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Looking at the locals, living in a restrictive regime where self-expression and the free propagation of ideas is not exactly what you would be inclined to do, I’m wondering how many live for a dream and what is that dream?

Travelling through tens of countries from Bangladesh to Japan and Argentina to Kenya, seeing different cultures, political systems, schemes of thinking, beliefs, religions, behavior models, my personal dream is to get to the people’s core way of being and understanding them.

Judgment can only be stopped by knowing, by documenting, by understanding, by seeing and genuinely trying to put one in the shoes of the other. We live in a globalized world that is more racist and less understanding and tolerant to other beliefs, cultures and religions than ever.

Before judging someone or something try to understand where they’re coming from, how they think and what they have to say.

I wanted this trip for years and it must be 15 years since I’ve been in a group tour, an itinerary organized by somebody else. While this is the most common route in Iran, when I come back, I have to visit Tabriz and maybe Mashad.

Mashad is a holy city in the East of Iran where Imam Reza (or Ali al-Ridha), the 8th Imam of the Twelver Islam, a section of Shia Islam, was buried.

Globalization: A Basic Text

Closing my eyes, I can see where I am on the world map. So far, yet so close. What about my mission, my life? Where am I? We’re so good with practical aspects, yet with the less tangible we still seem to struggle. At least I do and I’m unceasingly searching, searching. Sometimes I feel like a dog scratching the ground in search of something he cannot see or feel, yet his senses tell him it’s there.

It’s second day and I wished I talked less and listened more. Does human interaction scare me? Does it make me look inside? Simply cannot sleep. Does a story that resembles mine make me sad? Does my competence make me too proud? Do I not take rejection, criticism?

Travel, just like love, is meant to change us. My motto is:

If love and travel did not change you, it means you did not love enough or traveled far enough.

Love, another force that makes the world spin.

I’m working on myself without even noticing, washing away pain, learning to deal with my thoughts, at the border between acceptance and understanding. Between these two doors I walk back and forth.

It’s a long way, a long process. It means dedication to myself and meanwhile I’m trying to observe where selfishness ends and giving begins.

Personal Revolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You’ve Always Wanted to Do

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July 13th 2016, Casablanca, Morocco

Arrived in Casablanca again, a few days later from my last visit.

Oh Rick, (Blaine, of course)…my fast life…

“Yvonne: Where were you last night?
Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.”

This not only could be the story of my life, this currently is the story of my life.

I’m quite familiar with the surroundings and I know I want to explore the city alone. Spotted some superb buildings with lots of pink, small flowers grown all the way up, leaning on the white walls on Rue d’Alger, so I guess this is a plan.

Of course, as most of the plans I’ve made in my life…

…at the time a plane landed from the Middle East on Mohammed V International Airport, Rick was in his posh restaurant by the Mediterranean, having the most exquisite view of Hassan II Mosque mirroring in the sea waters, sipping on one of the collection wines that fill the walls of the place where, in the middle of extreme poverty, the Casablanca rich elite gathers. A little later, he signed for the wooden boxes of fresh fish that landed on my plateau just a few hours later, when two destinies met, just to confirm that we have soul brothers all over the world and some of them we’re lucky enough to meet in this lifetime.

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So, I drink another strong coffee, wear my long wide floral print in blue and red caftan and my green turban, the turquoise bracelet ring I got last time from the local souq (market in Arabic) and a tiny purse. I get a Petit Taxi to the Mosque and he actually starts the meter. It costs 10 dirhams ($1) and take no spare minute to drop double the amount. I spend the whole afternoon at the mosque resting in the shade, taking pictures, watching the people and inhaling the sea air.

As researched online, there is a 30 minute walk to the Corniche, so I keep walking and stop to take pictures every now a then, or to buy fresh juice. In less than an hour I’m there and find one of the restaurants on my list, but keep walking through something that does not look like a Corniche normally does.

The examples I have would be the Corniches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Doha. Well, my friends, this is a whole different story, far from the opulent luxury and 5-star hotels and fancy places I was expecting to see.

Actually, it’s a slum, where young kids swimming in the sea, dipping their feet in the water, playing football, rushing on their motorbikes. The houses are absolutely not resembling a house, they are made of cartons and sun dried soil, nothing organized, all improvised, doors and windows almost falling. Falling. However, I must admit, their view towards the waves of the sea breaking on the small peninsula’s stones is great.

I’m almost at the Lighthouse when a lady in one of the huts asks me if I speak French. I say a little. She and her daughters – I suppose – look at me with the most precious eyes. She tells me to stop taking pictures, hide my camera and return to the main street in the direction I was coming from. It was an advice. Probably a good one. The truth is that I am not in the mood of being snatched second time.

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I had written a lot of things about this trip in Casablanca. There were some intense feelings of all sort and really, it was an adventure. I love to evolve as I go again to a city. I become bolder, I learn more, I get more opened up and that’s when …things happen.

If I showed any person from the frequent Casablanca good night life scene my list of places where I wanted to go, they, for sure, would have told me there must be something connected to Rick. What is the probability that I had on a piece of paper a list of all the places he established or managed once and now I reach the place he just opened a week ago?

Another page of my life, another city, other people, new experiences, discovering a little bit about Casablanca’s interesting nightlife.

The trip brought revelations on the cycles of life and I closed one circle, for sure.

You know that place and those people who, with their unconditional kindness, tell you…Stop! You’re not going the right way with this right thing to do. Funny, no? Contrasts all over.

So, it’s not something wrong, it’s just that things have a purpose and one must never lose their eyes from it. So…as I was there, with my half naked shoulder…I was over it!

There were so many things I had written and most of them were quite intense that the fact that I have lost the file means I should just keep this one for me and for my soul. That’s the beauty of things, that you cannot really explain the most intense feelings, but they stay with you in a special place.

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July 3rd 2016, Casablanca, Morocco

Kindness is what keeps us human in this hectic world.

It’s early morning, I’m right after a great Omani adventure…

Oh, Rick (Blaine, from the movie), I’m traveling to Casablanca for the first time.

…yet again, to meet my destiny.

…but I don’t know it yet, although I know it deep down, my soul knows.

Every now and then, on the paths of life, you lose. You lose in love, you lose your photos from the whole trip, you lose your soul or you lose something you wrote, which is about the same for some people. I lost my diary on Casablanca and let me tell you, it was intense. Maybe it was supposed to be rewritten, so here it goes…

This month was Morocco month. Having two trips at a distance of 10 days seemed to open and close a cycle. And when a cycle is closed, it’s time for a fresh start.

Again, I met some key people, I went through some risk and danger, did not leave a day go by without going to the mosque, drank some wonderful Moroccan tea, threw some some feelings and thoughts at the bottom of the wild sea, photographed the people of Casablanca, let myself seduced…by the city.

He just let me…be and watched me like the fragile blossom I am. A flower wearing her armor around the world, in high up planes and in down below feelings.

Fell in love with you…looking at Casablanca, watching the waves break in the rhythm of my soul vibrations. Strong, wild, with rage, attacking with force and retreating with gracious moves. Leaving a foam of melancholy behind and leaving a smile on my face. One that can still see the scars.

The city is charming and has a distinctive vibe which cannot go unnoticed from the very first seconds. It looks old and not too modern at first glance, but I love the arranged chaos of one of the biggest cities of Maghreb and the whole Africa.

The cars are super tiny and it’s impossible not to notice that coming from a huge, American, SUV lovers’ country. Petit Taxis are adorable, especially the very small and colorful ones. They are red and most of them are old versions of Romanian Dacia cars.

You might say it’s not the most civilized thing in the world, but being able to buy fresh oranges and fruit and vegetables in the street, from the street you live in, it’s a great luxury.

At Hotel Excelsior in the Place des Nations Unies, across the Souq, managing to catch a good picture with an old Mercedes on the foreground. Our hotel is nearby and I’m in room 1111. Many of those 11s in these trips, clearly indicating there is something about this country/city/place.

Loving the black and white geometrical motifs of the hotel. I wear my black and pink floral/mandala motifs caftan and am off to explore the city. It’s still Ramadan, one of the last days of this year’s Ramadan. Some of the colleagues are resting to go to pray to Mosque Hassan II for Iftar.

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The girl I’m with is at her first layover and I remember the excitement of my first month. I still keep most of it, which is quite rare, but I cannot compare it with the exalted feeling I was on during the first months.

What do I need? Well…money. Dirhams – bills and coins.

On the streets of Casablanca. Fresh orange juice in the street, Café Les Negociants, The Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Art Deco style around. Casablanca seems somehow familiar with it’s beauty, even the French I hear in the streets is music to my years and I love to be in a French speaking country that is not…France.

Two city train rails, like serpents, going parallel, then embracing a square with palm trees, in the middle of the white buildings with French balconies. Patisserie Glacier Salon de The. My green and blue ballerinas and long silk dress. The ultra new and technologically advanced train arrives in the station and the contrast is visible. Le Buffet Que J’aime. The kind of afternoon I love.

Cinema Empire and some blankets full with small things to sell. In Marwa store I buy two sheikha looking caftans in butterfly shape and floral prints. Bought from Casablanca for Casablanca – I will chose one for this trip and one for my next week’s trip. Fast forwarding ten days, he sees me and thinks I’m…maybe Japanese?

I walk through Bab Marrakech in the Souq, right past Globe Terestre, a metallic structure hiding…a lot of garbage underneath. This is the story of Casablanca, it’s a city of contrasts, mountains of dirt and garbage and luxurious places, forever changing scenery and people about the same. A melting pot of destinies, of businesses, of people who come and go, a crowd I can say I’m part of.

The market is like any other market, yet so simple. I heard it has nothing to do with the authenticity and size of the one in Fez or Marrakesh. Clothes, fakes, caftans, cactus fruit, some leather items, a Teleboutique where I pretend to call someone I used to know with my bracelet tied to a ring jewel I just bought. Red pieces of fabric with a green star on it (Moroccan flag), ladies doing henna by the walls of the market, a limousine in front of Air Algerie, more Art Deco, some Art Nouveau, half restored buildings, turquoise or blue wooden window protectors, a teddy bear hanging from a window…

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Finally at the Mosque by Petit Taxi. It’s around 6PM and very windy. Temperature dropped to 20 degrees and I’m really cold. Consider two days ago I was in Oman, where there were almost 50 degrees. Should this be another contrast of my fast life?

Fascinated with the colored tiles and the patters of the mosque. Islamic Art is for sure fascinating me. Fascinated in a deep, meaningful way, that to the end way. It’s a kind of beauty, a part of art I identify myself with. The only one. Islamic art makes me burst with joy on the inside.

Around two hours later and it’s already dark. The waves, the wind, the ocean, the mosque. When I’m thinking he was only a few meters away from me and I did not know him and he did not know me makes me shiver.

Do you ever wander what other people are doing at a certain moment? If you are in the same city in Asia at the same time with someone you will meet next year in Europe. What is the person you will meet in 5 years time doing right now? What are they going through? Where is your soulmate? Are they happy, did they pass by you today?

I do.

Walking the streets of Casa without any destination. It’s getting dark and I’ve been warned not to walk at night in the city, especially by myself, but how many things haven’t I been warned about? And still did whatever I wanted. 

We get a taxi to Rick’s Café Americain Casablanca. All I knew was that Casablanca will bring a lot to me. And it did…I just did not know it yet.

We get a table in the middle of the restaurant – it has around 10 small tables on the first floor – right in front of the band. Candle light, cozy atmosphere, bringing up something to do with mystery and a safe place during…war? A place of fancy suites, good wine and spies. Love stories that have no future and flying to the next mission. Or maybe staying forever…

For some kind of reason, I have always been fascinated with those perdition places where people gather to drink and, oh well…drink during war. That’s why, in Bucharest, one of my favorite places is…Athenee Palace.

You know I’ve never seen Casablanca, the movie? I have too many movies in my head to watch movies, but when he used to visit, he woul always come up with a quote from the movie and make some kind of reference to me.

The menu a the Cafe Americain is not too diverse, yet the lamb chops I ordered were delicious, a huge portion tasting great, together with 4 small plates with different vegetables cooked with different spices or in different ways – Arabic mezze. Really delicious, together with a glass of Moroccan rose wine.

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Night is about to be over, but I get a phone call and he takes we go to Ain Diab. We walked for hours and talked about men and women, about relationships, marriages, Mohamads and other devils.

Drank my first Moroccan tea and loved it – that’s a wow for someone like me who thinks tea is for sick people, stepped into most of the night clubs, thought about having another drink at Brooklyn and walked back by the huge pools, right by the ocean shore.

Back at the hotel, I walk by the interior huge pool. Lights are off and my thoughts are somewhere far, maybe to the depths of the ocean or the heights of the sky.

 

 

October 26th, 2015, Kigali, Rwanda

I had requested this Kigali, Rwanda via Entebbe, Uganda flight. Me and the supervisor, for different reasons – me to see the world, her to work less.

Everybody I tell where I’m going warn me about how dangerous this place is.

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Reality: Kigali is very safe and the cleanest place I have ever seen. Unbelievable, but it is clean and litter free in any corner that you see. Every now and there in the area of our hotel there are militia with shotguns, but this only makes me feel safer. Anywhere around the world where I see it, unlike the rest of the people.

Locals look at my Thai friend and I, but not intrusively.

I’m flying with the same captain I flew my very first solo flight to Dar Es Salaam, one of the friendly pilots.

Dinner was at Afrika Bite, a nice restaurant in the garden of a house where we felt as in someone’s house. They have a buffet with fresh food and a view of the city from uphill.

We had African local food: some banana stew, beef stew, fried rice, some vegetables food, tasty and interesting.

Not much to say about a city established a little over 100 years ago, former French, then Belgian colony, but for the record it was a surprising and pleasant experience.

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October 27th, Kigali, Rwanda

The thing about me and my blog is that I don’t want to be what people would like me to be and I don’t write what people want to read.

I write what I feel, sometimes with a too accentuated honesty…to myself.

My writings do not try to fool me or the people who read.

Thought of the day – love is letting go, understanding and support. Being happy for the other’s successes and happiness.

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Read about my first time in Zanzibar – here and about my first time in Tanzania – here

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Ante Scriptum

Something is happening for sure, besides Mercury being retrograde in Libra. I am so late with my article writing – Zanzibar (two trips), Copenhagen (where I spent my birthday), Jakarta (party from landing till take off), Nairobi (with my friend showing me the city by day and by night), Madrid (two trips, one with my mom on the way to New York), New York (summer vacation with mother). And tomorrow I am leaving home only to come back 10 days later after going to Myanmar, Bangkok and Paris. What a life! So, I’m starting backwards if we have decided something is in the air. Bring it on, soul destination, Zanzibar…

 

The Month of My Life (Started and Ended with Zanzibar)

Time flies so fast. August has been the month of my life. Besides travelling to almost all continents, I turned 25 and I have the fulfillment that this is the life I have always wanted. I am not so young anymore. Maybe I am, but I know what I was doing when I was 16, so, yep, I am not s young anymore. Most importantly, I have no chains tied to me. And destiny gave me quite a few, but I got rid of them. My life is perfect. Because I make it perfect. I have thoughts and problems like everybody else, but what I lack is fear and shallow thinking. Getting upset for small things. IMG_6428

September 18th 2015  – “I am still under the deep influence of Zanzibar, the wonder island, the temple of my thoughts, my feelings and emotions…real Tanzania, Zanzibar everyday life, where time runs “pole-pole” (slowly-slowly as opposed to “haraka-haraka”), where banana, coconut, avocado and mango trees grow between the huts which serve as houses, where few have shoes to wear, where children play with empty plastic bags, where boys write the names of football teams and players on the same huts and on the “dala-dala” (overcrowded, very low buses which make the trip three times longer than normal), where the water is so blue it makes you get lost in its depths, where police stops you around seven times in one hour journey, where the locals carry a hard life, but remain friendly, where true gratefulness at realizing how rich you are with the little or plenty you have is seeded, where the boats cut the horizon at dusk, where I want to return, the place I dream about continuously…”

 

July 30th 2015I told my mom I would just stay in bed after coming back from Iran and not sleep because I had a lot to prepare for my next flight. She admired my precision and in my self-consciousness and awareness I slept from 3PM to 2AM, then woke up with no suitcase done and anything prepared. Packed 5 white dresses and my new pineapple motif whole body swim suit in less than few minutes, drank the coffee I had made yesterday to keep me awake for all those things I had to do, made and omelet and with my smile on I’m off to Tanzania again, to Zanzibar this time, to see one of the most beautiful places on Earth and to catch the 31st of July Blue Moon there. Yes, finally a lifestyle that suits me! One built around my passions – travel, being surrounded by diverse people, foreign languages, spontaneity and airplanes.

 

Where the Story Begins

With my very first flight ever and, at the same time, the first visit to Tanzania, when I was writing “Beginning the Tanzanian Adventure”. I tend to have a feeling when I put the words on the screen, because ever since I have lived a true adventure in Tanzania – both on the mainland and on the island and I have plans for future explorations of the mainland (camping in Kilimanjaro – Africa’s tallest peak at 5895 meters, seeing Africa’s lowest point at Lake Tanganyka at 352 meters below sea level and deepest lake of Africa, seeing the mirror waters of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest). Tanzania is a country of contrasts, like myself, a being of opposites. This might be the reason why I truly vibrate with the country, I feel like I lived here in a previous life, but how could this be when I feel the Middle East is the place of my previous 1000 lives. The answer came striking from the history of Tanzania: Oman. Zanzibar was part of the Sultanate of Oman. And from the delay of the flight yesterday from Muscat, The Sultanate of Oman, on Mercury retrograde, the master of solving the problems from the past, solving the problems of the past.

 

A Little Bit of Tanzanian History

Around 1500, Vasco da Gama visited the Tanzanian coast. Later, in 1840, Omani Sultan Seyyid Said moved his capital to Zanzibar City, which became the centre for the Arab slave trade.

In the late 19th century Imperial Germany conquered the regions that are now Tanzania (minus Zanzibar) and incorporated them into German East Africa. The post World War I accords and the League of Nations charter designated the area a British Mandate. During the World War II about 100,000 people from Tanganyika joined the Allied forces and were among the 375,000 Africans who fought with those forces. In the year my father was born, Julius Nyerere transformed an organisation into the politically oriented Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). TANU’s main objective was to achieve national sovereignty for Tanganyika and it became the leading political organisation in the country. Nyerere became Minister of British-administered Tanganyika in 1960 and continued as prime minister when Tanganyika became independent in 1961.

In the year my mother was born, after the Zanzibar Revolution overthrew the Arab dynasty in neighbouring Zanzibar, which had become independent in 1963, the archipelago merged with mainland Tanganyika. The country was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania (“Tan” comes from Tanganyika and “Zan” from Zanzibar), a country with a population of around 50 million. (source: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve Stopped my Article Writing after Coming Back from Zanzibar, as if Time Stopped Then

Africa makes me feel like a child, discovering the wanders of the world, the basic everyday habits, the plants, the trees, the interactions with humans and animals, the wetness of the water and the power of the sun.

 

Read here about my first Zanzibar experience, a little less than one month before

 

July 5th 2015, 7 AM sharp

The driver is waiting for me and we are rushing to get a document I still need to leave and then taking me to the airport. I am still waiting in line at the office when I get the message that I should head to the gate. I might not make it…I get the paper and arrive at the airport. It’s 7:45 and the flight takes off at 8:25 and I still need to check in, go through security, immigration and arrive at literally the furthest gate of the huge airport.

There are about 20 more minutes and I run like crazy from gates C1 to C20 something, I continued to D1, D2…D24, at a different floor and for a while going backwards. Man! Thank God I bought some sports equipment from New York, I need some serious exercising. I barely feel my ankles, but a friendly face tells me to relax and that a bus was waiting for me. Waiting. For me. In this crazy flow of millions of people of an airport as the one in Doha. And they also called. And I paid 10%. And I love them and my job and my life. Ok, I’ll stop.

[…]

I dream about writing a book. Or two. Or three. And I really hope that there I can write all the feelings, the happenings and the stories with the people of which I cannot write right now, either to protect them or because of contract clauses, so to protect me.

[…]

July 5th 2015, around 5 PM

On the flight to Zanzibar I listen to the same playlist as on the New York – Doha flight. It’s just me, if I found something that I like that’s all that I’ll take. Sometime try to be “flexible” but come back to my first choice with no exception.

So, I’ve done the impossible possible and broke no rules. Like every time. I don’t know why I am not bothered by all the rules. I spent quite some years trying to make the impossible possible, find a way to break through/by the rules. I find this a lot of fun!

Another Louis Vuitton spent on traveling. No regrets!

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I arrive again in the Zanzibar International Airport and call a number I received from him of a guy who has more taxi drivers to send me someone to take me to Nungwi, which is about one hour and a half away from the airport, going to the very North of the island.

Juma picks me up and we start moving fast in the same surroundings I knew since one month before. However, this time I found out the “monster trees” were mangos, the ones looking like a stick with a bush on top are avocado trees, small banana stacks do not amaze me that much, I find out the cow with the hunchback is called “mombe”, the “trucks with the cut box in the back with people facing each other” are called “dala-dala” and are overcrowded local transportation. Juma is a nice guy and he seems young, but then he shows me his driving license and he is born in 1977. He tells me there are no jobs, but with an informative tone and not complaining. I tell him I like Swahili and I consider it fun and I show him the words and phrases I had written on a piece of paper. Then he recommends me a Swahili-English dictionary app he uses, although his English is perfect.

We drive past indicators to Mangapwani Beach (Sea Cliff Resort&Spa – a luxurious place with golf course, tennis court, private beach, beach house), then we arrive in Mkokotoni[2] – a fishing village, still on the West of the island, around 20 km South of our destination, Nungwi.

He also tells me that Zanzibar is an archipelago and not only an island and that the main island to which tourists refer to as “Zanzibar” is actually called Unguja (read Ungigia) and that the other important islands are Tumbatu (West of Unguja) and Mnemba (North West,  private island now).

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Also he tells me the Chinese are building the roads, the buildings, the infrastructure of Tanzania and he is happy to hear we will fly seven times a week to the island, as this will bring more business to them and their families. He asked me for $35 and I gave him 40$, but the discussion with him, his knowledge of the island where he was raised and born, the way he opened up to tell me more of how the locals think and feel, live and see tourism was priceless. Like the credit card advertisement. He shows me the baobabs – first time to see one. We speak of Swahili language (spoken in Kenya, where I have just returned from two weeks prior and Tanzania) and of Bantu languages (spoken in Nigeria and Congo).

He teaches me “bui-bui” is the abaya of women, the long dress they all wear, but that “bui-bui simba” is a big spider. Of course “simba” is lion, which I knew both from the Nairobi National Park I have visited and from “The Lion King”musical, which I saw on Broadway one week before. I feel everything is falling in place and has continuity. And what attracts me in Africa is its mysticism, the magic in every being, the hidden and witchery that is in the air, the high vibration that went on top of the suffering of the masses.

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Then he shows me the road to Kendwa Rocks, where I actually spent a great time that first night at the party which is organized every Saturday night. This is the first time I hear about “pole-pole”, which is the conductor of the pace of people here. Meaning “slowly-slowly”, it’s simply the way people function here and luckily for me, I came to realize very soon that there is no possible way to change that. So, since I was in holiday anyway, I enjoyed the 3-hour lunches, I did not mind the soup coming after one hour and seafood platter after other 2, I sipped heavenly made cocktails with fresh ingredients, I had breakfast for 4 hours and stared for hours at the starry sky at night.

What you want to know about Zanzibar is that dollar is accepted everywhere and the standard exchange rate is 20.000 shillings for $10 dollars. Also, you might want to know that everything is triple the price for you, just because you are “mzungu” (white, in the most politically correct way of saying it) and some say that “propina” (tips) is not required, as the prices are already very high than the normal. However, I left tips everywhere because no matter what they do with the money, they will circulate and at least at the second or third hand if not at first they will buy food for a child.

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Thrilled by my room/bungalow on the beach, I watch the sunset in front of my room. This trip is supposed to clear my mind and it did, but then it raised so many essential issues in me, that I’m wondering if I wasn’t more cleared before with all my hectic thoughts?

I’m under the stars, having a Pina Colada while listening to the ocean waves, with my feet in the sand at a table by the water, waiting for my Fish in coconut sauce. This could not get any better.

I lean my head back to look at the stars. The only sound I hear is only the waves and the cook beating my fish/meat/eggs for the sauce and some laughter from a big table next to me. This is it, me, the owner at another table, they and one more table. Everything is so intimate.

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When I arrived here I only thought of ‘I Dreamed of Africa’. Such a basic, close to nature, raw place in the best meaning. I go out the door and I see the ocean and the boats, the locals. Right in front of the door I mean. The tablecloth on the table is secured with beautiful shells and my bed if full of Hibiscus red flowers.

Traveling alone is amazing! You find yourself, you make friends, you evolved, you become. I’m happy and fulfilled on one side and empty and alone on the other.

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The waiter says she has no fish with coconut the I ask for chicken burger as I miss New York days, then she tries to recommend me fish burger the she tells me best for me would be fish with coconut.

I’m calm, pateient and smiling. Is it the Piña Colada or is this what it means to be relaxed and not frustrated? I feel so good. Ta-na-na-na-na! My fish is here and I eat at the light of the stars and a candle in a glass bowl. Waiting…for the light of the car lights on the dark countryside road.

September 6th 2015

My feet are in the sand in a place called Baraka, with view to the ocean and the canoes prepared for tourists. I sip another Piña Colada and I didn’t even realize a cat sat by the leg of the table.

It’s my first day here and I just can’t wait to come back. Kilimanjaro, swimming with dolphins, with blue turtles, snorkeling, diving, await.

Today I walked by the ocean and I saw the other hotels. I simply love mine. Sea view, basic, local, all you need, clean. The rest, even though more luxurious, does not have an exit directly to the sea.

There are no mosquitoes. Beach boys and fake Masai try to sell you everything or anything. Prices for mzungus are triple, at least. Yet relatively cheap.

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I’m sleepy because of not sleeping the night I decided to come to Zanzibar, then sleeping in the plane between a Japanese and a monk looking British. Then the party last night and the rum…

Little lizards are by the eroded rocks next to the beach and in the small holes carved by the sand and wind there are crabs. Locals are exercising on the beach and swimming in the sea. I’m on the terrace of my room, and next to me there are many locals, house boys of the hotel, laughing and listening to music. The room has no windows, only some very small mosquito nets. In front of my room is the reception and the place where everybody gathers to speak. It seems like they are in the room. Electricity fails during the day and GSM signal is low. I don’t wear shoes as from my room I step on the beach directly.

I walked at sunset by the beach again with a towel around me. It’s dark and only some orange lights are spotted far away between the clouds. The waves whistle. I walk where they break, caressing my feet with water. I look at the horizon as far as I can. I am so lucky to have these days in this corner of Heaven, alone with my dreams, my thoughts, my feelings.  Surrounded by friendly locals, the blue/turquoise ocean, connected to the nature. This picture was taken in front of my bungalow on the beach, a very basic, beautiful, raw, unspoiled place in the most Northern point of Zanzibar.

It’s time to switch off the lights, tomorrow is all about forest exploring and bathing with dolphins. A guy called Cool Guy is going to take me. Here the locals have nicknames, like Captain Marco Polo.

My room is adorable, with a Masai woman with naked huge round shaped breasts and a red shawl, a fan with three speeds, two beds with baldaquin, curtains covering the nets which are there instead of windows and a refurbished door which has the handle on the right side and used to have it on the left side. Smart guys, they just turned the door and used it as new. Between the door frame and the door there are spaces Where, if you get close and close one eye, you can see the ocean and the mundane life which happens, right in front of the door.

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September 7th 2015

Three locals pick me up from my bungalows. The streets are so dusty and the ocean is two steps away, the car stops in the middle of the street and nobody is bothered. Then we go to pick up the other two, a couple I had spotted yesterday at Baraka. Why? They were the only two Asians and they were sharing a table.  We are on our way with only one of the locals. The police stops us endless times and once we stop for him to buy chapatti for us and once so that he go to “bathroom” in the nature. Chapatti came hot on a newspaper which was soiled because of the oil. We were starving and I enjoyed chewing on it while looking at the view on our way. Today we are going from the very North of the island to the very South. I don’t know why I used to think Zanzibar is a small island. Maybe because it was exotic and far and exotic and far islands are small. Well, Zanzibar is not small.

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The plan for today is to drive all the way South to the Kizimkazi Beach and swim with the dolphins, then have lunch there and then to stop on the way back in the Jozani Forest, the only National Park in Zanzibar (Jozani Chwaka).

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The two were a couple, he is from Cambodia and teaches regional studies at Leeds University and she is a math teacher in Singapore on a year off to be with him. They are adorable in a way, but too naive for my type. He says Zanzibar needs a leader like Singapore and since it is self-sufficient, it can have a bright future. We talk about the recent 50 year anniversary from Singapore independence from Malaysia, about her upcoming trip to Romania, about rules at my job, about the clauses in Singapore which make them stay for a few years with the job or pay a huge sum. On our way we drive through a street with many mangoes on both sides, and as they are huge, their leaves and branches meet on top of the street, making it look as a green tunnel. He calls it “Mango Boulevard” and says they are now in blossom, making it mango season in 3 to 4 months. She agrees he knows a lot about the plants.

Kizimkazi Beach is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The water is turquoise and the beach looks quite wild although there are many gathered around the tourists. 5 year olds ask for tips and run around with 1 euro coins asking you to change it. What I have noticed is that there are a lot of Italians on the island, both tourists and owning businesses. In fact, even the owner of my bungalow is Italian. All teenager boys running the boats here wear sport T-shirts with football players and teams inscriptions. We get into the boat and start a race after the dolphins, which I enjoyed as a ride with the boats, but felt like we were a bit harassing the dolphins, so I didn’t even jump in the water to “swim with the dolphins”, I just swam by the boat.

A moment in the Zanzibar life I caught was with a woman dressed in yellow and pink, seated with her legs straight in the forward, sorting some plants, breaking others in a mechanical move she seemed to be accustomed with, under a huge tree, with a monkey besides her.

 

Jozani Chwaka National Park

The park is a jungle actually and is mainly formed of red mahoganies, which are rare. The walk is a pleasure and you get a guide which tells you about all the trees and what they are used for. I saw finger nails sized black frogs that I could barely spot and the Red Colobus monkeys, which live only in Zanzibar, were literally running on the tip of the toes of my shoes.

I saw sugar canes (which I had seen squeezed in the night market in Stone Town one month before), screw pines (which I had seen in Phuket, Thailand, but would just look at them as a wonder and used to call them “palm trees”), palm oil trees (the palm trees with wide leaves spreading around it leaning all the way down to the ground) and their seeds which the monkeys like, the tabebuias (with fruit looking like hanging seeds, which I had seen in Dar es Salaam where a crazy man convinced me it is eatable).

The leader of the monkeys came to where we were and soon, one by one, they all came, totally ignoring us and stepping on our feet. Red Colobus monkeys have only four fingers for each hand and have a weird hair, like a wig.

On the way back the driver bought a lot of bananas for us, which we eat without speaking.

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3 PM

The restaurant where I’m having lunch has a spectacular view. Again, misunderstanding with the guide. Did not get the promised lunch. Could not care less. In the end, I would not be here now if I had gotten the promised lunch.

What I learned today? Of the beauty of running after a butterfly in a mangroves forest, of following a little bird by your table with ocean view or spotting the red crabs hidden in the background. That what you carry in the heart and mind is more important than what you carry in your stomach or bag.

I am too lucky. Thank you God, really!

September 8th 2015, Snorkeling – Mnemba Island

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This day was simply perfect. At 8 o’clock a guy was waiting for me just to walk me on the beach to the boat. I had woken up to serve the delicious breakfast served on the beach and watch my neighbors bathe in the ocean. The breakfast was composed of fruit – passion fruit, mango, orange, bananas – bought everyday fresh, freshly squeezed juice, chapatti, coffee, tea and the other breakfast regulars (butter, jam etc.) all stored on my table, arranged nicely just for me. I saw a man walking with his backpack and the way I have this humans detector incorporated, I knew we’ll be friends. My guy ran to him trying to say three Spanish word, ok, so he’s Spanish and speaks no English. After I’m done with my food, I go to the boat. My friend is waiting alone on the beach and seems to ignore me. On the boat we are invited to climb the top deck and of course I’m first to go. After me a couple from South America, a lady from the States, my Spanish friend and an American looking Mexican man in his 60s.

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Long ago, I read “The Power of Present” a book preaching about concentrating on the present. What I noticed was that I can do this very well on water, or looking at water, which is about the same.

On that boat, something magical happened and the same as in that joke with God telling the women on a sinking boat that he is not going to rescue them because it took a lot of time to get them all together, the same way today, we were all in the same boat.

I cannot say how beautiful the day was, sailing, looking at the water, tanning under the African sun, admiring the shores of Zanzibar, stopping a couple of times to pick up others from other resorts (like Game Fish Lodge – Mkadi Beach or The Fish Tank), seeing part of our lunch with us in the boat – two tuna fish which one of the sailors brought on board by the tail with one hand.

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The secret in the book is to free your mind from all thoughts and concentrate exclusively on the present. The truth is that I’ve completely managed to do this only a few times, but the memories are crystal clear as they were yesterday. On water…

The man turned out to be Mexican, so we were all Spanish speakers. God, the coincidences in my life. Long story short, the Spanish guy is in holiday after a month volunteering in Tanzania, the man is in holiday after three months volunteering in Kigali. The man almost scares me when he tells me about an experiment he made with 80 people from around the world living in a new community next to Mexico. I was sure it was something religious and of course I was right and since I had just watched in New York a documentary about Jacksonville, I was skeptical. Slowly, it was obviously we were the same. They were on the same wave with their almost similar projects, and the man and I were vibrating high. Rarely does it happen to meet someone like this – that person you feel you’ve known forever. My soul is old.

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By the time we were back, we were friends and had our own group and the Spanish guy had invited me for drinks. Walking back on the sand, I invited the man to join and we all clicked so much that we planned to meet in 40 minutes for dinner together. This was one of the days that rarely happens, that total experience that it’s impossible to forget. Apparently, it was the man’s birthday. We left by midnight, all in different directions. What I liked most was that we did not exchange numbers/emails/shoe size and did not promise to write or ever call. But one thing was certain to me, from the boat. That the man and I will see each other again. Then he told me: “I am sure we will meet again”.

Conversations of the day were intense and interesting – all in Spanish, sometimes just in English between the man and I since, of course, English comes easier to me. This magical meeting deserves a book.

Late at night/very early morning

I’m leaving Zanzibar a little sad. I made friends and met extraordinary people. Now I know why I forgot my pin (when coming from New York, which made me cancel that trip to Maldives, wait three days in Doha and then finally choose Zanzibar). I had to be here.

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I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon from this place where having shoes is luxury, babies crawl on the dirt playing with plastic bags, having no toys, no shoes. Even so, I have not seen a dirty person or someone looking as a beggar. So here come the ethical questions. I have a huge fur (well I have many, but one is huge) and how many children would that feed?

September 9th 2015

10 AM

Omar is waiting for me to finish breakfast. I’m leaving Zanzibar on heavy rain. It brings out the beauty and the poverty of the island. I’ve enjoyed everything, but it’s first time I have a little regret to be alone. Well…not completely alone.

Today I left early from Nungwi, taking my suitcase, even though my flight is at 5PM, to go on a spice tour and to see Stone Town by day. By this time I’m seriously sun burnt and I slept like a ghost, barely moving. During the spice tour I realize how ignorant are we, the ones who don’t know where the items we use every day come from. Like pepper, vanilla, cardamom (which I thought is exotic flower when I saw the real plant), cinnamon, bananas, ginger. So, I enjoyed the tour of this guy who said “you will get married”. If he only knew…

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Once in Stone Town it was impossible not to remember…By now the doors are not so new to me, but what I loved was the walk Omar gave me through the market, where I would not probably go, especially mzungu and alone. He took me in the fish market, in the main market. I took pictures like a real tourist and these are one of the most valued pictures of stay. Because they show the people, their preoccupations, what they buy and sell, what they eat, how they work, where their sweat goes…

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When you come from Africa you realize you don’t need anything to be happy. The man I told you about said there once was a king who was unhappy and he heard there is a happy man in his kingdom. So, he sent his men to bring him the shirt of the happy man to wear it. But one man appeared and said: “I am the happy man…but I don’t have a shirt”.

My tales of Zanzibar will never end…

***

[1] When a house was built in Zanzibar, the door was traditionally the first part to be erected. The greater the wealth and social position of the owner of the house, the larger and more elaborately carved his front door.

The custom of putting brass knobs on the shutters comes from India, where the knobs were said to prevent elephants from crushing the doors. Since there have never been elephants in Zanzibar, the brass knobs were simply added as a decoration and to show the wealth of the owner.

Zanzibar’s Stone Town was a city divided into ethnic and economic districts; Arab, Asian, European and Shirazi peoples all lived in relatively distinct pockets of Stone Town. Each of these peoples usually specialised in a certain trade, and the different trades were concentrated together into business districts. As you walk around Stone Town, it is easy to notice that similar doors are found together in groups.

Each Zanzibar door acted as a ‘carved business card’ to passers by, conferring status. As people conducted business in their homes rather than offices, door symbols indicated both the trade and personal information of their owners.

In principle, there are two main types of doors found in Stone Town. One type is the Indian or Gujarati doors, with square shutters and made into smaller sections so that the door can fold together. […]

The second type are ‘Arab doors’; these are often found with an inscription in Arabic – most likely a phrase from the Holy Quran – on the top frieze, and richly decorated around the frame. The older doors were all square at top. The semi-circular frames were introduced later, but are still referred to as ‘Arab doors’.

The symbols on Zanzibari doors:

Flowers: A flower represents a family; every flower (1-12) that is found at the top of a door indicates that a distinct family lived inside. […]

Pineapples: Pineapples were a sign of welcome.

Fish scales: […] This motif said that the owner was a fisherman – or traded fish.

Rope: This was commonly seen to symbolise security and also showed that the occupant owned fishing vessels.

Chains: The most ominous symbol found in Zanzibar; the presence of chains on the doors was said to protect the entrance from evil spirits – but more truthfully, it was a clear indication that the owner both possessed and traded slaves.

Vines: The owner dealt in the spice trade. Floral vines were appropriate symbols as pepper, vanilla and other spices often grow this way.

Geometric squares: Geometric designs indicated that the owner was a proficient mathematician and offered his services as an accountant.

Beads: The owner was a jeweller and specialised in precious stones.

Arabic script: The symbolic designs and quotations from the Koran were intended to exert a protective influence.

Waves: Waves of the sea climbing up the doorpost represented the livelihood of the Arab merchant to whom the house belonged.

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Frankincense and date palms: These symbolised wealth and plenty.

If you go on a Stone Town tour, make sure your guide shows you a selection of the best Zanzibari doors and shows to you the carvings and their meanings. And get some photographs – many of these doors are a work of art, and making them is a skilled trade passed down from generation to generation even today.” (http://www.mambomagazine.com/nutshell-guides/tradition/the-doors#sthash.typcp6jD.dpuf)

[2] In 1984, a major hoard of Chinese coins was discovered on the beach north of the village, indicating that this was once a prosperous trading port between the East, Arabia and Zanzibar, long before the arrival of the Europeans. Colonial rule brought the few grand administration buildings glimpsed along the central avenue of sweet almond trees, but today village life is still centred on simple trade with neighbours.” – http://www.zanzibar-travel-guide.com/bradt_guide.asp?bradt=1947

[…]

My favorite pictures of the trip.
They were walking slowly looking curiously at my selfie stick. I saw them and made a sign with my hand to call them closer to show them what it is. The girl in pink, when she saw her face in the phone screen, started running, but then the others came (second picture) and stayed there a few moments staring at their image. We exchanged smiles and they left. The face of the little one…priceless

 

 

August 20th 2015, travelling to Nairobi

Exactly 6 months ago, around this time, I was landing in Doha, to start a new life in the desert. I carried with me a lot of positive thoughts and hopes, but also some uncertainties and doubts. At this point I know this has been the best decision of my life.

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August 21st 2015, Nairobi, Kenya

We arrived and checked in at Intercontinental, a hotel I haven’t heard good things about, but which I really enjoyed. Well…crew, they love to complain.

As discussed before, my friend A., who I met in Koln at the Arbitration Academy, originally from Nairobi and holding a quite important position in the legal field in his town, Kisumu. Talking of Kisumu, a month later I found myself in Myanmar, watching the CNN African Start-up TV show and they were showing a business from the fishing area of Kisumu using the processed fish skin instead of leather and another business with cosmetics from…Zanzibar. I heart Africa!

He was wearing a suit and we met in the lobby of the hotel, together with his friend.  I’m wearing a white dress and my long hair in the wind I don’t know how I manage to wear white only where the population is mainly black.

I learned few funny words in Swahili which actually helped me later on and the one that brings laughter on the Tanzanians’ or Kenyans’ faces is “Mini mi mzungu”, which means “I am white”, but in a very cute and non-racist way. You know, one has to be very careful these days.

Together with his friend, A. showed me the city, which was quite an experience and interesting adventure as most of the crew/visitors don’t go out of the hotel. Indeed, let’s say safety is an issue, that I did not have to worry about since I was with locals. Even so, it didn’t seem dangerous to me, but of course, I always take precautions – if I’m alone – I don’t walk at night alone in suspicious areas, I don’t carry valuables etc.

We talked about many things, from their system here, to corruption, to marriage, prices, government and medical system. I burst into laughter when A.’s friend tells me: “Once you go black you never go back”, of course with all the due respect.

We went past the Galleria Mall, The Junction, admired the huge houses in the Lavington area, realized the similarities between Arabic and Swahili, about Sheng (mixed language, mainly Swahili and English), listened to Lingala music, drove through Karen[1], watched the people outside selling and buying furniture, pots, flowers, had time to talk plenty and catch up in the crazy traffic.

A.’s friend knew quite a lot of history so together with what I knew before and read afterwards this is the short story: Vasco da Gama reached Kenya in 1498 and the Portuguese stayed in the region for around 200 years, then it fell under British control from 1885. With the help of Mau Mau, by 1963 Kenya was independent.

The current president is Uhuru Kenyatta (4th president), son of Jomo Kenyatta (1st president) who seems to be loved by the people. I was in Nairobi right after the famous visit of Obama, but by the time I reached they were only taking out the flowers they had planted for the visit.

Uhuru means freedom in Swahili and there is a highway in Nairobi with this name. My friends are telling me that the current president was called because of the independence of the country happening right when the current president was born.

Later that day they took me to the Nairobi National Park, which is beautiful and the people taking care of the animals are really friendly.

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This song in Swahili is stuck in my brain, something about I’ll take you to have coffee at Java House.

We watch the lions (Simba, of course – oh, what a flashback to Nairobi I had later that month in New York, watching the Lion King in Broadway), the monkeys roaming around us free, huge trees, the hyenas (called fisi in the local language Swahili. Funny: the not so reliable men are called fisi by women).

Lunch was in Carnivore (Langata Road), one of the best restaurants in Nairobi and also a events and weddings center.

IMG_3329The perfect place for a carnivore like me. We had Nyama choma, meaning “barbecued meat” in Kiswahili which is Kenya’s unofficial national dish. Also, I tried Ugali, a sort of porridge with not much taste. The monkeys were still jumping free around us, up on the roof and down by the tables, getting in a loud fight from time to time. At the moment a famous national show was being filmed and a random girl I met in the wash room invited me to stay for the show. So friendly and nice!

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We drove back to my hotel and I got changed in a flashy backless jumpsuit to get ready for the Nairobi nightlife of which I heard it’s excellent. We stopped for a drink in the Intercontinental Safari Bar on the ground floor where the atmosphere was just right, with a band playing Lingala music. Evey now and then I heard the word spy, but it’s normal, this is a five star hotel, where else.

Security is a plus to this hotel. They check the car on the inside and outside, underneath and in the trunk every time you enter the hotel. From the parking lot to the hotel there is a cage like double door that only opens when the other one closes, something which I’ve only seen at the American embassies. Actually, the rumor spread that Obama was going to stay here because of the many exit ways, but it was just a diversion. I told my friend: “Many exits means many entries”. The President ended up staying at the Villa Rosa Kempinski, but that is not certain.

We headed to Westlands, where we stopped at Havana. I love it, simply. It’s my kind of bar, not too fancy with Latin music, locals and foreigners, nothing to bother you. Next to it stands Bacchus, but the music was not my cup of tea, so we returned to Havana. It’s a fun experience, people are drinking outside in the street, standing, moving from one club to another. I drank wine, as usual, but noticed Tusker – Together Forever, the local brew. Guys, beware the “girls”. That’s it! Have fun, Nairobi, it’s a good place to go and a modern capital.

IMG_3323Next time in Nairobi I’ll be looking for ways to get to the Giraffe Manor. See more pictures about it here.

giraffe manor.jpg(source of the photo), visit Kibera, Nairobi Java House (there are 29 in Nairobi only), try the matatus (local minibuses).

[1] Named after Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep), the Danish author of the colonial memoir Out of Africa.

Read about my holiday in Zanzibar here:

Zanzibar, the Island that Changed me Forever

 

July 31st 2015, 5:10 PM, Zanzibar, Tanzania

First time in Zanzibar, on the last day of July 2015, on blue moon, I was writing by hand in the last row of the bus taking us to the hotel:

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“A yellow and purple bus with locals in purple and yellow shirts.

On the side of the street everybody sells. Bananas in trunks – first time to see it live, wood logs, sports shoes.

Luxuriant vegetation, green everywhere. How lucky these people are in a way.

[…]

When you arrive in Africa is as stepping in another world, a world where time stopped and everything is ran by a different pace. The blue sky between the palm trees, the wind leaning their leaves, the whole atmosphere, the routine of disorganized organized surroundings.

Some sell watermelons in the dirt of the street next to almost demolished buildings next to palace looking edifices.

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In the airport, I stay by the door of the aircraft, looking through the rectangular opening of the door. Seven small jets wait tourists to take them further into the Savanna, the national parks, into the mystery of the jungle. Then I put my head outside and I see Zanzibar written on the small airport, breathe the air of this magic place. That exact moment I was overwhelmed – really, by the feeling of how lucky I am to be seeing all these places.

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[…]

An old Coca Cola ad on an old shed, dirt, dust, wide pedestrian areas like small alleys and green grass. Two or three riding on the same bike. Some wave at us. Policemen and women in green uniforms look young and tight. A small gathering of used coconut under a tree next to four locals. Men in their long clothing and their hats. Pure nature and improvised comfort/necessity in between. Some plants. Mainly sheds with old rusted roofs, brown garage doors for these sheds. Two kids sit next to each other trying to take something of the third’s foot.    

  

In front of us, in an opened truck two men ride standing with their shirts in the wind. Some palaces are under construction. Gatherings of banana trees between locals’ houses. Unbreak my heart playing. […] Buses looking like trucks with the cut box in the back with people facing each other. Some men hanging outside it. Others having their siestas by the road. Peacefulness, but not much happiness. Some trees have red leaves.

Women are truly amazing, stunning truly, proudly wearing their femininity and curves in intense colors and African print dresses. By the way, I have not seen women wearing pants here in Africa, in general. A cow with a hunchback pulling a small carriage with sand.

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[…]

The feeling I have when I’m in Africa (especially in Tanzania) can only be explained by the movie “I dreamed of Africa”. It is a totally different one from the one when I am in South Africa, a country where I feel the peace, the silence, the low pace in the air, where I have no thoughts or worries. However, Tanzania spices it up with adventure…   

The trees are huge and occupy the space for a house. Other look like vertical sticks.

There’s poverty and it is obvious. On wooden tables women sell stacks of 4-5 small fish.

In the middle of the plain a bad without mattress. I still don’t know how women can carry those huge bags, baskets, boxes, buckets, containers, pretty much anything on their heads.

Between the small houses without roofs small banana trees forests (around two meters wide) as tall as the houses. Like corn or tomatoes, it’s just that they have banana trees.

The driver honks to some men. He must be some boss. I’m curious of their hierarchies here. A shed is called Kempinski and I find it hilarious.

Lychees bunches. The space, the nature is generous, there is no economy of green, wideness of the air, blue of the sky, tallness of palm trees, number of bananas. Bananas everywhere. I’m wondering if they are obsessed with bananas as the Chinese with rice.

We Are the World is playing.

We must be the only white people around. Tall trees have such tree crowns that they look as green monsters with leaves starting from the ground up to the top. The sun is setting and now the shadows of the wide banana tree leaves are reflecting on the small sheds by the road.

Tens of kids play football on a field with grass and dirt.

It seems that by dusk there are same gatherings every now and then. We’re heading to a more reote area and we are moving really fast. The vegetation becomes amazingly tropical, dark, jungle like, palms between tree monsters, banana trees at the bottom, flowers and grass. Through the trees’ spectacle of nature I spot threads of clothes drying and some colorful dresses. Houses covered with reed or maybe cane leaves. Small kids are dressed as they were going to a wedding. We turned right and almost killed a little hen. We passed a truck on the right side and then it passed us on the right side also. I see a new tree – looking like a stick, tall, with a bush on the top.”

 

We arrived at the hotel and decided to return to Zanzibar City/Stone Town, where the airport is located, to have dinner there. I should’ve accepted his insistence to go with him (which would have solved many problems), but I left.

Stone Town is on the West side of the island and it’s the place where everybody stops for at least a day or two. There is not much to do, but it is an interesting place to visit mainly due to the 502 doors unique, beautiful, wooden carved and with metallic knobs doors. I ran across this wonderful article about the doors of Zanzibar[1] which is worth reading before visiting Stone Town.

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We walked for a while, then had dinner at 6 Degrees South, where we had a seafood platter, looking at the dark ocean. Especially myself, who was there, but whose thoughts were drifting away, sometime to the extent of wanting to go.

The truth is that my first visit to Zanzibar was just a preview, a day to open my appetite for the island, to make me curious and finally, to make me return a month later. However, it was special from one point of view, but there is no space for that here.

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Two years ago, soon after I passed the Bar Exam, as a young lawyer, I participated at The Hague Academy of International Law – Private International Law Section in an academic setting at the International Court of Justice, with participants from all over the world.

Because nothing happens randomly in this world and maybe my path to the Middle East and Arab world was already crystallizing somewhere in the universe, I resonated most with the Lebanese, Syrian and Algerian. With them, I shared school hours, seminars, beach parties and chic by the street lunches in the close vicinity of the Palace of Justice. That summer I think changed us all a bit, saying goodbye was hard because even though we spent just a summer together, the memories together will really last forever. Actually, I think for all it was the moment when we said goodbye to “adult childhood” and went back to our countries to become responsible adults, young professionals. We all hoped to see each other again and some did – my friend from France spent a week in Bucharest right before moving to Luxembourg to work for Deloitte, others went back to the Academy together, others moved together in a continuation of a beautiful love story born in The Hague, other met regularly.

We all evolved in a way or another, some passed the Bar Exam and are now lawyers, others changed law firms or are studying in the best universities around the world. I completed 5 years work in a law firm and passed the final bar exam, becoming fully qualified lawyer in December, exactly two days after my destiny changed and I obtained the ticket to travel the world and change my life.

What is amazing now is that everywhere I go there is for sure at least one person I met in my participation at the numerous international school I attended, which makes my already amazing traveling scheme amazing.

I announced my Algerian friend that I am going to be in Algiers at the end of the month. I really cannot express my gratitude to his way of welcoming me in the country, taking me to the attractions of the city at a heat of 37 degrees Celsius while he was fasting, having patience for me to click each photo of each corner and building, inviting me to his house for Iftar dinner (braking of the fast, the time when the people who fast can eat at night at sunset) together with his wonderful family who were more than nice to me, gathering his friends for a Ramadan specific clubbing night (looks like club, DJ is there, everybody is well groomed, but they only serve non-alcoholic drinks) with the most amazing view of the Algiers Bay by night.

Traveling does give you new perspective. Lately, I thought obsessively of the important things in life, my dreams, my plans.

Everywhere I go I discover a new world, a new universe of all the new angles in me that come out.

I thought I’m starting to be bored, but I landed in Algiers and the movies start rolling again in my mind.

That “Oh My God, I’m here” popped up unwillingly again.

Red pink and yellow entangled flowers cover the fence of a dull state authority building.

It is full of Romanian cars (Dacia) and Renault made in Romania and the white and green flag is visible everywhere, at every corner.

I arrived at the hotel and about 20 minutes later I was downstairs all changed from my uniform ready to spend a day with my Algerian friend I did not see for two years.

He said in the characteristic style of people who make you feel welcome in their country “Algeria is you second country” and so we started my wonderful day in the hectic traffic of Algiers.

First we visited the Monument of the Martyrs (Maqam Echaid), a landmark of Algeria, which can be seen from almost everywhere in the city and which I admired from my jump seat (crew seat in the airplane) while we were landing. The Monument was erected in the memory of the ones who shed their blood in the battle against the French domination – the Algerian Independence War (1954-1962), a decolonization war. It resembles three standing palm leaves looking like a flame – the eternal flame of the city. Each of the three pillars is guarded by an Algerian soldier. From the monument, located uphill there is a great view of the Algiers bay, the Hamma Botanical Gardens where Tarzan movie was filmed, exactly under the monument.

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Next to the monument there are flat buildings that look poor and actually I find out it is true. As an effect of the struggles of the country, the population of more than 40 million, the lack of jobs, the poverty rate is high. However, the overall look of these buildings with what looks like endless number of windows of small rooms where sometimes more than ten people live is charming. It is part of the country, of the scenery and in the strong North African sun and after almost 30 hours sleepless I feel an internal tranquility.

In my travels (even before starting my intense flying activity), I saw many places and my favorite were never the very fancy, luxurious, but the interesting, the particular, the little dangerous or with something specific. For example, the perfect Singapore I did not like, but when I arrived in South Africa I felt absolutely at peace and relaxed (this is why in was there twice in two months – without changing my opinion not one single bit). Same in Algeria – I loved every second, every corner of the city, from the luxurious Aurassi

DSCN7294to the poor slums, the merchants’ exhibitions in the city center, The 1St of November Avenue consistent architecture, the colorful tiles randomly found in the city, the crazy traffic, the roundabouts, the police, the blue of the Mediterranean Sea water and the African sun.

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In the city center we looked at the Sea again – which can be seen from the entire city and admired the wonderful architecture of Grand Post Office,

IMG_7508the majestic Statue of Abdelkader, the green of Khemisti Garden and the flowers displayed by the merchants in the streets.

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Then, on our way to the Notre Dame d’Afrique, I found charming each building and corner which actually made the traffic not to disturbing.

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The edifice is uphill and the narrow road is absolutely unique with houses which seem to be built one over the other, small street shops, children wearing long traditional clothes playing, buses driving up and down with the few tourists in Algiers.

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The Algerian Civil War, terrorism and high poverty which lead to increased criminality rate scared the tourists who prefer Morocco or Tunis. The truth is that I spent my day before the flight to Algiers studying for my upcoming assessment and watching movies about the 1994 Air France hijacking in Algiers Airport. Maybe a normal person would not watch this… (After studying a while I try to sleep for more than three hours with no success, so I put Lionel Richie playlist on, go straight to the fridge, grab chocolate bought from Lebanon and I only stop after the last piece is finished. Then I prepared for the flight.)

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At the cathedral entrance the priest is welcoming us, actually he is there to welcome the ones coming with the inaugural flight of Swisse Air to Algiers, as I find out from one of them who has a professional camera and notices my selfie stick. Actually he is Vietnamese born, living in Switzerland and seems to know Romania quite well.

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I had seen a lot of police honking, trying to surpass us. Then the bus together with the police cars and motorcycles were here, on top of the hill. When I found out why they were here, I thought they were not very smart. How can you open a new route to a destination, say it is safe and then send people with so much police? How contradictory is that?

In the cathedral, I notice the Catholic style and I am shocked by the inscription right in front of me “Priez pour nous et pour les musulmans”. (the picture below source http://chirpstory.com/li/200909)

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I don’t know if you have seen anywhere this, but I haven’t and I am really shocked, impressed and a little sad. This is how it is supposed to be.

The priest talks about the recent history of Algeria, the struggles of the country and his background. He is a kind man for sure. I notice the two ships hanging on the left and the right of the cathedral’s interior. This reminds me of a church, a very old one from the 13th century where I attended a classical music concert in Sylt, the luxury island of Germany.

Casbah is under the cathedral and this reminds me of one of my friend’s comment “Follow me to Casbah”, when I find out about Algiers movie (1938) which I’m planning to watch soon.

Now we are at Aurassi Hotel, sipping a great cocktail called of course Algiers and admiring the view of the whole bay, the port, the monument.

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Read here about my other South African adventures: 

Cape Town (Penguins and Wine Tasting) 

Cape Town (Victoria&Albert Waterfront) 

Johannesburg (Wild Partying and Savage Animals) /

 Johannesburg (Mandela Square and Carlton Center)

 

The music is loud and we’re driving fast and the seagulls are racing us in their flight. Table mountain is in the left and the sunlight is orange. We’re gaining altitude and the mountains stay behind looking like growing from a fog lake. University of Cape Town’s Columns stay up on the mountain background. The scenery is contrasting pines and palms against the baby blue sky. I see mountains with peaks and Table Mountain. New neighborhoods of flat houses with big windows appear on the Cape Town hills. The perfect playlist of our Indian supervisor is playing and in the van I am there are 8 nationalities. Small trees are covering the rocky hills by the road, looking like fat huge green broccoli. We stopped on the side of the street going up to the “peak” of Table Mountain. The view is breathless and Hey there Delilah, one of my all-time favorite songs is playing in the car. This feeling of being here now with this view, next to the ocean, at the end of the world, here in Africa is pretty intense.    DSCN6938 We are climbing the many stairs that lead to the Historical Lighthouse at Cape Point, admiring the blue of the sky and the sun. There are signs saying Baboons are dangerous wild animals. They don’t tell you this for liars, wicked, bad intentioned people. Or, in a funny tone if baboons are dangerous because they are hungry, I am the same when I am hungry. South Africa gives me peace of mind. I loved it since my first time here.

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IMG_6800  IMG_6809     IMG_6879 IMG_6890  IMG_6894  Probably the most expected part of the day was visiting the Cape of Good Hope, once called Storms Cape, one thought to be the place where the oceans meet, the southern tip of Africa. For me, as I remember it from my geography classes this is where the world ends. DSCN6963 DSCN6967  DSCN6973 DSCN6975 As we are driving on the road by the edge of the cliffs, we are all staring at the best view I have ever seen. Cape Town and this area of the world are simply great.  IMG_6981

We go by cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. I have said it before, I thought there is nothing more dull than a mountain…without a peak. How wrong I was. The view of the city up here is amazing, the cable car is revolving and the when you reach the top you literally walk on top of the clouds. I know, I should be used to seeing the clouds from above, but Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa is really a magnificent place. Besides, animals are walking through your feet, like this adorable and friendly dasie who was willing to eat anything from our hands if we would have not been scared.

By the time of dusk, all ten of our group were tired and in the van some were sleeping, others were just resting their eyes, thinking far away or at nothing at all.

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Sometimes I wonder if your voice gets heard strong only when you’re transmitting the right message. I was looking out the window, like always when I travel thinking of today, of how lucky I am to have lived this, too. Then I cuddled to the person next to me and stayed there looking out the window until we arrived home. Because home is “wherever I lie my head” now.

Read here about my other South African adventures: Cape Town (Table Mountain and Cape of Good Hope) / Cape Town (Victoria&Albert Waterfront) /

 

Boulders Beach is a beach next to Simon’s Town, somewhere next to Cape Town, where a colony of African Penguins lives since the 80s. They are friendly and are not bothered by tourists la like us and walk, play, swim and hold hands right next to you.

The beach is really beautiful and many interesting shape and color shells are spread all over it and also a lot of seaweed, thick as a hose and very strong and entangled.

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In the parking lot of the beach merchants sell beautiful African souvenirs, artisan goods, paintings and house decorations. The view is really beautiful of the things they sell and the ocean in the background with the sun going through the trees by the beach. IMG_6743IMG_6745

After seeing the adorable penguins we stopped to have a bite in the beautiful town of Simon (Simon’s Town), one of the oldest lived places in the peninsula, an amazingly beautiful place, with an American style center with rest and companies, cafes with tables by the street looking the port boats and the huge parking lot full of cars by the port. Also, adorable signs indicating the presence of penguins made my smile wider.

Here we discovered a restaurant which I really recommend – The Lighthouse Café. Every corner and every breath in this place had a great vibe. The French looking because of her bangs waitress was so sweet and the food was great. But I guess the pictures talk more than words. In this place I felt like in a fairytale with mirrors, keys and big cakes and it reminded me of a place in Lake Placid, New York, where I spent a summer in 2009 and where I used to go with him and order about the same what I recommended here to my colleagues.

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From this beautiful place we continued our way towards the once thought the most Southern point of the world stopping at the Cape Point Vineyard, in a beautiful setting on a hill with view to the wine yards, the pond inside the place, the opened ocean and the green grass everywhere.

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This place was perfect for being in the nature and being a child again: jumping up and down on the grass, swinging in the improvised swing from chains and tractor wheels (like I had in our house at the countryside), which I of course did.

South Africa makes me feels so good from the inside, there’s something in the air, in me that makes me so calm, so happy.

Read here about my other South African adventures: Cape Town (Penguins and Wine Tasting)Cape Town (Table Mountain and Cape of Good Hope)

 

After visiting Johannesburg last month, I fell in love with the tranquility I feel when in South Africa, so this month I chose a new destination – Cape Town.

As usual, I was dressed up ready to go to the city after about half an hour after arriving at the hotel, at about the same time most of my colleagues sleep. (From the hotel there is a free shuttle to The Waterfront at 12AM which comes back at 6 PM).

In the first afternoon spent in Cape Town I had plenty of time to get acquainted to the city, chill by the water, have amazing sea food paella and one of the best burgers I had in the food market, taste some more South African wine and have some serious discussions about faith, past and new crew life. On the way to the city there are slums of impossible poverty, practically sheds made of cartons, which I found out are called informal settlement. If I remember well, the same I saw at the outskirts of Joburg.

IMG_6660However they might be called, I thought of them when in my lofty hotel I was a bit cold under the penguin thick quilt.

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a setting in the oldest harbor in Cape Town, where there are hotels, restaurants with amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain and the city, shops, an aquarium, museums, a huge food market with traditional products, a souvenirs market, a wheel like a miniature London’s Eye, with even better view of the surrounding and many others.

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The name of the harbor comes from Prince Alfred, the son of Queen Victoria who started building it in 1860.

From here there you can take a boat to Robben Island where Mandela’s cell is located, you can take kayak trips, fly over the city by helicopter, ride horses on the beach, take a party boat, almost anything you could think of.

The harbor is pleasant to walk and at a temperature of about 20 degrees – it is now winter – it is the best place to be when you are coming from 50 degrees weather.

First I took a picture a huge yellow frame in front of Table Mountain. By the way, Table Mountain is a mountain without a peak, a flat mountain, something I considered totally not interesting, until I saw the sweeping views of the horizon and the city from up there.

Then, I walked around the Nobel Square, where there are four statues of the Nobel Prize laureates of South Africa, among which one is Nelson Mandela. When I was there a seagull was resting on the head of one of them, completing the landscape with mountains in the background, the harbor with beautifully polished boats and the specific architecture of The Waterfront.

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The Nobel Square is right in front of a huge wooden shed where a food market with the most extraordinary sweets, meat products, drinks, beers can be found. I chose a fresh sea food paella which a very sweet chubby South African lady served with love and enjoyed it in the cold South African sun at some table outside overlooking the four statues in the Square.

I decided a glass of wine would not be bad, so I went upstairs in the big “shed” – one side had more floors and the other is opened so from upstairs you can see all the small sections which have no roof, so you can see inside. I took the glass away, but here nobody cares for such minor things. After, I returned it, of course, but nobody seemed stressed anyway. Then we decided we should eat more and I tried the famous burger for which you have to wait almost one hour. Enough time to take a spin in the Cape Wheel.

Then we ate our burgers (I chose the Avo burger with avocado paste) and I had another glass of wine in the bar on top, looking at all the small shops with South African products and talking for more than an hour.

When we came here with the burgers nobody was here and we sat down, then the guy came and said he will be gone for a while and gave me the wine. I offered the money, but he said later. Then he came with the change saying he saw the amount I wanted to hand him initially. Everybody’s cool, relaxed.

Around you can find The Two Oceans Aquarium also and tens of cafes and restaurants with fresh fish smelling from far. In the mall there are all kinds of stores from decorations to local soap and souvenirs. I lost myself in a bookstore, had a shake while looking at the Atlantic Ocean and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the dinner and going out.

The place to be for dinner and partying in Cape Town is Long Street. At the recommendation of our driver we chose Mama Africa, a very traditional restaurant with live music and free wine and like every place in South Africa, amazing food, especially stakes.

Honestly, although people told me Joburg is more dangerous than Cape Town, Long Street didn’t seem safe at all to me. As we left a beggar woke up to ask for money and because he was sleeping he forgot about his dog and stepped on him. The dog barked and we got really scared, but our driver was waiting for us and everybody else seemed relaxed. This makes me remember of the terrifying/funny now adventure in Joburg when I and my friend were the only white persons in a whole neighborhood that we didn’t even know how dangerous it was. Flower power, lucky us!

Besides we had to get ready for the next day’s trip around the area: Boulders Beach for penguins, going up the Table Mountain, wine tasting in a South African wine yard, The Cape of Good Hope.