Last weeks were rather uneventful but also pretty hard. Now, here I am again – ONE DAY BEFORE LEAVING TO DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA.
My journey from Warsaw, through Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi, to Dar Es Salaam, will take more than 18 hours. I am going to apply for a tourist visa – valid for 90 days – on arrival. I should be able to get it without problem by paying in crisp, new US dollars.
I started taking vaccinations already in December. I think I really felt the dignity of the situation, because I even went to the travel medicine doctor for an advice (what the children of doctors usually never do cause ‘mommy knows best’ 😉 ).
Apart from the shots which I took last year in Sweden, before going to India, I needed to add typhoid and yellow fever. They are only advisable, not obligatory in continental Tanzania, but showing the valid vaccination card (which I have finally obtained!) is necessary, for example, to enter autonomous territory of Zanzibar. I also needed to prolong the immunity for Hepatitis A and B with the two more doses.
Malaria is still my major worry. The doctor advised me to buy the popular Malarone, but it costs more than 30 euros for 12 days and cannot be taken constantly for 3 months… And it’s still the only antimalarial product available in Poland. But since in Sweden I got the chloroquine phosphate prescribed, I decided to stick to the same substance and ordered it online. Maybe not the safest idea, but I already take those pills and I AM FINE. However, the best way to prevent malaria and dengue fever is not to get bitten by mosquitos. That’s why I got the solid supply of Mugga insect repellent and decided to pack some long-sleeved shirts and long trousers. I also got the standard set of antibiotics, electrolytes and probiotic.
When it comes to packing – I surprised myself. I managed to fit all the necessary minimum in a 15 kg backpack. I obviously remembered about the water filter, the belt with a hidden pocket, strong power bank, antibacterial gel and a heat-sealed copy of my passport.
My plans for Tanzania? Apart from volunteering, intercultural exchange, getting to know local lifestyle and finally taking the well-deserved break… I obviously want to visit Zanzibar, Mount Kilimanjaro national park, Lake Victoria, maybe go for a safari with lions, zebras and gazelles! Adventure time! And I will chill. Yes, I definitely need a break.
I am both excited and worried. I just try to convince myself that I am not the first person going there and that I have already faced totally different cultures and managed to settle in. I also know that there are other volunteers already in Dar es Salaam.
After months of hard work, weeks of nervous aura and a few days of intense stress, on the 12th of February I officially graduated as a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering 🙂 Today – instead of Valentine’s day – I am celebrating the second day of official unemployment! But I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t have the plan…
Soon enough I am going to Africa to volunteer in three different countries.
First stop: Tanzania. I will work in Dar Es Salaam with the two brothers running the primary school, doing their website and social media, fundraising, helping wherever I’m needed.
Next: Kenya. I will volunteer in the private agriculture project in Homa Bay, around lake Victoria, taking care of orphans and widows of the area by helping them in sustainable farming and growing their own food. Yes, farming, gardening, cows, chickens, goats… All what I – as a city girl – am so excited for!
Last stop: Uganda. I will join the non-government community organization near Mbale, working in elderly care and other community projects.
My planning process started around 2 months ago and was a curvy path.
Initially I was searching for a mediating organization sending the volunteers to Africa. I figured out that it’s all either about being very Christian or paying lots of money for I-don’t-know-what to participate in such a project. None of them worked for me, so I organized it totally by myself.
I contacted private people, small unknown local organizations, exchanged lots of emails and finally found reliable people with whom I signed the contracts. I am all the time in touch with people I am going to work for, I talk to the volunteers who have been there before, I read their opinions and double-checked all the details, I also keep talking to the world travelers to get to know the opinion about those countries.
Most of the people I talked to about it, say I am crazy. And I am not saying I am not afraid. Yes, I know that it’s not that safe to go to Africa being a single white woman. But I believe that with my common sense, suitable precautions and strong planning and logistics, it’s all gonna work out fine.
All trip is pretty much of YOLO philosophy… But it’s worth trying. I have plan A, plan B, C, …, up to plan Z. As always. I believe in my organization skills and I by definition trust people. If I had reasons to feel insecure, I wouldn’t go there.
Saying I want to change the world, help children or be another mother Theresa sounds shallow… But yes, I want to make a change, even if it’s just a little. I won’t save everyone, but if I make it easier at least for a handful of people, it will still be something.
I can’t really explain it, but I have a feeling that it is the right thing to do for me right now. I think I really got rid of some of the first world problems being in India… Now, with the full confidence and consciousness I can say that I am very privileged in life and would like to use my intellectual abilities, two strong hands and open head to pay it back to the universe.
And one more very simple reason – I haven’t done the gap year before the university so I want to do a few gap months now, just after graduation. Probably I will not have any long holidays or completely free period any time soon. If not now, when?
And I honestly CAN’T WAIT TO START THIS ADVENTURE ALREADY!
My BSc thesis, accompanying it paper work and general mess in life effectively deprived me of the ability and urge to write. Now I am back.
I don’t know how come that with as much as I travel I hadn’t been to Paris before! I was going to fly to Mexico with the lay over in Paris anyway, so I decided to arrive there a couple of days earlier and finally visit the City of Love (blah blah).
There was no better time to go there than Christmas – the atmosphere was just lovely, there were not that many people around and the weather was surprisingly good. Yes, I had a moment of ‘what the hell am I doing here alone when everyone else is spending Xmas with their families’, but it quickly passede, since my travel propulsion is much stronger than social pressure sensitivity. Especially that by coincidence I had a great family to spend the Evening with
I was again very lucky with my couch surfing host! Bottle of Żubrówka and the welcoming dinner always break the ice anyway 😉
I knew that 2 days to see Paris is definitely not enough, so I decided to take a glimpse of everything and just walk through the whole city. I haven’t even entered Louvre, for example, since that would take me at least one day! I will need to come back in the future!
I’ve spent the first day with Adele – a friend from my Erasmus in Sweden, following her well-planned guided tour, and another day alone just wandering randomly and discovering places, which was probably the best way to ‘feel’ the city having so little time. Still – there is nothing beating Rome in my ranking, but Paris made a great impression on me too.
Montmartre absolutely won my heart. As a fan no. 1 of Amelie movie I really enjoyed getting lost in the little streets and exploring every little corner. To my surprise, the coffee shop where Amelie worked really exists, still looks exactly the same AND IS FULL OF USUAL PEOPLE, not just crazy tourist who go there just to take pictures (like I did) 😀
All the cliché points were pretty impressive too. Well, Eiffel tower was smaller than I expected. The same with Notre Dame cathedral – I looked at it and was like ‘and that’s it…?’. Moulin Rouge on the other hand looks different from what I imagined – it has much more charm than on all the pictures. And the glass pyramids in front of Louvre entrance just took my breath away. Not that they are so cool or something… I guess it was more like finding out that something you just saw in the movies really EXISTS 😀
If I was to describe Paris in one word (not letting it be wine or cheese :D) it would definitely be art. I didn’t go to any museum other than Centre Pompidou (which – apart from having huge and diverse collection – is a horrible building completely not fitting to the rest of the city), but the artistic spirit is just so dense that you can almost feel it on your skin. I didn’t see many of those painters with a moustache and a beret, but street art and architecture definitely create a picture. Every little corner in Paris is special!
The people are so chic. Yes, they are too fancy, snobbish and I generally feel we couldn’t be friends with most of them :D, but I have to admit – they all look like one million dollars.
Window shopping was never that much pleasure. And the Christmas smell of oranges just made it all even more special.
I will definitely be back. To go to Louvre and eat creme brullee. And when I will be already horribly rich, I will buy an apartment in Montmartre! I just loved it…
Mexico City, the capital, was my base during the whole stay in Mexico.
I’ve spent in total around a week there and managed to see quite a lot. I’ve lost the count of the precise itinerary, but I want to describe all the top-must-see spots which sum up for the great, not-so-easy-going plan.
The first pyramids I have seen and – at the same time – the biggest ones in Mexico. Built by the Aztec, the team contrary to the Maya. Located around 40 km from Mexico City itself.
I was there on my first day in Mexico City, so I felt at least WEIRD. More than 2000 meters above the sea level, still a bit jet lagged, I was losing breath every single step and my heart jumping out of my chest due to lack of oxygen. But the weather was perfect… well, the Mexicans were wearing winter jackets, caps and scarves, but us – Gringos – felt perfect.
Thanks gods (Sun and Moon, in Aztec case) for the huge crowd of people lining to climb the summit, we could at least walk slowly… I just wonder if tones of tourists will not destroy Teotihuacan sooner or later?
There is an amazing restaurant nearby, which is built inside the cave, totally underground, where I’ve drunk the best by far Margarita of cactus flower flavor.
My favourite district in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico)! Lovely markets full of local art, fresh fruits, weird chili sweets, pinatas and stylish souvenirs (really, the supply for typical tourists was surprisingly good quality and not-made-in-China!). I have even eaten the grasshoppers, fried with lemon!
Astonishing architecture. Many colors and cultural places. A park with the wolves statue (symbolizing that before the city there was nothing but forest there).
Worth visiting, wandering around, spending a decent amount of time and even a bit of money (I bought lovely jewellery there).
We have visited Xoxhimilco a day after Chiara’s birthday party not without the reason… It was perfect to just chill and relax from the fast pace of the downtown Mexico City (and the remainings of the party in our blood).
This part of the city is filled with the long canals (which are the remaining of the lake which was covering the whole area before the city was even started) are quiet and full of nature. You can take one of the colorful boats and enjoy the cruise in silence and sunshine. The boats are so colorful and have very silly names!
Each big city has a castle or palace. So has Mexico City. It is located on the hill, in the middle of the huge park.
It was not the best idea to go there on Sunday since the amount of families enjoying the free time in nature (with crazy kids running and shouting, of course) was far too much. Nevertheless, there is a beautiful panorama of the whole city visible from the castle.
You can also see Reforma – the main avenue of Mexico City, which was modeled on Champs Elysees in Paris. It ends with the Angel de la Independencia statue, which is a symbol of Mexico’s release from Spanish rule in 1810, after around 400 years.
– Frida Kahlo’s house
I had huge expectations from this museum and was slightly disappointed.
Well, the exhibition itself was great – apart from Kahlo’s and her husband’s (Diego Rivera, famous muralist), you can see all the interior of the house with authentic furniture, painting accessories and even a special hall dedicated to Frida’s garments. On the other hand, it wasn’t really well-organized. Insane line to enter the building, then walking in a single file from one corner of the room to another and being told off by the museum staff to walk faster was rather annoying.
But I loved the blue walls of the house 🙂
– Anthropology museum
I usually don’t go to historical museums. I am not that much into this field, do not memorize much from what I see and I prefer art exhibitions which give me enriching aesthetical and creative experiences.
I enjoyed this one a lot, though. It gave me a lot of basic knowledge (I was surprised how little had I known about North America, why do they teach us in school just about Europe here…) – from the difference between Mayas and Aztecs to the contemporary-times culture in Mexico.
– Modern Art Museum
Modern art museum is my must-see in every city I go to. I was really keen on seeing this one since I wanted to compare if there is a lot of ‘mexicanicity’ even in today’s art of the globalized and more-less unified world). And yes, there is, but in principle it all concerns the same topics: these ones which currently bother the particular group of people.
Some time ago I’ve seen an exhibition in Warsaw, in which a significant part concerned the refugee crisis and problems which refugees and the society are facing.
Apart of controversial photographs of beauty in corporeality and the Swiss design, there was one exhibitions which also concerned the migration. Guillermo Gomez-Pena depicted stereotypes and controversies around the Mexicans and the way they are falsely perceived in the US.
Typical main square – parliament building, shops, restaurants, Christmas decorations, ice rink (well, in that temperature it is more of a lake, but they try hard), cathedral…
And that’s the fun part, because just near the cathedral you can see the old temples discovered under the other buildings. Yes, Mexico City we know was built on the top of other city. And it was typical of the Spanish to build catholic churches at the top of Aztec and Maya pyramids…
– Bellas Artes, Casa de los Azulejos and the Post Office
I’m giving those 3 spots in one point, since they are all nearby and all are TOP for their architecture.
Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of the most important attractions in CDMX. It’s really impressive, built in Art Nouveau / Neoclassicism from the outside and Art Deco in the inside. There are dedicated murals of Diego Rivera and other artists on the walls, and today the palace – apart from crowds of tourists – still hosts music, theatre and dance events.
Casa de los Azulejos – just on the other side of the street. Honestly, I don’t remember what is inside this building (a shop? a restaurant?). I was just so overwhelmed by the beautiful blue mosaic everywhere on the outside walls!
And if the main Post Office in Łódź looked like the one in Mexico City, I would let my dad send me to pick up the parcels more often!
Place of distant from me religious cult. That’s the site of apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most important apparitions of Mary in the Americas.
Putting the religious value aside – this place was a mystery for me.
There is a beautiful, old, conventional Villa de Guadalupe church there. Since the surface waters make the ground subside and the church is already tilted like a tower in Pisa, they built a modern church just nearby… Well, it was supposed to be a church, but for me – it looks like an aquarium or other zoological building. I wonder if there was any architectural control over it. But the Mexicans love it so maybe that’s just their style…
Overall impression of Mexico? It was so surprising! So much different from what I imagined!
To be honest – I though that Mexico will another India – dangerous, disorganized, falling apart. And I’m sure there are dangerous places to which I was lucky not to get into, but in general concept – I didn’t feel much different from Europe.
If Lviv looks like a poorer Polish any-city from 50 years ago, some Mexican cities can be definitely compared to their Spanish counterparts from the past. Mexico is – for me – like a combination of Spain, what I imagine to be Cuba and the US with some folklorist additives.
It’s good that I shifted to the non-vegetarian mode for this holiday (I have seasons in my life – most of the time I’m vegetarian, than I eat meat for some period and then stop again), cause there is not many meat-free options in Mexico. Now I understand the struggle of the Mexicans I knew in India, where you can’t find much more than chicken.
People are lovely – warm-hearted, open and hospitable. No-one ever treated me bad for being an obvious foreigner. They just never could get that chili is really spicy for me 😀 But maybe that’s just mindset difference…
I just regret not having more time to explore other parts of the country too (but it’s always like this, there is never enough time… I still haven’t been to some places in Poland!) – Guadalajara, Oaxaca (cheese!), Monterrey, Chihuahua (yes, those rat-like dogs come from there), Baja California and Chiapas are still waiting for me. And so is Tequila! Yes, there is a city from which all the tequila in Mexico come! Why am I not there yet?!
When I told Ana and her family that I want to go to Tampico for a day, their reaction was very clear. ‘Why the heck would anyone visit Tampico?! There is nothing there! It’s far! It’s dangerous!’. I almost listened to them… But the emotional value of this city won with my common sense.
I went to Tampico to visit Israel and Malu (isn’t Maria de la Luz a beautiful name?!) – Mexican friends I’ve met in India and raised and helped to survive on their first days. And it was a great choice!
As an economical person – both time- and money-wise – I decided to take the bus during the night. I slept almost whole 7 hours of the journey, since the Mexican buses have amazing, semi-sleeper seats and even provide you with snacks and beverages before departure!
I woke up at crazy 6 AM, jumped like crazy seeing the guys again and went with them immediately to see the sunrise on the beach! Well, my luck… When I went to the place with the great beach, it was cloudy and almost rainy for the whole day. However, I’ve seen racoons hunting for the trash and ugly dolphins (forgot the name of the species, but they have really ugly faces!) and was super excited anyway!
It was the long day! We started with breakfast in Malu’s house. Meeting her family and finally pushing myself to talk only in Spanish was lovely, but there is one more thing… Childhood photos!
It is funny everywhere, but Mexico is special… All the girls celebrate their Quinceniera – 15th birthday party is thrown with such glory that it reminds me almost of a wedding! Or at least it’s rehersal… And those dresses! And the make-up which makes this 15yo look older than me…
During the da we walked a lot, saw the nearby lagunas and took a ferry on one of them to see the crocodiles. Can you believe that they really do have crocodiles in the middle of the city, like we have ducks in pond in the parks?! I was so surprised and terrified!
Next, we headed to the fish market, since Tampico is famous for delicious crabs called jaibas. I had lots of fun watching the pelicans fighting for the left-overs. Ah, and I got some food for free! That’s the privilage of being a blond ‘gringa’ or ‘guerita’ in a town where there are NO tourists.
The oldtown looked almost the same as in all the Mexican (and Spanish) cities – the main square with cathedral, city hall and a little park. Thanks to the Reyes Magos (the Three Kings, 6th of January) celebration coming the next day I could see the huuuge rosca – cake which Mexicans share with friends on this day. The fun fact is that there are a few little figures of Jesus hidden inside, and the lucky ones who find them in their piece of cake need to cook tamales (another local dish) for the others in the beginning of February.
Than I had probably the most Mexican meal of my whole stay! As the only child I am not used to the table buzzing with laugher, MANY people eating together, the brothers making pranks at each other and a strong Mexican mother to govern all that. Well, in Israel’s house I could experience all that and also feel like at home!
I was exhauested but after the dinner we met some more people for huge, 1 liter drinks (that’s misleading, though. The amount of alcohol is the same like in standard ones) and went to dance salsa before my departure. Then, I’ve spent another night in the bus to reach Mexico City again.
Sleeping properly was never in plan for Mexico. Having the flight at 6am, we were just preparing ourselves for looong siesta on the beach. Ana, Chiara and me took a 2-hour flight from Mexico City to Cancun. To my surprise – they are in two different time zones although in one country, so we were one hour closer to Europe.
We decided to stay in Playa del Carmen, which is cheaper, a bit less touristic and not as ‘Americanized’ as Cancun itself. Well, on the streets we have seen mostly tourists from the US or South America anyway.
Playa del Carmen is located in such a place that if you swim around 250 km you get into Cuba and when you drive 250 km South along the seaside – you reach Belize.
We started the day with tacos and beer for breakfast (holiday mode on!) and got into the Airbnb – really fancy one, we even had a swimming pool with panorama on the rooftop! Perfect for fancy pre-party photos.
The first impression of Yucatán and Playa del Carmen? Combination of Goa’s style (just souvenir shops, local products, tattoo studios, restaurants and bars), Spain’s atmosphere, Bangkok’s nightlife and Maldives’ weather.
After fixing serious stuff such as food and tequila supply and a travel agency for the tour next day, we went for the walk on the beach and found a great party place – you could party with your own drinks ‘using’ the music coming from the bar nearby. We were not the only ones to do that!
The most interesting thing in the town was the spectrum of people around – on the beach, in the street, in the restaurants. From the rich American families, through the old Germans, groups of 3-5 single gringo ladies like us, handsome and sporty guys in their late 20ies, teenagers on their first holiday alone, to typical Gonzalez – our term for the stereotypical Mexican family.
Trying to cook the dinner in the evening we figured out that NO, it’s not possible to cook pasta on the pan (even the Italian didn’t succeed), so we ended up eating chips with guacamole (made by the Polish, while the Mexican took care of margaritas!) and the quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese (something between mozzarella and Polish oscypek) for the rest of the trip. And I would never guess that I will be FRYING water on a pan to make a coffee.
The first evening we were very lucky – we came across the newly open club called The Hidden Bar, offering the free entrance and drinks as their advertising. Music was great and most of the guys handsome, what to want more?
The next night we obviously went out too, but did a tour between a few different clubs. At some point we ended up in a place filled with presumable sons of the Narcos and the waiters doing everything to make us entertain them… well, we were escaping pretty quick.
Nevertheless, coming back home around 2-3 am I still didn’t feel in danger. Maybe it’s misleading but I still felt like in Europe, not crazy and mysterious Latin America. The only thing is that the streets were not patrolled by the normal police, but fully armed and really serious soldier-like officers. It made me feel insecure, as if there really was something to be afraid of, but Ana explained me that it is in case of some public mess or rebellion. What in Europe would be just a fight of two groups of friends or hooligans supporting the opposite football teams, with Mexican temperament tends to convert to the huge massacre of the crowd.
Not counting the excursion, all the four days of our stay in Playa del Carmen were about beach, rooftop pool, all night long parties, sleeping a couple of hours to start from the beginning. We ate very good seafood too! And obviously tacos. We even went to a very local family restaurant serving food directly from their garage. Real Mexican spirit!
I couldn’t get over chilli, though… it’s insane, they put in even on top of fruits. Not to mention any kind of sauce! The sensation is different from the one of Indian masala, but still – even if you can feel the real taste of food, you still get fire in your mouth.
The New Years Eve party was one of the best ones in my life. We cooked very good dinner, drank cocktails on the rooftop and then headed out. The streets were never that crowded before! All the masses of tourists and locals went to the beach to see the fireworks coming from one of the hotels. The show was really amazing. We also wanted to follow the Spanish-Mexican tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight but we pretty much screwed that, not counting the grapes correctly (‘Wait, isn’t that number 13? How many did you put in my cup?!) and forgetting to make wishes eating each of them. Then we decided to walk by the beach and search for the promising group of people to join. We were not disappointed!
I always claim that couch surfers are different people. Thanks to them I never feel alone. I always feel as if I was part of some huge family! We’ve met a group of CSers on their New Year’s event and spent a wonderful time!
When we started getting cold on the beach, we all headed to the main street to search for the party, but the party found us first. Every bar was playing loud music so people were dancing on the streets. And it wasn’t a few people… Huge groups, like on real dancefloor!
It was magical to dance salsa on the street. When one bar closed, all the people were just heading to the next one and that’s how we have spent time until the sunrise, when we got back to the beach.
In the evening of 31. December I was feeling pretty upset – again one year older, still not having anything stable… This party definitely raised my spirits. I’ve started the year 2018 with a huge smile, traveling, in the middle of another crazy adventure.
Since Ana didn’t let us rent a car (‘Mafia, Narcos, traffic, jungle, DRAMA!’), we decided to go for an organized tour, like lazy tourists. We were picked up from the apartment and everything was provided to us and easy like for kids. Nice, but too boring for my style of traveling. By chance we ended up in the group run not only in Spanish but also Italian, so Chiara was lucky!
The first stop was the Maya village. I was so surprised about their culture! Primary gods, colorful stylistic, natural medicine and great respect to nature. We even had a chance to learn a toast in Maya language! Not that I could repeat it…
I was astonished by how much of this civilization remained until today… Their first language is still Maya, many women on the streets wear the traditional clothes, the monuments, buildings and paintings are very well-preserved… It all started in 2000 BC!
One of the best points there was Cenote – natural underground lake in a cave, with water filtered by the ground and fish swimming inside. Swimming there was an unforgettable experience!
Next point was the must-see! Chichen Itzá – one of the 7 World Wonders, is located around two hours drive from Cancun complex of pyramids built also by the Maya, as a temple and a place of paying tribute to gods.
Incredible how much they knew about astrology and mathematics such a long time ago! One pyramid is built in such a way, that twice a year – 21st of March and 22nd of September the shadows form a snake, which is the symbol of luck and wisdom. In the other pyramid raising sun goes exactly through the middle of god’s monument twice a year.
Seeing another World Wonder raised in me an ambition to see all of them… another bucket list!
In the end we went to Valladolid – a town built basing on the city of the same name in Spain, and founded by the Spanish conquistadors. Quaint and lovely place, perfect to see the sunset!
The entertaining thing about organized tourism is observing the people from your tour. We had lots of fun making up stories about their lives
We came back pretty exhausted, went out for dinner (sorry Mexico, I can’t even look anymore on any variation of tortilla…), had a cocktail by our rooftop swimming pool and headed to another party.