Our intended destination Monday was Montepulciano.  We ended up in The Twilight Zone.

What a contrast to the packed streets of Rome and the Amalfi Coast this summer: Montepulciano was literally empty.  The first half hour we wandered the city and didn't encounter a single soul.  It was surreal.  Here is this incredible, ancient, walled city and we had it all to ourselves.

The people in this picture are my parents.  The only people in the town square.
This became a problem when it came time for lunch.

We eventually found a fantastic osteria and Joey's mood improved considerably.  Once she drank her wine, Mallory's did too.  

After lunch we set off in search of wine tastings.  We followed the signs to a huge door off the main square.  We rang the doorbell and were greeted by a surly middle-aged woman in a tracksuit.  She allowed us to tour the winery and then poured several different vintages of Montepulciano for us to taste.  When we asked her how old the winery was, she nonchalantly replied, "1,000 years."  Oh, is that all?

We found another open shop where the very friendly shopkeeper filled many, many glasses of wine.  Good thing we'd all had pasta for lunch!  

After another breathtaking sunset we got back in the car and headed toward our villa.  We stopped at one more winery along the way, where we bought some incredible Vin Santo.

That night Joey treated us to another yummy home-cooked meal.  We all turned in early, happy tummies full of food and wine.

Click here for all my pictures from Montepulciano.


The view from Mom, Dad and Mallory's cottage window on Sunday morning.
Our cottage is in the bottom right of the photo.
The next morning was Sunday, so we decided there'd be no better place to attend Mass than the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.  One of the best things about the cottages we rented was its proximity to so many cool small towns in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside, and we reached Assisi in less than an hour.

After Mass we ate lunch at a little trattoria, then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the maze of Assisi.  We drove down from the beautiful town on the hill to its outskirts in a futile search for gelato, then headed back to our villa for the evening.

Looking up on the Basilica from the outskirts of Assisi

All the cool air and walking wore Mom and Dad out, so Mallory, Joey and I played cards and drank wine.  A little later Joey whipped up the first of many fabulous meals. 

Click here for all of my pictures from our first two days in Italy


reunited and it feels so good

I've been so blessed to share many amazing travel experiences over the last year with my best friend, and in late January I was lucky enough to share a trip to Italy with my family too.  My mom, dad, and sister, Mallory, met Joey and me at the airport in Rome and I'm pretty sure they were almost as excited to see us as they were to return to Italy.  Sadly, my other sister, Elizabeth, wasn't able to join us, although we kept her with us in spirit as we spent the next ten days touring the Italian countryside.

We'd arranged to meet my family at the Advantage rental car desk.  Unfortunately, we didn't realize that half of the reason we got such a good deal on the rental car was because Advantage is located off-site, so the first hour of our trip to Italy was spent running in circles, searching for the rental car desk and each other.  Joey and I decided to get the car - maybe my family had somehow managed to find the shuttle to the rental car station even though we couldn't figure that out without calling the phone number on the confirmation sheet - if they weren't there, we'd drive back to the airport and try to find them.

So we got the car and with no sign of my family headed back to the airport.  We parked the car in short-term parking and started walking toward the terminal in which my family had landed and I heard a familiar whistle - about fifty yards away Mallory and Dad stood waving.  Poor Mom had been placed in a different location to try to find Joey and me, so the four of us went back to the car and drove as close as we could to where she was waiting.  We decided to send Dad to get her, and they returned together about fifteen minutes later.  We exchanged more big hugs and set off for our home for the next eleven days: Umbertide (pronounced Oom-bear-tee-day).

How did people manage without cell phones?

We spent the next three hours in the car catching up, laughing and excitedly discussing our plans for the trip (which was more like Joey'd recruited three other people to make fun of my Excel vacation itineraries and European death marches).  We exited the main highway and as we twisted and turned according to the lovely voice of our friend, Garmin, we all wondered how people managed without GPS (it's interesting how we travel to Italy for the splendor of Roman history only to appreciate the convenience of today's technology).  But with the help of the Garmin and the directions from the caretakers, we managed to find Casa San Gabriel.

We pulled up to the villa in the valley where we'd rented two cottages as the sun set, casting a brilliant red and orange hue over the mountains, cypress trees and ancient stone hamlets that surrounded us.  After dropping off our suitcases, we all piled back in the car and headed back into town to stock up on groceries and eat dinner.

Taking Joey into a grocery store in Italy is like taking a kid to a candy store; I imagine trying to pry a child away from the shiny and colorful sweets is like trying to pry my husband away from the meat and cheese counters.  But one hour and massive cart-full of groceries later, we finally escaped.  We drove back toward our villa, spotting a sign for Pane e Vino, and figured it'd be worth a try.  The restaurant was located in what appeared to be a deserted industrial park, but it looked like it had character and so we went inside.  We found a huge roaring pizza oven, bookshelves full of wine and white tablecloths.  Perfect!  We immediately ordered wine and pizza and pasta too, and spent the rest of the evening eating, drinking, and enjoying each other's company.

What should have been an uneventful drive back to Casa San Gabriel became far more interesting when Joey unknowingly turned the wrong way on a one-way road.  Although we didn't encounter any cars along the way, we did have a hell of a time getting up the hill.  Apparently the route to the villa from the highway is one-way because the incline is so steep; with the sharp drop-off looming precariously only a few feet away from where our wheels were spinning, I was truly afraid enough that I got out of the car.  Mallory and Mom soon followed, then Dad took the wheel and Joey got behind and pushed.  I was fairly certain I was watching my father kill my husband, but Dad got the car up the hill and around the corner, albeit not without a few jokes about the size of our asses or the capability of my husband.




Saturday morning we all piled in the Landcruiser with Ibrahim one last time.  In the middle of nowhere, he abrubtly stopped the car and said, “I have to go see a friend.”  He got out of the car and we all looked at each other and around the car – there wasn’t a soul in sight.  Who in the world could he need to see?  Then as Ibrahim walked behind a bush it became apparent that he just needed to relieve himself.  We laughed even harder when he came back to the car and told us, “He wasn’t there.”

Ibrahim dropped us off at the small Arusha airport, where Steve, Angela and I munched on French fries and Joey devoured a cheeseburger.   We all had a few beers and some Dramamine in anticipation of our flight.  Soon the gate agent collected us from the bar and took us through the small security area and out to the tarmac.  We walked to our itty-bitty, 12-passenger, propeller plane and I said a Hail Mary.

Walking to our plane. Oh God.
The pilot turned around and asked all the passengers to please not take pictures during take-off and landing because he had been hit in the head with a camera too many times.  Then he turned on his Garmin.  I said another.

The air in the cabin was stuffy and hot and once the wheels were up it felt as flimsy as a paper airplane.  Luckily the beer and the Dramamine knocked me out before a full-blown anxiety attack kicked in, and I woke up over the electric blue of the Indian Ocean.  It got even hotter in the plane before we landed in Zanzibar, but we landed so I didn't care that I'd almost soaked my shirt and my thighs were chaffing like crazy. 

Bargaining.  It's his new favorite sport.
A different representative from the safari company picked us up from the Zanzibar airport and drove us to Stone Town.  At first glance Stone Town is dirty, dilapidated, and oppressively hot and humid, but the warmth of the people and the eclectic Arab, Persian and Indian architecture quickly charms its visitors.  We spent the next two days wandering the little alleyways, visiting the markets and the famous Forodhani Gardens for fresh-caught seafood, admiring the impressively carved doors, eating some truly delectable meals and delighting in marvelous sunsets (both for the colors and the reprieve from the staggering heat).   Angela and I bonded over pedicures, we shopped and Joey entertained himself by bargaining for everything we bought.  One shopkeeper got so frustrated with my husband he threw his calculator across the alley.  Another asked him, “How long have you been in Stone Town?”  When Joey replied that he lived in Nigeria, the shopkeeper replied with an understanding, “Ooooooh.”  

Here's the link for all of my Stone Town pictures.

Monday morning we met our tour guide again for our transfer to the beach and stopped for a tour of a spice plantation along the way.  The young boy who climbed a fifty-foot coconut tree with his feet tied together and a knife in his mouth yet somehow managed to sing all the way was definitely the highlight.  Our guide told us all Zanzibarians learn how to climb the coconut trees, but once they turn 26 they may not climb anymore.  He also told us that Zanzibarian men may not eat nutmeg because they believe it makes them more prone to father daughters than sons.  And then he told us that he had always really wanted to marry a white woman, so he found his wife on the internet.  But not until he'd "dated" 180 white women from the internet first.  Many women flew to Zanzibar to meet him, but he sent them all away, especially the one with the club foot.  He saw her from afar and told his driver to tell her he was out of the country.  #youcan'tmakethisshitup.  

Here are all my Spice Tour photos.

We parted with Angela and Steve since we had separate beach accommodations and settled into a lazy and relaxing routine of not doing a whole lot of anything for the next five days.  The drastically changing tides, brazen red monkeys and many a book kept us entertained.  The seaweed and coral that surrounded our beach made it a little difficult to wander, but at low tide we were able to find our own tiny island paradise at a sand bank in the dazzling aquamarine waters.  Our last morning we commissioned a local fisherman named Captain Roger to take us out on his tiny little sailboat.  What a wonderful week.  

Only a few hours after our morning sail in the Indian Ocean we had dinner in Addis Ababa.  We tried a different traditional restaurant and chowed on the vegetarian sampler platter with lamb tibs.  The next morning it was back to real life when we boarded our flight to Abuja.

And of course, for the last of our pictures from Zanzibar and Addis, just click on their names.   

our last day of safari

We began our last day of safari on Friday with a long, jostling drive full of hairpin turns to the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater.   The cold mist that surrounded us only contributed to the ethereal feeling inside the caldera.  It felt like we had driven into The Land Before Time.  We passed herds of buffalo and wildebeest and zebra and elephant.  We watched while hyenas and lions hunted and saw two rare black rhinos in the distance.  We even faced an elephant on the road!  He was very clearly not going to yield, so we did.  As our car slowly reversed through the bush, the elephant steadily stomped toward us, and it was so.  cool.

Staring down another vehicle

We drove back up to the rim of the crater for a walk along a muddy with an armed ranger who pointed out different flowers and plants and explained their uses.  I trudged through the buffalo-poop-covered trail and lamented to Joey that my nature quota had been filled about two days earlier and all I wanted to do was go shopping.  He reminded me with a smile that I was the one who planned the trip. 

We returned to our lovely room at the Ngorongoro Farm House for one more night, where we took advantage of the fireplace in our room and built a huge, roaring, romantic fire. 

For pictures from the last day of our safari, click here.

safari day 4

After the thunderstorms outside our tent lulled us to sleep, we woke to a gloomy morning.   Thursday, our fourth day of safari, we headed back from where we came, all the way back through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Areas.  Along our route we stopped at a boma, or miniature village, of one of the Masai tribes that live in the area.

We were greeted with the traditional song and dance of the Masai; the men stand apart from the women, but the harmony they create with their voices together is both beautiful and haunting.  Then a member of the tribe, the son of the chief (who can have up to 20 wives, so sorry dude, not really such a huge honor), took us into the village and one of the grassy, mud huts where they sleep.  He explained that their diet consists entirely of the cows and goats they raise, including the blood, which they drink with the milk.  Apparently the excess intake of iron is why their teeth look like this:

Sidenote: After much thought, I’ve decided to go ahead and post my pictures of these people.  Not only are they beautiful photos from a noteworthy experience, but we also paid a significant fee to tour the boma and were given explicit permission to take photographs.   I found it rather awkward to even take the photos at first, but when I showed my subjects their images they always responded with big, toothy smiles.  Therefore, I believe the privilege to take pictures for which we paid also extends to the privilege to post the same photos to my blog.  Additionally, there is no other personally identifiable information and if you think you’ll be able to find these semi-nomadic people in the middle of the Tanzanian bush based off a photo, good luck.

Anyway, after the tour, we were given the opportunity to ask questions and shop the jewelry made by the women of the tribe.  I found a bracelet for me and a necklace for O.  Joey bought an ebony club after learning that is what the Masai warriors use to kill the lions which attack their herds.

After a long day in the car and a minor accident (Ibrahim accidentally careened the vehicle into the embankment – it was rainy and he was going a little too fast, but we’re all fine.  Joey says he broke his toe but I’m pretty sure he’s fine), we checked into our last safari lodge.  Another beautiful property, the Ngorongoro Farm House is located on a working coffee plantation and has the best coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life.  The views were almost as good as the coffee.

Click here for all of my pictures from Day 4 of our safari


safari day 3

Our early morning game drive started out slow.  The early morning drizzle turned into a light rain and after driving for over an hour we'd only seen a rabbit, an aardvark and few ostriches.  Then our guide spotted a cheetah (no pun intended).  We drove near to where she stood and listened while she emitted short, high-pitched cries for her fellow cheetahs.  Our clumsy vehicle followed her graceful figure as she searched, and we were all rewarded when she led us to the two other cheetahs.

After thoroughly exhausting our cameras on the cheetahs, we noticed a cluster of safari vehicles in the near distance.  We joined the other vehicles to inspect what they'd found: a rare type of hyena/jackal, called an aardwolf, and her cub.  They were adorable!  As we watched the baby aardwolf flail and climb all over it's mother we decided we'd found Moe's long lost ancestors.

The sun came out on the way back to the camp for breakfast, and we came across the coolest thing yet: an entire pride of lions, luxuriating on a sandbank under the sun. They were also surrounded by safari vehicles, but they didn't seem to care.  This was their jungle, and they knew it.  We stopped and watched while they gingerly crossed the thin stream - even the king of cats didn't like the water!

Reluctantly we pulled ourselves away from the lions to go eat, then happily packed our bags and left the camp. The rest of the day was spent traversing the Serengeti, where we were lucky enough to see a leopard  (supposedly the hardest member of the Big Five to find) and a lion in a tree (though not the same tree).

Our digs that night were a significant improvement over the night before, albeit still in a tent to which we were escorted by a bow-and-arrow-wielding Masai warrior.  This tent, however, was attached to a gorgeous outdoor stone shower and had a mosquito net fit for Cleopatra.  It was lovely and we slept like babies.

Click here for all of my pictures from our third day of safari


I've never been much for camping.  My first memory of camping is in my grandparents' pop-up trailer parked in their driveway.  I was about eight years old and it was also the first (and probably last) time I ever had Mellow Yellow.  I made it until about 2 am when I called my mom and begged her to come get me.

Then came summer camp.  I cried my eyes out the first three days.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure it was because I missed my nice clean bathroom and longer-than-3-minute-showers.  (Just kidding, Mom.)

Even in college, camping consisted of hanging out at the campsite until late in the night and then driving home to pee in a real toilet and sleep in a bed above the ground.

So when I was planning this safari and the travel agent told me the only place available in our budget in the area where I wanted to stay (to catch the Great Migration.  Of course I would sign up to go camping and then it wouldn't rain all year and the animals would go somewhere else) was actually a tented camp, I was skeptical.  But I figured since the website said it had toilets and hot showers, it was only one night (I hadn't taken into account how bad the place in Moshi would be) and it'd be an adventure.  

How much of an adventure I didn't realize until we read the rules.

The giant tarp which held our beds was partitioned into four parts: a bedroom, a sink/dressing room enclave, a toilet and a shower.  The toilet, flanked by wooden boards, flushed twice - total - and in order to get hot water, two men stood outside the tarp and poured a fire-heated bucket into the shower nozzle.  It was more slime than water and which left me wishing for a shower after my shower.  I tried to tell myself it probably had really good anti-aging qualities.

Then there were the lions.

Joey caught a cold, and the poor guy had been sniffling and sneezing all day.  Normally this translates to a lot of snoring at night.  After we were escorted back to our tent for bed by the African tribesman, Joey heard a noise.  With big eyes he looked at me and asked, "Did you hear that?"  I shrugged it off and fell into a light sleep.  At one point what I thought was Joey's snores roused me, and I told him, apparently loudly enough for Angela and Steve in the next tent to hear, to roll over.

It wasn't Joey snoring.  It was a lion.  Which is why Angela and Steve were awake to hear me hollering. 

We had an early drive the next morning to see the nocturnal predators returning from the hunt, and at 5:30 am we sat in the dark with our coffee while we waited for our driver.  Joey, Angela and Steve said a lion had kept them up all night, but I didn't believe them.  Then the lion roared again, closer this time, and I apologized to Joey for complaining about his snoring.

Click here for all of my pictures from day two of our safari.

safari day 2

Tuesday morning we began the second day of our safari with a drive through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  None of Tanzania's reserves are gated; however, an entrance fee is required and you do have to check in and check out of each reserve.  Unfortunately, when we arrived at the gate of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we did so with many other safari-goers, and it took almost an hour before we were cleared for entry.  Fortunately, Ibrahim was in charge of this check-in process, so all we had to do was try to stay out of the strong sun and away from the nasty tsetse flies.

The peak of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area sits at 7,500 feet, so with each turn the car wound higher and higher up the rim of the caldera.  We stopped to photograph the crater below before winding all the way down the other side to the "endless plains" of the Serengeti, the breathtaking scenery only aggrandized by the occasional presence of a giraffe, elephant or zebra.  Then we passed under the gate of the Serengeti National Park where thousands of impala and gazelle and zebra and wildebeest just seemed to materialize from the grassy savannah like the baseball players from the corn in the Field of Dreams.

With the hatch of our Landcruiser popped and the hot sun streaming in, we bumped along the dirt road toward Lake Masek, where we discovered a wildebeest graveyard. The tires crunched on the bones of the fallen prey as we made our way deeper into the bush and encountered a large family of elephants.  We got so close we could count the wrinkles of their crackled gray skin, and laughed at the posturing of the baby elephant.  He stomped his foot, flared his ears and snorted his trunk, only to be gently led away by his mother who didn't find our vehicle as threatening as he.

We passed flocks of pelicans and pink flamingos, pausing to photograph a herd of hippos taking a mud bath in Lake Ndutu.  They smelled almost as bad as the blunt and bloody limb toted by the very hungry and very pregnant hyena we saw next.  Dark clouds rolled in with the dusk, but we drove deeper into the bush before arriving at camp.  Though a waiter met us at the car with delightfully cold towels and deliciously fresh passion fruit juice, our experience that night would be far more rustic than any other night on our trip.

staycation day 3

On the agenda today:

1. Finish beet juice.  There is an apple, five carrots and a 1/4 cup of mint in this concoction, but all I taste is beets.  Ew.

2. Paint toenails.

3. Paint fingernails.  Then I can't dig ravenously into the pantry calling my name.

4. Procrastinate on vacation blogs.

5. Yoga by the pool with Joey's iPod since I broke mine on Monday.  Did you know when you put an ipod in the back of your sports bra and it's 95 degrees outside the moisture will kill the screen?  Oops.  Good thing there's an Apple store in Abuja.  Ha.

6. Chew raw sweet potato, apple, and celery salad for lunch.  And chew.  And chew.  And chew.  At least when it takes a really long time to eat something you think you're full...

7. Procrastinate further on vacation blog.  Maybe watch TV and try not to think about food.

8. Wait for Joey to get home.  Pounce on him as soon as he walks in the door with twenty questions.  "Hi!How wasyourday?Whatdidyoudo?Didyoumissme?CanyoutellI'vehadnohumaninteractiontoday???????"


an even better article


Yes.  The article is about missing genitals.  Please read the whole thing.  Thank you this is my life.

yesterday's fun

I'm borrowing this link from my friend's blog.


Joey's version of events is a little different...


My employment contract expired on Friday.  My new contract was supposed to begin yesterday, but it's all tied up in red tape, which means I am taking an indefinite staycation.

This staycation perfectly coincided with the arrival of my new juicer and impending vacation to Eastern Europe (where all those bitches have legs a mile long and an inch thick), so I finally started a cleanse.  I've been trying to plan this cleanse since my January edition of Whole Living magazine arrived in February, but organizing all of the components isn't easy when you live in Nigeria.

I believe the editors of Whole Living intended for the cleanse to jump-start the new year.  My edition arrived significantly later, not by any fault of the people at Martha Stewart publications.  Then I had to order a juicer.  Then I had to wait three weeks for said juicer to arrive.  Then I could start compiling the foods needed for this cleanse, because obviously those things need to be consumed fresh.  One would think that living in a tropical climate would afford accessibility to a large variety of fruits and vegetables, but I think I would have had an easier time finding all of the ingredients in Iowa in January.  Maybe that was the point...I guess there aren't a lot of Whole Living subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa...

Anyway, the vegetable delivery man came on Saturday and Joey bought all the items he could find on my list.  Then yesterday we went to the market to buy more vegetables and today M. is going to the supermarket to hopefully find the rest.  I think the only thing we may not find is kale, but there is another vegetable delivery man coming on Friday and he said he might have Swiss Chard.

Did I mention I'm starving?

Anyway, by last night we had amassed enough ingredients, and so this morning I began my cleanse.  Nothing but fruits and vegetables for 1 week.  Three hours in and I'm already starving.  My breakfast of grapefruit, carrot and ginger juice kept me full for about one whole hour and I've been sucking down water and tea to try to get me through the next two.  In fifteen minutes I get to eat four dates stuffed with pistachios.  Oh yay.

So we'll see how this thing goes.  My other option is to sit at home and eat all day long, so I figure the cleanse route is worth a try.

Only 9 more minutes until my dates...


safari day 1

Monday morning a representative from our safari company rescued us from our hotel and whisked us away from Moshi in his white minivan.  The clouds impeding our view of Mt. Kilimanjaro the day before had dissolved, rewarding us with majestic views of the tallest mountain in Africa for much of our drive to Arusha.

Joey's cousin, Angela, and her husband, Steve, flew over 30 hours and almost 10,000 miles from Seattle to meet us in Arusha.  We couldn't decide whether we were more excited to see Angela and Steve or to begin our long-awaited safari.  Luckily we didn't have to, because no sooner were we reunited than we were loaded into the Toyota Landcruiser in which the four of us would have many, many hours over the next week to reconnect.

About two hours through the Tanzanian countryside and a snack of red bananas later, we reached our first safari destination: Lake Manyara National Park, where we were greeted by a blue monkey before even passing the gate.  Once inside, our driver and guide, Ibrahim, popped the vehicle's roof hatch so we were able to stand while he drove through the park.

Standing in the back of the car.  See the giraffes in the background?
As we made our way through the forest, we saw baboons, more blue monkeys, black-faced velvet monkeys and impalas before lunch.  We stopped in a clearing with several picnic tables and Ibrahim doled out our lunch boxes.  Lunch was fairly meager, but fortunately for always-hungry Joey we still had some of the bananas purchased along the way from the women on the side of the road.

After lunch we headed into the bush and over the next several hours spotted wildebeest (which Ibrahim pronounced as "wild beast"), giraffes, elephants, teeny tiny little impalas called Kirk's Dik-Dik, an Egyptian lizard, warthogs, zebras, hippos, and numerous species of birds!  With the aid of Ibrahim and my journal, we counted 23 different animals and we still had four more days to go!

Pink flamingos, giraffes and wildebeest

This giant turkey vulture looking thing is called a Southern Ground Hornbill

We left the park and about an hour later arrived at the Bougainvillea Safari Lodge, a welcome respite from our accommodations the previous night.  We had our own cottage, with a four-poster bed draped in mosquito netting, a fireplace and large walk-in shower, which I employed immediately.

Feeling much fresher, Joey and I met Angela and Steve for dinner in the lodge.  Many glasses of really bad boxed wine (actually, the first glass was the only really bad one; Angela said she saw them tipping the box to get all the wine out) and many good laughs later, we finally retired to our romantic little cottage.

Click here for the rest of my pictures from our first day of safari


about that hotel

For our honeymoon, Joey and I took a Mediterranean cruise. We docked one day in Montenegro, where we bought a bottle of wine at the local market for two euro. A few hours later, bound for our next destination, we brought our wine to the ship's dining room. Although we had our own romantic table for two, we really enjoyed the large table of octogenarians next to ours, and we joined them that night for dinner. We offered to share our wine but no one was interested. One dining companion offered us a pearl of wisdom for our new married life: two euro wine in Europe is usually a lot like a two dollar wine in the US: not very good. While I have had more than a few good, cheap bottles of wine in Italy and France, his advice absolutely held true for that Montenegran wine.

So maybe I should have listened to his voice in my head when I booked the Twiga Home in Moshi for $20.
Beside the filthy floors and walls, cobwebs and bugs inside the broken wardrobe, suspect-looking towels (one each), ant infestation and dirty sink, the shower consisted of a faucet slightly over the toilet attached to a live wire with zip ties. We were given the option of A/C, which broke, on, after the staff had left for the night, and since the only bedding available was a thin sheet over the rubber mattress, we actually froze.

I don't know what I was thinking when I booked this place. I'm pretty sure the reviews on Trip Advisor were okay. For a hostel. And truth be told, I've never actually stayed at a hostel before. Had I realized this place was a hostel, I probably wouldn't have booked it because hostels are for college kids who can drink enough they don't care where they're sleeping. But Twiga doesn't call itself a hostel. It calls itself a home. So I canceled my perfectly good reservation at the Protea, a perfectly good South African chain, to save $125, apparently believing it was just a good deal. I'm so smart. And when did I become such a big spender?

So in addition to my moratorium on drinking bad wine, I have instituted a new moratorium on booking bad hotels by establishing a lower limit. Unless that cheap hotel room is sold by Costco or Trader Joes (because everybody knows you can get good, cheap wine there).


mt. kilimanjaro coffee tour

Upon landing at Mt. Kilimanjaro airport (whose peak was sadly concealed by thick cloud cover), we found the hotel hostle hovel shuttle and settled in for the 45 minute ride to Moshi and our room for the night.

I think I will write a separate post about how much I loved where we stayed.

Anyway, months earlier we'd signed up for a tour of a local coffee plantation.  Since our flight landed after noon, we only had a few hours of daylight and needed to hustle.  We got out of the shuttle at the um, place, dropped off our bags in our room and got in a different car headed toward the mountain.

Our young taxi driver took us through Moshi, the town from where most Kilimanjaro climbers begin their ascent, and wound his way up the base of the mountain and deeper into the bush. About five minutes past my comfort zone (which has arguably expanded significantly over the last 14 months), we finally pulled into what appeared to be an empty farm and were greeted by who was apparently our tour guide.
"Enjoy coffee tour"
He took us to a cabana, where he gave us an overview of what we'd see on the tour and asked if we'd like to have our traditional lunch now or after the tour.  We were both starving (weird), and asked if we could eat first.  So, naturally, that's when the cook began to prepare our lunch (I mean, it's not like we reserved the tour months ago and arranged what time we'd be there or anything.  Oh wait...).  As we sat and conversed awkwardly with our guide for the next hour, I couldn't help but wonder why we'd rushed to get here (I really should know better at this point).

Eventually, though, we were served our lunch of Pilau rice, bananas and a little bit of meat.  And banana soup.  None of it was particularly bad, just bland.  We finished our meal and sat, awkwardly, a little longer, as it began to sprinkle and the time ticked closer and closer to sunset.  Our guide finally decided he was ready to start the tour, and he led us into the bush.

We walked for at least ten minutes until the guide said anything.  At this point, I was fairly convinced the Tanzanian interpretation of tour meant, "we'll hike your ass all over this plantation," but eventually he began his spiel and we (Joey) made our own cup of coffee starting with the plant to the brew.

Step 1: Pick ripe, red beans from coffee tree.
Step 2: Peel red skin from coffee bean, leaving slimy residue.
Step 3: Use above contraption to rinse slime from coffee bean.
Step 4: Leave cleaned coffee beans out to dry
Step 5: Remove second skin from dried coffee bean using large mortar and pestle.
Step 6: Roast beans
Step 7: Grind roasted beans
Step 8: Add ground coffee beans to boiling water
Step 9: Strain grounds from coffee
Step 10: Enjoy your very fresh cup of coffee in a mud hut.
We also learned about all the different kinds of bananas grown in Tanzania, most notably, the kind they make into beer.  Naturally, the highlight of Joey's coffee tour was this liter of home-brewed banana beer.  He said it tasted something like flour and nothing like beer.

As delicious as that looked (and as convinced I was by the tour guide's reassurances that everything had been prepared hygienically), I decided to pass on the opportunity to drink bush beer.  I watched Joey get dysentery in Mexico and I was fairly certain I was watching him get it again.

But despite all my paranoia, Joey survived the beer and we survived the drive back to Moshi, and even arriving as the sun set.  Now all we had to do was survive the night at our hotel.

Click here for all of my pictures from our coffee tour.