How Aharen Beach satisfied a self-proclaimed beach snob

Working for a charter airline whose biggest client was the United States military definitely came with certain perks.  We flew our bravest to bases all over the world.  This included Okinawa, Japan.  Up until about two years ago, I had no idea that Okinawa had an abundance of beaches (a complete mental lapse on my end being that I knew Japan itself is an archipelago).  Accordingly, when I booked a trip to Japan for spring break, I knew a side trip to Okinawa was in order.  

As a self-professed beach snob, searching for a beach to rest my head proved to be a challenge.  For starters, I only had two days in Okinawa before heading back to mainland Japan.  Secondly, while beautiful, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the beaches in mainland Okinawa.  In the end, I decided I wanted to visit Aharen Beach on Tokashiki Island.  It was picturesque, and doable as a day trip (or so I read).

There was just one issue.

How the hell would I get there?

After some digging, I realized that getting there actually wasn’t difficult at all.  It did however, require some planning.

Getting to Aharen Beach would require leaving from Tomari Port, which is about a 20 min drive from Naha Airport.  Naha has a very efficient monorail system that is directly connected to the airport.  The closest train station to the port is Miebashi Station.

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Miebashi is station number 8 (you guessed it) on the line.

Accordingly, when choosing a hotel to stay in, I looked solely at its proximity to the port.  I chose Hotel Peace Land, which was literally a five minute walk away from the Port.  Now would I recommend Hotel Peace Land for hotel snobs?  No way.  However, It was clean and…yeah it was clean.  Straight out of 1987.  In great need of updating, but it was efficient and the staff was nice.

Tomari Port itself is tough to miss.

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To get to Aharen Beach, you have the choice of two ferries.  Option #1 (the slow ferry) takes about an hr and 10 mins.  Option #2 (the more expensive option), the Marine Liner will get you there in approximately 35 minutes.

Although I didn’t have a lot of time, I opted for the 10am slower ferry…because I am as my mother says, a “cheapo.”

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Buying tickets at the booth

You can buy tickets inside the port, but depending on the time of year (like Golden Week), it is STRONGLY advised that you don’t wait until the morning you want to go as tickets can sell out.  Most of the workers speak decent to perfect English, so you won’t have to worry about a language barrier. If you happen to have forgotten your swimwear, don’t fret.  There is a beach shop located inside the port.

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When you get your ticket, there are signs that point you in the right direction towards the ferry (nevermind the huge ferry that will probably already be docked).  Your ticket will be checked, and you can walk right on board.  The ride goes pretty swiftly if you occupy yourself with music, books, etc.

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As soon as your get off the ferry, there are shuttle buses that will take you to your desired beach at 400 yen each way.  It is about a 10 to 15 minute ride.  When you arrive, you are met with numerous beach rental merchants, restrooms, showers (surcharge) and a restaurant.

I walked to the beach to check out where I’d be spending the next few hours.

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Unfortunately, there were only a few breaks of sun.  However, believe me when I say the cloudy skies did not get in the way of Aharen’s beauty.  Aharen Beach is gorgeous.  My only complaint would be the abundance of rocks, but this isn’t an issue that slippers can’t rectify.  I spent the next few hours in and out of the water (COLD AT FIRST), sleeping, taking pictures, and listening to music in my lounge chair.

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Being the only black tourist at the beach, I was asked to join people in their pictures.  Usually this isn’t something I object to, as long as someone doesn’t try to sneak a picture (perhaps I can write about that another time).

Before I knew it, the 3pm shuttle bus to take us back to the 4pm ferry arrived and we were on our way.  Since I was a teacher on vacation, God decided to prank me by having hundreds of schoolkids on the same ferry.

Funny.

Nonetheless, the ride back to Naha went smoothly (even though it began to rain at this point) and we arrived back in Naha by 5:10pm.  I can say with full confidence that not only is Aharen Beach a feasible side day trip, it is also is a place that many would enjoy.

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No Sleep in Nairobi (Part II)

I don’t suppose I’ve been much of a “nature” fan. I’ve turned down invites to hike, camp, etc. Half the time I don’t even like walking in dirt and grass. However, I firmly believe that Africa features a different kind of nature. My next adventure in Nairobi involved a brief romance between myself and the land.

The night before, a few of us enjoyed a great meal at Ocean Basket Restaurant (the glazed salmon with veggies and rice was gllllllorrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiious). Another dinner accompanied by good conversation with great people (including a young woman who made the leap to move to Africa).

Around noon, we went to visit some monkeys that reside in a neighborhood park. We bought some peanuts to entice our nimble friends to come out of the trees and into our space. We were warned not to have the peanuts visible, as we ran the risk of getting “got” for our peanut stash.

Robbed by a monkey.

Much to our delight, their fingers are much like a human’s, but without the fingernails. So yeah, my eyes weren’t going to be scratched out. Game on.

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We then made our way to Lake Naivasha, a large freshwater Lake in the outskirts of Nairobi.  We left one of the crew at the gas station by accident but that is neither here nor there (we got her back).

The drive towards Lake Naivasha was simply beautiful. From the low lying plains to the high mountains, I felt myself taking in all that the surroundings offered me.

We stopped to take some photographs at a point in the Great Rift Valley. Unfortunately, I do have a fear of heights, so getting close the edge was a bit of a task. After I felt a bit more comfortable, I just took some deep breaths and enjoyed the fresh air of the Valley.which was a spectacular sight.

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As we make our way to the lake, we pass by a series of small towns and villages. I found it fascinating to look at the people living their everyday lives, as simple as it may seem to us. I loved looking at the animals, the small shops, the cell phone towers and modern gas stations. It was like witnessing a merger between two worlds.

Two worlds that seem to be living in harmony with one another, for better or worse.

I am ashamed to admit that at first I felt underwhelmed when we arrived at the lake. By all means, from a distance it appeared to be unremarkable. I believed the boat ride we were about to take would be just something to do.

I could not have been more wrong. What a magnificent experience. We climbed into our small little boat and went on our way. Lake Naivasha is beautifully peculiar. Weird looking in the most glamorous way. I was excited to see the plant life, birds, hippos, and gasped when we saw a zebra. I have never seen a Zebra in person (in hindsight, I find it both funny and odd to see just how excited I was).

As usual when I am in a scenic environment, I played my favorite jazz songs and let the music serve as a soundtrack to all the beauty.

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I think a lot of people get so caught up in the cosmopolitan nature of large, developed African cities (because Africa isn’t supposed to be developed… *sarcasm*) that they forget that the best part of Africa is exploring the land in its purest, kindest, and most excellent form. With every bird that took flight, every animal that walked so gracefully, and every cloud that moved, I felt a bit more blissful and in tune with what was around me.

Maybe I can get into this nature thing.

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Lake Naivasha

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No Sleep in Nairobi (Part I)

This is Part I of a three part series on my time in Nairobi, Kenya.

In April 2015, I found a $400 fare to Nairobi, Kenya.  As usual when I come across an extremely low fare, I contact my friends.  Most cannot take advantage for a variety of reasons.  One in particular, cited recent terrorist attacks as a reason to avoid the city.  It wasn’t a sentiment without merit, but living in New York as well as visiting countries in the Middle East during times of war had me a bit accustomed to being consistently under threat.

I copped..

Fast forward to Feb 2016.  A trip that seemed so far away was now within days.  A friend of mine and former classmate would be arriving shortly before me.  Accordingly, we planned to be roommates, as we were both slightly nervous about going to Africa as solo travelers.  We would for sure find lots of things to get into.

Orrrrrrrrrrrr maybe not.

Unfortunately for reasons I would rather not get into (and I’m sure my friend would appreciate that), she could not make it on the trip.  Great.  All alone again.

Orrrrrrrrrrr maybe not.

I previously joined a facebook group for travelers heading to Kenya.  That day, a fellow traveler inquired about creating a group to coordinate meetups.  I decided to take on the responsibility (a job my friend previously volunteered for) of putting the group together.

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To my delight, I received responses.  The ball was now rolling for the beginning of our WhatsApp group, aptly titled, “Kenya Link Up.” 

Despite the unfortunate circumstance of no wifi (I wasn’t amused by the “at least there are plenty of James Bond movies” quip from the gate agent), the flight to Abu Dhabi (where I had a 13 hr layover) was relatively painless.  From the recommendation of one of our group members, I attended a festival in the city center.  I chose this as the perfect time to test out my selfie stick.

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I made my way back to the hotel (I stayed at the Premier Inn adjacent to one of the terminals) and called it a night due to my early morning flight.

Turns out, one of the first people to respond to my Facebook message was on both my flights (even sat in front of me on the Nairobi flight).  I just didn’t realize it at the time.  The flight to Nairobi was fine, and going through immigration was painless. *Note* Kenya now uses an eVisa system.  You MUST apply for receive your Visa online or run the serious risk of being denied entry upon arrival.  Most people are approved (assuming you filled out everything correctly) within two days.  I presented my visa through my phone.

Being the internet junkie I am, I immediately set up my roaming.  For Sprint users who set up global roaming, data roaming is free of charge in Kenya.

Yes ma’am.

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In the taxi…

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I head to my hotel…..

 

Hold up.  Stop the presses.  There is one thing you need to know.  Nairobi traffic is HORRENDOUS.  Fortunately, Uber is an excellent service which I strongly encourage.  Ok, back to the program.

I head to my hotel and enjoyed the sights and the people I passed by.  I missed the opportunity to take a picture of this beautiful graffiti mural of Lupita Nyong’o which upset me badly.  I reached my hotel and after about 20 mins of trying to find my reservation, I was finally in my room.

 

As much as I wanted to head out immediately upon reaching my hotel, I knew I needed some rest.

I love being over 30 I promise.

After a much needed rest, the Kenya Link Up group decided to have dinner at Amaica restaurant.  We enjoy our meal while talking about everything from local customs (apparently, it is not “manly” to eat chicken wings) to clubs.

Nice meal, nice conversation.

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Right outside the restaurant

Afterwards, we “pregame” at this nice beautiful apartment before heading to a club.  A nice club with cool décor, food, and drinks. Unfortunately, the name escapes me (my bad folks)

There are two things I learned that night. 

  1. There are quite a few handsome Kenyan men.
  2. Kenyan women have no qualms about caressing your head to show that they like your haircut.

 

Approx hours of sleep: 3

A few hours later we head to see orphaned baby elephants and full grown giraffes….and almost witnessed an act of love.

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46 hours in Zanzibar

Let me preface by stating that this post should have been up days ago.  I’m not usually one to be jetlagged, but my body has been FEELING it for the past week.

I spent some time in Nairobi, Kenya (more on that in a later post) and Zanzibar, Tanzania over mid-winter recess, and let us just say I’m not too pleased about waking up back in the Bronx.

It wasn’t in the original plan to go to Zanzibar, but being that it is only an hr flight from Nairobi I couldn’t resist.

I decided to go with Kenya Airways. *Tip* book as far in advance as possible, as fares will always go up close to your departure.  Unfortunately, for such a short ride airfare is not cheap (I’ve never seen direct fares from Nairobi to Zanzibar below $200).

Alternatively, you could try your hand at getting a cheap fare from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam (mainland Tanzania), then from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar.  Unfortunately, my schedule wouldn’t allow this as an option.

I booked a resort in the Kendwa area, which is a popular resort town.  Kendwa is a long drive from the airport, so I arranged for a taxi prior to arrival (THIS IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  YOU WILL SAVE $$).  For an island with few main roads, traffic was for the most part smooth and trouble-free (be diligent at night however, as outside of the main city Stonetown, there are virtually no road lights).  I found the hour ride to from the airport to Kendwa scenic.  There is lush greenery that seems to go on and on.

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                                  Zebu Cattle…so interesting looking.

 

For months now I’ve heard about the beaches of Zanzibar and how they are top notch.  Driving to my resort, I did see flashes of the beach that made me go “whoa.” The excitement was definitely building.  Only to get to the hotel and be told that there are no rooms available.

 

Really?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that these things happen.  However, I was exhausted.  Really exhausted.  I had very little sleep in Nairobi (a good thing, trust me) and as anxious as I was to get in the water, I really need to get in a bed first.

Anyway, you need to know that outside of the reception and bar area, the wifi SUCKS.  For a lot of travelers it is no big deal.  Me on the other hand?  I need my innanets like I need my shrimp.  What could I do at that point?  My room was finally ready and I wanted to knock out.

Which I did.

A few hours later, I got myself together to head to the beach….only to be told there was no beach towel available.  I can feel the annoyance creeping up in the depths of my soul.  Did I make the wrong decision by coming here?  Let me give you the answer.

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                                       Kendwa Beach (where have you been all my life)

This is probably the best beach view I have ever seen (and I have had the privilege of seeing some GLORIOUS beaches).  To say my breath was taken away is an understatement.

 

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                                             Trying to be cute.

 

After some time in the water, I was ready for an activity.  The resort has a company on the premises that specializes in this sort of thing, but of course I skipped it.  The resort had a sunset cruise, but I opted for a local connect instead which saved me about $25.  This cruise was very no frills (bring your own snacks, drinks, etc.)  The selling point was mainly the scenery, which totally became worth it when I climbed up the ladder to the top deck.

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                              The sun soothing my skin and jazz soothing my ears.

We arrived back at the resort in time for dinner.  I opted for the pesto pasta with shrimp.

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                Good, but not mind-blowing.

 

I decided to use the lack of reliable room wifi as an opportunity to REALLY sleep.   I made sure to wake up early the next morning for breakfast.  Despite the pancakes, the breakfast was absolutely NOTHING to write about (I mean, yeah I know I’m writing about it…).

Oh, and they were trying to pass off hot dogs as sausage.  No Ma’am.

I met up with the same local connect to go on a snorkeling excursion.  Let me be clear, I haven’t had swimming lessons since I was 13.  Although I can wade in shallow water with little problems, jumping into the middle of the ocean was another issue.  Nonetheless, I decided to at least try.  I was given a lifevest which turned out to be woefully inadequate.  A nice traveler from Denmark coached me (along with the local guide) to get in the water.

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                                                My sad pitiful attempt at snorkeling

 

Although I didn’t leave the boat, I did peek into the water with the gear a few times and was able to view the really cool marine life.

Upon our return to the resort, I had a nice small chat with a fellow teacher named Diane.  I found her backstory particularly interesting.  Originally from “very white” (her words) Croatia, she currently teaches in Uganda but calls a Rastafarian community in New Zealand home.  I asked if I could take a pic of her and she happily obliged.

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She (like many others) encouraged me to leave the comforts of home to explore the world (but that is for another post).

That afternoon, I went on an excursion to one of the famous sandbanks in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  Although certainly not cheap, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey and time there.

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                                On the boat headed to the bank
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                                     My guide cutting up fresh fruit

 

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                                                      Putting my tripod to great use.
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                                                                 Back in Stonetown

We arrived back at the resort around 8pm.  Not in the mood for resort food, I was happy to spot a restaurant only steps from the entrance gates.

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I highly recommend Kiriku Happy Restaurant if you are ever in Kendwa.  The food was delicious, the service was prompt, the people were friendly….and they have wifi (so you KNOW I was happy).

After my meal, I went to the resort lounge to check out the party.

The non-existent party.

Feeling a bit tired anyway, I decided to browse the internet for a bit longer then go back to the room to pack up (I had a 9:30 am flight).

My taxi came for me at 6 am and just as fast as I had arrived, I was on my way back home.  Not nearly enough time, but ecstatic for the time I did have.

One thing that I would like to note is that Zanzibar is a warm, inviting place with beautiful people, food, and nature.  I do wish that more people of color would discover this place.  I certainly do not have an issue with all of the Italian tourists, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel a bit odd to be one of only a few (very few) black tourists on the island.  I truly believe that this needs to change.  The people of Zanzibar want to meet us.

I will certainly find my way back to them.

 

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Want to annoy your flight attendant? Do this please.

As I’m observing the stoic, and “pleasantly annoyed” expression on our flight attendant’s face, I think about the (many) times I found myself irritated by passengers during my time as a air hostess/stewardess/air maid (you read that right, I was called an air maid once). So since I have time to kill on this flight, I decided a compile a list of things to say and things to do (and not do) that I simply call
Want to annoy your flight attendant? Do this please.
1. Put your small ass bag in the overhead compartment.
Listen, there is a reason why it is called an overhead LUGGAGE compartment. It is for your luggage. Allow me to explain some things that do not constitute as luggage.
a. Your purse
b. Your jacket
c. Your laptop case
d. Shoes
e. Anything that can fit underneath the damn seat in front of you.

Why does this annoy your flight attendant? Well, the answer is simple. For starters, when other passengers come in and have to look around for a place to put their luggage, 9 times out of 10 they will seek assistance from the flight attendant. Unfortunately, this is not always done with manners. Now time has to be spent rearranging bags, finding out who things belong to, etc. All of this wastes time…yours and theirs.
2. Ask for beverages before take off.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you absolutely must have a drink of water while taking medication, by all means come to the back and ask. Flight attendants aren’t galley monsters, ready to pounce at the smallest request. However, if it is not a dire situation and you are able bodied, believe me it can wait.
Why does this annoy your flight attendant? I call this the domino effect. I recall a flight to Lagos where a passenger literally pleaded to get him water. Against my better judgement, I went to get it. I soon found myself having to tell three other passengers no because sure enough, they now desperately needed water too. They weren’t too pleased about it either. Again, the time factor comes into play here. There are a million things that flight attendants have to get prepared before take off. The “airmaid” duties can wait.  Speaking of “airmaids…”
3. Call a flight attendant something other than a flight attendant.
Miss, Ma’am, Sir, or Mr. are just fine. However, unless this is your first flight since the Berlin Wall fell, the proper job title is Flight Attendant. “Stewardess” is a long outdated term that we don’t like to hear. I remember once being called an “airmaid” and doing everything in my power to keep somewhat of a smile on my face.
Why does this annoy your flight attendant? Um, first of all we are NOBODY’S maid. People really need to get that straight. FAs are not on the flight to be a server, a maid, or anything of the sort. Don’t tell a FA that they are “there to serve” you. No they are not. They are there to save your ass if there is a safety emergency. FAs go through weeks of training (in most cases, unpaid or VERY low pay) to memorize safety procedures. Don’t insult their job.
4. Ask for every drink under the sun (in one sitting).
I mean really, are you going to actually drink all of that? Unless your bladder is the size of Alaska, chances are you’re probably not. FAs have dozens (and in some cases, hundreds) of passengers to tend to when it is meal service. During a flight to Kingston a few years ago, I came across a woman who decided to act as though she has never had anything to drink before in her life.
“Hello, what would you like to drink?”
“I want water, coffee, tea, and a juice”
*Puts down water*
“Where is my juice?!?”

Really?

At this point, I had to remember that we were in the air, not the Bronx. I felt a little better when the man next to her gave her the most disapproving look I’ve ever seen (this seemed to shame her a bit too).
Why does this annoy your flight attendant? For starters, it is excessive. You are not drinking all that so cut the crap. Don’t order something just for the sake of ordering (the “because I can” syndrome). I know you paid for your ticket and all, but coffee, tea, AND juice? Do you like the idea of your stomach doing backflips on a flight? Furthermore, when we are collecting trash and all of your cups are half full, we now have to pour a whole bunch of crap down the drain.
5. This.

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Look at this person’s tray. Now look at my tray. Look at their tray again. Now look at mine again.
Please stop stacking the contents of the tray. STOP. It doesn’t take much effort to be neat. I’ve seen much worse too. I’m talking used up tissues just falling all over the tray, other garbage, etc. You notice how easy it is to take the tray out of the cart to give to you? It should be just as easy to place it back. It shouldn’t have to be a struggle and FAs shouldn’t have to take the time to move your nasty tissues out of the way to do so either.
6. Stand behind the FA while they are trying to complete a service.

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You see this?  (Faces are covered to protect the innocent…as well as the guilty)

Don’t do this.
This FA is trying to complete a pickup/cleanup service and this person is all up on her to go use the restroom. It can probably wait. Let the FAs complete their service so the aisle can be oh I dunno…CLEAR? There is no way you can pass the cart so standing there like the FAs is being a complete nuisance is a surefire way to a sideeye.
Why does this annoy your flight attendant? Your FA wants to complete their service efficiently and in a timely manner. He or she does not need you to be up under them like this extremely heavy cart is just going to magically dissolve into thin air so your path to freedom will be illuminated.
Go sit down.
7. Get up during dangerous turbulence.
Picture it. Flight from Lagos. One hour left. We run into bad turbulence. I hope you never hear this, but if the captain instructs the FAs to sit, then you are in for some real shaking. So I’m sitting down reading a book when I look up and see this woman holding on to the seats to come closer to me. Her walking is labored and it looks like she is climbing a mountain. I begin to worry thinking something is wrong with her health. She stops in front of me, struggles to maintain her balance, and says…
“You were supposed to get me water!”
Mind you, at this time the plane is jerking around. I look up at her and simply reply
“Ma’am, you need to go sit down.”
Before our brave soul could utter another word, a co-worker grabs a water bottle next to her, runs to give it to the woman, and gets back to her jumpseat- nearly falling in the process. I sit there, looking…book still in hand.
Why did this annoy me? Believe it or not, FAs get scared in bad turbulence too, so when the Captain tells us to have a seat, that is exactly what we do. I’m not risking my health to get you water in turbulence. I’m sitting down and so should you. If you were to get hurt trying to walk around the plane during turbulence, you’d be screaming about suing. Avoid all of that. GO. SIT. DOWN.

As a matter of fact, make this your mantra on a flight to avoid being annoying.
When in doubt, GO SIT DOWN.

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My Colu..er, Colombian Adventure


First things first. Columbia is a good (albeit overpriced) school in New York City. Colombia is a country in South America. Don’t feel ashamed if you made this mistake. I have too. In fact, I made this mistake in a group with thousands of people and didn’t correct it until hours later. Good times.
Moving on, when I saw a deal to Colombia in April of 2015, I decided to book a quick trip for the second week of September. Usually, this would be school time but the travel gods were smiling down on teachers in New York City. We had a Jewish holiday that gave us Monday and Tuesday off. As most travel junkies would do, I booked right away. Leave Friday afternoon and return Tuesday evening. Simple right?

 

Yeah……..so let me make a long frustrating story as short as possible.
1. Missed my flight from JFK. Bought a cheap ticket on Avianca to leave from Miami the next day.
2. Spent the night at my sister and brother in law’s apartment. They were away themselves, but luckily her best friend was crazy cat sitting.
3. Booked an American Airlines reward ticket from PHL to MIA.
4. Took the Amtrak from Penn Station to Philadelphia International Airport.
5. Totally forgot that PHL sucks so I ended up missing my MIA flight with Avianca (gotta love those connections).
6. Avianca tells me to piss off at first (requiring me to pay a change fee of $275).
7. You can forget that (PG version of what I said).
8. After some smooth Billy D. Williams level of smooth talking, Avianca offers to put me on a flight to Cartagena the next day.
9. You can forget that (PG version of what I said).
10. Booked a really cheap flight to Cartagena (leaving one hr from the time of my last “you can forget that”) on my American Airlines credit card. *Note* I applied for this card when my credit was going through a rebuilding phrase. You can ONLY use it to purchase flights on American. Seriously, that is the only use for it.  Now that I have a CitiAadvantage Platinum Select card, this “store card” will be staying in my wallet (I’ll use it from time to time to keep it from becoming inactive).
11. Finally landed in Cartagena at about 1am Sunday. One full day missed. Of course I was peeved, but I wasn’t going to ruin the rest of my trip being upset.
Finally, at about 1:40 am, I checked into the Calamari Hostal Boutique *Note* In Colombia, small hotels tend to be referred to “Hostals.” If you’re not into the idea of dorms and sharing toilets, don’t be alarmed. Most of these hostals do not fall under that category. I found my accommodation to be perfectly fine. The room was clean, the shower was cold (which was needed in HOT Cartagena), and the wifi worked well. Kind of a bummer that porno channel stopped working after a minute, but you can’t have it all. Although I did not encounter any employee who spoke English, they were helpful and nice.  You’d be surprised how far you can go with a simple “Hola” and a smile.
After searching online, I found a great FREE walking tour called well, “Free Tour Cartagena.” Luckily, they had an English only tour at 10am. I left my hotel a few hours later to look for Plaza Santa Teresa.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was a 30 second walk from where I was staying.
I spotted the tour guide by his yellow shirt. Now I must say that Edgar is an EXCELLENT tour guide. He is kind, full of information, and patient (he didn’t mind my many photo requests). At the end of the tour, the participants take a photo together.

11149566_862213490523012_7553375054054481005_nA Canadian (I think), two German guys, and lil’ ol’ me.

After the tour, Edgar was nice enough to walk me to a money exchange (at this point I STILL didn’t have any pesos). I took a rest and went on a Chiva bus tour.  A Chiva bus is a colorful bus (resembles a school bus) that makes stops around the city and plays music.

Before I forget, apparently African music (particularly Soukous) is VERY popular in Cartagena.  Hearing it on the radio had me hype.

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I was the only one on the tour that did not speak Spanish, and apparently I was the first black girl some of the other tourists have ever seen as evidenced by their photo requests (I’ll talk more about dealing with this another time).  Later in the evening, I sought to find a restaurant that served authentic food. However, one of the downsides to staying in a tourist area is the lack of local food (or least severely overpriced). In my case, I settled for an Italian restaurant that was nothing to write home about.
Alas, after one day it was time to head off to Medellin. All in all, Cartagena is a beautiful city with warm people.  I wish I could have seen more of it.

Domestic flights in Colombia are cheap and do the trick. I booked a $39 dollar flight with Viva Colombia. Think of Viva Colombia as a Spanish speaking Spirit. They nickel and dime you just the same, but if you don’t have a lot of luggage and have some time (for delays) you’ll be fine.

The flight was just under one hour. It was pretty uneventful, well except the woman who moaned so loudly (in fear, not pleasure) after a bit of turbulence the first ten rows were in stitches.  The safety announcements were interesting too. The demonstration was conducted entirely in Spanish.

 

Pardon my heat rash btw…in fact, I know I look awful don’t hold it against me

We land, I exchange a bit more money, and hop on the shuttle bus to the city. *Note* a private taxi to the main city can be a bit expensive for a solo traveler. If you want to save money, take the shuttle bus. It is safe, secure, and will only run you back about $4. It dropped me off only about two blocks to the train station I needed to head to my Airbnb.  The trains are smooth, punctual, and not confusing at all. 

Let me tell you about my Airbnb! Gorgeous is not the word. A penthouse in gated community. My host was an awesome guy who directed me to a great restaurant a few minutes away.

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This may not look like much, but it was AMMMMMMMAAAAZZZZZZIIIIIIINNNNNNNNGGGGGGG. So good that looking at the last piece gave me a case of the feels.
Back at the apartment, my host, myself, and some other guests engaged in some small talk and watched music videos. I decided to go to sleep early due to my 7am flight. My room was the “Petite suite” and small as heck, but at $20, I had no room to complain.

My host arranged for his friend (a really sweet local woman) to drive me to the airport the next morning. We had the best conversation we could have for someone whose English was limited. Once again I was amazed by the sights as we drove up the mountain to the airport (about a 40 min drive to the city). 

 

About two hours later, I found myself once again on an uneventful flight to Mexico City, then finally on to New York City.
Just in time to complain about not wanting to go to work the next day.

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LA Moments in time: January 2016

Just random things and moments in the City of Angels.  Formatting be damned.

 

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Indeed.
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“Only we can save us.”

 

 

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Make no mistake, the chicken and waffles were REALLY good.

 

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In Koreatown. Don’t let the outside fool you…really nice looking inside.

 

SHHHHHRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMPPPPPPPP!!!

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Listen to two HS friends. Don’t dump. Save the ocean.
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What is LA without a hotel roof top affair? Hollywood. Full of fulfilled dreams and a slew of broken ones.

 

What a random trip…I couldn’t be happier.

 

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Free Breakfast and BedBugs: The Accommodation Booking Headache

Last year on Christmas day, I booked a flight to Abu Dhabi for a less than a student loan payment.  Frantically telling my friends about the deal, one of them asked “but where will we stay?” 


Now, in no way am I implying that it wasn’t a legitimate inquiry, but I’ll let you know a little something about people like myself who feel a certain joy about world travel.  We usually go by the mantra “if it is cheap enough, and I’m free, I’m booking it!”


“Don’t worry about the hotel, we’ll book that later.” 


Often when I see a lower than usual fare, the first thing on my mind is just booking my flight and praying that it goes through.  That is usually the easiest part of the planning.  Booking accommodation however, has been responsible for a ton of headaches and long hrs staring at my laptop, just waiting on the accommodation judge to bang her gavel and free me of the hell of searching for a place to lay my head.  In other words, booking accommodation can be damn hard.


I suppose I could make my life easier and just book a five star place and be over with it.  Right?



As I am usually traveling by myself, I have to be budget conscious.  Paying an arm and a leg for a place to sleep kinda defeats the purpose of paying a fingernail for the flight.  Furthermore, five star hotels are NOT immune to a coming out party by our little almostcompletelyexterminatedbutbackandbetterthanever pesky little friends, bedbugs.
Accordingly, finding the right accommodation is like a science or a really long math equation.


Notice I said “accommodation” rather than hotel.  Hotels are not the be all to end all.  In recent years, vacation rentals and Bed & Breakfasts stays have gained a lot of ground.  In fact, my very first trip to Miami (during Memorial Day Weekend) included a stay in a vacation rental.

Those of you who have been to South Beach during this time know that even the crappiest hotels would charge 300+ a night.  I found a studio rental for $125 a night (which between four girls came up to $31.25).  I suppose this is where my penny pinching stemmed from (well no, actually it stems from my lovely mother who was the queen of discount growing up…much to our chagrin).  Granted, I almost got into a fight with one of the “young ladies” who were staying down the hall, but who cares?  It was clean, it was right on Ocean Drive, and it was clean.

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Nowadays, when choosing accommodation I think of the following factors:


1. Where am I going?
If I’m going to a country where A) I do not speak the main language and B) Few ppl speak English I try to stay in the “tourist” areas.  This way, I am more likely to run into someone I can communicate with, even if their English is broken.


2. Where are the reviews?
I don’t care if the pictures are the nicest I’ve ever seen.  If the overwhelming majority of reviews are negative, I’ll pass.  I find tripadvisor to be reliable, but watch out for reviews from someone who has fewer than five posts (they could be a plant or competitor trying to sabotage).  In addition, I tend mostly ignore complaints of a lack of cold or hot water.  I mean really.   Look for reviewer pics.  Management usually won’t use the pic with the dead cockroach in the corner.  Places with a rep for being dirty won’t get my business.


3. How far do I have to go for the shrimp?
I tend not to stay in places where there are little to no food options in close proximity.  Hotels that are in fairly isolated areas tend to price their food accordingly.  If you stay in a rental (AirBnB or otherwise), no food options are well, an absolute no no.  Do you really want to resort to taking a taxi every single time you want some eats?


4. Will I be safe?
Honestly, this should be #1 on EVERYONE’s list.  If you don’t feel safe, how in the world could you have a good time?  I don’t think being a crime victim makes a good Instagram pic.  I’m not choosing a place just to be afraid to leave the grounds.


5. Internets.
I need the internets.  Lots of it.  If you don’t have it, I need to be close to it.

Some booking services I love to use to find accommodation include
Expedia (expedia has a nice point building system)
Booking.com (you can often book then pay when you arrive)
Airbnb.com (look for people with at least three positive reviews, a detailed description, and lots of pictures)
Hotelstonight (for the ultimate procrastinator, you book the morning of your stay for big discounts…*note* you can only book for one night, but I once booked a hotel in Miami for $19)
Hotwire (I strongly suggest reviewing the amenities as it is possible to correctly guess the hotel before you book).

I hope this is helps anyone who is currently searching for a place to sleep naked on their next vacation.
Oh yeah, make sure the bathroom is IN your room.  The days of random people walking in while you boo boo should be left in your college years.

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Traveler ≠ Rich: Having a middle seat mentality for 1st Class memories

“Damn Tucker, you must be rich!”

 

It is a sentence that I hear quite often.  I can’t say I blame people.  I’m out of town several times a year so naturally, it is assumed that I have a lot of money.  Truthfully, I can’t complain about my salary.  Having a few years of teaching under my belt, and a MSEd (along with 30+ additional credits) has done me well.  However, I still try to abide by a few rules.  I’ll name three in this post…but first, let me get a few things out of the way.

 

1. Travel ≠ Rich     
2. I don’t live rent free
3. I’m not a trust fund baby (I’ll keep it real though, I’d love to be )
4. Yes, I do have bills
Got it? Good.

 

Rule #1
“I’m not Carrie Bradshaw.
And no, it isn’t because I’m not white.  It is because I realize I’m just not in a position to spend insane amounts of money on brand names that I can’t even pronounce and still travel.  In fact, I only do “major shopping” three times a year (August for the start of the school year, November for winter, and April for Spring/Summer).
 
 
See the pain in Mr. T’s face?  This is my feels when I see a big sale and I can’t indulge in all that clearance-y goodness because I’m sticking to my schedule.  I will only buy something here and there for a specific purpose (trip, party, or “damn that is hot”).  When I do, I’m not breaking the bank either.  You know that indoor or outdoor mall that can be kinda sketchy depending on the time of day?  Yeah, get that dress (or those slacks) there.  It’s cute.  It’s cheap.  It’ll do.  No shame in JCPenney either.
 
 
 I didn’t even spend $30 on the dress I wore to my sister’s wedding…and I officiated the ceremony!

 Furthermore, I haven’t bought a pair of sneakers in over a year.  Just last week, one of my students stood next to me and asked the following:

 

“Ms. Tucker, whose sneakers look better, yours or mine?”
Surely he felt that his were “better.”  I can’t say blame him either, a pair of Jordans are gold to a 6th grader.  However, if traveling the world means I have to get clowned for my 10 year old dunks occasionally, I’d say it is a fair exchange.  Those $100 pair of sneakers can be a night’s stay in a hotel (maybe more).

 

Rule #2
Price/time > Destination
I still have my travel wish list and hopefully I’ll be able to scratch all of them off.  With that said, as all teachers know, you can’t just drop everything to take a vacation.  Teachers are very much bound by their schedules (actually, some teachers take vacations whenever buuuuutttttt that is none of my business).  I usually choose one vacation to stay home, pass gas freely, and watch A Different World reruns all day (this school year it was Winter Break).  On the others, it isn’t necessarily about where I want to go, but what the best deal is.  One way I found out is this little website called skyscanner.com.  Learn it, play with it.  Make sweet love to it.
 
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If you notice, under the “from” option, you have the choice to click “Add nearby airports.”  Take advantage of this.  The red arrow points to the day I go on my April vacation which is 4/22/16.  Notice how the blue arrow points to “Everywhere.”  This is the option you are given if you have no particular preference as to where you want to go.  Look what comes up when click “search flights.”
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These are one way prices from NYC (which could be JFK, LGA, or EWR airport).  When I searched, I found one way deals to Canada from $88, Trindad and Tobago from $153 and Jamaica from $183.  I suggest you check one way AND round trip (as round trip prices usually turn out to be less expensive).  You can save quite a few bucks going somewhere that may not be high on your “list” if it is the right time.

 

Rule #3
“I Ain’t too proud for a little discomfort”

 

Sometimes a really good deal isn’t in New York.  I’ve seen many, many steals leave from nearby cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago (ok, so Chicago isn’t exactly nearby by driving standards, but I’ll explain in a bit).

Comfort means a lot to me. I’d love to be able to fly out of LGA all the time (being that it is only a 20 min drive away) but unfortunately, that can’t always be the case. Nonetheless, I ain’t too proud to hop on a Bolt, Mega, and yes the good ol’ 你太该死的便宜 bus. If leaving from Philadelphia or Boston will save you $300+, what is the big deal about hopping on a $15 dollar bus to get there? Chicago is about a 2 and a half hr flight away. Say you have a flight from NYC to Hong Kong for $1100. A sale pops up from Chicago for $500. I’ve seen round trip flights from NYC to Chicago for as low as $80 (but let us say $150). A little math shall we?

 

1100-500-150= STILL A GOOD DAMN DEAL.
Honestly speaking, I can’t even say that these are my top three rules, as my top rules tend to rotate. I haven’t even scratched the surface. What I will say however is if you’re not exactly taking a daily dip in your gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, you have to make some sacrifices and be a little more flexible than what you are used to if you want to travel the world for less.

Happy Flying (or Chinatown bus to flying)!

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