the sandbank

We landed on Ibo Island on a Sunday, and stayed at the romantic lodge Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights.  Tuesday morning we got a preview of our Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, when we woke up with the sun and sleepily walked to the docks.  The four of us piled into a tiny, wooden rowboat with an African gondoleer at the helm.  With his long, skinny stick of an oar he paddled us out to the sister of the dhow we'd call our own the next four days (ours was being prepared for our journey), and we shakily climbed aboard.
The morning was chilly and we huddled under towels while we watched the crew raise the sail.  Then we awkwardly climbed the narrow ladder to the small, upper deck for a 45-minute sail in the crisp air to a sandbank in the middle of the sea.  Nervously we watched what seemed like huge waves and ominous other boats (the lodge manager had regaled three of us with tales of pirates over cocktails the night before; he terrified O).  Soon enough the crew called for us to go ashore, so ever the lady that I am, I hiked up my dress and got my feet wet.  Joey, L&O followed, and we explored the small mound of sand we'd inhabit for the next few hours.

I wish I could take credit for this amazing picture of the sandbank, but I have to give  it to L.
Even though it was still quite cold, one of our crew said it was time to go snorkeling, so on went the flippers and masks, at least for three of us.  I'm not exactly the most coordinated person, and snorkeling is high on the list of things that freak me out and can't really do (escalators, specifically descending ones, are also on that list).  I've tried snorkeling three other times - and only one of those have I even managed to kind of do it (I blame one of those instances on alcohol.  Booze cruises should never be accompanied by snorkeling.  Or kayaking.  That was really bad.)  It'd been about four years since my last attempt, so I decided to give it another try.

While L and O were off enjoying the reefs, Joey was teaching me how to breathe and trying not to laugh hysterically.  Maybe it was because I was going off about Darth Vader with the tube still in my mouth.  Eventually, though, I figured it out - until it was time for the flippers.  How do people swim in those things?  I felt certain I was going to drown immediately with those giant fins on, so I left them on the bank.  Finally we were ready to snorkel, and off I swam.  I made it to the first reef and I panicked.  Although heavily breathing, I seemed to be managing, but what would happen if I accidentally sucked water?  The coral seemed so close I was sucking in my stomach - I couldn't put my legs down and all I could see was coral.  Where were Joey and L and O?  By then I was completely flailing in every direction.

Thankfully Joey saw my panic attack, and swam up and held my hand.  Instantly I felt better, and with white knuckles I squeezed his hand as I continued to flail about, albeit less, in the water.  But hand-in-hand we explored the reef and the amazing colors of the ocean.  We saw a bright red, puffy starfish, a kingfish, and innumerable shimmering schools.  Although the breathing apparatus still scared me, with Joey holding my hand I almost could feel the peace of the underwater world.  Unfortunately my "swimming" did not bring anyone else peace, as L and O had to come up several times to contain their hysterical laughter at the sight of my flailing body.

After we'd snorkeled for a while, it was time for breakfast.  The other members of the crew had erected a table under a tent on the sandbank, we warmed up with hot coffee before we were served fresh scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and toast.  Then we stretched out on our towels in the sun and let the food settle before another round of snorkeling.

The rising tide soon swallowed up more and more of our shore - it was time to get back on the dhow and head back to Ibo Island.  On the upper deck once more, it was time for a beer and tanning.  I looked over at Joey and he wore one of the biggest smiles I'd seen on him in a long, long time.  The sunshine, the bright blue ocean, the wind in our face had made for a pretty hard-to-beat morning.  An hour later we returned to the dock in high spirits.  We all breathed a sigh of relief in anticipation of the next four days.


ibo island

Thank God I took a Xanax before our flight on the "light aircraft" to the "grass airstrip."  The tragic plane crash in Lagos last month made for four very anxiety-ridden flights to Pemba; the Xanax made the final leg in the tiny propeller-plane over the gorgeous Quirimbas archipelago breathtaking - in a good way.

Twenty minutes later on wobbly knees I climbed out of the plane at the Ibo Island "airport."  We were met by our guide for the week, Harris, and loaded onto a golf cart for a short drive along the sandy roads to the Ibo Island Lodge.  We arrived at the stately, white-washed hundred year-old mansion and were greeted with sparkling wine and cold towels as we checked in.  Harris escorted us through the columns, past green grassy courtyards shaded by palm trees and lined with bright pink bouganvillea to our room where a huge, mahogany, canopy bed stood under the high ceilings.  

After much-needed showers, we wandered away from the lodge, taking advantage of the low tide and walking barefoot across the damp sand to the Indian Ocean.  Dusk quickly approached, so we returned to the lodge and climbed to the patio on the roof to take in the first of seven sunsets.

We spent the next two days wandering the ancient forts and ornate, empty shells of deserted colonial buildings, and the next two nights washing down fresh calamari and shrimp and crab and lobster with caprinhas and cold beer.  We met village kids clammoring for photographs, silversmiths and wood carvers selling their wares, and women wearing masks of white. We ended up on a long walk with two local teenagers who said they wanted to practice their English and but really wanted us to patronize their friend's restaurant (so we did).  They took us all around the island - through the fisherman's village, the stone village and the crab village past a live auction to the old cemetery - we even saw some monkeys along the way!  

After three nights at the lodge we re-packed our bags and set out for the real adventure: 5 days of sailing the archipelago on an old Arabic dhow and camping on the deserted islands at night.    


8:46 sunday, july 15

The lovely Abuja departure hall
We left our house at 1 pm Saturday for our 3:40 flight to Lagos; it left at 6:45.  We spent the five hours in a room with metal chairs, white walls lined with black grease at head level and an intense smell of feet.  No shops, no restaurants - just one small cooler with water for sale and a dirty bathroom.

After a nail-biting flight to Lagos, we were escorted by bus from the domestic terminal to the international terminal -a half hour ride on bumpy roads in jammed traffic - the last ten minutes stuck behind a military vehicle with strobes instead of brake lights.  By the time we'd finally checked in and made it through security, we'd been hassled for bribes by the airline attendant who met us at the domestic gate, the driver who took us between, the ticketing agent and two other random men.  Since we hadn't eaten for 9 hours at this point, we tried to stop at the only restaurant in the international terminal, but they weren't cooking anymore so dinner consisted of Clif Bars and peanut M&Ms and Pringles purchased for way too much money at the "Duty Free" shop.

We waited under the low, kelly-green aluminum ceiling in the dark, dusty, dirty and dingy airport while our flight time came and went - a que formed but no one seemed to be going anywhere.  After a muffled announcement over the broken intercom, we thought we'd been moved to a different gate.  All of a sudden three hundred people bolted full-speed ahead as they realized the gate change.  L&O and I were caught in the melee and ran with the crowd, backpacks bouncing and flip-flops clacking; Joey jumped the rail of the moving walkway and ran backward to reach us.

Once we reached the line at the new gate, our bags were searched and we were informed the airline has a strict policy against any liquids in hand baggage.  After a brief argument and an attempt to retain our beef jerky ("Why don't you leave a taste for me?"), we finally boarded the plane, liquids in tact, to learn the Nigerian Aviation Authority had declared our seats in the exit row unsafe on a full flight.  Fifteen minutes of O flirting with the stewardess later, she flipped our seat cushions were to the right side and we buckled in for our flight.

We managed to make up some of the delay in the air to Johannesburg, giving us enough time this morning for a hot breakfast.  Now we just got on an unmarked white plane named the Model T en route to Maputo, Mozambique, where we'll clear the second set of customs and immigration, reboard the reassuringly named plane and fly to Pemba.  From there we have one more flight from Pemba, on a "light aircraft" to a "grass airstrip."  We'll have traveled for almost 25 hours and taken five flights by the time we reach our destination - this is the most complicated itinerary we've ever taken.  I sure hope it's worth it all when we get to Ibo Island.  I'm pretty sure Joey and L&O are plotting to kill me if it's not...


do you know joe cordaro?

Our friend here recently got in a fender-bender (he's okay).  Car accidents here are usually accompanied by a rushing of people to the car, and our friend's accident was no exception.  He said at least twenty people materialized and surrounded his vehicle, banging on the windows and pulling on the handles.  Then, all of a sudden, some random Nigerian knocked on the window and yelled, "Do you know Joe Cordaro?"

Our friend answered that he did know Joe Cordaro, to which the Nigerian indignantly replied, "He would not be acting like this!"

Joey can't think of whom would be involved in the post-crash riot, but our friend has already been enjoying himself quite a bit poking fun at Joey's newfound celebrity, sending texts like, "WWJD."

You can't make this shit up...



You may recall a few instances in which I used my husband as fodder for my blog.  Okay, more often than not - thankfully he's a good sport.  But two specific posts come to mind, each from when Joey attempted to use my rose pan to make my traditional lemon birthday cake.  And so here I humbly submit photos of my recent effort at lemon cake. 

I like to call it, "When life gives you lemon cake."  Joey prefers "karma cake."



Joey and I had long layovers in Amsterdam on the way to and from Budapest, so we took advantage of the extra time by taking the train into the city.  L&O had an earlier flight to Budapest, but joined us in Amsterdam the second time around.  We mainly roamed since our layovers were so early in the morning, which was only unfortunate because it was so cold (and we were so unprepared)!  I'd been to Amsterdam back in college, but it was the first visit for everyone else.  Here's a few pictures from our wanderings, as well as a link to all of my pictures from the whole trip.

Click here for all the pictures from our trip.



While in Budapest for the Easter weekend, we were able to attend Mass, which was an extra-special treat since we tend to avoid church services here.  By the time we reached St. Stephen's Basilica it was absolutely packed, but having to stand the whole time didn't diminish its grandeur in the least.  Surrounded by frescoes and marble and candelabras, with the scent of incense and candle wax permeating the cavernous space, we listened to a full choir sing the entire Messiah between the half-Hungarian, half-Latin led Mass - what an incredible and moving experience.


the making of a buda belly

Another part we didn't expect to love as much as we did about Budapest was the food.  Oh my God, the food!  The Hungarians can cook.  I don't think we ate a single thing during our four days in Budapest that wasn't to die for, and we ate all.day.long.  By the end of the trip we were all so full and fat we didn't even want to eat any more but still couldn't stop eating.  The food was that good.

So first let's go back to those sausages we ate after the baths.  Spicy, hot sausages, served with pickled cabbage, yellow mustard, and a huge slice of thick bread, washed down with cold beer that were so delicious I'm salivating over them right now.

Budapest is a street-food paradise.  Food carts appeared everywhere we walked, and we made sure to taste everything we saw.  After devouring the spicy sausages, we wandered through City Park, where we discovered warm salty pretzels and sweet mulled wine with notes of cinnamon and cloves.  We took them to go, and traced our path back toward a well-known restaurant in town, Gundel, where we topped ourselves off with Dobos torte and a toasted walnut and chocolate crepe.  On the walk back toward our hotel, we refueled with coffee in hopes of staving off the food comas that had already begun to overtake us.

The effects of the coffee didn't last long; coupled with the gentle rain, the long walk between the hotel and the bath and back, and the utter relaxation from our bath, naps were necessary for all before we could continue our culinary adventure.

Later that evening we met in the lobby of the beautiful hotel where we were staying, a local landmark - The New York Palace - and recommenced our foodie marathon with champagne cocktails for L and me and heartier appertifs for Joey and O.  Then we took a cab to another recommendation from our friends: Comme Chez Soi.

Wow.  From the moment we opened the door we were treated like family with prosecco and treats from the chef.  Then with a bottle of Hungarian red wine, we truly began our feast with sizzling goose liver served atop  garlic mashed potatoes with a balsamic and apple reduction.  Obviously Joey had been giddily looking forward to this dish ever since our friend heard we were going to Budapest; although I'm a fan of foie gras, I was admittedly a little nervous about this significantly larger organ.

It tasted so good we considered making reservations there again the next night.

After the goose liver, we gorged on juicy filet, roquefort-smothered chicken and traditional Hungarian stew.  Then we suffered through dessert, for the chocolate cake was so decadent we couldn't bring ourselves not to  finish it.  Our host shared his homemade limoncello and Hungarian palinka and one of us (who shall remain unnamed) was so full she had to go to the bathroom to remove her control-top pantyhose so she could breathe.  A nightcap was in order, so we returned to the Cigar Bar at the New York Palace for our second round of drinks. 
He is going to kill me for posting this picture.   But if you look closely, you can  see for  whom this post was titled.

The next morning only one of the four of us was hungry (guess), and so my fat husband had to wait until we could find the Great Market Hall before he could eat.  We walked a roundabout way to get there, and so to placate a starving Joey, we all shared some pastries along the way.  Then we entered one of the coolest markets I've ever seen, with three stories of shops selling everything from sausage and cheese to fruit and vegetables to dried peppers and garlic and pastries and bread.  Ready-made Hungarian specialties lined the second floor, and we only regretted stuffing ourselves with an assortment from the main floor because we didn't have enough room for any food from upstairs.

I'm so hungry I can't even stop to put my camera away before stuffing my  cheeks.
Later that afternoon we stumbled across a food festival (okay, it was probably an Easter market, but the party was all in my mouth) in Vorosmarty Square, where we devoured Kürtőskalács, or grilled sweet bread with cinnamon and sugar; Langos, fried bread with sour cream and cheese; and some more spicy sausage (just to make sure).  

The next morning we found another Easter market on the other side of the river, Buda, at the royal palace, and were sure to sample as much as possible.  Struessel, cheese, palinka, marzipan liquor, a different kind of langos and of course we had to check out those spicy sausages one more time.  Admittedly, Joey did eat something he didn't like, but considering it was blood sausage he should have known better.

"Oh.  Um.  This doesn't taste like I'd hoped it'd taste."

"Hmm.  How do I choke this down?"
"Must.  Keep.  Chewing."
"Oh God."

"Almost there..."
"Thank God.  Where's my beer?"
We also had sushi twice (a faux pas, I know, with so much wonderful Hungarian food, but don't forget from where we came) and the requisite Hard Rock cheeseburgers (can't be helped).  We did a lot of other wonderful things and saw a lot of beautiful places while we were in Budapest; obviously the city has so much more to offer than just its food, but my most powerful memories of Budapest will be mouthwatering ones.