be heading back toward Cape Town and hopefully if time permitted, would try to go around the Cape Peninsula which is home to Cape Point and where most people believe the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet. I would have to navigate all of this on my own in South Africa. So far this weekend has been extremely exciting and I still can't believe that I did all this driving on my own!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Want a Postcard?

During my 9 weeks home, I dabbed in all types of work to add a little more gas to my traveling machine. The day after I got back, I decided to serve my country (the $17/hour was very appealing) and sign up to work as a U.S. Census Worker.  That actually took much longer than I anticipated and I didn't start training until almost a month and a half after I applied. My first week back I also got a job teaching English at a private English college. First private lessons with an 8 year old girl and then a week teaching an academic class to a group of students with advanced English skills hailing from Japan and Korea.  I also convinced my friend to allow me to serve alcohol at her bar (I even met a guy there which was fun!), waitressed at the restaurant and helped a friend out by selling flower leis at the neighboring Costco. I've never had so many jobs! 

My other full time job (while I'm traveling) is helping people save on their medical expenses by telling them about AFLAC supplemental health insurance.  I got involved representing AFLAC because I really feel that every business should offer this benefit to their employees; learning this first-hand after running our family business for 7 years, I saw the advantages of having such a program implemented from both the business owner's perspective and the employees.  Not only was it employee funded (= free for employers), but it also helped employers and employees pay less taxes.  More importantly, it helps to pay for those medical expenses at a pre-taxed rate.  If you know of any businesses or individuals in Hawaii that wants to keep more money in their pockets while helping to pay for medical expenses that you would otherwise pay for out of pocket, please get in touch with me! By the way, I also passed my life insurance license just days before leaving so I am also licensed to sell life insurance as well as Long Term Care.  If you know anyone who can benefit from having something like this, please don't hesitate to refer them to me!

Why the sudden undertaking of all these new jobs? I came to the shocking realization after traveling for almost 3 months that I no longer have a steady income.  SURPRISE?! That's usually what happens when you're unemployed but I've worked ever since I was 14! So long are the days that my account would bounce back every two weeks, teetering around the same comfortable figure.  So long are the days that if I wanted something, I'd buy it. Many times I'd have to ask myself 'is it worth it?' when I would go into McDonald's for our daily Census meetings and pass the order board.  I'd always have to say 'no, not worth the calories and not the worth the $5 for the french fries and chicken Mcnuggets!'  Of course I'd slip a few times but for the most part, I was motivated to save up for the bigger reward: more travel money!

So I was thinking of other ways to generate income, as small as it may be, and in an attempt to not sound too cheeky, I thought I would let people know that I am willing to send postcards from all of the places that I am traveling to. Of course, I would love to send them out to all of my loyal readers but as you know, there is no such thing as a free lunch...therefore, I am requesting a suggested donation of $5 for every postcard that you would like sent. This will cover the cost of sending the postcard (postcard + stamp) and a little extra money ($1) to go toward my next meal. Half jokingly, half serious, I put up a ‘donate’ link that dead center of my blog! (Don't tell me you didn't see it because I strategically placed it for all to see!)  I thought putting this up there would help facilitate the process though I hadn't explicitly commented on my secret move as I had so may other things to write about then to beg for money.  Anyway, no pressure but the button is there if you wanted a postcard...Please keep in mind though that paypal does take a cut, so if you prefer to send me your donation directly, please let me know and I will happily give you my details!

So despite not soliciting my new add-on feature, the other day, my good friend Courtney, being as smart as she is put 2 + 2 together and figured it out. Her wish? She wanted me to do something fun and think of her on behalf of her and her family. How incredible is that? When I first found out, I actually couldn’t believe it?! Court had actually put in her donation several days before but I only found out the day AFTER I was walking across the world’s highest bungee jump bridge, rising at 216 m in the air. THANK GOD I didn’t get her donation notification sooner or else I would have had to jump!

Yes, I am not a charity case, I am able-bodied yet I have chosen to take time off and see the world and learn to live again so I am really not in a position to solicit donations from hard working people who have better ways to spend their money but it is truly a blessing to have generous supporters like Courtney. Believe it or not, writing takes me about 2-4 hours per entry! Yes, my own fault because I write about everything but connecting to the Internet also costs money. Doing activities to write about costs money, so does sleeping, eating, getting from point A to point B. For now, if there are any interested sponsors out there that want to sponsor my next activity, feel free to see how that ‘donate’ button works. I will dedicate the blog to you and profusely thank you for your kind donation in allowing me to experience something in a foreign land. Or, feel free to pass my blog out to your rich friends! Or even better, if you need life or supplemental Health Insurance, you know who to call!

Coming to the Cape

Day 32-43

So I am FINALLY here in Cape Town! The following morning, Zel dropped me at the Waterfront (if you're from Hawaii, then it's like our Aloha Tower but much bigger but yes, just as touristy, if not more). I had so much luggage! I had the option of leaving behind my things at Zel's house but that would mean I would need to come back to get it later but Zel lived on the opposite side of town from Peter and I didn't want to inconvenience someone or have to pay to go back and get it. So, I brought my big red backpack, my daypack and my box! Luckily when I got dropped off, there in front of me was a shopping cart! So I put all my things onto it and started pushing. Imagine the sight…yes, I looked homeless. This actually also happened to me in Kynsna…stopped at the car rental to see if I could get a car for a good price and unfortunately it was out of my budget ($150 for the weekend and only 400km) so I had to walk with my things (aforementioned items) to the taxi rank and right in Avis' parking lot was a shopping cart! I felt bad taking it but I just had too many things and then I realized…I was doing them a favor by bringing it back! I wish I could have taken a photo of me pushing my cart…

Friday, July 16, 2010

The things you learn…

Day 30-32

Traveling to Mossel Bay was easy; found Delfino's quickly and sat down to wait for my new host family. I wasn't sure if my stay with my newfound family was 'foreal' or not so I waited in anticipation for their call; they said they would call me when they got in around 4-5PM. I hadn't had lunch that day because we were trying to get to all the tourist sites before my 3PM bus so I ended up getting the 'chicken tenders' at Delfino's, comes to no surprise for those who know my fondness for anything fried. By the way, the South Africans love their fried chicken too! Seems like KFC or 'Kentucky' enjoys more popularity than the fast food giant, McDonald's!

Anyway, as I was munching on my grilled chicken with some sort of barbeque sauce (yes, I did order the chicken tenders but this is how it came!), Zelda had called out to me. I didn't recognize her at first because she wasn't in her biker jacket anymore (and because we were only together for about 10 minutes in Oudtshoorn) but then again, who else would know my name in this small town? She noticed that I was eating so she said she would come back in about 10 minutes. I quickly had my things packed because I didn't know when she would come back and still wondering if she would come back. Before getting ready to go, I snapped some shots of the ocean and the sunset. The kids next to me were so excited to hear that I was from Hawaii, especially because they were surfers and I suppose it's every South African surfer's dream to surf the Hawaiian waters. In little ways, it's gratifying to see how a part of 'Hawaii' has traveled to these far corners of the world…we invented surfing right? Well, that's my story and I'm sticking with it…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Out to Oudtshoorn

Day 29 - 32

I lingered around the backpackers a bit the following morning and finally made my way to the taxi rank at 11:00AM or so; I wanted to leave much earlier but the conversations at the backpackers were interesting and admittedly, there is comfort in the familiar (after three days) to the unknown, a new town that I would be traveling to. Typically I travel with every traveler's bible: either the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide (insert country name here) but I had come ill-prepared and couldn't possibly carry an entire library of all the countries that I would be traveling to. So, with only the local maps and Coast to Coast (a small pocketbook with a wealth of information covering mostly place to stay and some things to do type tidbits) on hand, I would be making my way to Oudtshoorn which was only about 80km or 50 miles northwest of Knysna, via George.

Before getting into a car (a car this time rather than a minivan that has been my main mode of transport from the taxi rank), I bid my new friends, Clifton and Sharon, good-bye; took some photos with them at their produce stand and thanked them for their time. I also passed on some money (SAR40, $5.25) that I asked them to hand to Davie and Winston since I had expected to see them again after I left Judas Square but never did. Around the corner at the taxi rank, I quickly found my car. Inside sat a scruffy old man passed out by the effects of alcohol who looked a little scary, and then three younger men, in their late teens, jumped in. I pronounced shotgun and got it as if it were my Godforsaken right because I was a foreigner and female. Our driver was quiet and I later realized that it was because he hardly spoke any English.

We started to make our way out of Knysna but traffic was slow moving since it was the Annual Oyster Festival and the yearly cycling race had already begun and vehicular traffic had been reduced to one lane in order for the bicycles to ride on the road. We also had to stop at the gas station, or garage, as they refer to it locally before heading out of town. I find it funny that all these taxis that transport people, know they are transporting people, only seem to fill up just enough gas for the drive. I suppose it's also psychological; that passengers know that they won't go anywhere unless their fee is paid. At least the garage had free wi-fi and I had just enough time to check my main essentials: email, facebook, weather, exchange rate.

After we finally got out of Knysna (took us about 25 minutes when it should only have taken a few minutes) and the drive was smooth sailing. I politely chatted with the other passengers from the front seat and the drunk had woken up and not only had a sense of humor but was not as scary as I had initially thought. The other guys, all traveling separately were squeezed between each other, going out to George the next town over, to meet with friends. Since there were no direct routes to Oudtshoorn, I would get to George first then switch to another taxi at the taxi rank to get to my final destination. The drive was uneventful until about 40 minutes in, we hear a loud thud and the drunk who had slipped back into a quite doze was woken up and asking if we had hit someone. No, I knew it wasn't a person because I didn't see anyone but the noise was uncomfortably loud. The driver soon said it was the "bonnet", hood (I actually had to think for a second what a bonnet was!), that had flown off; you can imagine the kind of car that I was riding in! So, having pulled over, he reversed on the shoulder lane about 50m to retrieve a piece of his car. We were pulled over for about 15 minutes as the driver, with the drunk coming out to help, tried to reattach the hood. Finally, we were off but we had to drive slowly otherwise it could have easily come off again.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Knysna and Judas Square

After separating from the guys, I found myself at Highfield's Backpackers. A dorm bed here would cost me SAR100 per night which is ideally what I would like to pay so I was happy. The first day I walked around the town and checked out one of the museum's in town. It was a small museum that reminded me a lot like the Plantation Museum in Waipahu (; a collection of old houses that had been transported there showcasing life in the old day of Knysna (pronounced nai-s-na). There wasn't a lot of reading but it was nice to just have a walk through and a look back in time.

Before heading back to my backpackers, it was still light enough (about 4:30PM) so I decided to walk around town a bit. I found a coffee shop that had free wi-fi but they were closing for the day already. I met one of the workers outside and was able to get her to give me the security key so that I could connect! So, I stood alongside the main road for about half an hour briefly catching up on email and facebook. After reconnecting with the world after a long period (4 day absence), I decided to check out the taxi rank. During my time here and after a positive experience traveling to Lesotho, I have found it is a relatively safe and cheap way to travel; it's also a great way to interact with the locals. As I was trying to find the taxi rank, I decided to ask for directions which is actually something that the police and locals frown upon (I'm assuming that it's because this never ends on a good note). For some reason, I like to think that I have good karma and always fortunate enough to meet great people. So this time was no different and I had stopped Tosca and she was kind enough to show me the way. After showing me where the taxi rank was, she inquired the price and the location of where exactly the minibus that I needed would depart from. She also had time so she asked if I wanted to walk around the town while there was still daylight. She took me out to the waterfront and we chatted a little about our lives; there's some comfort and peace of mind in being able to share things with complete strangers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Moving on from Bloemfontein…

Our bus to Port Elizabeth was three hours late and at one point thought I would never leave Bloemfontein! Our 9:30PM bus finally pulled out of town at 12:30AM! I arrived safely in Port Elizabeth at 11:00AM. The bus lady was nice enough to give me directions and instructions to navigate to my place. The lady from the boarding school where I would be staying had offered to pick me up for SAR70 ($9.10) but having been here for three weeks, I know that there are cheaper ways of getting around. I opted for the local mode of transportation and got a porter to push my luggage in a shopping cart for R10 ($1.35) and then caught a bus out to my boarding school for R6 ($0.80) that was way better than the $9 I was charged!
The boarding school was a bit of a dump but with the Round of 16 game (Uruguay vs. South Korea) that day, I didn't really have much options since everything was booked out. I was the only girl there and there must have only been about half a dozen of us. Since it was a boarding school there was a communal shower…you know the ones that you dread in junior high? I managed to take a shower at night and hoped that no one would come in while I was there. I was safe and didn't need to give a free peep show.
The biggest problem that had here was that when I was getting my stuff out of the closet, I saw THREE big (well small ones compared to Hawaii standards) cockroaches! Ewwww! I let out a yelp but no one came to my rescue. I later told the girl there but she said she would get a spray can later which never appeared…she also said that all the rooms are probably the same so I couldn't move. I hoped that I would be able to sleep well that night because once I know critters are lurking, I can't sleep! I remember once in Nepal, I had to call someone up to my room twice because I saw some B-52s climbing up the wall behind me; needless to say, it was probably the worst sleeps (or attempt) in my life.

Friday, June 25, 2010

#32: Lesotho

Day 14 - 28

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to travel to as many countries as my age after being inspired by an article I read somewhere. By 2009 I had been to 30 countries; I would be caught up until my birthday in October when I would be turning 31. In 2009 however after deciding that I would be “retiring” from the company I decided that I should stay low and limit my travel. That year I just went to Canada for my good friend’s wedding. Early on I had decided that I would be doing a round-the-world ticket and that I would add a few more countries under my belt. I knew I would start off in South Africa and try to plan it around the World Cup.

I must say being in South Africa during the World Cup has been amazing! The excitement in the air and the fact that every day for the first two weeks, three games were broadcasted a day; for the most part I must have watched most games. I was able to watch the Japan vs. Cameroon game and at the last minute, purchased tickets to Nigeria vs. Greece match. The tickets were ‘obstruction’ seats so they were selling for incredibly cheap - SAR140 ($19) so I decided to buy a ticket for me and Clayton. The seats were actually amazing and possibly better than the $160 I paid for my Japan game. The seats were directly behind the soccer teams and next to the tunnel that the players would use to enter and exit the field. The game was exciting with Greek supporters dressed in Greek warrior outfits, or rather barely dressed. The game ended 2-1 in favor of Greece.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Rastafarian

Day 12 -13

Blessed. Or as Clayton says: Bless-ed. He calls himself a Rastafarian with his dreadlocks and Jah praising, and I have truly been bless-ed to have met him!

So as you remember, I randomly met him at the souvenir tent at the Fan Fest on Sunday night. Monday night, he met up with me at CUT and took me out to the bars. Today, he picked me up and drove me out to Kimberley to see the diamond mind! The night that I met him, he said he could take me for SAR400 - to cover the petrol (gas for you Americans), just so that he can show me how nice South Africans are. He surely lived up to this! So he picked up today at 1:00PM, drove me down to Kimberley about 1.5 hours away to see the Big Hole.

A little about the ‘Big Hole’ there…it is big! You get there and it looks like the Wild, Wild West at Disneyland (or is it Frontier Land? Whatever, you know what I mean) and you walk into a building. There inside are some shops, a theater and an exhibit room; the big hole is actually behind an automatic door that goes out. You’re walking into a building so the last thing you expect to see is a huge hole on the other side of the glass doors! Nor would you think that the hole was dug up by humans. It is surely a sight that you really have to be there to believe. I had the option of paying SAR20 to just go and see the hole or for SAR50 more, I could watch a 20 minute video and have an ‘underground mining experience.’ Ah, what the heck, I went with the SAR70 since I had traveled all that way and didn’t want to miss anything important.

The movie was actually done quite well. It was a short movie that told the story and history of the mining in Kimberley. The underground mining experience was also quite cool because they added special sound effects to make you feel as if you were actually mining. The creepy thing though was that the guide had mentioned that they have their fair share of ghost stories as many miners lost their lives there. She also took me around their little exhibit to show me the different diamond replicas that have been found there. For less than $10, I thought it was a good deal. Maybe a little pricey for South Africa but about what you would pay to go to a good museum in Europe. Clayton met up with a good friend of his, Desi, that he hadn’t seen for about a year and a half so the two got to catch up while I did my tour.

Vamo Nippon!

Day 7 - 13
*Clap Clap* Vamo Nihon! *Clap Clap* These were the chants that echoed throughout the stadium, well at least in my section sitting in the front row at the Japan vs. Cameroon game; actually I had row E (5th row) but the seats in front of us were open so everyone in our row moved up to the first and second rows. I couldn’t understand what they were saying so I had to ask the guy next to me. He said ‘bamo’ which could easily be the ‘b’ or ‘v’ sound. When I questioned him what it meant, he shrugged and continued on chanting. Vamo sounded more likely (I don’t know, is there a Spanish word close to this?) so I stuck with that and chanted along.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Feel it, it is here!

This is the slogan for the 2010 World Cup; it is truly a triumphant moment for Africa. With most of the continent still developing, the influx of thousands of visitors to South Africa will surely have a positive impact on the economy that many hope will have far reaching effects.

So I separated from the girls in Durban to make my way down to Bloemfontein. With very little research, okay let’s be real, with no research, I purchased a ticket to Match #10 Japan vs. Cameroon. Bloemfontein located southwest of Johannesburg and to the west of Durban is bloody cold! Bloem as it is referred to by the locals actually means Fountain of Flowers in Dutch, Bloem = Flowers, Fontein = Fountain. Supposedly they are known for their flowers and especially roses. I didn’t know a thing about Bloem but almost everyone that I came into contact with had made a comment about it being cold. No wonder there were still tickets! When I first went online to look for tickets in early May, most games were already sold out. The US had sold out on all their games and mostly only tickets to Eastern European countries were left. There were still Category 1 tickets for the Japan game so I went ahead and bought it. I ended up paying two times the price for the ticket than the cheapest one. I also thought I purchased another ticket (can’t remember which now) but somehow the transaction didn’t go through so it would be Japan vs. Cameroon in Bloem for me.

Hawaii has landed in South Africa!

Day 5-12 Mtunzini, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

For the most part, my flight was better than I could have expected. Though after passing business class to find my economy seat, I was asking myself why I didn't pay the extra $3,000 to sit in business class as I tour around the world?? These seats in business class were the ones where you basically have your own bed! *sad face* I did manage to sleep the first 8 hours or so straight and then spent the remaining 4 or so trying to watch movies.

I arrived in Johannesburg again early and I must admit, I got a bit emotional and teary eyed. Not only could I believe that I was here attending the 2010 World Cup but this was the trip that took 7 years to realize. In 2003, after fleeing Beijing from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which they still never found out how it was caused or how it was to be cured), I wasn't sure what I was going to do with 'the rest of my life'. I was the one who always had a plan! I ended up deciding to travel and had a ticket to fly to Johannesburg to meet up with my friend Stephanie in Namibia where she was living at the time. It was to be my first time to the African continent and I was excited! Steph's other friends were coming in as well so an entire itinerary had been planned for the 5 weeks I intended to stay.

For those who are familiar with the story, know that I never made that trip because moments before heading to London Heathrow, I received an email from my sister informing me that my father had suffered a severe stroke. Being thousands of miles away and cut off from instant communication (this was a world prior to status updates though I really don't think my sister would have udated her status anyway), I was distraught. I quickly made arrangements to turn around, frantic and emotionally unstable, phoned Steph to let her know I wasn't coming and what seemed almost instantaneous upon touching ground, I was suddenly at the helm of our 57 year old family business and at 24, needed to learn how to run the business and learn how to do it quickly.

The 7 years that went by, I like to think that I accomplished a lot and transformed our little best kept secret into a household name, and by the time I left, was even able to make a national debut. It was definitely rewarding but the toll that it took on my personal life and my life in general was tremendous. Although I wouldn't change any of it, this trip to South Africa really symbolizes a lot for me. Now I'm getting emotional again...To finally be here and knowing that it took 7 years to happen, I was not only grateful for finally making it out here but I was now a different person here to see Africa. I like to think everything happens for a reason. I am still not sure what the reason was for not being able to come until now but I am grateful.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hellooooo Hong Kong! Land of Convenience

Day 2, Hong Kong, China

I arrive in Hong Kong, again early. Hong Kong airport is by far the BEST airport in the world! Okay besides the fact that they do not have free wi-fi but I think I can overlook that for its convenience. But really, if you have only a few days to spare (and you're nearby), fly to Hong Kong and you will surely make the most of your time!

I arrived in Hong Kong and it took me literally, less than 5 minutes to get through customs. Stamp. Stamp. Done. Bye! Go down to baggage. My bags quickly come out. Walk out, right there is the Airport Express counter. The Airport Express was the brainchild of some genius. Tokyo, take notes. Honolulu if we're going RAIL, this is how you need to do it. For either HKD100 ($12.80) one way or HKD180 ($23) round trip, you have bought yourself a ticket to a city only 24 minutes away.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Adventures in Osaka and getting caught...

Day 1 Osaka, Japan

A good night's rest won over and I made my way to the city around 630PM. I also got in a lot earlier than I expected and finding a place for just Y2200** a night, I would be stupid not to! The train ride was also not that bad, only Y890 one way and took about an hour. Initially I thought I didn't want to waste the time nor the money but in the end, it was inconsequential.

My flight out to Hong Kong the following day was at 10:00AM, with the hour train ride, I figured, I should try to leave around 6:30AM to give me some extra time to get to the airport even though the guy at the hotel told me that I could leave at 7:30AM?! I didn't really need to be in that early since I was already checked-in but the lady in Honolulu didn't give me an onward boarding pass and I didn't realize it then so didn't ask for it. Anyway, I would go early because I didn't want to miss Hong Kong. So that was the plan...

At first I didn't know where I was; waking up in a tiny room with a wall only a foot away each way I turned. Then I realized I was in Osaka and that I had to be at the airport at 8:00AM! First I looked at my wrist watch and then my iphone, both read 5 to 12. Oh my God, I'm supposed to be at the airport and it is almost noon?! I looked up at the wall and there was another wall clock that said 6:55AM. Half awake, I still managed to get into my phone settings to see what time zone I was in...HONOLULU. Which explains why my 6:00AM alarm clock for Japan Time didn't go off! I quickly gathered my things and rushed out of the room.

Made my way down to the train station. Station attendant advised that I should catch the Express Train; he failed to mention that it would cost me more. Though I had seen the sign when I got in the day before so I had an inkling. Got on to the train and found a seat. Next stop we pull into, a man comes up to me and says 'excuse me'. I guess I was in his seat. I moved my things to the seat next to him so that I could sit there but before I knew it, a lady came up to me and said 'uh, excuse me'. I guess it's reserved seating? So I gathered my things: backpack and ukulele and stood in the compartment between the two cars. Usually the train attendant comes through the train checking tickets. I was only 4 stops away so I was hoping I could slide through.

It didn't work. Two stations away from the airport, the train attendant asked me to show her my ticket. My first reaction? In English: "What do you need?" In Japanese, she asks me: "Can you speak Japanese?" With a blank stare, I look at her with a confused look? A product of the younger, American influenced generation of Japan, she says in English: "you need to have a ticket; it's going to cost you Y500." I give up. She caught me. My foreign card days are over. I can no longer pretend I don't understand when it's convenient for me. damn. So I pay her the duty and she produces me a receipt through her hand held device. Now I have 27A for the 1 station ride to the airport. So close.

Take off to Hong Kong, again in beautiful business class. It is a short quick ride and I arrive in Hong Kong.

** At the tourist information desk at the airport, there is a pamphlet (available in English) on cheap places to stay in Shin-Imamiya. I tried to scan it...