A Travel Nightmare in Cairo

Getting around Cairo in a car was an experience. No city that I have visited thus far would compare. Most of the street lanes were unlined, and drivers somehow turned two lanes into four. Cars were going in the wrong direction, and it didn’t appear that anyone obeyed the light signals. Honking was continuous, and traffic was around-the-clock. Donkey carriages and pedestrians battled with cars for the right of way, and small scooters squeezed between cars and sped ahead. I was amused by it all. Thankfully, I had a skilled personal driver included in my tour of Cairo, so everything went as smoothly as it could have in a city of 20 million people where four million cars are on the road. Things were hectic, but I felt safe in the back seat with my driver handling it all.

On my last day in Cairo, I had a free day to explore on my own. I decided to spend my day in the Zamalek district visiting a few art galleries, doing a bit of shopping, and having a nice dinner with Nile River views. Uber and Careem were available in Cairo, so I used those apps to get to Zamalek instead of a regular taxi since I feared getting ripped off or having to argue forcefully with a regular taxi. Careem seemed to take longer to arrive, so I used Uber both times.

On the way to Zamalek, I had to close my eyes and believe I would make it to my destination unscathed. It was a long and excruciating drive from my hotel in Giza. At some point the driver entered onto this weirdly designed ramp that looked like it was a one-way. I stared ahead confusedly as he drove up the curved ramp only to see two large trucks speeding down the ramp toward us. I immediately realized the reason the ramp looked like it was weirdly designed. We were ENTERING the highway from the one-way EXIT ramp. Had we gone in the right direction, it would have looked perfectly normal. Somehow, we avoided a collision and the driver entered onto the main highway and proceeded like we didn’t almost die.

That wasn’t even the worst of it. Continue reading

Interactions in Cairo

The hustle in Cairo is no joke! Be careful.

That was the warning I heard constantly from others who had previously visited the city. They told me stories of Egyptians pretending to assist them, then flipping the script and demanding large sums of money for doing almost nothing. Hustles were at the airport, restaurants, tourist sites, souks, and hotels. I couldn’t trust the children. If I handed over my camera to get anyone to take a photo of me, I might not get it back without having to pay a large fee. Painted wood and other cheap materials were being passed off as authentic alabaster. There would be a fee to use the bathroom in the airport. They would attempt to charge entry fees multiple times for places that should be free.  I was expecting people to be rude, aggressive, and aggravating.

Part of me understood. Egypt relies heavily on tourism, but the impact of terrorism has plummeted the industry. The media coverage hasn’t been positive since the Revolution. Many people in the tourism industry weren’t able to support themselves and their families in the same way they previously could. Tourism was down, but those bills didn’t stop. Money needed to come by any means necessary. My tour guide dealt with the questions of safety so much, he started his own #EgyptIsSafe campaign to attract visitors.

With all of those warnings in the back of my head, I walked off the plane wearing my resting bitch face in preparation for the shenanigans that would ensue. In addition to this, I had lots of single dollar bills for tips in my wallet. The concept of handing over money for the most ridiculous reasons wouldn’t feel so annoying since I added “tipping for existing” to my budget.

My interactions in Cairo were mostly pleasant, but I won’t pretend it was all great. When I left my hotel on the first day to buy juice and snacks at the convenience store a few blocks away, I was followed by a man who was trying to get my attention. Continue reading

Welcome to Egypt

It took me three hours to make it out of Cairo’s airport. It was the longest time I have ever spent upon arrive in an airport, and an unexpected reality after traveling for 21 hours. My Emirates flight arrived from Dubai at 11:45 PM, and several other international flights landed within an hour of that time. That meant there were hundreds of people gathered in lines trying to get through immigration. It doesn’t appear that Cairo’s airport has established a method to expedite this process, but there was a separate line for diplomats and other VIPs that had zero wait time. There were over 30 lanes available, but only five officers working. I felt like I was at Walmart.

The wifi in the airport is limited to 30 minutes, and one has to provide an access code that is sent via text in order to connect. Well, my phone was not working in Cairo at all so there was no way for me to receive a text with a code that would allow me to connect to the airport wifi for 30 minutes in order to let my driver know that things were moving very slow at passport control. I was so afraid that he would leave after assuming I didn’t show up. Then I would have to fend for myself and negotiate a taxi to my hotel, a thought that gave me anxiety. Continue reading

A Day Trip to Quilotoa Lagoon

Quilotoa Crater Lake in Ecuador

Quilotoa Lagoon.

Do not recommend.

Never again.

Here’s the thing about my day trip to Quilotoa Lagoon in Ecuador: it was not a pleasant experience.

Our group reached the site and started the hike down to the crater lake. The guide said the hike down would take about 40 minutes to an hour, and I got down in about 45 minutes. This hike down wasn’t difficult, but some areas sloped more than others. I had to keep my knees bent while walking, and I was so worried about falling despite wearing hiking boots. There were a lot of people walking in both directions, and we also had to share the path with several stubborn mules and their poop.

The landscape during the hike down was stunning despite it being a hazy day at the site. Quilotoa is a dormant volcano in the Andes Mountains that had eight major eruptions in the past 200,000 years. The last eruption  was over 700 years ago and created the impressive caldera that is now filled with greenish water.

Once I reached the bottom of the lagoon, I was able to see more of the lake’s greenish color. A few people were jumping into the lake, while some others were kayaking. The water was cold, so only the wild and crazy teenaged boys were jumping into the lake. I took a seat on the bench to absorb it all, but not much time passed before I needed to head back up. One of the unfortunate points about booking a tour is that I didn’t have the time to explore at my own leisure, so I felt rushed. There wasn’t enough time for me to let it all sink in. Continue reading

Peru Won My Heart

I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with Peru, yet here we are. February was one of the worst months to visit certain areas of the country due to rainy season, but I booked the flights prior to knowing. When I discovered this, I got concerned. My research originally told me that it would be the perfect time to visit Lima, the only Peruvian city I planned to visit at the time. I later added some extra time to my visit, and was able to get to Cusco and Aguascalientes. Would you believe that I only experienced five minutes of rain my entire trip? The travel gods were on my side! Here were some of my highlights.

Food

I didn’t have a bad meal in Peru. My notable favorites were Arroz con Mariscos and Ceviche at Cafe Morena in Cusco, and churros at LA73 in Lima. I had coca tea with every meal in Cusco because I was concerned with altitude sickness, but I transitioned to pisco sours with every meal once I reached the lower altitude in Lima! I enjoyed chifa (Chinese cuisine with a Peruvian twist), but I didn’t have the nerve to try cuy (guinea pig).

Art

In Lima, I booked a street art tour of the Barranco neighborhood with Tailored Tours Peru. Brenda was a bright and fabulous guide who knew the history of the street art and the artists that completed the work. We wandered around Barranco, a hip neighborhood with bohemian vibes that some refer to as Lima’s Brooklyn. I loved the energy of the neighborhood and the art surrounding it. It was where I chose to stay in during my visit, and despite feeling safe while there, Barranco is still in progress. We witnessed a fight on one of the streets involving about three men and a woman, and a woman walked out of her home to make sure we knew to be careful with showing off our camera.

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A Quick Trip to Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe carnavalI won’t lie. Guadeloupe wasn’t on my radar at all. I was looking for something to replace my cancelled group trip to Haiti when the opportunity to visit the butterfly-shaped country came along. I spent a short time doing some preliminary research on it’s safety, how easy it was to navigate, and how expensive it would be to visit. Once I was comfortable with the information I received, I booked.

Guadeloupe is a part of the French West Indies, and is made up of several islands. Because of timing, I only visited Grand Terre, but I would love to return to visit other islands in the country – especially Basse Terre for the hiking and waterfalls.

My first day began early as I departed my Airbnb in Le Gosier and headed to Pointe des Châteaux, located at the southeast tip of Grand Terre. It was raining lightly when I arrived, which may have been the reason why there were so few people around. I didn’t expect any crowds, but I imagined that there would be more than a handful of other people. By the time I got out of my rental car and crossed the street to begin the trek to the hilltop, the rain had stopped. I reached the hilltop quickly and captured some of the most breathtaking views.

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Departing Pointe des Châteaux, I drove to St. Anne based on the recommendation of my Airbnb host. Apparently St. Anne beach is the place to be on Sundays, as the locals and tourists like to party all day long. I stopped at a local grocery store to purchase a baguette, cheese, and ham for my lunch on the beach, then found a spot at the beach to relax. I may have had Pointe des Châteaux mostly to myself, but that beach was full of French tourists and their Speedos. Although beautiful, St. Anne’s beach was a bit too touristy for me that day.

 

After baking in the sun for a few hours, I walked from the beach to the main road for the biggest event of the day – one of many parades that lead up to Carnaval. Undeniably, this was the highlight of my visit. Groups from all of the islands flocked to St. Anne for this celebration, and I can only imagine the energy on the day of Carnaval. The costumes were beautiful, the music was blasting, and everyone was having a great time. The parade went beyond nightfall and the party continued to Pointe-á-Pitre. Instead of following the crowd to the country’s largest city, I called it a night and headed back to Le Gosier.

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The next day began with a drive northward to Petit-Canal. Here was Les Marches Aux Esclaves, the March of Slaves. The monument commemorates the permanent abolition of slavery, but no current evidence can confirm that slaves walked from the slave ship and up those steps. The scene was powerful nonetheless. From the top of the steps, one can view the ocean just a short walk away.

DSC_0082March of Slaves

In my travels across the Americas, I find it interesting that damn-near every nation abolished slavery years before the United States did. Guadeloupe abolished slavery in 1794, but it was reinstated in 1802, despite a strong fight against the French by Louis Delgrès and his troops. Slavery wasn’t permanently banned there until 1848, but that’s still decades earlier the U.S. There location has a bust of Louis Delgrès to honor his fight against the French.

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On the way back from Petit-Canal, I came across a fascinating site – Cimetière de Morne-à-l’eau. This was a black and white, checkered cemetery near a roundabout in Morne-À-l’Eau, and I had to pull over because I had never seen anything quite like it. It was beginning to rain, so I snapped a few photos and headed back to my rental car.

Cimetière de Morne-à-l'eau

I made my way to Pointe-á-Pitre to stroll the streets and grab some dinner. The streets were narrow and it took me a while to find a parking spot. I eventually found a spot next to a man selling musical instruments made from a conch shell. Vendors in the main square were selling fresh produce, fish, and spices. I browsed the small shops selling clothing, shoes, and souvenirs. A few locals tried to start a conversation with me, but my French is nonexistent, and Google Translate was to much of a burden to even try to use. I just smiled.

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I noticed newly-opened Mémorial ACTe, a contemporary museum that focuses on the slave history of Guadeloupe and its indigenous peoples. It was closed that day, but I would have loved to visit. Overall, I left unimpressed with Pointe-á-Pitre, and relieved by the fact that I chose not to purchase lodging there. There was no particular reason for me to have those feelings, but it felt more lifeless than St. Anne or Le Gosier, despite being the biggest city.

The following day began lazily. It also ended lazily because that’s what one does on a gorgeous island. I lounged around my Airbnb for a while and chilled outside in a hammock before deciding to drive to the marina for a leisure stroll and lunch. Not to much was happening there, so I grabbed a few snacks, thought about going to the beach, decided against it, and headed back to my Airbnb for more hammocking.

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My only regret about Guadeloupe is that I didn’t stay longer. Because the country wasn’t on my radar, I was unaware of the greatness that awaited me on the small island. A second visit is needed for me to spend more time gallivanting across each of the islands, and I would love to do it during Carnaval week.

 

Montreal: A Failure

Notre-Dame Basilica in MontrealMontreal was… let’s just say I need a do over. I believe it’s a great city, but things didn’t go well for me. My intentions were to check out the street art scene and stroll aimlessly through the neighborhoods – stopping whenever something caught my eye. But, it was a cold weekend in early November. The weather was supposed to be a bit warmer and more tolerable for my Louisiana blood, but Mother Nature had jokes that week. I wasn’t interested in being out in those below freezing temperatures, yet a lot of the things I wanted to do involved being outside.

Well, uhhh, what was I going to do now?!

I spent half of my first day buying supplies that I failed to pack in my luggage – a lock for my locker at the hostel, an adapter for my headphones, and a hat to keep the wind from blowing in my ears. Since I was in the area, I decided to walk up Mont Royal to get some of the best views of the city. That probably wasn’t the best decision for my current physical shape, which is the worst shape of my life. Honestly, I’m just a hot mess in every aspect of my life. I somehow made it to the top after taking several short breaks and allowing the various other tourists to pass me by. This trek was worse than when I was sick at Teotihuacan. The cold and windy weather didn’t help at all, and I wasn’t wearing gloves for some idiotic reason. Add that to the fact that I didn’t have any water with me, and I had only eaten a slice and a half of toast earlier that morning. Again, it just wasn’t my best idea. Continue reading

The Charm of Dublin

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Ireland isn’t on a lot of people’s wish lists, but I was eager to see the beauty of the country. After strutting my way through Amsterdam and Bruges, I made my way to Dublin on RyanAir. RyanAir probably wasn’t my best idea. It was a short trip, and I didn’t have any problems with being overcharged for luggage, but I couldn’t even find the check-in counter. Since I spent so much time walking around the terminal searching for it, I had to rush through the rest of Amsterdam’s airport with no time to take a break in a lounge.

Once, I arrived, I used Aircoach to get to my hotel in Ballsbridge. It was pretty simple, and I didn’t have to book in advance. Once I stepped out of the airport, they were located right out front and to the left. I told them where I was going, paid for my ticket, and waited about ten minutes for the bus to arrive. It cost €14 roundtrip, and there was a space under the bus to store the heavy luggage. The bus wasn’t crowded at all, and was pretty quiet. There was wifi, and a charging port.

One thing worth noting is that Ireland drives on the left side of the road. My brain never quite adapted to it, and I was always looking in the wrong lanes before I crossed the street. There was no way that I would have been able to drive in that country, but I noticed that a lot of travel packages to Ireland come with a rental car.

Navigating Ireland was pretty easy to do without a car. I mainly used the bus and taxis. There was a specific Leap card for tourists, which provided access to the buses and metro. The problem with this was it was only sold at certain places, and all of those places close around 5 pm. I wasn’t able to obtain one until my third day in Dublin because of this. The first day, I arrived right after it had closed. I spent my second day at the Cliffs of Moher, so wasn’t able to get it then either. They offer 1-, 3-, and 7-day cards, but I would do the math first to determine if it is even worth it. ​The buses run regularly, and I never had to wait more than five minutes for one to arrive. They were all pretty full, but not extremely crowded. I always had a seat.

Since, I couldn’t get a Leap visitor card, I chose to walk on the first two days. Sure, I could have taken a taxi, but my feet worked just fine. I strolled from Ballsbridge down to Temple Bar on my first night in the city. taking everything in. Dublin really is a gorgeous city. I did a musical pub crawl that first night. The concept was just what one would expect – traditional Irish music and several pints of beer at local pubs. There was even a special riverdance performance. I don’t drink beer, but I think I would have been more impressed if I did. Continue reading

A Day Trip to Cliffs of Moher

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When I saw a photo of the Cliffs of Moher, I knew I needed to visit Ireland. It was just beautiful, and I wanted to witness it for myself. While I was in Dublin, booked the Cliffs Of Moher, Atlantic Edge Ocean Walk & Galway City Day Tour with Wild Rover tours. The bus was equipped with wifi, and our guide was entertaining. He walked down the bus and chatted with every passenger. We spoke for a while about the beauty of Haiti, and the time he got high in Jamaica and almost missed his bus.

They don’t mention this in the tour description, but we stopped for a break at the Obama gas station before we arrived at the cliffs. I didn’t know this was a thing, as I was entertained by the fact that it existed in the Irish countryside.

When we arrived at the cliffs, our tour guide recommended that we walk to the area with the best view right away in case the weather worsens. The hazy fog blocked any clear view of the cliffs, and I was disappointed because that was the most convincing reason for me to visit Ireland. I kept walking along the trail, glancing at the sky every once in a while. The haze was moving slowly, but I could tell that clear skies were approaching.

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A Day Tour to Northern Ireland

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I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t know Northern Ireland was a part of the U.K. and not Ireland. So when our tour bus was halfway to our destination, I was surprised to hear the tour guide announce something about having our passports. My heart sunk immediately because I didn’t bring it. I’m usually good about these types of things, but I didn’t know it was needed. What were they going to do? Throw me off the bus at the border? Shouldn’t that have been something they checked before I even got on the tour bus?

“Oh, shit!” the guy seated next to me exclaimed as he turned to his wife to announce that he didn’t bring the family’s passports with him. I didn’t feel so bad at that moment. At least I’d be sitting at the border with other people. I realized at that moment that the entire bus had gotten silent because no one had their passports with them.

“I’m just kidding!” our tour guide said in an Irish accent after a long pause, and there was a huge sigh of relief all over the bus. A distinct border between Ireland and Northern Ireland didn’t even exist. Bruh, you can’t play with people’s emotions like that!

My trip to Northern Ireland with Wild Rover tours included a trip to Giants Causeway, Belfast City & Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge. I normally don’t use tours because I like to go at my own pace, and I like to visit an attraction before the busload of tourist arrive. However, I used this company for Northern Ireland and my trip to the Cliffs of Moher as well. One thing I noticed about Wild Rover was that they had problems overbooking. There were two pickup locations in Dublin for the tours, but the bus usually filled up at the first location. There was an instance where a couple that arrived at the second location couldn’t do the tour because the bus was already filled. They were furious because they had already paid and planned for the day. The guide explained that the company had seen a surge in bookings, and hadn’t been handling it well. The issue may have been resolved by now, but I would arrive early to the first pickup location just in case.

When we made a break stop at a gas station on our way to Belfast, our tour guide recommended we buy something for lunch there because of the time constraints and the lack of available food options at the causeway. There was a restaurant at Giant’s Causeway, but he warned that they moved slowly and most of the time would have been spent eating lunch and not viewing the causeway. I heeded his warning and grabbed a random sandwich.

The first part of the tour started in Belfast. There was the option to take the black taxi tour or visit the Titanic museum. I chose the black taxi tour without a second thought because I hadn’t had any interest in the Titanic since fourth grade. Everyone except for the family seated behind me took the black taxi tour as well.

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