Dangers of Solo Travel But Why It’s Worth It

Dangers of Solo Travel But Why It’s Worth It

Warning: This Post is… Intense Yesterday, I shared on Facebook Leah McLennan’s article “Why I’ll never stop traveling solo” which was written in response to the rape and murder of two Argentine female travelers in Ecuador earlier this month.  I didn’t follow the actual incident closely at the time because I stay away from depressing news but basically  Maria Coni, 22, and Marina Menegazzo, 21, did something many travelers do. When running low on money in Ecuador, they reached out to their friends for help with accommodation and were put in touch with two men who offered them a place for the night. When one woman resisted the advances of a drunk host, he hit her over the head and she was instantly killed.  The next morning, both women were found dead in garbage bags on a beach. Apparently, this event caused the Internet to erupt in discussions about solo female travel (even though these girls were traveling together) and caused many people to conclude that these women were to blame for traveling alone, or their parents were to blame for letting them travel alone, or other ridiculous accusations placed in all the wrong places.  Of course, this caused female travelers to respond speaking out against violence against women and victim blaming, with the use of #viajosola (I travel alone) hashtag trending on Twitter and a poem written by Guadalope Acosta from the perspective of the victims, (translated from Spanish) “Yesterday I was killed… But worse than death, was the humiliation that followed. From the moment they found my inert dead body nobody asked where the son of a bitch that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was.  No, instead they started asking me useless questions… What clothes were you wearing? Why were you alone? Why would a woman travel alone?  They questioned my parents for giving me wings, for letting me be independent, like any human being. They told them we were surely on drugs and were asking for it, that we must’ve done something, that they should have looked after us… By doing what I wanted to do, I got what I deserved for not being submissive, not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was sentenced”.  As someone who has traveling extensively alone in dangerous countries, couchsurfed and spent time alone with probably hundreds of “strangers”, it’s pretty heart wrenching to read something like this because it could have easily happened to me, if God and my family’s rosaries weren’t keeping me safe.  Obviously, what’s even worse than thinking that I could be dead is thinking that if it did happen to me, people would blame me for being stupid or my parents for being irresponsible. Why I’ll never stop traveling solo Leah McLennan, the Australian solo traveler whose article alerted me to all this, came to a few relevant conclusions in her article, “Why I’ll never stop traveling solo” but I want to add my two cents and take it one step further.  She writes that she’s been in a few sketchy situations before but fortunately, “Fortunately, I can easily recount these travel stories as none of them turned into an assault.”  She concludes that the good experiences outweigh the bad and “Ultimately, there’s no one secret to staying safe while travelling, it’s a process of being wise, planning ahead, conducting thorough research and keenly listening to your instincts. While random and shocking, the murder of the two Argentine backpackers should not hold us back from living life to the fullest and exploring whichever part of the globe we choose.” She also announces, “I have decided I will not let these negative experiences keep me at home. Besides, violence against women is present in every country in the world, including here in Australia.” I agree with all this but want to come clean about what happened to me in Kenya because, while this is true, I believe there’s even more to it. My experiences traveling alone “By leaving our safety net, we have thrown our souls upon the wind, exposing ourselves to all the fears and dangers that we sought to protect each other from, and in doing so, we have made ourselves available to experience things that… border on the magical” -Wanderlust, Elisabeth Eaves Part of the scariest, but also most magical, part of really traveling is how vulnerable it makes you.  You’re in a foreign country by yourself, potentially surrounded by unfamiliar languages, different customs, different values and if you’re a blond and blue eyed, there’s practically a neon sign floating distinguishing you as a foreigner, someone who doesn’t belong.  Whether you want to find a place to eat that won’t give you food poisoning,...

Ex-Pat in New Zealand: Appreciating This Quirky Country

Ex-Pat in New Zealand: Appreciating This Quirky Country

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.  It is designed to make its own people comfortable” -Clifton Fadmiman It seemed that my last post made people conclude that I’d be happier with ex-pat life here if New Zealand had more issues.  Not exactly, I don’t wish more pain and suffering on this world and that’s not what I was trying to say. But I followed their advice anyway, started reading books and asking around even though I was skeptical. Weirdly, it was a productive exercise. I came here with high expectations, because everyone loves New Zealand, and that usually sets the stage for disappointment. Also, when you know you’re going to a developing country, you’re prepared for discomfort, chaos and that’s part of that fun.  Coming to New Zealand, you don’t expect it to be much different than America and at first glance, it isn’t.  For example, I asked one of my American friends who moved here three years ago what was hard for her to adjust to. She laughed, “there’s no culture shock. Well, maybe the ketchup. It’s sweet and tastes weird here.”  Because it didn’t seem different, my first conclusion was that New Zealand was a lame, lazy version of America (a very arrogant American thing to conclude).  This is a different country and does NOT want to be like America.  I needed to rid myself of this ridiculous notion before I could start appreciating what makes this place special.  It’s easy to do when you travel to a country that looks visibly different, but it’s much harder in a country that seems so similar. So on the surface, New Zealand appears like any mostly white, developed country but, while not so obvious upfront, it has a whole different set of values and priorities.  It felt so familiar that I thought I’d have nothing to learn by being here and I’d get frustrated when things didn’t work the way I expected them to.  But the differences run way deeper than just a funny accent.  Compared to Europe, America’s idea of “history” is almost laughable, but New Zealand is one of the last places on the planet to be settled by humans. Similarly, New Zealand is a rural, island nation at the bottom of the world so you can’t expect people to be as worldly as those in countries that can drive to another nation. Unlike competitive countries, New Zealand prioritizes quality of life over being the “best” at anything and seems quite content flying under the radar. For example, I think recently New Zealand signed a free trade agreement with the US, Canada, Mexico, parts of South America, Southeast Asia and Australia but it a lot of people were against it because they want to maintain a less capitalistic, competitive nation where maximizing money isn’t the first priority.  Honestly, at times, money doesn’t seem to be a main motivator at all.  According to the ladies at the science craft lunch session today, it’s a place you go to a rural craft shop (in someone’s house) to buy some wool, and its “in the sticks” and the internet doesn’t work so she gives you the wool and tells you she’ll send her bank information so you can pay her later.  Then you have to aggressively remind her to give you bank information so you can pay her. Anyway, since identifying some of the problems here helped me realign my expectations for this country (and made me appreciate how quirky this place is), I’ll share a few then discuss how I’m growing to appreciate Kiwi living. Gangs.  Prior to my arrival here, I was talking to someone about choosing between Auckland and Johannesburg.  They replied with fear in their eyes, “Auckland?  Have you heard about the gangs?!?!”.  I almost laughed because how could anything in sheep country be more dangerous than infamous Joburg?  I never figured out what movie alerted them to the issue but when traveling the country in November for my interview, I did see one computer printed sign taped on the door of a sketchy looking Wellington bar; “Those displaying gang colors and insignias will be denied entry”.  Once again, it seemed almost laughable to see the suburban surroundings.  After finally joining the local library, the first book I checked out was Patched: A History of Gangs in New Zealand.  Yes, the book contains tales of group rape, murder and other debauchery but it still seemed like the gangs here seem to be more bark than bite.  While the book Gangs by Ross Kemp claims New Zealand has more gangs per head than any other country in the world (seventy major gangs and over 4,000 patched member in a population of 4 million people), gangs vary...

Tales of a Nomad “Settling” in Auckland

Tales of a Nomad “Settling” in Auckland

I’m about three and a half weeks into my “new life” as a Professional Teaching Fellow in Auckland, New Zealand.  And I’ve been meaning to write something about it, something about this place, something about living life the way most people exist, something about unpacking suitcases and a building routine.  But I didn’t have anything unique to write about the place, but more importantly, I don’t think it’s hit me that I’m here,  and going to generally be here for 49 weeks (not that I’m counting…).  So I decided to write about this weird “in limbo” mental state, where I’m still meeting dozens of new people, still entering people in my phone “first name+city” (so now I’ve got dozens of people last name Auckland), still tagging Instagram photos of my new city as #travel, and still keeping my backpack by my pillow, half packed.  #InDenial.  The wanderer might not be wandering right now, but my nomadic tendencies are still strong. In thinking about what to write here, I was flipping through “How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors” Edited by Dan Crowe, where contemporary authors send in photos and descriptions of meaningful objects in their workspaces that help them battle writer’s block. Everything from their belly button lint collection to special pens to photographs to quotes from authors that inspire them.  One passage, written by Turkish author whose lived all over the place, struck a cord and contributed some insight why I’ve been fighting myself over settling here. “A bird can use its wings either to reach home or to run away from it,” says my grandmother, knowing too well which of these I have opted for all these years.  And she adds in haste, “Even birds take a breather to build a nest.  No rest, no nest”.  A nomad is not an immigrant.  While the latter is future oriented and aspires to settle down once and for all, the nomad lives a perpetual present with few possessions.  To live the life of a nomad means to be able to make new friendships, meet new challenges, but most of all, to let go- of your possessions, of your old self.  A sorrowful enrichment attends the soul along this quest… Just like every nomad, deep inside I harbor a fear of orderliness and pure tranquility- both of which remind me of nothing but death” -Elif Shafak, A Purple Pen  Unlike a friend who walks into an hotel room and two seconds later, his clothes are neatly folded on the shelf, shampoo is in the shower and toothbrush by the sink, “settling in” doesn’t make me comfortable.  I’m the exact opposite… I leave everything in my suitcase so I could zip it up and be on my way to somewhere else in two seconds flat.  Changing, evolving, growing, moving and teetering on the edge of my comfort zone is where I feel happiest. Repetition, routines and commitment is what terrifies me and makes me feel trapped.  Like the author quoted above, I associate orderliness and tranquility with stagnation, complacency and sluggishness.  And now, I’m in one of the most perfect places in the world where one third of the population owns a boat, the biggest issue is whether to make the flag look less Australia and a tenant who drops the f*bomb when his landlord lets out his dog makes front page news.  New Zealand is a gorgeous, laid back and lovely… the perfect place to raise a family and let the kids run wild, camping, beaching and “tramping”. But for someone who has seen the world, who knows that happiness is just a small part of the spectrum of human emotion, it’s hard to find this place satisfying.  The fact that there’s nothing wrong with it disturbs me.  You need heartbreak to inspire great art and music, you need conflict in order for inspiring public figures, you need controversy to write important books.    Struggle, conflict and challenge lead to growth and development.  Living in New Zealand is like living in Disney World (maybe except for the Maori people) and I find it hard to connect to, because it doesn’t feel real.  I keep wandering around, looking for a soul, a spirit, an imperfection in this city to make it more relatable…. I still feeling like I’m traveling, even though I’m supposed to be creating a life.  It’s easy for me to be fully present in a fleeting moment, but harder for me to feel alert and alive in familiar settings. “Travel can induce such a distinct and nameless feeling of strangeness and disconnection in me that I feel insubstantial, like a puff of smoke, merely a ghost, a creepy revenant from the underworld, unobserved and watchful among real people, wandering, listening while remaining unseen.”...

Traveling Central America: How to Do It Wrong

Traveling Central America: How to Do It Wrong

My recent trip to Central America proves that no matter how much you’ve traveled, there’s always more to learn.  Despite having visited approximately 60 countries at this point, my Central America trip was embarrassingly poorly planned.  Once I arrived, I realized it was actually really easy to get around, but the lack of clear information online led me to overcomplicate things.  These problems were compacted by trying to pack in a lot of miles into a limited time, in countries were things don’t always work according to schedule.  Fortunately, my trip was still fun.  Here’s a few tips to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that I did, followed by reasons why a Central America trip is totally worth it.  1. Shuttles Are A Traveler’s Best Friend I planned to figure out the details of the trip when I arrived but I wanted to know about basic options for transportation ahead of time.  Travel information for Central America isn’t as well documented online as other places I’ve been.  Somehow, I missed the incredibly important fact that there’s shuttles connecting all the major tourist cities in Central America, with a hostel pick-up/drop-off service (ex. Gekko Explorer out of El Tunco, El Salvador, Atitlan Tours out of Antigua, Guatemala, Tierra Tours in Nicaragua) .  The shuttles cost significantly more than local transport (which is ridiculously cheap) but it allows you to bypass capital cities which are hard to avoid if using local transportation.  With shuttles, you don’t have to book things ahead of time (it’s easy to get a next day departure), it’s safe and an easy way to make ~10 new friends that you can hang out with in the next city! Almost all the guidebooks to Central America recommend tourists avoid capital cities since there’s not much to see/do there and a higher chance of crime.  Furthermore, I found that Central America capital cities don’t have helpful central bus terminals… for example, the minibuses leave from somewhere, the more expensive long distance charter buses leave from somewhere else (ex. TICA bus), the local “chicken buses” leave from assorted stops around the city center. What NOT to do: I wanted to fit in Nicaragua, a few days in El Salvador and the area around Antigua, Guatemala in three weeks.  I had cheap round-trip flights into and out of Managua, Nicaragua but that met I had to start and end my journey there.   I only knew about long-distance buses connecting the city centers, which don’t operate at night because of road and crime safety reasons (the earliest buses leave at 2 or 5 in the morning then operate until the early afternoon) so I spent an entire day getting to San Salvador on the TICA bus.  Then I arrived in San Salvador, was literally the only person in my hostel and the only way I could get to anywhere (Ruta de Flores, Santa Ana) but the beach was to hire a private driver (for $100+ USD). I thought my only option would be wasting another day to go back down a long-distance charter bus.  I also worried about the border crossings, which were actually quite straightforward with the shuttle (well, for us, the border between El Salvador and Guatemala included a two-hour game of Tetris and a bumper bruising incident but supposedly that’s unusual).  So I booked a one-way flight from Guatemala City back to Managua a week and a half into my journey (which cost ~$300 USD, more than my round-trip from the States to Nicaragua). That was a mistake for a million reasons.  First, I loved Guatemala and wanted to stay there longer even if it meant decreasing my time in Nicaragua.  I wanted to hike and camp on Acatenango Volcano outside of Antigua but those tours don’t leave every day so I ended up missing out on that.  What I should have done is taken a shuttle from Antigua to Copan, Honduras to see the Mayan ruins then taken a shuttle from Copan, Honduas directly to Leon, Nicaragua.  Instead, by landing in Managua airport, I had to take an expensive taxi out of the airport (basically $25 to go anywhere), then pay to travel back North to Leon and I lost the flexibility of deciding when I wanted to leave Guatemala.  *Sigh. DO take a chicken bus: That being said, you should try the local transportation at some point during your trip, for a cultural experience, if nothing else.  I used them in El Salvador but Guatemala has some of the glitziest camionetas around.  As “Make The Most of Your Time on Earth” describes and I have verified from personal experience that ALL of these things happen, “Pre-departure rituals must be observed.  Street...

What is “Reality”? 2015 in Review

What is “Reality”? 2015 in Review

“Back to reality”, I  mumbled to myself as I roamed the Oslo airport in search of a place to camp out during my five hour layover before my flight back to the United States after a 6-month, 4-continent, 19-country trip basically to… everywhere.  After a couple laps, I stopped somewhere to charge my laptop (grimacing at global dust cloud emanating off my backpack), then propped my feet up to combat the swollen ankles that I tend to get on long flights and settled in to watch towering Scandinavians select packs of bacalhau (dried fish) to bring abroad for Christmas gifts.  As soon as I got comfortable, I remembered an email from a friend that I received a couple months ago and how meaningless the end-of-trip, “back to reality” phrase is for me these days. “What is your ‘real world’? I ask because everyone who is away from their home refers to their home and job as the real world. I’m sure you’ve heard this before? ‘When vacation is up, I’ve got to go back to the real world.’  I don’t want a real world.  I’m addicted to living in the ‘other world'” For most people, “reality” and “real world” means alarm clocks, breakfast on the go, deadlines and to-do lists.  I think I responded that my real world was my backpack but I didn’t live 2015 entirely out of my backpack.  In addition to visiting ~25 countries, I earned a PhD, I got hired for a “real job” and somehow people flew me to Brazil, Colorado, China, South Africa and New Zealand to do an assortment of professional, responsible things.  None of this was part of a larger strategic plan… most of it just happened. “I cannot be still for long.  There is a riot in me all the time.  A needy, restless voice my heart endlessly urging me onward.  I ache for new experiences and my hunger for adventure is boundless.  My entire life is a perpetual loops of longing for something else” -Beau Taplin, Something Else Well maybe it wasn’t part of a plan, but it probably has something to do with my inability to sit still, my desire for new perspectives and perceived need to exploit the flexibility of a research position that could be done from anywhere before I commit to a “real job”.  I guess it’s obvious that I like to collect new experiences but according to my star charts, I’m on the hunt for greater meaning.  So I’m some sort of philosophizing pack rat.  I guess greater meaning is what I’m trying to achieve by writing this post, trying to digest some of the hundreds of memories from 2015 but I’m officially stumped.  Facebook failed to help me… their simplistic attempt to construct my “year in review” had six photos, two of which were in the same place, with the same person.  There’s no way I spent one third of this year in one place, or with one person.  Sorry Facebook, but my slightly schizophrenic life isn’t so easy to summarize.  Here’s my best attempt to briefly present some of the highlights and hypothesize about what it might mean going forward. A Year in Review In February, I experienced my second hospitalization abroad with a broken bone in Peru but surgery went swimmingly with the help of my amazing brother who somehow kept up with the coco-chewing porters and evacuated me out of the jungle.  Subsequent travels continued uninterrupted thanks to the help of an old friend, and I even pulled off a faculty workshop at the University of Sao Paulo.  In addition to reuniting with three Brazilian friends from my past, I met up with into a guy that I used to teach nerd camp with who just arrived in Brazil with the intentions of starting a skate tour company and doing some bio-med start-up things.  I told him jokingly, “Back then, I had no idea that you were cool enough to move to another country! But then again, back then, I doubt I’d see himself here either” and we both smiled because kindred spirits often hide in plain sight. After about a month of self-imposed hermitude, as a one-handed cat lady, miraculously, I finished writing my dissertation.  After a short road trip through some new states in the south, after placing my dissertation on my advisor’s desk, I regained enough sanity to defend my dissertation and somehow became Dr. Foote.  Placing the capstone on 22 years of education was a bit anti-climatic… I filled out a few forms, left the day after my presentation and spent my graduation day on a sailboat in the Florida Keys, instead of wearing a funny hat and announcing the world that...

Long Term Travel & Simple Secret for Meaningful Life

Long Term Travel & Simple Secret for Meaningful Life

While Christmas is the capstone of the holiday season for many Americans, I always preferred Thanksgiving and up until this year, it was the one holiday I always made it home for. I love how its a holiday you smell before you celebrate it.  I love  how a lazy morning watching the Macy’s Day parade suddenly turns into a chaotic rush of pre-party preparation in the kitchen. I love nibbling on breakfast in preparation for the big feast. I love how my mom thinks about modernizing her menu each year but has to keep mashed potatoes for my cousins, Uncle Bo’s cornbread, Billy’s devil eggs, broccoli for my sister, pecan pie for grandma to an extent that the meal remained the same for decades. I love how the holiday is centered around a big meal so no one has to worry about buying gifts or dressing nice since everyone’s zipper is going to be tight after eating anyway.  And I don’t even eat turkey! This Thanksgiving, there was no turkey, there wasn’t even time to Skype my family and it definitely wasn’t in America, but it did involve giving thanks (who would have thought?).  So it took traveling abroad to reconnect with the true spirit of the holiday that I usually forget when stuffing my face back home.  I woke up in Amsterdam on the couch of an old friend that I didn’t know I’d see again but a 14-hour layover gave us the chance to catch up. I took a moment to thank the dozens of strangers who have shared their couches with me over the years, and the universe for unexpected opportunities to cross paths with some of these people again. Instead of being woken up to the smell of turkey, I had to drag myself to the airport before dawn. I stopped at a convenience store to pick some stroopwafel and satisfy a craving that I’ve had since my last visit to the Netherlands. I felt grateful that I had the freedom to eat carmelized waffle cookies for breakfast and a job that I can do from anywhere so I have the funds to indulge in small luxuries like these and that I’m worldly enough to know what stroofwafel is! I passed quickly through immigration, thankful for my American passport that gets me most places without a hassle and being born to a middle-class family who gave me the education and support I need to make a life of travel possible. The short flight to Morocco passed quickly and I landed in Casablanca grateful for another visit to my favorite continent, where I immediately felt like I was in another world. Instead of Amsterdam’s digital clocks ticking away the seconds and constant stream of trains, I had a few hours to spare before I could take the train to the city. I drank a terrible tasting cappuccino at a basic cafe, got 10x overcharged the cost of a local SIM card but relaxed knowing that spending a few extra dinars won’t ruin my trip. After waiting a few more hours to catch a train Mohammedia, I arrived to my couchsurfing host with frazzled hair and tired eyes but his crazy hair and warm welcome put a smile back on my face. Although his home was humble, he treated me like a princess, with fresh, foamy mint tea and a homemade tangine. We chatted for a few hours and then he let me crash around 6 PM. I feel asleep grateful that he let me have exactly what I needed (blankets and a place to pass out for 14 hours!) and his incredible generosity even though his house lacked some of the things I took for granted for twenty years… clean, running water, essentially unlimited food (if there’s ever a natural disaster, my dad’s cabinet can keep you alive for at least a few months!) and heat in the winter (an unthinkable luxury almost worldwide!). “Happy” Although I’ve basically essentially traveling for the past 1.5 years, this 6-month trip has my longest continuous journey through some of the most “complicated” countries and over the greatest distances. I hopped back and forth across the equator and bounced between 18 countries (Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, China, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Morocco and Spain) on 4 continents. While most of it involved general wandering, I taught a three-week course in China, gave some academic talks in South Africa and interviewed (successfully) for a job in New Zealand. I celebrated my 27th birthday in Vietnam, where a night bus dumped me on the streets of Hanoi at 5 AM where a pouty, tattooed lady named Ling Ling...

Traveling Zanzibar: Not Your Ordinary Island

Traveling Zanzibar: Not Your Ordinary Island

Zanzibar. The image I had in my mind of this island off the Tanzania coast was a cliché combination of white sand, turquoise water and bungalows built for tourists. I almost considered skipping it- why pay more for a slightly better beach when I was quite happy listening to the Indian Ocean under the palm trees and watching locals play football at beach near Dar Es Salaam.   “YOLO, YOLO” (You only live once”, tour guide Nikka advised me. Ok, not using the teenage abbreviation but essentially conveying the same message. “Ok, ok, I’ll do it”, I replied then strategically added, “you haven’t let me down yet” so I could watch his reaction to see if I really was making a good decision or he was just trying to get rid of me and the rest of the tour group for a few days. He seemed genuine. The ferry ride seemed to qualm some of my fears. Despite taking the fast ferry, tourists were a small fraction: isolated dots in a sea of swirling fabric with bold African prints, punctuated by bedazzled headdresses for the women and embroidered neutral colored hats perkily perched atop the men. Arrival in Zanzibar had a healthy dose of African chaos. Porters in reflective vests climbed over each other to offer their services helping with luggage. Staff from the boat yelled a warning, “Negotiate your prices before hand! Only trust official porters!”, but with a kind of half-smile that suggested they knew they were throwing us to the wolves. Zanzibar is part of the “United Republic of Tanzania” but we still had to fill out immigration forms (because more paperwork is ALWAYS better) then waited behind women who were unloading boxes from their heads, bags from under each arm and babies off their backs as their husbands stood uselessly, unburdened by their sides from the obligatory “baggage check”. Of course, most people got an automatic chalk check before they even began to unzip, except for the unfortunate souls that they arbitrarily decided to torture with an extended inspection. We did our best to make a beeline through the swarm of taxi drivers waving their keys in our faces then hopped in the van for a 50 kilometer drive from our entry point in Zanzibar Town to the Nungwi Beach, the location of the majority of resorts on the island. I was pleasantly surprised that the drive still felt like Africa: barbershops, cows hauling carts holding up traffic, people taking naps and elaborately carved door frames propped up against palm trees collecting dust as they wait for a buyer. We bump along, squeeze through one-way bridges and get stopped at a gate by a policeman that holds us up for an hour, trying to charge us for a driving a vehicle with a registration sticker that expires today. . The driver refuses to satisfy his ridiculous request and we proceed, eventually veering off on a side street through ramshackled huts selling half-inflated beach toys and backyards of people trying to catch their kids for bath time. We pull up to a gate, which opens to the touristy bungalows, sapphire swimming pools and attentive staff that I expected to see. I dumped my bags in my hotel room, looking past the king sized bed, flower petals and towels folded like swans to let out a squeal of glee to see a pillow (the past two weeks, I’ve been camping and using a makeshift cushion out of clothes stuffed into my sleeping bag cover). I kick off my shoes, ignoring the receptionist’s sea urchin warning and head barefoot to the beach. I traverse the beach in a squiggly path, trying to avoid the teenagers waving pamphlets selling snorkeling trips or (if you get closer to overhear) marijuana “Spice up your holiday with some Malawi-wowee! Welcome to Paradise Fun!”. I’m slightly mystified to see the elegant, statuesque Maasi men on the beach, with sea breezes rustling their red and black checked robes. They looked extremely out of place, hidden behind aviator sunglasses, when it seemed like they belonged drinking cow blood in the bush. I dismissed their presence as a photo-op for tourists, but it made even more sense when I later learned their involvement in sex tourism. On my walk back, more out of boredom that anything else, I allowed myself to be intercepted by one of the infamous “beach boys”. He found out pretty fast that I wasn’t going to pay $30 to be stuck on a boat with tourists for a sunset booze cruise. We started chatting in the shade of a hotel overhang and after he learned a bit about...