Thursday, June 13, 2013

Touchdown in my 99th country - Savannah

“Why am I always flying?!” I asked myself as usual before taking off.
I don’t know when the fear came to be as bad as it is, perhaps it was that flight to Samos island in Greece.
It was the kind of landing where you could only see water, water, water until that last split second before the jolt of touch down and roar of engines. Going in for the first landing on the tiny island was terrifying seeing water only metres below and no land. Coming in at a complete angle the engines suddenly roared up, NOT in an “I hit the ground and am slowing down” kind of way, but a “I hope I can get the speed back up in time to get lift off again”. Freaking heck.  As if for comfort, the pilot’s announcement came, “Sorry, there was too much wind, we had to abort our landing, we’re going around to try again,” Yes, I think that’s where my fear started.
My first experience with Emirates airbus left me with a great impression for the airline. The meal, dare I say it, was a yummy tandoori chicken and I almost had to order seconds, we were provided with blankets, head phones and an endless list of movies, which may seem like a bare minimum but I’ve been on lots of flights lately that didn’t provide any of that, especially for free. Glancing up the stairs to the second level’s, first class i assume, had me drooling and writing down a new goal for my bucket list.
Stop overs aren’t my thing because double take-off and landing is double scary though I think I am getting slightly better. After 6 hours we landed safely in the U.A.E. in Dubai’s beautiful, glossy international airport. We spent an easy 3 hours there strolling, shopping, having a drink and eating a soup. I don’t think Kees has said much more than, “Sweet, we’re on a holiday!!” so far.  It was the final day of  my free eBook “Sihpromatum – I Grew My Boobs in China” promotion so I made my final tweets out before boarding the final 6 hour flight to Port Louis, Mauritius. 

Flying over the African island country, Mauritius, off the east coast of Madagascar, I was surprised by its size. I was expecting it to be much smaller. Instead it had a big city, and gorgeous mountainous formations spewing up out of nowhere which from the ground are very Grinch-like giving a very mystical aura. In certain directions the water is all kinds of dreamy turquoise colour. It has been a while since I’ve been past the equator so I’m definitely going to test out the toilet water theory again. Mauritius is my 99th country (and no, Dubai’s stopover did not count) and our 37th country together on 5 continents.
Everything seems to have worked out perfectly already. Our first flight was not busy, and Kees slept the whole way stretched out on 3 benches, the second flight we were the only ones with an empty seat next to us in the row of three which is nice because I like to be able to hydrate and go to the bathroom as much as possible. When we arrived, instead of taking the en route bus we’d reserved we were driven in a private taxi an hour to our hotel at the north of the island. We drove across the entire country and had a very pleasant driver who was happy to share lots of information about his country.
The driving is on the left side of the road, which is lined with big fields of sugar cane, apparently their most exported goods. In 1598 the Dutch (yes, there they go again! They’ve been travellers since the beginning of time and it always makes me wonder why they have such a small country today) founded the island which was later taken over by the French then the British. Now it is its own country with a huge mix of races and religions from the conquests bringing people over from Asia and Africa for slavery. According to our taxi driver they used the slaves to hunt and kill dodo birds to eat. Though I’m not sure how true that is, I did a bit of research and am amazed by what I found. Dodo birds are extinct birds that only ever inhabited Mauritius and were up to 1metre tall, 20kg and because of their lack of predators on the island before humans came, they were peaceful and passive making easy prey. I find this so special… that this bird was ONLY on this tiny island in the whole world… doesn’t it just make you wonder how on earth and when on earth they appeared in this world!? And why did they call the country Mauritius instead of Dodo, since it seems it was their island.
From what I’ve heard and seen, the country is very peaceful today, much like Suriname was and that is good to hear. Creole is the official language though English and French is spoken widely. The island is a third the size of Holland with a small population of 1.3 million. Lined with stunning white sands, blue waters and reefs, there is a lot more to see and do here. Water sports such as scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, underwater jet ski, submarines, water skiing and kite surfing, to volcanoes, colored volcanic rock, nature parks, lion walking, Segway riding, zebra petting, zip-lining and more are all available. The information I’m giving has come from either the taxi driver or pamphlets we received from both airport and hotel.
 When we arrived at the hotel Kees and  I couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves as we were served, our baggage being taken to our room, getting welcomed with handshakes and complimentary refreshments by staff dressed in peaceful masseuse-like uniforms. The pure white against their darker skin is so charming. As we sat in the breezy lobby while they checked us in we were promptly told we’d had a room upgrade from a superior to a deluxe room. Score!!!

I must admit this didn’t come as too much of a surprise for me because the travel agent I dealt with had hushed me when I suggested our double birthday might be worthy of something a little extra. She said she already had “a surprise up her sleeve”! 


“This is ridiculous!” we both said as soon as our escort left us in our room.
The glorious king-size bed was adorned with pink flowers delicately placed on the white linen. The headrest and mirror frames are glass with sand and shells for decoration. The luxurious bathroom is completely open with a bathtub, walk in shower and closets. Definitely would not recommend this room for non-lovers!
 Breathtaking is the word to describe the view from our terrace. We are on the bottom floor so we simply walk out the sliding doors to soak up the sun rays and gaze at the sparkling ocean. I’m convinced we have one of the nicest rooms in the resort because there are only a few that have personal patios like this. Laying in the lawn chair it feels like I have more than just the ocean at my feet and the beauty of it could really make you cry.


Having had such a long, terrible winter in Holland my eyes seriously needed to adjust to the sun, I hardly know what it is anymore. The beach has shallow, calm water for a long way out before there are any waves which is ideal for me. I’m easily the youngest one here aside from a few toddlers, which really comes as no surprise, it’s been that way ever since I started traveling. I’m already head over heels crazy in love with this resort and island. The people we’ve met have been exceptionally friendly, though I do struggle with their strong accents.
This is the first ever 5-star resort I’ve stayed at and it’s amazing to be here. I feel like a true goddess. I used to dream of one day experiencing this and it’s amazing to see the difference in lifestyles I’ve lived.
Speaking of stars, finding two more reviews, a 5-star and 4.5- star and tallying my final score for my promo at 2,217, I couldn’t have a better start to my holiday!!! Thank you everyone for your amazing help, I couldn’t do it without your support. It means the world to me and I truly couldn’t have thought of a better gift to start my 23rd    (or is it 24th) year in this beautiful world.   
Kees is out kite surfing for his first time right now as I type this. I’m curious to know how it goes. The weather is beautiful with slight wind and I have a beautiful view of the ocean with islands in the distance. The kite surfing is done at a different hotel so it’s nice to be able to sit and write with a different view today.
Tomorrow we are going to be walking with lions and we are both scared and excited. I purposely booked the trip ON my birthday because if I’ve learned anything about my family it’s that they are cheapskates… so now, if I get eaten by a lion they will be able to save money on my tombstone. June 14th, 1990-2013. Aren’t I so considerate?
Though there have been some reported lion attacks at similar parks in other countries, Mauritius (according to Kees’ research) has never had an attack. “There’s always room for a first,” says the back of my mind. But no, seriously, I’m joking and feel so privileged and lucky to have this incredible opportunity. Kees feels the same as he says, “It’s every boys dream to walk with a lion!”
I will be posting pictures and a story about the experience, and for those who don’t already have my FB and Instagram, find me there for MORE pictures:
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Comments and likes are, of course, always appreciated.
I could barely pull myself out of bed this morning after yesterday’s 17+ hour transit and a total of 36 hours awake. It certainly didn’t break any record but tired me out none-the-less,  so I hope I’m not dragging as much tomorrow.
Savannah Grace

Monday, June 10, 2013

A little more of Guinea and Kassa

So far June has been a very exciting month. Mom finally received her letter from the Dutch IND lifting her ban and allowing her back in the EU while also approving her visa. Only 3 days after receiving the letter she landed in Holland, no one but Kees and I knew. Two days after she arrived, Dad was released from Heliomare where he was going through rehab after his stroke. It was perfect timing and the best present and surprise we could’ve given him!  I am currently doing a FREE promotion, in honor of my birthday and in just 3 days over 2,000 people have downloaded the ebook  “Sihpromatum – I Grew My Boobs in China”! I can’t quite comprehend that number! I’m completely shocked and so happy. The sale is going on until Tuesday, so be quick and tell your friends to get their FREE download.
I know it’s been quite a while since our February trip to Guinea, but I’ve been meaning to write a few more posts about it for a while now. Unfortunately, I got too caught up in all the other things going on that this will be the final post about that trip before we move on to the next adventures.
Our Guinea trip was a mix of languages; Dutch between Keita and Kees, English with me, French with the locals and a buzz of Sou-sou when Keita was speaking with the locals.
In just two weeks Kees spoke/attempted to speak five different languages; Dutch and English fluently, German, attempted French and a few words of Sou-Sou!  I tell you, he continues to impresses me every day. Insistent on impressing him for a change, I put on my best French accent only to receive a humored, “you’re a terrible freak,” in return, “But you are still my little gecko catching crab hunter.”

(Small doorway of our second room in Conakry)
Kees was amazing throughout our entire trip. He never let me out of his sight and always held my hand or led me by the elbow while crossing streets. These careful precautions could’ve been highly influenced by Mom who asked Kees a thousand times to take good care of me; he did not let her down.
After spending a week on Kassa island where our holiday home is being built, we went back to Conakry for a few days before flying home.

 Faliko another one of Keita’s friends who’d been hanging out with us, offered his room to us. It was complete luxury In comparison to the first place we stayed. Faliko was very proud to show us his room, quickly turning on his a/c and tv to show off. He has his own private room with a couch, a big bed, two fridges which Kees thinks he used to sell ice/charge people to use, and running water with a private bathroom!!!      
Though the lighting was very dull and the walls and floor were completely warped, we felt utterly spoilt! As I hung a flashlight from the ceiling I questioned if perhaps the dull lighting was for a reason… I was the one who noticed the giant bedbugs running across the walls above our heads in bed. This didn’t come as a surprise, after waking up with very distinct, itchy rows of red spots on our bodies. I spent a good portion of our time in the room squishing bugs and saving poor Kees who refused to be the bug hunter. We also had a monster of a friend in the bathroom. She never disturbed us or jumped onto us while we were taking a pee and I was grateful that her ginormous egg sack didn’t hatch while we were there.

(Bed bugs and a giant spider with a huge white egg sack attached to her belly)

(What we see when we step out of our room in Conakry)
The day of our departure we had to go back one last time to Kassa island so Kees could sign the papers for his house. Keita had originally told us we would go to the island at 2pm but we insisted we go at noon so we had time to make it back for our flight.
African culture and respecting elders is really nice, but sometimes it can backfire a little. When we got to the harbour the water was waaaayyy out, impossible to catch a boat to the other side. The tide wouldn’t be back in until at least 2pm. I think Kieta knew this, but rather than speak up to Kees and correct him and risk disrespecting him, Keita had obliged and picked us up at our requested time.

(The tide is way out!)
So with the clock ticking and the water seemingly unmoving, we waited on the curb watching the traffic and kids playing soccer barefoot in the trash strewn beach.
Sitting in one spot provides enough entertainment and unique sights for a thousand photos. There is just so much going on. After about an hour, to prevent having to pee on the curb, I insisted we go to the 3-star Novotel which was luckily just around the corner. We escaped to dry off our sweat in the a/c and had a coffee.

As soon as the tide was within reach, we walked down a very narrow cement walkway to the boat with our arms out to stay balanced. Before we’d left our room, our bags packed and ready for the airport, we contemplated whether to leave the passports and all of our most valuable things there or to bring them on our person… well, we did the latter, and I’m still not sure which was smarter. There were local guys being paid to literally piggy back, men and women, through knee deep mucky water to their boats and toss them in. It was chaos.
We got to the island at 5pm and the guy who needed to do the paperwork wasn’t even there!! Our flight was scheduled for 8:30pm so at this point we started to feel slightly wary.
The minutes felt like forever, having to sit there and wait as the minutes ticked by was difficult. Sweat dripped down our faces from both heat and anxiety.
Keita nodded confidently, “it’s okay, we make it.”
Ever calm, knowing stress would not change the situation, we had to sit with smiles on our faces and give the due respect to the man when he came, instead of jumping up and down and telling him we had a flight to catch. As soon as the papers were signed we shook the man’s hand and made a run for it!
Down the dusty, uneven island road we ran to the decrepit dock where we were dropped off only to find no boat. Kees, in usual Kees fashion let out a well humored laugh, “No boat. Keita, is there really, no boat?”
I couldn’t help but laugh also, it was really like out of a movie, “We’re stranded!” Ten minutes feels a lot longer when it’s part of a 2 hour count down.

Finally the boat came back from who knows where, and we all piled into the boat to take the final 30 minute ride back to the capital before hightailing it out of the country.
It seemed to be the worst weather we’d had on the trip, with the waves rocking us back and forth. We had a dozen people crammed in the smallest boat I’d seen on the trip, the waves nearly coming up and over the edge.
“Oh geez, oh geez!” It was the final stretch and yet making it seemed more and more doubtful. Halfway between the island and the capital, the motor died. So sitting in this overloaded, cockroach infested boat, drifting in the direction of the open sea, I couldn’t help but regret bringing ALL of our valuables; passports, money, cameras and full memory chips. What were we thinking??
“It is kind of funny isn’t it, that we rely on this boat to make our flight…” Kees laughed.
We all held our breath, one guy already bailing the water, until the motor kicked in again. Everyone was on the edge of their wooden plank seat, cringing at every choking sound of the motor.The boatman, no older than 20 and visibly lacking confidence, steered the boat horizontal on the  waves, which made each one of us feel like we were going overboard from our tippy canoe.
Finally, we touched ground, squeezing ourselves through the  crowd of boats. Barely getting the tip of our boat to touch the slippery, concrete pier I jumped off the boat and luckily into a guy’s arms, who saved me from falling onto my butt in all the slimy fish guts.

(The slimy, filthy harbour when the tide is out! I think the only one enjoying this is the pig!!) 
(Yes, PIG!)
Desperate for a shower we came back to find  the running water, which had been such a privilege, had decided to stop working. Thankfully there  was still a full bucket of water that the two of us were able to share.

(No running water for a bucket shower!!!)
We threw the last minute odds and ends into the suitcase and rushed to put it in the jeep. “Wanting to yell, ‘STEP ON IT!’” we turned the corner and BAM rush hour traffic. Oh man. Without traffic it was a 45 minute drive to airport and it was already 6:00pm.
In the dead stop traffic we see the same Interpol secret police, who days earlier had threatened to take us to the station, stuck right next to us! Surprised, we laughed and waved. Kees pulled out his camera (the whole reason for the near arrest in the first place) and jokingly asked if he could take a picture of him. The guy smiled and began enthusiastically waving a hand to go ahead and started to pose from his window… oh my gosh… a great lasting impression to remind us just how crazy and wonderful Africa  is.
Before we were really allowed to leave town though, we had to say goodbye to Keita's family and pick up drums to take home for him. As Keita loaded his drums in the jeep his family stuffed kebabs in our mouths, gave us hugs and kisses and we were off!

(Keita’s sister and extended family)
The traffic was intense and slow going, so as soon as there was a break in the median on the main highway, we cut over and drove into oncoming traffic ALL the way down… “Now this is crazy!” I thought, laughing with Kees. Taking the oncoming traffic lane, we drove like a bat out of hell. We of course weren’t the only ones to think of this… you know how during rush hour one direction is bumper to bumper while the other side is practically empty? Have you ever thought of just cutting over to the other side when there was a break in the median? Well, that’s exactly what everyone was doing. We were in a race, making three lanes of traffic, two going against traffic, honking and screaming at the guys coming in the correct direction in their own lane.  Flying by the rest of the stalled traffic to our right we dodged cars and people running across the highway.
At the round-about just outside the airport, we cut in front of  6 lanes of honking screaming cars, taxis and buses. We got to the airport at 7:30 and ran to the gates. The man at the gates wouldn’t allow Keita through without a ticket but he was insistent on escorting his drums. This led to a big head butting argument with a giant guard with a machine gun.
Kees and I started making our way to the check-in while Keita ran around to try a different entrance. We saw the guard come to the next check stand to tell that guard NOT to let Keita through. Next thing we knew, “Kees?” an African stranger in uniform approached us. “Who’s this guy?” I thought. Kieta had lots of connections or a good way of bribing, because this guy was higher rank than the other guard and he let Keita through. We were relieved to see there was no  line, but when we got to the baggage belt the woman was super anal about the weight and would NOT under any circumstances let us through with an extra 3kg, so right then and there we ripped apart our bags, reorganized them, sweating from the heat all the while. By this time she was yelling at us “Hurry up! The plane is already boarding!!”  and we hadn’t even checked in yet. We even had the immigration/customs guys filling out our custom forms for us as we frantically checked in Keita’s “awkward luggage”. They called us over  to check the drums through a scan. In that moment my heart pounded. Having watch too many “Locked up abroad” shows at home, I envisioned that these drums had been loaded full of cocaine or something and started to sweat on top of my first sweat layer. The drums went through showing they were completely empty, PHEWF!!!! I need to stop watching TV.  Imagine!  Drums safe and sound we thanked Keita and said a rushed goodbye. The PA was announcing repetitively, “Last call for flight to Dakar” as we stood at the immigration waiting to be stamped out. By this point I really started to feel panicked. The officer was so unbelievably slow like he was purposely trying to make us miss our flight. He even stopped to have a chat with someone instead of first giving me that stamp I so desperately needed. Kees was on the other side, pacing and waiting for me. I mean, how do you politely tell a border guard to, “hurry the hell up!!!” ? As soon as he slipped my white “temporary passport” through the window I snatched it and RAN. Our plane was being announced for the THIRD time “last call for Belgium Airlines to Dakar”.
We were stopped at yet another check and had to tear our bags apart again. Seeing that I was starting to get a slightly panicked Kees said, in the coolest tone, “It’ll be fine.”
Not 15 minutes later we were IN the air. Success!!!!
“Why is it that every time we fly, it seems we’re always running?” we asked ourselves.
When we flew home from DR. they were calling our flight, Suriname they called our names on the PA when we were just outside our boarding gate evidently in lala land.
With absolutely everything combined I can honestly say this has been my favorite trip in the last 4 years. Since the end of our family trip I have had the joys of Swiss skiing and hot springs, Belgian chateaus and ATVing, a Canadian Rocky Mountain road trip, Dominican spas and zip-lining, Italian history and art, French monuments, Portuguese beaches, Suriname jungles and piranhas, Jamaica dolphin rides and waterfalls, Las Vegas Chip N Dales and buffets, German amusement parks, Greek island buggy excursions, Turkish delights and several European road trips.
Not in a million years and if I were reincarnated a thousand times would I believe it, but of all those trips, Guinea made me the happiest.
Tomorrow Kees and I are flying to Mauritius on a much different trip. I am extremely excited but in the back of my mind I wonder if this luxurious, honeymoon style island will be able to top our more adventurous Guinea trip.
Savannah Grace

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Climbing at Hornse Vaart

The swimming pool near our house has a climbing park. At least a year ago we saw it get built and since the weather is finally smartening up, we decided to go and try it out. Being stiff, sun burned and sick from being at the beach a few days earlier didn’t stop me from participating. However, I did manage to underestimate the intensity of what we were signing up for.  A bunch of wood and ropes never looked all that intimidating as we passed by it every day on the highway.

Its four level obstacles of climbing, swinging, balancing and hanging from ropes and planks wasn’t the only attraction. There was also a climbing wall, two ziplines and a small bungee jump-like ride included.
 “I don't feel very brave!” I told Kees numerous times as I shimmied along behind him. The whole thing is held up with big metal wires tied to big central tree-trunk sized wooden poles. Each pole has a small platform base to rest between obstacles. The poles were at severe angles and shaking more than I thought necessary and I just didn’t even want to ask if that was meant to be like that. In my mind they were swinging and on the verge of snapping in half.
“I’m so scared!!” I kept shouting, hoping it would help the fact that I was terrified and stuck up in the air.
 Everyone is strapped into a harness, given a helmet and secured to a zip line so falling is not an issue. The first level was only inches from the ground and we ran through it with no problem, but when we got to the second level I suddenly realized how tricky the whole thing was and it became much more real.
(The “Why am I constantly doing things that scare me?!” face)
I never anticipated it to be as scary as it was! It really doesn’t look that bad until you’re a million feet up there hanging on for (what feels like) dear life.    

(It looks like I’m balancing on a wooden plank but it’s really only a thin wire)
Looking down as I tight-roped across one segment, I was shaking and peeing my pants before I thought, “Okay, this is ridiculous. I can’t believe how powerful fear is.”
It was so intriguing to me to see how fear was physically holding me back. Fear is what makes you fall and fail.
“I can’t believe how stupidly scared I am! Fear is such a weird thing isn’t it? ‘Cause I know I’m not going to die or something… but the more scared I am the more likely I am to fall because I’m shaking so much.”
I wanted to study fear and figure out why it makes us weak when it’s all in the head and it was so easy to relate it to everyday life and achieving my goals. Fear does one of two things, it either keeps you stuck in one place or pushes you backwards; anywhere but forwards. I began analyzing my “symptoms” and the fear kind of drifted away once I recognized what it was.

Despite thinking I was certainly not going to do the third level, I found myself walking up the wooden tower towards it determined to get to the bottom of fear. When I saw that just ahead of us there was a small partially handicapped boy whose left hand started at his elbow and he had no thumb, I was immediately impressed and inspired by him. It was already so clear to me that fear holds us back on a much greater scale than just a silly climb park… and seeing that boy showing the world and himself, that nothing would hold him back, especially not his small handicap, really moved me. I was so glad to see him getting out and setting such a positive example in the world. I’m so grateful to people like him and I was so happy that he wasn’t letting that or anything else hold him back.
Once I let go of the fear it was so much fun! It was like being real live Mario characters for a day!  Then it simply became a matter of muscle power and patience to get me through. 

By the end of the day we were completely exhausted, our hands red and callused and every muscle killed, or at least mine did! Not only was it fun, great exercise and a new experience, it was a lesson in fear. Lately I notice that fear is the main obstacle I face in my writing so it was great to have this day to show me how fear is such a big influence. It’s important to be able to acknowledge the fear and realize that it’s what’s holding you back. If you can acknowledge that and find a way to eliminate it, you’ll be surprised how much smoother things will go. It’s amazing how negatively it can affect your abilities and hold you back from accomplishing your dreams.