I’m Baaaack!

You just can’t get rid of me! I’ve been on a moving/travel sabbatical for the past few weeks and I’m excited to be back blogging because I’ve got plenty to share. Before I introduce my new work digs (I have my own studio workshop!), explore my research on how to move cross country on a budget, and of course my last minute road trips and Los Angeles excursions, I want to start by sharing my trip across the US.

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Los Angeles to Hamden, CT is quite a journey. I took my time, but didn’t “dilly-dally”. As the map shows, I started in LA and drove to the Grand Canyon. From the Grand Canyon I passed through 4 Corners (where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all meet) and headed on to Durango for the night. From Durango I went to Denver, CO where I stayed for several days over the Thanksgiving holiday. After Denver I spent a night in Omaha before connecting up with RISD friends in Chicago for a couple nights. I continued on to Cleveland after that, and then made my big push with the longest driving day getting me into Connecticut. This is the short story.

Here is the long story:

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My friends through me the sweetest going away party at Golden Road in Glendale. So many people came and of course I was crying. After I went out for sushi at Octopus (one of my LA favs), then I spent some time freaking out and panicking instead of sleeping. I left Sunday morning after packing up the car, going for my last regular Toluca Lake walk (not my last ever- no lasts!) with my friends and then I hit the road. I cried/weeped for most of my ride to the Grand Canyon. My cheeks had the ultimate cry bath and were very pruny upon arrival.

When I left LA it was 75 and sunny and when I arrived at the Grand Canyon, it was about 22 degrees and pitch darkness. I was poorly dressed in my tee shirt and yoga pants (perfect comfy driving attire but not perfect winter clothing). But this was all fixable with a winter jacket (thank you, Uniqlo!), a hot meal and a cold beer.

10326415_1505040636434287_1730050933_n10817857_805660969480510_2017350428_nI was very proud of myself, as the following morning I woke up at 6a to get dressed (in many many layers) and make the 7am sunrise at the South Canyon rim. As the child next to me said “I’m freezing my eyeballs off!!”. My sentiments exactly.

After watching the sunrise and tracking down a warm english muffin and coffee, I hit the road as I had a 7 hour drive ahead and so much to see along the way! One thing I didn’t realize is that the drive through Arizona takes you right by Monument Valley. It didn’t make sense for me to go there (the entrance was actually still a drive away and it would add many hours to my day), but it was fun seeing some of the “monuments” along the way. And this way I was seeing them for FREE! I cheated the system.

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As I made my way out of Arizona and onto Colorado, I had to stop in at one of my favorite childhood vacation spots: 4 Corners. 4 Corners is where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet and it’s gotten a whole lot fancier since I was a kid. As a child this was all dirt with a plaque in the center (where of course I sat, so my butt was in 4 states at the same time), with wooden shopping stalls surrounding the plaque. It has gotten a whole lot fancier:

10809543_1501063186840049_1570193732_nIt was freezing and windy so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time walking around.

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As I got closer to Durango, the weather and landscape changed pretty dramatically.
Thankfully while it was snowing in the air, not much was sticking so the roads weren’t too bad. I made my way into Durango after dark and enjoyed a beer and dinner at Steamworks Brewing company before making my way to my hotel and crashing for the night. Durango is an adorable town and I highly recommend visiting it.

The next morning I left around 9am and made the trek into Denver. I was most nervous about this day, so I allowed a lot of extra time and took a not-very-direct route to avoid snowy mountains. If this was summer I totally would have gone to Aspen and driven in through the Rockies and it would have been beautiful. Since this is December and I had all my belongings crammed into my little mazda 3, I opted for the longer but less mountainous route.

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But I made it! And in record time too. No snow and no ice, yesss! Above you can see some images from my several days in Denver. I stayed with my uncle (bottom right) who was very generous and always the perfect host. We even got to go to a night showing of the Chihuly exhibit at the Denver Botanical Gardens (top right). It was a really fun visit. I even got to meet up with a childhood friend who just moved to Denver, and I’ve known her since nursery school days. Ah, to be young again.

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But alas, I had to continue on my journey so I cleaned off the mazda and drove through Nebraska (above) to get to my destination for the night, Omaha. The following day I was up early to continue through more of a similar landscape as I went through Iowa and eventually made my way to Chicago!

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In Chicago I have some RISD friends I was excited to see. I also stayed at this awesome, cute and cheap airbnb in Wicker Park (message me if you want the info on it). Since I love walking and had been cooped up driving the past few days, it felt so good to park my car and just spend the day walking around the city and poking my head into the cute shops.

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I ended up walking all the way to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and saw the David Bowie exhibit. They were very fussy about cell phones/ cameras since this is the  only US stop for the exhibit, so sadly this is the only photo above. It was a very fun exhibit featuring a lot of his most famous outfits/costumes, Bowies lyric notes, and footage showing his progression as an artist. This exhibit really is only about Bowie as an artist and I wish we got more of an idea of his personal life. I would have loved to see photos of David Bowie eating breakfast in his kitchen on a Saturday morning, or anything to show that he’s human. Does he shop at Ikea?

After 2 fun nights visiting with friends in Chicago, it was time for me to continue onward to Cleveland. Why Cleveland? I’m glad you asked. In the tv show 30 Rock, Liz Lemon visits Cleveland and everyone asks if she’s a model because things are just different there. I was hoping to have my Liz Lemon moment in Cleveland. Also they have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and were the natural place to stop and spend the night before getting into Connecticut.

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is right next to a sport stadium (football I think??) and is an awesome pyramid architectural shape. I took SOOO many photos in there, but I don’t want to bore you so I figured I’d share he most impressive iconic item they had (in my opinion): Michael Jacksons glitter glove. They had much more Michael Jackson clothing, about 8 of Beyonce’s outfits from different music videos and events. They also have a wall dedicated to the Rolling Stones and to the Beatles. This was a very fun place to visit and I highly recommend it to people driving through Cleveland. As for the sporting arena… sure, I bet you could visit that too.

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I made my last drive from Cleveland to Connecticut, which was the longest stretch. I knew it might be an 8 and a half hour drive but with traffic in New York and bathroom/coffee stops, it took about 10 hours. Bummer. But at least when I made it to CT I got to sleep in my own bed, and get started on all of the projects I have going on and there are SO MANY! Now it’s time to apartment hunt (anyone know of any apartments for rent in East Rock, New Haven?), setup my shop in Meyer Wire, and get going on all my design projects!

Next up: This week I’ll be back-tracking a bit to tell you about my road trip up the coast from LA to Portland and back. I’ll also do a post dedicated to the cheapest way to move cross country. And lastly, I’ll introduce you to my new digs: Meyer Wire. I’ll share all of what it entails. I hope moving forward to start updating you about Connecticut events and doing “Do This Today” posts, although it’l take me some more time to amerce myself in the scene to pass along all the details.

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Balboa Island + Newport Beach

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Sorry I’ve been MIA for the last week. Since announcing my move back east I’ve been trying to check a lot off my to-do list. Moving is such a big undertaking. I’ll do a post talking about the most economical way to move in the future. I also owe you a post all about my northern road trip from LA to Portland and back. The trip was beautiful and we did it on a very tight budget. I swear all of this is coming soon.

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In addition to moving, I’ve been trying to enjoy my last few weeks in LA. One place I’d been curious about seeing is Balboa Island, Newport Beach area. They talked about it a lot on Arrested Development. My friend Jamie and I made the trek down and it was the perfect day. It was 75 degrees, and sunny with a light breeze. We walked a full loop of the island, stopped in some cute shops on the main drag and enjoyed a yummy lunch before heading to Newport Beach. We walked the pier and boardwalk before sitting down and watching the sunset. It was such a gorgeous beach day.

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Big News!

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It’s time to officially announce my big news. I’ve hinted at it over the last year or so, but change is what keeps us moving forward, and I’ve got a big change coming. It brings me great sadness/excitement/nervousness to announce that at the end of November 2014 (aka in 5 weeks), I’m moving back to the East Coast. Don’t get me wrong, I love LA and my friends here, but this great work opportunity has come up in Connecticut and I’ve decided it’s time for a change. I’ve chronicled many of my LA journeys here on the blog, and I’ve lived my time here to the fullest, so I leave with no regrets or unfinished goals. It’s time for new goals, and new challenges.

I’ve worked in the television/film art department for many years now as a coordinator and I see that continuing on this path is no longer something I really want. A couple years ago I could feel myself hitting a wall in my career, and I figured out that even if I got a promotion it wouldn’t make me happy. This made me see that I needed to make a bigger change. After reading “find-yourself” type books, I decided to make a list of what I wanted my future life to have. For example, I want to be able to bike to work, and get a dog that I can bring  to work, and work normal 9-5 type hours. This list got longer and longer until I could almost visualize the changes I needed to make. After years of soul searching, it clicked!

As you know, I love wood-working, crafting and of course, blogging and I’ve found a way I can do all of these things as my job! Is that not living the dream?! My parents have been so supportive and have invited me to come work for Meyer Wire & Cable Co (their cable company) where we will be expanding to create different custom lighting fixtures as well as  broadening the scope of how these wires can be used. Not only will I be designing, but I’ll be working on the branding, blogging about the process, and I’ll even have my own wood working shop up and running, BMeyer Studio!

I’ll be moving to New Haven, Connecticut where I’ll be 15 minutes from Meyer Wire (shortest commute ever-score!). Meyer Wire is along a bike path that starts in New Haven, so I can bike to work. My parents bring their dog to work and have said I can bring one to work too. My hours would be 8:30-5p, which means I can even take woodworking classes at night locally. I’ve basically gained 4 hours of free time every day, and I could not be happier about it. Real estate in that area is also much more affordable, so in the not-too-distant future I could actually afford a cute fixer-upper. I’ll be closer in proximity to my family and I’m only a $15 train ticket from NYC, where many of my RISD friends live.

Of course with any big change there are many compromises that also have to be made. I’ve made a life here in Los Angeles with friends I love, and now I have to sadly say goodbye. Thanks to the internet, social media, and cell phones I’l be able to keep in touch with them as if I was still in LA, it’ll just be harder to see them in person. When I moved to LA I had to do the opposite, which was to leave my East Coast friends to start a life in LA, and I feel like all my friendships back east stayed strong as I made frequent visits. I plan to do the same this time too.

What does this mean for Life Absorbed? I’ll no longer be posting “Do This Today” with Los Angeles daily events, but instead I’ll be shifting the focus of my posts to be more about my future design work and lifestyle. For example, I’m currently in the process of figuring out how to cheaply ship an apartment worth of stuff to Connecticut and I’m excited to share with you my cheap-ish solution! I’ll be driving my car cross country to get there and look forward to sharing the journey. Once I’m in CT, step 1 at Meyer Wire is to renovate the offices and set-up my workshop, and I’ll share the whole process with you. New Haven is also a new city to me, which means I’ll be exploring not only the city but taking weekend trips to different New England towns and exploring Cape Cod. I also hope down the line to buy property and renovate it, which I will also share on the blog. One of my favorite blogs, Manhattan Nest, does this and to me he’s living the dream. I hope to follow a similar path.

But what about comedy? I talked above about making compromises and how leaving my friends in LA is going to be the biggest struggle. I would say my second biggest struggle is saying goodbye to cheap hilarious comedy. LA is a comedy mecca and it was one of the reasons I moved out here to begin with. To pay $5 and see Louis CK or Patton Oswalt, or Sarah Silverman has been unreal. I’ve seen 100’s of comedians perform on the stages around Los Angeles and I’ve loved every minute. By making this move I’ll have to work harder and pay a lot more to see comedy. I’m now allowing myself to invest more money into seeing comedians if this means taking the train into NYC or driving to Foxwoods where comedians often stop through. It’s a promise I made to myself when I decided to move. I won’t be able to see comedy quite as often but I’ll do whatever I need to to feed that passion of mine. For example, I’ve already purchased tickets to Patton Oswalt’s show at Carnegie Hall in January. It was an expensive ticket but it’s going to be such a memorable show.

But what about the weather? There’s no denying that Los Angeles weather is amazing and it’s sunny 100% of the time. New Haven gets snow and rain, and humidity in the summer. This is the 3rd compromise on the list: weather. I’m actually looking forward to the occasional rainy day, and playing in the snow. I’m sure I won’t be saying that in 6 months but I’m trying to be positive about the weather. I also walk outdoors in LA for at least an hour every day at all times of the year. I won’t be able to do this in Connecticut and I’ll have to adjust to it. I’ll need to invest in a gym membership and use it. I’m actually thinking of signing up at City Climb Gym, a New Haven rock climbing gym, but more on that when I’m back east 🙂

I really am sad to leave Los Angeles, but I’ve been treading water here for that last 2 years and I feel like this is a big step forward. I’m about to gain so much! I’m trying to stay focused on what I’ll be getting and not what I’m having to leave, as I really do love my LA family. Now on to a happier topic: what type of dog should I get!? 🙂

ONTOANEWADVENTURE New Haven, CT (Background photo by I Love New Haven)

Africa XII: Nomad Tours Day 1, Visit the Snake Park

I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my Africa experience. To catch you up on my trip, check out all my Africa posts:

Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
Africa II: Kenya Stop1, Baby Elephants
Africa III: Kenya Giraffes, Karen Blixen and Artcaffe
Africa IV: Arriving in Moshi + The Good Hope School
Africa V: Kilimanjaro Details
Africa VI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 1
Africa VII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 2
Africa VIII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 3
Africa IX: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 4
Africa X: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 5
Africa XI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 6 and 7

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Last I left off, Erica and I finished climbing Kilimanjaro with Zara Tours and we were back at the Springlands Hotel. We had an additional rest day here, which was a godsend. I ended up getting pretty ill that night and I needed that extra day to rest and feel better for the second part of my African visit: meeting up with Nomad Tours for our 10 safari!!

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Meeting up with Nomad Tours:
That next morning we took a special ” shuttle van” toward Arusha. Really it was a taxi cab that we ended up sharing with another hotel guest, to another taxi cab in the center of Moshi who then took Erica and I to Arusha where the fellow hotel guest was taking another taxi to Niarobi. It was interesting to see this is the way to get between Moshi and Kenya if you didn’t fly into the local airport. The cab driver dropped us directly at the Ndoro Lodge where we were meeting up with Nomad Tours and I think it cost like $15 USD each? Worth it.

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The tour that I signed up for with Nomad is the Serengeti & Zanzibar 10 Day Trek South. The group technically met in Nairobi where they spent the day driving to Arusha, Tanzania. Since Moshi (where we were) is the town next to Arusha, it made more sense to meet the group at the first hotel in Arusha, rather than travel back to Kenya only to spend the day driving back to Tanzania. This was easy enough to coordinate with Nomad Tours and another couple in the group also met up with the group in this way.

I should also note that Nomad offers different levels of accommodation. Since Erica and I are doing this on a budget we signed up for the “camping” package. It also makes it more of an adventure! This means that we camped in tents (provided by Nomad Tours) and we had to bring along a sleeping bag and pillow. We alway had access to showers and bathrooms as well. The other option is “accommodation” which means a more typical hotel room, but it is a more expensive package.

Another great thing about this tour with Nomad is that this 10 day tour is just one portion of a longer trek. I was doing 10 days of the trek, but Erica was continuing on with the tour for a total of 30 days. This means that if I want I can save up for another trip I can literally pickup with the tour right where I left off and still get to see the same things Erica is seeing now. This also means there is turnover within the tour group as people finish their time and leave, and new people come in for another portion of the trek.

For my 10 day portion of the tour, we were a group of 18 with 2 guides. All of the other guests were from Europe and everyone was over 18. Erica and I were the only Americans. There was a German couple on their honeymoon (in their early 30’s), a father and son from Croatia (in their 40’s and 60’s?), an aunt with her college-aged nieces from Amsterdam, just to give you a sense of the wide age range of all the guests. This was not a party tour of 21 year olds (thank god!).

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Above is Tommy! Each of the Nomad trucks is named after a deceased musician, and we got Tommy. You can see the truck is huge and has tons of compartments for all the gear. Within the truck are lockers and every guest gets 1 (so bring a lock!), comfy seats, and the seating is elevated so you san see above other vehicles which makes the drive more enjoyable. You can also probably guess that this large vehicle stands out on the road, so everywhere we went kids would wave to us. It was adorable.

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Above and the next few photos are all the Ndoro Lodge just outside of Arusha where we spent night 1 and night 5 of the tour. Above is the restaurant portion, and below are the hotel rooms for the guests with the accommodation level travel package.

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The campers (aka me) slept through this gate in a beautiful open courtyard. The tents aren’t out in the courtyard photo above, but I’ll have photos later of our tents. You can see to the left is a clothing line which is great for cleaning and drying clothes, which was very handy when we stayed here night 5 after visiting the Serengeti.

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Once I was finally feeling better I could finally enjoy a post-Kilimanjaro beer! What better beer to order than a Kilimanjaro beer! The restaurant/bar at the Ndoro Lodge had all sorts of drinks, and our meals were prepared by our Nomad Tour guides (Norman and Servius) and included in the price of the tour.

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The next morning we drove to the Meserani Snake Park and Maasai Cultural Museum as we made our way out to the Serengeti to start our safari! These photos are from our Tommy truck, which is why they are blurry, but I wanted to give you a sense of the landscape around Arusha. ***One thing to note- be careful when taking pictures from the van, as police have road blocks all over Tanzania and even if you accidentally take a photo of a police officer you will be fined a lot of money.

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***WARNING- the following photos are very scary and have already given me nightmares***

The Snake Park is very scary for this girl. The only thing scarier than heights are snakes! Part of me considered not going in, but I think my imagination would have made it worse. It’s like I needed to go in just to see that these snakes were locked up, and thankfully most of them were.

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Oh dear lord, just so many nightmares about this place. I think I was the only person in the group who was afraid of snakes. There was a portion of the tour where they let you hold little snakes, which of course I didn’t participate in, but everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy it. I personally would rather take a nap in the crocodile pit than hold a snake.

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The nice thing about the snake park is that there were other orphaned animals too. We got to see several large turtles (above).

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Look at this cutie above. She had been rejected by her tribe (they had a sign explaining it) so being here is better for her health. I heard other people saying that she could slap high-fives! So adorable.

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Here are a few of the larger crocodiles.

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Do you see that little crocodile hiding in the water?

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After the Snake Park, we walked over to the Maasai Cultural Museum. The tour was lead by a Maasai Warrior (not pictured), and was filled with these life-sized dioramas.

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This is the portion of the museum all about circumcision. It was disturbing.

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There’s a portion of the museum dedicated to the clothing and how each outfit represents something different within the tribe. For example boys wear different colors and patterns after they are circumcised at 15 years old.

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The museum exits into a women’s market. Each of these huts (and there are many more un-pictured) is a stall with different jewelry and craft items for sale. I avoided taking pictures of the women selling them, as I was trying to be sensitive to the culture.

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Up next, we make our trek through the Ngorongoro Crater on to the Serengeti where by sunset we have our first game drive! Spoiler- we see lions!

Africa VI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 1

I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my Africa experience. To catch you up on my trip, check out all my Africa posts:

Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
Africa II: Kenya Stop1, Baby Elephants
Africa III: Kenya Giraffes, Karen Blixen and Artcaffe
Africa IV: Arriving in Moshi + The Good Hope School
Africa V: Kilimanjaro Details
Africa VI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 1
Africa VII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 2
Africa VIII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 3
Africa IX: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 4
Africa X: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 5
Africa XI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 6 and 7

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Now that I’ve gone over what to pack, where to stay, and how it all works it’s finally time to start the hike! After breakfast we brought all the luggage we didn’t want to bring on the trek to the hotel storage room, and checked out of the hotel. Around 9:00a we met up with our Zara Tour Guide Bruce and Assistant Guide Thomas in the Springlands Hotel courtyard. Our van was loaded with gear and then we left on our journey!

We made a last minute pitstop at a row of shops where we picked up some goodies (cookies and crackers) and Bruce picked up some snacks. We then continued on our way to the Machame Gate just as it started to rain.

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It took about 45 minutes (?) to get to the Machame gate (see gate above). I should note I purposely didn’t bring a watch, as I didn’t want to know the time and wanted to feel free of watches, phones, and electricity for the trek. Once you arrive, you fill out the permit forms and then wait while the permits are processed and your group of porters assemble.

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Above, the gate is on the right, then the permit building in the middle (with a restroom) and on the left is the holding area for the climbers waiting for their permits to be processed. My sister had a watch, and noted that it took about 2 hours until the permits were processed and we could start the climb. I sort of didn’t realize it takes this much time, so when you start your day at the hotel, the earlier you leave the earlier you get to start the climb.

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While we hung out in the holding area, we met some fellow climbers. It also didn’t occur to me that we would end up seeing these people all along the trail as we climbed. They were all in different groups and with different companies, but you are all on the same trail together and end up motivating each other when times get hard.

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This is the view from in the waiting area. You can see far off in the distance all the porters are getting organized while us tourists take “before” pictures.

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This is a great rundown of the Machame route (minus the Arrow Glacier trail that splits off). This makes it seem not-so-long, right? Some 3 hour days in there… I can handle that, right? I should note that the 3 hour days are steeper than the 6 hour days. Except for the Barranco Wall… nothing is steeper than that. More on that in my “Day 4” post.

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Above, the porters are all gearing up.

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The logistics of who-carries-what seems complicated, as there’s so much gear and food to carry and each porter has weight restrictions. I think just for me and Erica, we had a support staff of 10, which is required as part of the permit process. It promises employment for a lot of locals and helps fuel the Tanzanian economy.

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I think these were some of our porters (above). It was all a bit of a mystery to us as we were never introduced to the whole gang and since everything was always setup when we arrived at camp, we never saw who-setup-what. Once the permits are processed and ready to go, you walk through that metal gate above, and you’re officially on the Machame Trail.

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We took a last minute “Are we really doing this?!” photo, and then started the trek. Waiting the 2 hours for the permits to be approved was painful because I just sat there panicking. I was anxious to get started and to prove to myself I could do this.

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Day 1 is basically 5 hours of jungle, so be prepared for moist air. It’s got interesting plant life and birds. You can see the trail is wide and a bit muddy. The bottom of my pants got pretty dirty but once the mud dries it flakes off. So when I took the photo above I had no clue, but the guy on the right with the gray shorts is actually Earnest our waiter. He was super nice and it’s funny to look back at my photos and recognize porters I met later in the trek.

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Porters far off in the distance. They carry so much on their backs and heads and still way out-run us up the mountain. I can’t imagine how many times they’ve climbed this mountain.

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About 2 hours (?) in we passed this outhouse above. Thankfully I was able to hold it most days along the trail. Who knew they’d have outhouses?

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There was interesting plant life in this portion of the climb. Thomas and Bruce told us about several of the plants.

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Up we go! Thomas and Bruce are in the photo above.

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This photo above gives you a sense of the steepness at time during day 1. It’s also slippery, but the trail is clearly marked and even has “steps” built in.

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We went slowly to take many photos, so we arrived to camp later than I hoped. Above we signed in at the Machame Hut which is our home for the night.

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When we arrived our tents were setup and snacks were waiting in the food tent. Our sleeping tent is the round one by the tree and our triangular food tent is to the left of our sleeping tent. Our bathroom tent is hidden off in the trees. You can see we were in thick fog, which made everything damp. This had me a little down, as all my clothes felt wet and it was only day 1. The dampness added a chill to the air as well. We got setup in our tents next, as once the sun sets, it’s hard to change clothes (too chilly) and organize our sleeping bags in the dark. They also give us a hot water bowl and soap at the start and end of each day to do a little sponge bath.

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Above is our food tent, and Guide Bruce checking on things.

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Inside our food tent there was hot water and yummy cookies and popcorn waiting for us. The popcorn was so delicious and Erica and I looked forward to that at the end of most hiking days. You can see our table also has lots of condiments on it that went with us to each campsite.

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Dinner time! Since it’s dark, we eat by candlelight. For dinner we have a first course of hot soup and bread.

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For the main course we had some pasta, veggies, and potatoes. For dessert we had fresh fruit. All the meals were very large like this and very tasty. Since I’m a vegetarian and Erica doesn’t eat eggs or cheese, we were a challenge for the chef, but he did an excellent job making meals Erica and I could both eat. There was always SO much food.

After dinner Erica and I played cards via candlelight while drinking hot cocoa. Bruce stopped by to chat about the next days climb. Tomorrow would be a shorter distance but would have some steep sections. After day 1 of hiking I was feeling more confident and ready to do this!

Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There

Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my African experience.

To start off I want to focus on the rundown of the trip and planning leading up to the trip. Then I’ll end this post with my arrival in Kenya (day 1 of the trip). My upcoming posts will follow this timeline.

Here’s the RUNDOWN of the entire 3 weeks of travel.
Day 1: getting to Kenya and meeting up with Erica (my sister and travel blogger of As Her World Turns).
Day 2: exploring Nairobi, Kenya since I only have 24 hours in this country.
Day 3: traveling to Moshi, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro’s airport and closest town/city) and meet up with the School of Good Hope, where a friend of a friend teaches children. Also meet with our Zara Tour Guides (Bruce and Thomas) to discuss the climb and get any last minute items for climbing the mountain.
Day 4: Start climbing Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route.
Day 5-11: Climbing Kilimanjaro.
Day 12: One rest day at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi.
Day 13: Take public transportation into Arusha (nearby town/city) to meet up with our Nomad Tours safari group, who we are with through the end of the trip.
Day 14 + 15: Stay in the Serengeti and spend the two days game driving.
Day 16: Stay in the Nogorogro Crater and spend the day game driving.
Day 17: Come back into Arusha for the night.
Day 18: Drive overland with our Nomad group to head toward Dar es Salaam.
Day 19: Arrive in Dar es Salaam and take a ferry to Zanzibar.
Day 20-22: Spend time in northern Zanzibar and then head back to Stone Town Zanzibar, where I had to depart the Nomad Tour and spend the night by myself at the Shangani Hotel.
Day 23: Depart Zanzibar and make my very long trek back to the US.

BUDGETING
You can see above, it was a very packed 3 weeks of travel. How do you even begin to plan all of this?! It’s helpful that my sister is a travel blogger and enjoys this sort of planning, as I just followed her lead. The first thing we did while trying to plan was figure out a goal budget and a list of places I wanted to see. This ultimately decides the number of days of the trip, as each day adds $$$. My budget when this conversation first happened was $5000 (to include hiking Kili, a safari, time in Zanzibar and all air travel), which I figured would go far in Africa, but it was all more expensive than you would think. My goal length of time was 2-3 weeks. Once the list of goal destinations was made, and after a lot of “well if I’m already here, I might as well also see here”, it ended up costing more around $6000 and being a solid 3 weeks. But if you’re going halfway around the world you might as well do it right, right?

I highly recommend making a list/spread sheet of costs because like I experienced, it gets VERY overwhelming. My spread sheet had a page just for vaccinations (and researching the best prices around LA), a page just for tracking airfare (as there were so many flights and options to consider), clothing +gear (as the climb required me to purchase more clothing and hiking aids, and the safari required a completely different set of clothing), extras (an international cell phone plan? snorkeling in Zanzibar? Travel insurance which is required for the tour, etc) and then a page tabulating all these numbers. Yikes. All these little things really add up.

Before you leave, I suggest getting $500 (as safety money) in clean bills (no rips, tears, pen marks etc) and make sure the date of the bill is 2006 or newer, and get small bills. Some places are fussy about money and you don’t want to be in a situation where you have money but they won’t accept it. If you use a debit or credit card you’ll probably be hit with fees (investigate your banks rules before you go), so having this safety money, actually saved me from being charged big fees. They take US dollars in most places (assuming it fits those rules above). I suggest bringing cash for the porter/guide tips on Kili (more on that in my Kili posts), money for food + gifts, as well as cash for visas ($50 in Kenya, $100 in Tanzania). I was traveling with about $1000 total cash, which every day that number went down. I was nervous about having that much money on me, but I always kept the money on me or locked up. We also exchanged cash in both Kenya and Tanzania for their countries shillings. I suggest getting a currency converter app to make it easier to track the amount you’re spending.

IMMUNIZATIONS
***When budgeting any international travel, be sure to budget money for immunizations. I didn’t budget the right value of these shots/meds and my budget went from $6000 to closer to $7000. I called all over Los Angeles researching where to get the best deal on these immunizations as none of it was covered by my health insurance. The best deal ended up being the Heathy Traveler in Pasadena. I made an appointment and went 1 month before my trip. Be sure to research via the CDC which immunizations are required, and which additional immunizations you want to get to feel comfortable. Most of these shots last for at least 10 years or in some cases cover you for life, so while it’s a pricy up front cost you can see it as an investment on future travel. Keep a running list of what immunizations you’ve had as it will save you money in the long run.

Since I was in Nairobi (a city) for 1 day and then at a high elevation in Moshi, I didn’t need malaria medication until I was in Arusha getting ready for the safari. I took a generic malarone medication for this, which actually was covered under my insurance (woo hoo!). This medication you take 2 days before entering a malaria area, all during your stay and then 7 days once you’ve left the area. With other meds you have to take even longer after you’ve left the infected area, so malarone is a good one to take.

To enter Tanzania and Zanzibar you have to show proof that’s you’ve gotten an immunization to Yellow Fever. Keep this paperwork forever, as you’ll need it to enter other countries too and it’s very important. I also got the hepatitis B vaccine (it’s a 2 series shot), and the typhoid fever oral vaccination (cheaper option than the shot). You’ll have to pay for the doctor’s visit to get these done, as well as pay for the meds they prescribe. Get the anti-vomit and anti-diarrhea medications and even bring imodium as I can guarantee you’ll use them here. They also offer a bunch of other immunizations, I just had to weigh my budget against the odds of getting some of these illnesses to figure out which vaccines I wanted to get.

Bring the above medicines as well as advil, advil pm/sleep meds, allergy meds (it’s very dusty), tums, benadryl, and any other meds you might need. I normally don’t take much medicine, but I took several of these meds while in Africa.

CLOTHING + GEAR
This was a challenge. I was in a tent and sleeping bag for 16 nights out of a 23 day trip. That’s a lot. This was a great way to save money but to make sure I was relatively comfortable I bought a blow-up travel pillow on amazon, and a fleece sleeping bag liner (a must for Kili). I also packed my cold weather sleeping bag, which as you can imagine sucked up a lot of space in my travel bag. On Kili, Zara Tours provided mats, and Nomad Tours provided mats on the safari, so there’s no need to purchase and carry one in your bag.

For Kilimanjaro, it’s all about hiking clothes and layers. I probably packed about 2 full changes of clothing to cover me for the 7 days (plus 7 pairs of underwear and socks). At the end of each night it felt good to change into clean underwear and socks even when your outside clothes were dirty. Keep in mind on the summit night/day you’ll probably wear everything you’ve packed (I did). Include a poncho/rain jacket as it’s always raining in the jungle portion of the climb. Bring clothes (hat/gloves/gator) that you would bring on a ski trip, and bring clothes that you would wear for a hot day of hiking and then pair them up. That’s the best advice I can give. Also pack power bars and energy boosters for the climb. Plenty of food is provided, but not mid-climb each day, so if you need an energy boost in the middle of a 6 hour hike, I suggest you pack something. I packed a power bar and Clif shot blok snack for each day of the climb and that was good for me.

Bloggers said “you’ll be so dirty you won’t be able to put in your contacts so don’t bring them”. I disagree and I’m so glad I brought contacts and my glasses/sun glasses. I wore my contacts every day. I also purchased something called a P EZ (not pez like the candy), and it is hilarious. It’s to help women pee standing up (like if it’s zero degrees and you don’t want to take your layers off, or if you need to just go by the path where people might see you). I think every girl should own one for hiking but also for gross bar bathrooms. Female bloggers recommended this to me. I only used it a few times, but I was also very lucky and had a toilet on Kili (more on that in a future post). If we didn’t have that toilet, I would have been using that every day. Think about it ladies.

Footware: Bring waterproof hiking boots, but also bring a pair of sandals that your feet can slip into with socks on. For example, if it’s freezing cold and you have to use the bathroom at 2am, you can keep your four layers of socks on by just slipping into a sandal to go use the restroom it’s SO much easier. Plus after a long day of hiking it feels good to be in something other than your boots (which will get muddy and gross). It’s not a fashion show, so don’t worry about the whole socks-in-sandals thing, as you’ll want to be in those sandals with socks on by the end of day 1.

While you are climbing Kili, you are able to leave luggage at the hotel, which is a great place to ditch the safari clothing as there’s no point carrying that stuff up the mountain. Which reminds me, bring FAA approved travel locks for all your bags. There are many times that you have to separate from your bag and a travel lock will hopefully deter would-be robbers. I even kept my bags locked in the few hotels we stayed in just to be safe.

For the Nomad Safari Tour, you want to dress for the heat during the day which is light airy clothing that covers you (which prevents sun burns, over heating, and bug bites). Avoid bright white, black, navy or bright colors as these attract misquotes which can carry malaria. At night, bring a light jacket and a sweatshirt as it can get chilly in August at night (it’s their winter). Bring a hat and sunglasses as it’s bright on the Serengeti.

Our safari tour ended for me in Zanzibar, which is a beach resort island off the coast of Tanzania. It’s mostly Muslim, so bring shirts that cover your shoulders, scarves and long skirts. Bring your bathing suit, as you should feel comfortable wearing it at the beach without judgement. It’s mainly in Stone Town where you need to be respectful of their unofficial dress code.

To save on space, try to pack layers for Kili that are tan/beige and can be re-warn while on the safari. You can always do “laundry” in the sinks at hotels if you pack a little laundry detergent. Bring lots of sunscreen for both the climb and the safari as well as bug spray (just for the safari/Zanzibar). Most places have netting over the beds for sleeping, but I still managed to get 3 face bug bites on the first day of our safari.

CELL PHONE
I have a Verizon phone plan, which has a terrible international option ($25 for a small amount of data). It just didn’t make sense to do this, especially since they don’t tell you how much data you’ve used and the plan rolls over up to $400. Aka, just checking email could end up costing you $400, even though you think you’ve only spent $25. Not ok. Erica suggested getting sim cards in each country, as they often have places that are cheap and at the airport. My plan was to get one in Moshi, but the airport was so tiny and didn’t have a cell phone store (or any stores for that matter). I ended up going the whole trip keeping my cell on “airplane mode” and using the free wifi at the different places we stayed. This was SO liberating! Every few days I was able to check in with my parents and post a few photos and then turn my cell phone off. It was amazing. And for all of Kili I didn’t even pack my phone! Not only was this the cheapest option (free), but it also kept me the most in-the-moment, instead of constantly checking email etc.

TRAVEL INSURANCE
Nomad Tours requires travel insurance, just incase something doesn’t go as planned… like we miss our ferry, or the bus breaks down and we can’t do things we’ve already paid to do or something costs a lot more as a result, it covers the cost. In Africa there are so many things you can’t count on- for example at one airport while I was checking in for a flight the guy said “Oh we canceled that flight 6 months ago” (more on that in a future post). Things just aren’t very organized and you have to roll with it. I got my travel insurance from WorldNomads.com (not affiliated with Nomad Tours) and it was $85 for the whole trip.

GettingThere1-5

You can see my long “to pack list” in the shot above. Keep in mind you’ll have to carry your own bags a lot, so do your best to keep it light. I would suggest a large canvas duffle (which works well on the safari and fits in the lockers on the truck) and a backpack that you can carry with it. I also brought a smaller purse with pockets (which could slip into my backpack if needed). I would suggest packing your bag a full week before as a dry run. By doing this I was able to see what I was lacking and gave me a week to think about what I could remove to make it lighter.

GettingThere2

Above, I took this photo in my apartment as I waited for the airport shuttle to arrive at my house. I used Shuttle2lax.com and it was $20 one way (plus $5 tip). Sure, we picked up a van full of people before I got to the airport, but I allowed plenty of time and didn’t have to pester friends for a ride- win! The photo is to give you a sense of scale of my bags. It was still pretty heavy for me, but I’m glad I didn’t pack a roller bag as those are not recommended. The red color made it easy to spot and the canvas made it malleable which was good.

GettingThere3

LAX has an awesome international terminal. This was my first time flying directly out of the country from LA and this puts the rest of the airport to shame. They even had a LAMill! And it looked like the real LAMill in Silverlake. The space is very modern with many yummy dining options and I like that they’ve incorporated LA specific restaurants like LAMill and Umami Burger.

GettingThere4

I flew from LAX to Amsterdam via KLM Airlines, then Amsterdam to Nairobi (also KLM). My flight out was on time, comfortable and since it was a 747 (huge!) it had a lot of amenities that make flying go by quickly. I prefer these long comfy flights as opposed to the 4-5 hour US flights which feel like riding a bus (no space, no food, no music, no tv). It’s nice to enjoy the meal after take off, put on a tv show, enjoy a free glass of wine and nod off. Then an hour before landing you get another meal (usually a breakfast). It’s delightful.

GettingThere5

Looky here, it’s The Newsroom in Dutch!

GettingThere6

I arrived in Nairobi around 8:30pm, and their airport has all the flights exit their planes on an exterior staircase bought right to the door of the plane, then you take a bus to the luggage terminal/immigration. Unfortunately, my stay in Kenya is just 24 hours which was long enough to require a $50 visa. Oh well, I was so glad to get to see Nairobi, so it was worth it. After waiting in a very long Visa line, at 10:30p I got my bag, went to an atm to get 3000 Kenyan shillings (like $35 US dollars) which would cover cab fair, meals and entrance fees for my 24 hour day in Kenya.

GettingThere7

Erica and I booked a room at the Nairobi Airport Stop Over House, which included a yummy breakfast, a shared bathroom, and free wifi (we each paid $36 a night). When booking with them they said for an additional fee they would send a car for us. I think it was $15 and included tip. This meant that at 10:30p, I found the guy holding a paper with my name on it and he took me directly to the hotel. Easy-peasy. He taught me a few Swahili words (“Jambo” is hi), took us through a police check-point (scary since it was my first one) and then through 2 different gates each with armed men (holding huge guns). Where am I?! Thankfully I ended up safely in the right place. Welcome to Kenya!

Happy July 4th, 2014 Weekend!

Happy4th

Are you one of the lucky people already on vacation? Or Are you half-daying it today? Lucky! I’m going to sneak away from LA for a couple days. Last year friends rented a house on Manhattan Beach and it was such a fun staycation. This year we are doing the same thing but in a new (surprise) location. Follow me on instagram to see my real-time photos and see if you can guess where I am!

I’ll be back to my old tricks on Sunday… in fact I have 2 wood bedside tables in the works. Now it’s time to make the drawers! Oh and I’ll be in Africa in 2.5 weeks?! Still so much to do…

1538458_350934385073536_1625486915_n (The view from behind)