It’s about that time. In just a few days, I depart to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam! I have some more information about what’s going on for this lengthy journey. As some of you may know, I will be abroad for approximately six months. This will be my longest duration of being away from home thus far. This six month excursion will be split into two halves. The first half (June to early September) I will be In Vietnam for about a month teaching English to kids there with a volunteering agency called The Green Lion. According to the email I received from them, I’ll be staying at a university in the middle of the city, which means I’ll be living and teaching in the same place. After my placement there is complete, I’ll be traveling to neighboring countries with no agenda whatsoever. The second half of the trip (September through November) I’ll return back to South Africa to reunite with the Zulu’s and the students I connected with there. During that time, I will be visiting different countries exploring their parts as well. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I won’t be traveling alone this time. Let me introduce you to two friends of mine who will be joining me along the way. Get to know em! They will be featured a lot on this blog.
From: Sheffield, United Kingdom
Met: Muizenberg, South Africa (June 2012)
Ah, Lucy. We caused a bit of a stir in the house together, especially after I left. (Only residents of Recreation Road will understand that). Lucy moved into the Rec 13 house two weeks after I got there and we almost instantly bonded. I always considered her the ‘voice of reason’ within our close-knit group. Out of that crazy bunch she was the most level-headed and even went out of her way to host a pancake party of sorts for my last day with the group before I set out to Tanzania. Before I left, Lucy stayed up with me into the late hours and helped me set up the collage of mementos I left in the living room for everyone. What was great was even after I left to Tanzania, and came back she was still there and the only one of my original group who remained. Lucy was part of the initial plan with Monica to go to Vietnam this summer too. I was more than down but I thought it would never come to fruition because it’s such a huge commitment. Unfortunately, Monica won’t be able to travel with us as she intended but I’m pretty sure she will make up for it next time! Lucy stayed in Muizenberg for six months, so she was well-known around town and made quite a name for herself. The Princess of Muizenberg perhaps? She’s done some things in South Africa that I didn’t even know you could do there! She was there for so long that she even learned how to sweeten up her baking craft at the local “Secret Bakery” and became a staple there. After her time was up, instead of going back home to England, she went to Australia to stay with family there for another whopping six months. So when I see her again in Vietnam, she will still be on her lengthy trip around the world! To make ends meet, she has found a quick little job in Australia working in a sushi restaurant. We’ve kept in touch since the day I left Africa to make this trip happen and I’m happy to say that it’s FINALLY happening! Lucy has a captivating English accent (which by now probably has a little South African zest and a bit of an Australian zing mixed in) that is going to attract all sorts of weirdos so it’s my personal duty to keep her safe and BEAT UP any creep that tries to mess with her. Friends and family of Lucy, she’s in great care.
Lucy will be traveling alongside me for pretty much the whole first half of this six month gig. I believe her last stop is in Indonesia, which will probably be my last stop until around the beginning of September when I head back to South Africa and join up with another globetrotting buddy of mine.
Fearless. That’s the one word I’d use to describe this guy. My readers should already be familiar with Chris as he was mentioned earlier and quite a bit throughout my stay in Kayamandi. He’s an aspiring teacher and diving coach back home, but when he’s not doing that, he’s launching frisbees across fields, jumping off of hazardous cliffs for fun, and bustin’ backflips pretty much anywhere that demands it! This upcoming August, while I’m in Asia, Chris will be visiting past volunteers of his own throughout Europe over the summer and we will eventually reunite back in South Africa in September. What’s cool is, we had similar experiences in Kayamandi but at completely different and separate times, so us being there together will be pretty exciting. Mama Zulu, the kids, and Isaac know we are coming back because I told them the next time I comeback, he will be back as well. He has left a humongous footprint in the small township of Kayamandi when I visited and the teachers and locals always toted him as “crazy”, but the good kind of crazy. If there’s a statue of him made there in the middle of the township when I get back, I wouldn’t be at all surprised! Chris and I became friends through our similar blogs about South Africa, so this will be pretty cool. You can also bet your bank accounts that he and I will be getting into some pretty sweet adventures! And if you didn’t know already, he writes an awesome blog documenting his travels too and you can follow him on the link to the right of this page. A neat thing is once we reunite in SA, you will get two different perspectives of the same endeavors on our own respective blogs. Consider yourselves lucky. I’ll also have to BEAT UP anyone who messes with him too, but he’s the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ as the Kids of Kayamandi liked to call him, so I’m sure he’ll be able to handle his own.
Chris made a few videos of his time in South Africa back in 2011. Here are two of them!
This first video is the one I used to find his core group of kids last summer…
This second one is great too because at 1:24 RiRi is interrogating interviewing Chris about his friend back home. The kids in this video are the same ones I bonded with last summer.
Reaching Out 2 The World
Back in October of 2012, Chris and I came up with a plan to one day return to South Africa. Soon once we booked our flights for that, we came up with another plan to take the students we once had, on a trip around their country. It’s something that tourists get to do but not the locals because of how expensive it can be. We want to spoil these guys and show them parts of their home they’ve only dreamed about such as going on a wildlife safari, hiking, visiting Table Mountain (one of the seven natural wonders of the world), canoeing through the wilderness, boat trips, visiting one of the stadiums where the 2010 World Cup was held, and so much more! But how exactly do we fund such a feat?
We launched a campaign on Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding site where anyone can raise money for film, music, art, charity, small businesses, gaming, theater, and more. The campaign is a project we call “Reaching Out 2 The World”. We even made a logo for it! More than just helping these kids explore their country, we will be reaching out to the world by documenting everything we do on this trip. We’ll be blogging, tweeting, creating videos, shooting lots of photos, and writing letters to keep everyone involved. You’ll feel as close to the experience, no matter where in the world you are, from the comforts of your own home. It’s a pretty cool project and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of.
You ever heard of Tough Mudder? It’s a hardcore 10-12 mile run with obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. You get electrocuted, leap through ice pits, trudge through fire blazed hay fields, crawl through mud underneath barbed wire and so much more!
Doesn’t that look like a lot of fun?
It’s like American Gladiators to the extreme! I have been planning on doing this for a while now and assembled a team of some of the toughest people I know to attempt this insane mud marathon. There was one other person who popped up in my mind who would be perfect for this challenge…
I met Andy during my first outing in South Africa. He, along with a few others, were the second wave of volunteers to join us at the Rec House in Muizenberg. This guy is a beast! Rumor has it, he did 1000 push-ups everyday, ran along Muizenberg beach back and forth 6 miles every afternoon, and I even heard he sprinted to the top of Table Mountain one time after I had already left. What impressed me the most though was his ambition on education, not just at home, but around the world. Even while in South Africa, he was always busy with different paths to that light with his University and e-mails with scholars. Andy is from Ohio and if you’re from Michigan (like me), then you’re supposed to make fun of anyone from Ohio, and that’s what I did during our stay in Muizenberg. 🙂
I contacted Andy and asked if he was interested in joining my team of mudders come late April. He was down and it didn’t take too much convincing, especially since the event took place relatively close to him. Andy met up with me at a Holiday Inn, close to the venue the night before challenge day. This is one of the first time friends from home met another volunteer I met during my time abroad and just like I expected, they took a liking to Andy immediately. We caught up on a lot of things. Back in Muizenberg, Andy would spend a lot of time applying for the Fullbright Scholarship and low and behold, ten months later he finally got accepted! I had no doubt he would be chosen, it was only a matter of ‘when’. He’s going to be teaching in Thailand for a year this upcoming fall. What an opportunity!
So back to the Tough Mudder. Officials declared that we participated in the wettest, muddiest tough mudder EVER! And I believe it, because it was 11 miles of nonstop mud stomping and rain. But I enjoyed every second of it!
Funny story. There were 24 obstacles in this event and one of them was the “Wounded Warrior Carry”. It’s an obstacle where we would have to partner up and carry a teammate on our backs about 100 yards through mud, and then switch partners. I always assumed I would be carrying Andy. He’d be easy to pick up; he’s relatively skinny and looks light…well at least since I seen him last June. Fast forward almost 10 months and this guy has gained close to 30 pounds of pure muscle! Even his neck was the size of his head. If I had known that I would have to carry this mountain through 100 yards of mud, I would have carried one of the girls instead! We both made it through though. I may or may not have had to put him down for a second or two…
We all went to celebrate by stuffing our faces at a nearby restaurant later on. Soon after, Andy had to go back to Dayton, Ohio to return to work bright and early the next day. Before I know it, next time I see him, his calves will be bigger than my head. Live it up in Thailand Andy!
Two weeks before all that fun, I booked a Mega Bus to Chicago to visit some friends. During my stay, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see…
This is Chris M. I have to put the “M” to differentiate from all the other Chris’ on this blog! I met him during my first outing in South Africa and we were roommates my entire time there. What’s funny is that Chris lived right under my nose back home in Michigan, maybe about ten minutes within each other, but we’ve never known each other to exist until we met thousands of miles away in Muizenberg, South Africa. Chris was always down for anything fun and he was always full of interesting stories and tales. He graduated from Notre Dame and moved to Chicago back in September to start a new job. Even though he lives the closest to me out of all the volunteers I met, it took me a while to visit him because our schedules just never meshed. Eventually, I planned on visiting some other friends in Chicago and texted him saying I was gonna be around. Fortunately, he finally had some free time from work and we were able to meet up!
Chris joined my friends and I at a tapas restaurant called “Cafe Babareeba”. I don’t remember him being so tall!? On a side note, I’m not the best person to tend with at a tapas restaurant because instead of wanting to share everything, I’d rather devour it all to myself! Anyways, Chris is the first person from my original group at Rec 13 that I met up with and I was the first for him as well. Ever since he’s moved to the area, he’s been super busy with work. It was great that we both had the weekend off to hangout. We caught up on everything and he brought me to speed on everything that happened at the Rec house right after I left. He even went to Kruger National Park on his last week in SA, something no other volunteer has done during my time there. Not only that, he went for free! Unheard of!
After the tapas restaurant, we all decided we were going to do an Irish pub crawl around Lincoln Park, so the five of us squished into a taxi and went to our first destination!
I can’t remember the name of the first pub we went to (or any of them for that matter) but when we got to the second pub is when another volunteer who lived in the area joined us…
I met Ari in Tanzania in July 2012. She entered the old volunteer house one day after I did. She was the only other volunteer at the time to teach at Shining Star with me. She had the “baby” class and I had the kids who were a tiny bit older. I feel a bit guilty because I constantly left Ari on her own as I missed two weeks of teaching from climbing Kilimanjaro and going to Zanzibar right after. She didn’t mind though thankfully! Ari is a kindergarten teacher back home and you could tell because she was absolutely great with the Shining Star kids. A couple of those kids were completely nuts but she was able to handle them like an early-learner teacher should, while I would always hide from them :). What a trooper! She was also part of my safari squad as we roughed it around the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Crater.
Ari joined us at the second pub for a few drinks where I introduced her to my friends and to Chris M. I’ve volunteered in a lot of countries over the years and this is the first time that two different volunteers that I have met in different countries have met! I thought this was pretty neat.
So what has Ari been up to since then? She’s still doing what she loves and that’s educating the leaders of the future! She’s been so busy that she doesn’t have any plans to explore the world as of yet but things could change. I also let her know of my venture in London last Christmas where I saw Pip and Danni.
At this same pub, Chris M contacted another volunteer from our Rec 13 group who I had no idea was in the area otherwise I would have contacted her myself! I’m referring to…
What the heck was Lisa doing in Chicago?! She lives in St. Louis and thankfully Chris put a shout out on Facebook otherwise we would have missed her! She just so happened to be in Chicago too. So yeah, this is Lisa. She’s another from my original group in South Africa. Lisa, along with Andy, arrived to the Rec House two weeks after Chris and I did. We immediately embraced her and we went on a trip to the Garden Route over an extended weekend. I remember Lisa and I having a conversation about how our family and friends back home thought we were crazy for coming to Africa by ourselves, not knowing anyone. We understood each others accord and both knew the rewards were worth the risks (and they certainly were!).
It was so great seeing these guys again, and just like with everyone that I seen in London, it was as if I just saw them yesterday. Chris had plans to host other volunteers he met in South Africa soon which might include Andy. Chris has been keeping up with my blogs and following me along these adventures which is great! Ari has been doing very well and had to leave us early to attend a birthday. And Lisa has been hard at work with her studies and clinicals and had to leave early to attend other things she had planned. If only I could get the whole Rec 13 crew together again, even if just for a short time, that would make for one heck of a reunion!
Andy, Chris M, Ari, and Lisa are the last of the 12 volunteers that I visited since I came back from Africa last year. All of you guys are truly awesome people who I have had the pleasure to meet up with again.
It’s getting close to my departure date, so for the next post I will introduce you to friends who will be traveling along side me and where I plan on going. There’s a project that I’ve been working on called “Reaching Out 2 The World” that I must tell you all about and I also just received a letter from my coordinators in Vietnam, so I’ll go into detail about that too.
The (easy) decision to venture out to London was out of pure randomness. I’ll just go for the heck of it. No rhyme or reason. But what I thought would be pretty sweet, was to go during the Christmas holidays. This would be my first Christmas away from home and my first foray into the United Kingdom, and I am pretty excited about not knowing what I’m getting myself into. All I knew is that it will be a very merry, holly jolly, good ol’ time!
There’s another, more endearing excuse why I spontaneously chose to visit the United Kingdom; a handful of volunteers I met over the years also live in or near London so it would be cool to visit them too. So I booked a flight for the week of Christmas to the epicenter of England. I was giddy, after all, Christmas is my favorite time of year. The corny music, all the lights and decorations, even that particular Christmas scent (a mixture of pine trees, garland, candy cane mints, wrapping paper, and clementines), I love it all! I made sure to pack my Santa Claus hat and flew across the pond to London! The first person I first met up with was none other than…
I met Nichola in Cuzco, Peru in 2011. She lived with Maria in her home-stay but I first met her pre-gaming outside in the middle of Plaza de Armas, before we went hopping around all the discotekkas on one of my first nights in the country. What I love about Nichola was that she was always chock full of energy and was always fun to be around. She knew how to have a good time, every single time. She’s hails from Manchester, U.K and has the coolest British accent to prove it. Whenever Panjabi MC came on, we were the only ones to bust out into some Indian dance, anytime we heard it, while everyone around looked at us like we were crazy (which was quite often actually.) Over time, we went White Water rafting in the births of the Amazon river, where she handled the chilly rapids like a pro. I left right before she went on to explore Bolivia, but we have kept in touch ever since. As a matter of fact, my going to Tanzania last year was all her idea. A suggestion which proved to be the right one. Thanks for that Nichola!
I knew Nichola went to Uni in London, but didn’t know if she would be around for the holidays, so I contacted her and let her know of my plans. She had just left London and went back to Manchester for the holidays but took a train right back to London to meet up with me. I told her, once I get off the plane, I’ll catch a taxi and meet her and her boyfriend Edward wherever they were. Instead she suggested, since taxi’s cost a ridiculous amount, to buy an oyster for a few quid and catch a tube…
Let me translate that. I should buy a pass called an Oyster card which costs just a few pounds and catch a tube (subway) to wherever I need to go. It’s much cheaper that way. So that’s exactly what I did. I tubed it to her University (UCL) and reunited with my old Peruvian buddy. Since I last seen her, she has been doing some traveling of her own to places such as Bolivia, Chile, Paris, and Egypt to name a few. After that, she’s hard at work with school and has other trips studying abroad in the works. She is studying towards a Spanish and French degree here at UCL. She also has a flat (dorm), that her, Edward, and I would stay at for the next couple of days. But before we did anything, I really REALLY needed a nap. I could barely sleep on the plane and I have been up for almost 24 hours. It was about noon here so I didn’t want to sleep too long, just maybe an hour. After that we went into town and got some grub. I found out that lemonade here in England is not lemonade at all! They call their sprite or 7-Up here lemonade, and actual American lemonade they refer to as cloudy lemonade or fresh squeezed lemon juice or something like that. So to you unaware Americans, if you go to England and order a lemonade, you’re in for a surprise! Afterwards we walked to the British Museum which is gargantuan! And best of all, free. Also, I had no idea the actual Rosetta Stone was held here.We decided to call it a night afterwards because I was still quite jet lagged. So lagged that I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until nearly two in the afternoon the next day, which is a new record for me. I never sleep past noon, ever! It also got really dark, really quick so I was a bit disoriented when we went outside. Nichola, Edward, and I took the tube to Westminster and saw a few pretty cool things.
That same day, December 21st 2012, the world was supposed to end. Thank God it didn’t because I was really worried…
So we went to a friend of Edwards for a “Hey, So It’s Not The End Of The World” party. Any excuse to party is fine with me! There I met a house full of aspiring young actors, actresses, and musicians. It was fitting because they were all quite the characters. All they wanted was to feed me and make sure my cup was always filled to the brim. An important observation I made; any place I go where I’m in a different state/country/continent/planet and I am at a party or just hanging out with people (mostly foreign strangers), they have all been so incredibly nice and like to cater me with lots of drinks and tasty food! It’s awesome and I always make sure I return the gratitude in some way.
The next day, the three of us went to Camden Town Market (I think) where they have a bunch of shops and food stalls. Food stalls with different food from places like Brazil, China, and Peru! I just got a chicken sandwich and fries but regretted it when Nichola and I saw the Peru stall and were instantly bombarded with old memories. The lady at the stall was impressed that we knew quite a bit about the delicacies she offered and about the places we’ve been in her country. It just makes me want to get back to Peru again one day.
We chilled back at the flats and ordered some pizza for the remainder of the night. She and Edward had to catch an early train back to Manchester in the morning. It was really good seeing Nichola after almost two years! It was also nice of them to make the trip down to see me. I don’t get too sad with these goodbyes too much because they’re not really goodbyes, they’re more like an “I’ll see you later”. On the same token, it doesn’t make it easier.
I met Prem during my second outing in South Africa. She along with a handful of other newbies took over the Rec House once I left for Tanzania. Prem is from London and I’ve never met someone so hilariously witty. Along with a few others, we would always play Chinese Snap, a zany table pounding card game, in the Rec house a few times and her hand was always the victim of my intimidating death slaps on the table. She swore vengeance on me once I seen her in London though. I’ve only hung around the new crew at the Rec House a few times and Prem was always the standout comedian. Her English accent made everything funnier to me. In case you haven’t noticed, I love that accent. If I could swap my generic American accent for a English one, I would in a heartbeat.
I took the tube to North Greenwich and after getting lost on the city bus for an hour, somehow found my way to Plumstead where Prem resides. I never sweat when I get lost; I’m pretty resourceful. I was greeted by her, her mother, and her friend Natalie from her Uni. Since I last saw Prem, she has been hard at work studying and working even debating where and when to take her next trip. She really wants to go to New York City. On an interesting note, most of the Londoners I met want to go to either New York City, Florida, or Los Angeles. There is way more to the U.S. than those three places! I thought it was amusing. Prem keeps in touch with several people she met back in Muizenberg still which is awesome and we had a good time talking about things we may have not known at the time. The first night was very relaxed, we watched a movie, drank some wine, and I taught them how to play Wisk, a card game I learned from another English friend of mine who I will reunite with in a bit. Her mom assumed I knew how to cook because she said I have fat cheeks! I can’t cook for the life of me, so give me something to cut or peel. I can also supervise pretty well. If I did any cooking I would have ruined Christmas dinner for everyone!
I actually spent Christmas Day in this household and it was mighty relaxing. Prem introduced me to something festive they do here in London. She bought a package of…gosh I don’t remember what they’re called…poppers? Crackers? Anyways, they are these things that look like giant tootsie rolls, still in the wrapper but in cardboard form. What you do is, you and a friend pull each side and it pops open with goodies and surprises. In mine were a king’s crown, a pocket mirror, and some small book. I guess Londoners do it all the time here. Later on, we took Natalie back to her flat at her Uni in which Prem and her mom tried to give me a mini tour of this part of the city as we drove, but I was fast asleep in the backseat. From all that wine probably. It happens.
The next day, Prem and her mom drove me to the bus station so I could get to Kensington. I said my goodbyes to them and assured that whenever I get back to London I will see them again. Thanks for everything Prem! Now to get to Kensington. There was a tube strike today and most of the tubes were out of service so I had to take the buses. I am pretty bad at navigating the buses but I managed to get to Kensington…eventually.
I met Nick a few days before we started our week-long trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in July 2012. He lived in a home-stay, while I stayed in the main volunteer house. He was also part of LX6 (the group of us six volunteers who banded together to ascend Kili). Right after Kili, we went directly to Zanzibar Island for another week, so I spent a considerable amount of time with him. Nick and I were tent-mates the entire time on the mountain which reminds me, I have a funny story about that, that I never mentioned on here before. (Nick, if you’re reading this, don’t hate me!)
Each night on Kilimanjaro, there was something that happened I liked to call “Nick-at-Nite”. At the hotel we stayed in, the night before our ascent, Nick warned me that he would often sleep walk at night and would sometimes spaze out and say and do unusual things. “You’re fine” I responded. I thought he was exaggerating, but I found out soon enough he certainly wasn’t . At the hotel, in the middle of the night, he popped up out of his bed like The Undertaker and didn’t know where he was or even who I was. “HUH!! ..Wha??? Where am I? Who are you?”
“Nick, you’re in a hotel. It’s me, Dan. We are climbing Kilimanjaro tomorrow” I said. “Oh okay” he says and he falls right back to sleep. That was just the first day. Our first night on Kilimanjaro, he did the exact same thing. “Wha?! Where am I? Who are you?!”
“I’m Dan and we’re in a tent.”
Now the second night on the mountain was even funnier. He unconsciously woke up in the middle of the night, grabbed his torch (flashlight) and proceeded to lift my feet up to find who knows what on my side of the tent. He then dropped my feet and started tossing around my bags. I was lying there cracking up because I knew he didn’t realize what he was doing.
“Nick are you alright?” I finally asked. “Looking for my torch.” he responded. “It’s in your hand, haha!” I chuckled. “Oh, okay” he says and goes back to his side of the tent and right back to sleep.
All this stuff makes him sound like a weirdo, but that’s only just when he’s sleeping. He’s actually really bright and a good friend. He made sure I didn’t drown or get eaten by any sharks when I decided to exercise in the Indian Ocean after a few too many drinks one late night in Zanzibar…
By this point I have already been all over London: North, South, East, West, and Central. I have become adept at navigating the tubes (not so much with the buses). Nick took a train from somewhere just outside of South London to come visit and I took the tube to Charring Cross and met up with him at the front of the train station. We headed down South Bank nearby to a pub called The Coal Hole where we could catch up.
When I last saw him, he was leaving Zanzibar and heading back home to London, just as the Summer Olympics were kicking off. These days Nick is a pharmaceutical assistant and working towards his degree in the field at the University of Bath. He’s been doing well these days and it was pretty good reminiscing over the good, the bad, and the overall memorable times on Kilimanjaro. I was also able to ask him in person what he thought of the Fruity Pebbles I sent him a couple of months ago. You see, for those that don’t know, I am a big cereal junkie. I could live off of it if I had to. While on Zanzibar, I found out Tanner, Katie, Lana, and Nick (all foreigners) have never heard or even seen a box of Fruity Pebbles in their lives. I was astonished! So I told them once I got back to America, I would send them each a box; and that’s exactly what I did.
While tossing back a few pints, we were able to catch up on A LOT of stuff. I told him about the rest of my Africa trip and then about Vegas. He asked if I still kept in touch with my school in Tanzania, the Shining Star Pre-Primary. Just occasional emails back and forth, but not too much else. And it’s understandingly so because it’s hard to get internet out there. He kept in touch with his school too, Cheti Primary…until recently. His old directors at Cheti emailed him asking if he could send quite a substantial amount of money over to help the directors kids get through school. Nick hasn’t responded because he doesn’t know what to say. There’s no telling if Cheti will actually use the money for the students or for other personal things. As a matter of fact, the schools that we volunteered with in Tanzania are not supposed to ask us volunteers for money because a portion of our money already went towards the schools. And I know for a fact the money went towards the schools because each volunteer literally hand delivered it to their primary’s directors in person at the start of the volunteer program. Once you leave though, there is no telling what they will do with the money (the locals in Tanzania were a bit sneaky when it came to this kid of stuff). Nick has yet to respond to them, but I can’t blame him.
After sometime, Nick and I parted ways once again at the train station. It was very good to meet up and I know that I’ll see him again one of these days.
Sam is another that I met during my second outing in SA in August 2012. He occupied the Rec House and I met him a little later on my trip. The whole time, he reminded me of a certain celebrity but I couldn’t put my finger on who. It wasn’t until my last night in SA that I pointed out he looks like Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. “I get that all the time, but I don’t see it!” he would say. From the short time I knew him, it was apparent that everyone at the house liked him a lot. He told me he lived in East London, however far or close that is to the main part of London (is there a main part?) I’m not sure. But once I knew I was going, I messaged him and we met up!
Good thing Sam was wearing a Santa hat or otherwise I would have never found him! We met up on the London bridge and it was a miracle that we found each other so quickly because there was so many people everywhere! I thought I was going to have to resort to asking people if they have seen Chris Martin walking around with a Santa Hat. We went directly to the Borough Market near the bridge. It’s a huge outdoor place clustered with food stalls galore! It’s almost impossible to go through the market without buying something to eat. Everything smelled and looked so freakin’ delicious! I even tried “mulled wine” for the first time. The Londoners have told me about mulled wine before, but this whole time I thought they were saying “mold” wine, which didn’t sound great at all. Mulled wine is a heated Merlot that is moderately blended with cinnamon and other spices. It’s actually not that bad. It tastes almost like a warm apple cider with a bit of a bold red wine finish.
Sam is a teacher here in London and an avid surfer on his free time. He has surfed in Australia, California, South Africa, and even while it was snowing in Northern England! In Muizenberg, he was volunteering with the surf program. He and Prem actually left at the same time.
We went to a pub near the London Bridge called “A Bunch of Grapes”…I think. I should have wrote this stuff down! But we were able to catch up and seeing as he is a teacher, I was able to ask him a lot of questions about the United Kingdom. He was able to explain a lot because I’ll be honest, my knowledge of England or even Europe as a whole is severely lacking. It’s so small and there are so many countries in one tiny area. For example, (I’m going to sound like an idiot now) I always assumed the Queen had a King that no one ever spoke of for some reason. She has a prince she’s married to but he’s not really the king. I also thought she was the sole ruler of the country, but as it turns out there’s this Prime Minister guy who actually makes all the rules. I was completely oblivious to all of this. I guess I focused all my attention more on third world countries. Well anyways, Sam couldn’t stay long because he had a plane to catch soon. He was going to Prague to spend New Years there. Lucky guy!
If there is anyone I have to blame for my random arrival in London, then I blame Pip! We were sitting in the volunteer house in Arusha one day when Pip proposed the idea that I should just come to London and visit her for Christmas. She was mostly kidding, but that was the seed she planted in my head. Thanks Pip! Pip hails from Brisbane, Australia and she has the blue-est eyes you would ever see on a human being! Seriously, her eyes are so blue. Let me find a picture…
Pip arrived in Tanzania the day after I got there and we couldn’t have had a better first full day in Arusha. Her, myself, and a handful of others went on a muddy fun waterfall hike near Mt. Meru. The best part was the Bota Bota’s we rode on through the streets and villages to get there. This is the part when I started to fall ill to a sickness and horrible cough that lasted me well through Kilimanjaro. Speaking of Kili, Pip also climbed it after I had already left Tanzania. She even started up her own fundraiser for her efforts. You can read all about it on her blog site Many Shades. I even wrote a post for her site. Check it out! Pip got along well with everyone in the house and stayed in Tanzania for a total of three months before she made her way up to London to visit family for the holidays. This was the perfect opportunity to reunite with Pip again.
I met up with her in Covent Garden, along with her cousin Katie. Pips eyes are still bluer than ever and it was humbling to see her again. She told me her time on Kili didn’t go as smooth as she hoped and is going to attempt it again with her dad this upcoming summer. She also has plans on returning to Arusha for a bit more too. Lucky her! Pip and I stood outside the tube station for a bit because we were waiting to meet up with another fellow volunteer we met in Arusha. That volunteer is the one and only…
Danni was one of the very first volunteers I met upon arrival from Kenya to Tanzania. She doesn’t know it, but I always thought of her as the leader of the new pack of volunteers that arrived, which includes me. Danni was pretty amazing, and not just because of her British accent, she has an adventurous spirit. She is a P.E. teacher here in London and since she left Tanzania, she’s been active in different athletics and continuing her role as the coolest P.E. instructor in all of England! We actually didn’t have a proper goodbye in Tanzania. The last time I saw her was right before I left to Kilimanjaro. We were on Zanzibar at the same time but never got the chance to meet up because she was on the opposite side of the island. By the way, Danni also wrote a blog during her travels which you should check out here Danni’s African Adventure.
Once Pip and I spotted Danni waiting for us, it was like a very mini Arusha reunion. We had the whole day to do whatever we wanted and what better way to start the day than pub crawl all around London!
I can’t recall the number of pubs and restaurants we went to (it was a lot!). I do know it took up the whole entire day and closed out my last full day in England with a bang! It’s been months since I’ve seen last seen Pip and Danni but seeing them again felt like I just saw them yesterday. They felt the same way. In just a few days, Pip would be returning home to Australia and in a few months Danni would make her way there also to visit friends including Pip and another member of our safari squad, Rachel.
This London trip wasn’t planned and to be honest England wasn’t anywhere near the top of my list of places I needed to visit (I’m more of a rustic guy). The biggest draw for me were the friends that I met, that I will never forget. 🙂
When I last posted on here, I just returned home to Michigan from Matt’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. And just in case you were wondering, a month later he finally tied the knot and had one heck of an amazing wedding! I spent a lot of time with the chocolate fountain at the reception, which was conveniently placed a couple of feet away from my table. 🙂
It’s been about eight months since I left Africa and I still constantly find myself thinking about what was one of the greatest summers, if not THE greatest summer, I have ever had. So much in fact that I have been longing for another one just like it, but in a different part of the world. That adventure would come this upcoming June but in the meantime, like I mentioned before, I kept myself pretty busy. I am bound to meet many more interesting new people in addition to the many I have already had the pleasure to share my global experiences with. So over these past eight months, I decided to visit some of the volunteers friends I met around the world on past trips; at least the ones who live somewhat close to me anyways. Starting with…
I met Maria in Cuzco, Peru in 2011. I officially met her on the first day of Spanish class held at the volunteer center, Maximo Nivel. We always had a knack of taking over Plaza de Armas with a big group of volunteers on our free nights. Ahh, those were some very memorable times. I will never forget the time when our Spanish teacher, Jorge, told Maria to ask me a question in correct Spanish. She proceeded to ask me, “¿Cuánto cuesta?”, which translates to “How much do I cost?” I was cracking up immediately when she said that, as was everyone else in the class! Oh Maria.
Maria lives in Toronto, Canada but was coming down to Ann Arbor, Michigan with her law firm to witness Michigan take on Illinois at the Big House. It’s College American Football to all my foreign amigos. I saw Maria last March for her birthday with all her Canadian friends in Toronto (which was a blast!), and I haven’t seen her since. We decided to meet up after the game and catch up! So I picked her and her co-worker up from their hotel in Ann Arbor and showed them around my turf a bit. Since I last saw her, she has gotten a new job and has been keeping busy at it ever since. She told me how everyone I met in Toronto was doing and it seems they are all doing pretty well. I treated Maria to a feast at a fancy restaurant and then took her to Downtown Detroit, my hometown. She’s never been to this area before but I had the privilege to show her the many positive aspects of the city that holds a negative reputation around the world (it’s really not that bad). At the time of her visit, the Detroit Tigers have just defeated the New York Yankees in the second game of the ALCS (American League Championship Series), so I took her to see the grandness of Comerica Park.
We walked around the city as I was explaining as much as I knew about it (not much) but was able to show her sites like Greek Town, the Riverfront, Ford Field, Campus Martius, and the Joe Louis Arena. “Look how close Canada is just across that river Maria, you can swim to it!” She commented on how all of the buildings looked old-fashioned and worn down, a big contrast with the architecture in Toronto. Yeah, Detroit has tons of abandoned buildings and I have no clue what the city plans on doing with them.
Eventually, we crossed the Ambassador Bridge, the bridge that links the U.S. to Canada, and I drove her to the airport in Windsor, Ontario. After a little scuffle with the Canadian customs, we said our farewells to each other yet again. I know I’ll be seeing Maria again soon though.
Now, I never actually volunteered with Chris (yet). We both were teaching in Kayamandi, South Africa but at different times. I volunteered a year after he did, but he and I had taught at the same school, stayed with the same host family (Mama Zulu) and even hung out with the same group of kids His blog he wrote about his experience paved the way for my second outing in South Africa, and I enjoyed every second of it. Once he found out I was going to Kayamandi, he was able to reconnect with his kids through me. The kids called him on my phone, made him videos, and wrote and drew letters and pictures that I would send to him later on. He was very appreciative and I was glad to help out.
Chris lives just two states below me in Pennsylvania, in a suburb near Philadelphia. We decided to meet up sometime and so that’s what we did. I flew to PA for the weekend and met up with the legend himself. Why a legend you ask? I don’t think he realizes just how much of a tremendous impact he left on the township of Kayamandi. During my time there, I heard so many cool stories about him from everyone, it was like he was a fabled myth or something. Before I stepped foot into Pennsylvania, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew that I wanted him to help me find the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the world!
Chris scooped me up from the Philly airport and we made our way through the city to his parts. On the way he showed me a couple of books he made with photos of his Africa trip in them. I was able to ask him things all about it and vice-verse. Our Africa trips were similar yet very different at the same time, if that makes any sense. We had a fun-filled weekend ahead of us, so what was first on the agenda? Chris is a dive coach and he planned a special Halloween event with his diving team at a nearby corn maze.
After quickly navigating through the maze, some of the divers parents invited us back to their place for a little after-party. As a matter of fact, the next day we went to someone else’s parents house for a little shin dig there as well. Everyone back home near Detroit would be happy to know that everyone I met here in Pennsylvania so far (besides being super friendly) were rooting for Detroit to win the World Series. We all know how that eventually turned out so I won’t dwell on it.
Then something happened that I wasn’t expecting at all: Hurricane Sandy. I never thought Penn would be affected by it until I got here. The mayor here even declared Pennsylvania a State of Emergency! People were stocking up on water and supplies, and we even saw some people boarding up their windows. You know what we stocked up with? Vitamin water. Loads and loads of Vitamin Water. That’s all we needed! Also, because of Sandy, my stay in Pennsylvania extended from three days to about a week. My flight on that Sunday cancelled and I would be able to fly out the following Thursday. Good news is, Chris was more than accommodating and we had a lot of fun. Bad news was that I was missing some pretty important things going on back at home. But you know what? I made the best of my extended stay.
So over the course of the next few days we carved pumpkins, went to a driving range, ate at Wawa’s a few times, lost all of our money at the nearby casino, and visited a few more of his friends around the area who welcomed me with open arms (and drinks and lots of food!). Chris was hosting a Halloween party at his place on Halloween night. My problem was, I didn’t bring a costume! I didn’t think I needed one until Sandy demanded I stay here a bit longer. So I went out and whipped up something real quick. I transformed into an old-school rapper. You can just call me “D-Money” or simply just “D$” for short.
I got more than I expected coming here and fortunately Sandy didn’t wreak this part of the state as much as it did elsewhere. On the way back to the airport the next day, Chris mentioned how one day he wants to take some of the kids we had in Kayamandi and bring them over to America for a little bit. We came up with ideas and suggestions on how to fund such a feat. It’s possible. At the time of my visit, we were still in the early stages of planning a return to South Africa, both of us together at the same time, where we can reunite with Mawande, Riri, Ski, and the gang once again and also the Zulu family and Isaac. When that happens, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it on here. (Hint: It’s gonna happen soon.) Oh, I never got the chance to find the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the world, but that just gives me another excuse to come back down here again one day.
Interesting note. I actually visited both Maria and Chris again in March and May of 2013, respectively. I took a train to Toronto, Canada to visit her and her boyfriend Dan (along with the rest of their friends whom I’ve already met last year) for Dan’s surprise birthday party. Later on in May, I flew back to Pennsylvania for a ‘Cinco de Drinko Taco Taste Off” that Chris was hosting. I finally got to taste an authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, but more importantly we were able to discuss our plans for something pretty awesome down the road. I’ll tell you all about it soon.