Do you know what the word compassion means? We throw it around often.. but do you really know what it is?
Showing compassion for someone or something is literally showing your humanity for them, loving them and caring for them like we all should be doing anyway!
Today is World Compassion Day, which was started to help make changes towards how all creatures big and small are treated on this planet.
The first WCD was on November 28, 2012, and according to Wikipedia:
The first WCD was held in Mumbai, India in the presence of the 14th Dalai Lama on 28 November 2012. It focused on the need for compassion towards animals and all living things on this planet. It brought to India, Humane Society International, an organization that works in the area of animal welfare.
What an incredible way to maintain kindness towards all the creatures existing on this planet with us!
How to Show Your Own Compassion
In honor of World Compassion Day, and how much I love all the creatures of the earth, I wanted to give you guys some options as to how you can help! Here are some conservation, preservation, and support organization geared specifically towards animals!
The Ellen Degeneres WildLife Fund
Click here to head to the website to check it out fully, and to donate to this wonderful cause to help save the gorillas!
Here is the mission statement as stated on the website homepage:
The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund was established to support global conservation efforts for critically endangered species. Building a permanent home for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is the first initiative of the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund. This project will permanently secure the future of wild gorillas in Rwanda by building on successful field conservation efforts, while empowering the people living near the gorillas to thrive in relationship to their own ecosystem.
In 1967, Dr. Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Virunga mountains to protect and study the endangered mountain gorillas. Although Fossey’s life was cut short, her work lives on in the people and programs of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and its continuing conservation success story.
World Wide Fund For Nature
Click here to check out their website, and to donate by adopting an animal!
From their website:
Support WWF’s global efforts to protect wild animals and their habitats with a symbolic species adoption.
Click here to read more about their conservation efforts in our oceans around the world!
From their homepage:
Today, Project AWARE is a global movement for ocean protection powered by a community of adventurers. We connect the passion for ocean adventure with the purpose of marine conservation to create lasting change.
Supported by this growing movement, we envision a world where the ocean doesn’t need protecting. Our local actions collectively protect the most vulnerable marine species and decrease pollution. We work together for a clean, healthy ocean – and we have fun doing it! Join the adventure!
Wildlife Conservation Society
Click here to donate and help conserve habitats around the globe that are threatened!
From their website stating their mission:
WCS’s goal is to conserve the world’s largest wild places in 16 priority regions, home to more than 50% of the world’s biodiversity.
This is outlined in our 2020 strategy, which positions WCS to maintain its historic focus on the protection of species while developing an ambitious plan to engage with a rapidly changing world.
The challenges are greater than ever, but with the focus, dedication, and passion of a committed staff—combined with a unique mixture of field, zoo, and aquarium expertise—WCS will continue to set the bar for science, conservation action, and education that has driven our success in protecting wildlife and wild places for over a century. We hold ourselves to the highest standards, adhering to core values of respect, accountability and transparency, innovation, diversity and inclusion, collaboration, and integrity.
The Humane Society of the United States
Click here to donate and help save all local animals in shelters as well as wild animals living around you!
Their mission statement to help animals:
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s most effective animal protection organization. With you by our side, we take on the big fights to end suffering for all animals.
Save the Animals
At the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing: compassion. We each need to do our part to love one another to make this world a better place: human to human, and human to animal too.
We are all co-existing on this planet, so why not make it a better place for all of us to be in? Love makes everything bearable, and better. So show some love today for those creatures who need our help!
Waking up under the large mosquito net on our king size bed that Heather and I shared, I rolled over and could see the sun poking through the closed curtains from our balcony. I got up and opened them, letting the full views pour into our room.
This spot in the city of Kibuye at The Cormoran Lodge, overlooking Lake Kivu, was one of the most beautiful places ever! We woke up quite early (not by our own decision) because Steve and SueAnne were talking pretty loudly out on their balcony below us around 6 am, but with a view like that I couldn’t really complain.
After breakfast in the resort restaurant again, our group split up: Steve, SueAnne, and Anne headed into the nearby town to do some shopping. Heather, Poppa, and myself walked down to the dock to catch a boat with Mr. Kirenga.
Our destination was: Napoleon Island, so named because of how it’s shape resembles the hat Napoleon famously wore.
The motor boat was small, with a roof overhead, and could fit about 8 people. Our driver was a cute local triathlete named Ken. Hoping to see him in the Olympics someday!
The ride to the island was so great, stopping first to see some local fisherman unpacking their boats from a long night of fishing on the lake.
Then turning out towards the open water, we passed some other resorts currently under construction on a nearby hill, and a gigantic private home which is apparently owned by a man from Germany, and houses the king when he comes to Lake Kivu. It was pretty impressive.
We stopped at a small island covered densely in trees, when we saw a cute little furry face pop up from a branch. It was an adorable Vervet Monkey, and as we came closer he also came closer. When we reached the shore he hopped right onto our boat and checked us out.
According to Ken, he is notorious for visiting the tourists on the boats because he is hoping to get some treats. He walked around the boat, looking into all of our eyes hoping we would feed him. He sat patiently for a moment or two, and then when he realized we had nothing for him he left looking very disappointed, and watched us pull away from the trees.
As we got closer to Napoleon Island, Ken told us about a local farmer who brings his cows to the island everyday to graze. The amazing part though, is he ties them to the back of the boat and they swim behind it! I had no idea cows swam!! Plus they were really cute cows 🙂
Ken led us up the hiking path, which would bring us to the real reason we came to the island: the fruit bats!! The hike was pretty steep and rocky, but it only took us a few minutes to reach the bats.
But don’t worry, you can hear them the minute you get on the island, because there are over 5 million fruit bats living there!
Once we reach a good enough spot, Ken started clapping his hands and ALLLLLL the bats woke up and started screeching and flying around. It was incredible!
After watching them for awhile we hiked back down to the boat. I ended up slipping once and fell right on the edge of a rock, which bruised my lower back pretty good. Poppa also ended up falling too! Heather and I were pretty sad we couldn’t prevent him from falling, but he assured us that he was just fine!
Going back to the lodge, we ate some lunch and then all went to take some nice long naps. Heather and I then decided to put on our swim suits and go down the the little sandy beach area and enjoy the sunshine. We didn’t dare swim in the lake though, because Poppa scared us pretty good about the parasites in the water that will get into your skin and cause itchy uncomfortable bumps, kind of similar to swimmers itch.
Everyone eventually joined us down by the water, except for SueAnne who went and took a late nap. The others decided to all go kayaking, so Heather and I watched them from the shore on our lounge chairs.
We met a few girls who were also staying there, who all work for the UN and are stationed in the Congo. I was so inspired by them and their work, and their passion to help those in the Congo.
Later after dinner, when everyone else had gone to bed – Heather, Poppa, and me talked for awhile just the three of us. We talked very intimately about our birth mom Sherri (Poppa’s oldest child) and when we were conceived and then put up for adoption. I had never heard the story from Poppa’s point of view, and it was such a tender and wonderful moment to have with him and Heather. I will forever be grateful for Sherri and her ability to make the best decision for us at the time, which was to put us up for adoption. She and her entire family hoped that one day we would return to find them, and when we did 4 years ago it was such a magical moment I will never forget. The Hales are just another extension of my family now, and I feel so blessed to have all of them in my life again.
June 16 Back to Kigali
The next morning we left the beautiful lodge on the lake to head back to Kigali. We stopped first at the local market to SueAnne and Anne could pick up their dresses they had made by one of the seamstresses. Their dresses were cute!
While in that market, a younger boy, in his 20’s I think, tried to pick pocket me. I noticed immediately, and he was not successful. I just smiled at him and walked away. It was so funny because I wasn’t angry at all, I honestly felt sorry for him that he felt the need to steal from me. I wished I could have just given him some money, but I didn’t want to start pandemonium with all the little kids who were following us “mizungus” around (white people).
About an hour into our ride home several of us needed to pee, so we pulled off into a small village. We each took turns running into the awful, dirty toilet room; held our breath and peed as quickly as possible over the open hole on the ground.
Walking back to our car, a very handsome local man named Iman started talking to Heather and Anne, and offered to show us the market located just above the bathroom on the hill. We said “YOLO” and followed him, because we wanted to experience a local market without any touristy items.
We were definitely the spectacle in that market! Everyone stared at us immediately, and then wanted us to come look at their goods! Iman kept talking to everyone in Kinyarwanda and we were pretty sure several times he was making jokes about us because they kept laughing at us! But it was all in good spirits so we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves too.
SueAnne ended up buying 2 drums covered in spotted goat skin. When she started drumming on them with her hands an elderly Rwandan lady got quite a kick out of it, and laughed so hard at her! We honestly must have seemed so strange and out of place to them!
The drive back to Kigali was beautiful, passing by many villages, seeing so many hills, and a gorgeous waterfall.
We also made a brief stop to see the famous Hotel Rwanda once we got back to Kigali. Now, it’s actually called Hotel des Mille Collines and has been renovated since the genocide in the 90s.
The manager of the hotel during the 90’s, Paul Rusesabagina, helped hide and save over 1000 Tutsi refugee lives. Although now it is just a renovated hotel, it was still important for us to go there and see it.
If you’ve never read or learned about the genocide in Rwanda, do yourself and favor and study it. Just like the holocaust, and any other genocide that has occurred, it is important to educate ourselves about it so that we never forget and change history from ever repeating itself.
We checked back into The Flame Tree Hotel around 2 pm, and decided to go meet by the pool for a swim with Poppa because it was incredibly hot and humid outside.
However, the pool was ice cold! Poppa was the bravest of us, and went all the way under and swam two laps. I couldn’t bear to go past my waist!
Since Poppa had been the bravest we decided he had earned himself some Fanta Fiestas! He was pretty disappointed when they said they were sold out and only had Fanta Lemon, so he settled for those instead.
We all ordered soup for dinner and called it an early night.
June 17th Kigali
This day was a Sunday, so we decided to go check out the local LDS Church. According to Poppa; the current President of Rwanda, Kagame, had abolished all practicing religions from taking place. This was because there had been many different “pastors” and “bishops” who had come in after the genocide to start new congregations, and took these people’s money and disappeared. As if the Rwandan people hadn’t been through enough! In order to control his people no longer being taken advantage of, Kagame just abolished all publicly practiced religions.
So, in order to continue meeting every church had to abandon their original churches and worship houses, and find other places to do so in secrecy.
For the LDS congregation, they were sharing a space to meet inside a local hotel’s conference room with 2 other Christian churches. However, every month or so they had to change locations so the government wouldn’t shut them down again. These people are faithful to keep moving around just so they can worship together!
The meeting we attended was interesting, but so full of love and kindness. The members of the congregation were welcoming and friendly, and almost all of them made an effort to come say hello to us! I myself was pretty obsessed with this little girl who was sitting on the same row as us, with a matching dress and headscarf just like her mama! She was too shy though and wouldn’t come see me or Heather, much to our dismay.
Leaving church, we went to a few markets. There was not much else to do in Kigali that day, so we thought we might as well shop!
We stopped first at a smaller market, but it was where we ended up all buying things. Each little “store” basically had the same items, but with small variations. I was very picky with what I wanted to buy and lug all the way back on the long flights, so eventually I decided on a cute basket that I would hang over my bed at home.
We went to another market, this one specializing in fabrics and seamstresses. It was an absolute MADHOUSE. It was inside a giant warehouse, and literally from the floor to the ceiling, each small “store” was covered with all different bright patterns and colors. The vendors were almost ravenous to have you come buy from them, pulling you in all directions to come see their stuff.
Immediately I felt overwhelmed with anxiety, feeling so closed in on all sides. While SueAnne became engulfed in a sea of vendors, Heather and I broke off from the crowd and went into a less enclosed aisle. I ended up buying a cute head band from a local vendor named Tom, who Poppa also bought a cute pair of pants from for Dianne back home.
Figuring the Alders would take awhile, Heather Poppa and I went back to the hotel since Poppa needed to connect with one of the local residents at the Kigali Hospital where he would be working the next week. We ordered some grilled cheeses and Poppa shared some fun medical stories from all of his career in the international infectious disease medical world, while we waited for the resident to show up. Unfortunately for us, it is normal for Rwandans to add mayonnaise to grilled cheese, so I was worried we would become sick from it. (Spoiler Alert: none of us did!)
Leonardo the resident finally showed up, and Poppa gave him the laptop and cords he had brought for him from Utah. He seemed in awe of Poppa, and was so honored to be working with him. Poppa is just amazing!
Then we helped Poppa pack his things into a taxi, and headed down the street to the MTM building to get some money from an ATM machine, and get some ice cream. Because if there’s one thing you need to know about my Poppa, it’s that he loooooves his ice cream!
It was delicious! We all chose chocolate.
Dropping us back off at Flame Tree, we said our goodbyes to Poppa. He would be heading to his fancy hotel by the hospital, where he would be working with the residents for the next week.
I knew I would miss him on our next adventures heading to Akagera National Park, and then to the volcanoes to see the gorillas, but I was so excited for what lay ahead for us!
Looking back on our incredible trip to Rwanda, it sometimes feels like a dream that we even went and experienced what we did!
My heart is so full and grateful for what we saw there – and I am forever changed because of it too. Not to sound too cheesy, but this was a place and an experience that changed my life for the better.
June 9, 2018
Heather and I decided to drive ourselves to the airport, since all the Uber drivers close by were charging a ridiculous $75 rate. With that type of payment, we decided we might as well park at the airport ourselves since it would cost us about the same in the end.
We met up with our biological grandfather Devon, or Poppa as we call him, and met our fellow travelers – Steve and SueAnne Alder (very close and dear friends of Poppa and our grandma Dianne) and their daughter Anne.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the Alder’s would become some of my favorite people on the planet, and I think some lifelong adventure friends!
We boarded our flight which was departing at 10:45 pm. I was feeling a little nervous since Heather and I were not able to sit by each other on this leg to JFK, and it didn’t make me feel any better when we took off and flew through some of the worst turbulence I’ve experienced on a flight! The poor Japanese couple sitting next to me probably heard about 20 straight minutes of unadulterated swearing that would make even the most weathered sailor blush.
Needless to say, we made it in one piece. We landed at JfK at 6 am, had a 3 hour layover, and then boarded our next flight on Qatar Airlines. The flight was 12 hours to Qatar, but it was one of the nicest planes I’ve been on! Even in coach the seats were large, had spacious leg room, nice tv’s with thousands of things to watch or listen to, and more food than I could eat.
I did sleep for most of the flight, thanks to my Xanax. But somewhere along the way my eyes swelled horribly from my eyelash extensions I had done the day before. I seriously looked like an alien, and I frightened the flight attendant to the point where she brought me bags of ice constantly to bring down the swelling.
We landed in Doha, Qatar in one the most luxurious airports ever! Apparently it’s the 5th largest in the world! We had a brief 1 hour layover, and then re-boarded and landed 5 hours later in Entebbe, Uganda. We were almost there!
Customs was a breeze, and the visas were cheaper than we had originally thought ($30 instead of $50.)
We hailed 2 taxi vans, and headed to our first hotel in the city. Our drive through the streets was so eye opening! I loved the energy of the people, the modernness of the buildings against deep rooted culture; there were amazing people everywhere in bright African patterned clothing carrying enormous items on their heads, lots of traffic of cars and Moto taxis, and sweet babies wrapped in cloth on their mother’s backs! It was wonderful, I couldn’t wait to see more.
We arrived at Flame Tree, and were pleasantly surprised with how nice it was! I honestly had no idea what to expect with anywhere we stayed, but the entire hotel grounds was beautifully decorated and landscaped, and each room was a private town home with 2 floors, a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and wonderful AC (it was so humid!).
Heather and I took a brief nap, then showered off from all the traveling. It was one of the those showers that just rejuvenates you (even though Heather’s shower was ice cold!)
We met up with the group for dinner in the dining hall. I ordered vegetable soup and some bread because I was worried about trying anything too risky just yet. It ended up looking like pureed baby food, but honestly was so delicious! Poppa ordered pizza and I also stole a small slice.
And the bread… can we talk about the bread in Rwanda?! It is to diiiiieeee for! The Belgians colonized Rwanda in the 20’s and they must have shared their bread making skills with the Rwandan people or something!
We went to bed around 9 PM. And when I say went to bed, I literally think I passed out as soon as I laid down!
June 12, 2018
The Drive to Butare
We woke up early the next morning around 7 to eat and then meet up with our tour guide for the trip Mr. Kirenga, who would be driving us that day to Butare. I highly enjoyed my oatmeal with cane sugar, as well as some deliciously smooth hot chocolate.
Mr. Kirenga has known my grandparents for several years, since they used to live in Rwanda and went on many expeditions through his tourist and birding company. He seemed like a very nice man, and we packed all of us and our bags into his giant 8-person Land Rover safari jeep, which he had rebuilt from the 1970’s.
We were so excited to start our journey!
The drive south to Butare took about 3 1/2 hours, and took us through some beautiful country roads and villages. Rwanda is called the land of 1000 hills, and I could definitely see why with all of the rolling green hills.
Seeing first-hand how these people live in pretty poor conditions was a bit disheartening, yet they were some of the kindest and happiest people! We felt like celebrities, because we stuck out like sore thumbs there and everyone would smile and wave at us as we drove past.
The children started shouting, “Mizungu” at us. We asked Mr. Kirenga what it meant, and he said it means “white person.”
The King’s Palace
Poppa insisted we make a brief stop on the way to Butare, at The King’s Palace. We walked through the reproductions of what these incredible huts used to look like, finding the customs very fascinating. They were also incredibly smart about the way they built and designed the huts!
While the King’s Palace was cool, I was way more excited to see the King’s cows!
Their horns are MASSIVE!! I wondered how in the world they held their heads up! But they were such sweet docile creatures, and they have the cutest faces! The handler walked around with this sage smudge stick to ward off the pesky flies from their faces. He also sang to them, which whenever he would sing they would all stop what they were doing and walk towards him. It was so cool!
We arrived in Butare, which is one of the largest cities in Rwanda with the largest University. It was very busy!
We ate at the famous ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ that Poppa loved when he and Dianne lived there. They lived in Butare in 2014-2015. Our eyes were larger than our stomachs, and we ended up ordering most of the items on the menu! It was delicious but we couldn’t finish it all.
Heather had the great idea that we box up the leftovers and she gave them to a woman who was begging by the gates of the restaurant with a small child on her back. She didn’t speak any English, but we could understand her gratitude as she kept patting her hand over her heart and had tears in her eyes.
As we walked towards the local market, there was another woman who was literally crawling on her hands and knees because her feet were crippled and she could not walk on them. The image of her crawling through the crowds will forever break my heart.
The market was insane! And clearly they were not used to having Mizungus there! Also, I had shorts on (almost to my knees) and apparently they are not used to seeing that much skin either because everyone stared blatantly at my bare legs!
People sold everything there; utensils, fabric, food, furniture, toilets, clothes, and jewelry. One merchant pulled Poppa aside and said, “Hey Poppa! I have something for you!” and pointed to some extravagantly designed boxer briefs. We had a good laugh about it.
The Drive to Nyungwe Forest
Light was fading, so we needed to head towards Nyungwe Forest where we would stay the next 2 nights.
This drive was one of the worst of our trip. It was 4 1/2 hours through windy jungle roads, most of them unpaved or riddled with giant gaping holes. There was also construction halfway up the canyon that caused so much chaos.
One section in particular has very uneven, dusty, and crowded with villagers. A gigantic dump truck that was filled beyond capacity with what looked like mattresses, drove by us and nearly tipped over on top of us!
The windy roads made us all a quite car sick.
Finally, we made it to our hotel called The Top View Hotel. We were relieved to be out of the car, and at such a nice 5 star resort again!
Heather and I headed to our room, which again was a separate town home. We were in #1, Volcano. Ours was all the way at the end of the walkway, on the edge overlooking a valley down below. It was night time, so we were excited to see it in the morning.
Our large king size bed was covered with a mosquito net, we had a good sized bedroom, and a door that opened onto a deck overlooking another side of the canyon.
As we laid in bed we heard wild African dogs howling all night in the jungles surrounding us, but we quickly fell asleep again; and an especially nice surprise? The hot water bottles placed at the feet of our bed under the covers to keep our feet warm and toasty!
June 13, 2018
Waking up the next morning at 6 am to see the sunrise was the best decision we could have made. The light coming up over those jungle hills, the sky water colored with red and orange hues; it was absolute magic. I stood there and almost became emotional, wondering how I was so lucky to be in such a beautiful place as that.
In the daylight we could finally see the grounds of the resort too, which were equally beautiful.
We had a luxurious breakfast on the veranda of the main building; more hot chocolate, some African spice tea, toast and jam, and cheese omelettes.
We drove back into the jungle, to head to track the Colubus Monkeys. At the Nyungwe Forest Visitor’s Center we met up with our guide, Christof. He was a handsome young man from Rwanda who received his education in France and returned back to work.
Back into the truck and towards the large tea fields we went, and turned off onto a small dirt road heading directly towards the jungle. We got out and walked towards the tree line and were very lucky because the family of Colubus Monkeys was right there!
These black and white monkeys are so cute! It was a good sized family, with 2 adorable little babies!
It was apparently time to eat, because they were climbing and jumping around the trees, stuffing as many of the tree fruits into their mouths as they could! It was pretty funny to watch them. The babies were entertaining as well, jumping and wrestling with one another all over the trees. Their tiny squeaks they would make sounded like a dog squeaky toy!
Christof told us that they whole family helps to raise and take care of the babies. But, whenever a male would grab them and try to hold them they would squeak out loudly and wriggle free from them. I asked him if they were hurting them, and he said “No, the males just do not know how to hold the babies and they don’t like it.”
Sounds… pretty accurate!
After watching them to our hearts’ content, we headed back to the hotel for a lunch of sweet corn soup and rolls with goat meat. I of course, declined to try the goat meat.
Heather and I took a 2 hour nap, and then met up again with everyone to go do a jungle canopy walk. Driving an hour further into the jungle we pulled off to the canopy headquarters.
Here we were placed in a hiking group with a cute couple from Denmark, a strange girl from the Netherlands that currently lived in Jamaica, and our creeptastic tour guide named Dauph who would NOT stop licking his lips and staring only at me when he talked to the group. (Like STOPPPPP though!)
The hike was completely downhill to get there, so I knew heading back would be challenging for Poppa and SueAnne and Steve.
Making it to the canopy walk, I felt like we were staring at a bridge that had been constructed in the 1920’s; it looked old and I wondered if we would be the last people to ever walk across it!
But, our group motto had become “YOLO”, as I had taught everyone the night before. So, we yolo-d our way across. (Or as SueAnne said it, “Yellow!”)
The first section of the canopy walk was shorted and not as high off the ground, so we made it to the first tower no problem. The second section across was incredibly shaky, and about 300 feet off the ground!
It also didn’t help that Poppa was shaking the bridge on purpose (trouble maker!)
My hands shook and I definitely got a little light headed, but it was really exhilarating to walk across there, and to look down into the jungle!
Dauph told us we could keep going the way we were to get back to the hiking trail, or we could go back across the bridge. We hesitated for a moment and Poppa decided to tell us that “No one I’ve ever brought here has ever taken the sissy way back… but if you guys really want to we can.”
So of course we turned around and went right back over the bridge! We refused to be the sissies!
The hike back up was quite strenuous, and Poppa took it slow and steady.
Then on the way back to our hotel, Mr. Kirenga’s truck broke down. Anne, Heather, Steve, and myself got out and push started it for him then walked the 5 minutes to the hotel. We worried the truck would not be able to drive us the next morning to go see the chimpanzees.
We had another delicious dinner, and then all went to go get some sleep. While Heather and I walked to our room a GIANT moth flew in front of us and I screamed and ran like a crazy person because I was convinced it was a bat! Ain’t nobody got time for rabies y’all!
June 14, 2018
Tracking the Chimpanzees
Waking up the next morning at 5 am was rough. We met in the lodge sleepy eyed, enjoying some hot chocolate, African spice tea, and some butter cookies.
Mr. Kirenga’s car was not able to drive, as we feared, so he rented us a car with a driver. Now when I say car, I mean… a tiny awful thing that we all had to cram into.
The back seat needed to fit 3 people when it was very clearly only meant for 2, so it was not a pleasant 2 hour drive east. We were all a bit grouchy to say the least.
My favorite part of driving through the remote village was seeing all the adorable school children in their uniforms on their way to school. They all waved at us! We were once again the stars in the Mizungu parade.
Despite the uncomfortable driving situation, we were going to track chimpanzees so we were still excited. We pulled in front of a mall building which had a small store with souvenirs, and this was where we were to meet our porters. Christof was our guide again, which we were happy about because he was fantastic.
A group of porters stood by with walking sticks, all hoping they would be picked for our chimpanzee trek. It is customary for every woman to use a porter, but of course all of the men in our group got one too so they could pay them.
Anne, Heather, and I joked that we felt like it was The Bachelorette, having to hand our bag to the porter of our choosing and ask, “Will you accept this backpack?” I chose a young man named Varun, and he was very helpful! I tripped quite a lot over the vines and underbrush of the jungle when we trekked through.
And when I say trek, I mean we literally ran at times! The trouble with chimpanzees is they are very wary of people and like to avoid them. So we started out slowly hiking upwards into the jungle to where the trackers were radioing in on the walkie-talkies. The trackers had been following this particular family of chimps since the night before.
They were heading right for us, so we stopped and waited silently for them to pass by us. It was so interesting how quietly they moved through the trees, because we literally did not hear them coming until they were nearly on top of us!They came within about 20 feet, and the male in the lead turned his head and looked right at us! Then they RAN.
So of course, we ran in pursuit! It was quite exciting to run full speed though the jungle after this elusive little family of chimps. (And this is where I tripped a ton!)
We made it back to the main road, and Christof had us stop because he said the family would be crossing the road to get to the other side of the jungle and we would be able to see them very clearly.
2 minutes later they crossed about 10 feet in front of us, and it was breathtaking to see them! They were much larger than I expected, and unlike the chimps you see in movies or at zoos these ones were all black, even their cute little faces. There were 6 adults and one little baby holding onto its’ mama’s back.
The chase was on again, and those chimps are stupidly fast! We were running full speed again trying to keep up with the trackers, Christof, and doing so while trying to not trip and sprawl out into the jungle! It was so exhilarating!
We caught up to one of the males, who had separated from the family and was chilling up in a giant Ficus tree, feasting on the fruits. Apparently they are like oranges, and he was stuffing as many as he could at a time into his mouth.
We sat down and watched him for about 30 minutes, enjoying seeing him in his natural habitat. He put on a show for us, climbing around, hanging by one arm, and even peeing for a steady 2 minutes with an impressive stream off the tree! We were all very impressed.
My favorite part was that Poppa in all of his years spent in Africa had never tracked a chimpanzee before. So seeing his face light up as we watched him in the tree was worth it all for me
We finally left our friend, and made the hike back up to the road. It was very steep going back up, so we sent extra porters to help Poppa.
Heading to Lake Kivu
We packed the newly fixed truck, and said farewell to our resort at the top of the hill.
Steve suggested to Mr. Kirenga that we find a place to eat in a local non-touristy town so we could see some of the culture without tourist traps.
There was definitely something lost in translation between them, because he took us an hour out of our way to eat at what looked like a country club resort in a ton called Cyangugu overlooking the southern tip of Lake Kivu; right next to a big touristy market.
Steve was very grouchy about it, and to be honest we all were because he added extra time onto our trip to our next destination. But, the food was good and the view over the lake was gorgeous!
Across the water we could see the Congo, and it was mind-blowing to see how many houses and buildings were crammed against one another on the hills.
After we finished eating, we started our 4 hour trip to The Cormoran Lodge, our next resort on a northern part of Lake Kivu’s shores.
The drive was much prettier (and much less car-sick inducing) than the trip from Butare to Nyungwe Forest. we started throwing out our empty water bottles to kids on the road because they want them to use for drinking water. It was a fun way to pass the time, and they were always excited to get them!
We finally pulled into our resort after the sun had gone down, and we were each led to our amazing tree house rooms. This resort to me, resembled the Lost Boy’s tree house from the movie Hook. You know what I’m talking about?? It was such a cool place!
We enjoyed some dinner in the restaurant (where Poppa discovered his new favorite Fanta flavor, Fiesta) and then we all headed to bed.
I was so excited to see what more adventures Lake Kivu had in store for us!
I still feel like I am recovering from the jet-lag from Rwanda, and I’ve been home for over 10 days now! I’ll start going through my journal and pictures to do a break down of my trip soon, so I can share all of my tips and adventures for you from such a magical and wonderful trip!
While reaclimating back to normal life and my routine here has been something of a challenge, the real struggle has been trying to readjust my focus in life to something with more purpose.
I don’t mean that to sound to vague, so I’ll explain what I mean below.
Poppa, the Rockstar Doctor
One of the coolest parts of this whole trip was getting to experience it not only with my twin sister, but also with our biological grandfather “Poppa”- who we have only known for 4 years (* I’ll have to post about the whole story sometime, but we were adopted and only met our birth mom and her family 4 years ago*)
He has lived his entire professional career working in the field that he has such a passion for – Infectious Disease. Traveling and living all over the world, he has made incredible impacts in the medical field of infectious disease and has touched so many lives in the process. Poppa and our grandma lived in Butare, Rwanda for a year in as he helped with the local hospital and medical program there as well as in the capitol Kigali.
To sum it up, it was amazing to see him return to the place where he lives his passion. He LOVES working in the infectious disease field, and meeting one of the local medical residents who admired him and looked up to him was so inspiring.
Also getting to spend so much time with him in a place he loves so much, was such an amazing experience. This was his last trip to Africa, since he is geting up there in age, but this was his 37th trip over there! This trip literally exhausted me, I can’t believe he’s done this 37 times!
And some of the hikes we did were very difficult, and he handled them like a champ! Running through the jungle chasing a family of chimps in the Nyungwe Forest is no easy task, and when we finally found them he had the biggest smile on his face as we watched them up in the trees!
Not to mention, on top of a very funny sense of humor (with one of the best laughs on the planet), Poppa is one of the most patient and kind people I have ever met. He loves and accepts anyone and everyone, and I wish I could exude even a fraction of this type of love too.
Seriously, Poppa is a true rockstar! I look up to him and admire him in so many ways. Seeing just a small glimpse into Poppa’s life and experience in Rwanda, truly inspired me in my own.
How Can I Live My Own Passion?
This has been the question that has haunted and plagued me for the last 2 years. Figuring out what I really want to do in life.
But really though… how the hell do people figure this stuff out?!
I feel the way I did when I started college and was deciding on what to pick as a major. How was I supposed to know what I would want to study for the next 4 or so years, let alone do the rest of my life? It always boggled my mid that people knew already – some knew since they were little! I didn’t end up officially declaring a major until my junior year, switching from a journalist emphasis to Creative Writing/English. Even then, I still wasn’t 100% sure.
The thing I discovered on this trip, was that something inside me was forever different. Not to sound super cliche, but this trip literally changed my perspective on my life and life in general in the world. I had this growing desire to do something important, to do something that matters and changed the world for the better.
On our way home (an exhausting 41 hour total travel time) during our 13 hour leg from Qatar to New York City, I pulled out my journal and started to write. I was finishing up my entries about our trip and what we had experienced. But, then I started writing something new; the thoughts and feelings that had been stirred up from everything.
This entry became more of a list than anything.
The list was title “Things I am Passionate About”, and as I started to go through the list I circled my #5 item:
Making a Difference/Serving Others
I circled it, and even put a few stars around it. Because that made an impact, an impression inside me. This is what I needed and wanted to feel fulfilled in life, to push me to do more and to focus on.
The Moment It Changed
The funny thing about finding and following your life passions, is that they don’t just suddenly appear in some “ah-ha” moment. Generally, it is something that over time you realize has always been there but you hadn’t recognized it’s importance until the moment your heart realizes how much it means to you.
I’ve always found comfort and peace in serving others. That’s why through all of my own grief and brokenness I have found so much solace and recovery in volunteering and helping with charities and things that are helping humanity thrive.
But this trip, particularly as we drove through a small remote village on the way to Akagera National Park, something inside me changed. I realized how much I want to do to serve the world, to give back and to do more. The moment will forever be etched into my brain; a small clay-brick house we passed on the road with 4 small children outside in tattered rags chasing a black and white spotted goat. I can’t explain why this moment was the one to flip the switch inside me, but it was. And it has. And now I can’t turn it off, because now I know what it is I want to pursue.
Someday, somehow, I want to live my passion of serving others and making a difference. My true dream, is to travel the world doing many different humanitarian services and projects. I will find a way.
I can make a difference here as I can, but eventually – oh yes – I have very big plans!
Here are just a few ways I’ve been researching humanitarian service locally and interntionally:
Do you have any other good ones? Please feel free to share them in the comments!
How You Can Find Your True Life Passion
While I continue on my quest to live my true passions, here are some tips I used to help me figure out what is most important to me, and what I am passionate about.
Make a list with 2 columns. One column is things you dislike doing, and the other is the thing you enjoy doing.
Now, from the column of the things you enjoy, sit and meditate on each one – seriously – and decide if each one is something you could do everyday, for the rest of your life, and never get sick of it.
Is it something you could read an 800-page book about?
Is it something you could do without getting paid?
Is it something you could eat-breathe-sleep-dream about and never get sick of?
Ok, now you should have at least one thing from your original list that you feel is a passion. So what do you do?
Remember that a passion does not necessarily have to be your job – in most cases it is more of a hobby or something you do on the side. But, it’s also Ok if it is something you want to pursue as your career!
If it’s something you’re not particularly good at, or just sort of mediocre in, that’s also Ok! You do not have to be an expert to be passionate about it, you can still successfully reach your passions and your goal!
Do some research, reach books, listen to podcasts, talk to people – who are related to your passion, or can help you towards your intended goals.
Knowldge truly is powerful! The more you can arm your mind with, the better!
Also, remember who you are and the impact you can put on the world.
We can do so many incredible things! Each of us has amazing potential, if we can figure out what our passions truly are. Think of all the good we can put into the world! Even a little goes a long way.
I hope to one day live and follow my passion, just like Poppa. Hoping sooner than later I will be! Cheers to all of us dreamers chasing our passions and dreams!
PS. Stay tuned for my posts detailing all about Rwanda!
Unfortunately, we had another early morning to get to Sintra from Porto.
Heading back to the train station, we hopped on and headed to the capitol Lisbon, where we would get onto a different train to go to Sintra, which is technically considered a suburb of Lisbon.
I slept great the night before in Porto, so I was awake and alert the whole time on the trains. Which was a good thing for us because if I hadn’t been, we would have missed our stop to switch trains! (Heather and Jess took a siesta on the train… sleepy heads)
The ride to Sintra from Lisbon was about another 20 minutes, and we stopped at the cutest little Train station, that literally looked right out of a Wes Anderson movie.
In fact, the whole city could be in a Wes Anderson movie; I was immediately in love with it all! The darling houses lining the Main Street (which there is only really one main road…) were all SO adorable! I found my dream house that I legit would want to move into!
We walked just one block to where our Airbnb was, and we were met by our hostess. She was VERY talkative! She spoke fairly great English, and it was clear immediately she was a hugger. Also, she watched me pour a packet of crystal light into my water bottle (for caffeine) and she told me “Americans drink too much sugar! Why are you adding sugar to your water?” I mean.. she has a point!
She showed us our apartment, which was by far the oddest place I have ever stayed before. The first open room off the front door was the small kitchen and then a small full bathroom. The decors of the place was an overwhelming mixture of hippie/psychadelic mixed with honestly just some weird stuff. There was a giant hanging mural of a neon colored zebra right by the front door, and a beaded overhang on the door to the kitchen. (It gets weirder…)
The next room down the hallway was my bedroom, which apparently was supposed to be some kind of sitting room and not in fact, a bedroom. The bed was up on these strange stilts in the middle of the room, and all the walls were lined with waist high shelves. These shelves were covered with random trinkets, like seashells, dolphin statues, and some random pictures of Hindu-esque elephants and psychedelic patterns.
The next room was a “game room” as our hostess called it. Instead of having a tv in the place, she preferred her guests to interact and talk to one another. There were an assortment of card games and some books in there, none of which any of us even touched on our 24 hour stay.
Finally was the back room, which was a full private bedroom with another full bathroom. This was where Heather and Jess slept, with a big canopy queen size bed, and a random hammock hanging on the wall. There was also a strange tapestry of a smiling sun hanging above the bed on the ceiling, which Heather commented she felt like was staring at her when she was laying down.
As our hostess left us she told us in her slightly broken English to “make the most of your days, and remember as many memories as you can, because memories are what you take with you and what keep you going.”
After our hostess left we realized with slight panic that we only had about 2 hours before theQuinta da Regaleira closed! There are several palaces in Sintra, but we decided upon this one specifically, because of its’ uniqueness of the house itself, and the grounds (which include an underground labyrinth!)
We only had that day in Sintra, so much to Jess’ dismay we basically speed-walked uphill to the mansion. From our Airbnb right by the train station to the estate, it was a brisk and very steep 2.6 km (1.7 mi) uphill climb. It took us about 20 minutes to hustle up there, and we made it into the grounds before they stopped selling tickets inside. Now we had over an hour to leisurely explore!
When Carvhalo Monteiro purchased the mansion in 1892 from the wealthy merchant family from Porto who previously owned it, he wanted to make it completely something of his own design. According to Wikipedia:
Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols
that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian
architect Luigi Manini, he recreated the 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added enigmatic buildings that allegedly held symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture Manini designed evoked Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles.
And I can honestly say, this is one of the most fascinating and magical places I have so far had the pleasure of exploring! Monteiro is such a fantastically curious man, with some even curiouser beliefs. I had a feeling we would be more and more bewitched the more we explored.
At the entrance they gave us a map to guide us through the grounds, which also included directions through the underground tunnels Monteiro had constructed for his children and grandchildren to play in, which they referred to as the labyrinth.
We wanted to take our time, so we started at 2 (shown in the picture above) which was the secondary gate, and walked uphill through some beautiful forested trails towards the famous Initiation Well.
Every little detail in the gardens, the shrubbery, the stone walls; it was all so impressive and magical. I keep using that word, but truly this place was just like a fantasy land, all created from the imaginings of Monteiro.
Initiation Well & The Labyrinth
Heather and I had been SO EXCITED to finally see the Initiation Well in person, and it definitely is so much more impressive and beautiful than we could have imagined.
You walk into the top of it, not even realizing it’s the entrance, because it is just an opening cut into a rock. As you slip through you see the architecture and you realize you are inside the well.
The Initiation Well is so named, because it was not ever intended for water but instead for initiation ritualsused in Masonic, Templar, and Tarot ceremonies. Monteiro had many beliefs, and these included some from these spiritual/cultural groups ( he was a well known self-proclaimed believer of many things, mostly Rosicrucianism)
This well also contained 9 platforms, which also were meant to represent the 9 rings of hell as described inDante’s Inferno. Also, the 9 platforms can represent the 9 circles of heaven as well. As you stand at the bottom, you can contemplate and are supposed to truly feel the disconnection between earth and the heavens as you peer up to the sky from the darkness below; and also feel the sometimes haunting closeness of hell as you feel so isolated down there. (It’s very transcendent.)
Also, seen at the bottom, is a tiled symbol of a compass overtop of a Knights of the Templar cross, which was thoughtto have been Monteiro’s herald and a sign of his Rosicrucianism. (Which I had never until writing this post, before really read about. Do yourself a favor and read the link I shared!)
The history and ideas behind this structure are beyond fascinating… but walking into it and looking down from the top was breathtaking. We started our journey downwards, taking our time to truly take in everything with every single step.
Once we reached the bottom, I took a moment to stare upwards, standing over top the templar symbol. After admiring the view, we walking into the connecting tunnels of the labyrinth. I imagined playing through those tunnels as a child, like Monteiro’s children did, and I felt a bit jealous of this incredible place they had to explore!
We walked through every tunnel, feeling along the walls through the especially dark sections, and others we were guided by the lights that had been installed along the ground. It was amazing!
After exploring the tunnels (and stopping and scaring a few random Japanese tourists) we exited the labyrinth through the Portal of the Guardians
Who are the guardians this portal speaks of? In my research so far I have not found any answers… and maybe this will continue to remain one of the many magical curiosities of Moderio’s methodical madness that will may never know the answers to.
Gardens & Grottos
The Portal of the Guardians bring you to an especially incredible open terrace, called the Terrace of The Celestial Worlds. (Let’s take a quick minute to truly appreciate the creative names Monteiro gave to all of these magical places… because they are honestly amazing!)
This was one of my favorite parts on the grounds, besides of course the Initiation Well. I felt as if we stepped out of the labyrinth and literally into some sort of mystical place from Harry Potter.
From there, we wanted to explore the Waterfall Lake grotto, leading into more tunnels and leading us out by the Unfinished Well.
Then we trekked through the Labrinthic Grotto and Leda’s Cave. Leda from Greek mythology was supposedly the mother of Helen of Troy after being raped by Zeus as he had taken the disguise of a swan (What was with Zeus taking the shape of animals and raping women?) Leda was also a popular form of art inspiration during the Renaissance period.
We stopped in gardens for a bit, and sat on a bench across from a fountain structure called The Fount of Abundance. The name itself may come from some sections of the Quran, which that alone is quite curious of Modeiro. However, looking at the tiles, the colors, and the almost random sea shells carved into it.. there may be some even deeper meanings behind it all.
According to Alchemy Procession, (something Modeiro was also known to dabble in) these colors follow the designated order of the 4 stages of alchemy, and the water flowing in the center of the fountain can possibly symbolizing the elixir of life. Was this the fountain of youth? Maybe… but probably not. Whatever the symbolism or reasoning behind it all, it was beautiful.
We continued walking down the pathway, admiring random statues of lions and dogs (…maybe these are the guardians?…) and then climbed the tiny stair case of the Regaleira Tower which overlooks the Terrace of Celestial Worlds. We admired the above views of the grounds, and the faraway Moorish Castle, called Pena Palace, we could see up on the hill behind us. (Sadly, we didn’t have time to see both on our trip. I will for sure be back to see more of Sintra!)
We made our way towards the manor, the gorgeously Gothic inspired mansion. Stopping to walkthrough the small Roman Catholic chapel just north of the house (…which that is also quite a curious little design considering all of the other religious symbols and Easter eggs scattered around…) we sauntered along through the Garden of the Gods lined with statues of Gods of Greek Mythology, and entered the house by climbing a northern windy staircase.
Unfortunately, most of the home was not open to the public due to current renovations. We were able to at least see a few rooms on the main floor, which were impressive and of course gaudy (I expected nothing less at this point.) I was a bit disappointed to not see more of the house, and to possibly find more curious hidden symbols throughout… but perhaps next time I visit it will be open.
Sadly, our time exploring this amazing place had come to an end. We leisurely made our way back down the main road, enjoying the sights along the way we had not been able to enjoy the trek upwards. There were many vendors on the sides selling small trinkets, paintings, and art. I loved the random gateways to homes and beautiful mosaic walls we would pass. This town was simply magic.
We walked through some of the darling streets in Sintra, looking through some gift shops and admiring more homes and buildings. Especially my dream home… that I want to move into immediately!
Stopping at a small cafe, we ate dinner and especially enjoyed the witty banter we shared with our very handsome waiter. Plus, the food wasn’t half bad either!
Later, we had quite the mishap at a French gelato place. I will let you read what happened from my sister Heather’s perspective herefrom her blog!
Poor thing, she suddenly felt very ill and went into the bathroom while Jess and I waited to order gelato. Moments later she texted me and all it said was, “Help.” I immediately freaked out, thinking this was a taken kidnapped situation, and I was about to go Liam Neeson on some thugs trying to abduct my sister!
I rushed to the bathroom, and literally kicked open the door, expecting to see some men attacking her. Thankfully this was not the case, but she had gotten pretty sick and passed out so she was laying on the floor.
Jess and I helped her home, and we decided to just go to bed. I tried my best to sleep, but there were some loud party goers outside my window and above us until pretty late. However, anything was better than that awful sleeper train from the night before!
I absolutely LOVED Sintra. I was feeling pretty sad we were leaving, because I wanted to stay and explore some more. I have promised myself I will go back, because I have to! I absolutely have to, or else my heart will never forgive me.
So until then, I will forever dream of Sintra.
The next morning we would be heading further south to the beautiful beaches in Lagos!
After the adventurous night ride on the train, I was feeling exhausted but happy to finally get out of that horrible, hot, train car.
We arrived at 6 am in Porto, Portugal.
Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t check into our Airbnbuntil about 3 pm. But, our host for our Airbnb was so accommodating, and would be allowing us to drop our things off with his neighbor Isabel, who was also his cleaning lady, until we could check in later.
So, we trekked off in the misting rain to find our place.
After a few wrong turns, probably due to our collective lack of sleep, we found the cute little street where our town home was. Isabel met us there, and she spoke maybe a hand full of English words. She was very sweet though, and showed us where we could store our back packs in a shed filled with cleaning supplies and other things.
While we were doing so, two other neighbors popped out to say hello to us, and they were some characters! They were both dressed in their pajamas still, and Angela (the only one who spoke English) had slippers on and a robe and all! She helped us speak to Isabel, and then the two of them showed us on a map the things we needed to go see in Porto.
Pouring in Porto
We were lucky that our entire trip so far it had not really rained, so I was not too discouraged about the rain in Porto. But, it literally rained alllllll day.
We left the Airbnb and the cute ladies in pajamas, and found a small cafe that was open. We charged our phones, ate pastries and drank fresh juice, and made a plan for where to go explore.
Figuring the subway was our best bet to get around, we purchased some tickets and took two stops down to the historic city center of Porto, called Liberdad Square.
We explored lots of buildings, churches, and streets all over. Everything there was so incredible! The architecture influences in Porto seemed to be mostly from the Gothic and Romanesque periods.
Despite how many chapels we actually walked through (too many to even remember honestly) what I do remember is how each one was unique in its’ own way.
Even the sidewalks had beautiful tiled and mosaic designs within them!
As the rain continued to fall harder, we continued to walk around town. We stopped into an amazing train station with incredibly intricate tiled mosaics all around the walls and the ceiling, admired so many darling streets and alley ways, and we even came across the famous bookstore Livraria Lello, used to film scenes in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. (Although, sadly, you had to wait in line for over and hour to go in and pay ten euros! Definitely not worth it…) The other sites were just as magical in Porto as the staircase inside that bookstore anyway.
More Porto Rain, and Dealing with Pain
The rain continued misting heavier as we made our way up to the top of the hillside that overlooked the Duoro river. We went that way because we wanted to check out the famous Porto Cathedral.
The cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Porto, which was fully completed in 1737. The inside was gorgeous, filled with arching ceilings and beautiful columns. The giant wooden carved doors were something to behold as well… and even though the signs said not to touch them, we all definitely did. (#sorrynotsorry)
By this time my left foot was throbbing (the one I injured the first day in Barcelona.) I also was beginning to get a migraine from the lack of sleep, and had some lady cramps coming on; quite the trifecta of pain guys!
Heather finally received a message from Isabel that the Airbnb was cleaned and ready for us! So we happily headed there, glad to get out of the rain and rest for a bit.
We were greeted once again by Isabel and Angelina and the this lady whose name I don’t think we ever learned. But they were all so welcoming and sweet! they hugged us and welcomed us, and it was so genuine and comforting that I honestly would probably go back and stay with them and I feel as if they would remember me! That’s how friendly and welcoming they were.
The town home was the nicest place we stayed our entire trip! A 2 story town home, the bottom floor included a full sitting room with a giant flat screen tv and just about any blu-ray or dvd you could think of, flanked by 2 large and comfortable couches. Connecting next was the kitchen, which they had graciously stocked with bread, fruit, and some meat in the fridge. There were also several types of teas and coffees on the counter, and some fresh juice in the fridge. The full bathroom was right next to the kitchen, and was also stocked with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hair spray, and just about anything else you could think of!
Once the ladies left us we headed upstairs, and I took the bedroom with two twin beds (that was clearly meant for children since it was filled with toys and children’s books) and Heather and Jess took the other room with the queen size bed. We passed out and took a much needed nap.
I was hoping after we woke up I would be feeling better, but unfortunately I was feeling much worse. So, much to my disappointment, I chose to stay in for the night so I could have the energy I wanted for our next day in Sintra. Heather and Jess ventured out, and I’m sure they were happy to have some alone/romantic time without their little #sisterwife shadow following them around!
I took a shower, iced my foot, and found some ibuprofen for my other ailments. Warming up some tea from the selection in the kitchen, I settled onto the couch and watched a blu-ray. As much as I wanted to go explore the city more, I knew I needed to listen to my body and take the night off, especially if I wanted my migraine to go away.
Once Heather and Jess returned we all headed upstairs for bed. The next day we were heading to Sintra, one of the places I had been looking to the most! I couldn’t wait!
We woke up at the crack of daylight to catch our train to Salamanca.
It felt bittersweet that we couldn’t spend one more day in Seville, because I loved it! But I knew Salamanca would have some great things to see and explore too so I was excited to get there, especially because it was our last city in Spain before we headed to Portugal!
I think I slept the entire train ride, and then groggily followed Heather and Jess into the train station.
Originally we were only supposed to spend the day in Salamanca, and take a train late that night to Porto, Portugal. However, we got mixed up with the dates and realized our night train wasn’t until the next night. So we quickly utilized the Airbnbapp on my phone and booked an amazing little apartment a few blocks behind the train station.
We mapped our way to walk there, and as we left the train station noticed a pretty cool statue out front depicting a crusader knight riding a unicorn, also carrying a small dragon. It seemed super random, but I loved it!
Our Airbnb apartment was incredible!
Heather and Jess had their own bedroom with a Queen bed, and I did too! Plus there was even a third bedroom, a very nice front sitting room, and a full kitchen with a partially stocked pantry and fridge. We definitely scored with this one!
We were feeling pretty weary from the early morning, and since we had two whole days there, we decided it was in our best interest if we took a nice long siesta. Honestly, it was the best choice we could have made! After feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, we all put on a few extra layers and headed out to explore.
Our main goal that evening was to find somewhere amazing to eat, and to see the Plaza Mayor, which apparently was only about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying.
On our way, we made several stops which all seemed to be churches. If there’s one thing not lacking in Spain, it’s definitely chapels and churches!
Finally, we found the Plaza Mayor, which is considered the heart of Salamanca. Heather had been excited to see it, and was a little disappointed that we couldn’t see it in all its’ glory because there was some sort of stage being set up in the center for an event the next day.
However, it was still very impressive to see! Especially all lit up at night. There was even an adorable group of school girls from Scotland who we talked to briefly. They were there on a school trip… talk about a super cool school trip! (I think the coolest ones I went on were to Toronto, New Orleans, and Orlando!)
We eventually decided we wanted Italian food for dinner, and after some wanderings we found Restaurante A’Tarantella(which does not translate to tarantula as we first thought. It’s actually a dance from southern Italy).
Although we were 3 of the 5 customers in the restaurant, it took over an hour to get our food. We hoped this meant they were literally making our food from scratch. So when our food did arrive we ravenously ate everything. All the carbs!!
Our favorite dish by far was the gnocchi, which was bathed in this cheesy sauce that must have been poured down straight from the heavens. Literally, I could have taken a bath in it. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten, and I will dream about it forever.
After dinner we moseyed on back to our place, and fell into a carb induced coma.
Old Vs New
We had a long, full day ahead of us. Our host at our Airbnb was soooo accommodating and was allowing us to stay until 11 pm with our stuff, instead of having to check out at 3 pm and carrying everything with us.
So, with that in mind we started out to explore more of Salamanca in the daylight.
We headed towards a main part of the city which had some tourist hot spots, centered around the University of Salamanca. The campus itself was incredible, surrounding by narrow, stone streets and old buildings. I imagined attending school there would be such a different experience than mine in Utah.
Of course we saw many, many churches too, including the old and new Cathedrals of Salamanca. The newer part was built attached to the older one, which it’s really amazing that they decided to not tear down the old one, and preserve it as history.
The Old Cathedralwas originally built in the 12th century, and seeing the tombs and chapel rooms was incredible. Thinking that people so long ago were in there worshiping and praying was a pretty humbling thought. Although there were some particularly spooky looking carved people in the sides of some of the walls that I couldn’t even take pics of because they would haunt me forever!
The New Cathedralwas built between the 16th and 18th centuries, with Gothic and Baroque influences. It was beautiful! It reminded me slightly of the cathedral we had seen in Seville.
We wandered around with headphone audio tours, and listened to facts about each section of the cathedral. I was particularly moved by one section, which gave a quote from Blessed John Paul II on November 1, 1982 (and mind you, these are notes I quickly tried to type on a note in my phone so they are not completely accurate or complete, but gives you the general idea!):
“I ask you to widen the soul and not to shy away from your desires… open yourselves up to the future, and risk yourselves. Don’t stop until you’ve reached the source of life, come what may, whatever happens, whoever whispers, even if you die on the road to get there. At least in the end you made the effort to get there, and you’ll remain steadfast in that place that gives you life, even if the entire world sinks below it.”
Now of course, Blessed John Paul II is referring to Jesus Christ as the source of life, which He is my main source of life too, but the beauty of this quote, I think, is that it can also apply to anything in your life. Drive yourself towards whatever it is that makes you feel alive… it’s so deep guys! I love it!
We wandered back through the streets around the cathedrals, and stumbled into a funny Halloween party with the faculty of the University. It made me happy that they were all dressed, some in pretty impressive group costumes, for the holiday. We also perused some gift shops, and of course ate gelato (because gelato was my life on this trip!)
Riding on the Crazy Train
The rest of the afternoon we walked and explored most of Salamanca. We decided to head back to the Airbnb, with some groceries to make dinner, and hang out until we had to go catch our night train to Portugal!
We made some delicious spaghetti (although nothing will ever again compare to that gnocchi from the previous night!) and then we took a siesta for a few hours.
Our train left at 11 PM from the train station, and it was a sleeper train which I was excited to ride on. Little did we know the adventure that was in store!
Our tickets mentioned that the cars were separated by sex, which we thought was odd. Would they seriously split up a husband and wife?? Well the answer was yes, yes they would.
When we got to the train to board, the conductor instructed Heather and I to enter one car, and pointed down to the next car for Jess.
So, Heather and I entered our car and the two girl already in there seemed more than unhappy with our appearance. Not wanting to really disturb them, we shoved our bags under the bunk beds hanging from the walls, and climbed into our beds.
I took the top, and I regretted not taking something to sleep; because I didn’t sleep at all. The train moved a ton (because that’s what trains do) and the room was so hot, especially being on the top bunk!
However, it was an adventure, and despite not sleeping I was still grateful to have had it and to now be in Porto, Portugal!!
As described in my earlier post about Alicante, we arrived in Seville much later than anticipated.
We got to the train station well past sunset, and decided to get a taxi to our Airbnb. The taxi ride was a little on the crazy side as he drive fast and the furious style through these ridiculously tiny cobbled streets! Dom Toretto would be proud.
Our Airbnb was in an adorable town square; on the third floor of an apartment building across from a church and in the middle of two restaurants. Our host, Manuel, met us and gave us the tour, which it was so sweet of him to do so since it was after midnight. He even gave us some pamphlets of places he suggested we go and see, including a flamenco show the following night.
This was probably the funniest of all of our sleeping arrangements in our airbnb’s, because my twin bed was in the kitchen right next to the table while Heather and Jess had a full bedroom. But you know what? I snuggled right up in that bed that was underneath the AC unit and I slept like a rock that night!
The Dreamiest Little Town
The next morning we woke up at 8 and were out the door by 915 to begin exploring this new place. Seville was one of the most anticipated and most recommended places on our agenda in Spain, and I could not wait!
Feeling the heavy drag of travel and little sleep, we found a cafe to grab some Cokes and croissants (breakfast of champions!)
We headed towards the main square in the city, Plaza del Triunfo, where several of the main attractions we would want to see were.
Even just walking through those small dreamy streets towards the plaza, I was instantly twitter-pated with everything. Seville was love at first sight for me! Around every corner and everywhere I looked, were adorable building, homes, and street ways.
Realizing the wait to get into the incredible palace, Royal Alcazar , would take quite some time, we bought tickets online instead for 1:30 and walked to an outdoor market place called Plaza de Espana.
You Mosaic Me So Happy
Again, even just walking the mile or so to reach Plaza de Espana was worthwhile. We made a pit stop to walk through Universidad De Seville, which was bustling with young
students, and so impressed us with the incredible architecture of the old buildings. I commented that I felt like we were in Hogwarts!
We made our way several more blocks, stopping at random buildings to admire them, and finally entered into the ever so impressive Plaza de Espana!
The plaza, which apparently was originally built for the Spanish-American Exhibition of 1929, has now become an outdoor market of sorts and major tourist attraction.
The long wings of the building wrap in a semi-circle formation, inside of which a moat perimeters the courtyard that was filled with gondolas. There is also a giant splashing fountain in the center of it all.
Walking around me admired some fans being sold by a street vendor, and then studied each of the painted tile mosaic depictions of the different Spanish provinces (in case you were wondering, there are 49!) Each ceramic mosaic was beautiful!
With tall, sweeping columns and gorgeous painted bridges, this place definitely stole a piece of my heart.
The time came for us to return back to the place I was looking forward to the most in Seville, which was the Royal Alcazar! If you are a fan of Game of Thrones, you will recognize this place as the country of Dorne from the series (and a huge reason why I was so stoked to go!) Also a word of advice: if you have a student ID that can still be deemed relevant, use it to your advantage! My ticket was only 2 euros while the other two were 10 euros a piece!
Alcazar was originally built by the Moors in the 13th century as a fortress, but then when Peter the Cruel of Castile became King in the 14th century, he expanded it to the palace it is today. He apparently earned the nickname because he married and quickly abandoned several wives; he may have been terrible but he had some good taste when it came to designing a castle!
The name Alcazar stems from the hispano-arabic word Alcasr which translates basically to “royal house” or “room of the prince.” And it was indeed, a royal place to behold.
Since the fortress has Moorish beginnings, the architecture and tile-work through out is breathtaking; from arched doorways decorated with colorful tiles to the incredibly decorated domed ceilings.
We walked through every room, admiring every corner and courtyard to its’ fullest. I was blown away with how beautiful it all was. And we had not even made it out into the gardens yet!
The gardens have been added to and developed over the last few centuries, and are so worth walking through. Walking across the high walled walkway, the Galeria de Grutescos, we had a great view across the expansive grounds. Parts were unfortunately closed off for preservation of the plants, but we could still at least admire it all from above.
We were able to make our way through the hedge maze in the back, which literally only took us 2 minutes to solve. So either we were super smart OR the maze was ridiculously easy so children could play in them.
My final thoughts as we finished exploring, was that if and when I ever get married again I would love to take photos in this magical place; maybe even get married there! Can you just imagine how cool it would be to get married somewhere with so much history and with this kind of scenery as your backdrop??
Take Me to Church
As sad as I was to leave the Real Alcazar, I knew we had so much more to explore! We headed across the Plaza del Triunfo to check out the The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See; or more well known as Seville Cathedral.
It was GIANT! It took up 2 whole blocks I think! And it was soo tall! I mean, it was not nearly as massive as La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but it was definitely still a sight to behold. Currently, this cathedral is the 4th largest in the world!
It is a Roman Catholic Church, the highest point standing 138 feet above the plaza. And we should know, we snuck up the tower with a Chinese tour group and hiked up the 35 flights to the top! It was windy but beautiful!
As we made our way back down it began pouring outside, so we took our time walking through the church admiring the over-the-top intricacies and the super gaudy decors.
I mean, does the pulpit really need to be made of gold?? Although, for the most part, it was very beautiful.
One of the most interesting things inside was the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Yep, you read that right! Good old Chris Columbo is laid to rest in Spain.
My brother in law served an LDS Christian mission in the Dominican Republic, and he says the locals swear they have the remains of Christopher Columbus buried close to La Romana. In fact, when I was there a few years ago I remember seeing advertisements to go tour his tomb there, which we decided against.
So the question is, who really has him? Spain or the Dominican Republic?? My bet is on Spain, and I’m sure since it was such a popular tourist attraction in the DR that they still pretend that they have his remains so they can still bring in some tourists and money.
Whatever the case, it was cool to see his tomb. It humbles me greatly to think of the incredible bravery it took for explorers like him to take those journeys back in the 1400s. I mean.. let’s not get into the whole “He really landed in the DR and not the Americas and raped and pillaged and murdered many of the locals” topic though… but it’s still very humbling nonetheless.
We finished the day exploring more of Seville. We ate a tapas lunch at a bull fighting themed restaurant that had dozens of bull heads lining the walls (I think they’re so cute and it made me sad!)
Then we walked to the golden tower which was not worth the 5 euros to climb, and then made our way to the bull fighting arena which was also not worth the 10 euros to see the inside of. We walked across the bridge to the other side of the river, walked a few blocks, and decided to just head back to the Airbnb until it was time to go to the flamenco show!
Our host, Manuel, sold us on buying tickets to go see a local flamenco show, and it was beyond my expectations! The dancers literally left me speechless!
They exploded across the stage with quick footwork and big, flowy dresses! Literally, the entire hour I had goose bumps across my body, and I was literally mesmerized by them! There were two female dancers (one of which was beautiful and curvy, and Jess referred to her as “big sassy”), and one male, and they were accompanied by a female singer and a male singer who also played the guitar. And when I say he played the guitar, he legit was the most insanely talented guitar player Ive ever heard in person!
We walked home through the small alleyways (like the one pictured!) This may look super sketchy, but I never once felt unsafe.
We also wandered through a few shops, ate more gelato (because gelato is my life on vacation!) and then went to bed.
Tomorrow we would leave for Salamanca, and after that we would be heading into Portugal! I loved Seville, and I definitely could have spent at least another day there exploring. You always learn things while you travel, because sometimes you never know what a city will be like until you get there. So if and when I am in Spain again, I will for sure return to Seville.
I was excited to leave the hustle and business of Barcelona, and head south to our next destination of Alicante. However, we made 2 mistakes and nearly missed our train south.
After some major mishaps trying to navigate the metro system (which is so damn confusing in Barcelona!) we made it to the train station, Sant Estacio. A very kind local man helped us through the final turnstiles with his metro pass, because we had not purchased enough “stops” on ours and were stuck behind the closed automatic doors. This was mistake numero uno (yeah.. that’s about the extent of my Spanish!) That man deserves all the good karma in the world for helping a few stupid tourists out of a jam!
So just a word of advice for anyone traveling in Barcelona, make sure to get enough stops on your metro pass! May seem obvious… but it wasn’t to us! You’re welcome 🙂
We nearly missed our train too, because here is where we made mistake numero dos! We had pre-purchased our euro-rail train passes which in the long run saved us a tonnnnn of money with reservation fees. However, our mistake was we didn’t realize the first day we used them we have to get them validated with our passports before we could get on the train!
So after waiting in line to board and being told we needed validations, we hurried and waited in another long line, all the while trying NOT to majorly lose our sh*t about missing our train!
About twenty anxiety-induced sweaty minutes later, we did in fact make it onto our first train of the trip, and headed south for Alicante!
So another word of advice, make sure your tickets are validated BEFORE you try to board your train! Or else you may end up just hopping on the hot mess express instead!
Riding the Loco Bus
I’ll be honest, I slept most of the train ride! Although I did take a quick journey with my sister Heather up to the snack car and ordered a delicious croissant egg sandwich! The views that I did see out the windows included beautiful beaches on the left side, and gorgeous green hills and mountains to the right.
Once we arrived, we had to take a bus to our Airbnb. As we waited at the bus stop we laughed at the fact that since Barcelona we kept seeing giant ads for a European clothing company showcasing Jon Hamm as the model. Apparently Spain is in love with Jon!
While we waited at the stop, we were trying to figure out which bus to take. This insane old witch lady decided it was her personal mission to ‘help us’ get on the right bus. Jess (my brother in law) said she wasn’t really speaking Spanish, but that is was more like gibberish. She kept shouting excitedly “bush.. bush!” (pronounced boosh). We figured this meant bus?
So, we stupidly followed her onto the next bus and quickly realized she was insane and probably didn’t even know where she was going herself! After arriving at the bus station and watching her walk away, hysterically laughing and snorting while still saying “bush”. A few more euros later and we finally got on the right bus.
Our Airbnb was located pretty close to the heart of town, so we walked a few blocks to grab the keys from a pre-determined lock box location, and then made our way back to our flat.
This place was a one room studio, on the first floor of an apartment building, which also had a bathroom that opened out onto a small patio where we could hang our laundry. Immediately I started laughing when I saw my sister and Jess’ real bed by the front door, and then my ‘couch bed’ right across from it; because it wasn’t a couch at all but instead was a bunch of wooden pallets with cushions on top! In fact, all the other furniture in the flat was made from pallets! Honestly, it was pretty impressive what the owner made from them!
Jokes aside, though, my crate couch bed was surprisingly comfortable. We all decided to take a short siesta while we ran a load of laundry and then we would go exploring!
The City of Light
Alicante has a very old history, the earliest signs of settlement coming from artifacts around the Castillo de Santa Barbara that date back to 3000-5000 BC. Over the centuries they were populated by the Greeks, Phoenicians, the Romans, and then the Moors in the 11th century. The Moors gave the city it’s modern name, Alicante, which in Arabic means ‘city of lights.’
This amazing fortress is set right on top of Mount Benacantil, and once we started walking up towards it we quickly realized how steep this climb was. By the time we reached the top were were hot and sweaty, especially since it was a humid 83 degrees outside!
The castle is amazing, and it was humbling to walk around and realize how old the history was under our feet. There was also a display of pottery pieces from different time periods, some of which dated back to the Bronze Age.
There was a wall display of all of these broken pieces of pottery, from all different times, on this one wall.
I stood and stared at it for awhile, feeling like these broken pieces of pottery were literally speaking to my soul. Remember in this post how I explain that my heart is like a broken piece of pottery, and I am constantly finding new pieces and putting them back together?
Yeah. This wall spoke to me. It was so beautiful. I even stood there when everyone else walked out, and touched a few of the pieces with my eyes closed. (Even though there was a sign that said NO TOUCHING in Spanish… but I don’t speak Spanish so… oops. #sorrynotsorry
Sometimes I hope that I will feel the energy from someone else, feel a part of their story, their heart, from whatever has been absorbed into it. Maybe I’m a little crazy, but hey, I believe that stuff can really happen.
The view from the top of the castle was incredible. On one side is the ocean, and the other you can see the entire city and beyond to the mountains rising in the distance. It really was worth the climb.
For all you other GOT fans out there, this place was considered to be used for some scenes with Daenerys in one of the first seasons. However, Alicante declined to have them shoot there in order to preserve the castle, which I can’t say I blame them.
The rest of the night we walked to a local mercado and grabbed some stuff to make dinner (obviously including four delicious warm baguettes, because carbbbbssss!) While we made dinner, we closed all the large wooden shudders covering the nearly wall length windows. Every so often I would look up and notice that some of the had opened again, and I would go shut them again. This happened repeatedly.
I asked Heather if she had been opening them again and she said no, and neither had Jess. Then we started noticing they continued to open spontaneously on their own. After dinner I showered first, and thought I saw a shadow several times go by the glass doors.
Heather and I started joking that there must be a ghost who lived in the apartment, who we named Ferdinand. When we eventually went to bed, I tossed and turned because of the loud and rowdy men who hung out across the street at the kebab place until almost 3 am. So, since I was awake I noticed the lights constantly turning off and on in the kitchen, and the bathroom. I also heard things moving and falling in the kitchen. Heather heard them too. Ferdinand is apparently a night owl!
More Bus Probs
The next morning we were supposed to catch our train to Seville. Our train left at about 10 am, so we packed up and said our goodbyes to Ferdinand and the crate furniture, and headed to the bus stop. Unfortunately, we got on the right bus but going in the wrong direction (and this time we had no crazy old lady to blame!) Once we realized we couldn’t make our train, we changed our tickets when we finally arrived at the station and had to kill about 6 hours until the next train at 5 PM.
I always believe things happen for a reason, and while we were all frustrated that we missed our train I think it ended up being a happy accident. Because of our extra time we got to explore more of Alicante, including the old town neighborhood and the really beautiful walkway and outdoor market by the ocean, called La Explanada De Alicante.
So we made the best of our extra time. We looked at some local merchants’ tents, we sat by the ocean, ate some delicious gelato (obviously!) and grabbed some lunch at a local little shop.
There was a moment by Postiguet Beach where Heather and I noticed a very disabled man sitting on the sidewalk with a cup, hoping people walking by would spare some change. He had a severely deformed foot, which made walking very difficult and I’m sure incredibly painful for him. As we sat there waiting for Jess to meet up with us, the wind picked up and blew his cup away. He frantically tried to get up and walk after it as best he could, but instantly Heather and I knew he would never catch it. We watched as no one helped him, and without even speaking it out loud we both knew we needed to help him.
In my best Spanish I asked him, “necesitas ayude?” which means “do you need help?”. He said yes and Heather and I dashed after his cup which was about to blow into the busy traffic of the street. We were successful, and we brought it back to him, and he was very grateful. We each put a few of our coins into his cup, to help him out and especially to weigh the cup down so it wouldn’t blow away again.
Honestly, I like to think that maybe this small moment was the reason we were meant to miss our train. Maybe if we hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have been able to get his cup back, and maybe he wouldn’t have been able to receive enough money to eat that day. My heart aches for him, and for how awful people must be to him on a daily basis, or how most people choose to look right through him instead of seeing him as one of our brothers who needed help. I wish I could have done more for him than we did, but I felt good about the fact that we helped him at all.
We boarded our train for Seville, and we snagged one of the 4 seated sections that face one another with a table in the middle so we could all sit together. Of course Heather and Jess sat together across from me, and the seat next to me was empty (and I hoped it would stay that way.) Alas, I was in for a rude awakening.
An older gentleman boarded the train, and took one look at Heather and I (Jess was currently in the bathroom) and immediately sat next to me, diving into speaking a blur of quick and excited Spanish. I started laughing and tried to tell him in Spanish that we did not speak the language. He then tried speaking with us in very broken English.
His name was Juan. He was a local farmer heading to visit his mother. He also loved to paint. What else did he apparently love? Me. Oy.
When Jess returned he spoke with Juan in Spanish, and started laughing, relaying the message to us that Juan thought we were both married to Jess. Juan was offering Jess money to take me off his hands, the one with the “hair the color of the sun” and my apparently long eyelashes that Juan just could not get over.
At this point I was becoming rapidly uncomfortable sitting next to Juan. He was allll up in my personal space, and every time I tried to look at my phone he would lean over wondering what I was looking at. He begged me to add him on Facebook, and even gave me his business card, promising to paint me in a picture and send it to me.
He told me he had never really left his home town, and had never been to Seville where we were going. I told him “You can’t miss out on life Juan, you gotta YOLO it up!” And he asked “What is this YOLO?” and I explained what YOLO meant. I told him, “Now you say it, ‘YOLO’!” He did and seemed to not really understand it, but it was funny to try and explain it.
The train gods looked down on me that day with kindness, and thankfully Juan got off the train on the first stop after 20 painful minutes. As he left he kissed us all goodbye on the cheeks, and then shouted happily as he left, “ADIOS! YOLO!” That moment made all of the awkwardness worth it.