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Lemons, Lemonade and a trip to the Motherland

Life and lemons comic strip

Bee: If I am being completely honest, 2017 started off shitty. I went on involuntary furlough, separated from my business partner and decided not to have the birthday shindig I’d been planning for over a year! Yup, it was that bad, but because I am learning to make lemonade whenever life hands me lemons, I went ahead and booked myself a trip to Cameroon for 3 weeks! Life is interesting you know, had I been employed I don’t think I would have been able to take that much time off work, but thanks to my lack of work, I was able to do just that. And not like my lemonade needed any more sweetness, I did score the sweetest deal on flights. I purchased a round-trip ticket to Cameroon with Air France for under $1000!!! There, there. Close your mouth. Flies are a-buzzing. Truth be told, that was my reaction when I saw it too. So yeah, I packed up my bags and hauled my travel buddy with me to the motherland.

Douala Airport

Douala International Airport

Leo: I was not too concerned about the sister’s furlough. To be honest, I thought it was a blessing in disguise that would allow her to find her true calling and reach her true potential. When she told me about her lemonade, I thought it tasted quite good.

Toddler tantrum

Dreaded toddler tantrum

Bee: The trip was pretty uneventful which is always a great thing when traveling with a toddler because I always tell myself that we are one flight away from a tantrum. So far, we haven’t had any: fingers crossed. Ms. Thang slept pretty much from take-off to touch-down and woke up just in time to ask for milk from Starbucks at CDG. Once we got milk and snacks, she was good. We barely had time to check out the Longchamp store before I realized we were running pretty low on time. We got to the gate and boarding had commenced already.

Air France plane at Douala International Airport

Our ride. Courtesy of MattDenver.com

As usual, the “mbenguistes”: Cameroonians who live abroad, typically Europe, where no one knows exactly what they do as long as they keep sending money back home, did not disappoint with their faux-fur trimmed coats and mismatched designer prints. Again, the travel gods blessed me with a knocked out toddler. If you’ve been to the tropics, you would understand that February at the Douala airport is not winter clothing friendly. So about an hour before we landed, I changed the little one into a more appropriate outfit to avoid her getting a heat stroke on arrival.

Arrival gate at Douala International Airport

First glimpse of Douala Airport upon deplaning. Courtesy of MattDenver.com

Bee: By now I’m sure you’re thinking I had it too easy on this trip right? Yeah, wrong! By the time we made it through the airport and all its checkpoints, we arrived at the baggage carousel and found that 3 of our 4 suitcases did not make it. Thankfully the lone one that did was Ms. Thangs and I had packed a few things for myself into my carry on. After taking what felt like forever to fill out the claim form for the bags, we were ready to head home 2 hours later.

Douala international Airport baggage claim

Organized chaos at Douala International Airport baggage claim. Courtesy of MattDenver.com

Fun fact: most airlines in Cameroon do not keep permanent staff at the airport. They contract out their services to ADC whose Customer Service skills I won’t comment on. I did forget to mention that my dad had no idea we were coming, so imagine his surprise when we got home and my mum handed Ms. Thang to him in the dark. He was quite overwhelmed with joy but somehow still managed to promise payback. I’ll be waiting. And since I know he reads this, I’ll go ahead and say “ Hi Daddy”.

Stay tuned for more tales from our adventures in Cameroon

+ Southwest architecture

Breaking Bad in Albuquerque

 

I remember when the ads for a new show called Breaking Bad on AMC first appeared on my TV about a chemistry teacher… and with that, I quickly lost interest. Ironically, my sister has a Master’s in Chemistry, however, Chemistry and I do not get along and so I figured I would not be interested in it. Years later, it kept coming up as a hit show and so I decided to look into it.

Wandering through Best Buy one day, I came across a sale bin that contained the first 4 seasons of the show on Blu-Ray. I immediately picked them up and began watching them as soon as I got home. I was hooked before the first episode aired. My girlfriend had gotten hooked as well but we had different schedules and it became agony waiting for the weekend so we could watch it together. By the time we finished all 4 seasons, I knew I had to go to Albuquerque and check out all the locations that had become so familiar at this time. Thus I found myself headed to New Mexico!

Kokopelli

Kokopelli

Adobe home in Albuquerque

Southwestern architecture

Cactus plants

I see cactus and immediately think Tequila!

Arriving late on the first day, I check into my hotel and decide to explore my surroundings. I end up in Old Town Albuquerque which is a great place to people watch. I get an Indian Taco which is huge and more food than I can finish but oh so good! Retiring for the night, I begin planning the next day which will be a tribute to Breaking Bad as well as wherever the road takes me.

Sign for San Felipe de Nero church

San Felipe de Neri sign

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe in a wormwood tree behind the church.

My first stop the next day is the San Felipe de Neri Catholic one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. Even as a non-practicing Catholic, I always seem to stumble upon a Catholic church whenever I travel. Behind the church, carved into a once dying cottonwood tree is la Virgen de Guadalupe. Legend has it that she saved the tree as it still stands today. As the tree continues to heal, there is fear that the virgen will be enclosed in the tree and there is debate as to whether she should be removed or allowed to remain: all I can say is I am glad I got to see her!

Located at the end of the street is The Candy Lady – the official supplier of Blue Sky! I can’t tell you how excited I am to pay $10 for a bag of blue-hued sugar! Marketing is a hell of a drug!

Breaking Bad - Walter White's house

Walter White’s residence

Feeling a bit stalkerish, I cruise by the White’s residence and for a second, I truly expect to see Walter’s Pontiac Aztec and Skylar’s 1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer in the driveway. Parking down the street I take a couple of hurried photos and rush off before someone calls the cops on me! I have read the owners are gracious about tourists taking pictures as long as you don’t throw pizzas on the roof. I won’t go into how stupid and wasteful that is.  My next stop was off the Breaking Bad tour.

Boy dancing at Indian Pueblo Center

The boy mirrors the painting behind him.

Traditional dance at Indian Pueblo Center

Traditional

As a kid, I remember reading about the culture of the First Nations: the Hopi Indians, the Cherokees, the Navajos etc, but not the brutal history. As a result, I grew up hoping to one day visit one of those cultures but reality set in in adulthood. The Indian Pueblo Center provided the next best thing! I was able to learn about the history of some first nation tribes, watch them sing and dance and eat their food. All from a non-exploitative standpoint. FYI, they are the only place in North America to host traditional Native American dances every weekend year round.

National Hispanic Cultural Center

National Hispanic Cultural Center

Next was the National Hispanic Cultural Center which contained an exhibit about Los Desaparecidos – thousands of people who “disappeared” in Argentina during the Dirty War between 1976 and 1983. The exhibit contains artwork by families in memory of their loved ones so that they are never forgotten. It is a very somber but poignant exhibit. While talking to one of the docent’s at the Indian Pueblo Center about my reservations on visiting a reservation (no pun intended!), she encouraged me to visit the Sandia Pueblo.

Sandia Peak Tramway

Always up for a challenge

Sandia Peak Sign

Now that’s high!

Sandia cable car

Going down

Headed there, I see a sign that says World’s Longest Tram Ride: detour! Even though I don’t care for large bodies of water or heights, my sense of adventure always overrides my fears and I am grateful for that! It is a picturesque ride up, at the top and heading down. A definite must see. At this point, it is getting late and I have still not been to Jesse’s house. By the time I get there it is dark and hard to see clearly but I am still able to check it off my list.

I am heading home when I remember Gustavo Fring and Los Pollos Hermanos. Hoping I am not too late, I race to Twister’s, the location of the restaurant. When I pull up to the restaurant, even though it was twilight and the sign says Twisters, it is apparent I am at Los Pollos Hermanos. However, when I walk inside, a huge wall decal of the logo greets me, and I lose it to fits of excitement.

At Los Pollos Hermanos

Visiting Gus Fring

The cashier must have seen this happen one too many times because she calmly asks me if I want a photo in front of the sign. Do I?!!? Walking out with my Indian Taco, my day felt very complete. I don’t know that any show has captivated me like Breaking Bad has. I can spend hours explaining why Skylar annoys the living daylights out of me or why Marie irritates me but also why I love how well Anna Gunn played Skylar that she was able to elicit such strong emotions from most people. Or why Skylar had to be portrayed so negatively when Walter was the one committing crimes, I mean it goes on and on. All in all, Albuquerque was my first foray into the South West and I sure hope it is not the last!

 

+ Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

How I ended up at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

 

Double rainbows at Victoria Falls

Double rainbows

“It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in flight.” Thus spoke Dr. David Livingstone, the first European to visit Mosi-oa-Tunya, which he named Victoria Falls. I cannot help but agree with him as setting eyes on the falls – Mosi-oa-Tunya that means the smoke that thunders is a breathtaking experience. The falls are located in southern Africa on the Zambezi River at the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and hold the distinction of being the largest falls in the world.

Victoria Falls Airport

Victoria Falls International Airport

 

When I boarded the plane headed to Johannesburg, Mosi-oa-Tunya was not on my list. However, after the 15-hour flight, I decided I was going to see as much as I could in southern Africa. Upon researching neighbouring countries, the falls won in a landslide. I arrived the city of Victoria Falls from Johannesburg filled with excitement and having made no concrete plans. The information desk directed me to a rental agency and 20 minutes later I made a left out of the airport and was headed down the road towards the falls in a 2001 Volvo s70.

Victoria Falls sign

Welcome to Victoria Falls

 

After about 21 kilometers I was at the falls. The minute I stepped out of the vehicle, I could hear the thundering of the water and looking up I could see the spray. $30 later I was in the park.

Map of Victoria Falls Rainforest

Map of the Victoria Falls Rainforest

There is a sign with the recommended route but a tour guide was hogging board so I blew past it. The route is set up as 16 viewpoints starting at the statue of David Livingstone and ending at the Railway Bridge. Viewpoint 1 Livingstone’s statue, allows you to watch the water flow over the end to become the first fall, Devil’s Cataract. At View Point 2 you are looking up at the water coming down. Viewpoint 3 where I started was like having a front row seat to the start of the waterfall movie. I was able to watch the water flow towards me and then topple down. I could hear it thunder below and watched the spray float upwards. I was awestruck. This fall is called the Devil’s Cataract. It is the lowest of the falls and separated from the rest by Boaruka Island.

Beginning of the Victoria Falls

First glimpse of the falls

Devil's Cataract Falls Zimbabwe

Posing at the Devil’s Cataract Falls

Next is the Main Falls, then Livingstone Island from which Dr. Livingtone first views the falls. I visited during the rainy season and was unable to see it as the sprays were too dense. HorseLshoe falls, named for their shape and Rainbow Falls are next but I was unable to see these as well due to dense spray. Viewpoint 13 lies directly opposite Rainbow Falls, the highest of the falls and was continuously pelted by rain so much so that the path to the falls was coated in algae. I made several attempts to walk all the way down the path towards the falls but each time the downpour chased me back so wet and full of exhilaration I made it to viewpoint 16 from which you can see Livingstone bridge.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

The smoke that thunders

Horseshoe Falls Zimbabwe

Posing at the Horseshoe Falls

I have come to realise that most of my bucket lists items exist out of the African continent and seeing the falls was a reminder that so much beauty lies on this vast continent. So much so that Akon’s Mama Africa started playing my head. After exiting the park, I walked down the road to the bridge which was created as a link between Zimbabwe and Zambia and is considered no man;s land as it spans the 2nd gorge over the river.Thrill seekers have the chance to bungee jump from the bridge and I was momentarily tempted but for the $160 fee.

Sign entering Zambia

2 countries in one day!

Victoria Falls Bridge

Victoria Falls Bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia

Zambian guide

My guide into Zambia

A Zambian who was selling wares on the bridge offered to show me something and took me off the beaten path to breathtaking views of the gorges past the bridge. Most people flock to see the falls but as the river flows on from the falls it has created beautiful gorges that zig zag across the landscape.

Zambezi River Gorge

Gorge carved by the Zambezi River

As mentioned previously I arrived at the falls with very little information and it was not until I spoke with my Zambian guide that I realised that the falls can be accessed from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. While a majority of the falls lie within Zimbabwe, seeing them from Zambia affords for unique and one-of-a-kind experiences and is definitely on my bucket list now!

Gift shop at Victoria Falls

Gift Shop at Victoria Falls

Fun facts about the falls

  • No shortage of rainbows
  • Rain 24/7. Victoria Falls Rainforest is the only place in the world where it rains 24/7
  • Spray from falls can be seen 50 km away
  • When the levels are low in Sept-Dec, you can swim in the Devil’s Pool. This is a natural pool that has been created by thousands of years of erosion. There is a rock ledge on the lip of the falls where the water is only a few centimeters deep.
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How to fly to Cuba

 

The first couple of times I visited Cuba, I was unable to fly directly as there were no direct flights to this beautiful country from the US. Starting in December 2016, several US-based airlines began service to Cuba eliminating the need for the previous convoluted route some of us had to take. Even more exciting, it won’t take you a lot of money to make your dream come true. I am going to show you how to fly to Cuba!

As of this writing, 8 US based airlines (Alaska, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United) fly to Havana from 9 US cities (Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York, Orlando, Tampa). 4 of those cities are in Florida, of course, 4 on the East coast and 1 in the West.

In order to get the best prices, I suggest you use several sites to compare prices. I used Google Flights, Priceline, and the airline website. They were pretty close across the board especially if you are flexible with your dates as this will give you the best bang for your buck. Additionally, as always, booking in advance saves you money as well. So let’s start alphabetically with each airline, where they fly from and what it would cost you.

Alaska flies from Los Angeles (LAX) and will cost you ~ $352. (~ = approximately)

American Airlines flies from Charlotte (CLT) at ~ $418 and from Miami (MIA) at ~ $145.

Delta flies from Atlanta (ATL) at ~ $387 from Miami (MIA) at ~ $145 and from New York (JFK) at ~ $273.

Frontier flies from Miami (MIA) at ~ $125! If you include the carry-on fee, your total comes to $155. (Not sure how many people fly without carry on.)

JetBlue flies from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) at ~ $123, from New York at ~ $269 and from Orlando (MCO) at ~ $123!

Southwest flies from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) at ~ $148 and from Tampa (TPA) at ~ $148.

Spirit flies from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) at ~ $155.

United Airlines flies from Newark (EWR) at ~ $261.

As you can see, flying to Cuba from Florida is the most beneficial for your pockets and those in surrounding states can take advantage of this benefit. For example, Flying from Atlanta to Havana will cost you about $387 on Delta. However, if you drove to Orlando, the cost of gas would be about $90 to $140 roundtrip and then you can catch a flight on JetBlue for ~ $123! Potential savings are about $160 if you go this route. My sister and I will be doing something similar for Spring Break. We want to take the little one to Disney World… or is it Land, I never remember. Anyway, we want to take her to the Disney Theme Park in Orlando, so this will work out great for us. We shall drive to Orlando, sightseeing along the way, enjoy the park and then catch JetBlue to Havana.

So you’ve got your flight taken care of, now lodging! I am adventurous and have traveled frequently enough to know that I can secure lodging upon landing. This method hasn’t failed me yet however, Cuba presents a unique set of challenges. With airport internet most places I fly, it is easy to land and then take care of lodging. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, Cuba does not have this (dis)advantage. The adventurous alternative, however, is to trust your cab driver to take you to a Casa like I did on my second visit. Casas are rooms rented out by Cuban families in their homes for next to nothing. The biggest advantage for me was that my money was going directly to the people and secondly, you just can’t beat the home cooked meals they provide! While some Casas are listed on the internet, patience is required as with limited infrastructure, the owners are not always able to check their mail every day. Once you do make contact with a family, they are very gracious and will arrange almost anything for you including airport pickup and even visits out of Havana. Don’t worry. we’ll go over lodging more in the next post.

Visiting Cuba is one big adventure as it is nothing like anything you have probably seen, however, take it all in stride, be open minded and you will have the time of your life. So what are you waiting for, go and book that flight!

 

 

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How to fly with kids.

 

by Bee

My daughter got on her first flight at the tender age of 5 months. To be honest, beyond the endless hours I spent researching flying with babies and panicking about all the things that could go wrong, it was a pretty uneventful trip. A one hour flight, I nursed her at takeoff, she passed out soon after and woke up after we landed. Same thing on the way back. 3 months later, I got to take my first solo international trip with her. Now this was a very memorable trip; especially memorable for all the things I did wrong, and almost 2 years later I look back and ask myself what I was thinking. Which brings me to the subject of this post: Flying with an infant/toddler: tips and tricks.

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The Good, The Bad, WTF 2016

When asked about my worst travel experiences, I find it a very hard question to answer. Because I love traveling so much, I tend to reimagine negative experiences as blimps on the landscape photo of my travel. Adventurous Kate, one of my favourite bloggers does lists at the end of each year, so I decided to try and come up with one. And since it is Friday, I will keep it at 5 in honour of the Friday 5ive theme.

I named my list The Good, The Bad, The WTF of 2016! I thought that was catchy.So here we go. I will start with the Bad first just to get it out of the way and once again, because I don’t remember my experiences as negative, I struggled a little with coming up with just 2 examples. I struggled with the Good as well because, for the most part, I find all my travel to be good so I had to do some narrowing down. Alright, here we go!

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What’s in my bag?

When I initially started traveling as an adult, I would pack everything but the kitchen sink. Once, on one of my frequent trips to London, I took a duffel bag filled with shoes in their boxes. 7 pairs of them! In all, I had a total of about 6 pieces of luggage. Picture me lugging all that crap through the Underground from train to train. By the time I got to my stop I was so tired that I called my cousin to come help me as I could not bear the thought of lugging all that stuff on the bus. I was so exhausted I even considered abandoning some of the bags at the station and coming back for them later. Adding insult to injury, I probably only wore 1 pair of shoes while I was there!

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Time for another spontaneous post. For the last 2 years or so, I have embodied spontaneous travel to its core! My mantra was Just Do It. In the summer of 2015, I visited 8 countries in 8 weekends. I showed up in Chile to snowboard in the summer and stumbled upon the Copa finals. I spent my first night in the streets celebrating with Chilenos on their win. I traveled to Belize out of curiosity for the only English speaking country in Latin America and ended up walking across the border to Guatemala where I had the best tasting tacos of my life! Tortillas made to order!

Recently, I experienced a life transition and I seem to be stuck. On one hand, frequent short trips may not be possible as before, however, I am now able to spend more time exploring and have a lot more flexibility as well. Unfortunately, it seems I may have lost my stride.


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Friday 5ive: Travel Apps

About a week ago, my sister suggested I start doing a Friday 5ive: a top five list of my recommendations. When we had the conversation, I told her I loved the idea and I had the perfect article for it! All week, I have rested, well assured my article was already written. Today, I go to pull up the article and would you know, I had not finished it!

It’s been about 30 minutes and I think the shock and disappointment are pretty much done. So, I have decided to create a spur of the moment Friday 5ive: My Top Five Travel Apps! This shouldn’t be too hard given that I travel a lot and they are my top five. Right? Let’s go!

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+ Classic cars in Havana

The culmination of my quest to conquer Cuba

 

For most of my life, Cuba has been a hidden travel gem. That place you heard so much about but were forbidden to visit. About 4 years ago, I started hearing about people who were taking convoluted routes to make it to Cuba. While still illegal, it was like the El Dorado for an avid traveler – absolutely worth the risk. However, I was saved from the possibility of becoming Big Bertha’s cellmate when travel restrictions for US citizens were relaxed, allowing more people to visit as long as they satisfied 1 out of 12 proposed criteria. To me, the relaxation in restrictions signaled an end to what most travelers had dubbed an unspoiled paradise so far and made me determined to see it before the winds of change arrived. And thus I began to hatch a plan to get to Havana, Cuba.

Cayman Islands Airport

I spent 16 hours at this airport scared to leave in case the plane got fixed and left without me!

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