Monday, April 29, 2013

Picture is worth a Thousand Words

The gorgeous sunset we were trying to capture

What we did capture 

I love this because it wasn't planned.  This was our real reaction, inadvertently caught on camera, to a kid shooting off a fire cracker. 


We've spent the last several days in the city of Nafplion, lauded as one of the most romantic port towns in the world. It certainly is.  Our little pension, Dimitrius Bekas, has a spectacular panoramic view of the whole town and port, with the only drawback being the million and one stairs we have to climb to get to it. 
Speaking of stairs we were ambitious yesterday, and decided to get out exercise for the day by climbing up to an old Venetian port, which is a debatably 999 or 1000 dizzying stair climb. 
Pictures below. 
Today was another travel day for us, kind of a long one. We are still making some rookie traveler mistakes. This morning, not realizing we had to pre book seats on a bus we already purchased tickets for, Jake went around the bus to handle the luggage, I got on the bus, got kicked off the bus, Jake didn't realize it, and got on the bus, then got off the bus to look for me, and we almost lost all our luggage, which was still on the bottom of the bus as the bus was pulling away, not to mention we both looked liked idiots running around and around the bus looking for each other. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013


We went to the Acropolis. Had a lovely morning walking around. That evening we ate at a rooftop restaurant with a view of the Acropolis lit by spot lights.

It seems all the information on the domestic bus service is only available as a pay service and only by phone and only in Greek. Very strange and very frustrating. Of course, someone posted the info online but it still took some research and trust. I (Jake) lost my city bus ticket so we were in a bit of a rush to the national bus station (Katie in tow, with only one eye working.) We made it just time and welcomed the comfortable, air conditioned, one-person-per-seat bus. It was am uneventful but scenic ride to Kalambaka. We had arranged a budget hotel that turned out to take its adjective very seriously. The room was not as advertised but we were able to switch and get an arguable "mountain view". We found out that we should look more closely for "24 hour hot showers" when booking and though the website said we'd get breakfast, we had to fight for it and only then did we get one slice of ham and one slice of cheese to share and yesterday's coffee. The reason we (and the town and the hotel) are here is because of Meteora, a complex of monasteries atop spires of rock. It's clear the town is solely supported by tourism and therefore the hotel. When we asked about public transportation to the top, we were told it wasn't running contrary to our guidebook. We found out it was running but of course, after it had made its only morning run. We sprung for a taxi that didn't break us but I'm still stinging from the misinformation. We had great time exploring a few of the monasteries, having a picnic with a wonderful view and hiking down.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

And this is how you end up with an eyepatch in Greece

And so it is, to add to my ever-growing list of freak ailments, I can now add corneal sunburn due to several days walking around in the sun wearing cheap sunglasses from Malawi.  We get on a bus today and head up to Northern Greece to get our culture on. Let's hope poor Jake can manage the tricky bus system, a partially blind traveling partner and all our backpacks.

My homemade eyepatch using a bobbypin, airline eye mask, and sunglasses

My fancy new eyepatch after a trip to the corner pharmacy 

Just Around

We had such a lovely day exploring Athens. All the guide books are quite down on Athens, and pretty much everyone we've talked to, but we're loving it! Maybe our lifestyle has been so simple that it's just nice to be in a city again, or maybe it's just a great time to be here, right before tourist season and with perfect spring temperatures.  We spent the day sipping espresso in the national museum cafes, meandering through stunning exhibits, and picnicking in the city's gardens.

Monday, April 22, 2013


After washing off  almost 36 hours of sitting in the same clothes, we ventured out. After peeking in several restaurants, we decideded to stop in a small local bar. There were a few old men chain smoking next to no-smoking signs, and I knew we'd arrived. One of the patrons befriended us right away. We had a couple beers and found out our new 69 year old best friend had his master's in "tourism economics". We thought this was the perfect person to ask for a dinner rec. He, of course, gave us too many options. Finally, he told us "If you wait for a while, I will take you." This is a phrase we are very wary of. "Waiting for a while" in Africa means "we will never do the thing we agreed upon". We decided to gamble. Amazingly, our friend was ready well before our cutoff time. He walked slowly, which Katie and I appreciated, and offered sage words of wisdom for our upcoming nuptials after proudly announcing he had been married 6 times.
He took us to an area about 15 min from our hotel and gave a choice of restaurants (all the authentic tavernas are now in the suburbs he told us). We chose a comfortable place with outdoor seating and began ordering meze (tapas). Deep fried feta drizzled in honey, stuffed grape leaves, and big ol' plates of olives among others. It was a great start to all the catching up on all the foods we'd been missing for the last two years.
 We realized today we are being very negligent with photos.  Promise to rectify. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Back on the Road

Jake and I have dubbed the next 24 hours as "the last hardest day." Consequently, it is also our last full day in Africa, ever. We are feeling much recovered from yesterday's pitiful state, thanks in large part to some healthy doses of expired Cipro, poached from old Peace Corps medical kits.

What Should Happen
The plan is to check out at 10am from the hotel, wander around until 2:30, catch the ferry back to the mainland, catch a local bus we've heard runs to the airport around the clock, sit at the airport until our flight at 3:45am (Turkish airways will be receiving my customer feedback on this ungodly departure time), we will arrive in Istanbul around 11am, change planes, arrive in Athens, figure out the Metro system, walk two blocks and check into our hotel! Not so bad. Ha!

What Did Happen
Checked out of our hotel, and walked around Zanzibar for basically our first and last time. We bought lots of spices in the local market from one nice vendor as another, not so nice vendor, stood their warning us that tourists who bought from the nice spice man were typically stabbed mid-transaction. Hard to be intimidated by a guy who's main source of income is selling cinnamon sticks. Don't worry, we weren't shanked.  I bought a few more little things from a guy who claimed his name was Mr. Discount, who every time I requested a discount he would throw his hands in the air and squeal " you're killing me!!!" He didn't die, and I got what I wanted. We have decided that Tanzanians are a bit more dramatic than Malawians. Next, we headed for the docks to buy our ferry ticket. I'm afraid I could never describe how awful it is to buy ferry tickets in Zanzibar; I sort of imagine it's what those poor dolphins felt like; you just want to be left alone, but there are people coming at you from all sides yelling and failing their arms dangerously close to your face. Anyway, escaped relatively unharmed and with tickets, got some lunch, got our stuff (did I mention that it was about 100 degrees and 90% humidity), got in a cab, got on the ferry, got seasick, and finally made it back to Dar es Salaam.  
Thank goodness for the truly helpful people out there, and thanks to one of them we managed to find the right bus, and jump into it, we quite literally had to jump on this moving bus as it only slowed down a little so we got up a bit of speed running next to it and sort of vaulted in, each carrying two backpacks a piece. The local Tanzanians were not as friendly as Malawians, and the little chatter we could understand did not sound pleased that we were taking up valuable pubic transport space.  Never the less, we made it, and in a no less dramatic dismount from the bus, we managed to squeeze, strain, and pull our way through the jammed bus, and out onto the pavement.  I'm fairly certain I took down some of the frailer bus passengers on the way out. I suppose it's only fitting that our last transport experience in Africa be just as horrendous as the thousands of previous minibus nightmares. 
Once we arrived at the airport we were informed that we would not be allowed to enter the air conditioned oasis to check in until 1am (we arrived at about 6pm), we spent half our time in a sad little cafeteria until they kicked us out at 10pm and then we were forced onto the benches outside where the Mosquitos were more than happy to keep us entertained, and the heat made doubly sure we didn't sleep. Finally, made it on the airplane, took off, slept about 2 hours before the Captain requested that any doctor on the plane please make themselves known.  No response.  Feeling guilty, I thought it would be a good idea just to mention I was a nurse and pray that they wouldn't want me,   Wrong. I was dragged from my seat and found myself padding down the aisle still in my nice new white socks I had been saving for the plane ride. The guy was ok, a little panic attack brought on by fever and a horrible sore throat.  He spoke...not Englsh, so we had to communicate through the flight attendants, but I managed to elicit that he had never been to a doctor or taken any medicine, ever, and he assumed that the sore throat was his airway closing up and he was going to suffocate, all this made much more real by a high fever. All it took was a few comforting words, a Tylenol for the fever, and he practically skipped off the plane and was all smiles as we shook hands and said goodbye. Glad he was such a good patient because the flight attendants were terribly misbehaved and kept handing me the defibrillator and large, empty syringes and suggesting we make an emergency landing in the middle of Sudan.  
The rest of the trip was gloriously uneventful. Jake and I really do crave normalcy these days. Navigating the Athenian transportation system and streets was a dream. We arrived, almost exactly 24  hours from when we left Zanzibar, to our delightful hotel in Athens. We've already extended an extra night. 

Sick Day


 Katie and I both felt terrible. We got cocky and drank the water. Managed to see the old town a bit but after just an hour had to retreat back to the room. Just in case, I decided to get a $3 malaria test (negative). Read most of the day and enjoyed listening to the calls to prayer.

Jake seriously downplayed this day. We were both utterly miserable, barely moving except to race to the toilet. The two times we ventured out of the room, we both leaned heavily on each other and hobbled along at a snails pace, which, considering how slow we already walk, was pretty impressive. I still managed, in my weakened state to purchase some lovely home goods for our new house in Tucson, Arizona!

Spicey Tour

We decided to spend our first full day in historic Stone Town doing the Spice Tour. Zanzibar was and is still known for its export of such spices as cloves and vanilla. Yum! The spice tour was definitely worth the money, and lots less traumatic than the dolphin tour. We walked through gorgeous rainforest and spice plantations as our guide talked about each of the different spices and medicinal plants and allowed us to sample each of them. This is all very much up Jake's ally, and kept myself entertained by adorning Jake and I with palm frond art given to us by local artisans.  Finished up the day eating Italian at a little corner restaurant, although Jake is now starting to run a fever and not feeling so well. Fingers crossed its not Malaria (for the 3rd time)!
 (look closely to see Jake's lovely Tumeric stained teeth!)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Travel Day

We had an enormous seafood dinner with lobster, prawns, octopus, calamari and a fresh catch last night (picture in previous post). We checked out of the Coral Rock and waited a couple of hours for the public transport. We could no longer afford the $40 taxi. The "daladala" was just over a buck and took just a few minutes longer than the hour taxi ride. Once in town, we got hopelessly lost (again) and were being mobbed by touts (men offering to give directions). We ducked into a hotel and asked for directions. He did us one better, he called our hotel and a car was sent to pick us up. Had a lovely local meal of spiced rice and little bowls of curry. After a walk around the market, some masala tea and freshly squeezed passion fruit juice, we were done for the day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dolphin Magic

Yesterday we did a "dolphin tour," which we envisioned as is incredible, magical float along with dolphins, make friends with them, frolic in the warm ocean water etc. etc.  reality was a bit far off from what I just described.  We were taken out in a boat at 6am with 3 other guys who spoke no English at all.  Driven about 20 minutes from the coast until we saw the first dolphin fin emerge, then all the guys simultaneously start screaming  "JUMP!" at us, so we throw our snorkeling gear on, jump from the moving speed boat right into the middle of a dolphin family, who to seemed to have no interest in playing and seemed to be a lot more interested in fleeing for their lives.  Jake, being a much stronger swimmer managed to keep up with the dolphins a bit.  I on the other hand could do nothing but try to keep my head above water, and start frantically yelling at Jake not to leave me, while trying to figure out how to use my fins, totally forgetting to put the snorkel mask on, and the entire time spinning in circles desperately trying to keep away from the speed boat motor.  The guys (did I mention they are all devout Muslims here?)  finally threw down a ladder and I hauled myself up, bathing suit askew, and sat there panting and spitting out sea water.  We picked Jake up, raced after the poor dophin family, and then proceeded to do the whole thing all over again and again, except that the next couple of times we managed to blend up a jelly fish or two in the motor, so when we were thrown into the water it was into a cloud jelly fish bits that are still rather uncomfortable.  I never did manage to do much more than splutter and flounder around in the water alternating between screaming at Jake to come back and the driver not to chop me up.  I think Jake may have gotten a bit more of the magical dolphin experience than I did.  Somehow, when planning to do this excursion, I managed to forget that I swim about as well as an aluminum lawn chair.  Below I've added much more magical pictures of our stay at Coral Rock Hotel.  I swear we are really enjoying ourselves, seriously.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Happiest Feet!

Coral rock

Lazy beach days.  Eating well. Fresh fish/seafood. Indian ocean and equatorial sun. I did two dives this morning. Nothing spectacular but it was good to get back in the water. Excited about our next meal.

Everything is Now Right with the World

We have arrived, and vacation officially starts now! We have been directed to a lovely, reasonably priced resort with everything we could possibly ask for and more! There are nice long lists of guest activities, a fully- stocked bar, and huge menu stuffed with seafood choices. I swear you won't hear another peep of complaining out of us for the next several days! We plan to spend the day washing off all our cares and Peace Corps grime in the pristine infiniti pool set on cliffs overlooking the Indian ocean. -Katie

We're Trapped!

Ah! We're trapped in the crazy Rastafarian underbelly of Zanzibar! Thinking ourselves very, very clever, and in an attempt to not get screwed by strangers we contacted a local in Zanzibar recommended to us by a friend from Malawi. Nice enough guy, but clearly out to better himself and his Rasta friends. Instead of taking us to a nice normal resort by the sea, he put us in a taxi and sent us to the opposite side of the island, over an hour drive away, and dropped us at the saddest, most defunct "hotel" possible. As far as we can tell we are staying in the only guest room, obviously the only guests in months; the bar is a lonely specimen displaying one lone wine bottle being used as a candle holder. There is no beach and no restaurant in site. When we inquired about food we were marched thought winding bush paths to yet another rasta-owned establishment who was more than happy to to pluck a few fish and one crab from the water and fry it up for us. And so we spent our first meal in Zanzibar, eating greasy Baracuda and chips with our hands and wondering what the hell to do next. Up until this point we have prided ourselves on our travel savvy ways, but we are getting seriously knocked down here. Not that we aren't enjoying ourselves, but our ideas of long white beaches with cocktails and seafood buffetts is feeling quite far away. Jake, deciding to take matters into his own hands has just set off down the beach in search of anyone who may be able to help us out. ... One hour later, Jake has returned with good news! An Israeli guy building a lodge nearby has taken pity on us and called in a favor to a friend in a nearby resort, exactly the type of thing we are looking for. We leave in the morning, and already feel as though the tide is turning in our favor! -Katie

So, So Close!

After 30 hours of non-stop bus travel from Lilongwe to Dar Salaam we are finally on vacation! The last 12 hours were particularly eventful/awful (even though the bus was a "nice" bus). Everything in Tanzania seems to move much more quickly, which is a welcome change from a country who's unofficial motto is "pangono-pangono," meaning slowly-slowly. There was almost no wait time between buses, a new phenomenon to us, but the drive from West to East Tanzania was filled with a lot of anxiety and almost no rest (although Katie seems to manage to sleep anytime, anywhere). The driver drove extremely fast (which we liked) but but would pass slower vehicles around blind turns, hairpin curves and on very narrow roads filled with oil tankers (which we didn't like). Tanzania's solution to speeding is to put randomw speed bumps in the middle of highways, which our driver completely ignored, and since we were sitting in the very last row our heads were repeatedly slammed against the ceiling for the last 5 hours of the trip. The same helpful local we met at the border offered us even more assistance on getting to Dar and made several hotel recommendations, and we were very grateful! Unfortunately, the taxi driver we hired convinced us our new friend was actually a dangerous criminal who was plotting to come to our hotel room with a gang and a machine gun and rob us if we stayed with him. So, we parted ways (amicably). Of course it was the cabbie who was crooked in the end, but he didn't screw us out of more than a few dollars extra fare. Really, really looking forward to beaches and seafood!! -Jake

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mbeya Bus Depot

20 hours and one bathroom break later, we are across the border and jumping into another big bus, thanks to a local who took pity on us and helped us to navigate the public transportation nightmare. We are going to try our luck at getting all the way to Zanzibar in two days with nothing but street meat and fantas to sustain us! -Katie

Ready To Go!

On the "Super Sink" bus to the Malawi-Tanzania border. We've heard nothing but stories of breakdowns, slow going, and super sink buses falling off cliffs. We're already late leaving the depot, but Peace Corps is behind us!!! Vacation ahead!! -Jake

Fast Forward

So here's what I've been up to since my last post:
-Went to South Africa with my SMF and his family where he up and popped the question, to which I gave him a very enthusiastic "yes!"
-My cousin came to visit and we went on an incredible safari. I hope someday I'll get around to posting these pictures.
-Ran a CPR course that reached 117 nurses from 4 different hospitals
-Traveled 6 hours in a tiny fishing boat to reach one of the most remote areas of Malawi to celebrate Christmas.
-Officially opened the ICU. The nurses absolutely rock now!
-My youth center has been trained, vetted, renovated, and stocked. They should open any day now. Pictures to come.
-Several amazing bridal showers with Leace Corps friends and Malawian friends.
-Planned a wedding from Africa, which I'm pretty proud of
-Was accepted into a Doctorate of Nursing program!
-Said a bittersweet farewell to Malawi, and Jake and I left for good for our 6 week vacation on April 12th

So, it's been quite a busy 8 months. Jake and I are taking the long way home. The next several entries will follow us around the globe, told from both our perspectives. Enjoy!!