my last name is now cordaro

Yep.  I changed it.  Back in May.  I've been thinking about changing it for over a year now and it was supposed to be the best five year anniversary present ever for my husband but I suck at keeping secrets so he found out a few days early. 

I'm still not sure exactly why I changed it but it seemed the right thing to do.  I finally felt ready.  Something I wanted to give to my husband.  One of these days we'll start a family, which played a role in my decision as well.  Joey is already joking that now he's finally off probation.

Anyway, I think this blog is going to stay on hiatus indefinitely, but in the meantime, just thought you'd like to know.


the dhow safari

After enjoying one last breakfast on the rooftop of Ibo Island Lodge, we repacked our backpacks and walked to the dock.  Joey jumped from the dock to the upper deck of the dhow; L, O and our bags followed.  I took the long route.  While our crew made the final preparations for our journey, we watched more and more people and supplies stuffed onto the tiny, local water taxi on the other side of the dock.  It's hard to comprehend how that boat still managed to float.

Loading the dhow

Another amazing photo by L.
Soon we were on our way, and we all stripped down to our swimsuits to catch some rays.  L and I took pictures while Joey attempted to fish.  A few hours later we arrived at our first island campsite, Ulumbwa, and anchored in the bay under the watchful eye of the local children.  

Hard at work with that fishing pole
The bay
After a quick pit stop in the bush, our guide, Harris, helped us into kayaks and we paddled behind him into the mangrove forest.  Directly.  Into the forest.  Or more specifically, one mangrove tree.  Joey and I paddled out of the branches and right into a sandbank.  A patient Harris navigated us out of the bay and up the mouth of a river, and once we hit our stride the experience was thrilling - even before we saw the four fish that arced in unison over the water.  Unfortunately, our circuitous route meant fighting the same current that had propelled us out; and while my husband attempted to play bumper-kayaks with L&O, ours was the kayak that got turned around and pushed into the sea.  I'd like to credit all of my hours at the gym as the reason we made it back to shore.

Meanwhile our crew had set up our tents and the bush toilet - the "shower" was in process.  I took the roll of toilet paper from our tent and made the walk of shame across camp, not realizing just how shameful until I made acquaintance with the small metal flower pot over a deep hole and had to use half a coconut shell to throw sand over my pee.  And I thought the bush toilet on our safari was bad.  Although slightly traumatized, it was only a few minutes until we had cocktails, so with some hand sanitizer and rum punch, I was placated until the next round.

Toilet on the left.  Assembling the shower on the right.

That night we enjoyed another beautiful sunset as we settled around a bonfire and took in the amazing spectacle in the sky.  The display of stars from this pitch-black island in the middle of nowhere was completely breathtaking.  We feasted on fresh grilled shrimp before retiring to our tents for bed.  As Joey and I wiggled into our sleeping bags on our stretchers, we whispered goodnight and relaxed into the utter silence but for the wind in the trees, the lapping of the waves on the sand, and... Lady Gaga?

Our wilderness reverie was abruptly broken by the pulsating beats of techno music.  The local disco across the bay was apparently hosting its "Last Night Before Ramadan Party" and lucky for us the wind blew in just the right direction to treat us to the entire Top 40.  The low tide revealed a sandy strait between the islands, and our tents sat right along the path to the disco.  The Mozambican revelers danced late into the night and could have competed with any bar close I ever witnessed in Iowa City for the amount of noise they made getting home.

We had to be up early the next morning to catch the same rising tide, and once we were on our boat, hot breakfast in hand, the wakeful night was forgotten.  The wind was cold but the water was warm, so we spent the morning exploring new reefs with our snorkels.  We sailed to our second campsite, Mogundula Island, where we'd spend the next three days, and settled into a routine of sailing and snorkeling in the mornings and kayaking and hiking the island in the afternoons.  Each evening our waiter, Combo, would pour each of us a large pot of freshly boiled water into the bag that was our shower, and then we'd watch the sun go down behind our dhow.  Good food, fires, wine and laughs filled our nights like the stars in the sky, and the crash of the water on the rocks below our tents lulled us to sleep.

Snorkeling never really got easier, so our last full day L and I stayed on the boat and accidentally scandalized several boats of local fisherman who happened to be passing by.  At one point we watched while at least 24 muscular black men clad in tighty-whities sang and danced and held up their catch - one guy literally girated and stretched out over the mast in a "come-hither" pose.

The next morning we donned our backpacks and climbed onto the boat one last time.  After a short sail to the mainland, we were met by a driver in the tiny fishing village where we docked.  We said goodbye to Harris and Combo and the rest of the crew (and the large crowd that had gathered to see the white people), and drove off for Pemba.  Three hours later we arrived at the Pemba airport, where we settled in for another  three hours before our flight to Maputo.  From Maputo we flew to Johannesburg, where our overnight layover meant time for a real shower, flush toilet, king-size bed and steak dinner.

The mainland village of Mucojo where we transferred from dhow to car.

On the way to Pemba

At the Pemba airport

Celebrating the last night of a great trip in Johannesburg
A few hours later we were back at the Johannesburg airport and on our way to Lagos.  Our flights back to Nigeria were mostly uneventful, unless you count the outdoor waiting area in the rain at the domestic terminal in Lagos (it's under construction, so why wouldn't a tent suffice?).  We finally made it back to Abuja, tired, tanned and relaxed despite the 12 hour transit through Nigeria.  It was an incredible vacation - Joey said it was his favorite we've ever taken.  I'm not sure I'd go that far - maybe it the toilet or the shower or the half-hour it took me to finally brush my hair when I got home - but it was truly an amazing experience nonetheless.  
Didn't believe me? Click here for the rest of my pictures from our trip.


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."