Thursday, January 26, 2017

Planning Barcelona

Africa was a blast, but it's time to turn gears towards Spain! Hold the excitement.

Upon returning from my Zambian extravaganza, I realized that one of the coolest things about coming home from an awesome trip is looking forward to the next one. I'll tell stories about my experiences forever and constantly look back at the lessons I learned, but after a couple days that travel bug starts squirming around again. 

My girlfriend Courtlyn and I are off to Barcelona in March. We both have the same spring break which works out great, and we're really excited for a number of reasons, besides that fact that we are simply going to one of the most beautifully cultural cities in the world.

We're beyond jazzed to say the least. One of the coolest parts about the trip is that neither of us have even been there. When we found time to sit down and frantically swipe through the Skyscanner App, an amazing app for cheap flights that's a sin not to know about and use, we basically searched for lowest cost flights to anywhere in Europe.

This is kind of how we arrived at Barcelona as our March destination. We wanted to go to a place that neither of s have ever been, so we could experience it for the first time together (awhhh), and it had to be on the cheaper side... airfare included.

Amsterdam came up as a potential city right away, and we considered it our top choice. The flight was cheap, and man is it a cool place. But then we realized we were making a small mistake; not a big one, but one that could be easily averted.

In March Amsterdam is still freezing, plus the city isn't the cheapest. But let's face the facts: if you're going to Amsterdam, you're going there to ride a vintage bicycle through freshly fallen leafs as the reflections of you and your lover follow along on the glimmering canals, right? It's pretty much the only reason you go.

In all seriousness, the city is probably nothing short of amazing in March as well, but we made our choice. Barcelona it was. Not as cold, not as expensive, cheaper flight. Actually, still a little chilly. Just not as frigid.

After all this, it's one of the best pieces of advice I can give in my early travel stage: Find the country/city with the cheapest plane ticket, and freakin' go there. After you figure out the general continent or country, that's all you have to do.

A lot of stepping out of your comfort zone is buying that ticket. Just click. Even if you don't have the spending money yet, buy the ticket. It will motivate you to get that extra cash you need once you get to your destination. Hey, it might be stressful, and you might have to start selling things on eBay to make ends meet for the good of the trip, but it will keep you motivated. This is probably bad advice... Don't sell your siblings things on eBay like myself. Only if you want to travel and be an international man of mystery.

Anyway, it should be a fun trip. Right now we are in the process of being excited, sending each other pictures of cool cafes, and planning out our days as the countdown continues.

We actually just got a room on Air BnB in the Gothic Quarter which is insane. It's the central area of Barcelona with the superb architecture and narrow streets, snaking around the city like a lively maze. We got it for a good price, too.

In no time at all you can expect to see some cliché, artsy pictures of Court drinking coffee on a gothic balcony plop onto your Instagram feed.

More to come.

Much potential for cliché-balcony-coffee pictures, you're welcome.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Back Through Dubai

My aunt and uncle made dinner, then I was off.

I had a total of three days in Lusaka, but I feel like I spent weeks there. Everyone says Zambians are extraordinary, and after hours of wandering through the food markets and cultural village, I couldn't agree more.

My aunt and two cousins drove me to the airport to send me off on my 9 PM flight to Dubai. I hugged them goodbye and turned into security (although I will see my aunt in two days since she's coming back to the states for business). I asked her why she didn't schedule the same flight as me and she said she "didn't want to cramp my international style."

After sending my bags into the unknown, I ordered a gin and tonic and reflected on my trip.

An hour or so ticked by, and I finally heard the speaker sound off, calling for Emirates Flight EK140 to Dubai. I proceeded down the screeching escalator and across the pavement to the lone 757 resting in the middle of the runway. Until next time, Zambia.

Another big day of exploration lay ahead, so I tried to sleep as much as possible. A couple minutes after takeoff I was drooling onto my abandoned Stephen King novel.

We landed at 6 AM and the tired passengers stumbled off. I threw on a new t-shirt, exchanged to Dirhams, brushed my teeth in the bathroom, and grabbed a taxi.

My first destination was the Textile Souk, at least that's what I thought it was called. It took me 10 minutes to explain where and what it was to the taxi driver. Finally he said "oh yeah, the blah-blah-blah!" I nodded and sat back to plan my day.

The taxi dropped me off at the old fort, now a museum with a decrepit Arab tall-ship perched on top. Very neat. The textiles were about a quarter mile away from the museum, near the Dubai Creek. As I turned a corner, I was blasted with the colorful traffic of silks, fabrics, and scarfs decking the souk, and the painted boats carrying busy people to and fro.

I had a Turkish coffee in a waterside café and watched the colors go up and down the creek. It's too bad, actually; people usually go for the wild adrenaline activities hyped up by Dubai tourist agencies, and end up neglecting the history. There's so much of it. All you have to do is venture out to the parts less travelled.

The Dubai Creek, near Textile Souk
Another taxi brought me about a mile or two down the street to the Grand Jumeira Mosque. Unbelievable. As an aspiring architect this was a highlight.

I walked around aweing at the mosque and soon decided to hit the beach. On the map it didn't look too far so I set off on foot to avoid an extra slap from a taxi. 45 minutes later I was still walking. Dubai is littered with construction so I kept having to go around the side street that led to the beach, but finally I made it. My boots and cargo pants watched me from the shore as I fell into the turquoise Persian Gulf (also a good opportunity for a bath).

There's a café across the street so I dried off with an extra t-shirt and headed over for lunch and another Turkish coffee. I might be addicted. I sat at a small table overlooking the beach, and had one of those "this is nice" experiences.
Persian Gulf, Jumeira Beach
The Miracle Garden was next, but in a way it was similar to the type of tourist attraction I mentioned before. It was something like 50 Dirhams to get in, and it was just a bunch of flowers in interesting designs. Flowers are cool and all, but probably better on a date.

On the way back my cab driver scammed me so maybe that put a damper on the Miracle Garden experience, but I truly think the best sites and sounds don't cost much money. Unless you want to base jump off the Burj Khalifa like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, that'd be pretty legit.

That was a lot for a day of running on fumes, so I decided to head back downtown. After a quick bite at Costa Coffee Shop I jumped on the metro and teleported to terminal 3. You actually get off right inside the terminal. Pretty neat.

Nothing against Mosi, one of two beer sold in Zambia, but the first thing I did was buy a nice brown ale. Anything I could find, really. It happened to be a German beer I'd never heard of.

I conked out next to a kid playing Temple Run until 1:30 AM and boarded the plane at 2:00 AM for the 2:30 AM flight. Unfortunately for the Indian kid sitting next to me, showering wasn't in my itinerary during the last 72 hours. At least I jumped in the ocean.

All was not lost for my poor isle-mate, though, as our third companion got upgraded. He moved over immediately, leaving a seat between us. We looked at each other and both cracked a smile. I was headed home in comfort, and he didn't have to nudge up against a dirty nomad.

What a trip.

Until next time, friends.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Devil's Pool

It's been a while since Choma and the tobacco farm, so I'll do a little recap. Currently, we are driving back to Lusaka from Botswana.

Murray and his wife waved us off, and we set our course to Livingstone. Believe it or not, Livingstone is wild. It's a place for the young, adrenaline-seeking crazies drawn to this city for that very reason: crazy adrenaline seeking activities. There's bungee jumping, hang gliding, white water rafting, Victoria Falls, zip lining, and last but not least... the Devil's Pool. Spoiler: I did the Devil's Pool. More to come.

Victoria Falls is one of those places you HAVE to go. This time of year is the "low season," so apparently there isn't that much water tumbling off the cliff, but to me it was more than enough.

Although the thundering waters were at a low, this meant the Devil's Pool was in prime season. Right now it's actually the last month that guides take people to the pool because in a couple weeks even the strongest swimmers would be swept off the edge. Lucky me.

Basically, the Devil's Pool is a tiny ridge protruding off the top of the falls as it collects with water. It's like one of those swimming pools hanging off the side of a rooftop billionaire bachelor pad. It was pretty rad. Honestly, the most dangerous part is swimming across the Zambezi River to get to the little connecting piece of land attached to the pool.

The guide led myself and five other dare-devils to the river. As he put his arms forward in a diving motion he paused, looked back, and said, "Wait, you guys are pretty good swimmers, right?" We nodded and looked around at each other.

I knew the tiny Japanese woman was going down, so I decided to sit back and maybe experience a casualty. She jumped in and was immediately taken by the current. Luckily, it wasn't Melvin-the-guide's first rodeo, so like a black mamaba he shot down stream, threw her arms around his neck, and swam across the river. Go Melvin.

Conversing with Melvin, near the depths of despair
That was by myself, so my uncle and I went rafting while the rest of the posy had high tea at some safari-sheik lodge. Besides the two guys who opted for a hour-long dirty jokes session, the rapids were awesome. Righteous.

After Livingstone, we made our way to Botswanan but were turned away from the border because we didn't have my cousins' birth certificates. Child trafficking and all that jazz. But we should have known, as the 11.5x8" notice hanging on the wall was in bold print, bold enough to be seen from the other side of the river.

We went back across the river on the ferry, and I guess it all worked out since my aunt scored us two swanky five-star safari sheik room at "Islands of Siankaba" for 150 USD. Yeah, the name says it all, it's basically a place for honey moons. I didn't deserve it.

My aunt and uncle got the certificates send fia email so we were on our way. "Africans love stamps," Kyle the Siankaba guy said. "Get them stamped by the police and Botswana will let you right in, no trouble.

It's true. They freaking love stamps. Just skim through my passport.

Once we were in the lands of Botswana, we all felt relaxed. We could finally chillax and see some Elephants.

We did some safaris and saw some cool shiz, the coolest of which being a young male lion eating a porcupine, and an Elephant giving birth. No big deal.

This doesn't even begin to touch on my experiences thus far, but I think it will do for now as I continue to remember little tidbits while it's fresh.


Sometimes a baby boards the plane and you get the 'oh god' feeling. I'm pretty easy-going so I didn't think anything of the crying infant, but after an hour I wanted to jump out of the plane. It screamed the entire flight to Lusaka. I felt bad for the mother. But not for the baby. Then I felt bad for my mother. Imagine how she felt with myself and four siblings.

I was the last one off the plane, so I had to wait in customs for over an hour while my little cousins had excitement convulsions. We hopped in there and they took me back to their home. It's on a street that's fun to say: Kabulonga Drive. Nice.

Since I was only supposed to spend a couple of hours in Dubai, I was a day late, so the next morning we had to hit the road for Choma, a small town in Southwestern Zambia. My uncle's friend, the tobacco farmer lives there.

Choma's out there, and the farm is even more out there. We got lost so Murray told my uncle to look for the five egg trees. That's the entrence. We saw four of them and figured that was good enough, and our old Toyota land cruiser slumped into his dirt driveway. Zane, my younger cousin, informed Murray that he had to clear up his directions rearding the four* egg trees. He responded with biscuits and tea.

Murray asked us what we'd like to do, and my uncle being upfront said hunting had been on my mind. He agreed and led me to my guest house about 500 feet down a dirt path.

At 5:30 I woke. I actually just got out of bed because I didn't sleep a wink. I threw on my cargo pants, grabbed my backpack, and headed outside to meet the orange glow of your average African sunrise.

I was feeling good to go for 'The Hunt' when I saw four tall Africans in camo with guns, laughing and walking down a path that met mine. I jumped off the trail and hid behind a bush, as I had no idea what else to do. Maybe they wanted to kill me. Long story short, I soon after saw Murray come out and shake their hands. They work on the farm as the anti-poaching unit. They kill people, but fortunately not me.

The biggest was named Bright. He was the youngest too, 18 or 19, and Murray is convinced that he's going to "feed him up" and make him the most dreaded anti-poaching dude in Choma. This kid stood about 6'4" and he had the longest arms I've ever seen, and his hands looked like they were the size of boxing gloves. Murray said he grew up in the bush and hasn't had any good nutrition his entire life. I guess he got noticeably bigger after a single week Mrs. Murray's eggs.

The dreaded "Bright" - Anti-poacher

We hopped into the off-road hunting vehicle, and set off into his land. The first hunt-able animal we saw was a bush pig, but by the time Bright hopped out and tossed me the .223, he ran away. I got out with Governor, the oldest of the group and no doubt the most battle-tested, and tried to track the damn pig. We couldn't find him, but I found a centipede bigger than my head.

After hours of driving and watching impalas and wildebeests run with terror at the sound of the familiar vehicle, we saw a couple of warthogs. We circled around and Phineas threw me the gun. We were standing in the bed of the truck, so I plopped it on the top of the cab, and fired from about 70 yards out. And... they all ran away. But wait! Did someone say that warthogs run 20 meters after being shot because of adrenaline and then drop dead? Yes, Murray did. I got it right behind the shoulder with a perfect shot and down went Fraser.

The most shocking part of the trip came next. Omar (my uncle) shot an impala right near the thigh, granted we were about 100 yards out so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. We drove up next to the screaming animal and bright jumped out with a knife that Ricky Bobby would refer to as a "Jack-Hawk 9000." He slit the poor animals throat and that was that. I was stunned to say the least. (after seeing thousands upon thousands of these other animals, you don't feel so bad. There're enough to go around)

I don't really condone killing for sport, which is why the coolest part of the hunt was that the local villiage was going to have a giant New Year's Eve feast with the animals that we killed. Pretty sweat. I'm a provider.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

After a Day in the Doob

What a day.

Emirates continues to come through after a hiccup at the airport as they put me up in a hotel for free. Plus I saw a lot of the city in just an afternoon.

As for the hiccup, Dubai was covered in fog upon arrival causing my plane and every other hopeful aircraft to hover around for three hours.

Leo kept me company in "Inception" but then the pilot came on the speaker in the nasally-pilot voice and said 'we have to land at the other airport and wait for the other planes to land.' That was another two hours.

Nevertheless, I got to the DUX and got the hell off the plane. 19 hours trip. Now I actually have some bragging rights on my brother who thinks flying 18 hours in business class to Thailand makes him a big shot. Try 21 in economy with screaming children.

Anyway, my day in Dubai was nothing short or awesome.

Upon arrival, I threw my stuff in the hotel room and made my way to the lobby to ask about transportation. A guy with traditional Arab garb was sitting on the lobby couch so I walked up to him. I opened my mouth and before I said a word the bearded man pointed to where I came from and said "the metro is the easiest way to get around. Its out the back entrence."

The metro was pretty easy to figure out, and as an aspiring architect I B-lined it to the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world. Exciting, I know.

In order to get to the Burj from the metro, you have to go through the mall. It's not just a mall, its an entire city. It has to be the biggest mall in the world. I couldn't even get out. After over an hour I finally stumbled out of a small exit near a bathroom. Then I was blasted with light, and as my vision adjusted, the blue-plated glow of the Burj came into view. Cool.

I wandered around the city square and found a place to eat where I could admire the Burj. I ate an entire bowl of hummus and pita bread, then decided to make my way back through the mall. I followed the highway-style signs the mall uses back to my metro stop, and passed out on my way back to the hotel.

I awoke by the sound of my stop being communicated through the speakers, first in Arabic, then English.

Upon my return, I threw on my board shorts and milked my layover some more in the insane swimming pool. I had it all to myself, so it must have been closed.

Off to Dubai

We. Are. Off. Dubai. And then Africa. Zambia's my main destination, but I'll be in Dubai for two days on a layover.

"Wow, Tim, great idea stopping in a cool city like Dubai. Extra explorations."

Not really. This was the cheapest option to Zambia. Flights this time of year are outrageous, and Africa in particular is even worse. It's because of the lack of airlines/flight options throughout the continent. Stupid Africa.

But actually I'm finding that layovers are a great way to see places you wouldn't normally visit, especially cities that you kind-of want to see but don't think you would ever spend more than a couple days in. Dubai is one of these places.

I'm flying out of Boston and could have connected through Amsterdam, London, or Johannesburg (and Dubai obviously). These are the usual suspects for Southern African connections, so if you're not in a rush it's actually a bonus to get to see these cities, although they are probably worthy of more than a layover.

The best airline option for me was Emirates. You've seen it on FIFA '16 soccer uniforms, and I buy every bit of  the hype. It's a sick airline. The flight attendants wear cool red hats that look uncomfortable, and the meals are superb. As I type I'm eating one of three hot meals 6,000 feet in the air. I also just burned my tongue on Turkish coffee.

Anyway, one of the main motivations for this trip is to see my Aunt and Uncle who live in Zambia. My uncle is a neurologist, and my aunt works for the Clinton Foundation. They both do amazing work and research.

Once I get to Lusaka, we will hit the road the next morning, because my two little cousins are on winter break. Basically I am going on a trip to go on another trip. I'll get to experience some of the coolest parts of Zambia, and even venture into Zimbabwe and Botswana. Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park, and my uncle's friend's 200 acre tobacco farm, where we will supposedly hunt warthogs. More to come...

Over and out. There's Wifi for a dollar on Emirates so I'm gonna go ahead and publish this one.

See you in Dubai.

All Aboard!

Here goes the whole blogging thing...

I never thought about documenting my travels and everyday life until I found a love for creative writing in school. I'm actually doing the whole school thing as we speak. I'm junior English major at the College of the Holy Cross, a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts.

My travel bug infected me when I was young. Growing up around the Elizabethan Islands in the south coast of Mass, I was constantly embarking on summer adventures and sailing to one of the many ports and coves the beautiful New England waters have to offer.

Spending time on the ocean gives you a sense of freedom, and for me it translated into a desire to travel. Even in the winter, my family would pack up and head down to the British Virgin Islands to live on a sailboat for a couple weeks. We'd venture to countless Caribbean islands and spend our days exploring.

I have an older brother, two younger brothers, and a younger sister (pray for her). As one might guess, we got involved in athletics and they quickly provided provided obstacles for travel. Not when we were younger, but when we got to high school with more intense schedules. I think the last full family trip was my sophomore. No more packing our bags and leaving on a dime. It just doesn't work.

Sailing into Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard

I played a good eight years of football and I loved every minute of it. Football is a 12-month-long sport. There's not really an off-season, and despite my love for the game, my love for travel was put on hold. My last trip to the Virgin Islands was Junior year.

In the winter of my sophomore year, I ended up tearing my ACL which happened to be the third time over my career. As the doc said, my days as a Division 1 football player were done.

A couple months later, I had an revelation. Football was such a big part of my life, but it was never my entire life. The sport took up a ton of time, but when that chunk of time opened up, I realized I could use it for other things... maybe adventure-related things...

One door closes and another opens type of deal. I booked a trip to Africa and Dubai that same spring.

So here I am, ready to explore. I guess you can tag along, too.

Timmy Smith, sailing off.