Archive | August, 2019


31 Aug

By the time I got back from Togo (oh, didn’t I tell you? I went to Togo), it was the middle of August. I’d returned to the Dream Flat, which Helen had left in spectacular shape before she left… (*sobs quietly…or loudly*). While I’d been in Ethiopia, Collin had also signed a lease in New York and would be officially moving at the beginning of September. Times, they are a’changin. 

BUT my wonderful boyfriend was there when I landed back in the USA.   He picked me up from the airport with a bouquet of roses and a whole day to spend together. There was kettle corn, vegan chocolate, and a Blue Apron steak and gnocchi involved — A wonderful homecoming.


In love-thiopia


Facebook official: In a relationship with Collin ❤



Dream flat still lookin’ like a dream


Because Col knew I would be coming back to an empty dream flat (read: without Helen), he often filled the space by hand-delivering gorgeous bouquets of flowers to cheer me up.

In fact, he cheered me up all month — we spent the latter half of August going on cool dates and doing what we love the most– cooking Blue Apron at home.  While I was in Africa, I’d been craving Blue Apron so much that whenever I got a spot of good wifi, I would look up pictures of the food Blue Apron was offering… I’m not addicted, I swear.



The best we ever had.


When we weren’t stuffing our faces with Blue Apron at home (and even when we were), we went on the best dates, including one Sunday where the whole day was a date…a Sundate. We started with yoga day at PNC Park where we stretched in the sun, admired our beautiful city, and snuck a kiss on the Pirate’s soft, green baseball field.



Oms in the Outfield


After yoga, we went to the free piano day in downtown Pittsburgh where wonderful pianist professionals played four huge grand pianos. It was glorious! After listening to lots of music, we were inclined to make some music of our own…and popped into FI.2 to wet our whistles.



Head over heels.


After a drink, we transitioned to Bridges and Bourbon to treat ourselves to a unique dining experience that included an actual campfire and other fun surprises. 



Fancy schmancy


And while August was a month for some really great dates, we did have a home invasion



Finding his hiding spot.


It was a bat!  After some discussion, I called the landlord.  Jeff came with reinforcements, and, good news, the bat left with Jeff.  Now? All Col and I can remember are the furry bits. Er, funny bits.

With the bat taken care of, I felt good enough to leave the dream flat and head to Louisville for a long weekend to…… SEE HELEN!!!!!!!


New state, old friends


Of course, this trip was amazing and deserving of its own blog post, so I won’t gonna get into too much detail here. 

On my return from Louisville, my reimmersion back to Pittsburgh, I was in a rush. It was an adrenaline shot, a caffeinated jolt, Dunkin’ Doughnuts, a “please bring me a change of clothes so that while you’re driving I can change in the car before we go and meet your mother.”  

Col picked me up at the airport with another bouquet of stunning roses (he really knows how to pick ‘em) AND he’d put the white couch back together all on his own.  What a mensch ❤

And it wasn’t long until I was back on the road again. This time, heading to Findley Lake to see my parents who, as always, cooked an extravagant meal.  Which gave me a break (that I didn’t want or need) from Blue Apron, but did allow me to enjoy my mum’s amazing cooking.



What’s cookin’, good lookin’?


When we got back from the lake, I wanted more dates. I was greedy for dates.
So, Col did what every good boyfriend does, he let me plan more dates 🙂



Who would have thunk?


Like that double date Col and I had with Rachel and Roman (Hi Roman! So nice to FINALLY meet you). We went to the Oaks theater where Col was performing, and where I ordered whatever drink Rachel was having.

I also had my weekly friend-date with Emily where we continued our tradition of lunch in the park.




And a standout date — in a month of already incredible dates–  the fancy date my honey and I went on where we got all dressed up and he played songs on the guitar before we had even left the house. 



Might as well be on the cover of GQ.


Plus, Collin, brought me a 3rd bouquet of flowers… SWOON.


Painting the town. Dahntown, that is.


That night, I got to speak Jamaican patois to a very unimpressed Uber driver. And, after dinner, we turned it into a party when Col, my boots, and I all met up with Emily and Laura ❤

Overall, coming back home to so much change after Africa was hard but.. it was also chock full of memorable dates, love, Blue Apron, family, traveling with Helen, and time spent in my favorite place.

A Portrait of an August as a Young Woman,

Louisville, Looavul, Looeyville

21 Aug

Helen and I MISSED each other!  We hadn’t seen each other for over a month,  #DreamFlatmate #withdrawals. So, when Helen got invited to perform at the Midwest Queer Comedy Festival — and neither of us had ever been to Kentucky — we used it as an excuse to meet up. (we’re coming for you all 50 states). 


Horsing around.


Helen booked us in a fancy hotel ❤ And it became (very) apparent during our stay that Kentucky is obsessed with horses. It’s your classic chicken and the egg conundrum: What came first? Kentucky’s obsession with horses, or the Derby? 

At breakfast, we played “how many horses are in this room?” A woman who worked there saw us playing and wanted to join in. Altogether, we counted 30+ horses in one room. That’s a lot of horsepower. 

After whinnying and dining*, we went for a walk and noticed that there was a sign on a small theatre door that said “Closed. President’s in town.” Which president, we wondered. The president of the theater?

Close, but not quite…

*The author gets to re-write the order of events.

Donald’s entourage


Donald’s security detail gave it away. And while we weren’t excited about being in the presence of such a vile person, we didn’t mind being in the presence of such BEAUTIFUL, powerful men in very strapping and sleek uniforms. Helen and I almost couldn’t look away.  

Even the bike cops who made us feel like we were on a sitcom pulled up next to us and said, “Would you look at those guys? Mmmm. Mmm.”  

We lingered outside for a bit longer, conflicted about whether we actually wanted to see Trump.  Neither of us had ever seen a sitting president, but also —  EW!  He’s the worst.  But the thing was we literally had no other plans — our only plan all day was to enjoy each other’s company.   So, we kept staying “for the people watching”.  But wouldn’t it be crazy if….

Okay, so it turned out, that this event was a Republican fundraiser, and we got to watch the rich people going inside while we judged them about what they chose to spend their money on.

And almost as an act of rebellion, we went to grab coffee at a steal — we paid $.40 more for triple the coffee, high-fived, and ran back outside so as not to miss the Trump celebrity sighting, but rumor had it that this was a decoy hotel.

Helen and I were 50% sure that we were in the right place. We imagined that the exact same thing was happening at another hotel nearby and laughed at the thought of another police dog sniffing around for bombs to make sure that the other hotel was safe.

While waiting around, the news asked to interview us, and Helen coached me from the sidelines. At the end of the interview, we practiced for some shameless promotion. The interviewer asked:

“Anything else you’d like to say?”

I winked at Helen, “I’m in town for the Midwest Queer Comedy Festival!” 

(nailed it!)


TV credit, local Kentucky news.


The journalist told us it was going to be a while until a potential Trumps sighting — as the journalist had a direct line with the White House (super impressive)–  so we had time to kill and chose to dip into a Mexican joint for a bit of a refresh and to watch his Kentucky speech on TV.


Hail to the drinks.


In the end, we didn’t see Trump, but he WAS at the hotel, and it was a really interesting experience. But contrary to his online presence, he kept a low profile the entire time and went in and out of the back entrance. Apparently, they’d set up a tunnel through the hotel so no one got a glimpse of him.

At one point, we met a security guy at the same hotel who told us to come back later to take a tour, which we did. And then Helen and I continued our day and talked about the interesting experience. We grabbed our Bourbon Trail passports and tried to get as many stamps as we could gather.


Art museum on the Bourbon trail – thanks for the recommendation, Patrick!


This paragraph’s for us:  That night, we took a picture of a sign, which was how people knew we were tourists. We changed that picture to our phone background…and promptly changed it again in the morning.   #jellyfish #noadifferentone #STILLMATCHING  “Ever tried.  Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett  

The next day, we Ubered to the Kentucky State Fair where we kept with the matching themes (always) and got some matching pins from a skeptical woman.  And upon seeing the size of the fair, we thanked our lucky stars that we’d thought to wear sneakers. It wasn’t the only thing that was huge though, check out the fruits and vegetables!


Fat Cabbage– Flabbage


The largest cabbage had won $8, but the winner was a pumpkin that weighed over 1,000 lbs and had won a dollar for each pound. #WinnerWinnerPumpkinDinner

Keeping with the food theme, we checked out some decorated cakes that were really fun to peruse. The cakes had won awards too, but they’d been sitting out for so long they’d started mold; not for consumption.

And after seeing the inedible desserts we made it our MISSION to find derby pie (famous in Louisville).


“Do you have anything that is not fried?”


But in the midst of Operation: Derby Pie, we found other cool things to do like walk through a corn maze (a maize maze), watch dogs perform tricks, and of course, watch horses prance.

It had taken a while to find the horses because we got wrong directions on how to get there (from a guy who worked at the fair, mind you). But, in the end, the woman at the door let us straight into the VIP seating. Wahoo!  We ended up sitting next to a woman whose granddaughter was in the show and won 4th place.  Interesting.  Although the competition…event? wasn’t the most intuitive; So we left with both a lot of questions, and, more importantly, enjoyable visual stimulation.



The fair itself was mostly indoors, had lots of things to see, and was full of (literal) pigs. It was the most pigs I’d ever been around. But there were lots of other animals, too, including this overly friendly, adorable goat.  It was here that I wondered…Does Pennsylvania have their own State Fair??


Nice to bleat you.


After seeing the animals, we got our annual checkups from the Kentucky State Fair as there were healthcare events like skin cancer screenings.  Helen and I were most excited for this: “You can tell we’re two people who don’t have health insurance.”



2 sweet thangs


The fair took a lot out of us, so the next day, we slept in, BUT it was also the day Taylor Swift’s new album came out!  Lover!  We laid on the comfy bed #luxury and listened to her entire album before going into the aforementioned horse room to have the famous Brown’s hotel breakfast.



As tasty as it is bad for you.


Besides being the day of Tay Tay’s album release, it was also the first day of the Midwest Queer Comedy Festival AND THE DAY VICTORIA WAS COMING TO TOWN!!


3 best friends


While Helen practiced her set, Victoria and I had a blast lounging and catching up.

We got to the show and watched Helen kill it, as she does. 





Unfortunately, I had to duck out early to catch my flight back to Pittsburgh, but when I got to the airport, I found out that my flight had been cancelled, so I raced back to the show to get BONUS TIME WITH HELEN AND VICTORIA!

The three of us hung out all night, and they let me crash in their hotel room (thank you!!), and Victoria ordered us champagne and non-fried derby pie. I was SO thankful but also thought it was hilarious that it was right under my nose the whole time. Victoria is so generous and great at creating magic.

I snuck out in the middle of the night, whispering goodbye to my best friends, before anyone fully woke up, and crept out to catch my 6am flight, thankful that:

“In a world of ceaseless change, it can be gratifying to know that some things remain forever the same.”  J. Maarten Troost
I’m talkin’ about best friendship.


Until next time,


Best friends fairever!

A-Lomé in Togo

11 Aug

I headed solo to Togo!  And landed in Lomé, the capital.


To Togo I go go.


It was a direct flight from Addis Ababa (5 hours and 50 minutes) where watched some feel-good content to make me sob (i.e., the movie Max and, of course, Queer Eye).

I arrived at 10:30 AM, looked at my calendar to make sure I had penciled into my schedule a healthy dose of misadventure and bewilderment when I realized… drumroll please… I accidentally had left my passport with the customs officials when I left the airport. 



I had already left the airport!  Thankfully, Togo is one of the only countries in the world where this didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.  I took the same taxi back to the airport, practiced my French, went the employee way through through several metal detectors, and retrieved my most valuable item.


After that stressful debacle, I was happy to check into my amazing hostel, which was reasonably priced, didn’t have bunk beds, and was situated right on the beach. It also had a huge, friendly tortoise as the hostel pet. 



hostel place with friendly views



Home for the night.



Really coming out of his shell.


The sounds of waves crashing:



I paid $11 USD for a 6-person dorm and I was the only one there that night (#HomeAlomé). But the day was young (I had gained three hours of my life back traveling from Ethiopia), and I still had lots of exploration ahead of me. 

I was on my own again.  No one was expecting anything from me.  Also, no one was there to remind me how dumb it was that had I left my passport at the airport.

The first place on my to-go (haha, get it?) list was the largest Voodoo market in the entire world. Once I got there, I learned that they charge tourists to take photos, so I opted out of snapping pics and found some stock ones on the internet (Scrappy visits Togo). Here are photos that look exactly like the pictures I would have taken had I been willing to pay.



Sugar, spice, and…everything nice?


The market had what you’d need (I assume) for a voodoo ritual: fetish charms, porcupine quills, tortoise shells (thought back to my new friend at the hostel), baby hyenas, snakes. The whole place smelled like death mixed with dried herbs. You best believe I used hand sanitizer after being there.  Not to mention my loss of appetite.  The smell of decaying skin was pervasive.



Voodoo market for all your voodoo needs


My initial observations in Togo: 

I still don’t, in fact, speak French (although I tried);
I love how it sounds when Western Africans speak English;
The men here are gorgeous.  Striking.  Not that I notice those things anymore, I’m just letting you know for descriptive purposes;
People kiss their teeth when they’re mad;
Women mostly keep their heads uncovered.
Motorbike taxis are a game changer — giving me a sense of freedom. They were everywhere in Togo!
Paved roads:


Dirt roads:



They see me rollin…and snoozin…


I left the Voodoo market to check out another market in Lomé; the largest market in Togo.



How many coconuts can you carry on YOUR head?


The market was insanity!  It was one of the busiest markets I’ve ever seen.  It was gorgeous and, bonus!, it didn’t smell too badly. (I admit, the voodoo market before might’ve clogged my nostrils).

Compared to Ethiopia, this market was way less muddy and there weren’t coffee stands (they were missed).  

This market was hectic!  I was only able to take pictures from the outside as I couldn’t focus on anything other than what was happening. Including walking.  I had to focus intensly on walking, which was crazy because unlike other women at the market, I wasn’t even carrying anything on my head.





At the market, THE FOOD LOOKED AMAZING (especially compared to Djibuti). The variety and smell far surpassed what I had been seeing in other African markets.  I was so tempted to eat, but I had flashbacks to being sick in Ethiopia. So I was wary.  Especially since I couldn’t see any of it being cooked and none of the food was actually served hot. In fact, most of it was on people’s heads.

I needed a break from the hustle and bustle. I popped inside the courtyard of a church.  The famous cathedral was gorgeous (but not super photogenic), so I’ll let you use your imagination.  The church was yellow, if that helps.

I met a guy in the church yard who was dying to practice his English, so I asked him about food. I tried to say I needed food “with fire” because “cooked” wasn’t getting through to him. To be fair, I also don’t know how to say “cooked food” in French.



Nice guy.! Bad at english. Same could be said about my french.


Apparently, he understood what I was communicating, so he took me to a spot…



Time to try to order some food.  Bon chance.


Before the woman put any food in my bowl, she nicely washed it, and I — very obnoxiously  (but understandably so) — grabbed it to dry it out with the tissues I’d just purchased, because I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any water left in the bowl.  You know, so as not to upset my sensitive Western stomach.

Before eating, I didn’t wash my hands with soap (can’t wash with what you don’t have), but I did douse them with heaps of hand sanitizer and made sure they were dry before I ate becauseee….. I had to eat with my hands (GULP). No silverware. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore eating with my hands, yinz know me, but keep in mind, I’d also just spent a day walking (and motorbiking) around Togo with no hand washing. 



If I get sick, I know exactly where it happened.


When I got my meal, I didn’t technically see any fire as it was being cooked. I felt the food with my eating hand, aka my right hand.  At least the rice was hot! But the meat was cold (literally).  But not like from ‘straight from the fridge cold’.  So that was gonna be a ‘no’ for me.



Not typically the way I like my hot/cold combo


I ‘ate’ my 85 cent meal, pushing food from one side of the bowl to the other, mashing it up.  Eating rice.   I toyed with not posting the food pic on here because, well, look at it.  But I wanted you to know.


After ‘eating’, I’d had enough exploring for the day and took a harrowing motorcycle back to the hostel. Not all motos and motodrivers are created equal.   In fact, I had to switch drivers along the way.  That evening, I got my adrenaline fix for the year.


Now, from the get-go, I could tell that the best thing about Togo was the people. TRULY!  The people are grand! Not only are they really nice and friendly, but they also didn’t follow or bother me. Even the children don’t tail me around.  Except for one time (there is always the one time) some random guy started following me home. Luckily, one of the lovely things about the people in Togo is that they always ask you “ça va?” (You good?)   So much “ça va-ing”. It’s pleasant.  This country is great.

Anyway, that night, when I encountered a stranger who asked me “ça va?” I pointed to the man who’d been following me and said, “No! Bad!” I tried to explain my situation, but again, my French is rusty, so most of it got lost in translation.  The stranger came to my rescue, talked to my stalker, and I ran home, thankful. I’d like to reiterate that this story was an anomaly during my week in Togo.  THE PEOPLE THERE ARE WONDERFUL!

At my hostel, I got into bed and dreamt of Blue Apron.

The next day, I woke up and prepared for another day of brain-frying linguistic excursions.  I was going to head north to  Kpalimé.  Later, I will insert a link here to the blog.  But after Kpalimé, I circled back to Lomé for my last two nights on this Togolese visa.  And I’m just gunna keep this blog post about Lomé.

For one of those later nights that I spent in Lomé, I found a Couchsurfer named Deynee.


My gracious host!


I met Deynee at his clothing shop, where I sat with him for two hours doing absolutely nothing. He hadn’t made a sale that day – between 7:30 AM and 9:30 PM. I guiltily switched between feeling awful for him and feeling annoyed to be just sitting there. I was aware of my privilege but also wishing I had brought my book. 

During a break from the store, Deynee took me to his place and showed me where I’d be staying. Apparently, we were going to be sleeping in the same room, in the same bed, with no air flow. Once he realized that I’d just realized we were going to be sleeping in the same bed, he offered to sleep on the floor. But of course, I wasn’t going to displace him.



At least the bed is big…? Not pictured: The stagnant air.


While he went back to his clothing shop, I had some time to reflect. 

Inside thoughts while alone in his room:
I have no idea how to use the bathroom.  It’s shared with 20 other people. It’s a yard.  Is there an out house? He hadn’t mentioned how to use it (because why would he think to?).  I really have to go.  But I don’t have good sleeping bottoms for a public outing so I need to get dressed again.  Also, Deynee must brush his teeth but where?

At least I’m alone in this room for now. Thirsty? Too bad.  Can’t drink water ‘cause I’ll have to pee and just thinking about going out there makes my bladder tighten.

Feelings update: Proud to have figured the bathroom situation out.  What a relief, I was going to explode. I might even be able to go out there again and brush my teeth now that I see what it all looks like…



The bright side? I hadn’t gotten sick from any food – so I didn’t have to spend the night here.


I could hear mosquitos. All.over.  All.night.long.  They buzzed so loudly they kept me awake.  Or was it the lack of air flow that contributed to my lack of sleep? Or the rambunctious kids outside my hosts window?  

“I’m just on general high alert.” I wrote in my journal, as I continued taking malaria pills.

Finally, Deynee came in.  He started snoring so loudly.  Louder than the mosquitos.  I laid awake and awaited day break.

The next day, as you could probably guess, I was up bright and early.  After a brief tour around Lomé, Deynee and I went to get breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards, I headed back to the market to get my shoes cleaned (the height of luxury, remember?) as well as to get my toenails painted (for $1).  Then, I headed back to the only hostel I knew in Lomé.  

This time, there were more people staying, which was nice. I met a fellow traveler, an ambitious guy who’d wanted to find some nightlife in Lomé.



This screenshot sums it up.


Despite not finding anything to suggest that Lomé had a nightlife, we went out.  It was a weekend night, and we thought we might be able to find something.  

I had the “middle seat” on our motorcycle.  If there was a safe place on a two wheeled vehicle, I guess this was it.  

We drove to a place called Privilege bar, where we played air hockey and drank castle beer (it’s South African). It wasn’t what we were looking for, so, we walked 1.5k to a place called “Mad Complex,” (aka a food court), which, according to a google review, was “the best thing to happen to nightlife in Lomé”. LOL.

When we got there, we (immediately) turned around….and walked 1.5k back to Privilege bar to get a mototaxi back to the hostel. Police stopped us on our ride and asked for a bribe but my new friend – in perfect french – told them that we did not have a fun night out in Lomé and that we didn’t owe them anything. Amazing what being male and speaking the language can do.



The very next day, I packed for the airport. EEEEEE!!!!
IT WAS TIME TO GO HOME!!! (Is this my favorite part of any trip lately??)  I got rid of both the skirt and a top that I’d acquired in Ethiopia and it felt GOOD.  They permanently smelled bad; they were ugly; they weighed my bag down. #BYE.

[This coming from a girl wearing pants that hadn’t been washed and had recently been swimming in a waterfall (in a country where I don’t trust the water enough to drink).]

On the flight to Newark, I sat next to someone who stank — B.O. stank.  It got so bad that I had to ask the flight attendant for a baby wipe that I could put over my nose.  I was not going to miss this.

I didn’t sleep a wink.  2 flights. 0 winks.  (and not just because of the B.O. stank.)
I couldn’t wait to come home!  I finished my book and watched three movies, including Valentine’s Day (’cause I was feeling romantic). During my layover, I’d never been more excited about airport food; it smelled delicious PLUS I knew it (most likely) wouldn’t get me sick.  THIS IS THE NEW ME.


When I touched down in America, I embraced the feeling of coming back home. I’d been looking forward to speaking a language where I didn’t have to think twice about verb conjugations. 


To Togo I went,

To go to Kpalimé

9 Aug

As an American, I could only get a 7-day visa for Togo.  

There is a possibility of extending your visa at the embassy, once you arrive, but when expensive, big ‘ticket’ items are involved, like plane tickets, you don’t want to run the risk not getting approved before making your travel plans.

Bonus info:  There is a direct flight from Togo to Newark! (How cool is that?!) But it only leaves every other day.  So, while I had a 7 day visa to Togo I was only able to stay for 6.

You can read about my Lomé time here.



Kpalimé, Togo.


This blog is about when I headed to Kpalimé for cooler weather, hikes, and great views. 

Once there, I hired a motor taxi and went on an adventure near Ghana.



Vroom vroom


I went on a solo butterfly excursion. It was hard to get any pictures ‘cause they were tiny; the size of moths. But I did manage to capture some wildlife in the form of ants.


And found a nice restaurant, where I got to try the famous West African fou-fou.      



The fanciest spot I could find.



A no thank fou-fou taste.


The next day, I took a motorbike to Mt. Agou — 2,234 ft. (986 meters)– which is the highest point in Togo and in the Atakora mountains.  I was going to hike it instead of bike it, but the views from the top were too foggy and not worth the extra time.






Really mist out on a good view.


The next day, I took yet another moto taxi to see a waterfall.




Chasing waterfalls on dirt roads.


And even though all of my friends (and me) make fun of the bad camera I have on my phone, my guide loved it — he was very impressed.  It’s all relative…and nice to get some perspective.







My guide suggested that I go swimming at the above falls but I told him (in subpar French) “I am scared of crocodiles”.  But ended up just imitating a croc with my hands and pretending to attack.  He assured me that there weren’t any here, but I knew that there ARE crocs in Togo.  Eventually, after much insisting, I did go in…it was hard to resist.  I kept all of my clothes on because, unrelated to crocodiles, this is still a conservative country. 

I tried not to get any water in my mouth, least the water make me sick.  Strange how I was afraid to get water in my mouth but apparently I deemed my crotch safe.  I kept laughing to myself, these were the pants I was going to wear, sans washing, onto an international airplane. 

On the way back to town, we stopped for my first ever taste of fresh cacao. It was SO good.



Probably my favorite fruit.


Back in town, I went walking and stumbled upon another market. Again, I noticed that the variety of street food in Togo FAR surpasses that of Djibouti. And don’t even get me started on the smells. 



Variety is the spice of life, after all.






My favorite item to get at the market is pictured above: fried yummy things (as seen in the pan). They were hot and fresh, but I never did find out what they actually were.


Every time I ate, I took a picture. That way, in case I got sick, I’d remember everything I had eaten that day.


Here, I ate some eggs.



Coca-Cola in a glass bottle with a side of inspiring woman.


I also met some Couchsurfing friends in Kpalimé who I hung out with for a few hours, during which time they helped me practice walking with a book on my head.  As long as I walked as slowly as a snail I could handle one, single book. 

Some other Kpalimé moments:
There are no donkeys in Togo!  I showed off our donkeys pics.
The goats in this country are noticeable shorter. For real.
There was a medium sized crocodile (recently killed) for sale on the side of the road. Actually, there was lots of food that I’d never seen before for sale.

Not enough (hardly any) girl moto taxi drivers.
In the taxi-car from Lomé, we drove 4 in the front seat and 6 in the back. 



After three FULL days in Kpalimé, I took public transportation back to Lomé.

Ça va?

Djibuti (it’s a country)

5 Aug


Falling off the map can be good for you.


Patrick and I headed to Djibouti, a country we knew virtually nothing about. All we knew was that it contained the lowest point in Africa, and that this was probably the closest to Somalia (Somaliand) that I’d ever get (less than 30km).

When we arrived (neat video), we learned several things right off the bat:

  1. Djibuti is hot as hell. It was 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Their flag has the most gorgeous color blue in it.

  3. We were confident that we would only be at Djibouti International Airport twice in our lifetimes: once when we landed, and once when we departed.

  4. We were going to get ripped off on on the ride to our hotel because we hadn’t looked up the exchange rates. Djibouti, we learned quickly, is an expensive country. 



Djsweating my booty off.



Pimp my ride: Djibouti Edition


Early the next morning we met up with a Couchsurfer, Jon from Turkey, who offered to drive his company’s four-wheel drive for an adventure across this desolate part of the world to Lac Assal — the 2nd lowest point in the entire world (the first being the Dead Sea).



Scenes from the long drive.



I spy with my little eye something tan


Salt road > dirt road 🙂


On the drive, we played the question game. One question was, “When was the last time it took you longer than you thought it would to get somewhere?”  Jon decided that the next time he had to answer that question his answer would be this trip to Lac Assal.  Because it did take us a while to reach the Lac — there were so many trucks and traffic — Djibouti has an important location directly next to the Red Sea, with an Italian, French, Japanese, and US military base. Fun Fact: The Japanese Djibouti base is their only overseas base. It was crazy to see all the military in this small country and, as always, it drove home the point that there are so many things I don’t know about this world.

We also passed a lot of trucks heading to Ethiopia to deliver goods on land, we saw a (maybe) antelope, and a truck carcass on the side of the road as if it were some kind of warning about what was coming up (read: desolation).  We also noticed barrels of water being delivered to the very few people who lived along the road out this way.  Water is a precious, precious commodity in the desert.  And no one actually lives in Lac Assal because it’s uninhabitable as it’s…well, it’s salt.



Djibuti call



Pro tip: Don’t shave before you get in the water.


This is a video of pure salt:



We explored, tested the waters and tried to float.  We found some natural salt balls.  And, at one point, I fell into a hole, got some cuts.  Ouch.  The salt was sharp and rubbed into my wound.  Patrick, on the other hand, was feeling playful in the water, like an otter; he was loving the opportunity to float IN THE REAL WORLD.  It was sensory deprivation but with no boundaries. 


Afterwords, we all rinsed off with some dear fresh water, we had bought extra for this exact purpose.  The salt was so strong you wouldn’t want to let it sit on your skin for any length of time.  



Salt safety 101: wear shoes


When we got back from our salty excursion, we said goodbye to Jon and met up with another Couchsurfer, Douchan, who owned the best restaurant in town and graciously let us sleep in his spare bedroom.  Douchan was working the whole time and was also hosting a Spanish and a French couchsurfer — two solo female travelers in Africa, which I thought was pretty awesome. 



Fish two ways



Will risk getting rabies to pet.


For the next few days or so, we tried to figure out what to Dj-do in Djibouti. It was tough, actually, there wasn’t much to see AND it was atrociously hot outside.   We assumed the most popular Tinder profile in Djibouti would be something like: I have AC and a backup generator. #Heartbreaker.  We went to some markets, but when we found something we wanted to eat, the smell around us was so bad that we already had lost our appetite

We would wake up and for no reason I would still be tired.  It was the heat.

And, although we were there during “rainy” season, it only rained once while we were there…but we did witness locals taking full advantage.



Even a professional scientist wouldn’t be able to tell you how dirty that water is.


We took advantage of the water too… but instead of swimming in that garbage, we went to the Red Sea to take a dip.



Contemplating a midnight swim.


While we were swimming, some trash (most likely) kept bobbing around (so much for not swimming in garbage), but we weren’t totally convinced that it wasn’t a sea monster so we got out. We found out later that it might’ve been a giant turtle, and in that case, “we got out because we’re environmentalists”. – Patrick, the king of a spin story 🙂


The next day, we headed to the most luxurious place in all of Djibouti, the movie theater. Probably the only movie theatre in the whole country.  Because of all the army bases in Djibuti, this theatre showed several movies in English. (We saw two).  Spiderman and the Lion King, the former we liked better but the latter  was awesome to see while we were actually in Africa.   We spent the (much) better part of our day here.  It had air conditioning, which was crucial, and a grocery store attached, called Casino, WHICH SOLD ICE CREAM! (also crucial) This place was our home for almost 8 hours, I kid you not. (Not that you thought I was kidding.)  While at the mall, we read a children’s story where the heroine, a literal heron, dies of starvation. Dark… 



Not a single other person in the theatre; it was fantastic!


This air conditioning day was also a day of food variety!  We had pad thai for lunch and ate a small veggie pizza for dinner.  Never mind that none of it was that tasty.  The ice cream throughout the day MORE than made up for it all.

Besides all of that food that I have already mentioned, we also got a large caramel and salt popcorn mix in what I like to call a “Sammi’s stomach is about to hurt combo.” But actually, Patrick’s stomach started to hurt. Plot twist.



On our last day in Djibouti, Patrick wanted to get his hair cut …in a shipping container on the side of the road:



A haircut– Djibouti style. We pointed to the coolest picture on the wall and Patrick got his African style on. 


That night, we were able to afford a delicious lobster meal (thanks to our generous host Douchan who helped us save money ) and I got to do one of my favorite things: eavesdrop on foreigners living abroad.


The next morning, we walked to the airport (the 2nd and final time I would be at Djibouti International), and arrived 1.5 hours early. Because we were too early, they made us sit outside of the airport and wait for our flight.  When we final did get inside, a cat greeted us with meows and we did have to do some more waiting for our tickets to be issued.  When we finally got on the plane, we realized that it was just as hot on there as it was outside. Good bye forever, Djibuti.

We landed back in Ethiopia where both Patrick and I had layovers (but we couldn’t leave the airport) before heading on our separate adventures. Patrick had 12 hours before he was off to a trumpet festival in Serbia, while I had 24 hours before heading to Togo. While we waited, we watched the worst episode of Queer Eye — Below Average Joe — and were amazed how we were in a major international airport and no credit card machine would work. At least for awhile.  Eventually they did and Patrick and I shared one final meal in Ethiopia.


Lest we forget…
Bugzaire. Norrrn.



4 Aug

Welcome, everybody (but mostly Patrick), to Hotel-thiopia. The place where I document how we broke down and ranked all the places we stayed in Ethiopia (and Djibouti) using 12 categories.  Can you say…”time on our hands?!”

-Towels (super stingy w/ towels in Ethiopia)



Great news! We didn’t stay here!



This place in Lalibela got 88 total. Downside is that you can’t hear the gorgeous chanting of the monks in this photo. MINUS 12 POINTS.



Here are the full scores for each place, again, for our own memories.


Ethiopia (out of 120)

Addis: 7, 7, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 3, 6, 9 = 82

Mekele: 5, 4, 5, 5, 2, 5, 2, 3, 3, 6, 3, 4 = 47 39% (where I got sick)

Axum: 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 3, 5, 7, 4, 4 = 46

Gondor: 0, 0, 1, 3, 7, 5, 6, 2, 0, 1, 10, 9, 7 = 51

Bahir Dar: 8, 9, 7, 4, 7, 8, 7, 9, 9, 5, 9, 8 = 90  (won in the tie breaker)

Lalibela: 7, 6, 4, 5, 9, 3, 10, 9, 9, 8, 8, 10 = 88

Dire Dowa: 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 9, 8, 6, 8, 9, 8, 7 = 86

Harar: 2, 0, 1, 0, 2, 2, 3, 6, 9, 6, 10, 8 = 49



AB:  10, 7, 5, 10, 9, 9, 10, 6, 10, 0, 4, 4 = 84

Douchann: 10, 7, 6, 8, 6, 8, 8, 6, 5, 10, 6, 10 = 90



I know, I know, this is so cryptic.  Whatever, it means something to me and it’s my blog.  I’ll end with a photo-thiopia.






Elephants, camels, hyenas — oh, my

1 Aug
While in Harar, we went wild. As in, we experienced wildlife to the fullest.
Before dealing with the live animals though, Hailu, our exceptional guide, took us to try camel meat from the market.   Check out the lack of refrigeration in this Youtube link: Raw camel meat.  You can see that camel meat is both darker and redder.
We, of course, bought some and walked it about 20 meters away (that’s very close) to have it cooked with rosemary and injera.


Camel’s on the menu.


While we waited for our camel meat to cook, people offered us RAW meat!  They were eating it as is.  Both Patrick and I politely declined — it was already a big day for our stomachs.


Celebrating hump day the right way.


Overall, it was pretty good!  The glass bottle cokes and spicy sauce added to the experience.  


All gone.



So, now that we had fed on an animal, it was time to do the feeding…..

Fast forward to nightfall:

We walked outside the city walls to participate in a nightly feeding of the wild hyenas.  A NIGHTLY FEEDING OF THE WILD HYENAS.  Insane.  Something I had never heard of.  They do this, not for tourists, but to keep the hyenas happy in the hopes that they don’t attack the town.   In fact, Harar even has hyena doors built into the city walls (have I mentioned? It’s a walled-city.) so that the hyenas can come and go as they please.


Hyenas are nocturnal.  This gave me the full day to contemplate my decision to save $1,500 USD and not get an anti rabies shot…which, in my defense, only buys you 48 hours.  If you are suspected to be infected you MUST go to the hospital in the capital city (very far away) for painful shots otherwise rabies has a 100% mortality rate.  Before my trip, the nurse who gave me this information cautioned me that rabies is transferred through saliva, not an actual bite. So we had to be extra cautious — even of stray puppies who could scratch and drool into a cut. Don’t touch the animals.  Pretty solid rule to follow when you travel.
Anyway, I stayed clear of puppies and headed straight to the wild hyena den.


We saw how the community literally coexists with these hyenas, which, by the way are HUGE.  People casually walked by as 5-6 (but definitely 6) hyenas came around us and howled. It was the first time I can remember ever actually wanting someone to have a gun. But alas, guns are illegal in Ethiopia but feeding wild hyenas from your mouth isn’t. Shrugs.

For the first time in my life, I heard a wild hyena laugh.

I could not believe I was seeing hyenas in the wild.  What does an animal with rabies even look like…?? 

What did I decide to to?
Well, Africa is lawless, honestly, and this was seriously such a unique opportunity.  I was hard pressed to say no…So I didn’t.  This was something we’d remember for a lifetime!

One man called the hyenas over, loudly and with intensity.   They didn’t look like they had rabies but we couldn’t be sure.  The only thing was not to get saliva into an open cut.  We began the feeding,  And now… for the moment you’ve all been waiting for:



Making eye contact.


A size up.


The experience was INSANE. INSANE INSANE INSANE!  During the second feeding I did get some hyena saliva on my cheek, pretty much the only thing I was definitely not supposed to do.  But it wasn’t an open wound so I told Patrick, shrugged, and wiped it off.



It was truly unforgettable.


The next morning, we headed out bright and early (ok, just early — it was still dark outside) to go to an elephant sanctuary with Hailu. It was massive, with a big African sky, sounds of nature, and swarms of beautiful African birds.


Question: Where was this gun when the hyenas were around…



Extreme bird watching:  The only thing that makes it extreme is that we went all the way to Africa to do it.

On the way, I took a look on our map and saw how close we were to what I thought was Somalia. I learned, however, that it was Somaliland, which is a country recognized by only 7 countries including Ethiopia. However, our state department does not distinguish between the two too much; it says, in no uncertain words, if you go there, “prepare to die”.  Like, leave a DNA sample behind.   Needless to say, Patrick and I didn’t go there.
Instead we went trekking where we saw 3 wild warthogs, kingfishers — Patrick’s favorite bird –, and 7 wild elephants!! These animals did not want to be around humans (who can blame them). We didn’t get great footage but it was majestic. The elephant’s big, huge ears move with them as they walk — it’s adorable.
We also saw some wild-ish cows; it was their first time seeing a car.  And we spotted a rock hyrax on a… well, rock. 


Searching for elephants.  PS.  Intentional camouflage?


We LOVED spending days with Hailu– heck, we loved Hailu! Not only as a guide but also how he gave back to his community everywhere we went. We felt like he helped us be more responsible tourists, giving money directly to people — which always the goal.
Hailu also taught us an Ethiopian idiom which described Patrick: “A lion will not go back on the way it came.”

After our wild elephant trek, Hailu took us off-the-beaten-path, to a camel market. It felt like thousands of camels were for sale, and there may well have been. The sellers and buyers made secret deals under their scarves and shook on a price. 


Smile! You’re on camel camera!


We didn’t see a single other tourist at the market, and were grateful to Hailu for showing us this marvel (and for his generosity). We left feeling pleased at having contributed to the local economy (not that we bought a camel..but you can imagine we discussed it) and having seen this phenomenon.

Camels foam at the mouth to assert their dominance; IE, there was a lot of foam.  So while we were at the camel market it was a fun game of “Rabid or Dominant?”  No matter the answer, we tried to avoid their saliva.  Gross.


The local community.

There were other things at the market besides the camels. The locals were selling goats and, I guess, what one might call snacks.
I’ll throw in another Hailu quote: “If you can manage goats you can be around anyone”.




The safest street food in town.


On the drive back to town, we fed baboons bread out the car window.


The high-fashion/scary models of the animal kingdom. Just look at those cheekbones.


As we got back in the car, we stopped for one (or six) more avocado and mango juices before taking public transportation and arriving in Dire Dawa to catch our plane for Djibouti (what. a. day.).  I will mention, the mango juice was SO good — and, for my own memory, while we were there, the man at the table next to us ordered a mixed juice — avocado and mango — AND a slice of cake. A grown man who really knew how to order. I couldn’t look away, I loved it so much.  In the end, he even shared his remaining juice with a homeless man. So much inspiration.
Anyway, we finally got to the airport and Ethiopia sent us off with that classic airport B.O. and an official whiteboard with all of the flights written on it. Just one whiteboard.  One. For the ENTIRE international airport.

While Patrick and I waited for our flight, we met a nice guy in the army from the U.S. and swapped stories… which made us take inventory of all our Ethiopia highlights, here they are in an order that I remembered them in: 
Here they are:

  • Eating camel meat at a market
  • The memorable cultural dancing
  • Hiking to / Climbing to that church
  • Renting a donkey
  • A coffee ceremony with popcorn on Lake Tana
  • When we went flood chasing
  • Hippos in the wild, feeding pelicans
  • Ranking the places we stayed
  • Shoe cleaning (aka the height of luxury)
  • Seeing Lucy!
  • Those natural toothbrushes
  • Wild coffee
  • Baboons
  • An elephant sanctuary on a private safari
  • Incredible camel market, plus a 3 day old camel
  • Avocado juice, avocado juice, and where can we get more avocado juice

So basically… all of it. The whole thing was a highlight.
‘mi 🙂




Committed to a life full of adventure.