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The sign outside the second-floor clinic instructs all visitors to remove their shoes before entering, and the staircase landing is littered with sandals. OK, apparently this is a thing. I briefly consider turning around and leaving, but I’m bolstered by the fact that I’m wearing my lucky Harry Potter underwear. Also, I just saw my first two sacred cows, which seems like a good omen. I’m about to have dental work in India, and I’m starting to think this was possibly a Very Bad Idea™.
I feel better as soon as I step inside the clinic. Everything is clean and modern and sterile. I’m handed an iPad on which to check in. The receptionist has perfect hair and looks like he just stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, except he’s also barefoot.
As soon as I finish signing in and taking an extremely unflattering picture of myself with the office tablet, J. Crew leads me up another flight of stairs to the exam room, which is similarly spotless but full of Buddha statues and a small radio blaring Indian pop music.
Dr. Narayan cuts right to the chase, asking me what’s going on. I go into show and tell mode, and he only interrupts to ask a few questions. He can tell right away that I’ve been putting this off for some time, and that there was trauma to the tooth in question. He smirks when I tell him the story of being head-butted in the face by a rambunctious dog while drinking a beer.
“Well,” he says pushing back from his desk, “let’s have a look.” I pad along barefoot behind him into the treatment room. This is probably my last chance to bolt and I’m totally missing it.
The room is as bright and sterile as any Western dentist office, and he uses all the usual tools for the exam, but there is no forgetting where I am. He explains every step of what’s needed in distinctly Indian terms. The root of the tooth is like a sleeping tiger. Bacteria rise up like warriors. Etc. I try to close my eyes during the exam but he gently admonishes me to keep them open. “I know you are scared. Watching what goes on will remove the fear.”
It only takes a few minutes for Dr. Narayan to decide I need a root canal and we should begin immediately. OK, hold up, I only psyched myself up for an exam. I was not prepared for this at all. “You’re already here,” he says, reading my mind again. “Best just to get it over with.” He’s right, of course, but I must not look entirely convinced. “I promise it won’t hurt a bit, and you won’t even need any anesthesia.” It’s not polite to call your doctor a big fat liar, so I tell him to go ahead.
As it turns out, he wasn’t a big fat liar at all. I would hereby like to insist that every dentist I’ve ever seen to go to India and take a few lessons from this guy. Especially Dr. Kmon, who was a really big jerk to me when I was six.
Fifteen minutes later, having experienced zero pain whatsoever, I was on my way. Who would have guessed that one Indian doctor could cure a decades old fear of the dentist’s chair?
I ended up going back for three additional visits for a follow-up, a temporary crown, and a permanent crown. My entire cost for four office visits, a root canal, and a porcelain crown was $230. I did a little bit of cost comparison with US averages, and it appears that a root canal on a front tooth can cost in the neighborhood of $900. If you need a crown, expect that to be over $1000. You might have insurance that minimizes your out of pocket cost, but if not, that’s a huge expense. I suddenly understand why so many of my American friends have chosen to have their dental work done overseas. For the cost of one root canal and crown in the US, you can fly to the dental tourism spot of your choice, stay in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks, enjoy a lovely vacation, and get some top quality dental work done while you’re there.
Worried about getting dental work overseas? I was, too (especially the whole barefoot thing, but I got over it) but I did a ton of research and got personal recommendations from other travelers, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. The dentist I chose came highly recommended with over 18 years of experience and training in both India, Europe, and North America, and has trained dentists all over the world. I hope I don’t get too much hate mail from American dentists, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again and now I completely understand why so many people have chosen to travel for their medical and dental procedures instead of paying outrageous prices at home.
Have you ever traveled for a medical or dental procedure? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!
I had the pleasure of being hosted by the phenomenal Max Wadiya hotel for this stay, but, as always, all opinions are my own.
Sitting by the ocean, drinking a king coconut, has proved to be the best medicine I’ve tried so far. I’ve been sick for a week before arriving in Ambalangoda, but I start to feel better almost immediately. There is no such thing as stress at Max Wadiya, and somehow my body knows it. I can feel the tension melting out of my body as I sit on the wide tiled porch of this coconut jungle by the sea.
I’m pretty sure I have this island paradise all to myself as I have seen no one else since my arrival, except Ranjan the manager and the team of barefoot staff boys who scurry around, mopping and delivering refreshing drinks like a silent team of gentleman ninjas.
The in-house chef is currently preparing my lunch, which will be served in a terracotta roofed gazebo near the edge of the sand and I’m worried I might be too distracted by the view of the enormous waves to eat. One of the barefoot boys has spent the last ten minutes carefully arranging tableware and polishing glasses because everything at Max Wadiya must always be perfect.
I can’t quite decide what I should do after lunch: walk along the beach or lounge by the pool? This will prove to be the most difficult decision I have to make at Max Wadiya, whose motto is “No Watch, No Wallet, No Shoes, No Menus.” No watch, because there are no set times for anything. Want to sleep late? You’re not going to miss breakfast. Prefer to get up with the sun and walk on the beach before breakfast? They’ll be ready when you are. No wallet, because your stay is all-inclusive. No shoes, because who wears shoes in an island paradise? I kicked off my flip flops when I arrived and didn’t put them back on until I left (and even that was somewhat grudgingly!) No menus because you don’t order; the chef will surprise and delight you with a creative presentation of whatever is fresh from the market and the sea that day. Everything is catered to your taste and ensuring you have an absolutely flawless experience.
Last night’s lack of sleep is catching up with me fast. I have a feeling tonight will bring the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite a while. There is nothing like drifting off to the sound of the ocean right outside your door. (Spoiler alert: I was right; I slept like absolute royalty in the Tangerine Suite’s heavenly four-poster bed, with its crisp, high end linens. There was definitely no pea under the luxurious mattress.)
Max Wadiya is the kind of place where you use words like “laze” and “puttering.” I find myself putting down my notebook every so often just to get up and stretch a bit, stare out at the ocean, listen to the fountain in the koi pond in the courtyard, notice the breeze and the tropical greenery as far as the eye can see. You get the feeling nothing has ever been done in a rush here. The hotel grounds nudge right up against the water’s edge, so the air is always hazy with ocean mist, giving the whole place a soft, dream-like quality.
If Walt Disney were to open a Sri Lankan resort, I think it would look a lot like Max Wadiya, with its pineapple parrot garnishes and frangipani blossoms drifting gently into the saltwater pool.
I had heard that the food at Max Wadiya was magnificent, and I expected it to be good, but I had no idea I was in for such a feast. I had warned Ranjan when I arrived that I generally have the appetite of a small child and I was recovering from an illness so there was no need to go overboard at mealtimes. He paid absolutely no heed and utterly spoiled me with the freshest, most incredible meals I’ve had since arriving in Sri Lanka.
Lunch on the first day was all I needed to regain my lost appetite from being sick: a chopped salad of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion in a weightless vinaigrette, new potatoes and haricots verts roasted in fragrant garlic, and lightly glazed fish, grilled to flaky perfection.
Everything is as perfect, graceful, and gracious as if Martha Stewart has taken up residence on a South Asian island. Every meal that follows is equally splendid, carefully arranged and garnished and presented; served al fresco next to the sand, where the booming waves drown out all of the noise from the nearby road and make you feel completely alone in a tropical paradise.
After lunch, Ranjan gives me a tour of the property, which consists of the original villa, full of antiques and incredible sunset views out over the ocean; and a separate wing with two spacious and gorgeously decorated suites. There’s a saltwater pool tucked into a secluded coconut grove, and a pavilion where yoga, massage, and Ayurveda treatments can be arranged, if you’re so inclined (and you probably will be, if you can pry yourself out of the bathwater-warm pool).
Our last stop is Ranjan’s pride and joy: the cement tank from which he has released over 7000 baby sea turtles from eggs that he has hatched. He beams as he explains that locals from all over Ambalangoda bring him turtle eggs from endangered nests, and he personally tends to the eggs and releases the newly hatched turtles into the sea in the predawn darkness. The opulent luxury of Max Wadiya would be reason enough to visit, but knowing that your vacation dollars are going to support the endangered turtle population of this beautiful island is a wonderful feeling.
Do you have “Imagine I’m royalty living in a tropical paradise and being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious and accommodating staff imaginable” on your bucket list? (Hint: if you don’t, you should really add it!) Max Wadiya is the perfect place to check it off. If you decide to pay this magical oasis a visit, tell them Leslie sent you, and be sure to send me a picture!
Max Wadiya is located at 147 Galle Road (Parrot Junction) Urawatte, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. Find more information or book your stay at www.maxwadiya.com.
Daybreak on my first morning in India. I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. after getting less than four hours of sleep. Thanks, jet lag.
I’ve already used the four days’ worth of wifi codes provided by the hotel. I’ve been here for 9 hours. Oops. I’m already reconsidering my decision not to rent a personal wifi hotspot “because I’ll have access at the hotel so I won’t really need it.”
I discover at 5:00 a.m. that there’s a mosque somewhere nearby. Some people would be annoyed by the early wakeup call, but I love it. The sound of the adhan breaking through the predawn darkness brings me back to my first solo trip, when I discovered I’d booked a Mandalay hotel room next door to a mosque, and sat on the wide marble windowsill, hugging my knees and listening to the Muslim call to prayer for the first time.
Getting to the hotel last night was an adventure. The only thing more exciting than Indian traffic is Indian traffic at night, in the rain, while your taxi driver is texting because he can’t find your hotel. Travel Tip: In addition to your hotel’s address, make sure you have their phone number handy before you travel. Many cabs in Asia don’t have GPS and your driver will want to call the hotel to get directions before setting out. Don’t rely on the promise of free wifi in the airport to pull up this information as most Indian wifi hotspots require you to have a working Indian phone number at which to receive an access code by text message.
It’s such a beautiful morning I’ve dragged my wooden desk chair out to the balcony to listen to the city wake up. I’m surrounded by Bougainvillea bushes and thin-leafed trees I’ve never seen before. It’s barely dawn but the traffic already sounds heavy on the main road. A flock of pigeons on the roof of the building next door is making a huge racket, and a local woman in a blue tee shirt is jogging around the block before the oppressive heat that is surely on its way.
Good morning, India. I could sit here all day but there is adventure to be had!
Hey Adventurers! Is it just me or has April absolutely flown by?
Where in the world am I? Hello from Bangalore (Bengaluru), India! I’ve been here for two weeks and I absolutely love this glorious, chaotic mess of a city. This morning I walked straight into a cow on my way to Starbucks and that pretty much sums up Bangalore.
Items checked off the bucket list this month: Can you believe…none?? Apparently it’s really time consuming to uproot your life, get rid of all of your stuff, and traipse to the other side of the world. But don’t fret- I’m on my way to Sri Lanka in a few days to explore some gorgeous old temples (bucket list item #542!)
Highlight of the month: Hopping off a rickshaw in the middle of a traffic jam on a Sunday afternoon in Bangalore only to find myself in the middle of a giant Hindu flower festival.
Lowlight of the month: Crying in the parking lot of the doggie summer camp where I left Murphy Ann until I get back to the US at the end of July.
Best meal: Chicken Tacos at Tequila’s Town, Savannah, Georgia. Honorable Mentions: The Squawking Goat chicken biscuit at Maple Street Biscuit Company, St. Augustine, Florida; the Cuban sandwich at El Ambia in Melbourne, Florida;
New blog posts published:Have Dog Will Travel in which Murphy Ann the adventure dog takes over the blog while we adventure around the Southeast US.
What I learned:
You never need as much stuff as you think you do.
If you can survive Bangalore traffic in an auto rickshaw, you can survive anything.
There aren’t any walk signals telling you when to go, so you just have to watch for an opening, take a deep breath, make peace with your creator, and plunge (ooh, life metaphor alert!).
If you see a big crowd of people outside a sketchy looking food stand, go there. Bonus points if there’s no menu. Use hand gestures and look hungry.
You never realize how much you take air conditioning and unlimited ice for granted until you don’t have them anymore.
What I read: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I loved this because Cheryl is quite possibly the only adventurer to have more travel catastrophes than I do. What’s next? Heading to Sri Lanka on May 2nd for three months of temples, beaches, elephants, leopards, and adventure.
Well, I’m heading back out to explore more of this beautiful city before it’s time to leave. You should head to the comments and tell me where in the world you’re adventuring this month!
I’m spending a lot of time behind the wheel this week, taking My Adventure Bucket’s mascot, Murphy Ann the adventure dog, on a road trip to celebrate her 9th birthday. Since I’m busy driving, I’m going to turn the blog over to Murphy to document our adventures. It is, after all, her trip.
Friday, March 17, 2017- Mama wakes me up early this morning to tell me we’re going on an adventure! I’m so excited I can barely eat my breakfast, which should tell you a lot. I don’t know where we’re going but she says I need to get my backpack, so that must mean it’s a really big adventure. She doesn’t know I hid my backpack in the garage because I chewed one of the straps off.
Mama turned the back of the car into a great big bed for me with lots of pillows and blankets, and gives me a frozen peanut butter Kong when we leave. This is already the best adventure ever.
We drive for hours and hours and I invent a new game. I try to climb up front with Mama and she yells at me to get in the back before I make her crash the damn car. It’s great. We play so many times her voice gets hoarse. When we finally get out of the car, we’re in a town full of people. I’ve never seen so many people in my life. I wag at everyone.
Then we get on a boat! A great big one with sails and everything. Everyone loves me and the crew takes turns sitting with me and giving me skritches and telling me I’m a good girl. The captain lets me stand with him and help him steer the boat, and we see dolphins! This is the best day of my life.
Editor’s note: We sailed on the Schooner Freedom, which is, in my opinion, the absolute best attraction in all of St. Augustine. If you haven’t gone sailing with them yet, you’re missing out on an awesome experience. www.schoonerfreedom.com
We’re going camping tonight! I’ve always wanted to go camping! This is the most exciting thing ever. Mama sets up the tent while I watch. I don’t say anything, but I’m a little concerned. I’m accustomed to sleeping on a nice mattress with an electric blanket and several extra firm pillows. I don’t see her put anything in the bottom of the tent except a sleeping bag. I’m sure she’s got everything figured out, though. Then she makes fire appear out of nowhere and other campers come over to pet me and tell me I’m a good girl. I love camping.
Saturday, March 18, 2017- I hate camping. It got so cold overnight that I climbed into the sleeping bag with Mama and we were both shivering and we pressed our faces together and tried to get comfortable but the ground was hard and awful. A rooster starts crowing at 7:00 a.m. and I decide I will kill it, but Mama yells every time I try to claw my way out of the tent. I think about telling her that it wasn’t my idea to sleep on the frozen ground but then I notice the look on her face and decide to keep that to myself. We’re supposed to camp again tonight but she gets out her phone and makes a hotel reservation before we even get out of the tent. Maybe she can read my mind.
We get in the car and we’re both a lot happier once we’re warm and on the road again. In a few minutes Mama turns down a dirt road and my ears perk up immediately. I hear dogs. Lots of them. I’m already wagging before I realize we’re at the biggest dog park I’ve ever seen in my life. I know I’m not supposed to pull on my leash but between you and me, I drag Mama into that park so fast we both almost fall over. As soon as she takes my leash off, I take off running. I run straight into the lake, because I like to get as muddy as possible every chance I get. There are so many other dogs, I run from group to group and sniff every butt I can find. This is the best day of my life. The park has a great big wooded area; Mama lets me through the gate after I promise to stay where she can see me and not run off.
I run off as soon as she opens the gate. We have so much fun for the next two hours. She runs around the woods calling my name and I hide. When I finally come out of hiding she kisses me on the face for a long time so I think she had fun, too. Mama says it’s time to go, but I could stay here and play all day. She says we’re going to get lunch, though, so I allow myself to be convinced.
Editor’s note: We spent the morning playing at Dog Wood Park (7407 Salisbury Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32256), which is the most incredible dog park I’ve ever seen. Set over 42 acres, the entire park is fenced and has everything your dog could want in a park, from a great big beach to a huge wooded area full of walking trails. Admission is $11 for a single day, but if you’re local you can buy an annual membership.
I guess I doze off in the car after playing so long, because when I wake up we’re parking next to a great big farmer’s market. I see more dogs, and even more exciting: vegetables! Mama says I’m the only dog in the world who would rather have broccoli than steak. As soon as we get out of the car I go crazy sniffing everything I can find to sniff: dog butts, people butts, food, grass, and more. Mama lets me pick out some vegetables from a nice lady’s stand, then she gets us a ham and cheese panini from a truck. There’s a band playing music and we sit in the sun and eat, and everyone who walks by pets me and says I’m a pretty girl. This is the happiest day of my life.
Editor’s note: The Riverside Arts Market (715 Riverside Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32204) is held every Saturday from 10am to 3pm. It’s a whole lot of food, music, art, and fun. Don’t miss it if you’re in the neighborhood.
As soon as we get to our hotel, I climb into the bed and I’m out like a light. I don’t know how long I’m asleep, but it’s dark outside when I wake up. Mama says we’re not done having fun yet today, and we walk down the street to an Irish bar. There are tables outside and everyone thinks I’m adorable when I climb up on a chair instead of sitting on the ground. At first I’m nervous about all the motorcycles going by, but then a nice lady starts feeding me potato chips and I relax. There are lots of big burly men in kilts, and they all skritch my ears and tell me I’m a bonnie wee lassie. We stay out later than I’ve ever stayed out in my whole life, and by the time we get back to the hotel, Mama has to pick me up and put me in the bed because I’m too tired to jump.
Sunday, March 19, 2017- Today I learned that Mama likes to sing along to John Denver songs on the radio. Loudly. And badly. (Sorry, Mama.) This is going to be a long trip. But I forget about all that as soon as we arrive at our hotel in Savannah. They’re playing all of my favorite 50s music in the parking lot, so I know they’re my kind of people even before the nice lady at the front desk gives me popcorn. Then we get to the room and I find out they’ve made it extra special for me with dog bowls, treats, and some new bling for my collar. I could get used to this kind of treatment.
We don’t waste any time hanging out in the room, though. There’s adventure to be had. We walk at least a bazillion miles around Savannah and I have a lot of fun running up and down staircases on pretty old houses and sticking my snout in all the nice flower bushes.
We see lots of other dogs, and finally stop and have dinner at an outdoor restaurant where the waiter dances with me and everyone who walks by makes a big fuss over me. Once I see another dog I really want to meet and I almost pull Mama’s chair over but other than that she says I was a good girl. That’s a relief because only good girls get pieces of cheeseburger.
By the time we get back to the hotel Mama has to pick me up and put me in bed again. I never realized that adventuring was such hard work.
Editor’s note: We stayed at the supremely dog-friendly Thunderbird Inn (611 W Oglethorpe Ave, Savannah, GA 31401), one of my very favorite spots in Savannah. If you love retro kitsch, this is your place- right down to the RC Cola and moon pies they’ll leave in your room. We ate at the Public Kitchen and Bar (1 W Liberty St, Savannah, GA 31401, USA), and yes, our extremely accommodating waiter did dance with Murphy Ann. Not that she gave him much choice. Sorry about that.
Monday, March 20, 2017- I’m not sure what happened, but I close my eyes for just a minute when we get in the car, and when I wake up we’re in North Carolina. We’re visiting my Uncle Gary and my cousin Archie for the night! We’re gonna go hiking and eat pizza bones and stay up late.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017- Well, we didn’t stay up late because I fell asleep. But in my defense, Archie wanted to go for a really long hike so I only got about a 9 hour nap. I could stay and play with Archie for a long time, but Mama says adventure calls, so we have to hit the road again. I’m not sure what happened, but I close my eyes for just a minute when we get in the car again, and when I wake up we’re in Virginia. It’s kind of rainy out, which I don’t like, but Mama stops for pizza so I get over it. I consider myself a connoisseur of pizza bones, and these are some of the best I’ve ever had. I try to sneak onto the table and help myself to a whole slice but I guess I’m not that sneaky because I just get my butt swatted. It was worth a shot.
Editor’s note: Pie Hole Pizza (314 England St, Ashland, VA 23005) is one of the coolest pizza places around. They make everything from scratch, have a ton of great beers on tap, and the spicy chorizo pizza is absolutely killer. Try it, you’ll thank me later.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017- Hey! It’s my birthday! I’m nine years old today! Honestly I kinda want to stay in bed because it’s really, really cold outside, but Mama says she has a special birthday surprise so I have to get up. Maybe I’ll just sleep in the car until we get wherever we’re going.
Surprise! We’re going to Mount Vernon! I’ve wanted to go here ever since I found out that George Washington first created my breed, the American Foxhound. It’s on Mama’s bucket list, too. Everyone is so nice and wishes me a happy birthday and welcomes me “home”. Even though I’m still cold, I still have a lot of fun exploring my ancestral homeland.
There are a lot of school groups here and I get a little bit overwhelmed with all the running, yelling kids. We end up having to leave early because I kind of freak out a little bit. Don’t tell anybody, OK? We were supposed to go out for a fancy birthday dinner but I’m cold and I don’t feel good so Mama says we can just get some takeout and go back to our Airbnb and go to bed.
Thursday, March 23, 2017- I’m still not feeling great this morning so Mama says we can scrap our plan to get up early to go hiking. I pretend to be sad about this while I burrow back under the covers so far only my tail sticks out.
Eventually we have to get up and get moving again; we’re headed for Johnson City, Tennessee and I have a feeling Mama is going to spend all day singing John Denver songs in the car again.
Friday, March 24, 2017- Hey! Is that country music I hear? We’re in Nashville! This makes me wag so hard. As soon as we get checked into the hotel we head downtown and I’m amazed by all the music and the neon signs and the people. I try to wag at everyone but the crowd becomes kind of a blur. Mama says we’re looking for a place where I can listen to music and she can drink moonshine, and we’ll know it when we find it. What’s moonshine? She won’t let me try it. We find the perfect spot, on a patio next to a nice toasty heater, listening to a pretty lady sing some of my favorite songs. I love Nashville. This is the best day ever.
Editor’s note: We got away from the crowd and found the perfect spot at Tavern ‘96 (501 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203). The music, and the moonshine, were perfect. Get the Nashville Hot Sliders.
Saturday, March 25, 2017- I’m going to daycare today! Apparently Mama is going sightseeing without me because some places don’t allow dogs, which I think is pretty rude. But I love going to daycare and getting to play all day with lots of different dogs, so I don’t mind.
She picks me up after lunch and we drive all the way to Little Rock, Arkansas. We’ve been having so much fun eating outside and listening to live music, Mama says we’re going to do it again tonight. The owners of this restaurant have seven rescue dogs and they make such a big fuss over me I almost blush. They spend most of the night petting me, bringing me treats, and telling me I’m such a pretty girl. I didn’t know anything about Arkansas before this trip but I can tell you everyone here is just lovely.
Editor’s note: Who knew Little Rock was so much fun? We’re definitely coming back here for a longer visit. When we do, we’ll come back to Thirst N’ Howl (14710 Cantrell Rd, Little Rock, AR 72223), drink some more Stones Throw lager, and continue to marvel at how great the people are here.
Sunday, March 26, 2017- We’re up at the crack of dawn and Mama says we’re going bucket listing again! This time with actual buckets. We’re gonna go digging for diamonds and she says I can dig as many holes in the ground as I want. If you ever looked at our back yard you would assume this would be great news for me, but I don’t know. Who wants to dig holes when they have permission? I’m just not feeling it. I think Mama’s frustrated.
We spend all day digging for diamonds (well, Mama digs, I just wait until she’s not looking and then knock over all of her equipment. And once I knock her into a mud puddle but I swear it was an accident) but don’t find any. What do I care? I’m a dog.
I have so much mud between my toes I don’t think it will ever come out. Editor’s note: True, we didn’t strike it rich at Crater of Diamonds State Park, but we had fun anyway. Muddy, muddy fun. Bring a picnic, make a day of it. Maybe you’ll have better luck than we did. I’m serious about the mud, though. It was ridiculous.
Monday, March 27, 2017- We’re finally on our way home! Thanks for following along on my adventure! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Mama says we have another big adventure coming up soon, so stay tuned!
Hey Adventurers! Do anything exciting this month? Here’s what I’ve been up to:
Where in the world am I? Currently traveling around the Southeast USA: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
My beloved Adventure Dog, Murphy Ann, turned 9 years old and we went on a two week road trip to celebrate. I’m not sure which one of us had more fun.
Items checked off the bucket list this month:
#596 Taking Murphy Ann to her ancestral homeland at Mount Vernon- Did you know that the American Foxhound breed was created by George Washington? I’ve always wanted to take her home to see where her ancestors came from! They made the biggest fuss over her and were so sweet.
#219 Visit the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson
#376 Search for gems at Crater of Diamonds, Murfreesboro, Arkansas- I’m sad to report that we didn’t find a single diamond, and the dog who spends her days gleefully digging holes in the backyard and destroying my garden couldn’t be convinced to dig a single hole in the diamond crater. We did, however, have a great time looking. One of us had a great time splashing in mud puddles, but I’m not naming names.
Highlight of the month: Listening to live country music in Nashville, outside by a fire, on a gorgeous spring evening, drinking moonshine and eating Nashville hot chicken.
Lowlight of the month: Camping on a blueberry farm in Jacksonville, Florida. Sounds great, until the temperature drops to 40 degrees and your dainty Southern behind nearly freezes to death. Also, sleeping on the ground? I used to do that with no problem in my early 20s. Let’s not talk about how long ago that was. I’m not ashamed to say we left the campground a night early and checked into a hotel.
Best meal: Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Gravy with hoecakes and apricot butter at the Ice Plant, St. Augustine, Florida.
What I learned: The best way to make your dog a good traveler is just to travel with them and let them get used to life on the road. Even if they do spend the first few days trying to climb onto your lap and nearly crashing the car. Frozen peanut butter Kongs help. Screaming, not so much.
What I read: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah. I listened to this audio book, read by the author, during my road trip and it was so engrossing, hours of driving passed by without notice. Part heartbreaking, part screamingly funny- just do yourself a favor and pick it up.
What’s next? Leaving April 19th for Bangalore, India, followed by 3 months in Sri Lanka. It should surprise no one that I haven’t even started packing yet.
Those are the highlights of my month- how about yours? Drop me a line in the comments and let me know what exciting things you got up to in March.
February 13, 2013- The first thing I do when my plane lands in Athens is to check into my hotel and take a taxi to the famous hammam baths I’d heard so much about. What could be better after a 16 hour flight than relaxing in a steam room and getting a revivifying massage?
Lots of things, as it turns out.
I’m not sure when I realized that the hammam experience wasn’t for me- possibly the very moment I saw the awkward wooden clogs and the tiny dinner napkin in which I was expected to clothe myself before maneuvering my way down the slippery stone steps into the steam room. I summoned up enough grace not to fall and break any bones, which is probably as good as it gets when you’re me. The steam room itself is a large communal space into which the host welcomes you by tossing a bucket of hot water over your head. (Why am I always traveling places where people throw buckets of water at me?) I expect this is meant to be relaxing, but actually just washes one of my contact lenses out of my eye and I spend the next ten minutes frantically trying to shove the godforsaken thing back into place. I’m pretty sure this activity has torn the lens because my eye immediately begins to burn and water profusely.
So this is nice.
From my spot on the stone bench, I can just barely see into the massage room where other guests are called in to be pummeled by large Greek men while lying on another stone slab. I watch as a muscular young man goes in ahead of me (he’s a lot more graceful in his wooden sandals. Probably he’s done this before.) He cries out in pain within seconds of starting his “relaxing” massage.
You know what? It turns out I’m actually not that interested in the whole hammam experience after all. When nobody is looking I scamper back up the stairs to get dressed and make my escape.
I’m convinced I memorized the cab route to the hammam so I can make my way back on foot, but I’m wrong about this, too. I wander around Athens lost for about two hours before I give up and hail a cab to take me back. There’s probably an ocean of delicious Greek food within walking distance of my hotel, but because I’m tired and cranky I just order room service and immediately go into a coma.
…until 1:30 a.m., when I wake up with a splitting headache, wash down some Advil with a $12 minibar Coke, and wait for breakfast.
February 14, 2013- I already know today is going to be a magnificent day. I’m staying at the Royal Olympic Hotel and I’ve booked myself the Athenian Panorama Room, which has giant windows looking out over the Temple of Zeus. The view is positively breathtaking as day breaks and the massive columns come into view. The day is drizzly and overcast, but that does nothing to diminish the impressive view.
Breakfast is served in the rooftop restaurant, and although I would normally skip a hotel breakfast and go in search of something better, I’m starving to death and this turns out to be a wonderful circumstance. I’ve never had a better breakfast anywhere, hotel or otherwise. Fresh Greek yogurt with honey and “strawberry marmalade,” coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, three kinds of cheese, ham, air-dried salami, turkey, hard-boiled eggs… I *may* have made three trips through the buffet line. Don’t judge me.
The first thing I notice once I bundle myself up and set out in the cold drizzle are all the homeless dogs looking for food, shelter, and companionship. I stop and pet all of them and try not to cry.
The first item on my agenda is the Acropolis Museum. I’ve gotten there too early, so I wander around while I’m waiting. I hear chanting coming from a Greek Orthodox church and it’s mesmerizing, so I stand outside and listen even when the rain starts coming down harder. Athens is already amazing.
I’m the first person inside the museum when it opens, and I immediately head to the top floor to work my way back down to the beginning. I have the entire second floor of marble busts and faces to myself to examine completely alone for at least 30 minutes as the guards are all huddled in a corner, chatting, and never realize anyone was there until I’m right on top of them. The experience is pure magic- as the title of one volume in their book shop attests, you can actually hear the marble breathing.
My plan to see the museum first in hopes that the rain will let up before I visit the Acropolis completely backfires, as it is raining even harder by the time I get back outside. The Acropolis is still amazing even when you see it in a monsoon. It’s pretty treacherous going up and down marble steps in the pouring rain, but as I did not break any vital body parts, I still consider it 100% worthwhile.
After an hour-long visit I’m frozen to the bone and soaked like a rat, so I shuffle my way back to the hotel and take a scalding hot bath and a nap with the curtains open so I can be sure to wake up to the incredible view again.
I wake up ravenous again (this is going to be a constant theme on this trip, FYI), wander down to the Plaka and have a marvelous plate of souvlaki at a small cafe. I get lost, again, walking back to the hotel but I find a great hot chocolate shop and some of the best baklava I’ve ever had, so this makes it OK.
February 15, 2013- I have booked myself a bus tour to Delphi today so I can check one more thing off my bucket list- seeing the bronze charioteer statue at the Delphi museum. Normally I’m not a fan of bus tours- I like to explore things at my own pace and there’s really nothing worse than being crammed on a bus with a bunch of people who may or may not share your views on personal space or hygiene. I’m pleasantly surprised today, though- there are only 8 people in the entire group and the tour guide is magnificent.
So, the bronze charioteer? Absolutely worth the trip. The museum isn’t terribly crowded (yay, off-season travel!) and I get to sit and stare at him in amazement for quite a long time with only the museum security guard for company.
I’m even more amazed by Delphi itself. The stadium, the amphitheater, the temple of Apollo. It’s all breathtaking, and the cool mountain air smells like pine needles and sunshine.
We stop for lunch at a small taverna. Lunch is nothing special, but the wine is good, and sitting next to the fire is lovely. The whole bus group shares a communal table and I’m happy to report everyone has perfectly acceptable standards of hygiene. There’s a young couple from China, a family with two teenage daughters from Saskatchewan, and a middle-aged Indian man from Leicester. We all swap travel stories until it’s time to get back on the bus.
On the way back to Athens we stop for 20 minutes in the town of Arahova, which looks like an Alpine village dropped in Greece. Really lovely. I immediately add a Christmastime visit to my bucket list.
I’ve done so much uphill walking, my calves feel like they’re carved out of marble. I go to sleep as soon as the bus drops me back off at my hotel and I’m out cold for seven hours. I miss dinner, wake up at 3am, starving, and drink another real-sugar Coke out of the minibar. My internal clock is never going to recover.
February 16, 2013- It’s the first really lovely day since I arrived in Athens- the sun even comes out for a bit. I take advantage of this by seeing some of the gorgeous outdoor areas. First up is Athens’ First Cemetery, a sprawling marble metropolis of the city’s well-heeled dead. Incredible statuary and mausoleums, including one three-story domed masterpiece. Breathtaking, even if it is a bit crumbling and surrounded by scaffolding. I see something neat, too- what look at first like picture frames sitting on the end of a tomb turn out to be made of marble, so you can make Grandma’s crypt look just like her old fireplace mantel.
The care Greeks lavish on their family graves is extremely touching. Everywhere you look, even in the oldest sections, you see fresh flowers, lit candles, burning incense, and family members busily tending to their plots.
For a taphophile like me, it’s great morning outing. I’d put this cemetery up against any of the nicest I’ve seen anywhere. I think for the millionth time that I really need to write a travel guide for people who love cemeteries.
Next I head to the National Gardens. They may have been designed by Queen Amalia, but the cemetery was a much better sight. The gardens do have a goat and rabbit sanctuary, which is nice, but the whole place still smells vaguely like piss.
After a quick stop at a pet shop to buy some Greek dog toys for Murphy Ann, I’m off to see the Street of Tombs at Kerameikos. Extremely impressive- a cemetery pre-dating Jesus Christ by 400+ years where Pericles gave a funeral oration for the first casualties of the Peloponnesian War.
After a quick (by Greek standards) lunch of meatballs in tomato sauce, bread, and wine in the Plaka, I get a free 15 minute walk through the Ancient Agora as they are about to close for the day.
February 17, 2013- It’s cold out, it’s still raining, and I’ve found a lovely warm cafe with cozy nook seat couches, great cappuccino, and Meatloaf on the stereo. Never leaving. It’s almost 11am on my last day in my new favorite city and the weather exactly matches my feelings about leaving. Sofia the barista (and in my opinion, the maker of the world’s best cappuccinos) has invited me back at 8:00 tonight for a going-away-party. Typical Greek hospitality at its finest.
I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around Monastiraki & buy a replica of the head of the Delphic charioteer to take home. I get lost, but find the most darling little dive of a restaurant without a single tourist in sight. I take this as a good sign and order the exohikio- roast pork stuffed with creamy feta, tomatoes, and green peppers. It’s incredible, and washed down with quite a lot of Greek wine. I might be in love.
I’m super bummed about heading back home tomorrow and wish I had planned a much longer trip. I came to Athens thinking I would check a couple of things off my bucket list and move on. Turns out I fell in love instead.
So the day finally came. After 15 years of being a funeral director, it was really strange to be able to drop off all of my black suits at Goodwill and sleep through the night knowing my answering service wasn’t going to call and wake me up with an urgent message. Saying goodbye to cherished colleagues was hard, but with the wonder of technology, “goodbye” really isn’t goodbye any longer. Being a funeral director was an incredibly rewarding profession and I loved knowing I made a difference in the lives of families on their hardest days, but it also reminded me day in and day out: Life is short. Do what you want to do today because tomorrow is not guaranteed. I’ve known since I was a little girl that what I really wanted to do was travel the world, share the stories people tell me along the way, and inspire other people to live the life they truly want to live.
I have about a month and a half before I set out on my next big bucket list adventure, which *really* doesn’t seem like enough time to get rid of decades worth of accumulated stuff, put a few prized possessions in storage, and say “see you soon” to my closest friends. I’m also filling my days with lots of travel research, and getting around to a lot of cool Florida things that I somehow managed to miss over the last 13 years. I also have a road trip coming up next month that I’ll be writing about with a very special co-author. Stay tuned!
Have you ever quit your job and moved to the other side of the world, or just packed up and decided to start a new life somewhere else? I’d love to hear your tips and stories- tell me all about it in the comments!
May 24, 2010- I make it across the border into Rwanda in one piece, which is no small miracle considering the state of the mountain roads between Bwindi and Cyanika. I doubt they’re much to write home about ordinarily and last night’s torrential rain really did a number on them. There were landslides all over, plus huge mud craters and fallen trees. The view of the rice terraces, however, is absolutely breathtaking.
Immigration is relatively painless and I’m handed off to my driver on the other side of the Rwandan border. He keeps asking me if I know I have to “pay some money” to go track gorillas tomorrow. I can’t seem to get him to understand that I won’t be doing that- I’ve already gone gorilla tracking in Uganda, after all, and I’m sure nothing is going to top that experience.
The first thing that strikes me as we set out to Kinigi: the roads here are phenomenal. They’re PAVED and everything. I feel like I’ve just rediscovered civilization.
My plan for my only full day in Kinigi is to hike to Dian Fossey’s grave at the Gorilla Cemetery in the Karisoke Research Center. When I wake up before dawn, the temperature has plummeted overnight and it’s pouring rain. Not normal pouring rain, either- Africa rain, which is different enough that 80s bands wrote songs about it. It really is a spectacle when the jungle skies open up. I’m running a fever, and my aching joints let me know there is going to be no soaking wet 12 mile hike happening today. Here’s a sad fact about trying to be Indiana Jones when you have an autoimmune disease: sometimes your body just says no, and there is no appeals process. I’ve exhausted myself into a flare up, and I’m not going to be able to do the cool thing that brought me to Rwanda in the first place. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.
Although I can never quite shake the guilty feeling from “wasting” a day of travel, I have to admit- I end up spending most of the day under the covers, letting the torrential downpour on the metal roof of my little jungle cabin lull me into the best sleep of the entire trip, and that helps immensely.
The rain lets up before dinner and I decide to take a walk around what passes for downtown. This idea is short lived, as I am immediately set upon by a group of schoolchildren asking for money, trying to touch my hair, and asking if they can have my camera. Normally in a situation like this you would just ignore the kids, keep walking, and they would move on. Not these kids. I’m too sick to put up a fight, so I just turn around and go back to the resort for another nap.
Dinnertime- not everything on the awkwardly translated menu makes sense, but I think I’ll try the “baked chicken with cheese”. The kitchen lady shakes her head “no,” so apparently I can’t have that. Instead I order the “spaghetti maman mia,” whatever that is. (Turns out that it’s awful. That’s all you need to know.)
It gets colder. I convince myself I have pneumonia. I’m so cold I talk myself out of showering just so I don’t have to get undressed. The pile of dead bugs in the shower helps me convince myself.
I can’t stop daydreaming about waffles.
The power doesn’t stay on for more than 45 minutes at a time. This is bad news for anyone who wants to watch television, but as the resort only gets one channel that plays the same four music videos on repeat, I’m not upset.
I do eventually discard the pile of dead bugs and take a shower to warm up. (I know this was bothering you.)
The rain is back in an astounding downpour. It beats so hard on the metal roof that it drowns out all four African music videos. (Don’t judge me, I’m going a little stir crazy in this tiny hut.)
The power goes out again, so there’s (obviously) nothing to do but sit on the restaurant’s covered patio with a lukewarm Primus beer and watch the rain. An American couple comes running in out of the rain, saunters up to the bar, and starts speaking loudly and slowly in Spanish to the English-speaking African waitress. She looks at them exactly the way you would look at anyone who did this. I guess Spanish and Swahili are interchangeable if you’re an idiot. On behalf of Americans everywhere- I’m so sorry.
Also, the chicken curry? Definitely NOT chicken.
Hey, did you know there is an hour time difference between Uganda and Rwanda? Somehow I miss or forget this until about an hour into my frantic meltdown the following morning when (I think) my driver is an hour late picking me up for the airport. I am convinced I will miss my flight and be stranded in Rwanda until I die. *cough* Sorry about that.
45 minutes until boarding and there is a commotion at the security checkpoint. A rather large African lady is having her bag searched and is, from the sound of things, fairly unhappy about it. The officer running the X-ray machine took a big can of olive oil hair spray out of her bag and is questioning her about it. Three more officers arrive to consult. The lady has crossed her arms and is tapping one foot rapidly. Someone produces a notebook and asks her to fill something out. Ah, the ubiquitous African notebook.
Olive Oil Hairspray Lady is not giving up without a fight. She texts someone and goes back to the officers to ask if she can have it back and take it somewhere. They give it to her and she leaves, abandoning her luggage next to the security checkpoint. No one seems to care. She comes back because she forgets her passport and boarding pass.
Ten minutes later she returns without the hairspray. Now they have to bring the notebook back and scribble out whatever she’d written. The next three passengers through the screening checkpoint are allowed to keep their water bottles. Water must not be as dangerous as olive oil hairspray.
Twenty minutes after my scheduled departure time there is still no airplane outside. There are no signs or screens or anything to advise about delays, so I ask one of the security officers for an update. “Just wait,” he says. The African passengers occasionally glance at their watches and sigh.
Thirty minutes later, our plane, a DHC-8 that doesn’t look much bigger than the model airplanes I used to build as a child, has arrived and we board. My seat, 10A, doesn’t exist. There are only 9 rows of seats on the plane. Someone else has seat 12D, but there is no row 12 and no seat D. Apparently Rwandair seat assignments just come out of a bingo draw-tank. The flight attendants seem incredulous that we’re asking where to sit. There’s a lot of hand waving. “Just sit anywhere.” This feels like an accurate representation of my short time in Rwanda.
I had to choose between a 40 minute layover or a 6 hour layover in Entebbe. This is Africa and nothing is on time, so I choose the 6 hour. The earlier flight is gone by the time my model airplane lands, so I congratulate myself on my excellent choice. And promptly throw up. It wasn’t the smoothest flight, sorry.
I order a Coke and a burger at the only restaurant open in the airport. Don’t do this. It’s the worst burger of my life. I think there are rocks in it.
So there you have it. In summary, I did pretty much every single thing wrong when visiting Rwanda, and I don’t feel I did the country justice at all. I barely left my hotel, I disliked the food, I was mistrustful of the people, and illness prevented me from taking part in any of the adventures I had planned. I look forward to returning to Rwanda one day and having a much better trip, now that I’ve already done all the things you shouldn’t do.
“What does Burma have to give the United States? We can give you the opportunity to engage with people who are ready and willing to change a society.” – Aung San Suu Kyi
Many of the people who stumble on this blog may never have thought about traveling to Burma, or even know exactly where it is without glancing at a map of Asia. That’s OK, it’s a big world. Here’s a gallery of some of my favorite Burma photos that just might make you want to visit.
Beautiful, isn’t it? But don’t say I didn’t warn you- if you visit, you’ll fall in love.