The week(s) from Hell!

IMG-20141024-00067These past few weeks have been so bad that it’s taken me a week to recover and even begin to start writing about it. After coming back from a grueling 2 week trip to the U.S., I head back to Southern Africa for what I hope will be a relaxed reintroduction to the joys of home. But, alas, the queen of doing too much did just that… too much and the wheels fell off…almost literally.

IMG_1302I arrive back from the U.S. on a Sunday and I, the dum-dum pop that I am, decide to go to work on Monday. This results in a drowsy, sick, achy, painful, grumptastic first day back at the office. I confirm that I do, in fact, have some kind of illness that requires antibiotics and I commence a course of the dream drug that is cipro. I’m feeling particularly bad for my co-workers who are excited to see me back, but are eagerly met with my stank face.

I decide that I am definitely going to Johannesburg for a seminar on Friday, which means that I actually need to leave on Thursday. Just 4 days after my 22 hour flight ordeal. Nothing but pure genius is at work here, when I convince a friend to come with me on Thursday to drive to Nelspruit after work and then wake up at 4am the next morning to drive the rest of the way to Jozi. Sure enough, I convince this poor sucker and what he doesn’t realize is that he has just joined my week(s) from hell. We end up leaving town early, because Mozambique’s national election results are coming out and we decide to clear out-of-town as soon as humanly possible. We’re on the road from Maputo to Matola for about an hour stuck in the slowest moving traffic since Driving Miss Daisy. Aside from the one time that I turn off the headlights (by mistake) on a winding pitch black road, we finally get some clear road and head to Nelspruit to a cute little hotel that’s a hospitality training school. All seems well that night when we’re greeted by really lovely people at the hotel, but the next day is when everything heads south.

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The next morning we head out at 4am, with my friend driving my old jalopy, and we actually make it to the seminar on time. I have a great day reading and writing and feeling like my life has some meaning!

And then we head to Sandton mall. I do some shopping, get my hair done, and buy new tires for the Jalopy. All seems right with the world…

IMG_1355…until I start to feel like something isn’t right. And by 7pm I’m back in the Jozi hotel feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. I end up crashing that night with paracetamol and ibuprofen cocktail in quantities that the CDC would not recommend. Mind you I’m still on this antibiotic thing that’s apparently not curing sh*t!

I wake up the next day for a long overdue meeting that turns out to be quite productive. I’m hopped up on so much drugs it’s amazing that I even understand what’s being said. My meeting ends, friend and I hit the road back to Maputo. It’s only 11:30am and we’re thinking we’ll get back before dark. Not so, friends. Not so…

IMG_1353We’re on the road for about 20 minutes when the car stops accelerating on the highway. So, I’m pretty convinced that my friend who is driving my car, must have done something stupid to cause this. But, his face is in genuine shock. We switch seats and, yea baby, this car is f*cked up. We plug in the nearest coordinates for a mechanic and head straight there. Luckily, it’s only 2 blocks away from my friend’s place and I know the neighborhood. We get there, the mechanic tries a bunch of things only to find that after 2 hours, 1 hour after the shop was supposed to be closed, he can’t figure out.

I call my friend – my poor, poor friend – who bails me out every time I need something in South Africa and she lets us regroup from her apt. My friend who drove with me decides to hitch a bus back to Maputo.

By this time, my OTC drug cocktail is being consumed at paces that cause liver damage, so I call my doctor who tells me to go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital to rule out bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis?! When someone thinks you have bacterial meningitis, even when you’re sure there’s no way in hell you have it, you go to the hospital. QUICKLY!

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We go and wait in the lobby, pretty uneventfully. Until this happens…. which is also pretty uneventful until you watch the face of the man seated on the right get progressively more annoyed and disgusted. ROFLMAO

IMG_1327IMG_1325IMG_1322IMG_1321IMG_1331I end up getting blood drawn and waiting in the hospital for an hour, catching up with my friend – my poor, poor friend. And I’m sent home with a new cocktail of drugs that includes new antibiotics and no more answers on a diagnosis.

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We decide that I’ll stay in my poor, poor friend’s apt til Monday. My husband takes a bus down from Maputo. My poor, poor friend takes me to a pharmacy where I get my drugs in a locked shower caddy.

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And once again, I’m one big happy imposition.

Come Monday, hubby and I are at the mechanic bright and early. They say they need to order a part that won’t come until Wednesday earliest. So, we pack up and take the bus back to Moz to wait it out. I’m pretty f*cking sick at this point and I decide I’m taking the week off, because if I don’t I just may pass out or growl at someone.

IMG-20141104-00085The mechanic says we can come back on Saturday because all is well and they’ve fixed the car. We actually go on Monday, because there was no way to get there before the shop closed on Saturday. So we actually waste our long weekend for Veteran’s day inside our house doing all sorts of nothing. But we’re super excited to get this car back on the road, so we take the bus back down to Jozi. Get to the bus station at 4am and wait until the mechanic shop opens at 8am. We take a quick test drive because traffic is way too packed to really get up to any speed or go for long distances. So, we’re sufficiently satisfied with the results, pay the people at the shop and get on the road for some shopping before heading back to Moz.

In addition to spending about $300 on groceries, we get some much-needed retail therapy and by 3pm we’re on the road back to Moz. (I can’t help but laugh at the fact that in South Africa, the non-Christian customers & staff are welcome to have a crap a$$ New Year!)

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We’re happy. We’re smiling. We’re singing. And then… the car stops accelerating on the highway. We’re 2 hours outside of Jozi, which is also 3-4 hours outside of the nearest real city, and the car is finished. We pull over. Give it a rest and realize that we can go 30 kms/hr (and no faster). So we get the hell off the side of this road, put the hazards on, and drive to the nearest gas station outside of Belfast.  A really interesting duo of Boer dudes arrive to look at the car and they can’t figure out what’s going on, but it’s not engine or anything that they can actually see. It’s 8pm and we’re desperate. They say, go to the dealer. “Your car will get you there, but really, really slowly.”

IMG-20141101-00075What’s normally a 45 minute drive, actually takes 3 hours. By 11pm, we’re parked at a Mercure hotel to spend the night in Nelspruit. Luckily, hubby realized that there’s no way we could keep $300 worth of frozen meat in the hotel fridge, so his awesome friends drive 3 hours from Moz to meet us in Nelspruit to take the food back. Hubby also goes back, because he’s got to work the next day.

The next morning I get up and drive the jalopy to the dealership, where they tell me that no one can look at the car until 5 hours later. And that… I shouldn’t wait. Luckily, I have some more friends in Nelspruit who are on their way back to Maputo, so I hitch a ride with them back to town.  Fast forward, I’m back in  Maputo – working like a rabid dog – without a car and still kinda sick, and I’m on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I have to remember that no matter how bad things have been, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never had to ride in  one of these…

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and I’ve never been seen wearing these pants…

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I head back to my doctor who proceeds to tell me that they think I have (or maybe had) mononucleosis, but can’t confirm. (WTH?!) And now, I’m on “watch” for a disease they don’t even know if I have. The worst part is that I can’t get an excuse from the doctor to NOT show up at work the next day.

After a week of chasing the mechanic, they say that they need to get a part from Japan and the estimated bill will be about $2000. Mind you, we spent about $1000 at the shop in Jozi. I complain to the place in Jozi and they tell me to bring the car back… to Jozi. I live 6 hours away and my car is broken down in the middle. I decide these people are f*cktards (which means that this week I’m in the process of writing a formal complain to the South African Consumer Complaints Commission). Anyways, so the bills are mounting, work’s still sucking, and my health is mysteriously evasive.

During all this mayhem, I get an email saying that a piece I worked on a year ago was accepted for publishing. Awesome! I’m thinking… maybe things are on the upswing. But, I’m weird like that so I only tell a few people, because I don’t believe this is really going to come to fruition. And guess what? It fell through within a matter of days. The publication (which shall remain nameless) comes up with some crazy deadline that makes no sense to get signed documents scanned and returned to them. Of course, the deadline comes and goes. They rescind their offer for publication and I’m now convinced that they got scared away because of some references in my piece, which have only recently become more nationally relevant. Whatever…

IMG-20141104-00084So, it turns out that 2 weeks later, I’m having what I call a “curtailment” day, which is one where I decide that I should just high tail it out of this place. Pack up all my stuff, find a new job in NYC – which is where I ultimately want to land anyway – and be the free-spirited, artsy academic that I know I’m supposed to be. But I’m carless, so how exactly would I get to the airport?

Then my husband’s family comes over for family dinner and I have to think… what’s it all worth?

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Tourist Fatigue

I am tired. I am tired of hotel lobbies. I am tired of wake up calls from hotel lobbies. I am tired of people offering to take my bags to and from hotel lobbies. I am tired of guidebooks on the front desks of hotel lobbies. I am tired of the insinuation that I should see something outside of the hotel lobby. I am tired of being a tourist.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Please don’t confuse my fatigue for blame against this lovely town or country. I remember having this same feeling when I lived in Spain. Around month seven I was pretty sure that I had seen every Catholic church in the entire north east. And I was also sure that if I saw one more rendition of Mary and baby Jesus, I would jump off the rock of Gibraltar. These days it’s not the Holy Trinity that makes me want to drown in the Indian Sea. It’s forts and palaces.

But, I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I arrived in Hyderabad and decided that I didn’t want to see anything. I didn’t leave the hotel all week, actually. My friends chided me for not being more motivated. They wanted to take me out, but chose the inopportune time of 4pm during an Indian summer. So, we all quickly undecided and postponed for cooler times to come – neveruary.

I don’t know how to break the rut of tourist fatigue. I don’t think there’s a way, exactly, except to just give in and be exhausted. Forgive yourself just this one time. Know that the city won’t collapse around you just because you didn’t see the Mecca Masjid. You’re not a bad person because you came to town and didn’t see the Golconda Fort or the Falaknuma Palace. Being a tourist is supposed to be enjoyable. When it stops being fun, you should stop yourself from faking like it is. Here are the top five things I do when I have stopped being a tourist. Maybe you frequent fliers will recognize this in yourselves and prevent the guilt from hitting you like a ton of Fodor’s guides. Just open up a Lonely Planet book on the plane ride back, read about it, and say you did it.

This is how I know it’s bad…

1- I swing by the grocery store on my way to the hotel.  Straight from the airport, I have the car drop by a grocery store along the way, so I don’t have to ever leave the hotel once I check in. I don’t pretend like I want to try the newest restaurants reviewed by Food & Wine magazine. I really just want to eat cereal out of the mugs they left in the room for self-brewed coffee. I don’t kid myself.

2 – Download free episodes from itunes. A girl can’t live on BBC World News and CBeebies alone. I load up on all the free episodes that itunes is giving away. If they’re giving, I’m taking. And I watch with reckless abandon.

3- Always keep the door on DO NOT DISTURB. Always. Do you hear me? Always…except when they catch me in the hallway and ask if I’ve run out of potable drinking water. Then, and only then, do I consider taking off the prohibitive sign. But even then, I think long and hard.

4- Tip well. When I’m not planning to spend much time in the hotel, then screw ’em. I’m not making that much trouble anyway. I’m out being a tourist! But, when I plan to stay camped out in my hotel room, wrapped in the hotel bath robe, using up all the shower gel and asking for boutique pillows at odd times of night – I tip well. We’re going to be seeing an awful lot of each other. And I don’t want them to steal my stuff or spit in my food.

5. Carry lots of books. I know I sound like a dinosaur for saying that I read books at all, but some of us actually enjoy paper. You people with thick corneas can perhaps handle all that backlight. I digress. On this last trip, I brought one self help book, one book of short stories, one novel, and two autobiographies. Two books, I had already read before I arrived, but I needed to write an article about them while on the road – done by day three of week one. In that same one week, I read two of the other books and kinda gave up on the last one. I’ll get to “Dreams of my Father” one day, but on this trip it too was fatigue enhancing.

My traveling friend, don’t be bullied into being the good tourist. You don’t owe any city the effort needed to get over your malaise. It can certainly be inconveniently timed, but being tired on the road isn’t an indication that you must fight through it. Just like when you’re at home, sometimes fatigue is a good indication that you should rest and be still. 

May the power of the do not disturb sign be with you.

Sleep with Confidence

Jodhpur - Water Habitat Retreat View

When I was in Jodhpur last month, I ended up staying in a resort hotel that just so happened to have a last-minute room available.  I tried to book at the Taj and the Oberoi, and I even tried a local Haveli.  But they were booked up and my flights were already paid for, so I had to scrounge up something and fast! So with little more than the promise of a clean bed and a good ranking on http://www.tripadvisor.com, I reserved a 3 night stay in the Water Habitat Retreat. And whoa, what a treat! This got me thinking about some of my most pleasant, surprise room stays around the world. When you travel, your room is your castle. Here are just four unsung heroes I recommend with confidence:

As the NGO expansion of a Maharaja’s summer home, the Water Habitat Retreat is a 28 room boutique hotel that offers vistas from Jodhpur’s Marwar desert.  Just about 20 minutes from the city center, this hotel is truly an oasis of stunning man-made lakes, hill-top temples, and quiet serenity. The rooms do not have TVs, but I was given a USB MBlaze to get internet reception free of charge.  What’s the catch? Well, the hotel is built aside a water catchment plant and reservoir.  The Aravalli hills are known for desert and drought, but in this NGO run hotel 70% of the hotel booking costs go directly to water harvesting. So, this nice hideaway also doubles as an opportunity for philanthropy. Hard to top that.

When a friend came to India shortly after I first arrived, we scrambled to find a hotel in Goa. We combed http://www.tripadvisor.com for a reasonably priced guesthouse near Candolim or Sinquerim beach. We tried to book to the #1 ranked Bougainvillea Goa, but they were full. They offered a room in their sister guest house just a 3 minute walk away. For $30 USD a night, we booked at Victoria Village Guest House. The room was clean and the owners were very sweet. The wife came to the door carrying her pudgy cheeked doll of a daughter and the husband told us about his sister’s restaurant down the road – which was not a tourist trap! Just a five-minute walk away from the Fort Aguada Taj hotel, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose NOT to stay at Victoria Village.

Not all surprises are cheap. And in San Francisco, you can bet that any good surprise costs a premium. But, a few years back I booked 3 nights at the Orchard Hotel and never once regretted it. I especially appreciated it when I got so sick that I couldn’t leave the hotel on the night before I was set to depart. I still remember the fish stew I ordered from room service, and I have yet to try fish stew that competes. The cleaning crew came multiple times a day and only when they knew we were out of the hotel – so no annoying knocks in the morning. Well worth the spend, if I’m ever back in San Fran I’ll be trying to relive my fish stew dream.

Germany Valley

One of my very favorite places in all of the U.S. is Germany Valley, West Virginia. Trying to unplug from Washington, D.C. life, I searched for a fall foliage locale that wouldn’t break the bank. While once on a stay in the Appalachian-Cabins in Seneca Rocks, I drove a ways and discovered the Germany Valley cabins. I decided that the next year, I would have to come back and stay in one. I had to book almost a year in advance to ensure I had an October weekend, but it was well worth it. Some of my fondest memories with my best friends and their kids were had right there in those hills. These cabins are a hidden gem, well worth the 5 hour drive from DC.

Here are a few other lodging options worth checking out:

Jaipur, India

New Delhi, India

Udaipur, India

Bangkok, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand