About Me

My photo
Welcome My name is Tess. I'm a 9-5 New Yorker and traveler. My hobbies include destroying suitcases, photo-bombing tourists in Times Square, and taking long romantic ADHD walks around the globe. Welcome!

Jan 21, 2013

Dear East Africa - Safari Park and Hungry Lions

....Turns out that those rifles on the park rangers were not just "accessories," they mean to shoot sh*t out here!""

Cape Buffalo with his feathered companion.

Dear Kenya - Who lets people into a REAL safari park alone and in the dark?!

OK so we lied to park rangers to enter a national safari park full of wild animals who have free range over several thousand acres of land. But we had driven for two hours in a rented hunk of junk that smelled like a bag of armpits, and we were not about to turn back.

Therefore we had no one to blame when we found ourselves alone and surrounded by a pack of lions inside Nakuru National park waaaay after dark.

When your tongues is that long, you don't let anything go to waste

 Dear Nakuru - You treat people like animals! 

...but in a good way!  Like Nairobi National Park, Nakuru also allows visitors to tour the safari park in their own vehicles at their leisure. However when we arrived, the park had just closed.  After the long drive, there was no way we were heading back to Nairobi. So we devised a plan.

I pulled out my iPhone & googled lodging inside the park, while my friend, Moshi, explained the situation to park rangers, I texted my findings and within 20 minutes, we convinced rangers that we had reservations at Sarova Lion Hill Lodge or The Lake Nakuru Lodge.
 After reviewing our documents & collecting our fees the head ranger told us, "Whatever you do, stay on the main path."

Many of the baboons came close to the roadside
out of a mutual curiousity. Some hopped onto the car hoping for a treat or possibly to mangle us to death.  Don't be fooled. These darn things are deadly and have been known to shred lions to pieces!

The sun had set  and a shroud of darkness fell upon the entire park. The car headlights could barely cut two feet into the thick brush on either side of the main road.  Could anyone save us if something went wrong?
There were no lamp posts, no concession stands or rangers patrolling the park after hours.  To the animals, unaccompanied tourists cruising in the dark are idiots "meals on wheels," and you are never, ever, ever, supposed to exit your vehicle.

Morning at the watering hole

Dear Nakuru - The yellow brick road is filled with maneaters!

We had no idea that the park covered over 116sq. miles (guess I should have Googled that) but we did know that at 10 miles per hour, this was the longest drive in the dark ever! As we crept along the grovel road, I could hardly contain my excitement. Had they really just allowed us to enter a park full of man-eaters after hours AND in the dark AND un-accompanied at that? Of course I was hoping to see some action. But I was not ready....

They are huge, dangerous, scary and vegans

The first flicker of light came from the bushes.
Me: Is that an eye in the bush?"
Moshi:. "No it looks like a bicycle reflector,"

Clearly he was more scared than I to think that someone would be peddling through a safari park on a shwinn cruiser in the damn dark. Then suddenly, as if on cue, a massive Cape buffalo broke through the dark and rushed across the road  disappearing into the brush.  Had we been driving any faster, there would have been carnage! But what the heck spooked a 2000lb buffalo?  

This Thompson's Gazelle was on to my paparazzi act.  There is typically one stud with a harem of females.
This holds true for zebras and other game animals. Bachelor males hang out in packs waiting for their turn to....knock boots with ladies.

Dear Nakuru - So what you mean is, this is like, a REAL safari Park?

We were 3 miles in, and trying like hell to stick to the main road. I rolled down the window to read direction posts, trying to find the first lodge. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. I cracked open a brand X beer and kept my eyes peeled. That's when I saw it.

   "Is that a body in the road?"

 As the car crept closer the high beams revealed the hind parts of a male lion walking casually in the middle of the road. He turned back, gazed into the headlights,  licked his chops and kept his stride. I fumbled for my camera and as the  flash went off, the lion dashed into the bush. Still in awe I would've been satisfied if that had been our last animal sighting... but it wasn't.

Egyptian Herons practicing for the Lake Nakuru talent show.
 This was one area where you're allowed to exit your car and walk about. but being in flip flops surrounded by 3 inches of bird poop and mud - that ain't gangsta

Dear Lake Nakuru - The truth hurts, especially when you lie!
After several more miles we found Sarova Lion Hill Lodge. We passed a Maasai tribe performing a tribal dance for the guests and headed for the front desk. We told the receptionist that we had a reservation booked from several months ago. "We are completely full, we have no availability." she said, without even opening the reservation book. "You cannot have a reservation here."
She was harsh, she was stern, but most of all - she was absolutely right. We got back on the road.

A young safari goer is shown the terrain by his doting dad.
In Swahili POA means "I'm cool"
In response to the question of "Mambo"which means "What's up?"

Dear Lake Nakuru - I think I just peed on myself...just a little:

We crawled along Simba Road looking for light or any sign of civilization. We were getting anxious and started to believe we were lost.

 "Jezus is that another lion?!"
The high beams hit the back of a lioness walking in the middle of the road.  She looked back into the head lights and then plopped down in front of the car. The road was too narrow to go around her without running into the bush. Then, I heard a low  roar. It sounded like a lion hacking up a hair ball.

I turned to my window and was greeted by a full-maned male lion walking alongside our car; a  female followed closely behind. As I tried despreately to close my window, two more lions leaped across the path in front of our car while the lion sitting in the path didn't budge a muscle.

Was this really happening? Were we were caught in a hunting pattern and surrounded by the entire f*ckng cast of The Lion King?? We revved the car engine and tried to trip the car alarm.... This never happens on T.V. and then the random thoughts began.....
  • How's my family supposed to explain that I was mauled and eaten by Mufasa in Africa?
  • I cannot believe they let us drive into a friggin safari park after dark, and alone!!
  • This only happens to white people
  • Was this no-frills beer and rice cakes gonna be my last meal?
  • Do my bra and underwear match?

I'm scared, certain I've just lost control of my bodily functions and I'm about to run wheels on Simba's mom, yo!

Lake Nakuru  Lodge

Once we arrived at Lake Nakuru Lodge
. Another park ranger brought us to the reception desk where we were warmly greeted.

"Hello Diane, we are so glad you could make it. We have been waiting for you."

< I had no idea who Diane was but once I realized she had a reservation I quickly assumed her identity >
"The rangers told us told that you were on your way. We didn't think you were coming." We grabbed cups of fresh fruit juice from the tray they presented. "Your room will be ready shortly we just need your passport information."
<<<I realized I would be heading back to the lion pit & gulped down a second cup of fruit juice>>>

Dear Nakuru - Saved by the race card? In Africa?

Inside the Zebra suite.

 The jig was up!  I was not the supposed guest. "I'm sorry we have no availability," said the receptionist. We spent 20 minutes insisting they had somehow lost our reservation. After several side conversations (in Swahili) between staff members, we knew we had a situation. Then the safari guide that greeted us at the gate jumped in and began talking.

 Gumba -  the safari guide who
ensured that I had a warm bed inside the lodge
He was generously tipped for his quick thinking
 * "Come on you guys, give them the room. It is late and also obvious that the other guest is not coming." You are going to send them back into the park at this time of night? It is not right. If they were white people surely you would've have accommodated them."

And Boom.....15 minutes later, we ended up in the Zebra suite... and how sweet it was.
What did you expect?
I mean c'mon who doesn't have a cell phone nowadays!

After a tasty buffet and a double dose of rum & coke, The staff members advised that we retire early to prepare for our 5a.m safari adventure. We obliged, although clearly we had already had all the adventure we could stand for one night!

Being hunted does wonders for your confidence.

 Now, when I'm in an uncomfortable situation I repeat these words to myself, " You been surrounded by lions, son! You culda died being ripped to shreds by an effing pride. This sh*t right here, this is nothin'!  I am man-eater-flee-er.
Shake it off and man up tha f*ck up!!!"

Aksante sana, sana, Nakuru!!!
  and thanks also to simba and his effing clan!
Entrance to the Lodge - The lodge accomodates 163 persons at a time

Zebra making way for our vehicle. They are skittish and will stampede in seconds

Nakuru Lake where hundreds of thousands of flamingo's flock to annually.

Jan 14, 2013

Cartagena - Dear Colombia

At first I was like, " why is he all in my Kodak moment?!"
 Then he let go of the flag and I realized my ungrateful a$$ would've been launched into the horizon if he hadn't.
Thanks random stranger who helped me escape death by flag!

Yup I did it again. Short changed everyone on my gift list so that I could get on a plane and split during the holidays. And this time there are no apologies. I bought you all back liquor, coffee and candy - and myself ( and that's given the country's reputation) so we're basically even.

Typical Cartagena style home. Balconies are revered around here.  From a balcony you can people-watch
with friends over beer and cigarettes.

Surprised? Don't be. By now you should know my Modus Operandi. Pick a place where I don't belong and and have the time of my life an educational experience and share it with you.   So enough about  2012 grudges, let's get to it - shall we?

...Cue the Damn pics

Dear Colombia - Where are the cocaine cowboys you promised?

Me: Hey baby I'm digging your tribal markings can i hold your spear.
Him:  Hey sweetness come here let me whisper sweet tribal nothings in your ear.

No but seriously, These two represent why, historically, Cartagenians look more black than anything else.The Afro-Colombian population has its roots in many West African countries like Mali, Guinea Bissau, & Sierra Leone.  For more info, visit The National Museum of Colombia.

Despite every negative, death provoking thing folks had to say about visiting Colombia, I strapped on my backpack and hopped on that plane. Thanks Jet Blue for having dirt cheap, direct flights that screamed "Get on the gahtdamn plane!" And thank you Colombia for returning me unscathed, completely sun-drenched and with many, many memories!

Unfortunately though kids, I didn't do anything fun like getting kidnapped by a drug cartel, to count cocaine bricks, butt-naked, in the jungle. Nonetheless, I had a great time. 

Dear Cartagena - You're far more than the drug riddled reputation that proceeds you?!


Belgian sociologist Pierre van den Berghe described Cartagena as “perhaps the most African city in the Spanish Americas.” in his autobiography "Stranger in Their Midst"

As a matter of fact, you were once one of the most desirable coastal cities in the Caribbean because of your rich history - literally and figuratively speaking. Cartagena de Indias was established as a Spanish colony in the 16th century. And because of Cartagena's geographic positioning, it was also a targeted port for the African Slave trade and numerous battles. Which explains a few things.

Dear Cartagena - You put the "L" in Lock down!

Now the site of the popular Cafe Del Mar and known as the best place to grab a beer and see the Cartagena sunset.
This portion of the fortress was heavily manned with cannons, arms, a bunker and a prison 

Nothing says "back the hell off my island" quite like a cannonball in your a$$ and a statue?

It's gotta be tough being famous for violent drug trafficking organizations, but Colombia was thugging, long before the drug trade.  Did you know that Cartagena is a UNESCO world heritage site, because of it's "Walled City?" 

Yup under Spanish rule, a  seven mile fortress was erected around the city complete with cannons and manned by military force, to keep out pirates and pillagers trying to stick Cartagena for their paper.  I mean the Spaniards stashed so much loot in Cartagena, that the wall was rebuilt several times due to numerous attacks by the French and English.....  But they didn't stop there.

Idiot savant in the tunnels

They also built  Castillo San Felipe de Barajas,  another artillery armed fortress to stash their riches and wipe out intruders ransacking the island. Inside this massive fortress is a maze of dark, narrow tunnels that yours truly ran through like a refugee.

By the time I found my way out I was sweating bullets and scared to death. I was later told that only few people have the courage to follow the tunnels to the furthest point. And only idiots do it alone.  I guess I win twice!  

The massive scale of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a clear indication that they were not playing games
 when it came to protecting the city

Dear Colombia - Pass the dutchie pon de lefthand side!  Damn I love your street meat.

Camerones, Carne, Pollo guisado, Sancoche, and no matter what Caribbean country you visit, that burnt rice on the bottom of the pot is a delicacy and goes by many names. Don't believe me? Ask any coconut Caribbean person. 

What magical brujeria do you put in the food?  I love it like a fat kid loves cake! You are a city of pure carnivores! Finding a Carniceria (butcher's market) in Cartagena is like finding porn on 8th ave in Manhattan.  After 10pm I could be found lurking in the streets exchanging pesos for miscellaneous food packages from street vendors.

Colombians cook in a style similar to many Caribbean Islands, also using many of the same staple foods (yucca, yam, plaintains etc..) soaked in and seasoned with a blend of flavors that got me off every time. Come to think of it, eating Colombian food is pretty similar to watching porn..I'll stop there. 

I knew I had a problem when I awoke each morning excited about what I was going to put in my mouth. Scandelous!

 So when a food truck rolled up around the corner from my hotel I was on it! Corn Arepas filled with eggs, cheese and ham with a beverage called Avena. Five minutes and $2 later,  I was belly full and back in stride. Later I hopped on motorbike across town to the local outdoor market "El Mercado" on the edge of town and proceeded to stuff my face with whatever yummy goodness was in those pots .

When you visit the Cartagena, be sure to ask for the Bandeja Paisa - the traditional dish.

Dear Colombia - Pink vodka and cow eyes - lunch is served?

Hey, if you season and stir-fry them pupils,  I'll eat those too!
Go ahead,  judge me,  but I'm sure some of you have put far worse things in your mouth... I'm jus sayin
El Mercado is one stop shopping.  Here you'll find everything from exotic local foods to sneakers and cigarettes. They also sold bottles of pink NUVO? - you know, in case you want to get drunk off of pink vodka, right before buying chickens gizzards and cow hooves?!  

Once I entered the carnecieria inside El Mercado the sweet smell of unidentifiable dishes turned into this (points below) I was intrigued however I quickly lit a cigarette to get the smell out of my stomach! But hey, it's gotta start somewhere before it makes it to my mouth - the food I mean!
Nothing goes to waste. And I know I ate these hooves, I just can't recall when and where! Probably after i drank the NUVO

Dear Colombia - I took a dirt bath in Volcano Totumo,  and you know what?  It didn't suck!

Mud bath with lunch of fresh fish = $30
Tips for the people who took photos & bathed the mud off of me =$6
That awkward moment when you look at your photos and realize that the biggest boobs in the
photo belong to a man = priceless

Then my ADHD kicked in, and I immediately wanted to mud wrestle the guy with the man boobs! What was it like being submersed in mud? It was pretty much the complete opposite of my Turkish bath in Istanbul .

I wasn't  freaked out by the fact that we were completely buoyant and had quite a time trying to balance ourselves in the mud. Nor was it the fact that there was mud smeared all in my honey pot (read: va-jay jay).

It wasn't even about the couple behind me, who (oddly) began to rub mud on me? (feeling on my tender cocoa morsels)  But I think it was the camaraderie of it all. Yea, something about taking a dirt bath with 20+ strangers brought us together in a way that I never want to experience outside of that mud hole.

Los jovens de Isla Boquilla.
Camera shy? I asked them to smile, instead they posed for A Rockawear ad.
 My little paisanos, seen above, were introduced to iPhone video making. And they knocked it out the box!
check out their video below

Dear Colombia - Who orders drinks at the bar? Pshh - they just buy the whole damn bottle!

Restaurants that you will want to try when visiting Cartagena are;
Kreyolle - traditional dishes prepared in a fine dining style with delicious sangrias
La Mulatta - trust me when I say Mm mmm mmm    

Considering Obama's secret service men went balls-to-the-wall in this city, of course I too had to find out what Cartagena's nightlife was like. So my local cutie took me out for date night and it did not disappoint! The Getsemani area is the perfect place to introduce visitors to Champeta.  Unofficially, Champeta is what you do all-night-long under the influence of Colombian rum and an amazing band! Officially, Champeta, along with Vallenato and Cumbia,  is "La musica de la tierra Cartagena," and is rooted in Cartagena's strong Afro roots. The sound and accompanying dance is kinda what happens when African-rumba, Salsa and Calypso get together for a Ménage à trois.  Four hours and a bucket of sweat later, there are empty bottles of rum everywhere, and somebody might be pregnant. Splendid I tell you!

Comandeered by captain Elias  (red &wht shirt) we headed to the island of Boquilla
about  a 20 minute canoe ride from the popular Boquilla beach.

Eventually the band leaves, and you realized that you just danced for 4 hours straight. Then at three in the morning, you stumble out into the warm, tropical air & sober up during a walk to the park. You sit on a bench to "make nice" and soon enough the moon aligns with the stars,  you pull in close to each other, he says something perfect and leans in for a kiss ....then suddenly you here this...
"Tess! Holy sh*t that's Tess!"

Just beyond the Puerta del Reloj entrance.
The "Tinto man" walks around city with hot coffee and cups in tow. He also has cigarettes for sell.
This is a profitable hustle - I'll be putting this on my list of gigs I could do if this shit hits the fan in America 

Immediately, your date stares at you with accusing eyes, as you look around in bewilderment, trying to figure out who tha' fugg just screamed out your name at 3 in the morning?!  Soon you realize, that of the drunk dudes approaching, one of them is another tourist you met, in passing, the day before (coincidentally a cock-blocking *ss New Yorker?!) . And at that moment you wished that a cocaine cowboy would appear and wipe this douche dude off the face of the fugging earth.  Ok, now where were we?

Dear Colombia - Cat calling is so much more romantic here.

La reina, morena hermosa, la morena de mi suenos..... and that was just from the fruit guy!
Some say that the Colombian accent is the most beautiful of all Latin speaking countries, which is really helpful considering how expressive they are.
Not aggressive, but they are certainly not shy. (sin verguenza) and extremely healthy for one's self-esteem.  Cartagena, if this is how you Holla at women in the street, then the "pillow talk"  in this town must be crazy.  Which leads me to my next point.....

Dear Colombia - Never trust a big butt and a smile....  

I swear it must me something in the water around here.
In the famous words of  Bell Biv Devoe - You'll fall in love and you'll be screaming demon - Woo!

...Or you could end up losing yourself in the jaw-dropping beauty of these people. Just ask President Obama's secret service men. But in their defense, Cartagenians are ridiculously gorgeous people. I mean on a scale of 1-10 the average person (women especially) is a 7.5 - and that's on bad day.
I mean these people look like they bath in sunshine and rainbows, pick their teeth with unicorn horns and sprinkle stardust on their skin. Sure this sounds like overkill, however, I can easily see how a man  accidentally wanders over to an ATM machine with a "Lady of the evening," not that I saw that happen... several times.

So I overheard Colombian Pharrell Williams and his friend discussing that, it is very dangerous to fall in love with someone who doesn't speak your language. Really?
And here I was thinking that  it saved you from having useless arguments? 

Dear Colombia - The streets is talking @ La Ventana Denuncia. 

Cartagena was not the place to piss people off during the Inquisition days.  They believed in persecution and death to anyone who practiced brujeria (witchcraft).... even if they couldn't actually prove it.  You need only be suspected or accused  by a disgruntled neighbor,  a jilted lover, or somebody  you owe $20 to.   If they slid a note past that window, then you could be next in line for a tortuous death.

It just wasn't safe for a single girl back then. Let too many married eyes linger on you in your pum-pum shorts and their wives would have your ass burned at the stake! Which makes me wonder if this had anything to do with the amount of convents in Cartagena. Chances are, it was probably safer to be a nun than a floosie.

Dear Colombia - You forced me into language submission - Espanol solamente!

Cartagena taught me that we so often take language skills for granted.  As much of a tourist hub as Cartagena is, English isn't as widely used as you might think. So, brush up on your Spanish or download a translation app for your smart phones. You can thank me later. Also utilize the GPS map on your phone because every corner in Cartagena looks similar to the next and asking for directions ain't easy if you don't speak the language. Now kids, pack you bags and get the fugg outta dodge for 2013...because you know I will! 

Dear Colombia - You had me at hello hola

 I drank your rum, canoed through your mangroves, did your nightlife, made some international connections and really came to love your city. I cannot see any reason not to return.  The people are as warm as the weather, and still there is so much more to see in cities like Cali, Santa Marta as well as others. My dollars stretched along with my affection for this island paradise with a sordid past and extremely bright future.

Henry tells us why you need to come see his city!
What are you waiting for?