Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Best of Africa - South Africa

(June 9th-July 3rd, 2009)

So, as I have mentioned before, Abbey and I left the truck and decided to fly straight to Cape Town from Swakopmund. That was really a good thing to do, first because we could not stand being on the truck anymore, and second, because I had more time in Swakopmund to go Skydiving again!

Once we got to Cape Town, we met up with 2 Dutch guys we have met in Namibia. Dennis and Henk, Dennis’ dad, were traveling around Southern Africa for the past 4 weeks and Cape Town was their last stop. They took us around and we did have a blast. We went to Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, Simmon’s Town (to see the penguins), Hermanus (to see the whales), Stellenbosch (to drink wine), and to several sightseeing spots, restaurants, and bars in Cape Town. Abbey and I did indeed enjoy our time with them.

Once they left, Abbey and I continued to explore the city center on our own. I started getting very sick and a little tired of being on the go for so long. Abbey went back to Australia after few days and I took my things and went to Hout Bay, a beautiful beach town only 20 minutes from Cape Town, and decided to stay at Uncle Roger's (Justin's real uncle) place for a little while (3 weeks).

During my time in Hout Bay, I took a full week break for intensive resting in order to get better from my flu and body exhaustion. I was also able to do some online catching up with everything and everyone.

Once I got better, and seriously it took me a lot of sleep and medicine, I started doing great stuff again, including spending a weekend at Uncle Roger’s farm, an incredible place at the top of a mountain, only 45 minutes from Hout Bay, where accordingly to him, is the place where the angels live, and accordingly to me, he is totally RIGHT!

Uncle Roger also took me on a tour to one of the townships in Hout Bay and we had a fantastic time drinking beers and playing pool with the locals over there. It was really a lot of fun!

Now I’m getting ready to go for my next and last journey in Africa – Mozambique. I truly believe it will be extraordinary and I cannot wait to be there… and I guess after that, I must go back to the often called “real life”…

The following are two little movies for you to enjoy. The first one is from this trip and the second one is from my trip to South Africa two years ago.

Beijos, Gi

Friday, June 19, 2009

Best of Africa - Namibia

(May 31st - June 9th, 2009)

5. Namibia

In Namibia, we started our journey going to Etosha National Park for more game drives. Even though it was a great place, I had to skip some of the rides because I could not get excited anymore from spotting wild animals. They were literally everywhere and in big quantities.

After Etosha, on our way to Swakopmund, we stopped at the Cheetah’s Farm for one night. I was a little skeptical about going there and spending more time spotting cheetahs from a distance but after not even 15 minutes in the farm /camp site I realized that that “game” experience was going to be different. Once we got there, on our way from the truck to the toilets, we passed by several cheetahs and cubs that were standing right by the fence.

After eating, the guys from the farm took us to see their cheetahs and that was very special. Being a “people” person and not an “animal” person, once we got close to the two amazing cheetahs they had in their backyard, I took a good distance and seat down on the lawn to try to take some great pictures of them. Not even 2 minutes later, while I was still preparing my camera, one of the cheetahs started walking on my direction, and before I could stand up and run, she was already licking me all over. SERIOUSLY!!!!!!! Think about someone having a heart attack without being able to express it. That was me!!!

As soon as she started licking me, I thought I could feel her teeth as well because it felt so harsh, but then, the guys told me that it was only her tongue I was feeling and that I should relax and enjoy the free body scrub. SERIOUSLY AGAIN!!! Instead of taking her off me they were all laughing and enjoying watching me panicking. After maybe 20 minutes of “free body scrub” I stop minding it, and actually, I started turning around so she could work on every part of my back… It was priceless! Just Amazing! After that, we went to feed the wild ones and it was also really incredible. What a gorgeous animal!!

My last stop in Namibia was in Swakopmund, where I stayed for almost a week. Abby and I decided to leave the truck, spend more time in the city, and after that fly straight to Cape Town.

In Swakopmund, a very little and charming town, we went skydiving and quad biking in the Namib Desert. Quad biking was very special, but in my opinion, there is nothing you can do in your life that feels better than skydiving. The way I have been describing it for the past 15 years, when I first did it in Brazil, is that “it is so orgasmic and feels like having sex with the angels”. All the girls laughed at me when I said that, but ALL OF THEM adopted “my saying” to describe their skydiving experience as well.

Incredible country! Amazing experiences!

Here are some photos from this part of the trip. Enjoy it!

Best of Africa - Botswana

(May 25th - 30th, 2009)

4. Botswana

Before putting my Africa itinerary together, the only thing I knew was that I had to go to Botswana and Namibia. For some reason, because I really did not know much about these two countries, I felt that they would definitely be the highlights of my whole trip. While spending 2 weeks travelling around Botswana and Namibia I could not stop thinking that I was completely right!

In Botswana, we went game driving and game boating in the Chobe National Park. I must confess I was not too crazy about the game drive. I guess that besides the fact I was very sick on that morning I also have done more than 10 game drives throughout this trip and it got to the point that it started getting old. However; the game boating was just SUPERB. Beautiful scenery, animals everywhere and very close by, and just before ending the ride we were also able to witness one more magical African sunset.

After Chobe we headed to Maun, the little city very close to the Okavango Delta. Ok, here is the painful truth: It does not matter how precisely I try to describe my experience there, you will never be able to really get it. You must go there to see, feel, and live that place for yourself. It is really spectacular.

We got to one of the “shores” of the Delta and met with the guides that were going to take us on a mokoro (little wooden canoe) to the middle of it. After one and a half hours ride, we arrived at the place that we were going to be bush-camping for 2 days/nights. While we were there we enjoyed the surrounds to the fullest. We went swimming, enjoyed several game walks, took mokoro lessons, and during the evenings we just relaxed by the camp fire and listened to the locals singing for us.

I was lucky enough to have the best guide ever there. K.T. is a young guy from Botswana with so much passion for his country and his work and an incredible willingness to make your experience in Okavango Delta unforgettable. On the second day there, during a very relaxing afternoon, he took me for a mokoro ride. Everybody else stayed in the camp. We were talking non-stop while going through the Delta exquisite water channels. He told me about his family, religion, traditions, government, passions, dreams, and plans for the future. I guess I shared all the same topics with him but the plans for the future :)… It was just so cool to see how much both of us were learning from our completely different backgrounds.

After riding for more than one hour, he stopped the mokoro in the middle of one “pool” and asked me if I was going to be able to stand up without turning the canoe over (it is really the least stable thing you can be in). Without knowing why he asked me that, I said yes and started standing up and turning around to see what was going on. For my surprise, or maybe I should not be that surprised since we were in the Delta, there was this massive Hippopotamus right in front of us. Seriously less than 3m/9ft away… I could barely breathe. I was paralyzed and astonished by the beauty of that moment. Once the Hippo went under the water and we could not see where he was anymore, we came to a consensus that the best thing to do was to leave right away and we did. On the way back he stopped in the middle of the channel and got some water lilies. Not even 3 minutes later I had around my neck this beautiful necklace made out of them. During our ride back to the camp we continued with our conversations and it was a lot of fun.

Once we got to the camp, almost sunset time, everybody was around the fire having some drinks. We all thought that it could be a good night to have more drinks but unfortunately we also realized we did not have a good supply of it with us in the camp. Not even thinking twice, I went to K.T. and asked him if he could take me to the village to buy some drinks and without hesitation he surely said yes.

Since we just had little time left before it got dark, he literally flew the mokoro through the channels and took us only 30 minutes to do the same route we had done in one and a half hours the day before. At the village the drinks were very expensive and I did not have enough money to get what we would need for that night. I ended up spending ALL of our daylight time negotiating with the locals in order to get what I was looking for. I was indeed able to convince them to sell me everything at cost price and all seemed to be going very well till I realized that the sun had set and that we had a long way to go back to the camp site.

Not even 2 minutes after we started our mokoro ride back to the camp, we were stopped by a Hippo right in front of us. Do not ask me how K.T. saw him, but I’m so glad he did. We had to back off, wait a little, and then try to find an alternative way to cross to the other side. At that point I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. Luckily, K.T. found a way to pass the hippo and we continued with our journey. During the entire ride back to the camp I seriously thought I would die being eaten by a hippo. I guess since this is the most common death in Africa, people would not be that shocked…

But honestly, even though it was probably the scariest moment of my life, it was indeed one of the most amusing ones. After we passed the hippo and I opened my eyes again, I was mesmerized by the magnificence of my surroundings - the red and orange colors in the horizon, the incredible light from a crescent moon, the massive amount of stars covering the sky, the beautiful flora that helped forming the fascinating water channels, and the incredible natural soundtrack from the Delta. It was indeed surreal and definitely a moment I will never forget. Thanks to K.T.’s evident confidence that he would take me back to the camp safe and sound I was able to “relax” and enjoy the ride…

Opps, I almost forgot to mention that during our last day in Maun we also went for a 45 minutes flight over the Delta at sunset time. It was pretty nice and a great way to really get a good and real picture of the whole place.

Here are some photos from this part of the trip. Enjoy it!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Best of Africa - Zambia & Zimbabwe

(May 15th - 24th, 2009)

3. Zambia and Zimbabwe (and the train ride)

As I have mentioned on my last posting, when I was in Tanzania, I’ve decided to skip the trip to Malawi and stay in Zanzibar longer than the overland group. After 2 weeks enjoying my well deserved (it was really well deserved) break in Kendwa Beach, I had to catch a 3 days train ride to Zambia to meet up with the truck again in order to continue with my Best of Africa trip.

The train was a real “African” train (I do not like labeling things but unfortunately I cannot find a better way to describe it now) and the journey was just unbelievable. During those 3 days, we were riding inside game parks and spotting many wild animals and making regular stops in little villages where the locals would come to our windows to sell us all types of food. It was also very good to be able to spend a lot of time chatting with other travelers and locals on board. Indeed a very interesting culture-exchange opportunity!

On May 18th, I arrived in Lusaka (Zambia) and joined the overland group again. It was great to reunite with all of them. Next morning we headed to Livingstone (Zambia), where we had 4 free days to do whatever we wanted and/or could afford.

There, I did the “Elephant Trail”, where I was riding BOP, this massive 7 tons animal, for about one and a half hours. It is amazing how a creature that heavy can be so gentle and sensitive. It was a very special experience!

I also did a microlight flight over the Victoria Falls, and as you will be able to see from the pictures I got, it was breathtaking. Of course I would not miss the bungee jump experience as well. I’m always looking for some adrenaline fix and I guess throwing myself out of a 111m/365ft bridge was a great way to get it…

After Livingston we went to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and there we had few more free days. I decided to spend those days more involved with the locals and their regular activities. I joined our hotel hostess’ in her projects with the street kids, learned a lot about the Lion Alert’s great mission (lionalert.org) , took drumming classes, and just had a blast hanging out with the local girls while having manicure and pedicure :) ...

Here are some photos from this part of the trip. I hope you will enjoy it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Best of Africa - Tanzania

(May 1st to 15th, 2009)

2. Tanzania

There is not much to say about my experience in Tanzania besides the fact that the past 2 weeks have been just incredible.

Our first stop in Tanzania was in Arusha. We stopped there just for one day before we headed to Ngorongoro Crater, which was by far, the best game drive I’ve been to. It is a beautiful place, with incredible scenery, and so many wild animals everywhere. There, we were able to spot black rhinos, buffalos, giraffes, monkeys, pink flamingos, all types of antelopes, warthogs, wildebeest, zebras, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, elephants, and much more.

Zanzibar… well, what can I say about it?? It is indeed paradise. A gorgeous island, with a strong and amazing Arabic influence very well blended with the African culture and feeling. During my 10 days in Zanzibar (2 days in Stonetown and 8 days in Kendwa Beach) I went diving, spear fishing, snorkeling, partied a lot and sure did celebrated my 22nd B-day, got many massages ($3/hour), and relaxed much more than I expected. Jessica, the American girl that was volunteering with me in Uganda, came to the Island to spend these 10 days with me. It was great and definitely a great break from my overland trip.

So, I have 2 more days in Zanzibar before I head back to Dar Es Salam to catch a 3 days train to Zambia, which I’m sure, will be a unique experience!!

I guess that is it for now. The movie will have to do its job again.

I will try to get online again soon…

Much love, Gi

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Best of Africa - Kenya & Uganda

(April 12-30, 2009)

As I have expected, it would be a while before I was able to get connected again. To be very honest I did not expect to be that long (30 days) but well… I guess I should be happy I finally found a place to get a “decent” internet access!

So, based on my “internet accessibility limitation”, I have decided I will be posting things about this “Best of Africa” trip in several parts:

1. Kenya and Uganda (including the Gorilla Trek)
2. Tanzania
3. Zambia and Zimbabwe (and the train ride...)
4. Botswana
5. Namibia
6. South Africa
7. Mozambique

1. Kenya and Uganda (including the Gorilla Trek)

On the afternoon before we started this Best of Africa Safari, all the participants got together to go over the itinerary and its details. The group I was going to be traveling with during this first part of the 63 days trip through Africa was formed by 4 Australians girls (Alexia, Mel, Lis, and Kas), 1 Irish guy (Paul), 1 German guy (Chris), our Italian guide (Laura), our Zambian driver (Phil), and me. P.S: Abbey (Australian), Fergal and Alicia (Ireland) joined our group in Lake Navaisha. They just missed the Uganda part of the trip!

Because I have not read anything about the trip before I came to Africa (What a Surprise!!), it was only during the meeting that I got to know that the trip style was a “99% camping adventure”. I was pretty concerned at first but when I realized I was going to be able to get upgraded in some of the places and get a room with a comfy bed for very little money I was pretty happy and ready to go!

This “Kenya and Uganda” part of the trip was just great. The group got along very well and we surely did have a blast. We went to incredible places, saw so many wild animals, mingled with the locals, partied a lot, drove around more than we thought we could possibly manage, and witnessed the most beautiful sunsets every day.


- Lake Nakuru National Park was the first game drive we went to. It is a beautiful place with so many wild animals around. On that day we were able to spot white rhinos, buffalos, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, monkeys, pink flamingos, all types of antelopes, very pervert hyenas (we got a free porno show from them J), and so much more.

- Lake Naivasha was another great place we visited in Kenya. The highlights over there were the walking game experience in the Crater Lake Reserve and the canoe ride to see the hippos.

- Masai Mara Game Reserve was a really great place. Besides the fact we were able to visit a Masai village and learn more about their culture and traditions (very interesting people), we also went for an incredible game drive. In Masai Mara we were able to spot rhinos, buffalos, giraffes, monkeys, pink flamingos, all types of antelopes, warthogs, wildebeests, zebras, lions, snakes, crocodiles, hyenas, elephants, and much more. There, we camped inside the reserve and we sure did have an incredible night. After dinner, we stayed outside drinking beers and watching the stars, and we could hear leopards attacking baby baboons and hyenas wondering around our tents. We could not see them because it was very dark outside, but we could feel them around and actually very close to us (about 6meters/18ft). We thought we were safe out there because we did have Masai guards around, but when they told us that they would run as fast as possible if they ended up being face to face with those animals we realized we were not that protected… But well, we stayed there enjoying that experience anyway.

- Nairobi was a pleasant surprise. Paul and I decided to explore a little bit of the city center before leaving Kenya. The city was very clean, people were extremely nice, and we sure felt very welcomed. We rode the local public bus and a matatu (van) to get back to the camp and both experiences were great!


- Jinja (Source of the Nile River and Bujagali Falls). Jinja is a very cute city in the southeast side of Uganda. By far the best thing we did there was rafting in the Nile – the source of the Nile. We went through several levels 3, 4, and 5 rapids and it was so awesome and exhilarating. We did partied a LOT there as well and definitely had a great time!

- Lake Bunyoni is indeed a very pretty place in Uganda. We went there just because it was on our way to Bwindi, where we did the Gorilla Trek. We spend few days there just relaxing and enjoying the view. I did had time to visit a school and see how they were managing their limitations and working with their volunteers. It was very interesting and I’m glad I did that.

- Bwindi National Park – Gorilla Trek – WOWWWWWWWW. Seriously it was a fantastic experience. The movie shows you all about it!!

Ahhh, we did get bogged and it was crazy. Once again, the video will do its job… Enjoy!

Sorry about the very short summary about the places I went to, but I guess the videos are also very “descriptive and illustrative”, no? And aren’t you all glad that from now on you will enjoy more of my pictures than my writings ???

I truly hope all is well with all of you.

Much love, Gi

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Part 3 - Best of Africa Safari

(April 11th, 2009)

So, I’m now in Nairobi, Kenya. Tomorrow I will start the third part of my itinerary: The Best of Africa Safari. I will be traveling for 63 days going all over eastern and southern Africa.

Highlights of the trip:

Kenya: Nairobi - Great Rift Valley - Lake Nakuru National Park - Eldoret - Lake Naivasha - Masai Mara Game Reserve

Uganda: Jinja - Nile River and Bujagali Falls - Owen Falls Dam - Kampala - Lake Victoria - Lake Bunyoni

Tanzania: Arusha - Ngorongoro Crater - Dar es Salaam - Zanzibar Island - Stone Town - Mikumi National Park

Malawi - Lake Malawi - Beaches - Lilongwe

Zambia - Lusaka – Livingstone

Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls Town

Botswana - Chobe National Park - Chobe River Cruise and Game Drive - Okavango Delta - Canoeing and Game Walks - Maun

Namibia - Etosha National Park - Cheetah Park - Outjo - Cape Cross Seal Colony - Swakopmund - Namib-Naukluft National Park - Sossusvlei Sand Dunes - Fish River Canyon

South Africa - Orange River - Cedarberg Wilderness Area - Stellenbosch - Cape Town

Hopefully I will be able to get internet access at least every 10 days to keep you posted on what is going on.

Hope all is well with all of you.

Happy Easter!!

Much love, Gi

Part 2 - Volunteering @ ACF - Final

(April 10th, 2009)

It has been 3 weeks I have not wrote anything about what I have been going through, and trust me, it was not because of laziness or even lack of time or internet access. I truly thought I should take some time to digest everything I have experienced in order to be able to provide you all with real facts instead of only my personal feelings.

As you all saw on my first post about Volunteering in Uganda Week 1, things were pretty tough and overwhelming. I did not really know if I was going to be able to go through with my plans, but all the ideas and support I got from many of you made me start thinking more strategically than emotionally. A three days break in Entebbe, being taken care of and assisted by Stiva and Jimmy, Darlene, Christine and Anna was also a great deal breaker. But seriously, Jessica’s arrival, an American girl from Portland – OR, who came to volunteer for 2 months at the African Child Foundation, was the real reason I survived for 3 more weeks in Katebo Village.

So, March 25th, Rev. Jim picks me up at Stiva’s house and we head to the Entebbe Airport to greet the new volunteer. Jessica and I have talked only once, for few minutes on the phone, two days before I left USA. The only thing I knew about her was that she is 26 years old and it was going to be the first time she was going to travel outside of United States. The only thing she knew about me was that I was taking six months off to explore more of this world of ours.

She gets here, with a “lost look” on her face, tons of beautiful tattoos all over her body, and says HI. Once we get in the car, she turns to me and say: DUDE, I want to know about everything and I’m so excited to be here. At that moment, despite of the DUDE, I knew we were going to get along very well and we sure did!

The last three weeks in Katebo volunteering for ACF...

Once we picked Jessica up, we went back to the village. I knew that it was going to be very difficult for me to go back since I was not only feeling depressed but also putting a huge pressure on my shoulders to start and hopefully finalize all the projects I had in mind for ACF.

In the next morning I sat with Rev. Jim and discussed all the things I was going to support the foundation with, based on all the brainstorming I went through and all the donations I got.

Step 1: Taught basic hygiene standards and provided them with means to follow the rules. (Cleaned the “restrooms”, added covers to the pit latrines, got rid of all the insects that were always around, brought containers to have clean water accessible for washing hands after using the toilets).

- I did it all and I truly hope they will continue with what I started.

Step 2: They got a donation from USAID with enough food supply for 4 months for all the kids at school, but had the shipment in Kampala and did not have budget to bring it to Katebo. That problem was solved when I paid for the delivery but I realized that so much more had to be done in order to have those kids not only eating but actually doing it in a “safe” and “sanitary” way. The kitchen was taken over by termites and other interesting insects. They were eating with their hands (dirty hands) and using their classrooms for that.

- I brought the food, rebuilt the kitchen, got proper containers for drinking and washing hands water, got spoons and cleaning props, and turned a former “storage” room ( just old woods full of termites were left there) into their new cafeteria. The new structure is now available… the continuous challenge will be to make sure they all understand the importance of it.

Step 3: Because of lack of appropriate building structure at the school, all the props they used during the day, and they are so MANY (books, notebooks, all type of containers, cooking materials and supplies, etc), were picked up by the kids every morning at the Rev. Jim’s house and brought back at the end of the day. Not only things were most of the time extremely heavy to be carried by the kids, but also the amount of time they lost during the day working on this activity was just mind blowing.

- I decided then to finalize the construction of the “main” building they had started putting together quite some time ago. The building will be now structured as the follow: an administrative room for the teachers that will be also used as storage, a workshop room for the widows to get together and work on sewing and handcrafts, and a library for the kids to have more access to the books, musical instruments (I also got), charts and maps, and more). After 3 weeks the construction is still not finalized but I’m sure it will be in the next couple of days. HOPEFULLY!

Step 4: Provided the group of widows with means to start producing more handcrafts and other products to sell in order to generate some income. I got a sewing machine, sewing supplies, and brought some sample of new things they could start making as well. I also bought enough fabric to make uniforms for all the kids at the school since they all wear the same clothes everyday to go to school, to play, to sleep, and so on.

Step 5: Donated funds to start a big garden to provide food supply for the school and for Rev. Jim’s family. After three weeks, the land is still being cleaned up… even though it is raining season now and definitely the best time of the year to start planting…

Step 6: Provided them with financial assistance to fix the water system that will provide clean and drinkable water to the entire Village. Once again, after a month there, it is still being fixed…

Step 7: Gave them a lot of ideas to start working closely with the local community and get them involved with ACF projects, such as having them working on the plantation and teaching gardening to the kids in exchange for food that could be use by their families or trading. Have the widows teaching handcraft, arts, and music to the kids in exchange of full access to the workshop and support with their crafts sales. The bottom line is that the kids need to learn more than English, Math, and Social Science. They need to start working on different skills that will help them to move forward and have a decent future.

The whole experience in Katebo was extremely difficult and frustrating most of the times. I do know we all have different cultures and backgrounds; particular timing and ways of doing things, but it is just so hard for me to handle lack of willingness to take full advantage of opportunities that are in front of you.

It was such a challenge to make them work as anyone back home would, it was pathetic having to teach them stopping thinking that because I’m white (a musungo) I have money or can be taken for granted, and literally impossible to explain that they should not be victims of their situation since it won’t change or improve anything in their lives. But well, I guess we all learn from our experiences and I’m sure I did and they did as well.

In addition to all the stress I had working on these projects, I must say that the most difficult part of the whole thing was actually living there. It got to the point I could not take it anymore. Yes I can be a princess, but I can also be exposed and open to hardcore environments and experiences.

After 3 ½ weeks there, not going to the bathroom (seriously), not eating the food anymore (oil, oil, and more oil), not standing all the animals we had inside the house (11 dogs, 7 chickens, tons of bugs, billions of toilet flies), and asking for the Rev. Jim’s help and understanding to my fears and concerns but not seeing any initiative to work on solutions to provide me with basic but adequate living conditions, we ended up having a serious talk and I decided to leave the village and spend my last week in Entebbe with some friends I have met before.

Before coming to Uganda, I did not have much information on ACF’s structure, but the one I had, mentioned clearly that even though the village was very poor and conditions were tough, they were going to provide us, the volunteers that they totally depend on, with all the necessary arrangements to make sure we were safe and comfortable with the circumstances we were living at. I guess after we talked, and accordingly to him I was the first person to point the real problems out, he will work on all means to guarantee his volunteer guide book’s promises will be fulfilled from now on. I guess we all learn through hard times and I believe this is one more example that this saying is true.

YES, I got very disappointed with Rev. Jim, his family and ACF but I do not want to say bad things or generalize the work that they have been doing based on my experience. At the end of the day they did take those kids out of the streets and are trying to provide them with some support that will definitely help them in their future.

Maybe I’m very particular in the way I live my life and do things I believe and feel that are right, or maybe they need to work harder on improving their structure and be really appreciative to their supporters. Whatever it is does not really matter now. What matters is that everyone that feels like volunteering and making a difference in peoples’ lives, should definitely do a very detailed research, get testimonials from previous volunteers, and try to get a best possible sense of what they will be doing. That is definitely my advice!

Learning the two sides of a Volunteering Experience…

I just want to share one more thing that I realized, in a very painful way, during my volunteering experience. When we decide to be a volunteer and make a difference in other peoples’ life, we all think we will only bring great things to their lives. I must confess I learned that this is not necessarily true.

After a month in Katebo, loving, teaching, playing, and helping in many different ways all the kids they have there I realized on the day I left, I also hurt some of them badly. I got very close to about 8 kids and I swear I still feel like crying every time I think about the time I had to say good-bye to them. What happen is that I became part of their lives for that period of time and they totally opened themselves up to me. They loved me, they trusted me, they learned from me, and unfortunately, they also felt on my last day there that I was abandoning them.

I do know I added to their lives, I loved them and they loved me, I taught them and they taught me, but I also know I truly upset them when I left. They are all orphans that have already felt “abandoned” at one point during their lives, and I was devastated when I realized they were feeling that again.

I did not expect to face this side of a volunteering experience. It was indeed a crashing moment for me, but I still think it is a wonderful thing to do and I wish we all could be part of great projects like that more often. I did have to list down all the good and the bad things that happened during the last month, and I can honestly say that I’m so happy I did that and will definitely do it over and over again, in many different ways, as long as I’m around.

Exploring Entebbe…

So, after all that happened, Jessica and I decided to go to Entebbe for the weekend. Actually I was going to stay there till I had to leave and she was going to go back to Katebo after few days but since it was close to the Easter holiday here, she ended up staying the whole week with me there. We took a ride back to the city with Anna, an amazing Italian friend I met during my first staying in Entebbe, who has been living in Uganda for almost a year (she also decided to take a career break and chill for some time), and went to Katebo to visit the village and see what we were doing there.

We stayed most of the time at Anna’s house and she sure did take such good care of us. She took us to a different NGO that is doing an incredible work with kids and families around Entebbe and 3 other cities (communities) around Uganda (SOS Children Village). It was so good to see another example of what different foundations are doing in the country.

Jess and I also explored the sightseeing places around Entebbe. We venture off in boda- boda (moto taxis) to the markets, to the zoo, to the botanical garden, and surely to all the bars and clubs that were spread out through the city. We met great local and foreign people around and had a blast with them.

The hardest part of my staying in Entebbe was to witness the disturbing prostitution environment around the city. There were TONS of girls, probably between 12-20 years old, selling themselves for less than US$13, and definitely getting (and spreading) sexual illness and becoming pregnant most of the time. I truly wished I could do something for them. Who knows, maybe start some educational projects, help them to get income from different activities, teach them about self respect and perhaps the beauty of being a woman and living life in a more possible and decent way. But I guess that will be a project for the future…

What do you always get by travelling?

Life’s fulfillment! That would definitely be my short answer to a question like that. It does not matter if you go through bad or good times, if you enjoy few or many moments, if you get shocked or surprised with what you witness, if you meet amazing or annoying people, if you are able or not to try something new, if you change or not some of your perspectives and beliefs. Travel exposure and experiences will always add to your life at the end of the day.

Much Love, Gi

Monday, March 23, 2009

Part 2 - Volunteering @ ACF - Week 1

(March 15th - 22nd)

I have been thinking a lot about how I should start telling you all about what I have been going through during this last week. As you all know, I’m now in Uganda doing volunteering work for the African Child Foundation.

I found out about them while doing some online research and after reading all the information on their website (www.acfuganda.org) and exchanging some emails with Rev. Jim Nadiope, I really felt their cause was the one I wanted to help and be part of. For some reason it really spoke to me.

A little background on how the African Child Foundation got started:

A man called Jim Nadiope, a “used to be” member from one of the Royal families in Uganda, could not handle the fact that orphans kids would grow up not feeling LOVED by someone. After getting married to Sarah Nadiope, having 5 kids on their own and adopting 19 more, he and his wife have decided to do something for some of the many more orphans out there (Uganda has a devastating number of AIDS fatalities) that needed to feel loved and deserved a chance to have a decent future. That is exactly how everything started.

Definitely a genuine man:

Rev. Jim’s grandfather, Wilberforce Nadiope, was the King of Busoga Kingdom, one of the three strongest Kingdoms in Uganda during the time it was still a British Colony, and during its independence transition in 1962, the British people chose him to be the first President of Uganda. His father then became the King of Busoga Kingdom (all the Kingdoms in Uganda continued to exist because they are based on cultural traditions and not on government style), and automatically Rev. Jim became the Crown Prince for that Kingdom, since he was the oldest son in his family.

He has never actually agreed with many of his Kingdom’s traditions and beliefs and growing up he has always wanted to become a Minister and work with kids and people in need. When he was 17 years old and his father passed away, he had to make the biggest decision of his life: take over the Throne or go after his dream. So, he decided to follow his heart and move to Kampala in order to start working on what he believed that was the right thing to do during his life time. And YES, he was deserted by his family and his people.

I did asked Rev. Jim if he had ever regretted any of the decisions he made in life and the only thing he said was: "How could I?? I’m sure there is no other way I could live my life and be happier or more satisfied."

Back to my experience in Uganda at the African Child Foundation:

Before arriving in Uganda I had no idea about where the foundation was based and what Rev. Jim and his family were really doing. I did not have much time to do more research and go over the details of my volunteering work prior to my trip. I totally thought I would be based in Kampala and working with the kids and woman in need around that area. I’m sure all of you that know me well expected that to happen, right?

Anyway, it turned out the foundation office is in Kampala, but the Rev. Jim’s house and the ACF school is in Katebo, a VERY rustic village, with no electricity or clean water, only 350 incredibly poor inhabitants and at least half of them carries the HIV virus or have AIDS. The village is located by the Lake Victoria and it is about an hour and half way from the capital.

The community’s living condition in Katebo is so bad and impossible for me to precisely describe it to you all. I’m staying at Rev. Jim’s house, and even though it has a little more structure (clean water and a generator that works from 7:30pm – 10:30pm), it is still extremely different from what I’m used to.

In all honesty, I’m shocked and overwhelmed with everything I see happening around me and it has been only 7 days since I arrived here. This experience has been indeed much more difficult than I could ever expect. I do have my daily breakdowns, my mind is most of the time working at 200 mph trying to figure out what else I can do to improve their living situation, but despite all of the above, I must say that Rev. Jim’s life story, in addition to all the love, smiles, and appreciation I get from the kids and their family members, have given me strength to work harder in order to really make a difference in their lives.

I’m witnessing changes every single day and it is really because of all of you that have supported me in many different ways. For that, I do want to take this opportunity to thank some of you that have gotten involved and helped the cause.

Because of Karen Asfour’s donation, ALL the kids at the African Child Foundation School (about 60 of them) will be able to have lunch every day for the next 4 months -- at least, which hasn’t happened since ACF started activities in Katebo 6 months ago. The kid’s families (about 45 of them) will also get food supplies to make sure their kids will have their dinners as well. USAID donated a truck full of dried food supplement to ACF and they did not have the funds to bring the food from Kampala to Katebo. I’m sure you will enjoy the pictures and videos of their so wanted meal!

With her donation as well I have also manage to fix the water reservoir that ACF and some volunteers built about 2 months ago to provide EVERYONE in the village with drinkable/clean water. The first day they were using it, the container exploded due to the high water pressure. They were able to get another tank, but did not have funds to buy cement and some new pipes to repair the water system. We just bought what they needed and this week it will be finally working. Some pictures with the community using the new and ONLY clean water resource in the village will be posted soon!

Before I left DC, on my way to the airport, Malia Asfour made me promise I would make sure to do my utmost to work on projects to empower the women from the community I was going to be working at. I just want to let you know dear, I have already started working on my promise.
Last week I met with about 15 women from the Katebo village and talked to them about possible things we could be doing in order to make sure they would start bringing some income home for the first time in their lives. What we have decided is that I’m going to get some sewing machines and a lot of material for them to start producing hand bags and hair bandages/scrunchies to sell to the tourists that come to Uganda. I must say that I have never heard so many thank yous in my life and witnessed so much joy and excitement as I did from those women during our meeting. I’m so proud of them and their willingness to try making things better for their families.

In addition to all that has already been started, I have also plans to work on finishing the school’s constructions (kitchen, library, classrooms), use the big land that is available around the school to start a garden that will provide basic food supply (variety of fruits and vegetables) to the kids and their families so they will not have to depend only on donations, get fabric and all necessary materials to make uniforms to all the kids at the ACF school, and work on finishing the construction at Rev. Jim’s house so it will have a more “appropriate” structure to receive more volunteers, which they will really need in order to make sure their incredible project continues to run.

I think the bottom line and the last thing I want to share with all of you is that my time here has indeed been very tough but extremely rewarding at the same time. The people from Katebo are amazing and in so much need, Rev. Jim and his family are just incredible, and it has been really fantastic to be able to be part of their project.

Thank you all of you that have been supporting us!

Much love, Gi

P.s.: Do you also want to support this cause?

If you are from USA or Canada - please do contact Malia Asfour (maliaa@aol.com or 1 703 623-0114) as she is the one helping me with all the logistics regarding the donations over there.

If you are from Brazil - please do contact Carol Costa (ccosta00@gmail.com or 11 8444-2356) as she is the one helping me with all the logistics regarding the donations over there.

Thanks a million!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


(March 17th, 2009)
Greeting from Uganda,

Just want to let you all know I arrived last night (March 16th) safe and sound!

I will keep it short because I just have few minutes left to use the Internet in Kampala before I go back to the village I'm staying. I believe I will have access to the interned only once every 7-10 days.

Katebo Village is far from the capital (about 1hour and half) and there are around 300 people leaving there. Everything in there is soooooo simple that I cannot even start describing it now.

I'm overwhelmed with everything I've been seeing/listening/doing, but extremely happy to be here. Rev. Jim Nadiope and his wife Sarah are so incredible and all they are doing for the people in this village is just mind blowing...

Next Saturday I will try come back to the city and post some pictures, films, and a detailed update on everything that is happening here.

Hope all is well with all of you.

http://www.acf.org.ug/ / http://www.acfuganda.org/

Thursday, March 12, 2009


(March 1st-7th, 2009)

So I guess I should start this part of my blog telling you how and why I ended up going to Iraq since you all might be wondering about that. On my last month with the Jordan Tourism Board I was finalizing all the activities I was handling for them. The main project I was working on was the Jordan Travel Mart that happened in Feb. 22nd to 25th, 2009. This year we decided to have the Adventure Travel as our theme for this conference and we were very excited to get great organizations, such as ATTA (Adventure Travel and Trade Association) and National Geographic, partnering with us in this event.

While organizing Shannon’s (President of ATTA) trip to Jordan, I ended up knowing he was planning to extend his staying in the Middle East and go to Iraq/Kurdistan to meet with their Minister of Tourism and figure out ways to help them with assessing their tourism industry potential. As simple as it may sound, the only thing I had to do was invite myself to join him. I knew I was leaving Jordan and had time to explore a little more of the Middle East before starting my Africa journey.

I have met him few times before during tourism events in USA but have not had a chance to really get to know him well. So, here I was, going to IRAQ with someone I did not really know. But as some of my dearest friends say, I live in Gisele’s world and I had no doubt that everything would be perfect! And of course I was right; Shannon is indeed an incredible person to travel with. A very curious and enthusiastic guy, extremely adventurous (as a president of ATTA can/should be), full of energy and definitely very open minded to explore different cultures and places being more respectful than anyone I have ever met.

IRAQ/Kurdistan - Well, well, well… I just must tell you all I do not think I will ever be able to describe how incredible this trip was. The country is beautiful - full of archeological treasures and outstanding landscaping, the people are super friendly and genuine, and the amazing feeling you have inside you by just knowing you are in IRAQ is priceless.

After only ten minutes in Iraq, I knew I was going to have a great time over there, and more than that, I knew I was going to be safe. My first experience with the Iraq/Kurdistan people was at the customs and I must say I have never been that welcomed in my life… and please keep in mind I have been to more than 30 countries and dealt with a great amount of customs officials.

First morning there, we met with the Minister of Tourism and his team. It was extremely interesting to witness their desire to do a lot for their country and its tourism industry and how overwhelmed they were with everything related to why, when, and how to start working on that. After learning more about what we were going to experience in Kurdistan and exchanging some ideas and contacts that could be of some help for them, we left the ministry and venture off to explore Erbil.

The Citadel – The oldest inhabited city in the World! Built around 6000bc, which makes it an 8000+ year old city!!! Wooowww! The most incredible thing is that until 8 months ago, when they started with the renovation projects, they still have many families living there. After visiting the Citadel and the Textile Museum, we went to the old bazaar and mingled a little with the locals, who were extremely hospitable.

On that same day, we visited an 800 year old minaret and some parks around the city. Our guides dropped us back at the hotel late afternoon and suggested we should have dinner at one of the restaurants over there. Since we are “real” travelers, we decided to skip dinner at the hotel, got a street cab, found a local pizza place to have dinner and meet some locals, and after all of that we hitched our way back to the Hotel. Actually, the truth is that we did not intend to “hitch”, but this Arab guy, in his very old car, stopped in the middle of the street, asked where we were heading to, and offered us a ride. The only thing we did was to accept his offer, about 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of a street in Erbil, on our first day in Iraq.

The main point I want to share here is that I would never do it in USA or in Brazil, but I DID in Iraq, and we did because we felt 100% safe and comfortable with the situation.

During the next couple of days we travelled around the region (Erbil and Dohuk Provinces), got amused by its natural beauty (REALLY), and got together with the locals everywhere we went, for as much time we could. Some of the highlights of this trip includes a visit to a nomadic family settlement, on our way to the mountains northeast of Erbil, where I was able spend some time and have a lot of fun with the very interesting women over there. In Dohuk, we met with several very welcoming Kurdish teachers during our lunch, Shannon went for a Kurdish haircut in a street barber, I played domino and snooker with the locals, we fully explored the city's old bazaar, and ended our day having dinner with our guides over very interesting personal conversations.

On our last day, back in Erbil, Shannon and I decided to go back to the old bazaar and spend our last few hours in Iraq enjoying our time doing some shopping and mingling with the local people. The experience was really fascinating and realizing that everyone out there was doing their utmost to make sure we felt safe and welcomed all the time was just mind-blowing. I cannot finish this story without mentioning my moment of glory, when I was literally treated as a “star” at the Erbil Shopping Mall. No kidding, more than 15 guys wanted to have their picture taken with me. That was very cute and special! Ahhh… and of course we did crash a wedding while we were there :)!

Everything went well and everyday was very enjoyable. I only wish I had more time to also explore all the archeological treasures that are “hidden” all over that region.

Anyway, this is a not very short video I put together with some pictures I took while I was there. Enjoy it!

Ah… Shannon's Kurdish Haircut film will be posted soon…

Just one more thing: Shannon, thank you so much for letting me to be part of this adventure and experience of a life time.

Zor Supass, Shukran Iktir, Thanks a million!

For more detailed information on Kurdistan, please go to http://www.theotheriraq.com/

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


(Feb. 26th to March 1st, 2009)

Ok, who has never wanted to see the pyramids of Giza? I sure did and I’m very glad I was able to make one more dream a reality. I really enjoyed my time in Cairo. It is indeed fascinating and definitely showcases the good and bad things of a big city. It has its unique colors; it is amazingly crowded, absolutely beautiful in its own way, and it certainly has a very real soundtrack attached to it.

I was there with key players and great friends from the tourism industry and we did have a blast. We visited the pyramids, sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, the Khan El-Khalili Bazar in old Cairo, the Coptic (Egyptian Christians) district, the Citadel and the Islamic area. In addition, we went for a Nile dinner (which was very cheesy btw), experienced several local restaurants in the city, and enjoyed a Dervish Dance Show (a dance that has been performed for over 700 years by the Sufi, a rather mystic order of the Islamic faith) on our last night over there.

Now, I did really enjoyed my time there and I definitely want to go back to see other parts of Egypt. I do understand I just got a taste of it and they have much more to offer. Egypt is Egypt and worth visiting, but I really felt the government is taking it for granted and missing many opportunities to make the locals aware of their tourism industry and its value and more active in the process of making sure their visitors have the most outstanding travel experience while there. The places are dirty and the people are not that hospitable… and I do believe it can be fixed (little by little) by educating the local community and getting them involved with sustainable projects. I’m sure I will be going back and hopefully I will also be able to work on projects to help them out with this matter.

Anyway, this is a short video I put together with some pictures I took while there. Enjoy it!


(Feb. 14th to 25th, 2009)

After almost a month in the road I can honestly say that my brain is already overloaded with information; my mind cannot stop thinking about the great opportunities available to get involved with the local communities everywhere, and my heart is overwhelmed with joy from the incredible new feelings and exceptional moments I was lucky enough to experience.

In summary, YES! I have no doubt I made the best decision to take a career break for six months and explore in depth myself and many places of this very special world of ours.

Going around the Middle East: Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.

Jordan: Before sharing with you all some of the great things that happened during my last, and by far the BEST, trip to Jordan on behalf of the Jordan Tourism Board I just want to say that I have always thought that Jordanians would never really understand how much I love, care, and fully respect their country and its people, but today, I realize that they actually do. Literally, everyone I came across during my last 10 days over there expressed their sincere gratitude for my work and devotion to their country and its tourism industry. I was honored with a gift of appreciation from His Majesty and thrilled with all the praises and admiration expressed by everyone I met throughout the past 7 years, including local friends, colleagues and partners from the industry, and at last but not least the Bedouins. That really meant a lot to me!

I believe what made this trip the best one I took to Jordan in the past 7 years is a group of reasons including the fact that the biggest project we, from the Jordan Tourism Board North America, have ever worked on, the Jordan Travel Mart, was once again, on its second year, extremely successful. It is definitely important to mention that the increase in participation from the South Americans trade and media professionals from last year’s was outstanding, and because this market has been my baby for the past 2 year, I could definitely not hide my joy and satisfaction.

In addition, the fact that I knew that this trip was the last one, at least for a little while since we never know what the future will bring us, forced me truly and fully experience every site and every moment. I had the most incredible group of people joining my “South American” group and that for sure made a huge difference in my final journey.

Some highlights from this trip include some of us venturing off in Amman looking for bars at 4am and finding interesting ones, doing an incredible off beaten trek in Petra and finishing the day partying like crazy at our hotel, going on an amazing 4X4 ride in Wadi Rum and witnessing the genuine Bedouin hospitality specially when one person from our group lost 2000 EUROS in the desert and got it back (the Bedouins literally went after us to find the owner of that money), exploring Aqaba’s interesting night spots, enjoying the Dead Sea and its natural incredible beauty, networking with top professionals from the tourism industry, having my “exit” interview with the Minister and Directors of JTB, which gave me the opportunity to do more good for the country while leaving my position (I know only few of you will understand this one J), getting my i-phone back after leaving it in a cab on my way to the airport to go to Iraq – the driver literally found me after contacting some friends listed in my phone book and kept it safe until I got back to Jordan… Jordanians are just unbelievable!

I had a blast, I loved everything about it, and I will definitely have all the great memories from it with me forever. I guess I did close this door using a golden key… as we say in Brazil :)!

This is one of the articles that came out from one of the journalists from Brazil - Dayse Ferreira, a sweetheart. Obrigada Dayse.

Last presentation I put together on Jordan... A very nice one!!

Getting Started

(February 12th, 2009)

So, after 3 weeks of complete craziness, dealing with returning my apartment, getting rid of furniture, selling my car, paying bills, closing accounts, deciding on my Middle East and Africa itinerary, working full time at JTBNA, getting shoots/vaccines (9 of them), applying for visas (12 of them), seeing incredible friends, and painfully saying good bye to my amazing sister, I'm now ready to let you know what I will be getting into during the next "few" months. Enjoy the itinerary… I cannot wait…

Feb 14-25 -> Jordan - I'm leaving to Jordan on Saturday, Feb. 14th for my last trip on behalf of the Jordan Tourism Board North America. It will definitely be a very tough trip for me to take. I'm sure you all know how much I love Jordan and enjoyed working for them for the past 7 years. But well, in a way I'm also very glad I will have this last opportunity to say thank you and good bye to all the incredible people I had the pleasure to meet and work with in Jordan.

Feb 26-Mar 1 -> Egypt - After Jordan I will be going to Egypt to explore Cairo with good friends from the tourism industry as well. I'm sure I will have a blast there. Pyramids… here I come….

Mar 2-8-> Iraq (Kurdistan) - Please do not freak out as my mom, dad, and sisters are doing that on behalf of everyone. Seriously!! I Anyway, this is really a once in a lifetime experience and I could not say NO. The bottom line is that I'm going with the head of Adventure Travel and Trade Association (a colleague from the industry) and he will be hosted by the Minister of Tourism over there. YES… I also questioned why they have a Minister of Tourism but I guess I'm taking advantage of it now. Instead of me trying to explain what I will be doing there, since I'm not really sure, below you will find the email Shannon received from the tour operator in Iraq regarding our itinerary:"Dear Sir, I hope that you are doing well. Don't worry as everything is going well. Our proposed program is to cover the mountains of Kurdistan as you are so interested in adventures and we will try our best to see the summer resorts in the three provinces in Erbil, Sulaimania and Dohuk. We will try to see Dokan dam and the lake of Dokan, Shaqlawa, Bikhal, Jondian and the tourist summer resort of Pank in Rawandouze. I am sure that you are going to love it as Spring is knocking the door and the weather will be so nice. Dohuk province is well known of it's summer resorts like Sarsing, Solaf, Anishki and Amedi. Any how we can change some items of the program in case of necessity. Please don't hesitate to ask for more information related to your trip. As for your Colleague, don't worry as we will try our best to make her enjoy it. I think we are going to have 4-5 days and we will try to show a good face. I wish you a lovely day."Doesn't it sound amazing??

Mar 9-13 -> Wash DC/North Carolina. I will just come back to check on Cris in North Caroline and then stop in DC for 2 days to change backpacks… and take more malaria pills…

Mar 14-April 14 -> UgandaAfter so much research I was able to find a NGO that really "spoke" to me. The African Child Foundation - ACF is African effort created to address the enormous challenges faced by millions of African children who have either been orphaned by AIDS or live with parents who are sick or dying from AIDS-related illnesses. Please check their website if you want to learn more about them: http://www.acf.org.ug/I will be volunteering there for a month, working in projects with kids and women. I already have great ideas for new projects we could be implementing there and I really cannot wait to get started! It may sound cheesy, but I truly believe I will be able to make a difference there.

April 15-Jun 13 -> Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. I guess I could spend days writing about this specific trip, but instead, I will attach the detailed itinerary I received from the tour's organizers. To facilitate my mom's life, I also put together a jpg file with my itinerary/map, and as you can see, I'm more than happy to share this one with you as well.

June 14-30 -> MozambiqueThe trip is confirmed but I'm still deciding on what I will be doing there. I most probably will find a way to do some volunteer work there as well… Practice my Portuguese a little bit

July 1-12 -> Back to Tanzania – Climbing KilimanjaroBelow you will find few links to this website that will give you more information about this climb. I must confess I'm avoiding reading too much about it since I do not want to really know what I will be facing. I just want to do it and hopefully I will be able to get to handle all the tough times and get to the Summit. The only thing I read all the way was this blog, http://www.mtkilimanjarologue.com/planning/random/bootsnall-20089-new-year-summit.html, and if you read it, you will understand why I will not read anything else… Ahhhh, and YES, I'm doing the hardest and longest trail. The reason for that is not because it is more expensive and I want to prove to myself that even unemployed I can do it, but because it seems to be the safest one, since it works in a way that the climbers will be better able to handle the difference in altitude during the climb.(http://www.mtkilimanjarologue.com/)(http://www.mtkilimanjarologue.com/lemosho-route/). Yes, yes, yes… let's not talk about the fact I'm VERY prepared for this climb and travel environment since I've been training to endure this type of experience for the last past 7 years while enjoying all the five stars hotels and spas around the world…

July 13-17-> Back to South Africa – Kruger's ParkAfter my climb I will go back to South Africa and meet with my great friend Justin. We will be exploring Kruger's Park for few days before he has to go to London and I have to decide on my next step… Ahhhh, will I be ready for that???

July 17th -> I will most probably extend my stay in South Africa till end of August and do some volunteer work for Grootbos's Social Projects. There is also a slight chance of me coming back to DC to get my things and start thinking about what I will be doing next…

SO, I GUESS THAT IS IT!!! I will definitely try to send some news updates and few pictures whenever possible.

I will certainly miss you all.

Beijos, Gi