The Adventures of D — A Retrospect

Oh, my little blog. It’s been around since before I decided to take my career break and travel. It’s been around since I one sleepless October night in Atlanta when, around midnight, the words to the start of my story I wanted to share just popped into my head. Then, I was up. Out of bed. Laptop open. WordPress blog created.

And the rest is history.

Now, nearly two years later, I certainly have shared. At times, I’ve shared too much. At times, I haven’t shared enough.

Regardless, this ride has been the highlight of my life, taking me through moments, through happy, through sad, that have left me wanting more … and ready to start the next chapter in “The Adventures of D.”

So, when Jason from Jason’s Travels, asked if he could nominate me for this fun little project, My 7 Links, put on by Trip Base, of course I said “yes.” I mean … I get to relive some of my favorite posts!

Without further adieu, My 7 Links:

The Most Beautiful Post:

I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers

It’s not a beautiful photo essay. But it is an example of the beauty and generosity that still exists in this world. It is also one of the many reasons I fell in love with Croatia.

The Most Popular Post:

How to barter like a pro

I spent a good amount of time in Turkey during my trip, where negotiating is a part of the package. It constantly awed me that people could go in to a restaurant and negotiate the cost of their meal. While that wasn’t for me so much, it was fun to go back and forth with the shopkeepers at the Grand Bazaar and elsewhere.

The Most Controversial Post:

My 30-Life-Crisis … Solved?

It wasn’t controversial in the sense it started a heated debate, but to my family and friends, this post was controversial because I was throwing away a comfortable life for the unknown. I was … LIVING instead of deciding to just go through the motions.

The Most Helpful Post:

Airport Sleeping 101

Oh, the beauty of backpacking and being on a budget. There were a few times when I had stop-overs that, while they were 12 or so hours, were overnight. Rather then haul my 40 kilo backpack and my tired self to a hostel in the city, I opted to just crash out on the floor … or a bench … in the airport. This post gives tips on how to make the best of airport sleeping.

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me:

Dude, don’t be a Hostel Dick

Yes, it’s meant to be funny. I just didn’t realize this post with these tips would be one of my most popular posts of all time. In all seriousness though, every backpacker who stays in hostels should read this.

The Post That Didn’t Get the Attention I Feel it Deserved:

The Best of … Madrid

It’s got some pretty good tips in the post and in the comments for anyone headed to Madrid.

The Post I Am Most Proud Of:

Love, Life and Loss … on the Road

By far, this was the hardest post I have ever written. It took every ounce of me to pull myself together to write this.

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And now comes the fun part. Here are the five bloggers I want to do this on their site, too. These folks are some of the best out there! Be sure to check their sites for the My 7 Links project soon!

Adam fromĀ The Travels of Adam

Anna from Frill Seeker Diary

Candice fromĀ Candice Does the World

Lindsay AKA Hogga from The Traveller

Margo from The Travel Belles

30 Life Crisis Africa Americas Blog Croatia Morocco Rwanda Spain Travel Travel Tips Turkey

Escape of the Week: A Silverback in Rwanda

I remember this day like it was yesterday, although it was almost a year exactly since this photo was taken.

It was me, Anna, JD, Adam, Jason, and Mary, along with William, a representative from the Rwanda Development Board. We had been invited to visit Rwanda for a little more than five days to see the sites and (of course) write about our time there.

When I first saw the itinerary and the gorilla trek on there, my heart kinda stopped. Two thoughts ran through my mind: 1. Gorillas!! Bad ass. 2. I hope we don’t have to climb any mountains. See, if you know me, you know me and mountains aren’t great friends. I prefer flat hikes (if you can still call it a hike). Anyway, this trek was most definitely NOT flat. There were a lot of steep inclines, sliding down dirt slopes on our bums because walking down them would have resulted in a tumble down a vine-covered cliff into the pits of a volcanic jungle, and more.

But, the moment we saw those gorillas … man, it was worth every ounce of sweat, every second of being out of breath, every little pain twitching through my body. Because, damn, those gorillas are just some of the most spectacular creatures I have ever had the great honor to stand near.

This photo was taken of the silverback in the group we trekked. The silverback is the head honcho of the group, as you can tell from this picture. We were standing a little more than 8 feet away when I took this, but he was watching us closely the entire time. And, when he decided to get up and get a closer look at the humans stalking him, well, we all had to retreat a little bit. No one wants an angry silverback in their faces.

For more about my time trekking for gorillas, click here.

 

Africa Destinations Rwanda

When motorbikes go wrong

It happened in an instant.

I saw a face. A motorbike.

Then I heard the awful sound of vehicle hitting vehicle.

And then a thud.

Then, I felt our SUV roll over something.

Oh. My. God.

I screamed. Put my hand over my mouth, which was agape. Anna grabbed my hand.

We had hit someone. Rolled over their motorbike.

The moments before flashed in my mind.

Looking out the window … looking straight ahead … two kids on a motorbike, rounding a turn from the left and down our one-way road … into our SUV.

“Where’s William? Where’s the other car?” Anna asked as a crowd of people quickly encased our ride. Instinctively, I locked the doors.

I didn’t want to get out. I didn’t want to see what twisted, mangled mess was beneath the wheels of the four-wheel-drive which had been carting us around for four days. It had sounded so awful. I couldn’t imagine the carnage, the wreck, anything.

Seconds passed like minutes as our driver exited the vehicle and stepped outside and into the crowd, surveying the scene.

A teenager emerged from the side of the SUV, finger clearly broken but nothing more. I never saw the other person, but was told he walked away from the crash. Moments later, the two blended into and disappeared into the crowd. Had they stayed, they faced trouble — they were on the wrong side of the road.

The crowd did not leave. They swelled outside our car as we sat inside … waiting for William to come and translate and tell us what was going on.

Finally, the other SUV pulled up. They had gone the non-scenic route to the hotel.

“It’s all OK,” he said, calming us in the backseat. “They are exchanging insurance. It’s fine.”

Relief swept over me and I stepped out of the SUV to see the damage for myself.

Those kids were lucky to be alive, let alone escape nearly unscathed.

There was an enormous dent in the side of the gold SUV, and the bumper was slightly torn up.

Wow.

Soon, the crowd had all bit dispersed, save for the few men who helped move the mess out of the street.

William went back to his SUV and we began to back up. The men who helped moved the bike tried to block us.

What the hell?

The driver’s window was down, and quickly, they were grabbing onto the door, sticking their heads in the window, voices raised, hands outstretched.

We backed up to go around the other side of the road.

They followed, holding strong to the vehicle.

Our driver, bless him, finally reached into his wallet and pulled out some money and handed it them.

The men still crowded us, but this time, our SUV accelerated, leaving the men and the moment behind us as we moved on to the Stipp Hotel to recover from our gorilla trek earlier that day.

Disclosure: Rwanda Development Board covered meals, lodging and activities.

Africa Rwanda Travel

Rwanda, 15 years after the genocide

The next morning, we awoke early for breakfast, where I met Jason, Adam and another reporter, Mary (she was doing a story on politics, not travel, but was still on our travel press trip). We ate quickly because we were being shuffled off on a bus tour of Kigali.

We could have slept in because we left late for the trip, and then when we arrived at Rwanda Development Board’s headquarters, we waited some more.

When we finally boarded the bus for our tour, we stopped back at our hotel to pick up a TV crew from Uganda who would be joining us on our city tour.

For an hour, we drove up and down the hills of Kigali.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before. People walked in the roads, balancing what seemed to be kilos and kilos on their heads, motorbikes and cars and motorbike taxis shared the streets with pedestrians. Shacks lined the streets next to huge homes and businesses.

Our tour took us through the new part of Kigali, beyond the dirt roads … to the homes being built by locals. Scaffolding was simply rickety wood piled high, workers crafted the homes in front of our eyes.

This was no fine tuned corporation pumping out homes. This was local people, building homes other local people would live in.

Then, it was on to the Kigali Memorial Centre, because it is so important people never forget what the people of Rwanda endured to become who they are today.

I’m not going to lie. I knew there was a genocide in Rwanda, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

The memorial we visited hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt very similar to the way I felt when I visited Auschwitz, except even more appalled. This genocide happened in my lifetime. While I lived in Maryland in 1994, worrying about what to wear to school, people my age in Rwanda were fighting for their lives. And not making it.

The exhibit was poignant. Displays featured crude photos, harsh reminders of the country’s past, and images that will not ever leave my brain. The memorial hits home when visitors walk into a room shrouded in darkness. The only things lit are the visible reminders of what happened to an entire population of people.

Skulls lined up.

Bones.

Clothing, torn and tattered, found in some of Kigali’s mass graves.

I stood there, ready to weep.

But, it would be even worse upstairs — the hardest of the memorial for me was the room dedicated to the children who were victims of the senseless killings. In this room were photos of the children, along with personal information about each — what they liked, what they wanted to be when they grew up, their favorite sports, their favorite food … and then, heartbreakingly, their cause of death.

Hacked by a machete; bludgened with rocks; tortured to death; stabbed in the eyes; grenade thrown in the shower; burnt alive; Gikondo Chapel; shot dead; killed at Mlehoro Church; a 2-year-old smashed against a wall; a 9-month-old macheted in his mother’s arms.

That information hurt the most to learn.

There was also the mass graves outside. A beautiful garden home to more than 250,000 victims of the genocide. Unmarked concrete slabs overlooking the hills of Kigali.

Our group walked out of the center quietly and boarded the bus, back into the city which was now thriving and at peace. A far cry from 16 years earlier.

The next stop was Rhugeri for World Environment Day and Kwita Izina, the naming of the baby gorillas.

Disclosure: Lodging, meals and activities were courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board.

Africa Blog Rwanda Travel

The first night in Rwanda

Once JD and I had arrived at Sports View, we dropped our bags in our rooms and set off to find the other members of our press trip — Anna, Jason and Adam.

We only found Anna.

When I had received the names of the people on the trip, I was elated to see Anna was a part of it. Since I had joined Twitter a little more than one year ago (not even the same account I have now), I had followed Anna. She was a person I respected, admired and could not wait to meet in person.

Needless to say, when JD and I banged on her door at 9 p.m. our first night and woke her up, I knew immediately we would become friends.

The three of us ventured to the poolside restaurant downstairs and enjoyed dinner, talking briefly about our excitement over the itinerary we were given, and of course, talking social media and blogging.

My body ached by the time dinner was through, and I was craving a hot shower to wash off the 24 hours of traveling and the airport sleepover the previous night.

I walked into the shower in my room, a decrepit looking corner with a pair of dirty flip flops at the base of the shower.

There was a bug crawling on them.

It’s OK, D. You are in Africa. Maybe this is how it is …

I turned on the faucet.

Cold.

Maybe if I turn the shower on, it will warm up.

I twisted the knob.

Water began squirting out of the pipe directly above the faucet. The shower head refused to work.

Oh my god. I am dirty. I need a shower. I want a shower. Please, please, please let me shower.

The shower gods had other plans.

After a minute or two of spitting water at me from the pipe, I called it a wash (not literally, of course, I was filthy), and crawled into my bed.

My mind crawled with thoughts about the upcoming five days of my life … the sites we were supposed to see … the places we were supposed to visit … and quickly, sleep came over me.

Disclosure: Rwanda Development Board provided lodging, most meals and activities.

Africa Blog Rwanda Travel