Keeping The Wanderlust Alive

There are times when a trip just isn’t possible. Read as many inspirational quotes as you like about “don’t worry, just go” or “don’t let fear stop you; you belong on the road”- yadda, yadda. These beautiful stock images of mountains and rivers with a sprawling quote in artsy letters clearly didn’t spend a fortune on a degree, clearly have never had a credit card, and clearly know nothing about social responsibilities.  

It’s hard being a traveller living in a materialistic society. Not having any desire to buy a car while your friends compare horse power and heated seats (not so much a luxury as mandatory in Canadian winters) or discussing mortgages with colleagues when you in fact are not entirely sure you ever want a house. I know these feelings, and the immense desire to be debt free is a dream that is rapidly becoming reality thanks to very understanding parents, long hours at work, and forays into freelance gigs to bring in extra income. The progress is slow, and the student loans hang heavily over me – reminding me that I have responsibilities to pay off the education that has enabled me to get this far in life.   

I can’t complain about the high interest rates, the paycheques that disappear as fast as they appear, the low credit rating with such a big loan over my head – I am fortunate enough to be in a country where I can access some of the best education, in a variety of fields. What I can complain about is how paying for it really slices in to my biggest passion; travel. We all have social responsibilities that can hinder us, whether you’re travelling with a child, a house in your home country, debts, partners, etc – that in no way means we shouldn’t go. In fact, travelling with that child will give them a fantastic education; putting your house up for rent while you wander can create a passive income; exploring new places with your partner can strengthen your bond and relationship. However it’s a matter of realizing when to focus on those responsibilities and put the passion on the side for a moment. It’s not easy – the quote “never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about” has roots in something deeper. Putting something that means so much to you on a back burner causes stress and frustration, personally I can get quite stir-crazy when I don’t travel enough, I’d even go so far as to say I become a bit of a bitch (own it!) when the travel bug comes nibbling. My mind knows the travel hiatus is for a good cause, but it has yet to telegram my heart who simply beats away and pines for places unknown.  

There are little tricks we travellers use to keep the wanderlust alive and sated when we can’t just hop the next flight to Timbuktu.  I’m fortunate to have a job where I am paid to talk about travel and hostelling all day, to plan events for our guests in the capital city – even to spend the day with fellow travellers showing them around. It’s a sweet gig, that’s for sure, and makes going to work that much easier. However that’s only the tip of the iceberg. My best tricks so far have been planning a big trip once the loan has turned into savings, and taking small opportunistic getaways to the best of my ability. Despite my father seeming to think I shun Canada (not true! I just reaaaaallly like taking airplanes) I’m finding whimsy with small trips within my time zone. The act of waking up in another city refreshes me, and reboots my wanderlust back to default. They may not be glamorous trips but you tell me you don’t feel an ounce of awe when you see the rolling colours of autumn blanket Mont-Tremblant; or feel the brightness of a glint of sunshine bouncing off Toronto skyscrapers. I felt the same bubbling of wonder and amazement staring at the carved marble walls of a stunning Hindu temple on the outskirts of Toronto that I did lost within the twisting paths of the Kyoto Trail deep in a bamboo forest. Today I had the pleasure of being reacquainted with an old city, it’s domed architecture brushing the frigid blue sky; statues staring down upon its twisting streets from every corner making the city feel reflective. Even a walk down an unfamiliar avenue was enough to placate the overwhelming feeling of getting on a train and not getting off until I am completely lost. It was too short a trip to truly feed the travel bug, but enough to invigorate me – to inspire me.  

Living in a materialistic society is tough; it makes keeping that wanderlust alive even harder as there are some things we are required to spend money on in this day and age.  Though I will never be impressed by your convertible, or your two story semi detached – I will always be impressed by those who educate themselves – no matter the cost. Learning in any fashion is the building block to understanding, to curiosity, to sharing, and ultimately to peace. I learn through my travels, they’re  my personal PhD – my way to collect stories and awe from people all over this planet – my way to better myself. I keep my wanderlust alive not for passport stamps and great photos, but because it is my wanderlust that keeps me alive.  

Back in the backpack… 

I’m back, my darlings, after a long hiatus.  I return with promises of more updates, more adventures, and hopefully more wanderlust.  Please keep an eye open and grant me some patience to get settled into my new home. 

I also return with a question for you dear readers, it’s a simple one.  Are you happy?  No matter what path life has taken you on; from the nomadic lifestyle to the routined one – are you content?   Continue reading

The cries, smells, and shivers of Kruger National Park.

The night air was still frigid, even in the heart of South Africa. From my small cot, snuggled deep in a sleeping bag so thin any Canadian would consider it a bed sheet, the only signs of life at 4:30 am were small puffs of breath into the chilled air of the dim tent. My alarm chirped in my ear but my muscles had yet to respond to the trilling sound announcing my immediate awakening to tents within the vicinity. With the bathrooms a short walk away past an open field that Kudu and Nyalas grazed in at sundown, convincing my achingly cold feet to step out into the dark of twilight to brush my teeth, tame my curls and wake up for the task at hand was not an easy one. In the distance a rumbling sound echoed across the field – lions roared over a victory.

By the time the eight of us had climbed into the open top safari vehicle, with a warm cup of viscous instant coffee forced down my gullet to keep my belly warm, a general shiver had fallen over the group. Dressed in layers, as we knew by the time the huge African sun had risen over the flat horizon we would begin to sweat, many chose to throw woollen blankets over our heads to protect ourselves from the oncoming drive towards Kruger Park at top speeds – winds pricking goosebumps from our flesh and trickling a frozen chill down our spine. Our blankets seemed to prove a weak defence to fight off the bite of the African morning as we shivered together, not speaking, resembling a pack of hunched over nuns. In the distance, another roar in the darkness sends a tremble over us that has nothing to do with the cold. Continue reading

Fire Cupping Sucks.

Fire cupping sucks. I mean, not in the negative way in which we currently use the word ‘suck’ but in the full-on literal sense of the word. When the first hot cup is placed on your back it feels like your skin is being sucked right off the bone. Ok – when said like that it does sound extremely negative; I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds. Let me tell you what happened.

After living in Beijing, China for just under a year I felt I had a myriad of experiences under my belt. I had hiked the Great Wall of China (well actually, I broke in to the wild section), ate hand pulled noodles and freshly seared dumplings, even drank baijiu – a sorghum based, esophagus blistering, liquor that is very popular amongst the Chinese. My life in Beijing was a constant whirlwind of excitement. But there was something I had yet to try – traditional Chinese medicine. Continue reading

Making Scents of Mumbai

It was the smells I remember most. I was warned by countless naysayers that Mumbai smells – and not of roses and baby powder. The descriptions of the odours I was assured I would encounter from the minute I stepped out on to the tarmac included the stink of cowhide, the bitter smell of people sweating, rotten foods swarming with flies – oh, and human waste; lots and lots of toilet type smells. I touched down in Mumbai with a knot in my stomach and a certainty in my heart that I would eventually adapt to the bombardment of foul smells – somehow my sensitive nose would acclimatize and I would learn to breathe steady. My brain did not register that the countless people who told me to prepare for the stench had never actually been to Mumbai and had simply heard stories from friends – or friends of friends.

The first thing that hit me was the rush of humidity. The air swarmed with dampness and heat that trickled down my throat like I was breathing through a wet cloth. I struggled to take deep, settling breaths and get as much oxygen as I could from the dripping air. The earthy smell of ozone from earlier rains hung low over the city, and even with the cover of 3 AM darkness the air was stagnant – drawing sweat from me like I was taking a polygraph. The thickness overcame me and it took a moment for me to realize my nose wasn’t singed with foul aromas – my taste buds weren’t bringing unwanted odours to life in my mouth. In fact, the ozone and heat created an almost sweet smell – like musty books and caramel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I arrived at my destination just as the sky began to lighten with the pre-cursing dawn. Sleep came easily with a tall fan blowing over me, cooling my skin, which felt near warm enough to fry the proverbial egg. Continue reading

What I learned at WITS’14

This past weekend marked the inaugural Women In Travel Summit (WITS) in Chicago, Illinois.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this mind blowing, first of its kind event and the things I could say about it!  It was a weekend of inspiration, intelligence, empowerment and strength – the 100+ women from all over the world gathered at the Palmer House Hotel to swap stories, tips, advice and information about travel and blogging.

The WITS’14 Summit was organized by Go Girl Travel Network and their entire team did a spectacular job.  The most overheard comment of the weekend was certainly how impressive it was.  Organization was 100%, as was the flow and ease with which each seminar was presented.  The seminars covered a wide variety of topics from “Monetization 101” to “Cultivating Your Personal Travel Brand with Social Media” and even “How to be a Rockstar”.  It was difficult to choose which one to attend and bloggers rapidly made connections so they could swap notes from sessions they may have missed.  The speakers were beyond helpful, and explained everything in terms even the most novice bloggers could understand, while offering information that would benefit all writers no matter what level.   Continue reading

Take it again – from the top!

Eighty weeks.  That’s how long it’s been since I’ve updated WanderlustSteph.  How time flies.  Part of me is amazed that it’s been that long, since it means I have spent about a year and a half in China; the other part is stunned because it also feels like yesterday I wrote about my experience with the Beijing subway.  Since that last post so much has happened, readers, so much.  I have trekked up mountains in Myanmar, sizzled on Malaysian beaches, played flip cup with lady-boys in Thailand, cried at the Killing Fields in Cambodia, watched a building burn in Vietnam, and ridden a motorcycle down the south of India – I even wandered the cobbled streets of London for two weeks.  A lot can happen in eighty weeks, and I am most certainly not the same woman who wrote about subways not so long ago.

I could blame the lack of access to social media sites, such as this one, for my inability to update you all.  I did not have a VPN (a program to confuse your internet so you appear to be accessing from another country without media restrictions) in China to allow me a regular and constant access to the blog, Facebook, twitter or the like.  I occasionally piggy backed on a friends VPN to see what was going on, but never long enough for a full blog post.  However, I find this a weak argument.  Despite having little to no internet available in Mozambique I still managed to update you.  I would write posts while sitting on my thin bed, bones aching, muscles stiffened, but mind alert and creative; I would save what I wrote and post it when I found Wi-Fi.  I found time in China to sometimes update my Facebook on the borrowed VPN- I could have easily used a similar method as that in Moz to keep you all in the loop.  I didn’t.

My time in Beijing defines a difficult and yet great part of my life.  Medically I was unwell often (had I not been, I would likely still be there) and I hit a low with an ambulance ride to the hospital where I received a transfusion due to severe blood loss.  At the same time I was blessed with some of the greatest friends and allies a girl could ever hope to have.  Empowered women with bold views, men fiery with a passion for life; all full of drive and dreams, meeting in the lanky alleys of the Beijing hutongs to discuss all matters of topics over a steaming plate of noodles and a cold beer.  There were yogis, partiers, introverts and extroverts all colliding in one place and none of them cared.  The love of the people I met in Beijing is indescribably overwhelming.  Yes, there was the odd jerk – all cities have them, even they couldn’t help but be swept up in the life of the city.

I was hooked.  Within a few months I didn’t feel like searching for a VPN to access the blog – I felt like hunting down a great bar in Sanlitun, the party district of East Beijing, sitting with these amazing people and experiencing the moment.  Frivolous chats about $1 mojitos (and how many we could possibly consume in an hour) morphed into conversations about global politics, current events, philosophy; and would just as readily morph back into a discussion on the best type of local brew.   Part of the charm of Beijing was how it drew you in, both frustrating you and enchanting you at the same time.  While lost down a maze of alleys trying to find that one Canadian restaurant your friend swore had the best poutine outside Quebec, you find instead a dumpling shop – steaming and sputtering into the night, surrounded by the unmistakable aroma of soy, ginger and pork.  In that dumpling shop you forget all homesickness that drew you out for a poutine in the first place.  As you make friends with whomever is sitting near you, for a brief second, you convince yourself this is home and no, Dorothy, there is no place like it. Continue reading

Bustling Beijing!

            Life in the big city can prove challenging at times.  Beijing’s population is near the entire population of my entire home country (give or take a few million) – all in one large expanse of a high tech, fast paced, bustling, vibrant city.  This adds a dynamic I have never experienced before.  Surely, my time in Cape Town – a large, globally prominent city and omnipresence in my life would have prepared me a bit for living outside of the big-city-small-town-feel place I call home.  However it has not.  The idea of getting on a subway at all hours of the day (and night) and there is nary a seat to be seen between the crush of bodies is completely foreign to me.  Granted, the concept of a subway is also foreign since back home we rely on the world’s most unreliable bus system – but I digress.  The lines of the subway run under the entirety of Beijing, it’s veins, transporting you to exits unknown where pretty much anything is possible.  Though the vastness of traffic, highways, cars belching exhaust into the air, horns blaring at all hours and the constant game of Frogger as one tries to comprehend simply crossing the street can be a bit overwhelming at times, so can the rush and push to get on Beijing’s various subway lines.

As I wake, the light of dawn breaks over the skyline of Beijing, which can be seen from my large window.  The sun burns off the last of the twilight and it’s light reflects off the countless high rises and skyscrapers, brightening the day that much quicker.  By the time I am prepared for the subway, one can feel the days heat and humidity rising, the air thick with dampness and the slightly tangy taste of future rain mingled with the beginnings of the days traffic fumes.  Slightly Dr. Who-esque, traffic is wall to wall by 7:00 despite there being at least three lanes on small streets, the highways having near six at times.  Those not sitting patiently in their car file quickly and effectively down the long escalators into the cool dim of the subway station.  Four separate exits and entrances for one station mean four times the amount of people you expect waiting on the platform.  There is a rather ingenious, even if rarely practiced properly, method of boarding and disembarking the subway cars – all simultaneously.  Those inside the car line up to make one line to disembark right in the middle of the doors while those waiting to enter the car wait in the wings, so to speak, to enter from both sides.  Though clever, most people carry bags that are too big for this process, or the car is too full to form a single exit line so there becomes a general push for the door while those outside wait patiently for their window and pray not to be left behind.

Once embarked the subway moves swiftly, smoothly and with great finesse.  The map of your current line is lit up above each door with stops in both Chinese and English marked clearly.  Over the PA a lovely woman’s voice tells you what the next station is, which doors will open and to please prepare for your arrival.  With each stop more people enter and leave, bringing with them the smell of hot breakfast, laughter, music and conversation.  Most get off at a transfer station to carry on with their journey to destinations unknown, further line changes until they arrive where they want to be.  Some find a destination already on their line – on Line 10, for example – the line that I live on at a lovely area called Shuangjing; one could step off at Tuanjeihu – turning left will take you to Tuanjeihu park where I ended up this weekend, wandering through trees and small stalls of street food, outdoor pottery classes, groups of people doing tai chi – at least until you wind down the path that takes you to the makeshift beach where you can spend the day doing laps in the pool, floating and splashing in the man-made waves or freeing your inner child by falling headfirst down marble waterslides, laughing as you plunge into the cool water.  However, should your feet take you right you will find yourself wandering the Village, home of the high end, name brands of today – your Nike, Louis Vuitton, Swatch, and so on.  Can’t afford it?  Not a problem, only a block away is Yashow, five floors of knockoffs and bartering goodness.  Everything has a price, an amazing one if you’ve got the bartering skills.  Any brand slightly out of your price range in the Village can be bought for pennies on the dollar (fake of course) – giving you the look of haute couture at the Wal-Mart price.  If all this shopping makes you hungry there is Sanlitun, the bar street where expats go for icy drinks on a hot summer night, dancing amidst the throngs and living up the night life.  During the day the food is fantastic, of all varieties – some free standing restaurants, others tucked into the side of tall buildings housing more clothing shops and spas where you can treat yourself to the cheapest mani/pedi I have ever come across.

If you carry on Line 10, you can get off just shy of the airport line and find Beijing’s Ikea.  Not exactly a reason to come to Beijing, but an experience nonetheless!  Having gone there last weekend in search of a mirror – I faced that ever present, yet always surprising fact I am in one of the largest cities on the planet.  And, just as all the folks in Ottawa go to Ikea on Saturday, it does seem that all of Beijing does the same thing.  Cute couples walking the aisles picking out furniture, women squabbling over whether the dark wood or the light wood would be better, children climbing on the furniture – although it was a big of a shock to see people all climbed into the beds, under the blankets and everything, grabbing a nap!  The place was packed – carts, kids, bags and furniture; there simply wasn’t enough room.  A lovely Ikea lunch (surprisingly, didn’t go for the meatballs…) was a welcome refuge when we found it.  By the end, we simply wanted to pay and high tail it outside to find a bit of personal space – with our new purchases of course.

Switching over to Line 1 – the main line of Beijing and the original; one can stop at the infamous Tian’anmen Square.  For those of you like me who aren’t 100% sure what to expect from Tian’anmen Square let me lay it out for you.  It is, in fact, a rather large square.  In the middle is Mao’s tomb, on the outside lay some gorgeous buildings and the entrance to the Forbidden City (an adventure for another day, I’m afraid) but generally speaking it is simply a square.  A square full of tourists, photographers and surprisingly cheap drinks sold from a small trailer.  A few guards stand around looking professional, but really – it’s a square.  If you are a blatant foreigner such as myself, odds are you will be stopped and asked politely to take a picture with someone; a bit flattering really – or on the opposite end of the spectrum they may be videotaping the joys of the large square and suddenly turn the camera on you and stare.  Great fun at the square.  The highlight is if you walk to the next subway stop on Line 1, taking in the sights, you’ll find yourself at Wanfujing.  Mostly a shopping district (home to Beijing’s first Forever 21, which unfortunately got to me pretty quick) it has one of the largest foreign language bookstores (also found it’s way into my wallet) and some fantastic food.  It was there I got my first taste of Macau food; which left me a bit startled as it was heavily influenced by Portuguese flavours.  After a brief history lesson (and the realization I should probably learn more history) I learned Macau was in fact a Portuguese colony at one point.  Who’da known?  It is also considered the Vegas of China, good food, gambling and general tomfoolery?  I may need to take a weekend away.

However there is something not for the faint of heart in Wanfujing.  Nestled between two large shops is a tall archway leading down a narrow alley.  At first it’s simply a mass of people, largely tourists crowding the entrance, cooing at the first few stalls.  Once you pass them you are able to fully comprehend – a food district, you are able to buy the usual stuffed buns, noodles, chicken feet (don’t knock ‘em), and fried vegetables; but Wanfujing isn’t known for it’s dumplings, oh no.  It’s known for it’s vast array of insects and creepy crawlies available for any brave soul to chow down.  Four small scorpions on a skewer – still wiggling, or one giant black one, dead; skewers of fat silk worms, seahorses, insanely long centipedes, fuzzy black tarantulas, coiled snakes, stretched lizards, bright orange starfish and fat cockroaches line the windows as smoke and laughter (and the occasional shriek) fill the air.  As you push through the crowd it thins until at the end of the long alley you are left pretty much alone to talk to the stall vendors who will tell you all about their wares.  As part of a pact I had decided that I would at least try ONE bug, once I found one that, for lack of a better term, suited my palate.  My accomplice, being vegetarian chose a relatively safe looking noodle dish that was basically noodles about the length and size of your finger in a pink/red sauce.  I stopped at the cleanest looking stall that had the bugs already dead (I felt bugs skewered still alive and wriggling a bit too cruel for me – and yet I was going to fry and eat them anyways; the moral high ground is a bit foggy) and perused the options.  A coiled snake?  The protruding fangs were a bit too frightening and I felt they might ironically get stuck between my teeth.  A big starfish?  The size was a bit too much of a commitment for me – not to mention a starfish, alive or dead, does not seem appetizing; reminiscent of sandpaper and algae.  Of course my marine conservation hackles went up at the thought of both starfish and seahorses, so I passed.  A big-ass scorpion or four small ones?  Well, to be honest I have already had a scorpion stinger in my body once and not too keen on having it again.  The tarantula was a bit tempting but in the end it was the cockroaches that won.  They were smallish, compact and easy to eat in one bite, quickly swallow and wash down with some water.  There is a bit of a debate as to if it was a cockroach or not simply because it looked different from any cockroach that I’ve ever seen (yes, I am referring to the ones in my kitchen).  Anyways, on I carried, agreed on a price and watched the vendor pop my four cockroaches on a stick in the deep fryer.  My accomplice had her noodles and watched in horror as he salted the hot bugs and handed me the warm stick, smiling.  I would like to say I simply munched down and swallowed like a champ, but there was a bit of psyching up to do first.  I avoided looking at the bugs, then stared at them.  I looked at the other options wondering if maybe the silk worms were a better choice.  I chugged some water in hopes of filling and protecting my stomach from what I was about to eat and endured some taunts from my accomplice.  All with a grin on my face.  When the moment of truth came, she slurped a noodle and I rather tactlessly ripped a whole bug off the skewer and began to chew.  Crunchy with a softness inside, salty, hot and surprisingly not that unpleasant.  Then came a moment that surprised even me – my accomplice was making faces of utter disgust chewing her noodle, and I was making one of intrigue and making no move to spit out the bug.  The noodle was made of some sort of gelatinous rice mixture making it slimy, chewy and just generally a terrible texture; in a sweet mystery sauce that didn’t help the flavor.  After trying a noodle I immediately had a cockroach chaser.  I would rather eat the bugs!  So, the adventure ended with a full bowl of noodles meeting the trash bin and all but one cockroach in my belly.  I felt both victorious and slightly alarmed that a bug could actually taste that good.  Good being used loosely of course.

Of all the stops on the Beijing subway there is one I have enjoyed most of all.  A few stations after my work there lays a place called the Lama Temple.  Right outside the exit is a tall brick wall and trees that reach for the sky.  The air is smoky and smells of deep incense, sounds of chatter and chanting carried in the wind.  As you enter the temple lot, just before the long garden leading to the gate you are met with astounding colours – vibrant reds, deep blues, glimmering golds and rich greens paint the gate and the walls.  As you cross through the gate you are bombarded with the smell of green grass and white clouds of incense fumes.  When you finally reach the temple the sight is near indescribable – crowds of Buddhists, standing in front large troughs of fire lighting their incense and praying to enter the temple.  The atmosphere inside the temple greatly differed from that only feet away on the busy street.  Like stepping back in time – only the past has tourist and Nikons.  It made me glad to see that the number of local Buddhists praying far outnumbered all tourists.  I wandered slowly; though voices carried loudly, there was a great sense of quiet and peace.  I joined in with the lighting of incense, paid homage to many of the Buddha’s inside the temple, including one of the largest, at least forty feet tall carved from one single tree.  The atmosphere of the place was unlike any other, bustling with people all moving in slow awe.  A complete oxymoron.

Which is what Beijing is; an oxymoron.  It moves at lighting speed, constantly – even the night has a movement about it; yet walk to the nearest park, shelter or even small garden and you’ll find a completely changed environment where peace, tranquility and balance reign.

 

Lama Temple

Continue reading

Let the games begin … again!

Image

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls!  I am very happy to announce that after a rather long and completely uncalled for hiatus, the WanderlustSteph blog returns with vengeance!  I have spent the past four months back from Mozambique desperately seeking employment – of pretty much any kind.  

It began well enough, I was turned down for my first job for being ‘overqualified’.  That may be a bummer on the employment front, but when you’re told “well darn it, you’re just too darn good for this job” for the first time, it does feel pretty good.  Then a few more interviews with no callbacks.  Then weeks of scouring want ads, until the weeks pile up and you see no silver lining on that job front.  Until you begin to feel a twang of jealousy for those fry boys flipping burgers. Until you begin to seriously consider giving up all worldly possessions and living in a cave for the rest of your life.  Yes, it was tough.  So when I saw a friend mention a job available in China I scoffed.  The wanderlust welled up like a tide, but the practicality in me served as a buoy.  No way could I pick up and head to China after almost four months of unemployment – not to mention only four months between my last long trip and this one.  Well, anyone who knows me knows I don’t play well with the words “No way”.  

So here I am, packing everything up yet again and setting off into the world for great experiences (and your amusement). This time I head to Beijing, China.  I know it’s an entirely different kettle of fish from Quelimane, so I can’t wait to dive in and report back.  Since getting an offer from the school in China, I have been working tirelessly at trying to organize paperwork, visas (don’t even get me started, that was tough!), funding and documents – which finally paid off and I am ready to go.  Well…mostly ready.  Those bags aren’t going to pack themselves!

I also want to thank you guys for being so supportive of the blog, it really helps when a bit of homesickness sets in.  Your comments are always appreciated and bring a smile to my face every time!  So please, feel free to keep them coming and I will ensure a blog as often as I can.  If you are a Skyper, you are more than welcome to add me to Skype (username: wanderluststeph) and we can chat!  

I love you all!  See you on the road!

Red Light Green Light

Although I very much wanted to regale you with a hilarious post about my extremely eventful journey from Cape Town back to Quelimane before making a post about Quelimane itself, but I promise this one will be quick.

It was hard to get back into the swing of things in Quelimane after such a long time of pretty much constant partying in Cape Town.  Suddenly it was dark at 6pm and I was in bed by 8pm again.  Not drunk.  Or tired from dancing all night.  It was a bit odd, but what can you do.  I missed how easy it was to make friends in South Africa and how I was able to talk to pretty much anyone.  Granted for some reason my Portuguese seemed to really shine in South Africa and now that I’ve been back many of my colleagues and friends tell me that it’s much much better.  I guess it was just a confidence thing.

So when the weekend came around and I faced the reality of an 8pm bed time on a Saturday of all things, I chose to do something about it.  Texting my friend (in Portuguese) I asked what locals out in his neck of the woods did on weekends.  I was informed that they go dancing and eat street chicken.  Oh yes, I was all in.  We arranged to meet in town where he would pick me up on a motorbike and we would drive to Sagrada, a church not far out of the city – but far enough that the concrete houses turn to mud ones and people seem just that little bit more real.  So 8pm rolled around and I waved goodbye to my mat and closed the door behind me.  Wearing a flowing skirt on the back of a motorbike wasn’t the best option as I kept searing my leg on the exhaust when I would get off the one-up seat but all in all it was an enjoyable ride.  We stopped at a small stall in town to buy some beers (that I managed to carry AND hold on to the seat -yes, my African skills are improving) before driving down the main road past the central market to get to Sagrada.  We chatted best we could as he weaved around potholes and oncoming traffic before a sudden jolt and stop nearly threw me from the bike.  We had stopped in the middle of the busiest intersection in town, at the corner of the Mercado Centrale where one could catch bicycle taxis and shappas anywhere you needed to go.  Why had we stopped?  More to the point why had everyone else around us stopped too?  My friend slapped me on the knee and pointed, his mouth open in shock.  Everyone around me was doing the same thing, pointing to their friends and chattering.

Yes, my dear family and friends, Quelimane has its first set of traffic lights.  Four in total standing in what I think to be kind of odd placements on the other side of the road but they’re still traffic lights.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve even seen a stop sign around here really.  I think the best part was watching the cars either pull up slowly, look at the lights and continue on no matter what colour or just beeping their horn loudly as they proceed to drive through the red.  I exaggerate, yes some people stop at the reds and go on the greens but it’s the reaction that’s hilarious.  Our sudden stop wasn’t because the light was red, but because my friend wanted to stop and see the new traffic light.  Lovingly called “robots” like in the neighbouring country of South Africa, they’ve caused quite a stir.  As my friend and I carried on down the road, dust flying behind us in the night we discussed the new addition to the city.  As we drank beers with some of his friends and my work colleagues the robots were the topic of discussion all night long.  The man grilling the skewered chicken on the side of the road over a fire had many opinions about the lights which he spurted out to whoever would listen.  The general consensus was that the new government (remember that election I mentioned oh so long ago?) is doing good work.  Instead of piles of garbage there were now dumpsters that everyone could use that are easy to access, the main road was repaved meaning less potholes and a cleaner look to one of the busiest streets, and now the traffic light.  That’s a lot of changes for a party in power only three months.

The night was very enjoyable and as I was dropped off at my house around 11pm, with a belly full of beer and delicious grilled chicken – yes, we ran the red light laughing the whole way.

Can you see our new traffic light behind our current stop sign?

Can you see our new traffic light behind our current stop sign?