Monday, January 26, 2015

Cam in Cambodia




In August 2014, I took a few days to visit Cambodia. I, now living in South East Asia, had alwayd heard about the beauty that this country offers. In graduate school one of my best friends was from just outside of Phnom Penh. She'd always encouraged me to learn more about her culture, and that exactly what I did during my four day trip. Instead of a journal entry I decided to make a video. Since it's been so long since my last post, hope you enjoy this treat.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Macedonia






My friends Zach and Nicolas had the great idea of traveling after midterms, DESTINATION: Macedonia

Wizzair had a inexpensive flight out of Venice, an hour train ride and a two hour flight later, we were in Skopje.

We arrived at our hostel, the Art Hostel about 8PM to a group of people we didn't know who offered us Rajkia, the bourbon of the Balkans. After a few servings of the stuff we were off. We met another American doing on holidays from Fulbright in Kosovo. He joined us in our adventure throughout Skopje.


We went to old city tavern and we had a huge meat plate sausages and chicken and potatoes. unfortunately we ordered Pachia, which was an iced pork fat plate. It was terrible, no matter how much Rajkia we drank the Pachia would never be delectable. After we ate we met a Serbian Macedonian soldier. He told us about the conflicts which he fought i, I was amazed about how much about the Balkans I didn't know. He knighted me "Afro-Serb" because of my affinity to read cyrillic.


After, we we went to Club Dion, and Zach introduced us to Turbo-folk. He characterized it as the "peoples" music of the Balkans, I loved it,though I didn't understand it. But, I expect that it was very nationalistic.

We walked around downtown Skopje saw the statues of Alexander the Great. Saw the contrasts between communist and new era buildings. There was a lot of development going off the Varder river in Skopje. The buildings are beautiful the architecture likens to Moslem dome styles.



The owner of the hostel where we stayed had a friend names Aleksander who drove us from Skopje to Ohrid. He spoke chiefly in Macedonian and Zach, as he would through out the trip, would translate for me. Aleksander was the greatest tour guide. He told us crazy stories about Macedonian history, politics, and society.
We stopped in In the mountains of Straza, and had meketza and cheese. It was a flaky and oily bread and delicious locally made cheese. According to Zach, the farms that we passed on the ride to Ohrid would make the cheese and sell it only locally.

Чарли браун

Шов ит

After Straza, we drove through Debratza, which Aleksander called the California of Macedonia because of the luscious vast mountainous landscapes. Tall trees stalk hillsides over the road. This place is only 10km from Ohrid and 1KM from Albania.

We arrived in Ohrid and Aleksander hooked us up with a great apartment for only 40€, he tended to his errands and recommended we try the popular Fish restaurant in Ohrid. Which we did

MENU:
Sopska
Ribna corba
Mavroska fish



We had a wonderful waiter who was exceedingly accommodating he first brought the sopska which was similar to a greek salad but the feta was grated, the cucumbers and tomatoes were juicy, topped with an olive. It was delicious. Next was, Ribna Corba, the fish soup that was recommended by Aleksander it came with a side of garlic with lemons the soup was good without it but excellent with the additions. Accompanying it was toasted bread pieces with paprika and grated feta. We were pretty full after that but our main courses soon followed. I got the Mavroska fish. Which is caught in Lake Ohrid. Zach and Nick ordered a pork and mushroom dish that's native to Ohrid. Theirs came out smoldering and my fish freshly grilled. The meal was delectable. We saw the Macedonian band Tsar Samuaei (цар самуил), and the fellas bought the bands CD.

I started to pick up a bit of Cyrillic while there which meant fun reading signs and menus. The restaurant which was simply called Fish Restaurant was great. We came back to our apartment and listened to the CD.

Aleksander came by and we drove to the old town Stari grad (стари град) and we saw Tsar Samuel church, a stadium that predates Coliseum, but the most beautiful sight was the moon bathed view of Lake Ohrid

Went partying in the center of Ohrid to the pretentious Cuba libra then club revolution. Fun Night!

The next morning, after Nick and I decided to get some Macedonian Hair Cuts




we trekked to the Ohrid train station to buy our tickets back to Skopje. We stopped for Burek, a flakey meat pie eaten with yogurt. A Balkan favorite from what I gathered. We bought our tickets for 17:45, which left us 5 hours to explore more of Ohrid. We taxied up to the old town and saw St. Samuel church, the site where he'd lost a major battle to the Byzantines and where, according to rumor, the Byzantines blinded 14000 Macedonian soldiers before annexing Macedonia.



We visited St Klemits (plaosnik) church and the most beautiful of them, St Jovan Kaneo church which overlooked the gloriously picturesque Lake Ohrid. At the church we met Capt Crunch with his first officer Puppy, Fang, who would later chew a part of my bag off while the captain gave us a serene boat tour of Lake Ohrid. The waters were calm and clear and it seemed as if the sun peaked beyond the clouds through the mist so we could have a princely view of the city. We docked at the city center payed the 2€ then headed to exchange more euros to dinars. What we thought was the currency exchange guys attempt to rip me off by giving me half of my return turned into a misunderstanding and miscounting on both our parts. Macedonians prove once again to be the some of the friendliest people in Europe. It was only 13:40 so we decided to catch the 15:00 bus to Skopje instead. We changed over our tickets and ate at the сара cafe. We met Tony and Teddy. Both were older Macedonian men but Tony had been living in the US for the past 25 years. He, like Zach both called New Jersey home. We all spoke for an hour he bought us a few glasses of wine to accompany our Balkan Burgers. He had immigrated from Macedonia, or Yugoslavia in 1970 to the US and was soon drafted into Vietnam. 2 years later he returned to Yugoslavia and played soccer for the national team. He gave great life advice. Soon we were off to Skopje.



On the bus ride we talked about how fortunate we were to have met Aleksander and how Macedonia was as a whole. We stopped once again in Straza, I got the locally made cheese, and an hour and half later we were back in Skopje. We decide, after sometime, to return back to our beloved Art Hostel. A few of the same characters were there, like the Albanian Guy we'd me who couldn't hold his liquor and an odd Italian named Lorenzo , but there was a new cast including a lively Bulgarian,and our soon to be friend Woo from New Zealand. Woo was probably one of the most interesting fellows we'd met. He had spent the last couple months interviewing in the UK and Germany before he decided to just start traveling. In the last month Woo had trekked from Berlin through the Balkans, and was steadily making his way back to New Zealand. His next stop was Turkey, Iran, before catching a flight from Goa, India back home. Woo was a lover of NBA, which led to great conversation and had an impressive eye and even a more impressive camera and life story.


We had dinner, drank a great Macedonian wine called Blue Blood before setting off into Skopje for some shots of the city--and shots in the city. We'd set to meet Lorenzo at the huge statue of Alexander the Great in the city center but Lorenzo was a no show. We ducked inside a little bistro for wine and conversation, we soon found our selves cozied between the manly conversation and the warmth of the bistro. It was about 12 degrees celsius outside so we took our time leaving. After the guys met my mom via a Skype session, we thought it best to see some of Skopje's night life. We ran into what was probably a mob boss and his lady friends who walked with some city big shot. The "big shot" took interest in Zach being American and knowing Serbo-Croatian and Nicks great comprehension skills. His boss friend took issue with him taking us to the club, but the guy brushed it off. He led us into the front of the club, raised the velvet rope and like celebs we strolled in. In the club it was wall to wall with all kinds of folks. Old, young, fat, skinny. There is not filter on clubs here. But it was packed, wall to wall with people. We danced, unsuccessfully spoke to girls. Girls kept touching Woo and I because we were the only non-whites, but it never really worked to our advantage. I bumped into a short guy in a adidas track suit and a gold chain while i was dancing and he tapped me on the shoulder and yelled at me in Macedonian. Didn't really know what he was saying so i said sorry, he looked pretty pissed and hopped up into one of the booths with some friends. Simultaneously, Zach said it was time to head back to the hostel, I obliged.




We returned to the hostel at about 1:30, Nick went to sleep while Zach and I stayed up. Thats when we met Bill. Bill was a former financial economist at University of Toronto. He was Canadian and one of the nicest, smartest guys i've ever met. He was in his late 60s, jolly, with a white beard. He's retired recently and was zig-zagging through eastern europe. he said he hadn't stayed in a hostel since he was our age. He told us about parts of Skopje he's visited and gave us advice on what to do of our last day. Bill and I stayed up until about 4Am talking about education and US politics. I explained to him the Herman Cain debacle and why religion is so exploitable in politics. He told me the implications of market driven economies on the currency valuations relative to bank based one like Macedonia. The next morning Bill was gone. He'd apparently left to take picture and before I could say goodbye to him. Nick was gone too. After 2 hours of waiting, Woo, Zach and I decided to leave Nick a note and venture into the turkish side of Skopje. We ran into Nick at a store and he caught up with us at the city center. We saw some visiting Turks who asked to take a photo with Woo and me because we weren't white.


We headed to the Turkish side and saw some cool mosques, and ate more Burek. I met a man, who certainly wasn't the first, who didn't understand why we'd come from the US to visit Skopje but we reassured him that Macedonia as a whole was a wonderful place to visit. The Zach and I pigged out on more Macedonian food and coffee while Nicholas and Woo chilled and watched. The whole trip was a great way to get away from the monotony of grad school. We parted ways with Woo but still keep in contact. Nick, Zach, and I all returned to Bologna refreshed and refueled. Despite the sad silence we held on the plane and in the train station heading back and the problem set they tried to tackle on the train, we realized that we were returning to the arduous coursework of SAIS, we were grateful of our experiences that weekend.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ciao -- In Bologna

“Ciao!”-- The greeting I received sweetly from a young stiletto and cowl top dress clad women with a matching tan pocketbook. Her equally styled friend followed behind expressively with the same greeting. I continued to hold the door open to my apartment building, as they seemingly floated by. Struck, I pushed out a broken “Buona Sera”, unsure of my pronunciation or the intent behind the smiles and informalities of the women, who’d later become a couple of my closest friends. My flat: Via Belmeloro 19, Northern Bologna, near the train tracks, described as a very dangerous area, but that relative to “those who choose to walk home late and oblivious to their surroundings” as described by the schools receptionist. Being here in Bologna is simply wonderful. I am enrolled in a 2-year Masters program in International Economics and International Relations with The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Students have the option of spending their first year in Italy, which I opted to do late in the summer much due to my previous experience in DC and a budding desire to see Europe.
Three weeks here I’ve settled and acclimated to the late dinners, early mornings, beautiful women, artisan streets, political graffiti, and economic torture—both inside the classroom and outside—of Italy; and though It took a while, but I can confidently say that I am settled. The Bolognese are very friendly people, from the first day I arrived with my friend Sarah, our taxi driver from the airport lent us great insight into how personable people really are in Bologna. Though he spoke little English he pointed out many of sights and attractions that would later serve as vital landmarks on my late nights walking home from school. I found an apartment after only two days of being in Bologna, it a long three bedroom that I share with two other SAIS students, one from Serbia who graduation from U-Chicago, she’s really nice and has got me addicted to drinking coffee everyday, and the other also from Chicago who graduated from Colorado, he’s a great cook and hilarious and the best part he is also a Semester at Sea Alum, so often we exchange SAS stories. Last week I bought a bike, seeing that I’m 25 minutes away from school and most other people in the program its very much a cost effective alternative to driving, I’ve had a car since I was 17 and getting around was strange at first but the bicicletta serves its purpose.
The other students in my program all bring a exorbitant diversity of life and professional experiences, I’ve made friends who have offered to trace my Irish ancestry after having grown up in Dublin and worked for the national genealogical registry, lived through the war in Balkans, competitively ice skated, and have played for national European lacrosse teams, and that’s only skimming the surface of the wonderful interactions I’ve had with these people.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Return to Costa Rica (Puerto Limon)




Today was another fine day in Costa Rica, only this time we were on the Caribbean side. My roommates Devon and Ryan, Denora and myself all ventured into Puerto Limon to eat. We found a great local restaurant called Soda Panimimi, it was authentic Costa Rican food. Their specialty is soups. They let us try a melody stew called “Sopa De Mandinga”. Sopa de Mandinga was composed of cowfoot, tripe, dumplings and carrots. It was a particularly interesting but I did enjoy it. my friends Ethiopia and her daughter Kaia, who joined us were not particular fans of it. I told Ryan, who had been getting a little homesick, that I’d show him what travelling and experiencing the world was all about. Yet he was very critical of the establishment, pointing to ants that ran across the walls and such. I joked to him that it’s all about the experience and because that he’d never had such an experience that I guaranteed it would prove worth it. By the meals end I was right. We’d ordered the spectrum of the menu, including Plantain, sopa, rice and beans; I had a spicy noodle and beans dish, which I docked up even more with whatever atomic chili sauce that stood on the table. After the great meal we left back for the port, but after arriving and window-shopping Devon, Denora, and I decided to hire a tour guide to see more of the city by going to Playa Bonita. Though it was raining we sat at the Quimbamba Bar off the beach. Devon and I decided that despite the weather we wanted to swim. So that’s exactly what we did. At one point I stopped noticing that it was raining. The waves were huge, I learned the art of body surfing. In a panic our tour guide came to the beach to warn us not to go to far right-shore because of the hard coral, just after I’d stepped on the coral and cut my foot. I limped back into the sea off the rock and continued body surfing until I’d had my fill. We got out, got dressed and had a couple Cervazas, watched a bull fight on TV and had the most delicious plantains. A fellow shipgoer and her dad approached us and inquired about our day, we recanted and then her Dad, Dan, and I walked over to a small wooded area to take pictures of the sloths. Dan told me about his trip to the sloth forest, he pointed out how slow they moved and shook the tree to illustrated their delayed reaction. Soon after we returned to he ship, once again impressed by Costa Rica

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Panama




Today we visited the SOS Orphanage in Cristobal, Panama. SOS has homes worldwide which cares for orphaned and neglected children in over 130 countries. From the moment we left the ship, it rained. Streets were flooded and many stores were closed. The van driver told us that this weather was peculiar, usually it would be warm and sunny this time of the year but it was about 70 degrees and wet. When we arrived at the SOS Childrens Village, we were shown a brief film about SOS. SOS Children's Villages focuses on family-based, long-term care of children who can not live with their biological families for whatever reason. The facility is set up like a village in that in each house there is an SOS aunt, or mother figure, with approx 6-10 children in each home. The children keep their rooms spotless and are given chores in which they keep them selves strictly disciplined toward doing. We visited about 4 houses, played with the kids and spoke with the parents. Many of us brought our cameras, however something struck ill with me when I watched one of our group members treating the experience like we were at a zoo. She would snap candids of the kids on the couch watching TV, at the table, position the children to hold things they owned. It was disgusting. I mentioned to her and others I was with that we were there to meet and learn not to fill up a photo album. I let the kids play with my camera and they really enjoyed it. I met one little boy named Alman who loved getting hugs. My friend Denora, who’s fluent in Spanish, said that when she hugged him he said that “getting hugs is so cool, I don’t get them that often”. We were pretty much brought to tears. For the rest of our time visiting Alman home he was wrapped in someones arms. One group member, Neil from USC, gave Alman his Trojans windbreaker and hat. We were all speechless to the altruism shown by our peer. We donated about two boxes of games to SOS, but later realized that clothes would’ve been a better contribution seeing as, many of those kids grow so fast and had limited wardrobes. After the visit, Denora, some friends and myself ventured off into the flooded streets of Panama in search of lunch. We were guided to a stand that served alligator, plantains, rice and beans. There we stood in the pouring rain under the makeshift canopy above the stand eating Panamanian food. Though it was a great experience, the thought of hugging Alman never left out minds, even as we re-boarded the ship.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Costa Rican high Jump









Costa Rica… today’s port was the best yet. From the moment I stepped off the ship, I felt back in true travel mode. I was low on funds but thirsty for adventure. The plan was originally to go zip lining but what we later learned was that it would be outside of our budget from our side of the country. The sun was shining and it was very hot. We waited at the terminal to be transported to the taxi area. While there I recognized one a lady that had voyaged with me in Spring 2010. I hadn’t quite seen everyone who was on the ship but she was working as Semester at Sea staff. Cindy, who was my Dean of Students and my On-Ship mother, also had returned. The three of us stood and recanted a few memories from Brasil. A story that I shared was about my Brasilian wish bracelet that I got in Salvador Bahia.
In Bahia, Brasil many of my fellow adventurers received a cloth bracelet that was tied around the wrist in three knots, with each knot one is to make a wish. It is said that when the bracelet falls off your three wishes come true.
My bracelet was a little different. Not only did I have a wish bracelet but I was also given a tweed bracelet, 2 months prior, in India that wards off evil spirits. After about a month of wearing both they eventually became one bracelet from washing, wear, etc. So I thought it would never fall off and my wishes would never come true. Strange enough, while standing in line to exchange USD to Guatemalan Quetzals my bracelet fell off. Mind you, this was the first time I’d been out the country since getting it, simply amazing.
After sharing this story with them, the lady went in her bag and pulled out a wish bracelet and adorned me with it. New Beginnings and new wishes. She tied it in its traditional fashion and I made my three wishes. I thanked her, we all exchanged hugs and I met up with Ulato and my roommate Devon to plan out our day. A group of us decided to ride to Jaco and explore. On the way we saw huge crocodiles in the river. We stopped took pictures and grabbed some local brews and bean patties and drove for another 30minutes into Jaco, passing signs advertising Bungee Jumping, Zip lining and snorkeling.
When we arrived in Jaco, it was between beach bumming, Bungee jumping, or Zip lining. Because zip lining was overpriced where we were, and beach bumming would be uneventful, Bungee Jumping was the plan.
The benefit of traveling with a small likeminded group is that they require little to no convincing. After paying our money and signing the waivers we readied to jump from almost 200 feet. We took the elevator to the top of a large steel apparatus. While on the lift the safety instructor asked who wanted to go first, without hesitation I jumped at it. I strapped up! Double Velcroed harness across the shoulders, metal hooks across the chest and waist and around the ankles. The instructor led me to the edge, unhooked my safety cord and threw my bungee cord off the side. I looked down into the pool of water that would somewhat break my fall. The cord was fixed to dip me waist deep at the most extended point.
10 SECONDS!!
The instructor began the countdown; I looked to my right and saw Ulato filming me, and Devon anxious for me. The anticipation built to the point of excitement, raised my hands and dove off the edge. As I raced toward the ground all I thought about was how great life is, how I really live out my dreams, and how I hope I wasn’t about to die. Before I knew it I was deep in water before being pulled half way back up, and then spinning around until I leveled off and was guided to safety. The experience was absolutely exhilarating. Dizzy and dazed I watched Devon and Ulato jump. Ulato yelled “Damn you Cameron Thomas-Shah, before he jumped. His fall was equally footed as far as the spinning only he chose not to hit the water. Next they convinced me to rocket launch. Essentially, they launched you from a base into the sky, and because you’re strapped to elastic bands you bounce to and fro. So that’s exactly what we did. I did 7 flips in the air on the way up. I will soon upload the videos. After our aerodynamic activities, we hung out on the beach for a half an hour before heading back to the ship

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Nicaragua




The next port was Corinto, Nicaragua. Luke, Sulongteh, Matt Vaughn, myself and some other friends ventured into the port to find a bank, we spoke to some locals about good places to eat and were pointed toward a spot called “Espigon”. They were said to have the best lobster in the country. Without hesitation we took a bike taxi to the beach. After avoiding hagglers, curb workers, and the like we arrived at Espigon and ate freshly caught lobster and shrimp. Many people complained about the speed of the service but I gently reminded that not only were we not in a hurry but not to expect the same kind of service we receive in the states. After a few cervezas and 2 hours of waiting and an amazing meal we spoke to some locals about things they enjoyed doing. The group of us paraded through the back streets of Corinto speaking and playing with children. It was a wondrous site to see my Morehouse brothers traveling with me and experiencing the world. I really enjoyed the bonding that happened with the people of Nicaragua and with my brethren.