October 14 2018

Peace Corps Rwanda | Clothing, Electronics, and House Things

I received my nomination to Madagascar in July 2017, moved from the apartment I was living in to the house I now own in October/November 2017, didn’t board the plane to Madagascar in February 2018, re-evaluated the suitcase now headed for Rwanda in May 2018. The suitcase[s] were packed and re-pack 3 times before I even left the US, but the question is, did I do a good job packing?  Did I pack the right things?  Is there something I wish I had packed but didn’t?  Is there enough clothing, or too much? Is my kitchen too ‘extra’ or just ‘extra enough?  Let’s see

Luggage

4 bags that you can see; 2 you can’t… So much stuff

Let’s start with the bags.  I have so.many.bags. It’s unreal. My big green duffel bag’s handle broke during one of the many transfers during PST. It’s now used as a bedside table.  The main compartment has stuff left here by the previous volunteer [think mosquito net and some clothes] + clothes that no longer fit me nor can I make them work.  I’m using the small pocket on the top at a drawer of sorts where I keep my Vaseline, nail maintenance tools, and my battery operated foot scrubber.  I’ve used the larger outer pocket as sort of a trash collector.   I gathered so many papers/books, ect during PST that I don’t/won’t use anymore, and I hate the idea of burning trash so I jsut put it there. Out of site, out of mind.

The Osperey Backpack and REI backpack were solid choice which are now empty, hanging on the wall waiting patiently to be put to use again.

Another volunteer and I bought a Target suitcase set the day before leaving [and some clothes], and I have the carry-one size suitcase.  The bag is fully packed waiting on its return trip to America in February.  It will bring back a lot of things to America that I don’t need, and will bring to Rwanda a lot of things I do need [mainly food items]. I’m also taking home a few things for a fellow PCV that he will pick up upon his return to American.

My checkered tote bag served its purpose in getting my electronics here, but now sits lonely under a table.  I almost always use my backpack for quick trips around town and going to the market for the sole reason that I can carry my backpack on my back.

My leather purse will be going back to America.  It has literally been used once.

My daily backpack was packed in side another bag.  I use this bag the most and honestly it probably won’t make it the two years.  I also used this bag for my entire nursing program and paid less than $20 for it in 2014 so I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it.

I have a small canvas bag that I use for my weekly market trips. I bought it at Primark for about 10 Euros in 2012/2013 that is serving it’s purpose well, and I won’t be taking it back to the US

I have acquired two more bags since arriving in Rwanda [I know. I have a problem]  One’s a padded tote and the other is more like a small cross body purse.  Currently they are serving as wall decoration. I bought them more for souvenirs than anything, but the padded tote will house my computer [if it survives that long] and my camera when I COS.

The green Osprey bag is going back to America and not returning to Rwanda. I plan to have my orange backpack + the padded tote and small  fabric purse as the only bags when I leave.  The rest are staying in Rwanda and I really don’t care what happens to them.

Clothing [I have lost nearly 25 pounds in the first 5 months so a lot of my clothing is comically large now]

In the terms of every day life, I didn’t pack a ton of clothes.  In PC-land, I have way too much clothing.

To revisit I had the following:

  • Fleece pull-over x1.  YES, I could probably use another. My plan is to completely wear this out.
  • Lightweight rain coat. YES. I use it for wind and rain. And moto rides.
  • Cardigan x3.  Three is too many. I’m taking the black one home [it’s the best quality, and I do like wearing them]; the other two I’ll wear while in Rwanda, but aren’t making the cut back to America.
  • Blouses x5.  I  brought them because PC says we need business casual clothing. I’ve worn 3 of the 5. The nicest of the bunch is returning to America when I visit. 2 will be left behind in Rwanda, and 2 [may] make it in the POST-COS wardrobe.
  • T-shirts x5.  YES. Plus I’ll be bringing more when I return to Rwanda… Plain colorful T-shirts. I doubt these will make it back to the US as I wear them everyday and hand washing isn’t kind to clothing. But they are relatively inexpensive at Target, which is where all of these came from.
  • Hoodie x2. One is returning to the US because it’s too nice for village life, and the other one won’t last/make the trip home. I fully expect it to be in threads two years from now.
  • Flannel Shirt. MEH.  I wear it occasionally. It won’t be returning to the US.
  • Other miscellaneous shirts x3. Just NO.
  •  Pants x 12.   This is INSANE. 6 will probably be too many. To be fair, I didn’t pack 12 pairs of pant, but due to care packages and shopping, I now HAVE 12 pairs of pants [most of which are too big, but I still wear them] The jeans I wore to Philadelphia are way too big and I never wear them anymore. I wore them a lot in PST, so I don’t feel too bad. I have another pair of jeans that were too small when I left for PST, but now fit. I brought one pair of scrub pants, and had 3 other pairs arrive in care packages. 2 gray, 1 black, and 1 blue.  The original gray and blue pants now look like clown pants on me. They won’t be returning to America. I bought 2 pairs of pants at Target prior to leaving. One is too big for a belt and the others I wear sparingly. [They are heavy weight brown cargo pants and washing them is a bitch].  I have 2 other pair of brown/khaki pants + 3 pair of gray/stone pair of pants. My plan is to alternate between two pair of pants, hopefully wearing them out [literally… My favorites always break down in the thigh area]. For COS, I want to be down to no more than 3 pairs of pants [possibly khaki/gray only].  I’m hoping to wear the scrubs out even though I love the quick wash/dry capabilities of them.
  • Skirts  x4– I brought 2 –one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue, and have had 2 made. I’m planning to bring at most 2 back with me.
  • Socks and underwear x a lot… seriously I think I have close to 40 pairs of underwear and 20 pairs of socks SERIOUSLY!  A lot of the socks are returning to the US since I only wear wool socks or sandals.  I have 12 pairs of underwear in rotation. During training, I took out 6 pairs of underwear and 4 pairs of socks and used those exclusively. Once I moved in to my house, I took another 6 pairs of  underwear and 4 pairs of socks and put them in rotation… so now I have 12 pairs of underwear and 8 pair of socks in rotation. At the 8,16, 24 month mark, I will remove the too worn items and replace as necessary. In reserve I have 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pair of socks for my COS trip.  I have found that the cotton ones have a much shorter lifespan that the quick-dry kind.
  • Bras.  I have 3 sports bras and 4 regular bras. One of the sports bras is now too big [Yes, I’m losing weight there too]. I fully expect to be down to 2 or 3  at the end of 2 years
  • ShoesI brought 5 pair; 2 are returning to the USA, and it their place, I will be adding my hiking boots and another pair of shower/house flops, and possibly my tennis shoes. One pair I brought just for swear in, another pair isn’t practical, and I don’t think the slide ons will last two years, and I HATE shoes that go between my toes [which are readily available here].
  • Additional clothing:  Yoga pants x2, mesh basketball shorts x2… One of each would suffice… Swimsuit not used regularly but glad to have it

Household/Kitchen Things

I didn’t pack a lot of house things since I knew I’d be living with a host family the first three months. Instead I packed a box, and shipped it to me the day before I left. In retrospect this was one of the better decisions I made concerning packing. Things inside the box included:

  • Set of knives
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • grater
  • vegetable peeler
  • can opener
  • Stainless steel mug
  • Assorted spices
  • A few zip lock bags
  • A head lamp
  • Seeds
  • Snacks [tuna, peanut butter, hard candy, clif bars…]

Each of these things was worth the space and cost of sending myself the box.


  • Two sets of sheets [one used in PST, the other not used] Fun fact: I brought twin and full sized sheets. While I did use the twin in PST, the bed I have at my site is essentially a queen.  I had to buy sheet anyway.
  • I quilt/comforter. YES.  It was so heavy in the bag, but every day since breaking it out, I’m glad I have it. It’s warm, and I like the color.
  • 2 pillows from home. YES. Annoying in transit, but I’m so grateful to have a ‘real’ pillow.
  • down blanket and travel pillow YES. I use these when I visit other PCT. It’s nice to be comfy when outside my home environment
  • Toiletries. YES. It’s nice to have brands my skin is familiar with in an environment that’s not familiar. Leave the make-up at home, but bring quality skin care products. And lotion.  Lots of lotion.
  • Meds. YES. PC does give an adequately stocked med kit, but it’s also nice to have some things of my own because the last thing I want to do is make an hour long trek to the bus station to pick up medicine when I’m feeling sick. I use the PC med refills for things like insect repellent, condoms, lip balm, tampons, and malaria med.  Everything else I use my own supplies
  • Quick Dry Towel–Meh. I rarely use it, but will on my post COS trip.
  • Decor–I brought 3 flags, USA, SC, and University of Tennessee plus some photos/cards of/from friends back home.  These are comfort things I’m glad to have but are not at all necessary. I’ve also used ikitenge fabric to decorate the walls
  • Curtains–Totally not necessary, but I’m glad to have them

I am over all happy with the household things I have, and the only thing I wish I had was a water bottle.  How I overlooked this is beyond me.


Electronics

  • Laptop FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, YES. Bring a laptop. It doesn’t matter what kind, but have one.  I fully expect this one to not last the entire time, but it makes doing PC reports much easier.  Blogging is MUCH easier from a laptop.
  • External Hard Drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB. YES.  One quit working so I;m glad to have the other one.
  • Kindle… Meh. I’ve read all the books on my Kindle, but I have an app on the laptop that allows for e-reading.  The Kindle is going back to the US
  • Camera. Yes, but not unequivocally yes  I don’t like taking pictures of people so it hasn’t gotten much use yet, but I do plan to use it more when I travel.  My smaller camera is returning to the US because I never use it.  I have a tiny action camera [think Go Pro knock off], plus my iphone [which I use mainly for music since its not 4g capable], and my cell phone.  I have enough cameras
  • Flash drives x2 32GB each Meh. They are small so they don’t take up much space, but I haven’t used them yet
  • iphone I was hoping to use this as my phone but since its an older iphone its not 4G capable and the only service I get in 4G so I had to buy a Rwandan phone, but I love using it as an Ipod
  • External speaker–it quit working after about a month, or more accurately it works, there’s just a lot of static when I use it
  • Headphones x4 I have yet to use them so why I though I needed 4 pair is beyond me.  They will return to the US and I’ll use them at the gym.
  • USB charger YES. You never know about the electrical grid in the rural villages
  • Flashlight and headlamp YES  my kitchen doesn’t have electricity so  I either have to eat at 5p or use my headlamp to cook
  • Rechargeable batteries Absolutely
  • Outlet adapters  one or two should suffice; I brought 10! of the 2 pin kind [like used in Europe] which is what I need for Rwanda, but apparently places like South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya use different ones.
  • Power strip I brought it because I had it, but these are widely available in Rwanda

You will hear people say this, and if you are anything like me, you won’t believe it, but here goes anyway:  Pack half the clothing and double the snacks of the original packing plan. I legitimately wear the same clothing All.The.Time. 4 pairs of pants would have been sufficient. Maybe 6 or 7 shirts. In a country like Rwanda, villagers wear the same clothing all the time so it’s not weird if you do to.

February 24 2018

Flu advice circa 2018

I had a little bird

Its name was Enza.

I opened the window,

And in-flu-enza.

Children’s nursery rhyme, circa 1918

There is nothing I like more than when history, science, medicine, and travel interact, although in this case, it’s not me doing the traveling, it’s the flu virus. Although I mostly write about travel, occasionally about history, less occasionally about other things, my day job [so to speak] is being a registered nurse.

It’s 2018 and even if you aren’t a medical science/history junkie like myself, you’ve probably still  have heard of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.  It’s the illness that killed more people than WWI and the Plague [the Black Death Plague of the middle ages] combined, and while the exact strain of the 1918 flu was never isolated, we do know it contained at least one strain of H3N2.  And that my friends is what is circulating now. And why the 2017-18 flu vaccine is so ineffective. [But still, 10-25% effective is better than 0% effective].

Ok people, real advice from a real RN: The flu is real this year, Read carefully and stay at home if you feeling sick and if at all possible! So sorry for those of you who have had it or are currently experiencing its wrath. Hope this is helpful for those of you who have so far avoided it, are caring for family members, or have contact with people on a regular basis–so pretty much everyone.

THE LOWDOWN ON THE FLU:

  1. You CAN get the flu even if you received the flu vaccine. This is true every year,but especially this year, since this year’s vaccine has a range 10%-25% effectiveness. [The H3N2 strain is particularly difficult to grow and add to a vaccine and that is the predominant strain of the circulating virus.]
  2.  If you find yourself victim of the flu, you have a virus. It lasts 7-14 days during which you are going to feel like you want to die; you may/will have fever, chills, severe headache, sore throat, chest congestion, nasal congestion, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, severe weakness/lethargy, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea and severe body/joint aches. Viruses DON’T get treated with antibiotics; it has to run its course.                                                    
  3. Go to your primary care doctor, urgent care, or telephone triage nurse FIRST, but know there is little they can do to help you. The only thing they can help you with is medication for severe coughing unresponsive to over the counter medications or severe diarrhea/vomiting. You do not need antibiotics unless you develop a secondary lung infection.
  4. DO. NOT. COME. TO. THE. ER… UNLESS you have shortness of breath, cannot keep down fluids for 24 hours, have persistent liquid stools accompanied by dizziness, have a sustained fast heart rate or low blood pressure.
  5. Tamiflu is an antiviral drug that is found to be mostly ineffective, and comes with significant side effects and price tag.  It’s also only effective if taken within the first 48 hours of contracting the virus.  Most people don’t know they have the flu until after this window has closed.
  6. DO take Tylenol AND Advil/Motrin/Aleve [pick one; don’t take all] at MAX doses [unless contraindicated by other health issues or allergies] to alleviate fever, headache and body aches.
  7. DO take over-the-counter flu remedies. DO be careful taking combinations of different medications to avoid overdosing and over treating [example; some flu medicines already have Tylenol (Acetaminophen) in them; read the bottle].
  8. Use home remedies such as “hot toddies” [whiskey/lemon/honey, if appropriate, and obvs… FOR ADULTS ONLY], hot showers, vapor rubs, vapor humidifiers, essential oils, onions around your neck, potatoes under the bed, ect.
  9. Drink fluids! All kinds of fluids. At every waking moment. DO NOT underestimate the  power of fluids. Hot liquids and soups may be helpful. Try to maintain nutritious intake. Milk products may thicken mucus and worsen coughs. If your urine is yellow or darker, you are not drinking enough.
  10. Coughing… this is IMPORTANT: If it’s productive [stuff coming up], DO NOT suppress it with meds. If it’s non-productive [dry and annoying], DO suppress it. Make sure you’re properly hydrated, especially with a productive cough. Proper hydration thins out secretions and makes them easier to cough up and out. Elevate your head when you sleep to decrease coughing/secretions.
  11. PLAN AHEAD.   Stock up on medications, juices, drinks, soups, popsicles, and broth so you’ll be ready. This time of year it is not unusual to find store shelves empty. You will not feel like going shopping when you are sick… which brings me to my next point.
  12. DO NOT GO OUT IN PUBLIC FOR ANY REASON!  Someone with a compromised immune system, an elderly person, an infant, or someone in poor health can easily die from the flu. You don’t want to be the one who exposed them. For the love of all things holy, DO NOT send a child with a fever to school during flu season. DO NOT go to work with a fever.  Or church. Or anywhere else where you think it might be OK.  Fever means you are in the contagious period where you can spread the virus to others.
  13. PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE. WASH YOUR HANDS WITH SOAP AND WATER!! OFTEN.

Professional disclaimer:

[Take meds responsibly. My advice is my opinion from personal and professional experience. I am not liable for any actions taken or not taken based on these recommendations.]

January 3 2016

Travel Mistakes I Keep Making Over and Over

We all make mistakes.. .especially when doing something you’ve never done before, and traveling to a new place definitely fits in to that category. It seems as if I make at least 10 mistakes a day when I’m traveling. In that regard, I am just like everyone else [although I am not ashamed to admit my shortcomings], and when it comes to traveling, I make plenty of mistakes… usually the same ones or variations of the same theme.  You’d think I’d learn, but so far, I haven’t… it’s almost as if I am allergic to learning or something.

I’ve been on my own now for half of my life, and sneaking away to travel even earlier than that [Exhibit A–Alone in Atlanta as a 7th grader… Exhibit B… Baseball in Baltimore as a 14 year old], so you would think I’d learn a thing or two about this whole put stuff in a bag and go somewhere thing.  Yet, I am surprised as anyone… maybe more so because a reasonable person wouldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again…when things don’t go according to some ill defined plan.

Traveling is not easy… Things do not always work out like you think they should in your head… There are often hiccups, last minute change of plans, substitutions, and other clusterfucks that a lot of people never talk about. So with that in mind, let’s review the travel mistakes I keep making.

galapagos iguanas

Mistake # 1  Not making reservations ahead of time.

I really [REALLY!] hate planning.  I also hate commitment, and to me, making reservations, is both planning AND making a commitment.  In my head, I’m screaming “Reservations cramp my style.  I want to be free.  I want to be spontaneous.  What if I change my mind?  What if something better comes along?”  In reality what happens is the flight I want is already booked.  There are no more hotel rooms to be had.  I have to keep changing hotels everyday because none of them had availability for the duration of my stay.  Or I have to scrap plans all together.  I really should get my ass in gear and make reservations more than 45 minutes before something starts.

Seeing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve was awesome; arriving in Chamonix, France in the French Alps on January 2 without a place to stay and without a cellphone [see #4] during a snowstorm was not awesome.  Spending 400 Euros for the last remaining hotel room in town [#truestory] also was not awesome.

Mistake # 2  Packing the wrong things

I’m a pretty light packer as things go.  I have never had my bags go over the weight limit, and I’ve never had more than I could handle.  South America in general was a lot colder than I thought it would be… [altitude is a tricky beast]  I ended up wearing the same clothes for days… [I did change my underwear though] because they were they only warm clothes I had… I even slept in my fleece pullover a few times… In the end, I had to buy some things while I was on the road, and at least in the upper half on the continent 5’9″ women aren’t too common so fit was generally an issue.

You’d think that in those two bags, I’d have everything I need for a year + in South America.  Nope, I had to go shopping in a mall in Quito for for jungle/cloud forest gear.  I had to buy a poncho for warmth in Peru [and used it in Bolivia].  Traditional Andean clothing does not come in tall… just so you know.  My flip flops fell apart in Chile.  I rented clothing for the Inca Trail.  I bought a warmer jacket [down in case you are wandering] for Patagonia, and by the time I hit Brazil, I was ‘accidentally’ leaving things behind.  Let’s not even talk about the time I showed up in a ski resort area without appropriate gear. I am ever hopeful that I will eventually happen on the right combination of clothing for the actual destination and the actual weather.

Just a few weekends ago, I went to the coast for a few days.  When I left it was 75F with highs in the mid 80s.  When I came back it was 48F.  I did not pack for 48F… Yes I know it was October, but it was 75 degrees at 8am.  I threw in my swimsuit, a pair of shorts, water sandals, 2 t-shirts, and one long sleeved shirt… .Yes I probably should have thrown a sweatshirt and jeans or something in my bag, but my mind was singularly focused on being on the water and 80 degrees.  Friday and Saturday were awesome; Sunday I froze my ass off.

Mistake #3 Not letting anyone know my itinerary.

This all goes back to #1.  I don’t intentionally wander; I just change my mind.  I may intend to go one place, but hear something great about another so I just go… Or some place may be great, and I end up staying there longer than planned.  Or I meet fascinating people and want to hang with them.  All of these things have actually happened, and all have changed my original plans.  I’ve boarded a plane for Chicago on the spur of the moment.  I was in Serbia when I ‘should have been’ in Austria.  I was having such a good time in Peru that I got an apartment.  Chile wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be so I dipped in and out, never staying in one place very long.  Venezuela nor French Guiana were never on my original itinerary, but I made allowances and ended up spending Euros in South America.

Danger...danger
Although I should probably let people know if I am headed to an area where there are landmines.

Mistake # 4 Not using a smartphone when I travel.

I realize that a smartphone is so much more than a phone, but I’m terrified of forgetting to turn off the roaming or something and the racking up a $500 bill.  So on international trips, I turn the phone off completely.  I know I need to suck it up, move into the 21st century,  and just get an unlocked phone.  Life abroad would be SO.MUCH.EASIER.

Update:  I now have a smart phone. Life is grand.

Mistake#5 Not signing up for any loyalty program

Nothing. No travel rewards credit cards. No airline frequent flyer program. No getting triple points for every $ I spend. Nothing. I don’t know where to start. I have rarely fly the same airline twice, and 10,000 miles just  doesn’t get you very far.  If I had started way back when I could have at least gotten an upgrade by now.

meow meow

Mistake 5.5 Booking things at the wrong times.

I am inherently a night owl. I am much more likely to stay up until 5am than get up at 5am. I know myself well enough to know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I am going to be able sleep the night before anything is scheduled, and if I do, I am likely to nod off 30 minutes before it’s time to get up and wake up in “oh shit!” mode… either I’m in a rush or I have missed it all together. I’m getting better at picking the right flights, buses, tours, ect, and I am fortunate enough to be able to sleep just about anywhere. As long as I can make it to the beginning point, I’m all right.

Mistake # 5.75  Not having insurance.

After getting severely dehydrated in the jungle… falling a breaking my arm in Mexcio… needing stitches in Belize, I have come to accept that I am inherently clumsy, and as I get older, I am less likely to bounce back from various injuries. Starting a couple of years ago, I never leave the country without travel insurance.  Since I’ve started buying travel insurance, I’ve yet to have an accident. Coincidence… I think not.  I’m never leaving home without it again.

See… all is not lost… I do learn from my [oh-so many] mistakes… eventually.

August 17 2014

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder, paddle harder”. I paddled harder; I paddled my little heart out. I don’t think anything I did mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

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.

 

November 7 2010

CouchSurfing in Ecuador

So what exactly is couchsurfing?

CouchSurfing is a program that is kinda like a cultural exchange where you stay with a local on his/her couch (bed, futon, whatever) and they show you a bit about their city. I first heard of the program prior to leaving, but haven’t really had the opportunity to use it. About a month ago, while in Quito, I met another traveler who used couch-surfing about 80% of the time while traveling and had 0 issues with it.  I am usually pretty cautious with where I sleep at night, especially since I am traveling as a single female, but hearing her stories convinced me to give it a try.

So here I am…

currently in Loja, Ecuador with my first couch surfer.

His name is Jamie; he’s quite cute and also is very nice…  I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit awkward–probably more for me than for him. Jamie has a small, but clean one-bedroom/ one bathroom apartment in a centrally located area of Loja. He insisted that I take the bed while he slept on the couch. My first night there he cooked dinner, and it was amazing.  I was tired and after dinner he went to a pub to catch a soccer game.  The next morning, he showed me around central Loja and gave me tips about visiting Vilcambaba and Cajas National Park.  It’ was kinda like staying with a friend–who happens to be a stranger. I ‘m not sure I could be as nice and helpful to a complete stranger, but I most certainly appreciate it.  By couchsurfing you not only save money because it is forbidden for a host to charge for the couch , but you also learn things about the city that you probably would not have found out on your own.

I stayed with Jamie for almost a week and at the end of my stay, I bought him a weeks’ worth of groceries as a thank-you, and on my morning out of town, he took me to a fresh juice / health store where you pick what fruits you want and they juice them and serve them fresh… I would have never found that on my own, but my pineapple orange juice was excellent. I don’t think I could do an entire trip by couchsurfing, but it is a nice change of pace when I get tired of hostels.  I will probably couch surf again at some point (and while nothing in life is 100% safe, Couchsurfing admins do take precautions about how the site is run).

Sometimes I still feel as if I am in the beginning stages of my journey because I spent a large part of this trip sort of away from civilization (good and bad), but with my arrival in Cuenca on Tuesday that began to change.  I actually met other travelers.  One lady was traveling with her teenage son–sort of a variation of home schooling.  She enrolled her daughter in University of Quito for $1200 semester and her son is in Spanish class in Cuenca… after a bit of that, they will go down to Machu Piccu to get in a history lesson or two. I think that would be the perfect way to educate children. They still have a schedule of what they must cover for the 9th grade, but they can do it however they want, and what better way to study World History than traveling the world.

I met another guy who is riding his bicycle! from Alaska to Argentina. He has been at it 15 months and figures to finish in February or so. I think that takes serious guts because pretty much once you cross into Mexico, drivers (and roads) suck… Every two weeks or so he pulls into a town on his bike to relax, go to Spanish school, do some hiking, stock up on supplies, ect… I think that is so cool, but I could never do that. I met another US retiree who is traveling to find out where to move. He said he is tired of the way the politics and healthcare in the US are run and is ready to sell the condo in FL and get out…

I have also met a girl from New Zealand (who loved my Southern accent) who was about to return home after traveling a year. Most everyone I have met has had some type of interesting story about what they are doing–which is nice to hear about…