Author Archives: The Adventures of a Nigerian-American

Benin-Togo-Ghana: 11 days, 10 nights

Map

Benin, Togo and Ghana were the next countries on my 6 countries adventure. Two friends came with me on this trip. This 6 countries adventure had a theme – chasing waterfalls. I made it a point to see at least two waterfalls in each country J. Below, you would find my itinerary, cost and experience in each place we visited. Enjoy!

Day 9 (June 18 - Monday): Arrive in Cotonou, Republic of Benin
Guesthouse Cocotier (2 nights)
Depart Lagos at 8amish
Arrive in Cotonou around 1pmish
Visit Ganvie

We left Lagos around 9.30am. There wasn’t traffic and we got to Mile 2 pretty fast. From Mile 2, we took a shared taxi to Seme border. We were hassled from where we got down from the shared taxi. First the health official on the Nigerian side tried to get us to give a bride saying we didn’t have meningitis vaccine record. We politely informed them that it wasn’t required. After wasting our time for like 10mins, they let us go.

file2-2

We got into the departure office to stamp our passports and we were informed that it was N500 each for a passport, we tried to negotiate it with the woman officer but she wasn’t having it. She claimed she didn’t charge us at all, that our passports were ‘Virgin Passports’ and the fee should have been N1,000 per passport. We paid and moved to the next station to ‘register’ our passport. The man said the fee is N500/passport. I asked if we could pay N1,000 for the three passport, he said yes and we did. As we were exiting the Nigerian side, another health official asked to see our Yellow Fever Vaccination card, we showed it to him and he proceeded to seize one of the cards saying there was no meningitis record on it. We sat down. He saw we weren’t scared or ready to give him any money. He let us go.

Togo

We got to the Benin side, the officer by name of Goston Nestor was a complete asshole. He said because our passport was a ‘Virgin Passport’ it will cost N3,000 per passport. I told him that was too expensive, he then said N2,500 per passport, I said we couldn’t afford it. He proceeded to ignore us, I tried negotiating with him but he stopped talking to me. He attended to others and later left us to go outside and chat with his friends. We refused to budge. An older Nigerian man went to speak with him. After about 25-30mins, he finally accepted N1,000 per passport and stamped our passports. The health officer on the Benin side didn’t bother messing with us because we were willing to stay 30mins instead of paying the inflated price/fee. He probably thought we were a useless bunch.

file2-1

We finally got into Cotonou around 3.30pm. We were too drained to go to Ganvie. We had late lunch, did grocery shopping and just relaxed.

NOTE: This is my first time being hassled at the Seme border. Land borders seem to create their rule on the go. No one know if the money being collected is legal. My guess is not legal. There is suppose to be a free movement of West African citizen within West Africa (Id card or passport). The agreement is not being honored by land border officials. I’ve never had to pay a fee when arriving in a West African country by flight.

The term ‘Virgin Passport’ refers to when one’s passport has not been stamped at a land border crossing.

Day 10 (June 19 - Tuesday): Cotonou
Day trip to Porto Novo & Enjoy Cotonou
Ganvie
Craft Market (Artesian Village)

file3-2

We visited Ganvie first. We took a moto bike from Haie Vive to the boat station for 700CFA/person. We negotiated a boat to take us to Ganvie. I think we paid 16,500 CFA in total for three people. After Ganvie, we took a bike to Marche Dantopka to get a bus to Porto Novo – bus was 500CFA/person. We visited the Da Silva Museum (Musee Da Silva). Entrance is 2,000 CFA/person. The tour guide was pretty great. When we returned to Cotonou, we bought our bus tickets to Tanguieta with ATT bus company (9,000CFA/person) and visited the Art & Craft market (Artesian village).

Day 11 (June 20 - Wednesday): Tanguieta
Hotel Baobab (two single rooms). One night. Paid via Jumia Travel 
Depart Cotonou very early around 7am (9 hours journey)
Arrive Tanguieta around 4pm

file5-2

We woke up pretty early so we could get to the ATT bus terminal by 6.30am. The bus left around 7.15am. We made quite a few stops along the way for the bus to drop off packages. We got to Nantitigou around 7pm and at 9pm to Tanguieta. That made it a 14-hour journey!!!! The stretch of road from Nantitigou to Tanguieta was really bad.

We had a light diner at the hotel when we arrived. We attempted to arrange transportation for the next day to see the waterfalls and to get to Kara, Togo.

I had zero expectation for the hotel but I was impressed. It seems recently renovated.

Day 12 (June 21 - Thursday): Arrive in Kara, Togo
Hotel: Hotel Marie Antoinette  (Paid via Airbnb. Two rooms. One night)
Tanangou Waterfalls
National park (if not expensive)
Chutes de Kota waterfalls in Natitingou (one hour away)
Depart for Togo (I think the border crossing is an hour away)

Because of time, we decided to cut out the National Park. We left the hotel around 7am to Tanangou waterfalls via motorbike. It took about 1.5hour to get there, we paid 3,000CFA/person for roundtrip. The hike to the waterfalls was easy but slippery. It cost 1000 CFA/person for entrance.

file

When we returned to the hotel to get our stuff, the driver that the manager arranged for us to Togo was there. The driver insisted on 30,000CFA total to take us from Tanguieta to the other waterfalls in Natitingou before dropping us off to another driver in Djougon who will then drop us at our hotel in Kara, Togo.

We arrived at Chutes de Kota waterfalls in Natitingou, entrance was 500CFA/person. The hike was not as easy as Tanangou because of more climbing but still considered easy. After the visit, we went on the Djougon where we got into another car with the assumption that it would drop off at our hotel in Kara. Border crossing was a piece of cake. No one asked us for money, no one said our passport was ‘Virgin Passport’ & no one said we needed to have meningitis vaccination proof on the yellow fever card.

file5-1

Getting close to Kara, the driver asked us for our final destination, we told him the name of the hotel again. This jerk then denied that the other driver didn’t mention to him that he had to drop us off at our hotel. We told him the deal and confirmed to him that he was there when we were asked for final destination in Djougon. He didn’t say anything after that but proceeded to drive us to the bus/shared taxi park in Kara saying we would have to pay him an extra 2000CFA for that. We refused. After a while, Shola went to negotiate with a motor bike – it was 300CFA per person for the ride to the hotel. We left the jerk’s car and went off.

The hotel wasn’t even far from the bus park – less than 10 minutes. At the hotel, we made arrangement for how to get to Koutammakou for the next day, looked for where to eat and just relaxed. It took us a while to find good food, in the end, we settled for what was available.

Day 13 (June 22 - Friday): Arrive in Kpalime
Hotel: two nights at La Paillote (Paid via Airbnb. 2 rooms booked)
Day trip to Koutammakou
Depart to Kpalime

file5-1

We left the hotel around 8am to Koutammakou, almost 3 hours journey one way. The owner of the hotel arranged the driver for us, we paid 15,000CFA for a round trip. On getting to Koutammakou, the prices wasn’t visible, they claimed it was 10,000CFA/person for a guide (which is mandatory) plus an additional 1,500CFA/person entrance fee. In the end, we paid 10,000CFA in total for guide/entrance thanks to Shola’s negotiation skills.

Koutammakou is a UNESCO heritage site and a total of 36 villages. The people migrated from Burkina Faso after fleeing pressure to convert to Islam. Their ancestors sought refuge in the mountains before building the beautiful 3 level houses.

file8-2

After Koutammakou, the driver took us back to Kara, we asked how to get to Kpalime. He said he knew a driver that would take us. It cost 5,000CFA/person for a shared taxi that sits 4 people at the back and two in front. We decided to pay 20,000CFA for the 4 back people so we can be comfortable. We asked if the driver knew our hotel in Kpalime, he said Kpalime was his route so he knows it well. We began the journey at 1.30pm. We were stuck in one-hour traffic jam not long after we left Kara. The driver stopped several times to chat with his friends without excusing himself.

He tried, not once but two times to put another passenger in the back seat to make it 4 people after we have agreed to pay for the sit! We refused off course. He decided to be petty when we got to Atapame at 6.30pm, he stopped his car at a park and asked a man to come speak to us in Yoruba. The man said the driver said he didn’t know the way to Kpalime. Lies! In the end, we refused to give him the 20,000CFA. Another driver at the park was arranged to take us and we would give him the money when we got to Kpalime. In all, we were delayed 1 hour in Atapame. Finally, we made it to Kpalime in one piece at 9.30pm.

The hotel was cozy but no WIFI or hot water for shower L.

Day 14 (June 23 - Saturday): Kpalime
Sightseeing - 3 waterfalls, mount Agou

file10

In the morning, Star & Shola went into town to buy breakfast & a Sim card so we could access internet. There in town, they met a Rasta who would act as a guide and take us to Kpime waterfalls for 1,500CFA in total for guide fees. The owner of the hotel also introduced us to a tour guide – his prices were ridiculous – something like 10,000CFA/person as guide fee plus transportation cost. We elected to use Rasta.

Rasta came for us at 12noonish, we adjusted the plan to include Wome falls. Everyone said Yikpa was too far. We went to Kpime first, motor bike ride cost 1,000CFA roundtrip to Kpime. The entrance is 1,000CFA/person. The hike had a bit of steep climbing but not impossible. After Kpime, we went back to Rasta’s shop to drop off Star. It was around 3.30pmish. Unfortunately, it started raining really heavily so we had to postpone Wome to the next day.

Because of time, we decided to cross out Mount Agou.

Day 15 (June 24 - Sunday)Depart to Hohoe, Ghana
Hotel: Comfort Stay - Paid via Airbnb. One night. Two rooms booked. 
Arrive in Hohoe, Ghana
Wli & Tagbo Waterfalls if time. If not, visit next day

file8

Since it rained heavily and we were unable to go to Wome the previous day. We went there in the late morning. It took about an hour on motorbike to get there mostly because of the really bad road. We had to pay a 2,500CFA permission fee at the military post and 500CFA/person entrance fee. The motor bike cost 2,000CFA/person roundtrip.

Wome is a beautiful place. The walk is not long but there are 177 high uneven stairs. After Wome, we went back to town to get a shared taxi to Hohoe. We were pronouncing it Ho ho but the town is actually pronounced ho-hoi. Because of the way we pronounced it, people assumed we were going to Ho (pronounced ho ho). We didn’t know this; hence we were put in a shared taxi going to Ho at around 5.21pm. After we crossed the border at Kpedze, we got into a car we thought was going to Hohoe. We only realized the mistake when they took off the sign on the bus that had Ho.

Anyways, we were told that we couldn’t get a bus going to Hohoe that we would have to go to Ho. We got to Ho at 6.25pm and waited until 6.50pm at Ho bus terminal, we got a bus going to Hohoe. We arrived in Hohoe at 9.20pm.

Day 16 (June 25 - Monday): Depart to Koforidua, Ghana
Hotel - Ages Lodge: Paid via Airbnb. One night. Three rooms 
Arrive in Koforidua

file7

Luckily for us, we were able to arrange a taxi service with the taxi driver that dropped us off to our Airbnb the previous night. We agreed to 90 cedis for the driver to pick us up in the morning, take us to Wli and Tagbo falls and drop us at the Hohoe bus terminal. He came to pick us up to Wli Waterfalls first. The entrance for Wli is 50 cedis for the 3 hours hike to the lower and upper falls. Wli has two falls – you can walk to the lower one and view the second one after a really steep climb.

It’s 40 mins easy walk to the lower falls which is absolutely gorgeous. Then another 30mins uphill walk to the viewing platform for the second falls. I found that uphill walk quite difficult. Twice, I had to sit because I felt extremely dizzy and nauseous. Maybe because I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast the previous day but it was a hard hike for me. Made it to the two-viewing platform and started the descent.

After Wli, we went to Tagbo Falls. The entrance was 20 cedis for Non-Ghanaians. It is a 45minutes walk from the entrance. Another beautiful place. Because our driver was on Ghanaian time, we set out to Wli later than we wanted and he was 2hrs late in picking us from Wli to Tagbo. This meant we didn’t get to Hohoe bus garage (almost an hour drive from Tagbo to Hohoe bus garage) until 7pm. We were able to get on the last bus to Koforidua at 7.07pm. Arrived at our hotel in Koforidua at 1am.

Day 17 (June 26 - Tuesday): Koforidua sightsee & depart to Accra
Hotel: Downtown Osu - Paid. Booked via Airbnb. Two nights. Two beds
Boti Waterfalls
Akaa Falls 
Asenema falls
Umbrella Rock 
Aburi Botanical Garden on the way to Accra
Arrive in Accra late

file10-1

The hotel helped us arrange a taxi to take us to Boti and Akaa Falls. The idea was the taxi would drop off at the Koforidua bus terminal after Boti and Akaa Falls then we would get a bus going to Accra and get off at Asenema which is in Akpong on the way to Accra. Anyways, the taxi driver didn’t know the way so we ended up in Akpong where Asenema Falls. We took that opportunity to see Asenema Falls, it’s by the road, only a 5 mins walk. There was no fee.

After seeing it, the driver was given the right directions to Boti Falls. Cost was 20 cedis for Non-Ghanians and 10 cedis for Ghanians. Easy walk, you will have to go down 255 stairs but you don’t feel it. Really beautiful. After the Boti, we took the easy way to Umbrella Rock. You can elect to do a 45mins hike there or a 10-15minutes drive so we took that option. After the drive, you would still have to walk about 10mins.

file6-1

Driving back from the Umbrella Rock, we stooped at Akaa Falls which is on the same road. We paid 10 cedis in total for 2 people. There was no price listed and we claimed to be Ghanians. The walk is similar to that of Boti but not up to 255 stairs. We were the only ones at the Falls.

Because of time, we decided to cut Aburi Gardens from the list. We made our way to the Koforidua Bus Station and began the 2hrs or so journey to Accra – our last destination J.

Day 18 (June 27 - Wednesday): Accra, Ghana
Sightseeing

We didn’t do any sightseeing in Accra. All three of us had visited Accra several times before. We just relaxed, did laundry, eat and celebrated the end of this adventure.

Day 19 (June 28 -Thursday):  Departure
* Kunbi departs for the airport around 12.30pm
* Star & Shola departs for Lagos in the morning

Star and Shola left the Airbnb around 5.30am to begin their road trip back to Lagos. I slept in and left around 12noon to the airport for my flight to Sao Tome and Principe.

file5

My Overall Review:

I knew that I didn’t want to do this trip solo which was why I invited two friends. One couldn’t make it and the other – Star, invited her other friend Shola. It turned out to be a great trip with them. They have mad negotiating skills especially Shola. She was in charge of negotiating taxi fares. Star was in charge of food. I just chilled Lol. Shola was nicknamed the mountain goat because she climbs just like a mountain goat lol. We created great memories.

The worst experience on the trip was the experience at the Seme border and the driver situation from Kara to Kpalime, Togo. But they weren’t experience that had the ability to ruin a trip. The big cities of Benin, Togo and Ghana but challenge yourself to see the other parts of those country.

Thanks for reading J

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Egypt: Itinerary & Reviews

6

Hello y’all,

When I confirmed my trip to Egypt, I wanted it to be special since I was crossing off a bucket list item. Below is my itinerary and review. Remember, the review is a result of MY experience. You should still do your own research and use it to make an informed decision.

7 days, 6 Nights: Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria & Wadi El Rayan

Day 1 (10th of June, Sunday):  Arrival + Giza Pyramids + Flight to ASWAN
      Arrive to Cairo airport at 11am in the morning. 
      We drive to Giza Pyramids & Sphinx.
  Transfer back to the airport for flight to ASWAN (Flight booked by Jakada)
  Overnight in Aswan [Helnan Hotel booked by Jakada].

Review: Flight landed on time, I did not check in a luggage and immigration was fast. Visa is USD$25. After seeing the Pyramids, Sphinx and visit to two shops, I was left with PLENTY of time before my 10.15pm flight to Aswan.

3

What I would do differently next time:

  • Schedule a visit to the Bazaar or somewhere else as a just in case if we have lots of time left.
  • Not buy stuff I don’t need. At the Oil shop, I felt obligated to buy something because they were nice. After 10 hours of flying, I felt afterwards that I let my guard down. Although, I only bought 1 small size of a mixture of oil (for $55 –negotiated from $90) that is supposed to treat eczema. I will update if it works, if not, the shop owner will get a massive side-eye lol. I also bought two painting for $70 made from Papyrus paper. Those I actually liked and do not regret buying. Update 1: at the airport duty free, they do sell the papyrus paper painting for really cheap, however, they are machine made vs. handmade.
  • I should have booked a different hotel. Helnan hotel is a 5 star hotel that in my opinion is living in past glory. The room was freaking outdated. Excellent customer service but the rooms was more like motel 6 #firstworldproblemsiknow.
Day 2 (11th of June, Monday): Abu Simbel
  Transfer to Luxor. Overnight in Luxor [Hotel booked by me – Hilton Luxor].

Review: I loved the vibes in Aswan even though I was just there for a few hours really.

8

What I would do differently next time:

  • Pick a different hotel or go with Airbnb for a local experience.
  • Add other sites in addition to Abu Simbel
  • Stay longer in Aswan and see other sites, interact with locals and meet up with couchsurfers. In Aswan, I saw many Egyptians that looked like me and I was very interested in socializing with them. This was when I regretted having a set itinerary. I will definitely come back to Aswan.
Day 3 (12th of June, Tuesday): Luxor
   Hot Air Ballon ride, Valley of the Kings, Clossal of 
Memmon, Valley of the Queen, Karnak & Luxor Temple.
   Fly to Cairo (Flight ticket booked by Jakada).
   Overnight in Cairo [Le Meridien Hotel booked by Jakada]

Review: I don’t like to say something is a Must Do because really nothing in life is a Must Do. I’m glad I decided to do the Hot Air Balloon ride, first time and I LOVED it.

4

What I would do differently next time:

  • Maybe stay one more night at Hilton. The hotel was AMAZING, Top Notch and everything a 5 star hotel should be. Although I booked the cheapest room for USD$72/night, I was not disappointed.
  • Also cramming the West and East Bank tour of Luxor in a day was a bit too much. I felt jaded after the second temple I visited. It didn’t help that it was 100F. So spacing it out might work better for you.
  • I should have advocated for myself when my guide somehow decided to cut off Valley of Queen from the itinerary –saying it wasn’t really that important. I felt that should have been my decision after seeing the site. I let it go because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Day 4 (13th of June, Wednesday): Day trip to Alexandria.
    Pompey's Pillar, Fort Qaitbay, Catacombs, Roman Amphitheatre, 
    The Alexandria Library.
    Overnight in Cairo [Hotel booked by Jakada – Le Meridien].

Review: I thought Alexandria was meh. Great for history buff I suppose. I was actually looking forward to it because of the historical nature. The highlight was the library – massive! I also liked that I was done with sightseeing at 6pmish. Gave me time to relax.

16

What I would do differently next time:

  • I think Alexandria would be a better use of time if you were actually immersing yourself in the local culture & staying for a longer period of time. The library was dope though. Glad I went, probably would skip on my next trip to Egypt.
Day 5 (14th June, Thursday): Al Fayoum Oasis and Wadi Rayan
     Overnight in Cairo 
     [Hotel booked by Jakada – Le Meridien].

Review: It wasn’t a big waterfalls but I still LOVED it. There are two waterfalls side by side. Worth a day trip. It was about a 2 hours’ drive from Cairo.

What I would do differently next time:

  • Nothing. I loved how the day’s activity was short. Gave me time to relax afterwards :).
Day 6 (15th of June, Friday): Cairo City Tour
          Egyptian Museum, Citadel & Coptic Cairo
          Overnight in Cairo [Hotel booked by Jakada – Le Meridien].

Review: My day started at 9am and by 1.30pmish, I was back at the hotel. The museum is massive with original artifact found from tombs. The section of the boy king was the most fascinating to me. Note, they are building a new museum, which should be opened by next year.

Coptic Cairo is also interesting – there are several churches including the famous hanging church and the cave in the church where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus hid for a few months while fleeing Herod.

I didn’t get to see the Citadel because I was told it was overcrowded. It was the day after Ramadan ended so there were many people especially children out.  At the museum, a large group of young boys (about 12yrs old) was denied entry because the guards thought they would destroy the museum. Stupid & sad because they could have assigned a museum guide to them.

13

What I would do differently next time:

  • Nothing. Ok, maybe learn a few phrases in Arabic so I can interact with the many children that approached me (not for money). I loved how that every group of young girls I came across asked with gestures if they could take a picture with me or touch me/my hair and WAITED for my response. I happily obliged. They reminded me of my former 5th & 6th graders. Cute!
DAY 7 (16th of June, Saturday): Final Departure
        Transfer to airport. Flight departs at 7.45am in the morning.

Included in the tour package

  • Includes all sights mentioned and fees
  • Guiding all the sights
  • Private tour no sharing
  • 1 night Accommodation at Helnan Hotel in Aswan
  • 4 nights Accommodation at Le Meridien in Cairo
  • Domestic tickets (Cairo-Aswan & Luxor-Cairo) and all ground transfers
  • Lunch during the tours
  • All tax and services

Exclude 

  • Visa
  • International flights
  • Tipping
  • Dinner
  • Drinks
Le Meridien

Room at Le Mederien

                          Overall Review:

Proud of myself for making this trip a reality. 
It has always been on my list. I will definitely 
revisit. Do not let others (including me) project 
their fears on you. Remember that this review is MY
experience & yours might be different. 
Therefore, in the end, You Should Do You!

What I would do differently next time:

1.      Use different hotels in Aswan & Cairo. For the price of upgrading to 5 star accommodation, I could have gotten a better room on Airbnb or somewhere else. If you are looking for luxury, Le Meridien in Cairo and Helnan in Aswan are not it. Go with Hilton Luxor, they are top notch.

2.      Use Couchsurfing to hang out with locals to get a more balanced experience.

3.      Be more assertive. See next section for more on this.

4.      Put in a free day to explore on my own (with couchsurfers or people from my FB travel group).

10

What I Wish I knew before visiting:

  • Have my Resting Bitch Face on as soon as I deplane. It is very much needed in a place where it seems like some people seem entitled to receive a tip. No, I am not talking about tipping for rendering a service. I am speaking on when someone gives you unsolicited advice or directs you to take a picture of something you probably don’t care about then turns around to ask for a tip. Or when the cleaners at the airport toilet follow you and hassle you for a tip. The guides at the temples/sites will hassle you as well, even let you enter prohibited spaces or take pictures even though it is prohibit for a chance of getting a tip. No, thank you in Arabic doesn’t always help. Resting Bitch Face & no eye contact prevents them from even approaching you. I had mine on by day 3.
  • Still on tipping – have smaller bills for when you feel like you are being pressured into tipping in situation where no services was rendered.
  • Second hand smoking will get to you. Smoking is not restricted for outside so it is common that someone will be smoking inside beside you.
  • It is ok not to buy stuff (especially ones you don’t need) at every or any shop you are taken to. I said no to a shop in Luxor because honestly I had no need for the cravings they made. I felt bad for like 20 minutes because one of the old men cravers gave me a gift of a special stone. Afterwards, I was glad I didn’t waste my money.

11

Others

  1. Is Egypt safe? I felt safe throughout the trip. Strong military/police presence and tight security at all major hotels and tourist sites. Also several checkpoints on the road. Makes sense to stay updated as we live in a forever-changing world.
  2. Safe for solo females? IDK. I had a guide with me every time I left the hotel. I was left alone to explore more at one of the temples in Luxor. I was followed for like 10 mins by a perverted old man. At another temple in Luxor, one of the old men (guide) asked to take a picture with me, I obliged, and he proceeded to put his hands on my butt. Now, I don’t know if this was an accident or intentional but I do know that I felt uncomfortable and left to meet up with my guide ASAP. For my own sanity, I have elected to either roll with locals or use a guide when I visit countries that several women had complained about being harassed.
  3. Do you really need a guide to explore Egypt? No, you do not. It might actually be much cheaper if you just book everything yourself and take local transit or do those small group tours. I chose not to. In the past two years or so, my anxiety has gotten to a level that its affects my daily life. Therefore, to have a sense of peace, I chose to pay extra for a guide. If it’s your first visit and you don’t speak Arabic or are solo, having a guide might be much more beneficial though. 1
  4. What guide/tour company did you use and would you recommend them? I used Jakada Tours. Before deciding on them, I had contacted Habibi, Memphis, OMG Tours, Lady Egypt & Deluxe Tours. I didn’t like the generic small group tour package they all offered. I sent them all a draft itinerary for a custom tour. In the end, I went with Jakada because of word of mouth praise from two FB Travel Groups I’m a part of. I’m glad, I went with them, Ahmed Fayed – the owner is pretty cool. When we agree on the itinerary, I made a 20% deposit via Western Union and paid cash on arrival for the balance. He was my guide in Cairo, & for day trips from Cairo. In Aswan & Luxor, I had a different guide with the same agency. Some tips, you should be very explicit in what you want, ask clarifying questions and communicate any issues you have. I also like that Ahmed did not make me feel that he was solely doing this for a tip. He genuinely made me feel comfortable. I also liked that he is able to read his client & adjust his approach as needed. I would recommend them & use them again.
  5. What hotels should I stay in? Definitely not Le Meridien in Cairo or Helnan in Aswan if you are looking for a 5 star/luxury hotel. The view from the two hotels is dope though & customer service is excellent. Hilton Luxor to treat yourself because why not. Use TripAdvisor to view how the hotel rooms looks like (pics taken by travelers) & to compare prices, try Airbnb.
  6. Is the water safe to drink? IDK. I drank bottled water but used the water from the faucet to brush my teeth. Bottled water is super cheap.

 

I think I covered everything. Feel free to leave your additional comments/questions in the comment section.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

How I Afford to Travel

So, this question is always being asked of me. Sometimes, I know it is being asked from a place of curiosity. Often times though, this question leaves me feeling some type of way!

I started traveling frequently in 2008 when I gave myself a graduating gift to Guatemala for a 2 months language immersion. That trip opened my mind to the possibility of making travelling a priority. Because I made traveling a priority, I am able to afford it. So, no, I’m not a sugar baby, my father is not an oil typhoon and I am not wealthy yet. Below are 10 things I do to afford traveling or save while traveling:

1

  1. Budget – I have a budget that tracks my money. I know where my money goes so I am able to restrain myself from unnecessary spending which means more money in my Travel Fund Account. This means, you wouldn’t catch me at the mall buying stuff I don’t need.
  2. Travel Fund – Every month, I transfer money to my separate travel fund account. Usually if I have money left from other expenses, I transfer it to my travel fund as well.
  3. Layovers – I make the best use of my layovers. Here is what I mean, this summer, I decided to fly home to Nigeria with Egypt Air because I know they would have a layover in Cairo, Egypt. I extended my layover to a week for $15 extra – winning, because now I’m able to see Egypt and as well as going home to Nigeria. Another time, my flight from London, UK to Dar es Salam, Tanzania was with Air Seychelles which had a few hours layover in UAE and Seychelles. After I got my ticket on Kayak, I emailed Air Seychelles to extend my layover in UAE for 5 days and Seychelles for 5 days as well. They did this without an additional charge. Same situation with Air Marco this past December. I wanted to visit Senegal and Air Marco had the cheapest flight with a layover in Morocco. I extended the layover off course. That way, you are able to see multiple countries in one trip. 2
  4. Maximizing your time in the region. When I travel in the summer, I usually use this opportunity to visit multiple countries in close proximity. I figure, it would be cheaper for me to visit those countries while I was close by than for me to make it an entire separate trip. So, when I visited Senegal in December, I used that opportunity to visit The Gambia. This side trip added an extra USD $300 for transportation from Senegal to The Gambia. Still cheaper if I would have had to fly from the U.S to The Gambia. Same as last summer, added Denmark as a side trip when I visited Sweden. I should have added Norway as well but time constraint. I got to see Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda as side trips from Tanzania. Also a few pacific countries as side trips from Indonesia.
  5. Selecting Accommodation – my choice of accommodation had changed significantly since I started traveling. I usually mix up my options.
  • Couchsurfing – in my early and mid-20s, I used Couchsurfing extensively. For those of you that don’t know what it is, it is a platform that allows you to sleep in the homes of locals or people living in the country you are visiting for free. I had a great time when I used Couchsurfing, it allowed me to build a network of friends across various countries. Now I no longer use this platform to stay in people’s houses partly because I’m slightly bougie now and I get real moody quite often, so I only use it to meet up with people. Which still helps me save people because locals know where to take you.5
  • Hostel – I mixed staying at dorm rooms in hostels with Couchsurfing in my early and mid-20s. Those two were my primary means of accommodation. It was great while it lasted. I usually stayed in all female dorm when I could and I chose hostels with AMAZING reviews on hostelworld.com. I still stay in hostels nowadays but I have upgraded myself to private rooms with bathroom en-suite, mostly for the same reasons I no longer use Couchsurfing to stay in people’s houses.
  • Airbnb – this is what I primary use now. Depending on my mood, I might rent out the entire apartment but most frequently, I rent a room. I don’t have to interact with the host if I don’t want to.
  • Hotels – I rarely use this. When I do, I prefer Holiday Inn or Hilton. However, on longer trips, I always treat myself to staying at Hilton or Sheraton at the middle and end of my trip.
  • House of a friend or friend of a friend – I was more open to this in the past. I stayed with my friend’s mom in Cocha, Bolivia once. Her son, my friend from grad school was traveling in Europe. She treated me like her daughter :). Now, I hesitant now especially when the friend has kids or are married. I simply don’t feel comfortable and I want my vacation to be as comfortable as it can be.4
  1. Organized tours vs. doing it yourself – I used to completely go on sightseeing adventures by myself, it was way cheaper. Nowadays, I mix it up but I lean more to hiring a car and driver/guide because I don’t feel like navigating stuff by myself. Either ways, I research and select what I can afford.
  2. Gifts/Souvenirs – I rarely buy gifts for people. When I do, it’s usually $5 max earrings or magnets. My philosophy is if you want gifts go to those places yourself or buy from Amazon (there’s usually a China made version of it anyways). Bottom line, I’m not buying you a gift #sorrynotsorry. This money goes to experiencing the country instead. I limit souvenirs buying, usually because I have no space to put them in anyways – I’m #TeamCarryOn for life. Plus, I move a lot and have had to give those souvenirs away. So, I rarely buy now.
  3. Credit Card/Debit Card – I have a Charles Schwab account which lets me withdraw money from any ATM with no fees at all. I also have a Chase Sapphire credit card that accumulate lots of points that I can redeem for travel. I am still new to acquiring the knowledge to better maximize those types of cards. All I know is for 41,000 points I was able to purchase a roundtrip ticket from Dallas to Boston and book two hotel nights at the Hilton.6
  4. Flights – while I try to stay loyal to Star Alliance or OneWorld sky teams, I wouldn’t blink twice before buying a ticket that is significantly lower than airlines within my loyalty programs. I use Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights mostly to search for tickets. I have gotten lazy over the years in ensuring that I am paying the absolutely lowest fare to get to my destination. In addition, I have no problem volunteering my seat for vouchers. That’s more funds for travel to me.
  5. Travel Advise – this can cost you money. I don’t take advise from people who don’t travel or people who haven’t been to the particular destination that I’m going to. I don’t particularly care about what the cousin of your best friend’s sister experienced in destination x.

These are the 10 things I can think of now. What other ways do you save for travel on while travelling? Please share your two cents…

Until next time!

November Festivals in the UK

bonfire

Credits: designinspiration.typepad.com/

November is quite possibly the best time to visit the UK. There are plenty of festivals held throughout the UK during this month so if you enjoy embracing different cultures through the medium of festivals, a holiday in the UK next month might just be what is needed to get you through your mundane 9-5, and give you something to look forward to.

 

November 5th (Bonfire Night)

Bonfire Night marks the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ failed assassination of King James I. Guy Fawkes is known in English literature as a member of the provincial English Catholics who fought the Spaniards in 1605. He was tasked to blow up the House of Lords in Westminster Palace using gunpowder but he was discovered and his plot failed. As such, in his memory, he is remembered today by fireworks displays every year on November 5.

One of the best places to see an innovative firework display is in the old town of Lewes, East Sussex. The fireworks celebration there includes street parties, costume parades, music, and a straw effigy that is burned on the bonfire.

November 11th (Remembrance Day)

remembrance-day

Credits: dailymail.co.uk

Every November 11 in the UK is Remembrance Day that honors the fallen heroes of the armed forces. A lot of non-government organizations support the event. The Royal British Legion charity, for one, sells poppies to raise funds for the families of departed soldiers. Remembrance Day also observes a two-minute silence at 11 AM of November 11th.

November 30th (St. Andrews Day)

st-andrews-day

Credits: Pinterest

St. Andrews Day is in commemoration of Scotland’s patron saint, St. Andrews. There are many fun events during this day such as poetry readings, bagpipe performances, country dancing, and the customary Scottish meals to enjoy.

This is the best day of the month to party with Scottish people while Gaelic folk music is being played. Don’t be shy; participate in dances as there are “dance callers” who are more than happy to teach beginners the required steps.

 

 

November 30th (Diwali Festival)

diwali

Credits: BBC.com

Diwali is the Festival of Lights for the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh communities living in London. The biggest Diwali festival is held at Leicester, which hold awe-inspiring street parties, traditional music, food, dancing, and crafts. At night, different displays of light, lanterns, and fireworks are held.

 

 

Travel Information

There are plenty of routes to take in order to reach the UK, and fortunately, the UK’s airports are more than accommodating to their travelers. Those who are living in Asia can find comfort in these airports so don’t worry about the long travel time, as there are now many direct routes available.

edinburgh-airport

Credits: Glasgowairportcabhire.co.uk

Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Heathrow are among the best airports in the UK, so if you’re trying to reach London and have the option to have your layover in any of these airports, do so. Surprisingly, Newcastle is a foodie haven as it has some of the best options for airport dining. Americans who aren’t too adventurous when it comes to food, however, can stick to Burger King and other fast food joints,as there are several located at the airport.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, has some of the best airport hotels according to this list by The Telegraph.

Heathrow is one unique airport as it offers a mixed bag of entertainment for travelers who have to endure a long layover. For one, it has its very own art gallery called T5 Gallery London Heathrow that shows technologically-advanced pieces by contemporary British artists. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and as such, it began to offer a lot more entertainment, tourist services, as well as car parking options for travelers. Parking4Less lists the main services at Heathrow, which will appeal to people that live in London but want to fly to either Newcastle or Edinburgh. Due to cheap domestic flights from the aforementioned airports, it’s sometimes cheaper to park your car and get a domestic flight than it is to buy a train ticket nowadays. Also, many of these airports have on-airport hotels to consider if you have an early or late connecting flight.

Have you been to the UK and if so, enjoyed some of its festivals? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below.

***Guest Post by Jayme Whilst***

Paraguay and the Iguazu Falls

20160730_144339

Salto del Rio Monday Waterfalls, Cuidad del Este

I had originally planned on taking this trip in Nov 2016 but I moved it up. I wanted to see the Iguazu Falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian side on this trip. Currently, Brazil waives visa for US citizens and other nationalities from June to September because of the Olympics. Argentina has suspended the exit reciprocal fee for US citizens until further notice. With these two waivers in place, attaching Iguazu Falls to my Paraguay trip made sense financially if I went now instead of Nov.

20160730_203200

Itaipu Dam illumination

I arrived in Asuncion at 1am on the 29th, went straight to bed as soon as I arrived at my hostel – El Nomada. Later that day, I explored the old town area which is walking distance to my hostel. The center is nothing fancy, just a few plazas and historical buildings. I also purchased my ticket to Cuidad Del Este for the next day.

I arrived at my hostel in Cuidad Del Este around 2pm after a 6 hours bus ride from Asuncion. The hostel was pretty basic. Glad I was staying for just the night. Cuidad Del Este is interesting in that it borders Argentina and Brazil. It is a 20 minutes car/bus ride to Brazil and about an hour to Argentina. Pretty cool, right?

The owner of the hostel was very helpful in assisting with planning the activity for the day and giving me tips. I decided to go visit the waterfalls in Cuidad Del Este – Salto de Rios Monday Waterfalls. It costs 20,000 Guaranis for entrance fee and another 10,000 Guaranis if you want to take the elevator to the other viewing platform. There is a trail where you can bike or walk. It’s a beautiful way to spend the day. After that, I went to eat lunch and around 4.30pm, I headed to the Itaipu Dam.

20160801_145419

Argentinian Side of the Falls

All visitors to the Dam must go through the visitor’s center where they take down your information. Foreigners must come with their passports. I was lucky that a tour was just about to start when I arrive, it is a free 45 minutes tour in Spanish of the dam. The Dam produces about 80% of the electricity used in Paraguay and contributes 17-20% of that used in Brazil. Both Paraguay & Brazil maintain the dam. Every Friday and Saturday, there is a musical show and illumination of the dam starting at 6.30pm. I waited for this. The music performance was by a local group. At around 8pm, we all boarded the bus (provided by the dam) to go see the illumination. Beautiful!

The next day, I took a taxi from Cuidad del Este, Paraguay to my hostel in Foz do Iguazu, Brazil for USD$18. The taxi stopped for me to get an exit stamp for Paraguay and entry stamp for Brazil. I didn’t do much sightseeing this day. The next morning, I went on a group tour to the Argentinian side of the falls with rd fall travel agency. We arrived around 10am and didn’t get back until 6pm. It was an amazing day. I had visited the Argentinian side in 2012 but only went on the trail to the Devil’s Throat.

20160801_124826

Devil’s Throat

This time, I re-visited the Devil’s Throat and did two more trails – the superior and inferior circuit. Fantastic is all I can say! After completing the three trails at around 3.20pm, my new friend (Andrea) and I went to do the boat excursion. The boat takes you up close to the waterfalls, I loved it. Because it was a last minute decision, we obviously didn’t have change of clothes so we were soaking wet! I decided to buy change of clothes at the souvenir store. It was a great way to spend the day.

The following day, I did two things – explore the Brazilian side of the falls and do the helicopter tour of the fall. I took the public bus to the National Park and got off at HeliSur’s office which is 5 mins walking distance from the National Park by the way. The helicopter tour cost USD$120 for a 10 minutes tour. Expensive but worth it. I was lucky to be sitting in front by the pilot so my view was not obstructed. My fear of height is slowly disappearing :). After the tour ended, I simply walked to the National Park.

20160802_110737

View from the Helicopter

The Brazilian side also offers a boat excursion. Unlike the Argentinian side, there is only one trail here – leading to the Devil’s Throat. Here at the Brazilian side, you do get up close to the Devil’s Throat. There are several viewing platform but the closest is the one with the bridge across the falls. Loved it.

 

I left Brazil the following day to return to Paraguay where I had to catch my flight to the US.

End of vacation.

6 Lessons I Learned From This Trip

  1. It makes sense to see the both sides of the Iguazu Falls. Plan on spending the whole day at the Argentinian side and 2-3 hours at the Brazilian side.
  2. Although it is very easy to sneak in and out of the Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay from that border area, don’t do it.
  3. I found men in Paraguay annoying. I encountered plenty catcalling which made me take taxis everywhere. Off course not all men in Paraguay are assholes, I just happened to meet a lot of the assholes.
20160801_155450

Boat ride to the falls 

  1. You can pay with dollars almost everywhere in Paraguay. At the border towns, four currencies are at your disposal – US Dollars, Brazilian Reals, Paraguay Guarani and Argentina Pesos.
  2. Puerto Iguazu has more accommodation options than Foz do Iguazu.

6. Don’t miss the tour of Itaipu Dam. You can take it from the Brazilian side or the Paraguay side.

P.S. Paraguay was the only country I haven’t been to in South America, well until last week. So officially, I have visited all the countries in South and Central America :).

 

The Maldives

Nowadays, you can travel Maldvies on a budget. Not a shoestring budget like in Southeast Asia or Latin America. There are numerous blog post on how to travel Maldvies for cheap. My favorite is one written by OneikaTheTraveller on Huffington Post, you can check it out here. Also simply google ‘Maldives on a budget blog’ and you will be presented with several blog posts on how to travel Maldives on the cheap.

20160722_181230

Initially, I was going to follow the tips on traveling there on a budget but I came across blog posts from female travelers talking about harassment from local men on local islands. Two posts stayed with me – one by Simply Nomadic and the other on street harassment. To be honest, these posts made me reconsider. I do understand that many women visit Maldives without any incidences, however, most women that visit are with their spouse. Maldives is not yet a solo woman destination.

20160722_140435

View from the airport

Also, I thought about treating myself. Maldives was my last destination in the region, I’ll only be in Maldvies for 3 nights/4days before heading back to the Americas. I have been traveling for the past 8 weeks. Why not pamper myself and cross out a bucket list item? With that in mind, I decided to skip staying at a local island on a budget and instead stay at a resort.

 

20160722_181151

Over Water Villa at Ellaidhoo

I used Booking.com, TripAdvisor.com and Google to find the right resort for me. I was able to narrow down based on price and interest to Holiday Inn Resort, Bando Resort and three of the Cinnamon Resorts (Hakuraa Huraa, Dhonveli and Ellaidhoo-Maldives). For what I wanted – Over-Water Villa; Bando, Hakuraa Huraa and Dhonveli were way more expensive than Ellaidhoo. Actually, Holiday Inn, Bando and Hakuraa Huraa were double the price of Ellaidhoo while Dhonveli was USD$200 more. So, I went with Ellaidhoo Cinnamon. Note, all of these resorts requires either a sea plane or speedboat transfer from the airport.

20160724_102308

View from my room at Ellaidhoo

Because my flight arrived late – 9.45pm, I had to spend the night in Hulhumale – the reclaimed island where the airport is located. I stayed at UI hotel in Hulhumale for the night. It cost USD$45/night and included breakfast. It wasn’t luxury rather a basic accommodation option. They have excursion/tour options. Due to miscommunication between UI Hotel and Ellaidhoo, I wasn’t able to get on the 8am speedboat transfer the next day. I had to wait for the 2.30pm transfer. It was a rough 90 minutes boat ride to the resort. All worth it on arrival. The resort is small – 112 rooms, gym and spa.

I opted for full board so all my meals and water was included in the room rate. With this option, you only have to pay for alcoholic beverages. For the rest of my 2 nights/2.5 days at the resort, I didn’t do anything but write this blog and chill. I needed this vacation from traveling heavily for the past two months. I pretty much took care of me.

Click my YouTube page to see the video of the resort.

                                                 4 Tips for Travelling in the Maldvies

  1. Maldvies can be done on a budget. Google “Maldives on a Budget’ for posts on how to do it.
  2. If you decide to stay at a local island instead of a resort, please research local island options thoroughly especially if you are a solo female traveler.
  3. Maldives is a strict Islamic country. You can only wear bikini at a resort or selected beaches at local islands. Alcohol is only available at the resorts.
  4. Leave your pornographic materials, sex toys and dogs at home. They are prohibited in the Maldvies. See below list of items prohibited by the Maldives government.

maldives

Lanka Land

20160723_132751

My trip across Sri Lanka. It took me 3 days/2 nights

After research this destination, I decided it was best for me to rent a car & driver to visit the cities I wanted to. Using recommendations from this blog post, I contacted Mr. Hasantha (nilupul7h@yahoo.com; 0094723427049) a few days before my trip for prices and availability. He responded within a day, we agreed on itinerary and price.

20160717_150558

Cave Temple, Dambulla

I arrived in Colombo at 11pm on July 16th, went straight to my hostel – Drift BnB. The driver from Mr. Hasantha picked me up at 9am the following day, we had breakfast and began the 100 mile (161km) drive to the first stop – Dambulla. I slept for most of the ride so I can’t speak about the scenery. We had lunch before going to the Cave Temple. I got a big shock when I arrived there – there were lots of monkeys. If you know me, you know I passionately dislike monkeys. And I read a lot about these sites, none of the blog posts mentioned the presence of monkeys!

20160717_151255

Cave Temple

Anyways, I summoned the courage and started on the steep climb to the Cave Temple. While walking up, several local men attempted to approach me. Before you ask, ‘oh, what were you wearing?’, I was wearing long loose pants and short sleeve t-shirt!! After a while of this uncomfortable instances, a white couple observing these foolishness asked me to walk with them, it helped.

20160717_162144

Rock Fortress, Sigiriya

The cave temple is beautiful, several statues of Buddha in various positions and sizes. Coming down from the cave temple, I saw monkeys attacking people that had food with them. After the cave temple, we went on to Sigiriya – which is just 30 mins drive away. We arrived at our second stop – Lion’s Rock Fortress. I opted to pay for a guide because Mr. Sam (my driver) told me there were monkeys there as well. Mr. Sam contacted a guide for me, the guide was amazing. I would recommend you use him if you visit the Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya area. He name is Bandara & number is 077-825-6963.

20160717_165258

Taking a break: Rock fortress, Sigiriya

To get to the peak of the Rock Fortress, you have to climb 1200 steps. Sounds intimidating, right? You can do it. I stopped several times to catch my breath. But it was all worth it. The view is great as well. We were struck for 30 minutes when trying to get down because of hornets’ attack. When that was cleared, we were allowed to go. I spent the night in Sigiriya, the guest house I stayed in was fantastic! The owner and his family were pleasant and the food was delicious. Do check out The Otunna Guest house on your next visit to Sigiriya.

20160717_194833

Dinner at Otunna Guest House (700Rupee=USD$5)

The next day, we proceeded to Kandy – a 56 mile (90km) drive. We stopped at a Spice Garden, where they school you on various tea, spices and herbal plants. You also get a semi-free head and neck message. I ended up buying a spice tea. Next stop was the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Also lots of monkey here as well and I saw there grabbing flowers from those people bringing flower offerings to Budda. I didn’t quite understand the temple of tooth relic, maybe I used have used a guide. After the temple, we have lunch at an amazing restaurant in Kandy. The view is spectacular.

After lunch, we began the 47 miles (76km) drive to Nuwara Eliya. We

20160718_173534

Ramboda waterfalls

stopped at the Glenloch Tea Factory and Ramboda Waterfalls. The Glenloch tea factory exports most of its tea but they have some available for sales in Sri Lanka. To see the Ramboda waterfalls, you have to go through the Ramboda Falls Hotel. You can’t swim there, there are two viewing platforms. Stunning waterfalls!!

We drove past what looked like the good hotels and ended up in the shit hole of an hotel I was to stay at. It was late and I was tired. Pls do yourself a favor and not stay at Glen Fall Inn in Nuwara Eliya. It was gross. We left around 9.30am the next morning. Before driving back to Colombo, we stopped for a bit at the Lake  in Nuwara Eliya. It is a pretty town with lots of colonial buildings. The weather is way cooler than the rest of Sri lanka. No monkeys!! :). On the drive back to Colombo, we stopped at two other waterfalls – Devons and St. Clair, they are 10 minutes drive apart. No swimming, just viewing platforms.

20160719_102146

Lake in Nuwara Eliya

We arrived in Colombo around 6.30pm, the end of my 2 nights/3days trip to other parts of Sri Lanka. I had two more nights in Colombo. The following day, I had a TukTuk tour at 4pm, so I went to the Dutch Shopping Precint area before going to the meet up point for my tour. Nice place to chill.

The Colombo city tour started promptly at 4pm, the tuktuk was beautiful, we got lots of stares. We stopped at the biggest Hindu temple& biggest Buddish temple in Sri Lanka, the floating market, tea shop, a local eatery, independence square and independence shopping arcade. It was a great way to explore Colombo’s highlight. Definitely, check them out for your Colombo City Tour – TukTuk Safari Sri Lanka.

The next day – my last day in Sri Lanka, I went to Mount lavinia Hotel to spend the morning since my flight was at night. There’s an access to the beach but you can’t swim there because of strong current.

20160719_120351

Devons Waterfall

5 Tips for Sri Lanka

  1. If you don’t want to bother with navigating public transport, renting a car with driver services will be your best shot. Also if you are traveling with your family or a solo female traveler, you might want to consider this option. The service includes, the driver, all fuel/gas, parking fees, driver’s food & accommodation. You will have to pay entrance fee for the sites you visit, your food and accommodation.
  1. Booking.com has the most selections of places to stay in Sri Lanka. Go through the reviews, you will find something great in your price range.
  1. If you are a black woman, the local men will stare at you endlessly. They will even follow you around. Sometimes a smile might do the trick but other times, you need to say NO firmly and give them the death stare.
  1. If you are like me and deeply frighten by monkeys, well, they have a lot in Sri Lanka especially in places like Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy. Get a guide if you can and don’t have food on you.
  1. Women, I know we shouldn’t be judged by how we dressed. However not everybody understands this. You might want to wear above the knee and no strapless or sleeveless clothing while in Sri Lanka especially if you are a solo traveler. Also most temples will not let you in dressed like that.

P.S: If you need a car/driver service in Sri Lanka, contact Mr. Hasantha at nilupul7h@yahoo.com; 0094723427049. I was satisfied with his service. Like with everything, you will need to communicate what you want to see or do, they will suggest places, you can accept or reject the ideas.

The Base

20160531_122733Initially Indonesia wasn’t on my summer travel plan. But while looking for the cheapest way to explore Australia and surroundings, I found out I could use Indonesia as a sort of base. My ticket from the US was round trip Dallas to Jakarta. Then I got several one way tickets to the other countries I visited.

20160531_111026

MONA Monument, Jakarta

 

Jakarta: The first stop on my 10 week summer travel. I arrived past midnight. It was 1am when I arrived at the hostel, after the check in process, I went to bed. I woke 7 hours later for breakfast. I decided I needed a nap so I took one. I didn’t wake up until 7pm! I had dinner and went back to bed. I pretty much slept the tiredness that comes with 21 hours of traveling and changing time zones.

20160531_114143

Inside the oldest ice-cream shop in Jakarta

Day 2: I got picked up at 8am by a guide from Jakarta Holiday. There was another person on the tour as well. We explored several places in Jakarta including the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia, the oldest building in Jakarta, oldest café and the MONA monument. We stopped for lunch where we had street food and ice cream from the oldest ice-cream parlor in Jakarta.

In the evening, I met up with a friend from East Timor at Grand Indonesia – a mega mall in Jakarta for dinner.

4

The Square where you find the oldest building & oldest Cafe in Jakarta

Day 3: I flew out to Sydney, Australia with AirAsia. Sydney is only a 6 hours flight from Bali but because I was in Jakarta so I had to fly to Bali first then connect to Sydney. The one way ticket was cheap. AirAsia is a low cost airline like Spirit Airline or Ryan Air.

                   Bali

I returned to Indonesia 6 weeks later but to Bali this time around. I flew in from Dili, East Timor – just a two hour flight.

In Bali, I didn’t do all the things you are suppose to do. I didn’t ride an elephant, I didn’t go to the volcano, and I didn’t do ANY yoga. I had two goals for Bali – Sekumpul Waterfalls and Spa. Sekumpul waterfalls is a combination of 7 falls in the forest. And spa because I wanted to pamper myself.

20160715_131404

Abandoned Hotel between Ubud & Singaraja

Day 1 and 2, I just explore the main street/city center. Lots of temples to see, lots of things to buy. I probably over-ate my first two days 🙂 lol. I also bought 6 item of clothing (the two dresses in pics on this post are from Bali).

Day 3, I rented a car with driver service. We went to Singaraja – almost two hours from Ubud. The plan was to see two waterfalls (Sekumpul & Gitgit), and maybe a palace. At least, that was what I thought I agreed to pay for along with a English speaking guide. The tour company sent the guide to pick me up, we proceeded to Singaraja, Gitgit Waterfalls was the first stop. Beautiful, lot of steps to climb on your way up. You actually don’t need a guide here, the trails to the waterfalls are marked and easy to navigate.

20160714_111634

Gitgit Waterfalls

After this, I assumed we were heading to Sekumpul but the guide/driver acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. I insisted, then he asked someone. They spoke in the local language which I don’t understand. He came back and told me Sekumpul was 3 hours away. That didn’t sound right. I was SUPER pissed. I let it go, I would never recommend them.

We left to the Lake Temple. Massive load of tourists. There, 6 different people asked to take pictures with me. They asked nicely and I said yes. I always wonder what they do with the pictures anyway. After the lake temple, we started making our way back to Ubud. Long ride back. In Ubud, we stopped at an agrotourism place where I was educated on different types of tea and coffee. They showed us Luwak coffee, special because the animal swallows the seed, poops it out then they clean and process it. I didn’t try it. I don’t drink Coffee.

20160714_123241

Lake Temple

I searched for another tour operator to take me to Sekumpul. I found one and made arrangement for the next day. I also called a spa place to book an appointment. The reviews on TripAdvisor was great.

Day four in Ubud, Bali – I made the trip to Sekumpul. After the 1.5 hour drive from Ubud, you arrive at Sekempul. There you have the option of taking a motorcycle taxi or walking the whole trail. You can also select to have a guide. I paid for the guide and motorcycle taxi – the cost for that was 130,000IDR (or USD$10). I’m glad I went with that option. The motorcycle ride was about 15 minutes long then you start walking down. You cross a bridge then walk in the pool from the falls to get to the actual waterfalls. The first part, you get to see 4 waterfalls.

20160715_104959

On the walk down to Sekumpul

Then you walk to back and take a turning to where the other falls are located. The walk back was painful. LOTS of steps to climb and uphill walking. I stopped several times to catch my breath. Also I didn’t wear the right shoes, I had on a fashionable sandals that I had to take off because it was apparent I would fall. Yup, I walked in the water barefooted, way better than falling with my slippery sandals.

When we got to where the motorcycle was parked, I tried some local pancakes from the women selling. I am not adventurous with food so this was a big deal for me. The pancakes actually tasted great, green in color and served with coconut and honey – delicious!

I went to the spa later in the evening. I booked a package that included massage and pedicure. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the service. Oh well, I paid equivalent of USD$20 for a 2hour 15 minute service so no big deal.

Day 5, I got to sleep in a bit. My flight was at 2pm so I left Ubud around 11am. On getting to the airport, flight was delayed for 2 hours. It didn’t bother me because I had a long layover in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Sri Lanka.

 

20160715_110711

Sekumpul Waterfalls

5 Things About Indonesia

  1. Although Jakarta is not your regular tourist destination, don’t sleep on it. Explore for a day or two before setting out to other destinations in the country.
  2. Choose your location in Bali wisely. Do you want the beach or are you more keen on cultural? Those types of questions will help you decide where to stay in Bali. I love cultural stuffs so I choose Ubud – the cultural capital of Bali.
  3. You don’t have to book anything in advance. There are tour operator galore when you arrive and you can compare prices. If you are traveling in a group or with someone else, it might be cheaper to rent a car service that comes with a driver.
  4. Everyone and their mama has an hostel, homestay, or bed & breakfast. You don’t have to share rooms in an hostel here. Homestay or the small B&B has reasonable priced private rooms with bathroom en-suite, free wifi and free breakfast. I paid USD$15/night for a private room with bathroom en-suite, free wifi & breakfast and it was walking distance to Ubud center. I booked it via Airbnb, check it out here.
  5. The energy in Bali is dope. The ambiance is amazing. You can be yourself here. Dress anyhow you want. No judgement passed. That was what I loved most about Ubud. The part I didn’t like is everyone will hustle you to buy something from them, take a tour with them, use their taxi service. Sometimes, it gets too much.

Hidden Paradise

To be honest, I only knew about Timor Leste (East Timor) in 2011 when a girl from there enrolled in the graduate program I was pursuing. It’s been on my travel list since then. Timor Leste is a new sovereign country, gained its freedom in 1999. It was a Portuguese colony from the 16th century up until 1975. Indonesia occupied the country from 1975 until 1999. The UN took over until 2002 when Timor Leste became an independent country.

20160707_094042

View while walking to Adara

It wasn’t a peaceful occupation, there was an active conflict between the Indonesian military and the Timor separationists. The official languages in Timor Leste today are Portuguese and Tetum, with Indonesian and English regarded as working languages. So it is not surprising that many Timor Leste citizens grow up speaking 3-4 languages (English, Portuguese, Tetum and Indonesian). The friend I visited speaks all four plus French. Isn’t that awesome! You can read a brief history on Timor Leste on BBC country profile.

IMG-20160711-WA0013

View while climbing to Cristo Rei

Back to my trip, I flew into Dili (the capital) from Darwin, Australia. I didn’t have anything planned for this trip, I was just going to go with the flow. I arrived late in the afternoon, my friend Gabi aka Gabster picked me up from the airport. We later had dinner with two of her friends. We went to a Korean restaurant. Good food and great conversation. One of her friends was opening up a café and invited me to come and chat with her employees so they can practice their English.

Day two in Dili, I went to the Resistance Museum. Very informative and sad at the same time, the museum covers the struggle for independence during the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste. It show a replica of underground hiding cell for the members of the separationist movement who were hunted by the Indonesian military. It tells the story of struggle, minor victories, death, grief and much more. Highly recommended. It reminded me of the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda.

20160708_134344

Some of the products sold at Empresa Di’ak, Atauro

I asked one of the museum staff to call a taxi for me because my phone was acting up. I tried to give her some money to buy more airtime since I used up some of hers (phones are similar to prepaid phone where you have to top up on data plan and airtime minutes) but she refused to accept, saying she just helped me. By the way, that’s one type of love I received from people in Timor Leste.

I took the taxi to the café that Gabster’s friend was opening up. I pretty much spent the rest of the day there. They were cooking lunch when I arrived, they explained how they made it and had lots of questions for me. Later we role played how they were going to serve customers and taking orders. At the end of the day, my admiration for entrepreneurs was re-ignited.

20160706_171433

Rooms at Barry’s Eco Lodge, Atauro

The following day I took the boat to Atauro – another Island in Timor Leste. The sea was very rough, we all got drained in water and the journey took three hours (instead of 1.5 hour). It was scary but we made it. We arrived at Barry’s Eco Lodge. I was pretty nervous because I didn’t know what to expect from the Eco Lodge. Surprisingly, it was basic but clean and welcoming. Electricity is limited so they rely on solar energy which powers the fan and light in your room. Each room comes with a hammock J.

20160707_110812

Relaxing in the Hammock, Mario’s place in Adara

I loved it so much there that I extended my stay by another day. While in Atauro, I visited Adara aka the Mermaid’s town. Adara is on the other side of Beloi (where I was lodging in Atauro). To get there, you can either take a 45mins speedboat for USD$80 or utilize a car ride and walk 2 hours. We took the second option, three of us, all teachers (from Melbourne, Australia; LA, USA & South Texas, USA). The jeep dropped us off where the road stopped, we then had to walk downhill for 1.5 hours. Not bad, except for a part you had to practically crawl down. After that, it’s a 30 minute walk on the beach.

IMG-20160711-WA0017

Another View climbing to Cristo Rei, Dili

We got to Adara, beautiful! I chilled in the hammock. We had lunch at Mario’s and headed back to Beloi around 1.15pm. By then, it was super hot. The 30 minute walk on the beach was painful. Equally painful was most of the walk uphill, I hated the part you had to climb the rocks. The last 25 minutes was good, pretty much just walking on a flat surface with a bit of shade. I took a shower then a nap in the hammock when we got back.

Adara is nicknamed The Mermaid’s Town because of the women divers that live there. The local women all dive and spear fish. They dive without oxygen tank, just eye googles. Check out a video on the women divers of Adara here.

IMG-20160711-WA0020

Taking a break while climbing to Cristo Rei, Dili

Other things I did while in Atauro was visiting Boneca and Empresa Di’ak. Both organizations work with local women and in community development. At Boneca, women make dolls, purses, laptop bag, shirts and so on. With Empresa Di’ak, they sell pottery product made by local women, they also process seaweed, raise ducks and plant garden.

David Palazon made a movie featuring Boneca, pretty funny. You can watch it here. I returned to Dili on Saturday afternoon with the public ferry. Saturday is the market day in Atauro so I got to check that out before leaving.

20160707_104306

Mario’s Place, Adara, Atauro

On Sunday, I went to Cristo Rei (Christ the King), the climb up wasn’t so bad. According to Wikipedia, the stairs are up to 500. I didn’t count them, I was too busy trying to catch my breath. The view is amazing so it’s all worth it. Glad we went in the evening when the sun was setting. During the day would have been too hot. On my last night, I watched the sun set with Gabster –my friend at a beach side restaurant.

 

Timor Leste is more than Dili and Atauro, there are other amazing part of the country I didn’t get to see. But that’s okay, I will be back. This visit was just a glimpse into this hidden paradise.

IMG-20160711-WA0014

Cristo Rei (Christ the King), Dili

5 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Timor Leste

  1. The currency in Timor Leste is the US Dollars however US issued coins are not accepted.
  2. Most people speak four languages – Tetum, Portuguese, English and Indonesian
  3. It’s a fairly new country, their founding fathers are alive.
  4. Tourism infrastructure is so limited which makes traveling in Timor Leste not cheap.
  5. Citizens of Timor Leste are fanatic of the Portugal Soccer team, they go real crazy over Portugal. Watch the reaction when Portugal won the match with France on July 11th, 2016 here. Their cheers won me up that Monday morning.

 

 

Not your typical destination

Commonly confused as a country in Africa (because of Guinea I guess), Papau New Guinea (PNG) is actually in the South Pacific (Oceania continent). It’s less than 2 hours flight from Cairns, Australia. This is not a tourist destination; the majority of folks don’t vacation here. This is probably a result of PNG not enjoying a good reputation plus there is barely any tourist infrastructure in place. This makes hotels pretty expensive since they cater to business travelers. PNG is rich in petroleum.

20160624_122027

Drive to Rouna Waterfalls

Why did I decide to vacation here? Good question. As a child, I watched something that featured PNG and Solomon Island, since then, I’ve been obsessed with the two countries. When the opportunity came around to visit, I decided to act on it. I felt like since I was traveling in the Pacific, I might as well fulfil a childhood dream. I couldn’t add Solomon Island on this trip because the flight were ridiculously expensive for me. Still on my list though #Goals.

Anyways, I flew into Port Moresby (aka POM or Mosby) a day later than planned due to delayed then cancelled flight.

Day 1: I got picked up via a driver my Airbnb host sent. It was early afternoon and super HOT & humid. I loved the view from my bedroom. I called a taxi (host left number for one) to go to the supermarket. Similar to most developing countries, the big supermarket is located in the mall. I did some grocery shopping – simple stuff like bread, butter, water and yogurt (I don’t cook on vacations).

I also negotiated with the taxi for the next day. I wanted to explore without dealing with public transport.

20160623_121951

Nature park

Day 2: Dedicated to exploring Mosby, I left the house around 11.30am. We visited the Nature’s park where they had exhibit of different species in the Kangaroo family. They also have a cultural section and exhibit of birds. The walking trail is pleasant. Proceeded to the Parliament house, the building is has interesting angle to it. I could not capture the beauty with my phone camera sadly.

The museum was the next stop. The museum is officially closed (no funding L) but they will show you around if you show up there. The museum has great varieties of the various ethnicities of PNG. The museum richness is similar to that of Auckland’s museum in terms of south pacific culture.

We went by the national university where some students were killed during a protest against the prime minister two weeks before my visit. My driver took me to a local roadside restaurant to try some local food. It seems that the food is heavy of cassava.

20160624_141539

Port Moresby

The Mosby tour ended at a small craft market in Boroko area of Mosby. Boroko is an historic neighborhood in Mosby. I got some earrings.

Day 3: I decided I needed to sleep in. I was ready to explore by early afternoon. I was excited because we were going to see Rouna Waterfalls. It is located outside the city. We drove for about an hour, the roads gets curvy once you leave the city. The ride is actually beautiful. We finally get to the waterfalls to discover it is closed off to visitors L. I could only admire it from a distance. I went back to Mosby not too pleased. Went to the Ela beach area, the only beach in Mosby.

Day 4: My flight was in the early afternoon so I had time to sleep in.

Should you visit Papau New Guinea? I will say yes. You however need to plan well.

20160624_121358

Rouna Waterfalls

5 Things You Should know about Papau New Guinea Before You Visit

  • Hotels are ridiculously expensive in Port Moresby so you might want to consider Airbnb.
  • It makes so much sense to arrange your taxi with your hotel or Airbnb host beforehand.
  • PNG is not your typical tourist destination hence the need to plan very careful before you visit.
  • Port Moresby is just like any capital city, not much to see in terms of tourist sites. Those beautiful beaches are not in Port Moresby but on other parts of the island that might require you to fly into.
  • Use a tour guide. Tourist infrastructure is limited thus making tour guide your best option.