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Reflections of a Year Abroad…Part 1

2011 was an epic year in so many ways, good and bad. I still can’t believe that I visited 8 countries (9 if I can count Malaysian Borneo separately, I did have to go through immigration) in under 12months.

Ready to Go…

Here are a few flashbacks and memories. The titles are all linked to the first blog entry of that country with a few others scattered around. Hope you enjoy…

Peru

When plans to volunteer in Botswana fell through I felt I needed somewhere else to replace those months before heading to Australia and New Zealand. It’s not like any tickets were bought or anything, it was just something my mind had decided on, there had to be a country or two before. I was at a loss of where until a friend said “don’t you know someone in Peru?”. Why yes I did, a co worker from the Seattle Woodland Park Zoo. Fernando was our imported penguin expert for the new exhibit and all of us summer employees got on really well.

So I contacted him and it was on, Peru was destination 1. I honestly had no idea what to expert, I had never been to South America and the only Spanish I knew was hola. But ever the one to shrug off obvious adversities I booked my ticket the day after my 33rd birthday. Now only 4months and 5 days till I would leave.

Peru was amazing, and I loved every minute of it. Cusco is now one of my favorite cities, although next time I am definitely pre-dosing on the altitude tabs… Man that hit me hard.

Fernando and Me

Machu Picchu was at first unimpressive, just a ruined city in the rain… the the clouds parted and it all became clear why it was so revered as a must see, that and the thought of “what bloody crazy idiot would make his people lug thousands of stones up a mountain side that scares the living daylights out of on the bus ride…and down??”. Seriously, it was breathtaking.

Good Friends: Cathleen and Me at Macchu Picchu

Lake Titicaca, just giggle everytime I say that, was awe inspiring and I would love to go back. However, the port city of Puno was a real dump and I was glad for fellow traveler advice to avoid it as much as possible.

Lake Titicaca Local Kids

The worst thing to come from Peru : The altitude sickness that actually had me bed ridden for a day.

The best thing to come from Peru : A great new friend named Cathleen!

A reason to go back : I haven’t tried roasted guinea pig yet 🙂

Ecuador

I was almost to the point of buying tickets when my mom held out a newspaper article about volunteer travel. It had a 2 sentence blurp about Amazoonico Wildlife Refuge in Ecuador. The part that caught my eye was the minimal cost of $120/month for food and accomodation. Bonus! I dropped them a line and soon had that on the map. Or actually I couldn’t even find the town of Tena on the map, but Ecuador was right about Peru so how hard could it be.

42hours later my bus (with the locked bathroom) pulled into Quito. Have you ever experienced the need to pee so bad that you can’t… Let’s just say when I could finally see through the wall of water in my eyes, I was in love with the loos of Ecuador. At least the one in the daughter’s home of a lady I had met in Spanish class and who was kindly putting me up for a few days.

My two months at the refuge came with high highs and low lows. The first month was tough as I was the only new volunteer, all the others were girls averaging 21 and had Spanish as a common language. By now I think I could almost say my name and ask where the bathroom was. In short it soon became apparent I was back in highschool and … I still wasn’t popular. My amazing volunteer co ordinator, Sarah, took me aside and said “you can leave, or you can stay and it will change your life”. Who am I to argue with authority, I stayed and in that first month got through a good number of books and enjoyed my alone time since group time was in Spanish, which I was picking up quite well.

“Walking” a Monk Saki Monkey

The second month was much better, we had a new cycle of fresh blood, English became the common language, I was a senior volunteer (and ok I admit I love being the one who needs to teach others), and I discovered my gift for making cookies… That pretty much made me popular in high school! It was very hard to leave.

Beata Relaxing at Sunset

At the end of my time in the jungle I went to the ocean and saw blue footed boobies… again another thing that just makes me want to giggle.

The worst thing to come from Ecuador : Struggling with the volunteer dynamics that first month.

The best thing to come from Ecuador : Blue Footed Boobies!! Oh and discovering an inner strength.

A reason to return : Perhaps a chance to see the Galapogos.

Surprise Easter Visit

It turned out cheaper to fly back to the states and then to Australia rather than from Peru to Aus. So I found myself with 8days in the states. I decided to surprise my parents for Easter. Officially the best surprise I have ever pulled off. The first time they were ever speechless.

Australia

Australia and New Zealand were always on my list, part of the reason for this trip was to find a place I might want to live and since they were on the “most likely” list.

My first impression of Australia, especially after 3 months in South America, was “Oh shite!!! I can barely afford a coffee”. I was shocked at the prices and the Aussie dollar was stronger, of course that changed a few weeks after I left… I quickly worked out plans to mooch… I mean visit any friends and family I had, along with sorting work trade with hostels.

Yes my finger is down its throat


Forcefeeding Kookaburra at Currumbin Wildlife Center

Australia ended up being a country of many new experiences:
I attempted work trade at a farm that has now become known as the Looney Farm by all of us who were there.
I saw Koalas, Kangaroos, Platypus and many other strange and wonderful critters.
I saw friends I hadn’t seen in over 10yrs.
I shaved my head for charity.
I swam with manta rays.
I force fed Kookaburras.
I swam in a freezing lake.
It might have been expensive, but I have some amazing memories that are worth every penny.

Carolin and me!!


Carolin and Me on the Day I Shaved my Head for Charity

The worst thing to come from Australia: The cost.

The best thing to come from Australia: Shaving my head for charity.

A reason to come back: Friends and a little town called Coral Bay.

Tonga

I discovered this amazing organisation that spent a month on the island of Tonga every 3months running a vet clinic. I contacted them months before arriving and was super excited. Accommodation was included and there was no fee to volunteer. A great way to experience island life and do something good for the community.

This was a month of extremes, as it turned out there had been a misunderstanding and I went from being a vet nurse to designated pee/poop cleaner and coffee maker. But I had committed to a month and so I pushed through proving my skills on more than one occasion when they needed me to monitor during surgeries when no one else was available. I think one of the biggest problems was that I was there in the middle of a year long trip and to volunteer while reserving my finances, the others were there as a vacation and had money to spend.

My Favorite Puppy

At the same time I met some amazing people, locals and expats (including 4 South Africans, what are the odds) and got the chance to visit one of the outlying islands.

No Matter What, It Sure Was Pretty!

The worst thing to come from Tonga: My treatment by the other volunteers and the organisation.

The best thing to come from Tonga: Fulfilling my commitment and discovering an amazing culture.

A reason to go back: maybe for a vacation and not to volunteer.

I must admit I had a hard time finishing this post for some reason. So many things that go through my mind and writing this entry makes the journey complete. Luckily there are still many more to come.

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Australia, Germany, RTW, Travel

 

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Lima to San Fran – Day 104 cont… – Did someone say Security?

April 20th 2011

It’s too bloody early…
Having a flight at 6.30am means getting up at 3.45am and heading to the airport at 4am. That’s just too early to be healthy. But I managed to roll out of bed, gather my gear and Fernando walked me to my waiting chariot. Then airport bound for my flight from Lima to Bogota, Columbia, a 3hr layover then to San Salvadore, El Salvadore, a 52min layover then into San Fran airport around 10pm. As much as I love to travel, its the actual traveling part I dislike the most.

Airport tax and pisco
I had perfectly calculated my remaining money to ensure that I could cover the airport tax, buy some pisco for my friend in LA and still have some money for food and snacks. My funds included $30 US and 43soles (Peruvian). When I got to airport tax the conversation went like this:
Clerk: that will be 30 please
Me: excellent, here is 30 soles
Clerk: that would be dollars please
Me: American Dollars??!!??
Clerk: yes
Me: ahhh I have $30 and some soles
Clerk: $30 and 2 soles will cover it
Me: well there goes dinner

I tried to draw some money out of the cash machine just to have backup as soles would not be usable outside of Peru, and the exchange rate wasn’t worth changing it. However, Peruvian ATM’s do not like me and so I figured I would try in Bogota. I found duty free and ask for a bottle of pisco that was 40 soles or less, they had one for exactly 40 soles. Sealing it up nicely in a bag I headed to my gate. There weren’t even drinking fountains around but managed to get a glass of free water from one of the restaurants. I now had a whopping 45c US and 27c Peruvian.

Security round 1…2…3…4
I had already gone through the mandatory security check in Lima, but arriving in Bogota they checked my bag again and had me go through a scanner. Then I attempted to find an ATM, none to be found and so used my credit card to get some grub. Then it was onto my gate where I had to go through a full on pat down and rummage through my bag. They also took the pisco out of the protective tin and swished it around, I was waiting for them to take a sip.

Finally made it on my flight an was a little nervous about my next leg as there was only a 52min layover, but we were on time and there were no worries…or so I thought.

As I was waiting to deboard the flight, the attendant (who up to this moment had made all announcements in English and Spanish) made an announcement in Spanish. It went something like this “blah blah Katty Smidt blah blah”. It is very unnerving to hear your name in the middle of a sentence and have no idea what it is about. As I left the plane I was told to talk to the gate person, who told me to go to gate 53. When I got to gate 53 (which was completely cordoned off with stretchy ropes, trapping travelers at the gate for flight to San Fran), the conversation went something like this:
Me: hi, here is my bag and ticket
Security 1: hola, ahhhh Katty Smidt, hey it Katty Smidt
(well searching through my bag)
Security 2: ahhh Katty Smidt, ok.
Me: yes its me, why??
Security 1: Pisco, mmmm
Me: yes its for my friend
Security 2: you need to put in check in, here look
(very small print on inside bag of duty free bag “some items will not be allowed to be carried on for certain flights on certain airlines to certain countries”)
Me: well thats clear as mud
(confused look from security)
Me: no problem just check it.
Security 1: ok
Me: can I leave the barrier to plug in my computer?
(5feet from the barrier was a plug)
Security 1: mmmm no. But come with me.
(follow security 1 out of barrier, down security only stairs to find my checked bag waiting for me to be searched – just in case I magically transported something into it)
Security 1: mmmm bag full, pisco must go in bag
Me: well yes it is full, but I will take out my hiking boots and squeeze it in
(back up stairs to roped off area)
Security 1: you can sit here with computer right by us

Think I was almost on a first name basis with that guy.

Back in the US of A
After anther 6hr flight I finally landed at San Francisco airport and marveled at the fact that I understood everyone. As exciting as understanding was it also seemed like a bit of a let down, no more challenge when it came to communication, it definately made life interesting. Picked up by my mate I prepared to spend the next day chilaxing at her house and planning the best surprise ever…

Stay tuned to hear details…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Introspective Review of South America

South America was an after thought, if that is possible, I wanted a starting point and I knew someone in Peru, so why not. In truth I was petrified of the thought of heading down to countries where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture and the only thing I knew was that I had to wait for a canoe at some point to volunteer at a wildlife refuge.

You would think after traveling alone in countries like Cambodia, China and Vietnam, this would be a snap. But at the same time, nerves also mean you keep your edge, even if you feel like throwing up most of the time.

After spending 3.5mths in Ecuador and Peru I can truly say, I want to go back. I wish I had had more time to explore and to learn Spanish. Here are just a few things I managed to accomplish while I was there:
– surviving the altitude in Cusco, barely.
– visiting Machu Picchu, and meeting a great friend in the process.
– Exploring lake Titicaca, insert teenage boy giggling here.
– I survived not dying in a car accident while in South America, although I did become religious on more than one occasion.
– I got bitten by a Spider Monkey, then hugged by said monkey.
– Helped with a tail amputation on a wooly monkey.
– Been pooped on by a squirrel monkey.
– Developed biceps.
– Swam in the Amazon.
– Went horse riding for 4hrs through the mountains, and couldn’t sit for the next day.
– got to see blue footed boobies, insert teenage boy giggling again.
– Fell in love…with the beach of Puerto Lopez.
– Tried surfing, need way more lessons.
– got a tan while wearing a bikini.
– Met amazing friends, said goodbye to friends.
– Cried, laughed and danced.
– And most importantly survived with hardly any stomach issues!

All in all it was an amazing trip and it taught me a lot. I have grown a lot physically and emotionally and I have the scars on both to prove it. Thanks to all I met and all who supported me on my journey. Next leg involves Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Sri Lanka, who knows what I will learn there.

To Cathleen, met in Aguas Calientes, you are like a sister to me, thank you so much for being there when I needed you through a fairly emotional part of the trip. I hope to meet up with you again soon my friend.

To Sarah Hayday, the head volunteer of AmaZOOnico: thank you so much for encouraging me to stay and for giving me the best advice ever – don’t make me coffee, make yourself coffee and surround yourself with people who will share their coffee with you.


At start of trip, nervous and very pale.

End of trip, beautiful vivacious well tanned and not afraid to dance on the beach all night

The scars to prove it

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Return to Lima – Day 101-104 – Bus Rides

April 17th to 20th 2011

Another Bus ride
Leaving Puerto Lopez at 4.30am I had a 4.5hr bus ride to Guayaquil bus station, where, I hoped, I would find an international bus to Lima. The problem is finding concrete schedules on the net, they just don’t exist. So you have to go off backpacker gossip, blog tales and general hope that you haven’t missed the last one for the next week.

As it turned out I was lucky and there was a bus on the Cruz Del Sur line that left at noon, only a 2hr wait. There was an internet cafe so I grabbed some coffee and headed to pass the time.

Below is a photographic diary of the trip:

I am in the top right window.

Waiting to leave.

Just made it through Ecuadorian Immigration no problems.

The road to Peruvian Immigration.

Another night on the bus.

But first Dinner.

Breakfast.


Almost there.

Made it. I have now clocked over 115hrs of bus travel in the past 3.5mths. That is more than the last 33yrs combined.

Lima
I didn’t do much in Lima except recover from the trip, repack bags, run a few errands and then prepare to leave again 36hrs after arriving.

The next leg is Australia with a brief stop of 8 days in the US of A. Stay tuned for more adventures…and a few surprises.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Lima to Quito – The written version

Jan 26th to 28th 2011

I survived!!!

It really does amaze me what we put ourselves through in the name of travel and volunteering. Before I arrived in Peru my longest bus trip was a whopping 3hrs. In preparation for my long haul to Ecuador I did 2 trips of 6hrs each in the span of 3 days from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and back.

Finally the day arrived to bus to Ecuador, it was an estimated 30 to 48 hrs (give or take a day I guess). My friend Fernando, from Lima, and I had looked at all the options and came up with 2 possibilities for the trip.
(A) take a bus that will run the entire distance (the downside is that it was a less known company and bus quality was a question)
or
(B) take a well known bus co. to Tumbes (Peru border town), get picked up by a shuttle and go through the border then dropped off at the Ecuador bus station. (This allowed some time to stretch and at least the first half guaranteed of a good bus).

We opted for option two… it might have been better to go with option 1!!!
Leaving at 4.30pm I had planned to go on the super first class section, with seats that go almost all the way down. Unfortunately this wasn’t an option but luckily I got the 2nd level seat at the very front for a panoramic view of the trip. I had no seat mate so I was able to “stretch” out and get some sleep. We were even given a small meal and a drink.

Section 1 on the comfy bus with the panoramic view took 20hrs and I pulled into the border town of Tumbes around noon to be accosted by hundreds of taxi drivers.
WTF
This is when things went downhill. There was supposed to be someone to meet me and shuttle me across the Peru and Ecuador border immigration depositing me at the Panamerica bus station for the next leg. Turns out there was no one to meet me, the phone number I had went to voicemail and the taxi drivers at the bus terminal were aggressive to say the least. Eventually the bus station clerk told me my ride was here, a taxi driver hired by the company. He said that his job was to take me through Peru immigration and then leave me at the border to take a taxi alone… Mmm this was the exact thing I had been hoping to avoid, as I had heard taxi drivers regularly take advantage of travelers.
Calling for help
Calling a friend in Peru he explained what i had already guessed from the driver but said the driver was willing to come with me if I was scared about crossing alone. I decided to take him up on his offer, not only to prevent being scammed but also because he was happy to carry my big bag. Peru immigration was a breeze and Ecuador wasn’t much different, just a longer wait. My Peru cabby left me at the bus station after he had got me checked in and made sure I knew where a good place to eat was. I gave him a tip and thanked him profusely.
Panamerica
With a 2hr wait I twiddled my thumbs and caught up with my diary. Finally it was boarding time and it turned out the good bus was being saved for special occasions. Our bus was cleaned with air freshner, am fairly certain had at least one roach and during the following 18 hr trip its bathroom was locked.

But I had no seat mate so I made the best of it and tried to sleep. Finally only 1hr from Quito at about 2am in the morning I started to relax and think it was almost over. Then we stopped! A landslide had blocked our way. Our choices were an 8hr detour or parking and sleeping it out. As no one spoke English I had to muddle my way through and I guessed when we pulled over that option 2 was decided upon. I started to cry and then realised I was too tired to even do that and just made myself as comfy as possible.
Quito, I could kiss you
We finally pulled in at 8am, I caught a taxi to my friends and finally was able to crash out. But first things first I had had to pee for the last 3hrs.

I have spent the last 2 days in Quito and after another 5hr bus trip (this one coming with complimentary S bends numbering in the 1000’s I am sure), I am in Tena. Tomorrow I will attempt to find the bus and head into the jungle. All I hope is that my canoe is there waiting for me.

Now the jungle adventures begin with biting sand flies, monkeys and wild tourists!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Lime to Quito Day 21 ->23 – A photo diary

Jan 26th 2011

Luckily I had the front window seat on the 2nd level so you get a panoramic view:

leaving Lima


Heading on the highway


Dinner: rice, chicken and some kind of drink


A view of the coastline


Driving along the coast


End of day 1 (total of 8hrs - 4pm to midnight)

Jan 27th 2011

Another 12hrs at least of driving today, before reaching the border town of Tumbes.

waking up from a decidedly strange angle


Breakfast....I think


rolling rolling rolling


rolling rolling rolling somewhere around hour 17


Pulling into Tumbes. Section 1 lasted a total of 20hrs

You are now entering Ecuador

waiting in the Ecuador Panamerica bus station


No panoramic seat this time, trying to get comfy


Entering the banana fields


the mountains, around hour 30 of trip


My bed for night 2

end of day 2

Jan 28th 2011
A landslide detained us a further 3hrs when we were only an hour from Quito…

I survived! Barely! total trip 42hrs!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Lima Day 19 -> 20 – Final bus preparations

Jan 24th 2011

Cheers…for now!
I have never been a fan of farewells and often prefer to say “see you later” in the hope that friends will once again be reunited on the road somewhere.
This morning I was returning to Lima for 2 days before heading on the epic bus trip to Quito, Ecuador. But first I had to say farewell to Wilson the hostel manager, Logan the American and Cathleen, one of my best ever travel partners. When I finally got in the cab and gave another round of hugs I was on the verge of tears. I am really going to miss this place and the hostel that became a 2nd home. If only good things could last longer.

Musical Gates
I arrived at the airport, checked in and as the clerk gave me my gate pass he said “oh and I managed to get you on an earlier flight”. Awesome! I thought until I looked at the time it was leaving. Flight 101 would leave at 10.50am, it was now 10.33am and I hadn’t got through security yet. I made a mad, panicked dash towards the gate, got through security who then decided to check my bag! I glanced over at gate 1 and noticed there was no one lining up, a small surge of panic started to grow. The security check point cleared me and I skidded to a halt in front of the gate at 10.47am. I handed my pass and as a concerned look spread over their faces I feared the dreaded words of “I am sorry the gate is closed”. Instead the following discussion occurred:
“You are at the wrong gate”
“But it says gate 1”
“All the airlines use this gate”
“so where do I go”
“We don’t know we are LAN airlines”
“My flight leaves in 1minute can you call someone?”
“No we are LAN you are on Star Peru”
“I know can you call someone?”
“No we are LAN”
It was starting to feel like a stuck record.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“Ask security”
I dashed over to the security officers showed them my ticket they mumbled something in Spanish which was possibly along the lines of “gate 1 like your ticket says, stupid tourists”.
Frustrated I went to the monitor with all the flights and gates, every flight had a gate… but mine! Of course it would never be that easy. There were 5 gates in the terminal and no Star Peru sign or person anywhere to be found, I was starting to wonder if they truly existed or if I had bought a ticket on a mythical airline.

Back at the tv monitor I waited with baited breath as more flights had gates added, all except mine (which according to my ticket had left 5 minutes ago). I noticed an older gentleman with the same befuddled expression and asked if he was seeking the same gate as me. We both went over to gate 4 (what his ticket said) and once again received the following explanantion:
“we are LAN you are on Star Peru, we can not call anyone, we are LAN”.
At this point I did exchange a few choice words (under my breath) at LAN airlines. And went to sit and look confused with what turned out to be about 50 passengers all the same limbo as I was.

Suddenly there was an announcement for Star Peru to Lima at gate 1. Woohoo this is it, we all jumped up and formed a line, just as a F@$%#*g LAN person came down the line saying “This is LAN you are Star Peru”. Just as I was considering the action of physical violence I noticed a person, surreptitiously dragging a Star Peru sign and virtually leaped on him. Once I confirmed he was indeed dragging the sign of the mythical airline towards the mythical gate I yelled out “Star Peru to Lima this way”, among much giggles from the surrounding mass we surged after him… to Gate 4.

We lined up neatly and waited, and waited and waited. It looked like my earlier flight was going to leave at the original time of my ticket. Go figure!

Well I waited I chatted with the older gentleman and his wife and discovered they were on a tour, but due to his severe altitude sickness that landed him in hospital, they had to return to Lima and wait for the group. Thank heavens I never had it that bad.

Lima
Back in Lima I grabbed a cab and relieved the fear of driving in that city. They truly have no rules and I think if you ever decide to drive yourself be sure to have a license in Defensive Driving with a major in Offensive and an emphasis in crazy! It will be the only way to survive. And yet with the insanity of it all I have not seen any accidents, only drivers proudly displaying numerous dents.

Fernando had emphasized that he did not want me waiting at the house alone, as I had no key, and to call him as soon as I arrived at the airport. I managed to borrow the taxi drivers phone and rang him, saying I would be there in about 30minutes. When I got to the house the outer gate was open, thankfully, and I ended up sitting out side the front door for almost 40minutes. Turned out he got busy. Oh well.

That night I made dinner and we just hung out, started packing and sorting for Ecuador.

Jan 25th 2011
Today was a day of errands and hanging out. I packed well Fernando went to do some work. Then we went to the historic district and I picked up some more string for jewelery and postcards. We had chicken for dinner and then head back home.

My bus leaves at 4pm tomorrow so I sorted a few more things out and was in bed by around 11pm.

Tomorrow the next adventure begins!

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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