Straight Outta Compton – Movie Review

I knew Straight Outta Compton would be entertaining and compromised by having people be featured in and connected to the funding of the film, like Executive Producer Dr. Dre.

Despite the fact that O’Shea Jackson (a.k.a Ice Cube’s son) was unsurprisingly a very close match to the role he portrayed, it took me about ten minutes to accept that the faces on screen were the icons that most of us are so familiar with.  I eventually gave in and embraced the facts as they were being presented: a chronological and somewhat disorienting series of events involving multiple interconnecting storylines.

The film was engaging except for perhaps a scene or two that were painfully cheesy due to heavy music cues and overly convenient blocking to set up the perfect brotherhood shot. That being said, there were subtleties to the performances in many of the emotional scenes and there was great power in the accurate recreation of huge moments of rap history. High production value made all the party scenes bootylicious and masterful editing allowed audiences to feel connected to millions of fans taken by the beat. 3026953-inline-i-2-how-spirit-award-nominee-keith-stanfield-dug-deep-for-his-big-short-term-12-breakdown-scene

When Lakeith Stanfield came onscreen it was clear that Snoop was in da house. The guy sitting in front of me raised his hands in the air saying: “Ain’t nothin’ but a G thang, baaaaabay!” and everyone laughed because we were all silently singing along too.

Sex, drugs and music will always sell and Straight Outta Compton is no exception. If looked at it as just another biopic, I would not be particularly inspired to write about it. What made this movie special are a couple of choices that I respect: The intentional inclusion of police brutality actions against African American communities, and the mention of how the gagster lifestyle is sensationalized not only by media but by the people. Even if the screen time dedicated to social commentary contributed towards a 2.5 hour long film that should have been 2 hours, I still support the effort to expose these issues. 960x410_0b2a51d27eb306730620fcea4ab26438 I hope that thousands of multicolored fans will walk out of the theater thinking that at the core of it, this could be a story about persistence, talent and hard work. I personally walked out believing that also I had something unique to say. I got inside my friend’s prius, speeding through the streets of Oakland on our way to the nearest Whole Foods, salads for dinner perhaps being the single least gangster thing anyone could ever do, but screw it. The whole time I was thinking: dare a police officer pull us over for no reason! If they did, I  would raise my middle finger and stand up for the minorities that I represent because “Fuck Tha Police” is about more than catchy lyrics, it’s about the voices of a generation that got tired of not being heard.

For that, I must give Straight Outta Compton 4 out of 5 starts.

PS: Thank you watchcloud, RollingStone and the odeon for the images that I hope you don’t mind me using.

When do we give up?

We’ve all had nights of putting headphones on and listening to “Late Night Tales: MGMT”, or, maybe for you it’s Sad Bear by Tony Sly.

Whatever it might be, I’m talking about Sunday evenings that come after a long week of meeting every day expectations and self-imposed deadlines to make ourselves better at something. Better at everything. We wake up, fill out another online survey and hope that we qualify to be part of a study that will pay 20 times more than our last gig. A gig that we hope was a scam because it was either that or we are completely incompetent. The truth probably sipping cocktails somewhere in between.

We think about the price we pay to make ourselves understood and be valued for our efforts. Recognition takes time and before the time comes, we must rely on ourselves to maintain momentum. A Stanford graduate said that results are commensurate with effort but Leonard Cohen says everybody knows the fight was fixed. At the end of the day, we find ourselves cleaning the cat’s litter-box and feeling thoroughly confused.

We text a friend. They say kindness is valuable but we don’t buy it.

We call a friend. They ask about us but we have nothing to say.

At the end of it, we find our existential debate to be as pointless as inviting a lesbian to a circle jerk. Why do we waste time philosophizing? People love Gatsby because he was doomed from the beginning but he still gave it a shot. We realize that the answer to our question doesn’t require another sexually offensive analogy because there is nothing to give up except for who we are. Giving up on ourselves is unfeasible, unsustainable and Sunday blues are nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t fix.

On Monday, we wake up feeling like we fought a war and we are not sure whether we won or lost. We go on and the day offers us the gift of a great lunch with friends who are celebrating a fruitful plantation. Their success, which is our success, reminds us that achieving great things requires hard collaborative efforts. So we go back to enjoying the view despite the spot in the lens. And the answer to the question above becomes simple: we don’t.

PS: Thank you for the signature image Fırat Erkuş!

Cat-sitting in California

I’m home.

No. I’m in one of the many places I call home.  I came back to the States nearly a month ago. The first two weeks were mostly spent hugging friends and answering the top FAQ such as what my favorite country was and did I ever feel in danger.  Being “home” in California has turned into an exciting practice of making myself feel at home in a number of places.

I plan on being in California only for the summer, so, I am not in a position to commit to the “real life” that some define by signing leases, getting full time jobs and adopting pets. But I am happy to say I have no shortage of animals, projects or housing. Thanks to the sharing economy, I have been cat-sitting my way through Northern California. I embraced the sharing economy years ago when I rented out a room on and let people drive my car through This kind of communal mentality has become a normal part of life for me and for many people in the United States.

For example, my friends helped me by offering me to stay at their house (with Monsieur Rocco) while they traveled abroad.

After that, I helped a couple of strangers from nextdoor to take care of the beautiful (and very old) Avalon while they were away.

Today, I am writing from the comfort of an artist loft I found on craigslist and I am renting from a couple that’s moving to Seattle. Zazie and Movillette also come with the house.

Being able to live rent free (thank you, friends!) is not always possible. But if you are creative and willing, there are many ways to enjoy great value out of what you can afford. Up until now, I have paid low prices for living in beautiful places because people feel comfortable opening their doors to strangers. Strangers willing to pet and feed their cats. Some do it because they cannot afford pet-sitters and others do it because they prefer to have someone around the house. Whatever the reason, I realize that I am helping them as much as they are helping me.

The ‘Sharing Economy’ (which Bits, from the New York Times dedicates a section to) seems insane to my family in Venezuela but in Northern California many are used to sharing their goods in order to minimize bills that come from living in one of the most expensive states in the United States. Despite the annoyance of having a mild allergy to cat hair and having to move every few weeks, there is something wonderful about exploring different neighborhood around the East Bay and San Francisco. It sort of feels like I’m still traveling! A feeling that I hope to hang on to for life.

Above, Basil-cat makes an appearance!

Familia en Venezuela

No sé si estoy lista para declarar que mi viaje ha terminado pues aún estando de vuelta en California, sigo moviéndome de un lado al otro y siento que las aventuras no llegan a su fin.

Después de ver tantos escenarios, pensé que los cambios en mi país natal serían más fáciles de asimilar. Este viaje a Venezuela fue sin duda muy intenso y entre otras cosas, quizás sea porque después de más de un año, los pequeños cambios que son rutina para quienes lo viven todos los días, pegan de frente y con fuerza a quienes como yo, van y vienen de vez en cuando.


Mis cinco semanas viajando por Venezuela rindieron, pero al mismo volaron tan rápido como el avión que me llevó de Serbia a Bogotá y el autobús que me llevo de San Cristóbal a Valera. Disfruté cada día al máximo. Cada momento que pude compratír con mis padres y el poder regalarle una visita sorpresa a mis abuelos, fueron los mejores regalos que pudimos haber disfrutado juntos.

Y es que estoy convencida de que podemos recorrer mundo y llenarnos de cultura; podemos aventurar y enamorarnos de paisajes; podemos tomar fotos impresionantes cuando no estamos consumidos por los almuerzos en casa ni las cenas con los amigos.

Pero al final del día, o en mi caso, al final de este año, no consigo mejor manera de procesar todo lo que he vivido que estando con mi familia y compartiendo el significado que ha tenido para mi, todo lo que la vida me ha brindado. No hay mirada más acojedora que la de aquellos que nos conocen y no han oidos mas dispuestos que los de aquellos que nos siguen, inclusive cuando no nos pueden ver.

Quiero agradecerles a todos a quienes me he encontrado en el camino. Familia que son amigos, amigos que son familia y maestros lejanos cuyos nombres no tienen relevancia y el no saberlos, no les quita importancia. Espero que un Dios bendiga a todo el que cree, que la ciencia nos siga acercando y que la naturaleza nos siga enseñando.

Los amo.

Photo on 4-24-15 at 7.39 PM
Y para no tornar este post en una semi-despedida llorosa, aqui les va un video de dos sapos raneros apareandose en el Parque La Llovizna (disculpen que mi lente estaba un poco empañado).

Queuing up in Venezuela

I wrote this on Monday while I waited for a flight that was only 50 minutes late. People told me that a four hour delay was normal when going to Puerto Ordaz, my hometown. I reached inside a tightly packed bag to take out my journal and a pen. Thankfully, the bag was full but not heavy because it was mostly packed with toilet paper. Don’t worry, it’s not what you think. The rolls were a present for my mom. Yes, toilet paper. The pants I bought for her in Thailand and the singing bowl from Nepal were nice but the six rolls of toilet paper, priceless.

Luckily for my back, my mother doesn’t drink milk and for those out there who like me, love it, I suggest you read this article and spare yourself the search. If you want milk in Venezuela, you have to be lucky to find it at a decent price. You have to commit to queuing up for hours, sometimes days. The shortage in Venezuela is not limited to luxury products such as milk and toilet paper, Venezuelans are also queuing up for meat, coffee, refined sugar, soap, diapers and medicine. Luckily, none of those are terribly important.

In case you were not paying attention, that was a joke. A bad one for parents of babies and sons of aging parents who find nothing funny about the situation.

But we should move on to a lighter topic and find humor in the fact that I am traveling on a plane carrying rolls of toilet paper inside my bag! Amongst all the travel blogs that I’ve read, I never found one that talked much about this important item. In India, for example, I got used to carrying a roll inside my bag and a daily supply inside my purse. While hiking in Nepal, I learned that wet wipes can save the day and somewhere along the way (perhaps in Kenya), I begun stashing a few squares at the end of every transaction, just in case I didn’t get lucky next time.

If I have to wait six hours to pay for my groceries, how can I be surprised when my flight is delayed? Instead, I feel thankful for flying at all because finding international flights is a thing of the past. I see tourism offices with signs that say there are no flights, anywhere, until further notice. My perception of the drastic economic decline in the country becomes more real now that I’m here and my day-to-day becomes directly affected. Right now, it’s hard to hold on to my liberal tendencies. When I see how we live right now, believing in a socialist utopia becomes absurd.
Venezuela is learning hard lessons: don’t waste anything, be thankful for what you have, be patient. If things keep going this way, we will also become the healthiest nation in the world by being forced to keep a vegan diet. The nation now finds humor in the insane and I’m not talking about the crime that makes our country amongst the most dangerous places in the world, I am talking about laughing when we pay 1700 BsF ($140 under the current black market exchange rate) for four big sheets of colored paper, one yellow poster board and a tube of silicone.

When we finally get ready to board, I see a couple of people with hippish looks who are clearly coming from abroad to stretch out their dollars and see El Santo Angel, the tallest waterfall in the world located in Canaima National Park. How far a dollar goes is directly correlated to how little the Venezuelan Bolivar can get you. The severity of the situation is clearly demonstrated by the fact that our biggest printed bill (100 BsF) is not enough to pay for one arepa, Venezuela’s most popular street food which on average costs less than a burger.

I want to think that things will get better.

And in that spirit, I will counterpart my rants and send hope to my leftist friends noting that Venezuelan people still know how to have fun. Despite inflation, crime and shortages if you still decide to visit this beautiful country, you can not only hike through Tepuis (table-top mountains unique to this region) and enjoy some of the best wind surfing in the world in Margarita Island. You can also party in “El Maní” which I dare say it’s possibly the best underground salsa club in South America and the coolest club in Venezuela, without a doubt. I want to tell readers that our chaotic paradise comes with women that look great, even if they know they’ll be standing in line for hours. If boobs and butts are your thing, you are welcome to ignore everything you’ve read so far and book a flight to the north of South America with Venezuela and Colombia taking the lead on cleavage and ass because at least when it comes to love, in Venezuela, there is something for everyone.

PS: I am borrowing the signature image from La Patilla. Please check them out:

Snow in Serbia

Serbia is not always snowy but arriving in Belgrade in the middle of an unexpected snow storm, after spending two months under the tropical Thai sun, made the white more impressionable. I was told that waking up to a Christmas-like landscape in March was as much of a surprise to the locals as it was for me.

I hadn’t seen snow like this in over a year and I have to admit that overlooking the mountains from a warm living room while drinking a cup of coffee was incredibly cozy. I didn’t spend too much time outside because as romantic as the snow can be, it can also be slushy and inconvenient when it comes to wanting to explore the outdoors.

11058267_872000393766_7698752125478162406_nMy time is Serbia was dominated by exciting card games and movie marathons. We filmed a short film, made home cooked meals and took a couple of trips into town (Prijepolje) and to Sarajevo (in Bosnia). You might think that all that relaxation ought to lead to a sharper mind, but in my case, I was so consumed by feeling at home that I forgot to charge my camera battery before both trips and I didn’t manage to take any pictures of the cities. It was a shame, in Sarajevo specially which is one of my favorite places in the Balkans with perhaps only Ohrid in Macedonia (photograph below) surpassing it in terms of favoritism and beauty.

318828_653140989766_1537120108_nIn any case, the memories remain and more photos will come from future trips. After two weeks in Serbia I had a hard time getting ready for the epic journey that I had ahead going from the Balkans in Eastern Europe down to Venezuela in South America, my last destination of this round the world trip. I cannot think of two places that are more opposite in terms of weather and politics but at the same time, two countries that share a similar economic struggle with one trying to settle into a capital system and the other fighting to adapt to a socialist regime.

By the time I left, the snow had started to melt and farmers were getting ready to prepare for raspberry season. Serbia is the major world producer and exporter of raspberries and specially after the deep recession following the Yugoslav Wars, raspberries are specially important for the Serbian economy. Just another reason for me to go back and enjoy the sunny side of Serbia.


Tourism in Thailand

I had less than 48 hours left in Nepal and no plans for the remaining of my time in South East Asia. I only knew two things: I arrived in BKK and I missed the coast.

I read a few helpful blogs recommending various islands in Thailand: Koh Tao if you want to dive, Ko Samet if you want to relax, Ko Phi Phi if you want to party. At the end, one reviewer’s description of Koh Panghan grabbed me: Still one of the most beautiful places in Thailand, despite being known mostly as a party destination.

Originally, I booked five nights in Vagabond, a hostel near the pier. The easy walk was welcomed after 37 hours of traveling that involved two flights, one overnight bus and a ferry ride. I was happy to drink a beer and enjoy the convenience of the island until I figured out my next steps.

1962601_867054071236_164701530885945902_nWithout fail, each destination has surprised me. In Koh Phangan, I was shocked by the fact that after two weeks I managed to befriend only one Thai person. It was all westerners, everywhere. In the hostels, on the streets, at the parties and everywhere in between. My cultural exchange with Thailand was limited to “sawadika” and “kapunka” at the night market.

So I moved to The Nomad House, a hostel not far from Thongsala that felt like home after a day or two. There, I was not only introduced to working Thai families, I also got a different view of the tourism industry: from behind the counter.

I am probably the only person to visit Koh Phangan who did not know about the Full Moon Party. Or the Half Moon, or the Black Moon, or Eden. Twenty year olds getting wasted and wearing neon shirts, painting each others bodies like kindergarteners. I remember thinking: what the fuck? Then right as I was judging them and putting myself up in a pedestal of “I am too good/old/wise for this” a girl who could have been Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell (a.k.a. Serena) asked if I would paint her face. After painting fifteen different faces, I decided to check out the party for myself. Truth be told, I had a blast.

16474_867055124126_7706437022549538216_nThailand makes things easy, particularly in places like Koh Phangan. Taxi drivers wait outside your bungalow until you are ready; massage parlors stay open until eleven at night. On the beach, the days are mostly sunny and the nights are always comfortable with reliable 28 degree weather.

But tourism is not always pretty. There is a point in which you crave for an experience that goes beyond rehearsed Thai smiles automatically given to tourists after concluding business. You notice that renting a motorbike might be cheaper than paying for a taxi. On the other hand the industry is backed up by huge hospital bills and clinics that offer commissions to anyone that brings in a new injured client! Each famous party comes with a number of deaths and there is at least one party every day. Strong prescription drugs are available over the counter but the police will charge a 1000 euro fine for one joint. Over time, these trappings of tourism can all be a bit much.

Many places in Thailand are starting to look like Koh Phangan. I was momentarily terrified when I found myself drinking out of a bucket at a Reggae festival outside of Pai. Is this what South East Asia might turn into? Thailand has sixteen million foreign visitors every year. Financially, the country is doing relatively well. It’s no surprise that Myanmar opened their doors to tourists 4 years ago or that Cambodia almost agreed (and changed its mind at the last minute!) to host Kazantip, a famous electronic music festival. I won’t point my finger at people who, just like me, want to experience a world different than where they grew up, but, I do wonder how long it will be until we can no longer experience cultures that are different from our own, even if we want to. Sometimes it seems as if the most affluent cultures continue to take over nations and turn them into distant versions of their own homes with ATMs, German Bakeries and hostelworld accommodations.

11055384_867058996366_8769278751504392916_nI am thankful for the train ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok where I met Simon, an eight year old boy with magnificent English and Vena, an eighty-five year old woman with a magnificent face. Simon shared his knowledge and Vena shared her apples. Together, we survived a mostly pleasurable but certainly exciting fifteen hour long train ride through breathtaking tropical views and a huge fire that started outside of Kuntan and blocked the train tracks for a couple of hours. Despite the delays and the slight morbid thoughts that entered my mind when we stopped in the middle of a tunnel, I enjoyed the ride.

Simon&Vena selfieBangkok was a shock. Again, I’ve never been proven wrong about the reliable twist that comes with expectations. I found Bangkok surprisingly manageable. Based on feedback from friends, I thought I would absolutely hate it. I was ready to show up to a mayhem of smog and sweaty people. I pictured Bangkok Dangerous with drunk tourists on a tight budget. Instead, I found that the city was quite clean and organized; I found that the food was affordable and the public transportation reliable. I thought that Bangkok, as a capital, does a good job at hosting six million people. Yes, you can only find so much joy (or none at all) in going from one mall to the other, but, you can also find interesting bits of the Thai culture exploring the food markets or  walking down random alleys. I have to agree with my friend (and fellow blogger) Ian Rohr and say that yes, Bangkok is kind of charmless. But at the same time, I cannot say that I have ever been to a big city that really enamored me with the exception of maybe San Francisco and Istanbul which are both unfair comparisons since the first one is much much smaller and the second, MUCH bigger.

Having said all this, my time in Thailand was spectacular. Even if I don’t think that I managed to fully understand their customs or penetrate their traditions, I met beautiful people. I enjoyed a life that was exciting and fulfilling. So, no complaints. Thank you, Thailand and see you soon, South East Asia.


Horns in India

It’s not easy to choose one symbol that represents what India was for me during my two month stay in the country. So many iconic images: the temples, the thali plates, the trains, the trash, the spices. As my dear friend Locsi remarked before I left California: “Honey you better get ready. India is a lot!” Oh, and was it a lot. Particularly the honking of the horns. From the busy streets of Mumbai to the narrow alleys of Varanasi, whether you drive a car, a tuc-tuc, a Rickshaw or a taxi, blowing the horn of your vehicle while navigating the streets is an absolute must.

Initially I thought the constant honking was no more than a bad habit, a demonstration of road rage. But closer observation revealed that honking serves a purpose; it’s a way of communication. See, traffic laws in India are not like the laws in the west. In India there are no highways; one narrow road is shared amongst pedestrians, cows, dogs, vendors, cars, bicycles, motorbikes and everything in between. If there is enough room for someone to get through (even if questionably so), somebody will get through. And they will of course, honk their horn.

The honking has different meanings. It can be friendly as if saying “Excuse me, coming through!” or it can be used as a warning: “Don’t pass me, someone else is coming through!” Some horns are quick and cheery like a sound effect from a Casio keyboard. Others are deep and prolonged like a ‘re’ note from a French horn. The beep from bikes and Rickshaw are festive like Christmas bells but in combination, the horns that go all day and the traffic that lasts all night make for a soundtrack that is impossible to escape and sometimes makes you want to run away. And hide. Somewhere… Quiet.

My most restful stops in India were in Dharamshala and in Kerala. Dharamshala was peaceful not only because of the sunrise in the mountains but also because the town was overrun with Tibetan monks, all of them (and me) there to listen to the Dalai Lama. Kerala was relaxing like the coast always is and instead of monks roaming around it was British travelers who dominated the towns enjoying yoga retreats and getting dental surgery. I went up and down and up again in trains that went for days instead of hours. In Goa I partied for one week straight. In Delhi I almost got arrested for protesting an entrance fee outside of a mosque and in Kolkata I saw goats beheaded during a Hindu ceremony. Each place was unique, different from the last, but everywhere I went I could count on horns. Horns coming loudly from the road, and horns hanging out in the streets because apparently in India, cows have horns. And they are everywhere!

IMG_9892These cows are unlike the hornless Venezuelan cows or the North American milk cows. Indian cows come in different colors and their horns have different shapes and sizes. These cows roam the streets shamelessly ‘como Pedro por su Casa’ As if they were (and aren’t they?) one of us.

The interweb offers many explanations for why this is and based on what I read I could conclude that cows are one step closer to enlightenment than humans. At least according to Indian philosophy. I am not one to argue the teachings of the Brahmans but, why? Cows seem to live aimlessly. They eat, they poop and they are seemingly content in pasture lands or urban settings. In India, they survive purely based on scraps, like my leftover guava. Dignifying this behavior seems like a convenient code of conduct for a country that for centuries has relied on a caste system to control society. If reincarnation was attractive to me once because death and nothingness is not only terrifying but an incredibly boring option, I have to admit that it becomes less appealing once you are aware of all the possible beings one could reincarnate as. Perhaps the cow doesn’t seem so bad compared to the other billion possibilities that are far less fun than eating unripe guavas from the streets. So, horns.

Do yourself a favor and pack ear plugs for this trip but be prepared to the fact that they won’t shield you from a sensation overload. India is a melting pot of color and life surrounded by misery and wonder and scented with curry and urine. The country and its people will invade you in hopes to impress you, befriend you, scam you or simply photograph you! And like the drivers out on the road, they won’t need words to speak volumes, sometimes saying much with a wobble of the head.


Shoes in Kenya

I landed in Nairobi at 4am expecting to catch a ride from an overly accommodating host. Two hours later and still at the airport, I realized that he was probably not going to show up. I sat on the front steps of the Jomo Airport for eight hours looking at more than one hundred Kenyans sitting across from me on the concrete divide of the main road. The same road that 700 kilometers later reaches Uganda.

There were local women, men, even some children waiting. But what for? Work. What kind of work? Any. They wore leather shoes and blazer jackets with tucked in shirts. Styles coming from abroad. Models more than slightly outdated but with a lot of life still left in them. I felt underdressed and modern. I stood out. But not because of my clothing. To them I was just another mzungu. It seems like in Kenya, the rules of formality don’t apply to whites.

On Friday night I went to see Sauti Sol, a popular Kenyan boy band generating buzz amongst the MTV crowd. They played at The Tree House, a hip club that nails down African-chic. I was in owe of the fitted dresses, the beaded necklaces, the leather jackets, the high heel shoes. A stunning combination of African flare, English elegance and Nairobian wealth. Night life in Nairobi is happening! Put on your best outfit and be prepared to dance all night. Also, make sure to bring a couple of $20s.

It turns out that Kenya is not cheap. When I said goodbye to Europe I was certain that my future destinations, starting with the Middle East, would stretch out my budget. I laughed at my foolish assumption in Israel. With hesitation, I took the hit in Jordan. But I was unprepared for $25 taxi rides and $50 trips to the grocery store in Africa. How can Kenyans afford it?

I went for a walk in the upper-middle class neighborhood where I stayed and I was pleased to see locals also roaming the streets. Most women wore traditional clothes with big prints and primary colors; men carried backpacks embroidered with company logos like Samsung or Intel. They wore plain tennis shoes reshod a few times. I followed the crowd for 15 minutes before the man next to me explained that the people walking were cleaners, helpers, workers in the houses around us. They come from Kibera, the biggest slum in Africa housing 2.5 million people, the third biggest slum in the world. Surely they live in a different Kenya than the one I’ve seen.

DPP_0182I survived Nairobi for two weeks. My plan was to spend a few days on the Kenyan coast and a couple of weeks on the coast of Tanzania. But after spending three days at the heavenly Distant Relatives Backpackers hostel in Kilifi, I knew that my plans would change:

– I lost a day in the Masaai Mara to travel with two new friends from Spain
– The three days in Kilifi turned into nearly three weeks on the coast
– Tanzania, I will have to visit some other time

1528478_832280073606_7139732400766912486_n (1)I don’t know if change comes from fate, luck or intension. But I can say that there has not been a single change of plans that I regret. How could I complain about wearing flip flops everywhere? Forget about second hand clothing and ugly leather shoes. Rubber footwear is the only way to go. Ahhhhh, the coast. With the ocean breeze, the bioluminescent water and the smiling people. People that are always helpful, always willing and always late.

This trip has been without a doubt a constant exercise on letting go. Before I left Kenya, I looked at the fancy black shoes that I had been carrying for six months. Their shine never looked more ridiculous than in the middle of sand and the compostable toilets of the eco-lodge. I refused to pack them. They will look great on some other girl. One day I will go back to Nairobi and see the same shoes walking down the street, paired with a pencil skirt kept at knee’s length and a blazer jacket. On their way to work.


Swim suits in Israel and scarves in Jordan

Despite all of the intimidating information online about crossing the Jordanian-Israeli boarder, catching a $35 flight from Tel Aviv to Eilat and crossing the border through Aqaba, was painless and it saved me from paying the visa charge.

Aqaba doesn’t get much national tourism. Eilat does. Although the war has certainly affected both countries, superficially Israel appeared unfazed.

Moran’s cute one bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv is only a fifteen minute walk from the beach. According to her, Florentine is a neighborhood that used to be rough but recently started to show signs of gentrification. Staying with her I enjoyed daily sunshine and salt water. Even though my cellphone was stolen while I was taking a swim, before that I never felt tense by fearing that I would be robbed or blown up by a missile. When we relaxed on Moran’s balcony, it was easy to forget that the building comes equipped with panic rooms to shelter residents when they hear a siren announcing an emergency.

The streets of Florentine and Yafo are often under construction and flooded with people eating vegan meals and gourmet fast food. “Very Berlin” said Moran. Very hip.

And different from Eilat. Eilat is massive hotels, a mall, and generic bars that attract tourists willing to pay $10 for one beer. Aside from my very cool host Ehud and some incredible snorkeling, I don’t have much to say about the culture of this town. Aqaba, in Jordan, is right next to Eilat and geographically speaking exactly the same. But to me it felt different.

Aqaba is dusty in the center and decorated by 4,000 hotel rooms on the coast. Compared to the 35,000 rooms that accommodate tourists in Eilat, it seems like Jordan played their cards wrong as far as attracting travelers. Today, Jordan is focused on quality tourism, not quantity. Feras is a friend who works with tourism product development. He said Jordan wants to attract high profile tourists from countries like England and Scandinavia. At the same time, Israel seems to be focused on attracting travelers from Brazil, China and Russia. Feras and I talked about this while having a swim at the pool of the Kempinski, a luxury hotel with a private beach that anyone can enjoy for a daily fee.

I stayed with Omar and Sasha who offered a killer combination of kindness and fun. Omar is an underwater photographer and a freelance scuba dive instructor. Sasha is his dog. Through Omar I met an international crowd that mostly comes to Jordan for a relaxing vacation dominated by diving. Most American tourists wear bikinis. Some Jordanian women wear outfits not too different from the wet suits required for scuba diving in the Red Sea. There are scarves in the water, but, most locals stay shaded under umbrellas by the shore. I looked at them from a distance and headed off for a night swim.

IMG_8666But I was able to get a closer look while I was in Amman. Thanks to Mays and her strong local connections, I enjoyed home-roasted coffee in a beautiful traditional Jordanian house with a couch that covered all corners of the room and ornate curtains that can make anybody feel like royalty. The visit was quick, but the warmth of the people that I met along the way made me feel thankful for every cup of coffee and tea that I received. With each sip grateful for the life that I live.