Robben Island

Two years and two days ago was a very sad moment in history for South Africa, and the global community. The country of South Africa lost a national hero, and the world lost one of the greatest defenders of justice and equality. On December 5th 2013 Nelson Mandela left this physical world. Yesterday, I was exceptionally lucky to get the chance to memorialize this date with a trip to Robben Island. Robben Island is the site of the prison where former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, and many other political prisoners were held. Many of them were peaceful fighters for freedom from oppression, and almost all of them were unjustly held without any formal charges or a trial.

I was prepared for this experience to be a powerful and deeply saddening tour, because of how horrific the crimes against human rights were during apartheid. I was not prepared for the fact that all the guides were former prisoners. The painful history was real and alive in their eyes. I think hearing it straight from the victims of this brutal system, helped even the furthest removed from this type of oppression to connect with the gravity of this moment in a more personal way. 

Former prisoner on Robben Island, and my amazing guide

 

The first guide we had gave us a rundown of the basic history of apartheid, the history of the island (it was previously a colony for outcast lepers), and the first political prisoners to be sent to the island. In the 1960s, the leader of a peaceful protest called people to burn their ID documents used to control the black and coloured people of South Africa, this resulted in a horrific massacre leaving 69 people dead. (Although I have a sick guttural reaction to the word coloured, being a Black American, it is widely used in SA to this day, and simply means person of mixed race.) The man who led this protest, Robert Sobukwe, was one of the first political prisoners on the island. He was held in a small house alone for 3 years, no one was allowed to visit and no guards were to speak with him. Once his time was served he was arrested onsite before he ever left the island and was given another 3 years, and eventually allowed one letter OR visit every 6 months. Sobukwe was never charged for a second or third offense although he was detained twice after being released, and then put on house arrest until his death. This was the beginning of the “Sobukwe Clause”, which states the government of SA can arrest and detain anyone without cause or trial.

Different meals for prisoners of different races

This clause was the way in which the government justified their round up of all the anti-apartheid leaders fighting for equality and justice. The leaders were all kept in the same prison, in single cells, without running water and exposed to the elements with only bars (no glass windows or doors) until the late 70s, when windows and showers were added to the building. The leaders were also forced to work in a limestone quarry leading to many fatal illnesses, such as cancer and infections. Their only means to gain more privileges were long and painful hunger strikes. Seeing and hearing first hand about these horrific inequalities infuriated me, and spoke to a part of my heritage during slavery, then segregation, and the current state of racial profiling and attacks. All this weighed so heavy on my soul, and I felt the pain that had saturated Robben Island and lingered still.

Photographing Nelson Mandela’s cell

Then came hope, we learned that as much as they attempted to separate, dehumanize, and kill the spirits of their prisoners… There was an aspect of apartheid rule that came to be the prisoner’s saving grace. During apartheid all was separate, which means wherever the prisoners were to “relieve themselves” was a black toilet, and no white guards were to enter. While in the prison they all had buckets in their cells, but out at the quarry while they endured hard labor, they were forced to go to the bathroom in a cave. This cave, affectionately referred to as “The Parliament” was where a new South Africa was born. All the fighters for justice shared ideas and strategies in that cave, they thought not of the present but the future, and many of their goals for justice can be found in the South African constitution of today. From this atrocity, blossomed the beautiful philosophy of “Each one, Teach one”.

This experience is something that will always be with me in my heart and on my mind. It was a heavy part of my journey, it led me to think more on my “place” in my own country, my “place” as a brown person in this world, and how far we as a globe have to go before we see real equality in every corner, and that wound of past atrocities against our basic rights as humans isn’t festering still. I feel for South Africa and they, like my own country and many others, have a long way to go before equality and justice are the true law of the land. Everyday we can get closer, and the key to reaching that dream of global peace is the education of the future generation, I believe that with all my heart. If we take the goal of peace and equality, and then “Each One, Teach One”… we will get there, in every corner of the globe.

 

 

 

Lucky Number 6!!!

For those of you who don’t know, which would be all of you, six is my favorite number. There are many strange and superstitious reasons why I love that number, but what it comes down to is fun things happen For me when the number 6 is involved. The biggest number 6 yet is here, and I can’t wait to share the big news with you all!

Drumroll…

I am currently on the 6th continent I have ever been to. Not even 25, and I have been to all continents but one. I have a passion for traveling and a dream to see the world! The reason I blog is to share that crazy journey with anyone interested, and just maybe inspire a few people to embark on their own crazy nomadic journeys.

I have spent the last 2.5 days jetting across the sea to nurture my nomadic soul, Hello Africa!! This first trip to Africa, hopefully of many, will be all about South Africa. I just touched down in Cape Town, and it’s already off to an amazing start. As usual, I connected with incredible souls on my way here. Having deep conversations about race and culture in this country, on buses and in taxis. Young locals I have met seem so conscious of the politically charged environment they live in, and they can’t wait to dialog about their world and the troubles we face together as a globe. Beautiful people, openly and freely offering suggestions for my travels and welcoming me to their home. I have officially decided I will be coming back, mostly because I already accumulated a list of “must-eat” places as long as my forearm… And I LOVE to eat 😉

Tomorrow I will be going on a tour of the Cape Peninsula, and I will be reviewing this tour by Baz Bus for their website! My first official travel writing gig, not paid… but hey, everyone starts somewhere! After the tour I will sample a restaurant, or 2, from my growing list. The following day, Robben Island, Table Mountain, and a champagne tour are all on the todo list!! This is trip is going to be incredible I feel it in my soul, but the best part of it all is I get to journey with my beautiful sister Amber!

Sawubona! (Beautiful greeting translating to “I see you”)

Olivia, olive, Lala

Onward to South Africa!!

After a refreshing mile long jog (after landing just 10 minutes before my flight
4 terminals away started boarding), I am on my plane to #johannesburg #southafrica So tired but so excited!!  

 Traveling is real life and so far from easy. I just sat down and there is a faint lingering smell of vomit not cleaned well enough… And literally 5 children under the age of 10 just sat behind me with only 2 adults. One is already pinching her brother, and another kicking my seat #curseofateacher This is going to be a very long flight and will surely test me… Thank goodness for sleepy time pills 😉 These kinda #nomadstruggles remind me of @pinthemapproject ‘s recent post on sharing the “real life” side of travel. That’s just what I plan to do! Expect regular updates from the field, reporting back soon, now for some sleep!   

 All there is left to do is tune out the little one whining behind me for an iPad, who I just gave the evil eye and told to stop banging on my seat 🙂 haha. Totally the curse of a preschool teacher, I love them… But do the really have to follow me everywhere??

More shortly,

Olivia, Olive, Lala 

R&R at a B&B 

This past weekend I took an extra couple days off for some R&R at the BEST bed and breakfast in Virginia. OK I am slightly biased but very rightfully so. In Hillsboro, Virginia a quiet town of 88 residents there is a magnificent bed and breakfast, owned and operated by my great aunt. I grew up with it as a family home and it’s now been converted into this amazing Inn in an equally awesome location. Gourmet farm-to-table bistro’s and wineries producing bold flavors are beginning to pop up in towns surrounding Hillsboro. The tiny town of Hillsboro, and the surrounding countryside, are slowly but steadily becoming more commonly known as wine country for the socialites of the Washington area. For me to refer to this rural slice of Virginia as “wine country” says a lot coming from a girl living in the finger Lakes!

 

Fieldstone Farm

 

I’m just going to give you the highlights of the trip, but for you to get the whole picture, I first have to tell you about the B&B. To say the Fieldstone Farm bed and breakfast is luxurious would be an understatement, to say it’s inviting another understatement, and to call it inspiring yet again an understatement. My aunt’s property will always just be a family home to me, but it’s now equipped with all the modern amenities you would find in a hotel with even fancier soaps and an outdoor pool! Watching this family home evolve into this “resort like” country-get-away, has been such a fun journey. The grounds which I have had many a Easter-egg hunt on, are now home to magnificent flower, herb, and vegetable gardens, perfect places for reflection. One thing that hasn’t changed is my aunt’s love to decorate, every season gets its fair share! When I was just there, every room smelled like cinnamony-goodness and my aunt was ushering in Fall in the best ways. Despite all the modern amenities it can still feel like a trip through time to 1770, with fires blazing and antique furnishings. My Aunt has done a fabulous job keeping most of the decor to date, as this property is one of the premier historical homes in Virginia. This trip I brought my partner, and maybe if I haven’t done a sufficient job getting across how amazing this place is his words will do it best. According to him, Fieldstone Farm is an antique store mixed with a Hilton hotel… or what it would look like if a colonial museum had a baby with a luxury spa, so eloquent that man of mine!

 

Welcome Home

 

Tranquility Anyone?

 

Felt like summer for a day

My Aunt recommends the best places around to all of her guests, so we are always in good hands when we go out with her. This trip she took us to one of her favorites, Market Table Bistro. This is a place one would expect to find in NYC or DC, it is hip to the local farm-to-table food scene and delivers at the highest quality. The premise of the restaurant is comfort food in a gourmet fashion… I couldn’t ask for more! Considering myself a “global gourmand” I feel arbitrarily qualified to judge this eatery, and I give it an A+. The flavors are absolutely delivered as promised, highly evolved yet familiar. I am a huge fan of restaurants with the “fancy comfort food” philosophy, it creates a space where unique and complex flavors become available to those not so comfortable outside of their comfort zone.

 

Shrimp and Grits!

 

Quail and Kale… YUM

 

The potato flight (potatoes done 6 ways)

Visiting Fieldstone Farm and my Aunt Amy is always such a treat, and since I’m back on the writing wagon I wanted to share just a bit of that magic with you. Having the chance to relax in such a positive space played a huge role in me renewing my dedication to follow my dream of travel writing. If you are ever in the Northern Virginia area, my aunt would love to have you at the Inn, and maybe some of the magic of that place will inspire you as well!!

I’m Back in Action and Equipped with Glowsticks!

Im back in action! After Peru I went through a whirlwind of physical and emotional ups and downs, trying to “figure my life out”… I feel like every once in a while I go through these phases where I don’t feel complete in what I’m doing… Usually it’s more like I feel that the important people around me don’t see me as succeeding or living up to my full potential. It’s always different… grad school, settle down, get a “real job”, but it’s never what I’m doing at the moment, and so I stop what I’m doing and momentarily follow someone else’s dream for me. Then I remember how the only thing that made me unhappy… the only thing that made me feel incomplete, was their opinion of my trajectory. I was perfectly loving life when I was just doing me and carving a path all my own. So that’s what I’m going to do damn it!
Although the move back has been rough at times I am so happy I relocated to Ithaca, and will have it as my home base as I continue to see the world… the whole world! Starting with… my home in the desert BURNING MAN! This summer I have been rocking through the festival season, I have been to the local and classic Grassroots Festival, which will always be a favorite music festival for me. Right in my backyard, Grassroots is homegrown with an international flavor. The music comes from everywhere but it’s still small enough to feel like a family, and as an organization they hold social justice close to the heart. A yearly tradition for me that I hope all my readers will look into enjoying some day, they also have satellite Grassroots in Miami and North Carolina! After Grassroots, I hit up the Finger Lakes Cheese Festival with my mama which pretty much explains itself and pretty much explains why it’s amazing. It was very well attended event and a super fun place to take my mom when she came for a visit.

 

Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad (Grassroots)

 

Big Mean Sound Machine! (Grassroots)

The last two festivals I hit up were both run by friends in their backyards out on beautiful pieces of land in the country. The first, Seedstock, was a sweet and family friendly bundle of local vibes! Taking place in Cortland, NY it was an awesome display of small town local bands and nationally known artist from the larger neighboring towns, mainly Ithaca. The highlight was hands down the epic silent disco in the forest behind the house. Yes, it’s just what you think… it’s a dance party… that is silent, but I’m not that into mind altering drugs, there may not have been sound but there was music. I wasn’t running around with 100 other people dancing to the voices in our heads.. Haha! Everyone has a pair of headphones with two channels and there are two DJs transmitting their sticky sweet jams to your noggin! The only thing better than seeing 100 people dancing like maniacs in a silent forest… is seeing them all dancing to different beats! It was a blast! The weekend after Seedstock I hit up, for the first of many more times to come, Gourd Fest. A tiny, invite only, free festival put on by a friend of mine who is an amazing DJ. This weekend of debauchery takes place in the mystical Adirondacks and is typically attended by 60-70 people. For those people, and now me, this is a family! It’s like a reunion of best friends and like minded people where they can let go, live free, and make up all their own rules. There is nonstop music, phenomenal food, each year is themed, and all of this is done by the group of friends attending so everyone can enjoy and participate for free. This has been going on in this otherwise quiet slice of the Adirondacks for 21 years, the kindness, openness, and pure uninhibited fun blew my mind!

Seedstock!

 

Rookies partners of the year, for making zero rookie mistakes! (Gourd Fest)

 

New Friends Forever (Gourd Fest)

 

Gourd Fest Sunday Crew!

 
Gourd Fest was the best prep for the mothership, the festival of all festivals, my home land, where my new year begins every year… Burning Man. That little festival in New York reminded me of the many reasons I adore the Burn. The inclusiveness, the freedom, creativity, genuine kindness, and of course the debauchery! Today I am on my way to spend a week getting my ass good and dusty, a week breaking things down to the raw matter, burning it all to the ground, building myself back up, and starting my new year brand new! I am so ready to remember what I love, and who I am, and and the power we all have to create! I am ready to manifest my destiny, and revel in the possibilities… Burning Man here I come!

 

So Ready to Burn Baby Burn

 

Machu Picchu!! The Poor Man’s Adventure Trek.

As you might have already guessed, I enjoy the wilder side of things… and so when it came to visiting Machu Picchu I was on the search to find a more “exotic” route to take. Rather than the much traveled and quite pricey (but phenomenal and classic) Inca Trail, I booked the more economical Inca Jungle Trek. What not everyone knows is that there are actually two trails traveled by the Incas to get to Machu Picchu, well technically one wasn’t traveled by the “Inca” because Incas were actually just the royalty or ruling class. The commonly known trail is the route the royalty took to reach Machu Picchu, but the common people or Quechua people took a route through the Andean jungle. This isn’t a beautifully crafted stone walkway like the images conjured by the mention of the Inca Trail, it’s a winding overgrown footpath through the thick of the jungle. To go on this wild adventure with a tour company, there are usually 3 and 4 day options offered, but to do it as cheap as possible yet still have enough time to explore I chose a 5 day plan that was all walking and buses… rather than enjoying the comfort of taking the train. The first day consisted of a thrilling and slightly terrifying mountain bike ride down from a peak in the Andes into the jungle below, with the option to go whitewater rafting in the valley for an extra $30. The second day was a 6-8 hour hike straight up and over a mountain then ending the day in a natural hot springs. The next morning there was another $30 option to go zip-lining and then take a car to the town of Hydro Electrica, if you don’t go with that option you do save 30 bucks… but you have a 4 hour hike bright and early to get to Hydro Electrica in time to meet up with the zip-lining crew. After having lunch together at Hydro Electrica, everyone does the 3 hour hike along the train tracks to the town located below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes (or as it is now being called… Machu Picchu Pueblo). The next morning at 5am pretty much the entire town begins the 2,000-step climb to the top. Once at Machu Picchu, halfway through the day most people doing the jungle trek have to leave and hike the 3 hours back to Hydro Electrica in order to catch their 3pm bus to Cusco, the lucky ones take the train that night. I didn’t want to sacrifice a second of sunshine at the top, and I could barely walk after 4 days of hiking nonstop, so I spent one extra night in Aguas Calientes and slept in before my 3 hour hike to catch my 6 hour bus back to Cusco. I went on this incredible trip my last week in Peru with the last of my funds… and so I opted for the most basic plan, which was mountain biking, hiking, hot springs, and a visit to Machu Picchu!! The company I used was called Aita Peru, the woman running it was amazing and thorough… tailoring the trip to the individual needs of every person (I highly recommend them as I shopped around a lot beforehand and was so happy with my decision). I couldn’t have asked for a more adventurous, inspiring, and motivating end to my journey through Peru.

The bike ride was by far the most adrenaline-junkie part of the trek. We got all geared up and then went barreling down a mountain road for two and a half hours. My heart would feel like it was going to explode every time I was passed by a bus or construction vehicle while making a hairline turn on one of the many switch backs. Starting up at 4,000 m above sea level where I had wished I put another layer on under the odd “biker” jacket we were supplied with, we ended the ride in the valley surrounded by lush jungle and I couldn’t wait to strip down to my tank top. The most amazing part for me (being more of a naturalist than a crazy thrill chaser), was the incredible change in foliage over the 2.5 hour ride… and being able to see the way the plants have adapted to a completely different environment all on the same mountain!

All geared up and getting instructions on how NOT to die...

All geared up and getting instructions on how to NOT die…

The following day we set out on the toughest hike, up and over a mountain. During the hike we stopped at the Monkey House, which was a working coffee plantation where tours can stop for a break and learn about cacao, coffee, and coca. We marched on after that delightful break, over rickety bridges, back and forth along insanely narrow switchbacks, and ended in the hot springs!

Our guide Junior giving us a lesson on jungle crops.

Our guide Junior giving us a lesson on jungle crops.

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Yucca, fresh coffee beans, jungle liquors, cacao beans, and purple corn!

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Beautiful Valley!

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That silver bunch of buildings by my elbow… yeah I came from somewhere near there that morning. BAMF-status!

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My companions for those glorious 5 days.

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You see that red speck in the center of the photo?? That’s a person…

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Rickety Bridges… not for the weak of heart!

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Nothing like a bucket pulley over a raging river.

The third day only two of us opted out of zip-lining in the morning, and so we were each other’s hiking buddies for the first 4 hours of the day. Our guide stayed with the other six and drew us a crude map that looked like something you would follow to get to Narnia… “You go down this ladder, around the mountain, over this bridge… there will be a guard then blink twice say my name and you’ll be there”… ok not quite that weird but pretty close. It’s a shame the other 6 people got to take a car for this section of the trip because that 4 hour hike was truly beautiful! After lunching all together, we finished the day with a 3 hour walk along the train tracks to finally reach the town of Aguas Calientes.

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Gorgeous bridge in the valley surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains.

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Beautiful waterfalls showered the mountainsides.

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This is the first time my friend and I came across another hiker during those 4 hours…   can you spot the stranger-danger?? LOL

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Train tracks to Machu Picchu.

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As I was grumbling about the pain in my legs… getting this shot made me remember how good it is to be on foot instead of rushing past in a train.

The next morning at 5am, I pretended that every inch of my body was NOT in pain, and I jumped out of my bed like it was Christmas! I headed to the line and waited my turn at the bottom of Machu Picchu to get my ticket checked. When you look up it seems to be a sheer cliff face, and you can’t possibly imagine how anyone… let alone little asthmatic me… could get to the top. Then I did it! I hiked up those nearly vertical 2,000 steps huffing and puffing, but I made it!!

Waiting in the line at 5:30am to get let across the bridge to begin the hike up.

Waiting in the line at 5:30am to get let across the bridge to begin the hike up.

Hiking up 2,000 steps, and as the sun began to rise... it was so obvious how it was worth every bit of pain in my aching body!

Hiking up 2,000 steps, and as the sun began to rise… it was so obvious how it was worth every bit of pain in my aching body!

Beautiful steps made by the Quechua people for the Incas to reach Machu Picchu.

Beautiful steps made by the Quechua people, during the time of the Inca empire.

Finally up at the top and through the gates Machu Picchu is still clouded by the morning mist.

Finally up at the top and through the gates, Machu Picchu is still clouded by the morning mist.

Amazing doorways that have lasted the test of time.

Amazing doorways that have lasted the test of time.

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Before we went off to explore on our own, we walked around for 2 hours with a guide who explained the history of this incredible site.

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In all its splendor!

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The only building with a rounded wall… believed to be a temple of the sun.

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It is thought that this was an architectural design to keep Machu Picchu from sliding off the top of the mountain, but another theory is that they were used for agriculture… and some say these terraces were for both.

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“Don’t touch the ruins!” Im not touching… I’m thinking!

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Breathtaking!

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Machu Picchu… The Land Of #Selfies

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On top of the WORLD.

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Don’t forget me! The llamas at the Machu Picchu site are actually there to maintain the grass!

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Channeling the essence of the Picchu… actually I was fixing my hair for the pic, but meditating makes it seem like I’m making a much cooler face!

This was one of the most incredible things I have done in my life. I made memories and friends I get to keep forever by going through the amazing tour group Aita Peru, but I still had that time I need when I visit a place to sit and be with just myself. I like to say that when I travel I never “sight-see”… I commune. Machu Picchu proved to be one of those incredible places where as I stand in awe, my soul expands to connect with the land and I am forever changed… elevated and never to be the same.

Happy place! Happy face!

Happy place! Happy face!

Travel Tip of The Day!

Nothing like waking up to the sunrise from the airport floor! I love to travel and fortunately enough for me I honestly don’t mind red-eye flights or layovers sleeping on airport seats. The way I can travel so cheaply has a lot to do with the dirt cheap flights I find that have the worst layovers possible. Not everyone feels the way I do, and often times for travelers, getting there is by far the hardest part. For all those that fear the airport floor, there are a few things I always bring that make my airport stay a bit more comfortable. When my layovers are short I try to bring nothing more than a small bag, but traveling around the world requires something more substantial. I typically pack one carry on, and the easiest is by far a small backpack. If you are a backpacker then your 10-20 liter daypack will work great. To make my comfy airport bed I bring an eye mask, ear plugs, a small sweater, another sweater I use as a pillow, a lite weight sarong just to cover the seat or floor, and a small blanket (mine is actually an airplane blanket I “collected” a while ago). A book and headphones are critical, and I always bring a change of clothes (thin fabric to save space) and my toothbrush so I can arrive in a new place not feeling like I’m covered in thousands of other people’s germs. One last thing I bring that I don’t think is on most people’s airport list is peppermint oil, rubbing some on your tummy helps with nausea on the plane not to mention it smells a lot better than stale airplane air! Before I head out I often check tripadvisor for the restaurant ratings in the international wing to make my decision of where to eat easier when I’m starving and my legs are wobbly from sitting for 7 hours. If you are ever in the Bogotá airport, Orleans- American Bistro is pretty tasty… but aside from Tabasco there is nothing there that reminds me of New Orleans, that said their chowder is incredible. They also play great movies (on mute), and awesome 90s music videos at a reasonable volume during the day… at night you might mistake it for an empty discoteca. I hope this helps make it a little easier on those that loath the overnight flight, if you really need to save some bucks go for that dirt cheap flight with terrible hours and make the best of it. Happy Traveling!!