Mali…Timbuktu is an actual place…

10 December 2011 – 15 December 2011

Wake up feeling like we were eaten alive by little critters. It’s an early morning so we can get on the road and get through the border. Because, you never know how the border crossings will go. Eat breakfast, gather our stuff, and head out the door.

The road to the border was okay. With okay meaning drivable but rather littered with potholes. Traffic wasn’t bad. There were a few other cars leading the way around the potholes. It was almost stomach turning wandering back and forth across the road over and over again. Finally, make it to the border town. There are big rig trucks on both sides of the road. We drive through them looking for the border. End up on the other side of town and decide we missed the turn for the border. Back track a little and take another turn through town. End up on a different side of town out in the Sahel and realize we must have missed a different turn. Back track and find the turn. Arrive at the Senegalese border. The guards look up and see our dip plates and decide to just wave us through the border. No exit stamp. No formalities. I’m 100% certain that we are going to have to come back and get exit stamps.

Drive a few more kms and come to another barricade. Stop and go to the immigration office. It was really hot in the office, but there was a nice breeze blowing through. One of the Malian immigration officers wanted to practice his English with us. That happens to us a lot. We want to practice their languages and they want to practice ours. So, it ends up being us asking information in Frenglish and them responded in Frenglish. Good times.

Stamped passports and one ticket (a carnival type ticket for prizes not a speeding ticket) for vehicle registration information and we jump back in the car. Before, the guy working the barricade will let us through he needs our ticket. Really. Couldn’t you have kept your ticket and let us be on our way. It’s not like there are a ton of people at the boarder crossing right now (we were one of 2 cars).

Cross the border and find a tollbooth. Hmmm. I wonder how much this is going to cost us. Turns out the rates are set and it’s a pretty legit operation. Good work Mali. However, the road is horrible. So, can you use the tolls to actually repair it????  The heat makes the road so soft that when trucks brake it pulls up the payment and creates huge bumps and holes in the road. This is not a road that should be driven above 80 kph. It was an insane drive. I was so nauseous by the end of it because of the bumpiness and swerving back and forth to avoid the holes.

Pull into Kayes. It’s a pretty large town. Lots of people running around. Now, we have to find one of two hotels we have a recommendation for (Thank goodness for Lonely Planet and Bradt – otherwise it would be three westerners totally lost in Africa. Drive through the majority of town and don’t see either hotel. Find the train station. One hotel is supposedly across the street. But, we drove up and down the street twice and couldn’t find it. But, all of a sudden a tiny sign appears behind a building and we find one of the hotels. Perfect. Now, let’s go find a room.

Check out the rooms and they are actually pretty nice. The room is clean with en suite bathroom and the a/c works. What more do I really need? Baby wipes because there is no toilet paper. But, this isn’t our first rodeo and we have a giant pack in the car! Grab our stuff and take it up to our room. We lay down and take a nap. What else are you supposed to do when its 40+ degrees outside??

Wake up and try to go find the first French fort and rapids east of town in Medine. It’s about 15 kms outside of town. End up near a quarry and figure out the Chinaman has blocked the falls. We spend the next 30 minutes trying to find a road down to the falls so that we can go walk around them and take pictures. Well, Chinaman has restricted the view with their pool and buildings for the quarry. I wonder what else they are taking from Mali. It’s amazing. China has its hand in almost every country in Africa. My question is how long will it take before China has taken all of the resources from Africa???

Chinaman compound

The fall's behind the compound.

Give up on the falls and head over to Medine to look at the fort. Part of the fort is now a hotel. There were a few little canons but nothing really impressive. While wandering, we drove through a few villages. I love the looks people give us as we drive by. It’s like they’ve seen a ghost or don’t believe their eyes.

We head back to the hotel and clean up before dinner. The restaurant at the hotel is supposed to be one of the best in town. We all order kuku and pomme de terre frites. What shows up is a pile of greasy fried potatoes and half a chicken with an onion and pepper piece on top. While it was tasty, I knew the grease was going to have me running to the bathroom in 20 minutes. Stupid Gallbladder.

After dinner, we decide to go check out the casino onsite. We wander in and try to play but someone tells us that you need tokens. We exchanged 2000 CFA (~ $4) for tokens and away we went to play. All of the games were electronic slot or poker machines.  I went straight for deuces wild blackjack. My favorite. Except I couldn’t figure out how to get to deuces wild. So, a few gentlemen helped me figure out how to work the machine. They then felt they needed to teach me how to play. But, they quickly learned that I’m not a blackjack rookie. Didn’t do too badly. But, played through all of my tokens because I was having fun!

Leave the casino and Al heads to bed. Liam and I meander into a side bar. They have a giant projection screen set up and are playing the Madrid vs. Barcelona game. As we were walking in they were moving a table and two chairs to have a better view of the game. The waitress asks us if we want to sit down. Why, yes. We will. Sitting in the middle of nowhere in Mali watching a major European soccer match on a projection screen. Wow. Life’s not too shabby!  Order a couple of beers and figure out who the crowd is cheering for. We haven’t picked our EU soccer team (or teams) yet. But, it’s going to happen soon. Especially, with us moving to Italy.

I love watching soccer matches overseas. The crowds are so passionate and excitable. It’s great. Every time a team scored or blocked a great shot, both sides would erupt in excitement or anger. When Madrid scored for the last time before the end of the game, I thought the shanty roof was going to come crashing down as everyone ran around high-fiving and celebrating. What a great experience.

At night, the town comes out to play. The discotec was bumping. The casino was full swing and everyone from the soccer game was migrating to other areas of the hotel. Left the bar area and headed over to the hotel garden where they had live Malian musicians. Mali is know for their music. In fact, Liam read in one of our books that famous guitarists from all over the world to train and improve their technique. Pretty cool. The guitar they play here is called kora. It has up to 21 strings. It’s an amazing instrument. There is a Grammy winning artist who offers lessons in Bamako. If we ever move to Mali, we are going to take a few. But, first, we have to find a kora.

After listening to music for a while, we decide to head upstairs and go to bed. We have a long drive tomorrow to Bamako and want to get some sleep in case the roads are bad and we all end up driving portions of it.

Wake up on the morning of the 11th as the power cuts off. Wonder how I’m going to take a shower/bucket bath. Have Liam move the bucket full of water out of the shower area and turn on the faucet – just to see if it would work. Well, it does. But, the water is scalding. Put some hot water in the plastic teapot and let it sit for a minute. Then, take a sponge bath using scalding and cool water. Only thing I didn’t do was wash my hair because it was going to be a bit of pain. Felt nice to be so fresh and so clean! Liam wasn’t going to take a shower. However, he broke down. Our first pseudo-bucket shower is a success!

Gather our bags and head to the car! Load up and get on the road to Bamako. It’s 612 kms and could be a very long day. We have not been given great information about the roads because the conditions change frequently. Turns out, minus about 60 kms the road was pretty new. The biggest threat to our safety was the donkeys, cows, dogs, and goats roaming around.

Baobabs in Mali.

Arrive in Bamako and make our way around Bamako to the embassy. We are meeting up with Mike. Mike & Jayne wonderfully offered to let us crash at their place to maximize the travel budget. Jayne was out of town but we still managed to play Words with Friends without any issues. Gotta love the Internet!

Met up with Mike and wandered to their house. Arrived to a nice home cooked dinner. Their housekeeper is an amazing cook and so sweet. She does not speak a lot of English and I don’t speak a lot of French but we were able to have a few basic conversations over the few days we were in Bamako and she taught me some French!

Spent some time talking to Mike that night about life in Bamako and the plans for the week. Then head to bed. It’s an early morning for everyone!

The alarm goes off relatively early on the morning of the 12th and I want to hide under the covers. I was so tired. But, pull myself out of bed after Liam gets out of the shower and begin to get ready for my day. Wendy, Mike & Jayne’s next-door neighbor is going to pick me up and show me around town. Since I’ve had a good feeling about Mali the whole we have been here, I’m excited about exploring Bamako to see if it continues.

Wendy comes over around 9am and we head to her house to let the puppies out and then off we go. We head to the Botanical Gardens on the north end of town. It’s a beautiful garden area. There is also a National museum and they are building a zoo in this area. Within the garden, they have miniature replicas of the famous mosques around Timbuktu area. Additionally, they have a photo exhibit on display. The pictures were taken by African photographers following the theme “Sustainability.” It was very interesting to see Africans bring light to many of the major issues on the continent. I enjoyed their interpretations and hope that the exhibit receives international exposure.

After the Botanical gardens, we visited to local shops that had a lot of artwork. We also drove through the major market in town. It would be a lot of fun to come down here and shop. Next, we headed to the big grocery store. I like visiting the grocery stores to see what’s available and how much tings cost. It helps to make decisions on where we want to move next in Africa. Also, bought a few more snacks for the road.

After the store, we walk down the street to have some ice cream. The ice cream parlor had a bunch of delicious flavors and for 1500 CFA you get two scoops in a waffle cone. Okay. Bamako is looking amazing. Granted it’s winter and there is no summer heat to contend with, but, I like it here.

Head back to the house and relax and read. The guys come back from the embassy around 3:30pm. Mike came home about 5:30pm. There are a few other TDY guys and Wendy coming over to join us for dinner. After dinner, Abu, a Tuareg from Timbuktu, came over to Mike’s to show us knives, jewelry, and camel leather boxes that his family made. It took him about 20 minutes to set up his wares on a cotton mat on the floor. We all gathered around the on the floor and began shopping! The design on most of the pieces is the map to cross the Sahara from Timbuktu to northern Mali and onto Morocco. We spent a lot of time thinking and talking about what we wanted to buy and ended up buying a knife, a necklace, a camel leather box, and a bottle opener. Abu also gave us a camel tooth necklace and a small knife in a pink camel leather sheath. I for one had never seen camel leather anything. It’s beautiful. And the way they designed the boxes, sheathes was impressive. After everyone had bought the items they wanted, Abu said that he would be willing to come back over to Mike’s in a couple of days to have tea and talk about life in Timbuktu and the Sahara.

Abu and his wares. (Thanks Al for the picture!)

Admired our new items for a while and then headed onto bed. Tomorrow’s going to be another fun filled day!

Wake up on the 13th and the guys are going to an exercise or conference or something for work. I’m going to play again. Wendy and I meet up around 11am and we are heading across the river to check out the other side of Bamako. We end up driving past Jasmine & John’s house and stop by to say hello since they are leaving post this week. Jasmine joins us for lunch at the a hotel café around the corner. Lunch was fantastic. The food was great, the company enjoyable and a nice view of the Niger River. After lunch, we went for a walk in Jasmine’s neighborhood to check out a small fishing village. As we walked through the village, we saw an area that had recently been on fire. Apparently, something exploded in one of the houses and they burnt to the ground. Right after the site of the burnt homes, there was a baby toddling around with a singed arm from elbow to the top of his knuckles. Wendy, Jasmine, and I were all concerned. We walked back to Jasmine’s house put together a first aid pack and headed back to village to take care of the baby.

Then, we had a 3-way translation to show the mom how to care for the baby’s arm to keep it clean and hopefully infection free. Jasmine translated my instructions into French. Her cook, Jeremiah, then translated them into to the local language, Bambara. Of course, insert the standard crowd of Africans watching the crazy mzungu take care of the baby. We cleaned the baby’s arm, used a sanitary napkin for an absorbent and protecting pad, and then wrapped it in that sticky brown gauze that I normally hate.  The little guy was a trooper. He barely whimpered and once we had his arm all wrapped and protected, he began to smile. Jeremiah had just baked cookies so we dispersed those among the people who had gathered. I just hope that baby doesn’t lose his arm to infection. Such a simple thing to take care of – if you have the right stuff – which they do now because we left everything with them.

Returned to Mike & Jayne’s and told Liam and Al I worked today and was hopeful that we might have improved the outcome for the little boy. First thing out of boy of their mouths, “But, did you get paid?” Insert obligatory eye roll. So, much for being high on my nursing kite. But, at least I know they have the products they need to take care of the baby. I just hope his mom actually cleans it and takes care of it.

Funny story. The guys were leaving the conference hotel and Al pulled up to the gate to exit. But, the guard at the gate wouldn’t open the gate. Because, Al did not drive around the circle to the gate. He drove straight to the gate because it was only a few feet away. The guard absolutely refused to open the gate until Al drove back around the circle and re-approached the gate correctly. I’m dead serious. Just ask Al. But, be prepared for him to get a little excited and flustered. I think he is still annoyed that the guy wouldn’t just open the gate with instructions on how to properly exit for next time. We tend to take our higher order of thinking for granted sometimes.

Enjoy another home cooked meal and tumble into bed. It was a long day. But, I didn’t sleep very well. I kept thinking about the baby and how I should be doing more to help. So, frustrating. I love what I do but sometimes it’s really hard not to take work home with you.

Woke up on the morning of 14th. Wendy and I had talked about going on a photo safari of Bamako, but Mike made an appointment for me to talk with the Regional Medical Officer about working for the State Department. I’m so glad he set up this meeting for me!!! It was very informative. If I work for the State Department as a nurse practitioner, they could move me anywhere in the world. Which could be problematic since Liam will always be in Africa. But, we will figure it out. Luckily, I’m in a field where work is fun and I’ll make it happen wherever we are. But, one thing that came out of our discussion. We can do 10 years in Africa, and then spend the next 10 of my career wandering the rest of the globe. Oh the possibilities to wander the world. I’m feeling very nomadic.

Hung out at the embassy in the lobby reading my book while the guys finished all of their meetings. Wandered around the library at the embassy in Bamako. Pretty impressive. There were a lot of African history books and I spent some time flipping through them. Around 2:30pm, they were done with their meetings and we were able to head back to the house.

Spent the next couple of hours writing and stalking my class to see my final grade for Patho. Final grade isn’t posted yet, but at 96% is an A. Another great score. Amazing how that happens when you have all the time in the world.

After dinner, Abu came back over to the house to have tea and talk to us about life in Timbuktu since we can’t make it up there due to safety warnings. There are three pots of tea. The first pot is strong like death. The second pot is sweet like life. The third pot is sugar like love. The first pot was green tea leaves and sugar. The tea was so fresh. It smelled delicious in the plastic bag. I know it’s going to taste fantastic. He served the tea in two small glasses that we shared. The first wife always gets the first cup. Since, I was the only wife there, I received the first glass. So, yummy. But, strong. As we drank the first pot, Mike stepped outside to speak to a coworker and we asked Abu about life in Timbuktu. He explained how the economy has been affected by the lack of tourism. People are not visiting Timbuktu because of AQIM and other terrorist-like organizations. There have been kidnappings, murders, etc recently. When tourism is healthy, he is a tour guide. Now, to make money to feed his family, he has resorted to traveling to Bamako to sell the wares his family makes. He explained that everyone there has been affected. Even the people who do not work directly with tourism.  Once upon a time, the Tuareg people were some of the wealthiest. Timbuktu was the center of trade for the region known as Sudan many years ago. And now, with decreased rain and lack of tourism, people are having to sell treasured family heirlooms to survive. Abu is pretty bright. And we were really impressed with his comprehension of economic situation of Timbuktu.

Mike came back in, drank his tea, and we prepped the second pot. The second pot he added mint and sugar. This tea was perfection. It was delicious. We also found out there are 3-4 men who travel in caravan to the cities north of Timbuktu. Abu has made the trip 3 times. The first time his responsibility was to make tea, set-up the tents, and cook. It’s very important as a man to make the trip by yourself one time to show to our community that you are capable of making the journey. I was impressed. I can only imagine how beautiful the stars are at night, alone, in the Sahara. He smiled and excited began to talk about the stars. I’m so pissed at the terrorists. They really take all the fun out of life.

Al asked Abu if the Tuareg people were trying to regulate the terrorists’ activities in the area. He said they were because they want the tourists to come back and spend money to boost their economy. It’s sounds like a bad situation. Abu also talked about a drought that occurred years ago. Many elders are worried that they are seeing the signs of another drought. They are concerned because the Malian government does not frequently send aid or assistance to the area. If they don’t receive any help, they will have minimal water and food. People will die. Animals will die. It sounds like it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. If there is a better.

We make the third pot of tea. It’s even better than the 2nd pot. Yummy. Okay. I’m addicted. I have to find a small teapot and some loose tea. I’ve studied how he made it. Time to get our tea on. Crap. I’m going native. C’est la vie.

After the 3rd pot is finished, we say goodbye to Abu and promise to visit as soon as we can! I really can’t wait. He has only enhanced my desire to disappear into the desert around Timbuktu. Shortly after Abu leaves, we all head to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.

Wake up on the morning of the 15th. The guys head to the embassy to meet with the Ambassador. I stay at home to pack and clean up our stuff. We are going to stay at a hotel tonight so Mike can have his house back to pack and get ready to go to the States for vacation. The guys come home to pick me up and change and then we are on our way to the NIH malaria lab in Bamako. Um. Yes, please. Who knew NIH had a lab to grow mosquitoes in Bamako. I couldn’t believe how many mosquitoes they were breeding. I felt like a kid in a candy store. They also have a relatively new HIV and TB lab. We were able to view a few microorganisms that they are also studying. Basically, it’s a swanky topical disease lab in the right place! What a great center! We really enjoyed the tour! (Thanks Mike for setting it up!).

Leave the NIH lab and head back into town. Grab a bite to eat at the French institute. Lunch was tasty and around the institute, vendors have set up shop. We found a mask we liked from the Sikasso region and snatched it up. The seller said I stole it for the price he sold it to me. But, I told him he didn’t have to sell it. But, I’m glad he did. The mask is really cool and detailed. This trip is going to make our mask wall a work of art!!!

Sikasso mask.

Make our way over to the hotel, check in and then head to the embassy to pick up our passports. Then, off to Mike’s to pick up all of our stuff! I can’t even begin to say thank you enough to Mike & Jayne! It was so nice to have a comfortable bed and non-restaurant food while we traveled. And you guys will ALWAYS have a place to crash in the future! Also, any future IRTers, consider this an open invitation to save money during your travels!

Head back over to the hotel and drop our stuff in our room and talk about dinner. We decide to eat downstairs at the hotel for ease since traffic was so crazy this afternoon. We ordered steak. And the cut of meat was fantastic, but did you know, well done at this restaurant was still bleeding onto the plate. Sigh. I managed to eat part of it after blotting the extra blood out. Finished dinner and headed upstairs to bed.

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Dakar, Senegal and Beyond or Watching the Sun Set over the Atlantic…

5 December 2011 – 9 December 2011

Wake up to Liam shuffling around the room. He was getting all dressed up to go to the embassy. Today they have all of their big meetings at the embassy and need to be there by nine. After being attacked by mosquitoes several times throughout the night, I was tired and a little grumpy. Why don’t “nice” African hotels have bug nets? Seriously. Malaria is a rather LARGE problem in your neck of the woods.

I slowly stir out of bed and begin to ponder what my day will entail. Since I’m still tired from our rather late arrival, I moving at the pace of a drugged snail. Manage to take a shower. Put on my bathing suit and sundress and decide to go for a walk around the hotel hoping to find breakfast out by the pool and ocean.  Head downstairs and begin to meander through the lobby. Liam was down here this morning and managed to tell me the pool area was really nice before he dashed out to the embassy.  There are a bunch of overpriced shops to the left of the atrium, a bar in the right corner, a restaurant serving what appears to be breakfast across the atrium from me and a hallway past the shops. I head to the hallway. Pass a business center (think Kinkos), then a hair salon. Walk through a set of sliding glass doors into the great outdoors and see a great pool area. There is also an ocean side restaurant to the right. Head down there and they are not serving breakfast.

Walk past the pool and head down the path to the ocean. What a fantastic sound as the water hits the shore. I’ll never get tired of listening to it. Sit on a bench in front of the water for about 15 minutes. Then, decide I’m hungry so I walk back to the restaurant that is serving breakfast.  The hostess gives me a dirty look. Apparently, now that I’ve adjusted to life on Africa time. I’m late. And have only a few minutes to gather the items I would like to ingest to satisfy my huger. So, one of the waiters follows me around and as soon as I grab something, he steals it from me and takes it to the table. Meanwhile, I’m dumbfounded. I’m not incompetent. And they apparently have not seen a ravenous American on a mission. I have two minutes to get everything I’m going to eat. Okay. Then, get out of my way and quit distracting me. So, I sent him on a mission for tea and juice. That bought me just enough time to grab some fruit, a yogurt, and a pastry. Everything was great. Especially the yogurt. It was nice, thick, creamy French plain yogurt. I could have eaten a vat of it. It’s hard to find yogurt like that in Dar.

Worth the view.

Head back up to the room to figure out the safe and get a book to read. Plus, I need to cover my whiteness in sunscreen. Sometimes, I forget that I don’t look like everyone around me. Until I’m resembling the high redness of a cooked lobster. I don’t come with fantastic dark skin as a natural sunscreen. I blame my parents. Western European muts that they are.

Head back to the pool area and absorb plenty of cancer causing rays. Spent about 30 minutes watching three lizards argue over who was going to win the area around a giant palm tree. It was pretty entertaining. They were bobbing up and down and then would turn and stare at me. As if I had any input. Really, I’m just the giant human with nothing better to do than watch lizards. Continue, as you should, lizards.

Try to get into the pool for a nice refreshing swim. Made it just past the belly button before I decided I was not about to freeze to death in the tropics. I’m still questioning how the water was so cold. It doesn’t make logical sense. Oh wait. It’s winter north of the equator. Why was I swimming outside in winter? See. Africa messes with your head.

Lay down on the lawn chair and warm back up. Read a few more chapters in my current Africa reading material Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working: The Trouble with Africa by Robert Calderisi. (It’s a pretty interesting perspective on Africa’s failed finances).  Finally, start to feel a tiny bit hungry so head over to the bar area and order a delicious salad with mozzarella, prosciutto, and pesto. Wow. It’s almost like I’m back in the real world. Except for the lizards. Mosquitoes and general third worldness right outside the hotel. Weird how that happens though. Enjoy my salad and head back up the room to work on my schoolwork for a few hours before the guys come back to the hotel.

The guys come back from the embassy around 3:30 and I find out that they have another engagement at 7:45 tonight. No biggie. Liam and I head to the pool to talk about the rest of our time in Dakar and the rest of the trip. Al joins us about 45 minutes later. We decide to have dinner in the restaurant right by the ocean. While at dinner we decide to extend another two days at the hotel in order to have enough time to get our visas for Mali (all the other recommended hotels were full) and we are going to Goree Island the next day since it’s a Muslim holiday.

Next day (the 6th), we get up and prepare for our ferry ride and adventure on Goree Island. Gather all the stuff we need and migrate to the harbor. We arrived to the port around 11:00am. The ferry wasn’t leaving for about an hour and tickets will begin to be sold around 11:30am. So, we grabbed a bunch of bananas and ordered a coffee from the local “Starbucks.”  An adorable older gentlemen making Nescafe coffee. To mix the coffee and hot water he would pour them back and forth between two cups. His pour technique rivaled some of the best bar tenders in the world. Impressive performance with a delicious result. Caffeinated and fed is the best way to jump on a boat for an island.  Get in line to buy our tickets. Explain to the ticket counter guy that we were African residents. Of course, we had to show proof because no one ever wants to believe that we are residents. Tickets are generally cheaper if you are an African resident. Some places only have discounts by region (common in East Africa). Regardless, move to the left and pass through a turn still. Have to show that we are residents again. Move into the sitting room and wait. Somehow we lose Al in the process, but that’s because he thought we were going back to get more coffee. Take a seat in the front of the waiting room (see I’m going native. Gotta be in the front).  All of a sudden a woman behind me begins to talk to us in English. Apparently, she thinks I have sucker written on my forehead. Her name is Fatima and she asks us to come by her shop to see her nice stuff. Of course she tells us, “I give you good price.” Don’t they always?

About this time, Liam decides he needs to wander. He leaves his bag and disappears up the stairs of the ferry waiting room. Al follows suit a little while later. While they are gone, two other people sit down. That’ll teach the guys to get up and leave their seats. Liam comes back down and tells me to come upstairs because there are some great areas to take pictures. He was right. We got a few shots of the Beer boat, the boat to Goree Island. There was also a HUGE container ship in port and another ferry that heads to Ziguinchor, in southern Senegal.

Beer boat. Yes please.

Right at noon, they opened the doors from the waiting room (or holding tank) and allowed the masses to move to the boat. From a previous post – you know how this occurred. It’s always the same traffic flow patterns. Except they held everyone upstairs for a while until the crowd had thinned downstairs. As we made our way to the boat, we once again had to show proof that we are residents. Goodness. They are all paranoid that people aren’t going to do the right thing.

Get on the boat and head straight for the front. Except we should have sat on the starboard side to get the best pictures of the island as we approached it. The ferry ride was about 15 minutes long. During the boat ride, a few guys were playing with small gourds on the end of a string and making really cool music. We decided we would be buying several for presents and our own entertainment.

Goree Island.

Boat docks at the pier and we all jump off the boat. There is a fort on the tip of the island that is now a historical museum for Goree Island and Senegal. On the outside of the fort, there are old canons to the right of the fort. What does Liam do as soon as he sees them? Runs over and straddles it. That seems so logical doesn’t it? Let me jump on a weapon, rocket, missile, etc. Big powerful weapons between your legs make you cool. Hmmmmm….maybe women really do have all the power in the world…

At a loss for words.

Wander around the fort. It reminded me of the Ship Island fort in the Mississippi sound. Except Ft Massachusetts is much larger and way more fun! Leave the fort and walk through the village of the island and visit a few shops with artwork and watch a few children playing drums. Meander over to a restaurant and enjoy a pretty tasty lunch. While we are eating lunch, Fatima and many other vendors came by several times to remind us to visit their stores or try to sell us their wares. While we are eating. Dude. Lunchtime is not shopping time. Unless I’m home by myself and bonding with Amazon.com. But, it’s a nice island café and I’m trying to enjoy my fish kabob and fruit cocktail.

A pathway

We did break down and buy some of the music balls from one of the guys on the boat. He let me make a video. Maybe. One day. We will have skills. But, since Liam and I are both musically un-inclined – probably not.

As we were finishing up lunch, I see a group of guys walking towards one of the docks with a ramp, a bungee cord, and roller blades/skates. Could all my dreams come true in this moment? Could they really be about to do what I think they are going to do? Why yes. They are. FANTASTIC.

After lunch we head over to the Maison-des-esclaves. This building was where they exported large numbers of Senegalese and West African men, women, and children for slavery. As horrible as it is to admit this – all I could think about was how much nicer this holding facility was than the one in Zanzibar. Regardless, it’s a horrible thing that happened to these families.  And they were treated so poorly. By colonists and fellow Africans.

Leave the Maison-des-esclaves and hide from a few of the vendors because they are literally following us around. Yes, I was hiding behind buildings and stealthily moving through the streets. Even though, we knew the vendors know the island better than we do. I just didn’t want to buy a necklace I will probably never wear.

We headed toward the dock to catch the boat. On the way back, I stopped and took a few pictures of the brightly colored fishing boats on the beach. Senegal is all about color. And I’m all about capturing it.

Boats of many colors.

While waiting in line to get on the boat, a guy approached Liam about buying more gourds-on-a-string. So, Liam asked him how much. He said 10,000 CFA for 2. Well, Liam said that was too much so he started bargaining with him for fun. At some point, the conversation flipped and Liam started trying to sell 2 of ours to the guy. Liam said, “I give you good price.” And the guy said okay. Until Liam quoted his price. “10,000 CFA for 2.” The salesman reached for his wallet and Liam pulled two gourds-on-a-string out of his bag and the salesman started shaking his head saying “Too much.” Wait a second. Isn’t that price you just tried to sell them to us for? Funny how that works.

Jump back on the boat and take the short ride back to the mainland.  On the way back to the hotel, we stop by the African Renaissance Monument. A guy from North Korea decided that Africa needed a Renaissance style statue. So, he designed and built one for them. There is an elevator you can take to the top of the guys hat, like the Statue of Liberty.  But, the monument was closed by the time we got there. And I don’t know about you. But, I’m a little leery of a North Korean elevator in Africa. Plus, Liam wanted to admire the 40 foot boobs.

African Renaissance Monument at sunset

Head to the hotel to clean up and go to dinner. A friend recommended La Parrilla, an Argentinan steak place. We found the restaurant online and made our way there around 7pm. We were the only customers in the restaurant. Must be a place where people late. And I must say. The food was fantastic. Enjoy a nice dinner and head back to the hotel to sleep with a nice full belly.

Woke up on the 7th, with Liam prepping to head to the embassy to turn in our passports for our Mali visas. However, his ID was MIA. We spend the next few hours hunting it down. To no avail. He has to run to a training event and gives me directions to find the Dakar embassy and where the travel office is in the embassy. So, I head to the car. Hoping I can find this place. Of course, I get downtown, make a few wrong turns and it takes me almost an hour to find the embassy. Finally, find a place to park and this guy walks up to me and in French (at least I think it was French) says that he will watch my car (I think). I tell him No. I don’t need him to watch my car. It’s a tank and will be just fine. So, I run into the embassy and argue with travel about it taking 4 days to get our visas when it should take 2 days MAX. They finally agree and say that we should have them back on Friday. A day too late but we can adjust our travel schedule. Drive to the port to see if Liam’s ID appeared there yesterday. Still no such luck. Ended up going a wrong way again and had no idea where I was. But, somehow figured it out and found the hotel. Order lunch and spend the afternoon relaxing. It was a rough morning.

The guys come back from the training event and we discuss dinner. We are meeting another one of the IRT guys and his wife for dinner. Well, right before dinner Liam gets sick. He rallies and we head to dinner. He avoids food and actually has to leave the table a few times to discard a previous meal and ingested bugs (aka food poisoning).

As we are walking back to the car, Liam walks over to a palm tree and covers the base in gastric contents. We get in the car to head to the hotel and my stomach starts to churn. CRAP. This isn’t good. Barely, make it to the hotel room and I am stripping my clothes off to make it to the bathroom. Yep. This sucks. We are going to be fighting for the bathroom ALL NIGHT LONG.

I spent the next day sleeping in bed and waking up and running to the bathroom. Liam felt better around 3pm and made it to the grocery store to pick up some juice and light food to munch on. I spent most of the day thinking I had malaria. But, finally decided I didn’t when I didn’t have a fever (Yes, I packed a thermometer). Al was also sick and spent the entire day in bed. Bottom line. Apparently, we needed to hang out in Dakar for an extra day b/c our bowels had BIG plans for us. Still not sure where we got sick. But, this is Africa. And it’s part of living on the continent.

Friday morning. We wake up and prepare to check out of this hotel (finally – we are free). Head to the embassy to drop off one of the vehicles and pick up our visas. Park the car within the embassy compound parking and head out of Dakar.
On the way into Dakar, Liam was eyeing some oranges that women were selling on the street. So, on the way out of town, that was all Liam would talk about. So, he bought a bag of oranges. They were pretty tasty. Excellent purchase, Liam!!!!

Drove back through Thies and headed towards Tambacounda, Senegal. It is a town near the border of Mali. My stomach was OFF the entire way there between my stomach bug and the bumpy roads. By the time we made it to the hotel, I thought I was going to die. We stayed at a B&B at the edge of Tambacounda called Le Relais de Tamba. It was a nice hotel. Just don’t ask them about the toilet in room 109. Somehow, Liam managed to separate the base from the floor and we clogged it.

After dinner, we headed to bed. It had been a long week and we are still feeling questionable. Sleep is going to help – I know it.

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Trip 4: Where in the world is Nouakchott, Mauritania???

1 December 2011 – 4 December 2011

2:45 am. Our ride is here to take us to the airport. We tried to sleep for an hour, but it didn’t really happen for me. It’s going to be a LONG day of flying. We are headed to Mauritania. I know. Where is that? I had the exact same question when I heard someone say something about it. I had no idea. So, here’s a picture for you.

Mauritania

So, here we are in the middle of the night riding to the airport. Half awake. Overpacked. But, we are going for 41 days. We actually need 95% of what we brought. The other 5%. Crap we can’t seem to figure out how to leave at home. I don’t even really know what that 5% is. But, somehow, we have to get all this back home and all the stuff we buy in West Africa.

Oh yes. My birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, and New Years will all be spent somewhere in West Africa. The exact locations are unknown to us at this point. Because, I married a man who refuses to plan these trips. Which I’m starting to agree with, to an extent. It’s still important to figure out hotels for key dates. Like holidays.

Back to traveling. Uneventful flight to Nairobi. Even though the flight was only 1 hour, we received a breakfast. It’s nice to travel on airlines that still give you “free” food in flight. What a change from American air carriers. Arrive in Nairobi. Excuse the generalization I am about to describe – but its true. Please do not take offense. It’s just what people do around here. Everyone stands up to gather their personal belongings and the Africans and Asians on the plane push everyone else out of the way to be the first people off of the plane. To stand on the tarmac and wait for the bus. We are almost the last two people off of the plane. And guess what?!?! We were still waiting for the bus. When the bus shows up, what do all the Africans and Asians do??? Run to the bus and sit in the front seats. Forcing everyone behind them to step over them. They have to prepare to be the first one off of the bus. Our enjoyment came after all of these people pushed their way through to cram onto this bus and the second bus showed up. It was of course twice the size of the first bus. We laughed as the first bus pulled away with everyone packed in there like sardines. And I know it’s cultural. But, seriously. QUIT PUSHING ME. It’s not really going to help you with anything.

Wander around the Nairobi airport to find our next flight to Dakar, Senegal. They are in the middle of rebuilding the airport because of the amount of people that travel through there every year. We finagled our way through the masses and found our gate. Of course, there was a line. Lots of pushing and cutting. Seriously. I’ve become that really rude person that stands there and blocks the path because I’m so sick of being pushed around.

Get situated in the gate and wait. Forever. Like usual. I actually think our flight was only 20-30 minutes delayed but it was HOT. And neither one of us handle hot well. The flight was great. I slept through most of it. Liam told me that at one point we hit some turbulence and the guy across the aisle from him whipped out his prayer beads (Muslim guy) and started saying “Allah Akbar.” This of course drove Liam nuts. Not because he was saying his prayers but because he was saying it loud enough to wake him up during his nap. At which point, Liam made the comment “I think the guy next to me is a terrorist.” But, then again after three deployments, every person who says “Allah Akbar” in a group of people is a terrorist to Liam. Had one stop in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. More food provided on each leg of this flight. When the plane landed, the same generalization from above happened. Except it was worse this time.

Land in Senegal and have a couple of hours until our flight to Nouakchott, Mauritania.  In the airport, there were tiny baobab trees for sale. It took everything I had not to buy one. They are such beautiful trees. And probably my favorite in the world so far. But, what am I going to do with a live tree as we wander around West Africa??? Also, we stopped at a café to have a cold beverage. Of course, the guy running it didn’t have change and took over an hour to give Liam back his 1000 CFA (about $2) in change. Seriously, how is it so hard to have change when you are in the service industry. It’s part of your job. Exchanging money. Sigh.

Arrive in Mauritania. Meet the expeditor. Go through customs without drama only because we had the expeditor. Apparently, Mauritanians aren’t the biggest fans of Americans or expats. Without an expeditor (even with our dip passports), the customs agents would have found a reason to search through our bags. Makes me wish I packed a little differently. There’s ALL kinds of stuff I could have packed just for reaction expressions of the guards. But, then again. That might have put my head on a Most Likely to be Kidnapped by AQIM poster. Must remember not to stir the pot with people who actually want to kill me.

Head to Al’s. He has a great house with a really cool Alice and Wonderland courtyard. Settle in, eat some dinner, and head to bed.

All it's missing is the Queen of Hearts...

Wake up the next morning (2nd Dec). Daylight adds a new perspective to Mauritania. And I must say. It didn’t enhance the view.  There was trash everywhere. Donkeys, goats, and wild dogs with puppies chewed on the trash all day, everyday to find any piece of food they could. It looked like all of the nasty pictures Liam has shown me of Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a nasty “puddle” across the side “street” of Al’s house. I told Liam we can never move there because we would end up with 20 dogs in our house. There is no way I would be able to look at those puppies every day and not give them a good home.

Donkey and trash.

Someone's drinking water to the left, goats, puppies, trash. Just another day in Mauritania.

Across the street, there was a beautiful compound with their slaves beside them in a make-shift tent. Apparently, until 2007, slavery was legal. Well, now that slavery is outlawed, these people are indentured servants because there is absolutely no way they can survive without their employers. How come this information doesn’t make international news. Oh. I know why. Who knows where Mauritania is???

The guys head to the embassy for a little while to check email and find out what needs to be done before we leave on the West Africa road trip. I hang out at the house and work on school stuff and information for this trip. Eat dinner and then head to a bonfire on the beach. Met a lot of really cool people. It’s such a different expat community than in Dar. Probably because it’s Mauritania and it’s basically a hell-hole that the various governments have dumped people in and said, “have fun for two years”. Fingers crossed we don’t EVER have to go there for a post.

Spend most of the 3rd, prepping for the trip and repacking our stuff. The guys made a trip to the embassy to check email and follow-up on a few things. A rather boring day overall.

The 4th, begins our West African adventure. We are hitting the road. Woke up. Did a few loads of laundry and finished packing my stuff. The guys went to the embassy again to take care of paperwork and a few other things we needed before we left town.  Washed and refilled our water bottles. Gathered snacks.

Got on the road about noon with 30 copies of Ordre de Mission, a document that states our reason to be on the road and we are allowed to travel outside of the city. You have to give a copy to a policeman at every checkpoint. There is a checkpoint about every 50kms. And of course, they speak French or Arabic. Good thing Liam has some French and I’m good with hand gestures. Once we figured out which road would take us south to Senegal. Seriously, Nouakchott looks the exact same in every direction. I don’t know how anyone could actually choose to live there. Or find there way out of town. But, I did get some great pics of Home Depot, the butcher, and camels.

Home Depot. Mauritanian style. (Actually, African style).

The Butcher. See Goats. See dinner.

CAMELS!!!!

We headed south through the Sahel. It was really beautiful. Red sand dunes with sparse vegetation. I can only imagine what is over that dune and beyond. I know it’s the Sahara but I really wish we were closer to see it. I’m going to take a couple of pictures on the way back. We were in two vehicles since we have to caravan to the border and it was too hard to stop for that kind of photo session.

On the way down, we pass a truck with two camels in the back. I didn’t realize there were two camels until after we passed. To which I stated. “OMG. STOP. Let them pass us. WE HAVE TO GET A PICTURE OF THAT.” And then we started laughing. Because the silly camels kept posing. Seriously, they are very quirky and funny characters. I’m a fan.

Who knew this was even freaking possible????!!!!?!?!?! One camel maybe...but two. AWESOME.

Got to Rosso, Mauritania. This is the border town to cross into Senegal on a ferry. The ferry crosses the Senegal River. Back and forth from 8 am until 6pm with a three hour lunch. I’m just glad the boat didn’t flip like the one in Zanzibar. That would have been pretty nasty water to swim in. Once we were across the river, we met a few people who offered to be our expeditors. Even though we didn’t need them. While we were getting our passports stamped and approved, a few guys took it upon themselves to wash our cars with mud, nasty river water which left a horrible dirty film across the windshield and then wanted us to pay them. I’m sorry but #1 – I did not ask you to wash my car & #2 – Please at least use clean water and a clean rag so that I can see while I’m driving and don’t die on the crazy roads in Africa. Thanks.

So, we get in our car and head to the gate. Well, in one of the expeditor’s minds he helped us get through the border and we must pay him. Even after we told him we didn’t need his help. We were able to get through the border gate, but he refused to let Al through without paying the “fee.” GRRRRR. This is the crap in Africa that makes me crazy.

Crossing the Senegal River.

Drive through Saint Louis and head to Dakar. Saint Louis could be so beautiful. It’s near the mouth of the Senegal River. There are birds flying all around. Then, you see the trash. And all the people peeing on the side of the road. Then, more trash. And it makes you rethink coming back for a visit. So sad. Some people have no idea what is in their backyard.

Reach Thies. Make a wrong turn, make a right turn, and end up behind a horrible line of traffic on our way into Dakar. Finally, get through the traffic and into Dakar. Find our hotel, the Le Meridian, off of an inadequate map. We check in. Head to our room.  Since all of the restaurants are closed we order room service from their late night menu. Two cheeseburgers and fries please. Before dinner arrived, I spied a cockroach. In a previous version of myself, I might have demanded to move to a new room. But, the Africa me told Liam to kill it. Only because he was closer to it.  Assess the room and decide we are disappointed in the quality per cost and vow to never stay here again. We are both a little annoyed by the lack of mosquito net.  Not really sure why they missed this detail. Also, no bug spray. Now, I’m starting to wonder if the ONE can we brought is going to last us through this entire West Africa trip. Probably not.

Dinner arrives and we inhale it. Clean up and head to bed. Fall asleep sans mosquito net hoping that I suddenly turn into a block of ice and they don’t find me quite as delicious as they normally do. Liam’s safe because they prefer my blood.

All in all, it was a MUCH longer day then we expected.

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Trip 3: Germany & Italy

30 October – 10 November 2011

Wake up. Try to wake up Al and head down to breakfast. At some point, we missed the memo that Day Light Savings time ended last night. O. I know why. It was written in French. Yep. I need to learn French. And Swahili. And Italian. And German. And Norwegian. My brain is in language overload. Because on a good day, I can barely speak English.

Eat breakfast, gather our goods, and away we go. This time to Ramstein. Otherwise, known as the Land of the Big PX. For those of you who don’t know, the PX is the Army exchange. Once upon a time, it was a department store where you could save money and buy clothes, household items, electronics, etc. Now, it’s just an okay department store. The days of the super savings are gone. So, I rarely shop there.

It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Zellenberg to Ramstein. We are staying at a bed & breakfast in a little town near by because we were told that there was no way we would be able to obtain a room on base. Fine by me. I’m not the traditional Army dependent. I’d rather explore the world beyond the 8’ fence. Call me crazy. But, it’s just the way I am.

Arrive to our hotel in Schweldbach. Check in. Score another fantastic guesthouse. Such a change from African guesthouses. In a running water, clean surroundings, lack of burning trash, cool air kind of way. Funny. It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to what’s in front of you rather than what’s out there. Starting to make sense why some tribes never change.

Figure out where Ramstein and Landstuhl are. Drive around to figure out where we need to be early in the morning. Liam and Al have a conference. I have time to waste and doctor appointments. I’m broken again. Finally listening to Liam and taking care of my shoulder, knee, and post-miscarriage blood work.

Grab some dinner at a great little mom and pop diner. The portions in Germany are out of control. Liam and I could easily split every meal and still have left overs. Head back to the hotel and get some sleep. It’s going to be an early morning.

Woke up early. I had a doctor’s appointment at 0730. Sheesh. It’s the only time they could squeeze me in. Drop the guys off really early at their conference on Ramstein. Head to Landstuhl for my doctor’s appointment. I arrive really early since I was told getting through the gate could be an absolute nightmare. Then, there is the parking problem. But, guess what. I was through the gate and parked in about 5 minutes flat. I couldn’t believe it.

Find the ortho clinic and become a fixture in their waiting room for an hour. Thankfully, I grabbed my IPhone before we left Dar and had my old friend Angry Birds to keep me company! Saw the doc. Scheduled arthrogram. Tried to have all a thrombophilia panel done, but it didn’t get put into the system properly. Will have to figure that out later.

Spent the next two days shuttling the boys to their meetings, hanging out at the hospital waiting for all my appointments to be done, and wandering around the land of the Big PX. Being back in America is weird. I’m starting to think I prefer the 3rd world. While in Ramstein, had lunch with several other African FAO spouses. It was nice to meet a few more spouses and get their input on living in our crazy world. Leave Ramstein on November 2nd headed for Stuttgart.

Spent a few days in Stuttgart so the guys could go to Africom headquarters. We also mailed all of our wine and some of the groceries we picked up at the commissary. I hope our wine makes it to Africa in one piece.

Leave Stuttgart and head to Munich to pick up Al’s sister-in-law, Christina, and Brian.  Brian works with Al at our embassy in Mauritania. Gather everyone and head to Bavaria. Liam wanted to go to Berchtesgaden to see Eagle’s Nest and hang out in the Alps. However, since we were there so late in the season, everything was closed. So, we are going to have to come back when we are living in Italy.

On Nov 5th, we took a stroll to Königssee Lake. Passed a bobsled run. Walked around town and took the tram to a restaurant near the top of the mountain. Walked the rest of the way up the trail to the top. Took a few pictures and enjoyed the weather. It was an absolutely beautiful day. I wish I wasn’t broken and we could have hiked some more because it was perfect weather. Walked back down to the restaurant and had lunch while fighting off crows.

Königssee Lake

Eagle's Nest.

Bobsled anyone?

Arrived in Vicenza, found our hotel, checked in and asked where to eat dinner. Since we were worried about parking, we walked the few blocks to the restaurant. We tried to dodge the rain, but we were unable too. Showed up to the restaurant a little wet and enjoyed a nice dinner.

Walked back to the hotel. Discussed our plan for the next day and went to sleep. The next day, we drove to base and completed a few last errands we had. Decided to drive around and determine the lay of the land. Wandered all the way to Asiago, Italy. As in, Asiago cheese. It’s this awesome town in the mountains with 500 km of cross country ski trials and quaint Germanesque culture. After spending a couple hours in town, Liam decided that we should live in Asiago. I spent the next hour and a half (driving back to Vicenza) trying to convince him that it was a bad idea because while it was beautiful it was too far away from work for him (and potentially me). Oh and the roads to Asiago go back and forth straight up the front side of the mountain. This is going to be a long-term discussion between us.

Get up on the morning of the 8th and head to Garmish. What a great place. Liam mentioned that there are some African FAOs slots here. If so, sign me up. It’s the perfect ski town. Lots to do. Tons of places to play outside in all four seasons. Yep. Definitely our kind of town.

On the 9th head to Munich to pick up Al and drive to Frankfurt. We are flying to Amsterdam tonight and then back to Dar in the morning. Stayed at the Eden Amsterdam Manor in Amsterdam between our flights. It was a great hotel with a special headboard that we had to share. The bed was so comfortable!

XXX doesn't necessarily mean what you think it might. Check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amsterdam#Symbols

I thought the decor was really neat.

The headboard. It took us a while to see it.

While I’m sad to be leaving Europe, I’m ready to go home. It’s a weird moment when you realize you would rather be at your house in the 3rd world than a great hotel in the 1st world. Nothing like the comforts of your house – no matter where it is in the world.

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Trip 3: Why yes I will taste your wine…

29 October 2011

Awake to wonderfully cool, fall air. Decide the bathroom is a little too chilly for showers and close the window. Shower, get dressed, and head downstairs for breakfast. Today is going to be a GREAT day.

Gather our bags and head back out on the road. We are heading to the Alsace region of France today for some vino drinking. WOO! HOO!  A few weeks ago, I had one of the hardest internal debates I have ever had with myself – Alsace or Champagne region. Alsace has ALL of my favorite grapes/wines. Champagne has champagne. So, Alsace won only because Liam PROMISED to bring me back to Champagne over the next few years while we are in Europe. (So, it’s in writing buddy – no going back now! Hehehehehehe.)

It’s about a 4 hour drive to our hotel in Zellenberg, France. The boys are in the front and I curl up in the back as we are on our way. Stop around noon for gas, coffee, and I grab a salad.  The boys decide they aren’t that hungry and will wait till later.

See the sign to Zellenberg and turn down a curvy road that passes through row after row of grapevines. Keep driving and arrive in the town center with a large church and quaint French countryside villas. Pass three wineries and hundreds more grape vines as we wander to our hotel. Life just doesn’t get any better than this. Find out there is a total of 5 wineries that offer tastings. Check into the hotel and away we went.

See. A ridiculously cute town in Alsace.

We rounded the corner from the hotel and discovered that the first winery was literally next door to our hotel. In fact, they almost shared a parking lot. Began tasting. Liam was excited because unlike our wine trip through Seattle while we were dating, all of these tastings were FREE! Talk about a kid in a candy store. That also meant my wine-purchasing budget had expanded. Needless to say, I was pretty excited as well. Tasted several great wines and bought a few bottles (as in 2 sealed cases).

Walked across the street to the next winery. Tasted a few and bought a few bottles. This went on as we walked around the town and hit all five wineries. Keeping in mind that we had to some how get all of this wine back to Tanzania, we decided to buy 23 bottles. Yes. We thought that one through didn’t we??? I went a little over board because there are only South African wines for sale in Tanzania, and while they are absolutely delicious, every once in a while it’s nice to have a different flavor.

I was carrying most of the wine in my backpack because I looked at it as an increased workout regime as we walked around town, up and down the hills. Plus, I’m the wine drinker in our house, so I figured it’s my job to protect it.

Full of delicious French wine. Mostly Pinot Gris varietal. Fingers crossed it's en route to Tanzania and makes it here safely!

We went to the last winery right at 5pm. Since the next day was a national holiday, we were trying to maximize our afternoon and taste them all. The pinot gris wines in this area were FANTASTIC. In fact, I think that’s the VAST majority of the wine we bought. In fact, we bought at least one pinot gris at each vineyard. To think, many moons ago, I always said I didn’t drink white wines. Well, I saw the light and haven’t looked back ever since. White wine is DELICIOUS. Well, except for Chardonnay.

Since we were all stumbling a little after 15-20 tastings, we decided to find a restaurant for dinner. Walked across the street from the last winery and were told that the restaurant was booked for the evening. Decided to head back up the hill to see if there were any availabilities at another restaurant we had passed. There was so we plopped down and proceeded to dig our way into a very delicious meal.

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel. The weather was delightful. Nice crisp, clean air. Grapes vines all around. This is the life. Now, I’m really starting to get excited that we are moving to Italy. There is going to be SOOOOOO many opportunities for us to wander around Europe. I cannot wait. Now, fingers crossed I find a job in Vicenza so we can have the dream European vacation while we are living in Italy! We are going to  wander all over Europe! It’s going to be so much fun!

Open a window and off to sleep!!

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Trip 3: Germany to Belgium

28 October 2011

Road trip through Europe. Yes, please. After a great nap and a great meal, I’m starting to realize how crazy living in Africa has made me. But, I think that’s part of the appeal of Africa.  Who knew it was possible to become crazier?

Indulging in a breakfast of real cheese, real milk, and delicious food is a fantastic way to start your day. Still trying to process that there are places in the world where you can buy fresh, safe things to eat. Starting to really see what Third World means. Guess you have to leave the sandbox every once in a while…

Decided to take a walk around the hotel to kill some time until we pick up Al from the airport. Headed down the street towards the Main river which runs through Frankfurt. Enjoyed a nice leisure stroll in beautiful fall weather with the greatest person I know. As we passed a few of the parks, we found a see-saw and decided we must. So, here are two over-30 adults seesawing at 10am. There were a group of teenagers walking past us and laughing. But, we didn’t care. You can’t find seesaws in the States anymore. They are too “dangerous.” Whatever. Kids are supposed to get hurt. It’s part of growing up. (I think we just signed up for a lifetime of ER visits).

Main River, Frankfurt am Main. Notice the two guys rowing down the river...

"Liam, LOOOK! A tree with leaves that are changing colors. WOW! It's fall. Not constant summer"

A fountain? A sandbox? A multi-functional toy for children AND adults. Yes!!!!

Look at all the fun things kids can hurt themselves on. Germany is a GREAT place. I'll move here any day!! A PIRATE SHIP. Seriously. Germans know how to play!

Head to the Airport to kidnap our friend Al. He’s going to be our travel buddy through Africa for pretty much the rest of the year. So, welcome Al. To our crazy little world.

Pull up to the airport and reposition our bags in the car. While Liam is cleaning out the suitcase from where the laundry detergent exploded, I walk into the airport to see when Al’s plane is landing. Well turns out it has landed. So, I sit down and wait for him to appear. Walk out to the car with Al in tow, and Liam was a little “frustrated.” He claims I disappeared. Whatever. I told him I was going to check on Al’s flight. Well, it was only located in one place. Right outside of the baggage claim. So, I figured waiting wouldn’t be an issue. But, I was wrong. Because I didn’t have my cell phone and I was gone for 30-45 minutes. Oops. I’m sorry Liam!

Jumped in the car and headed to Belgium. One of the things Liam really wanted to do on this trip was head to the WWII memorial in Bastonge. Jumped on the Autoban and away we went. I would like to discontinue a rumor right now.  I was a little disappointed in the speed at which people were driving. The Autoban is just another highway. People were driving anywhere from 60-120 mph. In a German car, it feels like you are walking – slowly. Germans know how to design a vroom vroom.

Stopped at a rest stop to grab some grub. Even gas station food is fabulous. Just makes me want to amp up our culinary skills. Game on. We are moving to Europe now. The Connor kitchen is only going to get better.

Arrive at our hotel, check-in and meander to Bastonge historical center. After WWII, Belgium built this monument to honor the soldiers who died during the Battle of the Bulge. The unit Liam was associated with for his entire career, until we left Alaska, was involved in the Battle of Bulge. So, he was pretty proud of his history.

Patton's head. In concrete.

I really love this memorial. And it didn't hurt that it was a GORGEOUS fall day.

This picture makes me happy. He's right where he belongs. ALASKA.

It was a gorgeous cool fall day. I think one of the hardest things about living in Africa is going to be giving up fall & winter weather.  It’s my absolute favorite time of year. Anybody know how I can bottle it up to move with me?

Stop at a pub and have a few Belgian beers. Delicious. I have not had a beer since pre-pregnancy. I refuse to drink the stuff in Africa because it stinks and probably isn’t worth the calories. But, to let the beautiful flavors of a Hefeweizen hit my lips…now, that is beer bliss!  And I think I’ll have another!

Return to our hotel and decide to eat dinner there since the chef is an up & coming star. And for GOOD reason. Man. Frédéric Bolis has skills. I’m really starting to feel like our kitchen needs some help. Culinary classes in Italy? Maybe I shall.

After indulging in a delicious meal, we migrated upstairs to a comfy bed with his and hers covers. Or as we shall forever call them, the end to who stole my covers. Turn off the heat and open the windows. Fall air feels so cozy. Liam might disagree, but he married a personal heater. So, he will sleep just fine, all toasty and warm!

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Trip 3: A conferencing we go…

26 October 2011 – 27 October 2011

Since we did trip #1 during the Army Africa Command (or whatever the “official” title is b/c I always get it wrong) conference, Liam looked into going to the Joint Venture Africom conference. Well, turns out the more he started talking to people, the more they encouraged him to go. Then, we found out we were moving to Italy. So, it became a why not? Go the conference, network, find out more information about life in Africa. Okay, sure. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Oh. Wait. Did I mention Africom is in Germany? That means we get to leave Africa and return the real world. And I get to buy CHEESE!!!!!!!  I’m a unifocused woman these days.

So, the morning of the 26th. We wake up to NO power. The generator didn’t kick in. On any other day, I wouldn’t have really cared but we are about to leave our house for a while and we have stuff in the freezer that will go bad. And I don’t feel like coming home to that kind of heat. Then, there is the security lights and alarm system. So, put in the calls and wait for the people to show up to the house and fix it.

A side effect of not having power is that I couldn’t start my day out at 0700 and get laundry going, snacks packed, etc. So, once the power came on around 1030-1100, I had to scramble. Which meant no pre-flight nap.

The only reason I cared about my nap is because there are a LOT of movies I have missed in the past eight months. The main reason it’s fun to fly internationally is all of the movie choices!

Ran around the house until about 3pm, then tried to rest. But, the universe had other plans. A few more embassy employees came by. Then, Liam called to say he was going to be home in a few hours. Decided I should get up and finish packing the lsat few things. Next thing I know, its 6pm and Liam is walking in the door.

Cab driver appeared 10 minutes early, so we skipped eating at the house. And dashed out the door. Arrived at the airport, checked in, and pursued food.

Something odd. Every touristy place in Africa so far has listed prices in USD. Now, we live in Tanznaia. We are used to only carrying shillings. So, we go to order a snack before we get on the plane – and all the prices are in USD. WTH??? It’s Africa. Not the States, people. Your currency is Tanzania shillings. Let’s stick to using what is the national currency and not confuse the locals. Thanks. Appreciate it.

Jump on the plane. The woman in the window seat looks at me and rudely says “I prefer the aisle seat.” Well, Miss Thing I prefer to telepathically appear in Frankfurt. But, that isn’t going to happen. I’m going to squeeze into my seat next to your hip fat.  This is going to be a fun flight.

Well, based on the sarcasm oozing from my previous statement, I’m sure you deduced that the flight was less than fun. I was cooking between Miss Thing’s hip fat and Liam. I was so uncomfortable and restless that Liam finally made me get up and walk to the back of the plane. Which felt fantastic. I’m sure everyone back there was freezing. When I came back to the seats, Liam had moved to the middle hoping that I would be more comfy and actually cool off enough to sleep. And more importantly, let him sleep. I have the best husband! I felt horrible being so restless and uncomfortable and he was doing everything he could to help. I need to have my TSH level checked. These post-Nora hot flashes are KILLING me.

The only movie that appealed to both Liam and I was Hangover 2. I’m happy to say, it was pretty funny. In many ways, I actually think it was better than the first one.

Landed in Amsterdam. Headed to the KLM lounge. On the way, wandered through several shops. So, this is what civilization looks like. Bizarre! You can walk into one store and get everything you need? Wow. Sticker shock. Things are EXPENSIVE in the real world.

Stayed in the KLM lounge until about 30 minutes before our flight. Made it to our flight, jumped on the plane and away we went to Frankfurt.

Arrived in Frankfurt about 45 minutes later. Grabbed bags and the rental car. Away we went. Except. MUST REMEMBER TO DRIVE ON RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD. It’s harder than it looks. We are getting to a point where we have no idea which side of the road to drive on…OR….what time it is. So, please be forgiving if we show up clueless and flustered about driving.

Made it to the hotel with only minor turn arounds. Checked in and were greeted with Gummy Bears on our pillows. I heart Germany! What a great way to start our European vacation (I mean business trip)!  Found a pub and went to dinner. You would have thought we were in a 5 star restaurant by the way we devoured our food and proceeded to lick the plates. The flavors. The smells. OMG. African living has made us crazy. First World food is 10 times better. Gotta enjoy it while we are here. Because it’s going to be a while before we make it back to real food!

Return to the hotel and try to download Lion and Aperture but the internet is so slow, I give up. Off to bed. Another adventure awaits tomorrow.

Categories: Trip3 | 2 Comments

Cheyenne

Our sweet girl

Cheyenne,

Our sweet, sweet Malamute. We love you very much and will miss you forever. But, we are giving you the special privilege of taking care of Nora for us. Watch over each other. K?

Love you,

Poppa and the woman who stole your side of the bed – I’m going to miss snuggling with you.

Such a sweet smile

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Huh? Thanks Army. I think.

1 October 2011 (and a summary of what happened next).

So, we have been without Internet for the past few days. It’s just the way these things work.  All of a sudden Liam says “Well, that’s interesting.” Since I know how his brain works and he NEVER says things like that in the tone he used, I started with the question brigade and guess what he told me. We are moving to the Country that’s shaped like a boot.

Now, in most circumstances, people who find out information like this would be ECSTATIC, maybe even ELATED. I went crazy. “WHAT? WHAT? We can’t move to Italy. We are going home to get our stuff in one place and you have to go to school and I have clinicals and no, I’m not moving to Italy in August.”

Yes. Not one of my high points. But, I’m only human.

Then, a few days later, I started processing. There is cheese. We can have babies safely. We can buy 220 electronics so when we move back to Africa we will be prepared (suddenly Scar is singing in my head “BE PREPARED”). We will be in one location for at least two years, but maybe three. We are going to find an amazing fondue pot and pasta maker. And did I mention the cheese (yes, I did. But, it’s silly expensive here). Butter. Olive oil. Vacationing all over Europe for 2 years. Okay, I’m over it. Europe, ready or not, here we come.

But, only for the cheese.  AND wine.

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Trip 2: Going home again

26 September 2011

We are going home! While we love wandering, we both are developing a pull to sit at home on the couch and relax. Traveling every few weeks for weeks at a time is going to wear us out.

But, first, a village tour. Fundu Lagoon works closely with three local villages to improve their quality of life. As part of this, they offer a tour through the villages to see the school the lodge has built and help support the rather poor economy of the village. There is nothing but mud huts around. Even though the lodge built a school for the villages, the children do not attend the school. Children from other villages go to this school. These children are running around and memorizing the Koran. That’s it. There is no hope for improvement in their lives. Their parents aren’t fighting for them to have a better life. It is just the way their lives shall be. A lot to process isn’t it?

A group of children ran up to the mzungus hoping to get some candy and maybe a little money. Well, we bought a spice bag for 20,000 shillings because we didn’t have any change and I didn’t feel like bargaining. The spice bag was probably worth 5,000 shillings. Whatever. We were mzungued. Funny how some days you care and other days you don’t. But, we only had 10,000 shilling bills and I knew these villagers weren’t going to have change.

Village children

Went back to the lodge. Bought our mask for Pemba and had a smoothie and a cup of coffee before we jumped on the boat to leave our new favorite place. I haven’t been that relaxed in a long time.

Rode to the harbor with the Spanish couple we had been spending the past few days with! They are great and I’m kicking myself for not exchanging contact info. But, that’s life.

Went through airport security, if you can call it that. It involved two people asking to see our bags and waving a wand at us. Wow. That’s a secure airport.

Jumped on another tiny plane that was bound for Zanzibar, then Dar.  This time I was not as freaked out, but it’s because we had our choice of seats, and I sat in the seat closest to the door. I was fine until I looked up and saw the pilot with his hands behind his head as we hovered over the ocean. I tried to get a shot of this for my father-in-law. But, he put his hands down before I got the picture.

Leaving Pemba. So pretty.

We were in the last row. Told you it was tiny.

Landed in Dar. Met up with our Dar cabbie!  He brought us home. And looks like we are going to be home for a whole month while Liam preps for grad school apps. It’s going to be nice and relaxing.

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