January 15 2012

The adventure that almost wasn’t

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so, or in case you’ve just stumbled across this blog, I’ve recently returned from an amazing 16 month trip around South America where I visited every single country on the continent.  Some for only a day; some for a few months. But did you know that this trip was almost the trip that wasn’t? It almost didn’t happen due to my own incompetence.  You see, I lost my passport in the days before departure.  When?  who knows.  How?  don’t know.  Where?  well, if I knew that, I  wouldn’t have lost it, now would I.  My only guess is that it got lost [threw away, destroyed…] while I was making copies of the front page to distribute to friends at home. [Travel tip #1:  Make copies of the front page of your passport. Take one or two with you. Leave one or two with someone back home.  It’s immensely easier to get a replacement with that copy.]

I almost didn’t get to see the sun set in the Pacific all the way down the Pacific coast.

I turned my entire house upside down multiple times looking for a document the size of an index card.  I never found it. So I did a little bit of research and found out that you CAN get an emergency passport as long as you meet certain requirements–the main one being that you must have proof of international travel within two weeks.  Two weeks, you say?  That sounds a little risky–to have an international trip scheduled without a passport.  Risky it is, but that’s the main requirement for getting an emergency passport.  Oh and $$$.  The regular passport fee + the expedite fee.

At least I had a layover in Miami

My situation was as follows:   I had a flight from Charlotte to Bogota with a 8 hour lay-over in Miami.  As luck would have it, the IS an emergency passport office in Miami. Their hours are 8a-3p.   The flight to Miami is 2 hours and with my flight leaving at 6A I would have time to make the detour.  So I made an appointment at the Miami passport office for 8:45A.  Oh yea, it was a tight timeline, but I guess this is the definition of travel emergency.  As fate would have it, I met another girl on the place who was in the same situation, and we became buddies for the day.  We both had early appointments, forms filled out it advance, pictures in hand, and appropriate  funds.  We took public transportation [there’s a metromover station very close to the to the passport agency], had our appointment [and let me say, for government agencies, fairly efficient], and  were done [except the waiting] by 10:30A.  We were instructed to return after 1p to pick up our passports. The Miami agency is located in a business area so we grabbed lunch, chatted, and waited for time to pass.  At 1p, we returned to  the agency, and were greeted with bright, shiny, brand-new USA passports.  Then the mad dash to the airport ensued.  My flight left at 4p so I had time, but my new friend’s flight left at 2:30p.

Spoiler alert:  We each made our flights, me to Bogota, her to Costa Rica.

Several things could have gone wrong on this trip.  What would I have done had there not been a way to get an emergency passport?  Or had a non-stop flight?  Or a lay over in a city without a passport office?  Or a super tight connection that would not have allowed me to make a detour?  I don’t know. I  know that any one of these things could have halted my trip before it even started.  And none of the experiences of the last 16 months would have happened.

 

It’s the little things that can change our life’s course.

 

January 8 2012

5 steps to survive taking an electric shower

2018 Michelle checking in here:  The electric shower is a scary occurrence in several areas of central/south America.  One one hand, I’m grateful for hot, flowing water; on the other hand, I was seriously scared for my life. BUT figuring out how to work this calamity was one of my greater travel achievements.  I don’t think there will be electric showers in Rwanda, but if there are, it’s OK. I’ve figured that out once before.

It's a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die
The shower in my hostel in Bogotá. It’s a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die

Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogotá.

It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.

5 steps to surviving an electric shower

  1. Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head?  I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
  2. Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water?  Did you bring electrical tape?  If not, a  wash cloth and the sink might be the best option.
  3. Get naked. Do your thing, and get out.  If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them.  This is not the time to reminisce about the day.  Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway.  The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water.  There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out.  So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant.  But not both. Your choice.
  4. If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment.  It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
  5.  Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet.  How to turn off the faucet?  You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires.  My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sized–that you use for turning off the knobs.

No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower.  I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.

 

January 1 2012

Traveling Recap–Did it Change My Life?

As my travels are winding down, I have started doing a little reflection on my trip.  16 months away is a long time to be away. Was it life changing?  Not in any dramatic way [although I did make one big decision as a result of my volunteer experiences].  Did I make a difference in some one else’s life?  Maybe on some small level for at least the time I was there.  I can’t say what happened after I left.   Did I meet my goals?  Yes. My goals of the trip was to have fun, engage in meaningful volunteer experiences, and meet new people.  I am a little bit torn.  In one way, I feel like I could go on traveling forever.  There is a great big world out there, and this experience has taught me that I have only seen a tiny part of it.  In another way, I am ready to start down the path of my new career.  I am a little bit scared.  It will be a long road.  I don’t know when I will be able to travel again, especially like this.  I feel conflicted about going “home.”  I don’t really have a home.  I have friends that I want to be near.  I can’t wait to see the children in my life, and how much they have changed.

Wandering without being lost–Laguna Miscanti, Atacama Desert, Chile 2010

There are things I have missed–such as having a regular study spot, sleeping in my own bed, taking a bath in my own bathtub–hot water and all,  and of course my kitties.  I have people who I want to see although I have learned I can make friends with nearly anyone.   So in one aspect I am ready to get home, tackle what I need to tackle in order to meet my goals. Another part of me says traveling is so easy–much more so than real life, so I should continue doing that.  I think my next international trip will be to some part of Eastern Europe.  I am not sure where or when, but until then I have a little more that half of the United States to explore [and now I have new friends in previously untraveled parts of the country].

Thinking about what to do

Since I know the questions will be coming, I spent a few minutes in thought about the best and worst parts of my trip.  Here goes:

Andean Condor in flight

Highlights: unexpected almost free trip to the Galápagos Islands, Iguazu Falls, seeing Aconcagua, being at the end of the world
Low lights: catching malaria during my first month of my trip.  I didn’t show symptoms for about 6-8 weeks though.  Or at least that’s the best guess based on when I was entering and exiting the Amazon.

Blue footed Booby

Thing I wish I hadn’t lost: my head lamp… I actually know where I left it; I was just too far gone before I realized it. I have been in the dark ever since then.
Thing I wish I had lost:  I never used my rain poncho.  I gave it to some kids and they had a blast playing with it.
Most useful items: Zune with speakers, Swiss army knife, sheet, travel pillow
Least useful items: camera accessories (I used them because I had them, but I would have been fine without them), umbrella
Best new food: Manjarblanco with apples…. mmmmmm
Worst new food: cuy–too small, too little meat, too much work, and too greasy

Santa Catalina Monastery

Funniest moment: “beerbombs”–how my Brazilian friend Henrique pronounced/understood the explanation of “beer-bong”
Scariest moment:  There were two:  1. Being pounded into the rocks like a rag doll with a surf board tied to my feet, not being able to catch my breath, or regain my balance, and looking back and seeing nothing more than a wall of water coming my way…really thought I might die that way.  2. Being kidnapped by rouge taxi drivers crossing the border from Peru to Ecuador who tried to extort money from me.
Favorite place visited:  Angel Falls, so remote, so beautiful and Usuhaia… for the same reasons as Angel Falls

 

Lake Titicaca

Least favourite place visited: the midad del mundo monument… so overrated
Favorite new activity:  para sailing… its like floating in the air
Least favourite new activity: Surfing
Favourite countries: Argentina and Colombia
Least favourite countries: Paraguay and Ecuador
Favourite cities:  MendozaAR, and Santa Marta, CO
Least favourite cities:  Santiago, Chile and Rio de Janeiro, BR (just too big)

Cartagena, Colombia… one of my favorite cities