127 Hours and the Rush of Knowing That No One Knows Where You Are

Things have sort of come to a standstill for me. I have a lot I still need to do before I leave but it seems that with the amount of time I have left, I’m doing a healthy dose of procrastinating now. This after getting so much done the first week.

I took a few hours yesterday to go see the new movie, 127 Hours. I figured as an adventure traveler (not so much a mountain climber) I should probably learn a little bit more about the story of Aron Ralston. I remember reading about him in the news in 2003 when the events occurred that the movie is based on. I watched the movie and then did a little reading about him when I got home to separate the story from Hollywood. I found out it was pretty well close to the real story with only a few changes.

The movie itself was OK. It got a bit trippy at times but that would be expected of a Danny Boyle movie. Especially one that delves into the psychological effects of dehydration, desperation and a man trapped in a situation where he faces almost certain death.

The movie and story itself reminded me of why it is important to make sure close family and friends always know where I am going. It doesn’t make sense to venture off unannounced just for the sake of having that feeling of know one else knowing your whereabouts. As enticing as that can be, it is a selfish act. There is definitely a certain rush attached to it in a sense that you know if something happens you’re on your own. I remember when I was younger and just got my driver’s license I would take off and drive north out of Tampa and just stop at random exits as far out of town as I felt necessary and then start making random turns until I got myself a bit lost. I never succeeded in getting completely lost but it would give me a small sense of adventure.

Mom and dad were fully aware I was in the Sahara

I’ve taken that same desire to get lost and experience new places and put it into a more practical hobby. I try not to blog too much about specific travel routes before I leave for a few reasons. One being, plans always change and pre-planned routes can end up being useless. More importantly though, as my dad suggested after I blogged for Morocco, It is not a good idea to publish exact arrival dates and locations of accommodation online before you arrive at a destination. Chances are slim that someone would read my blog and act on it, but why give anyone with motives to kidnap, the blueprint to locating me?

What I usually do is give a tentative itinerary to my parents and brother and maybe a couple of close friends so that they know the route I intend to take. I do my best to warn of days where I may be out of communication due to the remoteness of my location. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 3-4 days with out some sort of contact. If I hit a new town I like to, at the very least, check in with an email. With Facebook being as convenient as it is I’ll probably just do status updates with new locations.

Unemployed Adventure Seeker (Soon to Be Teacher)

Well, that chapter of the story is over. The money making is done and the preparation is about to enter full swing. I’ve officially left my cubicle job of 9.5 years and plan to never look back. (At least not to the cubicle itself) I said my goodbyes at work and have made some really good friends over the last decade that I’m genuinely going to miss. The job itself had been a difficult grind for awhile, broken up only a few times by vacations and a six month “sabbatical” in 2007. I wouldn’t change any of it and truly feel that I “grew up,” with the company seeing as though I started in 2001 as a 20 year old confused kid not sure what he was going to do.

As the years went on I started really getting the travel itch and after my break in 2007 to to do some backpacking I decided I was going to come back part time and then grind out another 3.5 years of school and work so I can give myself new opportunities. I told myself I can teach, even though in my mind I was overwhelmed by the thought of it. I told myself to take the planning one day at a time and to never try to psyche myself out by thinking too far ahead. After taking a couple of classes where presentations were required and getting to research topics that were interesting to me, I started to build more and more confidence in my ability handle a classroom full of students.

I have quite a bit of items to take care of before I head off but I’ve left myself plenty of free time to do so. Most importantly, I get to spend quality time with family and friends before taking that leap and moving overseas. For those who haven’t been following along I’ll give a brief recap of the plan I have in place so far going forward:

I resigned from my job today, November 12th and will be spending the rest of the year at home here in Tampa. I have to sell my car and get rid of all of my personal belongings. I have to start preparing my documents and paperwork for interviews that I will be going on later in 2011. I’ll tie up all of my loose ends, spend time with family and friends and then…

On January 10, 2011, I will fly one-way from Tampa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where I’ll begin an adventure in the Horn of Africa. I’ll spend a couple of weeks in northern Somalia (Somaliland). My route from here is still up in the air as I’m either going to travel south overland to Kenya or I’m going to fly from Addis Ababa to the Middle East. It all depends on how I feel at any given time. If I’m tired of the rigors of overland African travel or there are safety concerns in the region, then I’ll probably escape to the Middle East.

Either way, at the end of February I plan to make my way to South East Asia, either through Bangkok or Singapore where I’ll get myself settled in before being in the coastal Thai city of Ban Phe to start my training course to become certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). This course begins April 4th and concludes after four weeks. This is where the planning ends and I am at the will of the job market in Asia. In my prior post I talked about all the destinations I wanted to go to and where I hoped to end up, but if I’m being honest with myself, I may not have much of a choice and will probably go where the jobs are. Whether or not that is Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia or somewhere in China… I’ll be ready for it!

Teaching Destination Power Rankings

With only a few days left until I officially take the step into unemployment I’ve been having more and more anxiety about my future and with that has come quite a few dreams related to where I’m going to end up and how I’m going to get there. I decided to put together a list of potential destinations for me to end up by the second quarter of 2011 to teach English and call my new home for a little while.

Much like they do every week in sports, I’ve put together my own Teaching Destination Power Rankings. This is a list of where I would like to end up ranked in order from highest to least likihood. It will be interesting to look back on this post and see where I actually end up.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

1. Hong Kong – My favorite big city in the world. Sorry New York. I don’t know how realistic it is for me to expect to teach and live in Hong Kong on my first attempt but I guess that all depends on the effort I put in and the willingness I have to go for my ultimate goal right away. The pay is decent here and a lot of jobs will provide housing, however it is competitive and I’ve read that jobs for first time teachers can be difficult to come by. Maybe my first teaching contract won’t be here but I’ll end up in Hong Kong eventually.

2. Bangkok, Thailand – It’s funny how Bangkok has become a place more and more likely for me to end up. I wasn’t completely enamored with Bangkok when I was there but I have a couple of friends who live here already. I know the city pretty well since I spent a few weeks there hanging out with another teacher. It just makes sense. I’d like to live somewhere that friends and family could have an easy time visiting and Bangkok provides that. So for a first time experience, the far east “City of Angels” Is looking more and more likely.

3. Chiang Mai, Thailand – If Hong Kong is my favorite big city in the world, Chiang Mai would have to be my favorite little city. This is the city I’ve spent the most time in outside of wherever I’ve lived in the United States. It is quiet and peaceful but also has everything I need. It is only a night train ride from Bangkok and offers a unique Northern Thai experience. Teaching won’t be any easier here but living might be, compared to some of the bigger cities.

4. Jakarta, Indonesia – Indonesia used to be at the top of my list of living destinations as I was always fascinated with its internal dangers. Either from political/religious turmoil or from natural disasters. As I’ve grown a little older and learned more about the world I’ve found that Indonesia doesn’t present the danger from within that headlines liked to tell about. The natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and volcano eruptions sure do attract my adventurous side though. Also, I have a contact in Jakarta that might be able to help me find a teaching job so that could make it a sensible first teaching experience.

5. Any outlying town or city in Thailand – There is a strong chance that finding work in either Bangkok or Chiang Mai will be nearly impossible so I have to keep my options open. If I want to teach in Thailand I may have to start out working outside of some of the majors towns and cities and find work in outlying areas. This could still be really interesting but not exactly the type of place I’d want to stay in for the long hall. It would more of a stepping stone in getting better jobs in the big cities.



6. Anywhere in Japan – I had originally thought that Japan would be boring but the more I think of it the more interesting it becomes. Like Hong Kong, teaching in Japan can be difficult for those with little experience and more importantly Japan looks for teachers who already have experience teaching in the country. I’ve never been to Japan nor do I have any real idea what the culture is about so I am probably behind the curve with this one. That being said, I hear teachers are treated very well and learning Japanese would be a huge plus!

8. Any big city in mainland China or Taiwan – This, along with (see below) Korea may be one of my best opportunities to teach English. I’ve read that jobs are easier to come by if I’m willing to live in China. I just don’t feel that interested in doing so. Unless a really good opportunity came availabie in Shanghai or Taipei it is unlikely I’ll want to end up here.

9. South Korea – From what I’ve read about English teaching jobs in Asia it seems as though Korea is the hotspot. Korea tends to have the highest paying jobs and more importantly, lots of openings. Housing is usually paid for so the ability to save money while working is far greater here. The problem for me is, I just don’t really have the interest in living in South Korea. I’m not sure why, but it just doesn’t draw me to it. The climate is a factor as well since I’m looking to live somewhere that doesn’t get too cold. It snows in South Korea sometimes and that just won’t work for me. Obviously, if it came down to it I’d take a job here but I’d have to try real hard to get myself excited about it.

10. Medellin, Colombia – This one is a bit of a stretch. I’m not really interested in teaching in South America right now but I certainly won’t ignore it entirely. If finding work in Asia proves difficult I will probably end up looking towards Medellin. I know it’s a place I could live and it is really close to home. As much as I want to travel to distant places and be away from home, it would be a huge plus to only be a 3.5 hour plane flight from family and friends. I’m sure my mom would like this one!

11. Somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa – I like where life is taking me right now and ever since 2005 I’ve had a general idea of what I want to do. I try to stay away from having specific goals but instead broader ideas of where I want to go and what I want to do. Living and working in Africa has always been in the back of my mind as something I have to do at some point before I die. I don’t think I’m ready right now to make that kind of a change, but after a few years in Asia I’ll be more prepared to take that step. It is very unlikely I will look for jobs in Africa right now but I do see a path that leads me through the Peace Corps before returning home. With my experience teaching English in Asia I should be able to give two years service and after doing so I can return home and teach in the United States. Teaching in the Peace Corps would benefit me because the state of Florida requires that teachers be certified before they enter the classroom but that requirement can be waived after two years service in the corps. This is the least likely destination for me right now but definitely a major goal of mine.

Times they are a Changing

There is a lot of change in the air right now. The drop in humidity in Florida over the last week has been absolutely fantastic. The NFL and college football seasons are getting into full swing. Add to that all the Halloween decorations starting to be put up, it is undoubtedly “that time of year,” again. Pretty soon we’ll be able to open the windows in our houses and not have to adjust the AC settings in our cars. This time of year is the reason why people live in the state of Florida.

Change for me however, isn’t just in the temperature and the vibe. I found out this week that there will be some adjustments at my work that are going to effect my schedule. I’ve decide instead of being part of the change at work I’ll just leave a little bit sooner than I had originally planned. My resignation date was November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving. The changes at work take effect in the middle of the month so I am going to resign on November 12th. This means more time unemployed before heading overseas which also means I have to be creative with my money. This slight adjustment by about 12 days from my original plan isn’t that big of a difference but it has certainly brought me into the reality that life is about to change for me and the whirlwind is merely weeks away. Anticipation is winding down and experience is getting ready to kick in.

This also frees up some more time to do some pre-travel traveling. I’m currently working out a plan to spend a few weeks, maybe even an entire month in Central America. I’ll probably work that plan out this coming week.

It’s official, Back to the Horn of Africa

Well, I can officially add “buying a one-way flight to Ethiopia,” to the list of things that younger Joey would never have thought that adult Joey would do in his life. Hell, I even remember at 23, sitting in front of my computer reading about backpacking in Europe and getting myself worked up over the overwhelming nature of the whole idea.

So here is the plan. I work till November 24th. I’m going to spend the holidays here in Tampa with my family, tying up any loose ends before heading across the Atlantic on January 10th. I’ll spend a few days in Addis Ababa securing a visa for travel into Somalia. I wrote a few papers on Somalia at USF and gained an intriguing perspective on the country as a whole. I found that there are two Somalia’s.

To the south there is the war-torn, failed state fought over by the Islamic Courts, the western-backed transitional government and clan-loyal warlords. This is the chaotic Somalia that you hear about in the news when the media decides they want to report on a recent pirate attack in the Indian Ocean or the Gulf of Aden.

Thank You http://magicstatistics.com/ for the map of Somalia

Thank You http://magicstatistics.com/ for the map of Somalia

Then, to the north, you have the self-proclaimed independent state of Somaliland, the former British Somalia. Somaliland, while in the territorial boundaries of Somalia proper, is a destination that begs to be explored as it is self-contained and has a fully functioning government separate from that of its southern counterpart. Everything I’ve read about Somaliland intrigues me. It is a democracy that is flourishing without the support of the western world. Because Somaliland goes unrecognized by the international community, very little aid (if any at all) reaches the people. They have found a way to function on their own with a blend of elder Islamic tradition and western style democracy. I have a unique opportunity to visit a country that is not yet a country and to experience a nation in its infancy. It’s going to be tough because there is very little tourist infrastructure but I can’t pass up this opportunity.

After spending a few weeks in Somaliland, and scratching “Put my feet in the Gulf of Aden,” off my list of things to do before I die, I’ll head south from Ethiopia into Kenya overland and fly from Nairobi to Bangkok in time to settle in before taking my TEFL certification course in Ban Phe.

4 Travel Regrets That I Don’t Actually Regret

It sounds contradictory, I know. I often think about those experiences I may have missed on the road or things I got myself involved in that looking back, I wish I hadn’t. I’m not one of those people who think that everything happens for a reason or that there is any rhyme or reason at all to what we do in this world. That being said, I think it is good to look for positives in the negative experiences we go through, as well as inspiration from those missed chances.

Such a beautiful canal. Too bad I missed it.

1. Sleeping on the tour bus during our stop at the Corinth Canal: In 1996 my mom took me on a two week tour of Italy and Greece. This was my first real travel experience. We did a whirlwind tour of Rome, Florence and Venice before heading off to Greece. I loved Greek mythology and couldn’t wait to get to Athens to see the Parthenon. The only problem was, by this time I was already starting to get worn down from the long bus rides between cities and since the tour bus was generally pretty empty there was plenty of room to spread out and take naps. As a teenager, and still today, there was nothing I loved more than a nice long afternoon nap. I took that nap right through our stop at one of the most impressive ancient engineering feats the world has seen. The canal that separated mainland Greece and Peloponnesia. My mom tried waking me up but I refused as if the canal was my first period math class that I didn’t want to go to. To this day my mom never lets me forget how incredibly lazy I was that afternoon.

Why I don’t regret it: If it wasn’t for that day festering in the back of my mind all the time, I would have missed out on a lot of experiences because I was too tired to get motivated. I would have missed out on the St. Charles Bridge in Prague at sunrise. I would never have woken up at 4am to catch a train into the city center to enjoy the bridge virtually by myself as the sun rose above the spirals of the old town. Who knows, I might have also missed a flight or two by now if sleep was more important than making it to the next city.

2. Getting on that moped in Ko Pha Ngan: I arrived to the party island of Ko Pha Ngan at night after a three hour ferry ride from the mainland of Thailand. Ko Pha Ngan is known for its Full Moon parties which are basically giant raves on the beach. The island is also known for its moped accidents. I arrived three days before the next Full Moon party started so most of the accommodation right on the party beaches were full. I ended up staying a few miles down the coast of the island which were accessible by either rickshaws or moped. I actually went out to the moped rental shop pretty shortly after arriving but since I had a few beers on the ferry, and I have absolutely no experience on a moped, I decided to wait till the morning. The next morning I headed back to the rental shop and picked out a nice red moped and headed off for Hat Ryn Beach to check it out. Ko Pha Ngan is a beautiful island but it the roads are dangerous. I kind of had an idea of what to expect but due to my lack of experience on a moped I was still very careful. I think my over carefulness and stiffness is what did me. Just after about ten minutes of some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen and feeling on top of the world, I turned a corner going down hill and essentially froze up my hands and broke too hard, flying off the front end of the moped and sliding over some dirt, sand and concrete only stopping as I inched towards a rock. I suffered second degree burns on my legs which are scarred to this day. I had to pay for the damages on the moped. I spent the remainder of my time in Ko Pha Ngan miserable and hot getting only short breaks from the pain while I was in the doctor’s office being cared for by the incredibly sweet Thai nurses who would re-wrap my bandages. I eventually left the island and headed for the mainland to Bangkok and on to Chiang Mai where I spent most of my recovery time. Only problems is, I really never recovered. Because I was in the tropics and constantly on foot, in danger of getting the wounds wet, they never really healed fully. It wasn’t until I returned home that the sores closed up entirely. All in all, I could have looked back at this and said it ruined my entire trip.

How could I regret being looked after by these two nurses?

How could I regret being looked after by these two nurses?

Why I don’t regret it: Chicks dig scars. Seriously though, I think this experience has given me a healthy dose of reality. I’m not invincible. In a kind of eerie way, my last blog post the day before the accident was about how I’m not afraid of anything and how dangers are often only perceived. While that post was more about the dangers I can’t control, like random acts of violence or terrorism, it still hit close to home when I looked back at how arrogant I might have been. While I will never shy away from an activity just because it might be a little dangerous, I will at least have a little more hesitation and assess a situation closer before diving in. Getting on a moped for the first time on an island notorious for taking out travelers was certainly reckless on my part. That being said, It is an experience that may save my life some day.

3. Not going to the Colombian national soccer final in Medellin while I was there: This one hurt pretty bad. I had spent the two days prior to the “Catergoria Premier A” championship game between Independiente Medellín and Atletico Huila. The second leg of the aggregate final (two legs with scores combined) was held at the national stadium in Medellin on Sunday night during my week stay in the City of Eternal Spring. Two nights earlier Medellin took a lead over Huila and the city was in shutdown party mode. I had originally thought the tournament was over because of how electrified the city became after the first match. Myself and a couple of other guys took to the streets to find a place to join the festivities. The streets were filled with Medellin youth waving their flags, singing, and chanting. I kept thinking back at when my Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2003 and how we partied in the streets. It was a different vibe this night though. It was so intense and the streets were literally flooded with the red and blue of Independiente’s colors. Mind you, this was only the first match still.

Colombians Love Their Football!

Fast forward to Sunday night and we watched the final at the bar of Tiger Paw Hostel in El Poblado (an upscale and safe district of Medellin). A couple of us had talked about going to the final but things never really panned out. Later that night, once Independiente put the nail in the coffin of Huila, Medellin erupted. I thought Friday night was intense but it was nothing close. The sounds of fireworks, whistles and horns that reverberated through the valley were awesome. I was already a bit tired from the Thursday to Saturday stretch in Medellin that kept me up till the late hours either dancing to house music or Latin rock-n-roll. Those Paisas in Medellin LOVE house music.

A few hours passed and a couple of other guests at the hostel I was staying out came back in jerseys they purchased at the match. A whole group of them made it out to the stadium, bought tickets and experienced the excitement first hand. I was disappointed in myself for not being more vocal around the hostel to let people know I was interested. I didn’t really build a relationship with the guys that ended up going but that shouldn’t have stopped me. I shouldn’t have been so hesitant to spear-head my own mission to the stadium. It isn’t like I’ve never shown up to a sporting event minutes before and gotten a ticket. I guess the idea of football in South America gave me a bit of hesitation. Especially considering Colombia was the country that was so angry at a 1994 World Cup own goal that someone murdered a player. OK, in all fairness that is not and should not be a representation of Colombia. In fact, out of all the places I’ve been Colombia has to rank towards the top for the generosity and kindness of the people.

Why I don’t regret it: Are you kidding me? Of course I regret it. That being said, this article is about finding the positives in perceived regrets. I don’t know, I’ve always considered myself pretty spontaneous and I was disappointed, after the fact, that I didn’t do more to get it done I had it in my head that it wasn’t a smart idea and it would be too difficult to pull off, yet only hours after a ton of other travelers went and did it and had a story to tell. Next time I’m in that position I’m going to have to dig a little deeper. I do not ever want to miss another opportunity to experience something unique. So often we follow the same trails blazed by travelers before us, either laid out for us in a guide book or through word of mouth. I had an opportunity to attend the biggest match of the year in the city that was hosting it for what would have amounted to maybe $100 total, and I passed it up. Never again. Lesson learned.

4. Spending a weekend at Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong:
What a terribly wonderful place. Chungking Mansions, located at the southern tip of Kowloon in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, is well known for its cross cultural, diverse and seedy atmosphere. Chungking is a mostly residential complex but is also well known on the travel route as the cheapest accommodation you can find in Hong Kong. There is a reason this place comes as cheap as it does. It is an absolute fire hazard and the room you find yourself sleeping in is rarely larger than the bed itself. My first night was spent in a room no larger than a walk-in closet. Upon exiting the elevator to the floor my guest house was on I was greeted with writing on the wall that said, “No Jews, U.S.A., U.K.” Chungking Mansions were also featured in an episode of Locked Up Abroad where some travelers were caught up in a Nepalese gold smuggling scheme. Chungking is a miserable yet endearing bottleneck of travelers, transients and immigrants. There is a large presence of Africans, Indians and Arabs alongside Chinese and other South Asian nationalities. It can be quite intimidating upon first arrival and I imagine some travelers turn back immediately and opt for a more pleasant resting spot during their stay in Hong Kong.

A bit unnerving

You'd like me to turn back now wouldn't you?

Why I don’t regret it: This is exactly why I travel. I want to experience things that put me outside of my comfort zone. I’ll admit, I was shocked by my guidebook’s recommendation of Chungking Mansions as a decent spot to find accommodation. The welcome, “no U.S.A.” graffiti on the wall of my floor made it clear that at some point someone didn’t want me. It was unnerving but eye-opening at the same time. As a white male now entering my 30’s, it is rare that I get to experience race or nationality based discrimination. That’s an experience I probably won’t ever experience again at home in the United States. I spent a total of four nights in Chungking Mansions and did eventually find a more roomy guesthouse. I value the experience and I hope to return to Hong Kong to teach someday. And who knows, I may end up back at Chungking Mansions for a few weeks while I get on my feet. Everyone should experience it at least once!

Flashback: I Saw Africa Today

(From my 2007 trip to Ethiopia)

Bus Ride From Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar

Well, I’ve arrived in Bahir Dar. Think Daytona Beach, but set in Africa. It lies on the southern end of Ethiopia’s largest lake. Lake Tana. The journey here was long but well worth it. I finally left the dusty, sprawling and noisy confines of the capital and have arrived at my lake side hotel. It is a rather large room with twin beds sitting next to the hotel’s terrace restaurant. It seems like just when I’m getting down about everything and feeling like I’m going to suffocate in my own travels, along comes an experience like today. Four days in two of Africa’s largest cities (Nairobi, Addis Ababa) was enough for me and now I can relax.

The journey started very early this morning at 4:30am. I was told that a driver would be in front of the hotel to pick me up. A 4WD arrived at about 5am and we took off. I thought I was going to be the only one on this trip but that is not the African way. The vehicle was soon packed with 7 Ethiopian’s all on a journey north to the city of Gondar. I was to be let off in the town of Bahir Dar before they continued on. At the time I didn’t know it but the journey took about nine hours. We left Addis Ababa and after only about a three minute drive we were suddenly in the mountains. The sun crept up after an hour or so and I finally got to see the countryside I had been waiting for. Rolling hills with huts scattered along the landscape. Although I thought it would be greener than it was, apparently it is dry season right now.

Ethiopian Countryside

Ethiopian Countryside

Along the side of the road you could see small villages, farmers and herders getting to work early. We stopped to stretch our legs in a small town near the Blue Nile Gorge. Here comes the “faranji frenzy” (or “foreigner frenzy”). I was warned about it but you really don’t expect it to be as uncomfortable as it is till you experience it. We stepped out of the car and immediately a crowd of Ethiopian children came up to it and looked inside, around, and underneath the car then all eyes turned to me. It seems as though every person on this specific block was staring at me. This is not the polite glance back and forth type either. One teenager stood no more than five feet away stared endlessly at me. I looked off in the distance and the same for the elders. I was strange. I am sure I was not the first white person to pass through this town because it is on the way to some places frequented by tourists but I guess the novelty never wears off. It is uncomfortable at first but after a few stops I decide to make sure I kept a smile on my face and waved. The small kids LOVE to wave.

The scenery on the way was fantastic. Although, while it was similar to, it does not have the colors that Morocco had. Our driver was driving fast and a few times I thought we were going to collide head on with buses traveling the other direction. This another one of those things that you learn to get used to after enough time traveling in the developing world.

After the Blue Nile Gorge the trip can be taken two different ways. A smooth paved road that takes longer or a bumpy back road that is much quicker but still several hours. Our driver took the bumpy, and I imagine, more scenic route. It seemed like we were passing through backyards and I swear some of the roads were paved in dung. We did not go more than a minute or two without seeing people. Civilization is everywhere in Ethiopia, however limited and poor it may seem. And that is just the thing, they don’t LOOK poor. It is just rural farming and very basic housing. I imagine it is not much worse than having a nice little shack to camp in. The problem is that is how it looks superficially and when the rains don’t fall and crops don’t grow, the people suffer.

I came to the conclusion that I enjoy rural Ethiopia much more. We stopped to use the bathroom (pee off a cliff on the side of a road) right near these huts. It was no development, no neighborhood, just a family who lived in that area. The children that came up to us didn’t stare but they smiled and played and laughed and tried to talk to me. It seemed I got more attention than the others in the vehicle but even they were stared at. Imagine living a simple life herding sheep and every couple of hours a huge, loud and dusty white monster comes barrel-assing down the hills then suddenly seven people jump out. I would be curious too.

Lake Tana

Lake Tana

Fast forward a few more hours and we arrived in the last town before Bahir Dar. The driver was apparently supposed to pick up his manager and bring him here but he never showed up so we were hanging out for about twenty minutes. I was a bit uncomfortable at first because this was the type of area where the people just stared. Then one of them came up to me. He was probably in his early 20’s or late teens. He asked me where I came from. Of course, as I tell everyone, without shame “the U.S.A.” He introduced himself with a hand shake and a name I can’t remember and told me that he is muslim but doesn’t like what Bin Laden is doing and that he and his friends were on our side. I didn’t know how to respond to it really other than to say thank you. He then ran off with his friends chewing on sugar cane like all of them seem to do.

We finally arrived where I am now and it is so refreshing. I haven’t gotten around to taking many photos, but as soon as I do, and when I can get to a connection that is faster than here, I will show you. Tomorrow I should be visiting some of the island Christian monasteries scattered on Lake Tana. I’m excited to be able to use my mosquito net for the first time, I heard the bugs here are vicious.

Time for some more macchiatos (Italy occupied Ethiopia for a few years so they have great cafes)