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Date a Girl Who Travels

Kindly borrowed from: http://www.solitarywanderer.com/2012/02/date-a-girl-who-travels/

Sitting in front of Perito Moreno Glaciar, in El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina
Sitting in front of Perito Moreno Glaciar, in El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

Date a girl who travels. Date a girl who would rather save up for out of town trips or day trips than buy new shoes or clothes. She may not look like a fashion plate, but behind that tanned and freckled face from all the days out in the sun, lies a mind that can take you places and an open heart that will take you for what you are, not for what you can be.

Date a girl who travels. You’ll recognize her by the backpack she always carries. She won’t be carrying a dainty handbag; where will she put her travel journal, her pens, and the LED flashlight that’s always attached to her bag’s zipper? In a small purse, how can she bring the small coil of travel string, the wet tissues, the box of cracker, and the bottle of water she’s always ready with, just in case something happens and she can’t go home yet? Yes, a girl who travels knows that anytime, anything can happen and she just has to be prepared with it. Nothing takes her by surprise; she takes everything with equanimity, knowing that such things are always a part of life. She’s reliable and dependable, traits that she’s learned while on the road.

You’ll also recognize a girl who travels by the fact that she’s always amazed at the world around her, no matter if she’s in her home town or in a place that’s totally new. She sees beauty all around her, not just the ones featured in travel guides or shown in postcards. A girl who travels has developed a deeper appreciation for life. She won’t judge you, or pressure you to do things you don’t want to do. She knows too much about the importance of identity and self-efficacy, and she will appreciate all the more if you won’t pretend to be who you’re not.
You can make mistakes with a girl who travels, and you can also be as idiosyncratic as you can be. Trust me, she has seen so much worse in her travels, and knows firsthand the vagaries of human nature.

Date a girl who travels, because when you’re with her, you’ll realize that even though she’s napped at a temple in Angkor Wat, went boating down the Mekong Delta, ran by the streets of Saigon, or went skinny-dipping in the caves in the Philippines, she still retains that humility that is the mark of a real traveler. She knows she’s been to a lot of places, but she’s humbled by the fact that the world is still a big place and she’s only seen a small part of it. Seeing this in her can make you feel all right with yourself too; there’s no need for you to do more, to be more. What you are is enough.

When you meet a girl who travels, ask her where she’s been and what she’s going to do next. She will appreciate your interest, and if you’re lucky, she may even invite you to join her. When she does, do. Nothing bonds people better than traveling. On your trips, you will both see each other’s best and worst characteristics, and you can then decide whether she’s worth fighting for.

It’s easy enough to date a girl who travels. She won’t want expensive gifts; you can buy her (or both of you) cheap tickets to Thailand for the weekend, and she’ll be more than happy to take you to the longest wooden bridge in the country. You don’t even have to go overseas; you can take her out on day trips, caving or hiking, or treat her to a full body massage.

You can also buy her the little things that she keeps forgetting to buy for herself; that carabiner that will attach her backpack to her seat so that she will feel easier about sleeping on her bus trip, or a backpack cover, a small alarm clock, a money belt, or maybe another sarong that will replace the one she lost in China.

She won’t mind if you get lost on your way to a date. She knows that oftentimes, the journey is more important than the destination. She will help you see the lighter side of things. She’ll walk along with you, not behind you, pointing out the interesting bits of things you’ll see on the way. Before long, you’ll realize that yes, the journey has been more memorable than the destination that you’ve planned to take her to.

Is a girl who travels worth it? Yes, she is. So when you find her, keep her. Don’t lose her with your insecurities and doubts. Because when she says she loves you, she really does. After all, she’s seen so many things, met so many people, and if she had chosen you, better grab that opportunity and thank the gods that you were lucky enough she’s chosen you and not that bloke she met while watching the sun rise in Angkor Wat, or while whitewater rafting in the Padas Gorge in Sabah.

If she says she loves you, she must have seen something in you, something that can always call her back from her travels, something that can anchor her to the world in the way that she wants to after weeks and months of being on the road.

Date a girl who travels. Make her feel safe, warm, and secure. Make her believe that no matter where she goes, and however long she’s gone, you’ll always be there for her, the one that she can call home.

Find a girl who travels. Date her, love her, and marry her, and your world will never be the same again.

Inspired by Date a Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico

Hey Daddy, there’s a hippo in my bathtub…

The red dusty earth stained my sandalled feet, as I walked down the path from the umudugudu.  The term for village was one of a few words in the Kinyarwanda language that I managed to pick up in my four days here.  As I walked along the path, people would pass me in the other direction. “Miruwe,” I would say, “Miruwe!” they would reply back.

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While the scars of the 1994 Rwandan genocide still run deep, the country has done a remarkable job of healing its wounds and is turning towards the future with a surprising measure of optimism.  Many Rwandans sought refuge in Congo, Uganda and Tanzania during the war, and now, 17 years later, the government has taken significant measures to eliminate clashing tribal identities, including eliminating the mandatory ethnic identity card (identifying Tutsis from Hutus), and has successfully rallied the country under the unified Rwandan banner. In the hopes of stimulating its developing economy through ecotourism, the country is now also protecting its most vital natural resource – the mountain gorilla.

Anne and I arrived in Rwinkwavu on Monday morning, after deciding to stay in Kigali the night before.  We were exhausted after our gorilla trek earlier on Sunday and decided instead to have a nice leisurely dinner in Kigali and a good sleep, then drive the remaining 2 hours southeast from Kigali the next morning to the place where she works.

After stocking up on groceries, and a few other bits and pieces, we were on our way to Rwinkwavu.  We drove on a newly paved motorway for most of the distance, passing villages and farms along the way.  The rolling hills gave way to pastures for cattle and goats to graze. Every kilometre or so, a little yellow box appeared at the side of the road, stamped with “Fibre Optic Cable”.  As part of the investment in the national infrastructure, the Rwandan government has laid fibre optic cable around the entire country, but has yet to ‘flip the switch’.

As we got to Kabarondo, we turned off the main road onto a dirt side road the colour of paprika, following the signs for "Rwinkwavu Hospital" and "Akagera Game Reserve, 10km".

As we got to Kabarondo, we turned off the main road onto a dirt side road, following the signs for “Rwinkwavu Hospital” and “Akagera Game Reserve, 10km” which were on the corner.  I would be visiting the game reserve and national park later in the afternoon.  As we drove down the bumpy dirt road the colour of paprika, children would emerge in their blue school uniforms walking home from school, and others would be working the hand-pump well to fetch water for their families.  Just like we experienced in the north, the kids were super excited to see us, and would jump and up and down when we waved back at them.

As we drove down the bumpy dirt road the colour of paprika, children would emerge in their blue school uniforms walking home from school, and others would be working the hand-pump well to fetch water for their families.

We arrived in Rwinkwavu, a sprawling village where PIH has its project. (CLICK HERE to read more about the project, and CLICK HERE to read an inspiring story resulting from the intervention) The Rwinkwavu hospital, training centre and library are only part of the ongoing development to support and promote health in this poor rural district of around 150,000 people.   Rwanda has one of the lowest incidences of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and due to its altitude also has a relatively low rate of malaria.  As we turned off the dirt road onto a path heading up a hill, Anne pointed out Amahoro House – a centre where ex-pat and some local staff are housed and we could get meals.  As I write this, I am sitting on the front porch of Amahoro house, which is perched mid-way up a hill, overlooking a sprawling savannah.

We drove into the little village to Anne's home - known as 'Gatoto's House'. Anne shares the little yellow stone and concrete house with three housemates.

We drove into the little village to Anne’s home – known as ‘Gatoto’s House’.  Anne shares the little yellow stone and concrete house with three housemates:  Catherine and Celia, both American from Boston, and Sally from the UK.  The house is in the middle of the ‘umudugudu’ – or village, about a 10 minute walk from the training centre.  It was nice to be integrated into a neighbourhood.  The four-room house has a detached annex with two more bedrooms, and a detached kitchen, bathing room and latrine in the backyard.  Unlike many of the neighbours, Gatoto’s house has a refrigerator and gas stove.  There is also running water, which is collected from the roof during rainstorms, and fed into a raised water tower at the side of the house.  The backyard has a little fire pit, which we made use of on Tuesday night.

The four-room house has a detached annex with two more bedrooms, and a detached kitchen, bathing room and latrine in the backyard. Unlike many of the neighbours, Gatoto's house has a refrigerator and gas stove. There is also running water, which is collected from the roof during rainstorms, and fed into a raised water tower at the side of the house.

Electricity in the house is typically African (i.e. reliably unreliable), and it’s not unusual for just two or three of the rooms to have power, and the rest of the house to be out… or just the kitchen, or just the annex…  or often none at all… no two days are the same, it’s always an adventure!   The girls have made their home very much their own, by having curtains and pillows sewn by a local seamstress, planting flowers and grass in the front, and herbs and tomatoes in the back. Catherine has cleared a small plot of land behind the yard, and plans to plant lettuce, arugula, and other vegetables.  A hammock is tied between the tree in the back, and a rafter from the kitchen. Since we had a driver to bring us back to Rwink, Anne also decided to purchase a mirror in Kigali, and  it was placed in the back by the sink.

After bringing our bags into the house, and meeting the lovely 21-year old housekeeper, Jane,  Anne left for work, and I was off with the driver to Akagera Game Reserve.  Although the park is only 10km down the dirt road, it was about a one hour drive over a bumpy dirt road to get to the south gate.  Square mud-brick homes lined the sides of the road, and women were working in the fields, many with babies swaddled to their backs, turning the soil and pulling weeds.  The largest cash crop in Rwanda is bananas, and there are over 40 varieties that are cultivated here.  A newer-introduced crop which has also taken off in this area is pineapple, and as we drove towards the park, we saw groves and groves of pineapples growing up the terraced hills.

Akagera National Park covers 1,200km in eastern Rwanda, against the Tanzanian border. Much of the savannah area of the park was settled in the late 1990s by former refugees returning after the end of the Rwandan Civil War. Due to land shortages, in 1997 the western boundary was regazetted and much of the land allocated as farms to returning refugees. The southern boundary used to be in Rwinkwavu, and is now further north. The park was reduced in size from over 2,500km to its current size. Although much of the best savannah grazing land is now outside the park boundaries, what remains of Akagera is some of the most diverse and scenic landscape in Africa.

As we pulled into the launch area, two baboons hopped out of the grass at the side of the road, and sat in the middle of the road. One eyed us carefully, then turned back to the leaves he was eating.

I paid the admission to the park, and arranged for a boat safari on Lake Ihena, the eastern shore of which is on the Tanzanian border.  As we pulled into the launch area, two baboons hopped out of the grass at the side of the road, and sat in the middle of the road.  One eyed us carefully, then turned back to the leaves he was eating.  A large swarm of Marabou storks were being fed scraps of fish from fishermen that were pulling in their catch.  I boarded the boat, and pushed off shore.

Within two minutes, we had come upon our first group of hippopotamus, soaking just under the surface of the cool water with only their nostrils, eyes and ears poking out.

Within two minutes, we had come upon our first group of hippopotamus, soaking just under the surface of the cool water with only their nostrils, eyes and ears poking out.   A hippo’s skin is very sensitive to the sun, and so they stay cool by staying underwater or in mud during the hot daytime hours. To my surprize, I learned that the quiet, and seemingly shy hippopotamus, whose weight averages between 1.5 and 3 tonnes, is actually one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and is often regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

As the boat crossed over to a small island in the middle of the lake, a number of birds appeared, including a black and white Pied Kingfisher, who watched us intently for a moment, then took off to fish.  We cruised along the shore, and came upon a mother crocodile, protecting her nest of around 60 eggs.  She was as still as a statue, but I could feel her eye on us at every moment.  We continued along the shore of the island, and discovered a group of trees full of Darters and their nests. These large awkward birds would fly away from the boat as we approached, land on another branch, and take off as we got close again.

We drove past a small herd of gazelles, including two males with the characteristic curly antlers.

After our return, we drove away from the boat launch, and saw more baboons eating leaves in trees, and walking along the side of the road.  We drove past a small herd of gazelles, including two males with the characteristic curly antlers. We returned to Rwinkwavu, through the rolling hills of terraced banana and pineapple plantations.

Anne was waiting for me when I got to the house, and we went to the training centre together to access the internet.  She showed me around the square building built around a central garden, with a koi pond (filled with tadpoles, but no koi) in the middle.  In one corner of the building was a large open-air porch with tables and chairs, overlooking the stunning vista over the valley.  This is where I spent most of the next few days, working on school work, and letting the beauty of the landscape sink in.

In one corner of the building was a large open-air porch with tables and chairs, overlooking the stunning vista over the valley. This is where I spent most of the next few days, working on school work, and letting the beauty of the landscape sink in.

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About two weeks ago, the kitchen at Gatoto’s house was broken into.  After interrogating some of the local children, it came to be known that four – 11 year old boys had entered through the small window at the back, having stolen all the perishable food, and more importantly, the BBQ lighter which Anne had brought from the US to light the gas stove.  Anne and her housemate approached the boys’ fathers, who were completely mortified at the situation – they eventually returned the BBQ lighter (albeit nearly empty of fuel), and one of the fathers said that he couldn’t sleep for three days until it was found.  They came over to apologize, and during the conversation, Anne and her housemates invited the rest of the neighbours over to get to know them.  So a small get-together was planned for Tuesday evening.

A case of Fanta and a case of Beer were ordered, and was delivered on the back of a bicycle that evening.  As we were finishing our dinner, the neighbours started arriving.  We brought everyone into the back yard, and handed out the beer and Fanta (the beer being infinitely more popular than the Fanta). I started working on building a fire in the fire pit, and one of the men took over. He put some logs together, blew on the fire, but not much happened so he walked away. I went back to the fire pit to try and get it going and Loralie, one of the local ladies shooed me away.   She put some of the logs together, then asked for a machete. Hesitantly, we handed over our machete, and she proceeded to expertly make one of the logs into kindling.  The fire was a roaring inferno in no time.

With about 20 of the neighbours sitting on our back step, drinking beer and staring blankly at us, it was time for a speech.  Through an interpreter, Anne introduced herself to the group, and said that they were sorry they hadn’t had a chance to introduce themselves sooner, and that she was happy to be part of their neighbourhood.  They then introduced me, as Anne’s friend visiting for four days from Canada.  I said in my speech, “I want to thank you for including me in this get-together tonight, and that I am glad that my friends have such caring neighbours. Knowing that they are so far from home, and so far from their families, it makes me happy to know that they are welcome here.”.

With about 20 of the neighbours sitting on our back step, drinking beer and staring blankly at us, it was time for a speech.

 

One by one, the neighbours also spoke, welcoming them to the neighbourhood, and the village chief then stated that he would ensure the girls’ safety.  Funny enough, almost everyone that spoke also invited me to return to Rwinkwavu, and to stay!  One of the ladies then said that she was the neighbour directly across the street.  Anne asked whether she had children, to which she replied she had four.  Anne asked what their names are, and after the lady told her, Anne joked that she would have to write down the names, because she would never remember them.

Anne stated to the group, “We will have to come over to your house sometime, and you can teach us how to dance!” So some of the ladies, including Loralie then started clapping and singing, and the group started dancing.  All in all, it was a fun night, filled with song, dance, beer, and a just a hint of awkwardness.

So some of the ladies, including Loralie then started clapping and singing, and the group started dancing. All in all, it was a fun night, filled with song, dance, beer, and a just a hint of awkwardness.

 

At the end of the evening, when it came time for people to head home, everyone came and shook our hands. Loralie, who by that time had had three beers (and probably a few more before coming over) plunked herself down, and refused to leave.  When the village chief gently pressed her to leave, she didn’t want to.  The chief said to her (as we later learned through the interpretor), that he had assured us of our safety, and that Loralie’s behaviour was not reflecting that promise he made.  So she reluctantly left (though she was supported under both arms).  Just before the festivities finished, the neighbour from across the street came back, and handed Anne a little note with her children’s names written on it.

As my time in Rwanda draws to a close, I realize now that I had fallen in love with this country, and its people.  A country, who 17 years ago was realatively unknown to the greater world, then became the stop story on the nightly news through a series horrific events, has now emerged as a thriving and vibrant land, with poor but proud people who are working extremely hard to rebuild everything from its infrastructure to its mental health.  The government recently decided to make English an official language alongside French and Kinyarwanda, and most of the children who attend school are now learning English.

It will be interesting to watch what happens over the next 5 to 10 years.  The current president is overwhelmingly popular, and has done a lot of good for the country.  I hope to return someday soon, and take the neighbours up on their suggestion.

Up up and away!!

Made it to Pearson with plenty of time… Now I’m sitting on my KLM flight, getting ready to depart for Amsterdam. Hard to believe that in 24 hours, I will be in the middle of central Africa. Hard to believe how small the world is, and yet how vast it is at the same time.

Looking forward to the next few weeks of adventures!

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“Val, why do you travel so much?”

My wanderlust was acquired very early in life.  By the time I was two, my parents had traveled extensively with me, and before any trip we took, dad would break out the atlas, and we would let our fingers do the walking over the maps to our destination.  I was always fascinated by these colourful maps, measuring the distance we covered in a few hours in a plane over the different topographical features in hand-widths. We would visit our family in Poland, or go south to a Caribbean island.  We took road trips to places like Sault Ste. Marie, and Hershey, Pennsylvania.

I remember one plane trip, while looking out the window being very upset that I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play in the fluffy clouds.  I had imagined they felt a bit like a bouncy castle, or a feather duvet.   By the time I completed my undergraduate degree in university, I had visited Europe at least 10 times, but my travels were only beginning.

The loss of my Mom in May 2000 had the greatest impact on my desire to travel.  She and my dad were excitedly looking forward to retirement, in order to visit exotic places like South America and Asia.  Unfortunately those plans were cut short by cancer, and in those final weeks that I cared for her,  I learned a life lesson that I continue to carry closely in my heart and mind. I learned not to take anything for granted, to take every opportunity that comes my way, and to live each day to the fullest!

Just after we lost my mom, a good friend invited me to go with her to visit her family in Italy.  During this trip, we discussed our dreams, our goals, and made plans to someday visit India and Nepal together.  Ironically, those two countries remain on my ‘bucket list’.  (perhaps she and I will end up visiting them together after all!)

Then one day everything was just right. I had no debt, no serious relationship, and was ready to leave a really stressful job that I wouldn’t miss. I had always wondered what the wildlife in the hills of Borneo sounded like, what the sand felt like on the beaches of southern Thailand.  I’d always wanted to see a sunrise over Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex in Siem Riep, Cambodia, and wander the streets smelling the amazing dishes being prepared in the French Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.  So I bought a ticket to Asia, and planned my departure for January 2, 2005.  I knew as I tearfully went through security and saying goodbye to my dad and aunt at the airport, that I would come back a different person.

On December 26, 2004, a 9.0 earthquake rocked the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, spawning a tsunami which would obliterate half a dozen coastal nations, and take with it over 200,000 lives.  It was this disaster, and my experience in post-tsunami recovery which changed my path, and became my destiny.

I now travel to unusual places around the world like Pakistan and Haiti, having discovered the fascinating and rewarding field of humanitarian relief work… My life’s true calling!!

The purpose of this blog is to capture the essence of some of my adventures, but also to share some of my stories and experiences.  I will be departing next week for East Africa, where I will meet up with my friend Anne Stevenson.  Together, we will travel to Tanzania, and experience a big game safari.  Admittedly, the closest I’ve come to wildlife in their own surroundings are the raccoons that I chase away from my garbage bins.

I’ve heard that if you go to Africa, it’s in someways a shame – because you’ll never want to go anywhere else, you’ll always be trying to go back.  We shall see…