Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From Broadwalk to Boardwalk - ACY.

Atlantic City. Another place I came to with no information, like Santo Domingo. Even less information than there, though. Actually, this is the place I knew the least about prior to arrival of all the places I've ever gone to. Right now, I'm still not sure where I am on a map and I've been here for over six hours. It's fun though, I like it. I figure, I don't always have to know everything about everywhere; unless I'm going to a place that needs preparation (jungle, desert, mountains, anywhere far away from any WiFi connections) it doesn't matter that much and I can just learn as I go. Which is what I'm doing here. 

How come I am in a place I know nothing about? Why am I even here? That's easy, it's all thanks to Spirit Airlines. I wanted to use one of their 50OFF coupons on a round-trip, so I decided to visit my friend Louizis in Philadelphia while I was in Florida. All spontaneous like. But Spirit doesn't go straight to Philadelphia, just like they don't go straight to Miami. Only ACY is a little further away than FLL. But, as they say, what shalls? Louizis said they had buses up here, so I booked the trip anyways. As he has to work all day today and won't be able to pick me up from the bus station until around 9PM, I feel like I'm writing this for the fifth time already, sorry for all the repetitions, he suggested I spend the day here in Atlantic City before taking the bus over to Philly. And because lately I've taken to doing what I'm told instead of thinking for myself when it comes to decisions like this, I took his advice and hung out here. 

Here's what I did: 

- took the Jitney from the airport into the centre of the city, all by myself 
- had a cheese steak sub at The White House Sub Shop
- saw the water show in the mall on Caesar's Pier 
- walked up and down the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk
- stuck my toes into the Atlantic but it was waaaaay too cold to consider jumping in for a quick swim 
- got a flyer for a Ben & Jerry's happy hour promotion - three flavours for three dollars 
- got three flavours for three dollar at Ben & Jerry's 
- sat in the sun reading for a while 
- walked around the streets off the Boardwalk for a bit 
- came into the McDonald's I'm sitting in right now to get online and tell you about my day 

As always, picures: 

Me, myself and I taking the Jitney into town. 

Arriving in the city.

First impression.

One of the many world famous things I have no idea about... or had - until today.

To me, what's most interesting is the feeling this place gives me. It's like it's not real, but all fake. As if, if you took away all the tourists, nothing would be left but empty parking lots and abandoned shopping bags. It's all casinos and shops and restaurants and bars and designer outlets, nothing that looks like what I consider real people have any business in the area. I saw a few mini marts, but no real supermarket. There was a newspaper stand, but it wasn't a real one, it was just a shop on the Caesar's Pier called The Atlantic City Newspaper Stand. This is actually what I imagine Las Vegas to be like, but even faker, because there, even the grass is a lie, right? Take away the sea, or move Atlantic City into the desert and you get a miniature Las Vegas, because the Boardwalk is the Strip. Or at least in my imagination that's what you'd get, because I haven't been to Las Vegas yet and only know it from movies - like most things here in the United States. But one day I'll go and then I'll let you know. Or you tell me if I'm right, if you've been to both places. 

It's a bit after 7PM now and my bus to Philadelphia leaves at 7.40PM, so I'll pack up my things, get my backpack and head over to the Atlantic City Bus Terminal to catch my next ride. 

Next update will be from Pennsylvania! 

Better day - with cheese steak!

Luck struck again and yesterday's feeling bad ended with yesterday. Or at least the bigger bulk of it did. I slept alright, but getting up was really difficult this morning and I drove to the airport in zombie mode. No problem though, because I knew the way - thanks Google, as always - and for most of the way mine was the only car on the road. Arrived there around 6AM, because I didn't know how long returning the car would take, but it was completely problem-free and I was done with the whole process and at the Spirit Terminal by 6.20AM. As in 4 hours before my flight... oops. Because it was a national flight I was accepted by the self-chec-in machine, which usually rejects my passport. Today it didn't and I even got to select my own seat for free. Thinking about it now, this day started out fabulously! 

OK, skip ahead to boarding time. A few minutes before the actual boarding process began, there was a call for people who would volunteer their seats because the flight was overbooked. If you volunteered they'd guarantee you a seat on the afternoon flight and give you a voucher for a round-trip to and from any of their national and international destinations. As I knew that I wasn't going to meet Louizis until late in the evening anyways, I decided to offer my seat. Sure, by then I'd already started to like the idea of roaming around ACY for the afternoon, but I figured if I had the possibility, I might as well do something nice for somebody else who really needed to get to Atlantic City as soon as possible. So I went ahead with it and signed up for it along with a lady and her daughter, they'd asked for three volunteers. In the end all three of us got to go, I don't know what happened to the people who had wanted to fly but didn't have a seat. Maybe somebody else missed their flight and that's how they got open space..? Who knows, the point is I'm here now.

Here being Atlantic City, New Jersey. 

During the flight I'd started actually feeling excited about the trip - finally! That was when I really woke up, too. Arrived around noon and headed straight into the city to see the Boardwalk and the casinos and the beach and all that fun stuff. I don't drink (much) or gamble, so I'm not really ACY's target audience, but I'm still enjoying myself here. 

The lady who drove the Jitney (yes, just like in the Hamptons) told me about this great sub place she insisted I had to have lunch at, so after orienting myself in the centre and getting my bus ticket to Philadelphia for later, I went to The White House Sub Shop and got myself a Cheese Steak Sub. According to that lady they're better here than in Philadelphia, because there they're made with Cheese Whiz (Is that what the stuff is called?), while here they're made with real cheese. 

It's not on the Boardwalk and it's not overly fancy on the outside, you could almost oversee it...

Cute booths, seats at the counter and hundreds of pictures of famous people who have eaten there.

Wide variety of hot and cold subs, and the ones I've seen looked really good, too. And they're big!!

World famous, I'm not sure. But definitely very famous, there were people queueing all the way out into the street to get a booth... and lots of others ordered to take away.

My lunch and second lunch (two hours later). Cheese steak with tomato and lettuce and salsa and fried onions. Dear Philadelphia, it will be hard for you to come up with a cheese steak that's better than this one. 

Now, I'm already getting tired again, because I've been walking around in the blazing sun for most of the time since noon. But it's all good, because I'm going to catch a bus over to Philadelphia in about an hour and I can rest during the drive. 

Looking forward to the next few days. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bad day.

Today was my first bad day on this trip. 

Of course, there's bad days on every trip, if you're out and about for long enough. I just didn't expect it to be this soon, because I've only been travelling for 20 days. I'm pretty sure I'm just exhausted, I hope I'm right. I did say that everything was going to be fine at the end of the last entry and I was right about that, so I'm optimistic about this, too. 

The transfer from Ken's house to Eric's went very smoothly. Yesterday morning Ken accompanied me to get gas and actually help me fill up the tank, what a sweetheart, because I hadn't done it in such a long time and never in the States. Right from there I went to meet Jason in Hollywood - yes, Jason's in the same place as me again! This is the third country we meet and hang out in, pretty cool. We had a little breakfast at IHOP and he got an oil change on his car, then we went to Hollywood Beach to spend the day with Mari and her family. That was so wonderful, I always love spending time with Mari and now I got to meet some of her family and they're just such nice people. Simply a great time. I'm already looking forward to the next beach day with her - and Béa!! - when we're both back in Colombia. In the evening I drove up to Fort Lauderdale to meet Eric at the Treasure Trove, a beach bar. Had the most delicious Conch Nachos there! It was so much, though, that more than half of it is in Eric's fridge now, even though he and his friends had some of it. After hanging out with his friends for a while we headed to his house and - how amazing is that - I got to choose if I wanted to sleep in the guest bedroom or on his boat!! No wind, calm water - of course I chose the boat! Actually slept deliciously in there, but for some reason today just didn't go well.  

This is what you get at IHOP when you ask for milk instead of Half&Half.

The sign on the door says "No backpacks in store. Kids only one at a time.".

My first reaction when the food came: jaw drops, eyes pop - "This is what I ordered?!"

This is where I spent my first night in Fort Lauderdale. Tonight the weather's not that nice, so I'll be sleeping in the house. 

Probably because I spent the day being worried first about my passport and then about tomorrow. And because of feeling physically unwell, too. 

The first thing I did this morning after getting up and climbing off the boat was to call the Consulate General of the Republic of Suriname, because Austrians have to apply for a visa if they want to visit that country, which I found out only days before leaving Austria. The consulate's website is down, you only get a 404 if you try to access it, so I didn't have a lot of information prior to calling them. Eric's part-time roommate had more information than me and found out that the Consulate only caters to US-American citizens and everybody else had to go to the Embassy - in Washington, DC. So when nobody picked up at the Consulate (nobody there before 11AM) I called the Embassy in DC and inquired about my possibilities. But all they did was tell me to call the Consulate, without listening to me telling them that I wasn't an American. So I had to wait over 2 hours until I'd be able to call again and find out if I could go there or not. Why not go straight? Website down and nobody on the phone, what if the whole place was a 404? I wasn't going to risk going there for nothing. 

Eric, Patrick and I went to get breakfast at a cute little place in Lauderdale by the Sea, but unfortunately I was so preoccupied with the whole visa situation, that I couldn't enjoy the place or the nice company. Also, my stomach was being a jerk and even though I tried having a proper breakfast (french toast with fresh strawberries), I couldn't get any more than 1/3 of my food down. Started to feel a bit queasy then, but it was fine. 

When we got back to the house I called the Embassy in Washington again and this time they did let me talk for more than 10 seconds at a time, but they said they'd have to keep my passport for 3-5 days if I came up to DC, which I could have done during my stay in Philadelphia. But I'm not giving my passport away, especially not while travelling. Again, they referred me to the Consulate, saying that they might be able to get me a visa on the spot, even though I'm Austrian. After a few minutes of "I'll put you through, hang on a moment" I got the right person on the phone and got the green light to go to the Consulate. So I sent the address to Jason, who didn't have anything better to do than go with me, copied the directions off of Google Maps and left. About 45 minutes later I was parked in the visitors parking lot outside 6303 Blue Lagoon Drive and headed to the Consulate offices. 

Getting the visa was probably very simple compared to other places and other passports, but for me it was complicated, because it was my first time. I've never had to apply for any visa apart from the ESTA and that's not a real visa, that just determines if you need to apply for one or not. Until today. Learned something new. About an hour and a half after walking into the Consulate, I walked back out with a brand new visa sticker in my passport and 45 USD less in my pocket, but happy to have gotten past that obstacle. 

Jason and I went to the beach in Lauderdale by the Sea, right next to where Eric, Patrick and I had had breakfast. We sat in the sand chatting for a while, but neither of us felt like spending a lot of time in the water. That was when I started feeling nauseous. 

The pier in Lauderdale by the Sea. It's so pretty.

I moved into the shade thinking that maybe I wasn't feeling well because of the sun, but it didn't get better. Then Jason got hungry, so we decided to go find a place where we (he, really) could get food. First, though, we drove around Commercial Boulevard and Oakland Park Boulevard to see if there was a dollar store or another cheap place where I could get a gym bag so I wouldn't have to bring my entire luggage to Philadelphia. But we couldn't find anything and didn't want to ask Jason to spend all this time and fuel, so I decided to abort the mission and just take everything anyways. He wanted to eat somewhere special, in a place he wouldn't find in Canada, so we went on a new hunt. I remembered a place Eric had pointed out to me yesterday, Primanti Bros. on A1A. They have one place in Pittsburgh, where they originate, and one in Fort Lauderdale, so it was definitely something Jason wouldn't find back home. Went there and Jason got one of their signature sandwiches. I had a few fries. 

I had been getting more and more tired and nauseous over the last hour and while in Primanti's I actually had to fight really hard not to faint at one point. Jason was so kind as to take me back home (I had parked my car at Eric's so we wouldn't drive around in two cars) and I packed all my things and got my bags and the car ready. 

Now, all I have to do in the morning is get up at 5.30AM, leave here at 6AM to be able to return the rental car before having to be at the check-in at 7AM. Then fly up to Atlantic City and spend the afternoon there before going to Philadelphia around 6PM to meet my friend Louizis after he gets out of work at around 8.30PM. With my backpack. <sarcasm> That's all. </sarcasm> 

I feel bad about being so negative, but right now I'm just really down. I don't want to go to Philadelphia, I just want to sleep. My stomach still isn't completely fine, even though it's gone from nauseous back down to queasy. I'm so tired right now I feel like crying and all I can think about is cancelling everything and going home. Not just everything Philadelphia, everything that's coming up in the next month and a half. Just get the next flight down to Cartagena, check into the Bellavista and sleep. Sleep. It's past 9.30PM now and I'm so anxious about having to get up early, I don't even know if I'll be able to sleep. 

And on top of it all I'm being a shitty guest for Eric, because I'm all tired and anxious and quiet and preoccupied and no fun at all. This is just horrible... 

Sorry, I just had to get this out there. I feel like it's only right to tell you the bad stuff too, isn't it? I want to be honest, after all, and this is part of what it's like. At least for me. There's bad days. I'm sure I'll get over it. I'll just do nothing when I get back from Philadelphia. Spend a week in the Hollywood Beach Hostel and just sleep and relax and stay out of the sun as much as I can. Let my body recover, because I'll need all my energy starting August 11th. 

I just really, really, really don't want to be travelling anymore right now. Sometimes I feel like maybe I just love travelling, but I'm not actually made for it, not cut out for it. I have to force myself out of my comfort zone at times like today. 

The key here is the "right now", though. And the "times like today". It's not always like this and I will keep going and it will become awesome again. It always does. 

Thanks, Jutta, for the link you posted in the comment on the last blog entry. Making everything OK is in progress. I hope it works quickly. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Relax Mode: ON ...and OFF again.

Everything was going absolutely wonderfully. Almost perfectly. Too good to be true? Maybe. But I hope not. Because that would mean that something like this will happen every time I get to a really good place in my life and I refuse to accept that. That'd be scary and being scared and pessimistic, that's not the kind of attitude I'm going for. But for now, here's what happened. 

Or, more like, what's happening. 

I got my car, I learned to drive it ::likeaboss:: pretty fast and for most places didn't even use the GPS anymore, because I do orient myself quickly. Once I've found a way, I'll always find it. You'll know that if you've been to a new city with me and have had me give you directions the day after getting there. It works the same in cars, apparently. Didn't know that, but it's good. 

Also figured out how to hook up my MP3 to the car's sound system and made a special playlist for that. And with knowing my way around the area, I didn't have to keep the volume low so I could hear the GPS lady give me highly useful information along the lines of "stay on the current road in 2 miles". Once you ride on the Interstate or along some Boulevard with Jiggy D and Wiz Khalifa blasting at next to full volume, with the bass turned up really high... let's just say it doesn't really get much better than that. 

And of course, the destination helps too: 

Beaches, that's where I spent most of my time. Even went back to South Beach one evening to meet some CouchSurfers, but my opinion of South Beach still hasn't changed: too crowded, too fast-paced, too party. I don't care if Hollywood is for old people, I don't care if this makes me one of them. I like it there, so I go there. 

Let me show you why I like it, here's pictures: 

And on the Broadwalk there's lots of cafés, bars and restaurants, there's a Ben & Jerry's and a frozen yoghurt place, there's mini-markets where you can buy food and drinks at almost the same price as in a big supermarket, there's live music all over the place and it's just nice. Nice is the perfect word to describe Hollywood Beach. For me, it's the perfect place to relax and I'm looking forward to going there again this afternoon (if it stops raining) or tomorrow. 

The plan was to keep doing exactly that - commute between Plantation and Hollywood - until Tuesday, when I'd return the car in the morning and go straight to check-in for my flight to Philadelphia. Then come back, getting a car again upon arrival, and have another week of relax-time before moving on to St. Maarten. 

But, alas, it was not meant to be and everything basically came apart yesterday. 

Yesterday sucked. Bad. It's all pretty much under control now and it wasn't even that bad to begin with, but just like with my arrival in Puerto Rico, that first stretch of time between getting a piece of negative information and figuring out what to do... well, it sucks. 

This is what happened. First, I did a regular check on my bank account. Only my bank account didn't look so regular. Nothing like last year's problem, when all of a sudden my balance was approximately - 400,000.00 EUR. Yes, that's a minus right there... But a problem nevertheless, because there'd been an unauthorized and unjustified transaction. Spent a lot of time on the computer calling people from Skype and sending e-mails. I'm so glad Béa happened to be online when I discovered the problem, I might have freaked out if she hadn't told me that I could just get in touch with my credit card company for help instead of tracking down the people who took my money. Now I'm fighting along with my credit card company to get those almost 300.00 USD back. So, money trouble, first thing. 

Then, after picking up Ken from work that evening (boss-people didn't give him a car so I dropped him off there and picked him back up, because now I'm the one with wheels) he told me that he's going to have to travel on Sunday. For work. To LA. For a so-far undetermined amount of time. I'm still here until Tuesday and will be back next Saturday and as I was originally supposed to stay with him the whole time I'm in Florida, I asked if it would be a problem to just leave me the keys as we'd both be back soon anyways. He said yes, as in it would be a problem, and that I would have to find another place to stay from Sunday until Tuesday, which I accept and comprehend. This is CS, after all, and I can understand his decision 100%. It is still awesome that he would have let me stay for the whole three weeks if he hadn't had to travel and staying here for a total of 9 days before he leaves for LA is also really, really, seriously great. His hospitality is unmatched so far and I am very thankful. But no matter how much I can comprehend it and relate to his reasoning, it was still a kick in the nuts - sorry for this crude expression. Possible-homelessness-trouble, second thing. 

That put me under a lot of pressure concerning everything I have to get done here before I leave for Philadelphia and, later, for St. Maarten. So time trouble, third thing. 

But I did what I always (try to) do in these kinds of situation and took three deep breaths and then sat down to figure out how to proceed. This is a figure of speech, though, don't take me too literally. I don't know how many deep breaths I took, it might have been five, and I didn't sit down either, I just stood in front of my netbook, which was on the kitchen counter. 

I really did figure out what to do, though, so that part's true! 

First thing I did was to text a CouchSurfer I was in touch with already who'd originally said he could host me for a few days, but who I had to turn down because of the three-week offer from Ken. I explained my situation to him and asked if it would be possible for me to stay with him for two nights. And immediately after that I also posted a message in the Miami Emergency Couch group on the website, just in case he didn't answer or couldn't/didn't want to host me. He did though, half an hour after sending my initial message I had a confirmed new place to stay. This is Eric, he lives in Fort Lauderdale and has a boat. And he also has a big heart and helps people who are in trouble. Like me. 

Second thing was to get Google Directions from Ken's house to Eric's house and then from Eric's house to FLL Hollywood International Airport, where I have to return the car and take my flight on Tuesday. Because leaving Ken's place includes giving him back his GPS, which he was kind enough to lend me for this whole time I've had the car. 

Third thing was to make a plan for today and figure out how and when to do all that other stuff that still needed to be done. So in the morning I dropped Ken off at work, and that happens to be right next to the post office, where I had to go because I have too much stuff and had to get rid of some of it (not rid rid, only temporarily, because I'll need it when I'm home). Unfortunately, the post office didn't open until 9AM, so instead of waiting for an hour (yes, I was out rather early today) I went to Kinko's to get all my flight informations and the Google Directions printed out, because who knows when I'll get access to a printer... There was a problem with the self-service printer so the guy at the counter had to print my documents directly from his computer, but it was alright, because when all was ready it was right on time to go back to the post office. So I did that and sent my excess clothing to my friend Stiven back home (as in Cartagena), who gave me all the information I needed for sending him my stuff last night in a kind of emergency-Skype-meeting, before even finding out what it was I was sending. Now my backpack will be a lot easier to handle and carry on the crazy criss-cross-caribbean part of the trip. Next on the list was calling Austria, so I went back to the apartment and got online. Talked to my mom for a bit to get a kind of emotional boost (I needed after yesterday's shock) and to get updates about everything that's going on over there (regular updates from my dad via e-mail and gmail chat, so I get to talk to everyone, which I love). After that, I talked to Eric about when to come by tomorrow and then I talked to Mari about when to meet again. Now I've got some clothes in the washer and as soon as they're ready I'll pack all my stuff so all I have to do is throw the backpack into the car and get going. 

As for what to do after coming back from Philadelphia, I really didn't want to risk being in the same situation all over again and also, as of now Ken still doesn't know how long he has to stay in LA for. So I went and booked a dorm bed in my favourite hotel in all of Florida: The Hollywood Beach Suites, Hostel + Hotel. Right in Hollywood, one block from the Broadwalk, around the corner from this wonderful little place you see in the next picture and in the centre of everything I love in Hollywood. This way, I won't even need a car anymore after I come back. 

This is the little store I went to a lot last July and when I came back in December, the shopkeeper still remembered me. I told you about this, I think. And they have $1 Arizona Ice Tea!!! 

So, yet again another disaster has been averted. I wonder why it has to be like this, though... everything is perfect and then all of a sudden 3 things go wrong at the same time... But still, as you well see - I am still the luckiest person in the world. I could get in touch with my credit card company and they will help me solve the problem with the money, I am not in the streets because CouchSurfers are awesome people, I will be right by my favourite beach for a week after I come back from Philadelphia. 

And I just had half a bag of baby carrots (8oz, is that a lot? I have no clue...) and now I feel really stuffed, so I'm going to lie down and read until my clothes are ready to go into the drier. And then I'm going to lie back down and read some more until they're dry and I can start packing. 

Lesson learned from this experience? None. Because this isn't the first time this kind of thing happens to me and I already knew how to handle a situation like this, with Plan Bs and stay-calm-and-go-through-your-options. And I already knew that my friends and family are the best people in the world and always there for me. 

Everything will be fine. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Finally went to the beach!!! Wohooo!!! FINALLY!!!

As I’ve mentioned before Plantation is a nice place, but it sucks not to have a car there because you’re basically stuck. Not much to do in the area and taking a bus will cost you half a day and you depend on their schedules, which are not as frequent as they could be. So what I did was I went to FLL Hollywood Int’l Airport this morning and got myself a car. A car!!! Wohooo!!! FINALLY!!! Those first 4 days here were a lesson I won’t forget which is that either you’re in a central and well-connected place or you get yourself a car. Glad I learned that and even more glad I brought my license with me.

Last night Ken, my CS host here in Plantation, gave me a few tips on how to find a good deal on a rental car in the area and Mari, my beautiful friend from Cartagena, who also happens to be here at this very moment, also chipped in with some information. In the end I found a not-that-cheap-but-definitely-affordable deal on an economic car from Payless Car Rentals and reserved it right away. This morning Ken helped me find my way through the maze of bus routes and schedules and I took the 1 hr 8 min trip to the airport (20min by car, that says it all…).

Once at the airport I had fun watching the girl at the rental counter try to figure out my Austrian driver’s license and once the payment had finally gone through (slow computers everywhere) I finally got to go to the parking garage to get my new baby: a white Hyundai Accent 2012. Wohooo!!! FINALLY!!! 

Then all I had to do was figure out how to work Ken’s GPS with the broken display which he was kind enough to lend me – try typing in addresses blindly, it’s fun! And then… all I had to do… was… (OMG) …remember how to freaking start an automatic car!!! NO!!!

Then I remembered, but I still had to drive. And the first 10min of that drive were pretty intense with me going crazy behind the wheel: “Fcuk, fcuk, fcuk, fcuk! What are you doing, car?! What is this?! No! Don’t do that, car! Stop! Fcuk, fcuk, fcuk, FCUK!!!” At the horrific speed of 50mph! Which is like 80kmh. Shut up.

After those initial 10min I was already used to driving an automatic and only had to wait for my right hand and my left foot to get used to it too. They were still hovering over the shift stick and the inexistent clutch pedal, respectively.

Really, the only remaining not-really-but-still difficulty with that car was the lady inside the GPS that kept telling me to keep to the right/left or take a right/left turn in 0.5 miles or 1.5 miles or 2 miles. I screamed at her repeatedly to let her know I didn’t know how much that was, but she wouldn’t listen. Well, we made it work. Or I did. By ignoring that part of the information she gave me. Wohooo? Whatever.

By the time I got to Hollywood Beach, obviously my very first destination, Mari was already waiting for me at the beach and it was so great to see her!!! After over half a year we met again!!! Wohooo!!! FINALLY!!!

She lent me her second beach chair so we sat in the sand (not really, though, because of the chairs) under her parasol enjoying the view of the waves and catching up on our lives. Tons of talking, especially about how we wished our mutual friend Béatrice could have been there with us. BÉA WE MISS YOU!!! Not wohooo. Definitely not. Oh and the water was wonderful too, all warm but still refreshing, a clear bright blue in the blazing sun. 

And there were cute little fishies in there, which everybody loves, of course. Who doesn’t like cute little fishies, right? We’d be swimming around or simply floating in the water enjoying the feel of it and they’d be zig-zagging around our feet, occasionally bumping into them, which was funny. Until, when we were in the water the second time, this bigger fish came around and bit me! He bit me!! Not hard, but he freaking bit me!!! How dare he, was all I could think after the first shock had worn off, because he did frighten me for a second. That was the fastest swim-to-shore I’ve done in a long time… What an ass, forgot who’s the food around here. I’ll show him! Although, no, I won’t. Somebody else will show him, because if I do it he might bite me again…

But apart from this highly traumatizing near-death-experience, the day was simply wonderful. And exactly what I’d needed. Got to spend time with my friend Mari (not for the last time though, we’ll hang out more while we’re both here), introduced her to my adored Arizona Iced Tea (and had lots myself), swam in the sea (which I’d missed so much during this time I was far away – 2hrs by bus is far, nobody can tell me otherwise) and had a yummy Chicken Cabana Sandwich right on Hollywood Broadwalk. No more being stuck in the apartment. No more waiting forever in case somebody who has a car gets in touch and wants to do something. No more being sad, because I can’t go to the beach… No more!!! Wohooo!!! FINALLY!!!

I’m mobile now! Watch out!! (Unless you’re the traffic police.)

USA so far.

It’s now July 25th, I’ve been away from Austria for 2 weeks and in the States for 5 days. No need to sum up the whole two weeks, because I’ve already blabbed about it far too much, but I will talk about my first five days here in Florida. Because they were pretty interesting.

First, getting into the country. This has never been a problem before, not even when I came in from Colombia or on the way there. And of course the way I’m writing this already gives away that there was a problem. And there was, apparently, only I don’t know what it was. Funny, right? So after standing in line and slowly queuing through FLL Hollywood Int’l Airport with what felt like 3 million other people from my flight and a few others (including one from Medellín), I finally made it to the immigration desk and happily – as always – gave my passport to the attending officer. Only he didn’t smile back – not as always – but actually looked at me really weirdly after swiping my passport through the passport-swipey-machine. He proceeded to inform me that “the system” told him that I had Spanish citizenship and a US passport – definitely not as always. And then, though I don’t know how that’s supposed to work if he says I have a US passport, he said I was a NO for entering the United States – most certainly not as always at all!! I explained to him that I didn’t know anything about this being Spanish and having a US passport, because I wasn’t and I didn’t, to which he just replied that that was what “the system” told him and that maybe the Dominicans had changed something. Can they even do that? So, because I hadn’t done anything wrong and there must have been a simple misunderstanding, I asked if I was going to be fine. And the officer, very kindly, looked me straight in the face and said: “No.”

And because that wasn’t enough, he went on: “I’m going to send you to the Dungeon.” Literally, I’m not making this up, that’s what he said. The freaking Dungeon!

He took my passport and my immigration and customs forms and led me to a room full of other stuck travellers where I was told to sit down and wait. Which I did. What else was I supposed to do? Luckily, a guy from Barranquilla, who had been on the same flight as me because he was going from a Colombian music festival in Santo Domingo to another one in Miami, was in that room as well and smiled at me reassuringly, from time to time. He seemed to be used to it, but then again, he was Colombian.

After about half an hour – with me growing more and more nervous, because my CS host Ken had said he was going to pick me up from the airport around 9PM and that hour was approaching – somebody called me up and gave me my passport and the customs form. Then they just sent me out. Without ever even telling me what had been the problem and if there had even been one, or if it had really been a bug in the system or something like that. So, basically, I still don’t know if I’ll be able to come into the States without any trouble the next time, which is in September.

Yippee… not.

On the positive side, after that everything went smoothly: my backpack was already waiting for me by the baggage claim conveyor belt, I could connect to FLL’s free wifi in the arrivals hall and call Ken from Skype and the timing was actually perfect, because he was just on his way over when I called and arrived about 10min later. In a dark blue convertible!! Way cool. Can I please always be picked up from airports like that? The convertible doesn’t have to be dark blue and it doesn’t have to be a Camaro, you may choose the type and colour yourselves. But it has to be a convertible, kthxbai.

And on the extra-positive side, standing in line I was right behind a Canadian lady and her little kid, 5 years old. So I had someone to talk to – we each got to vent our anger about having to wait for so long – and it was also amazing to watch that little boy. He had so much energy! He was continuously playing with some toys he’d brought in his backpack or talking to his mom and other people in the line and he was also really smart. At one point he came back from having a drink of water at a small fountain they have in the airport for that purpose, looked at all the people that were still in front of us, turned to his mom and asked: “How do we complete this level?” Loved that kid so much at that moment, it was unbelievably epic.

Now back to my trip.

The next morning (OK, noon, I’m honest.) I went to explore the area, because Ken had said there was a mall close by his apartment where I’d find a T-Mobile shop and be able to get an American SIM card so as to be connected, not like in Puerto Rico where I had to continuously ask people if they’d lend me their phones. I didn’t find any T-Mobile shop, but I did find a Target and somebody else had said that you could get SIM cards and entire phones at Walmart, so I figured I’d give it a try. I was, in fact, referred to the electronics department by the nice lady in the customer service office, so to everyone who needs a cheap and easy to operate phone in the States: if you can’t figure out anything else, just go to Target. Or Walmart, obviously.

For some weird reason, that I still haven’t managed to understand, it’s really complicated to get a SIM card, but it’s very easy to get a cheap phone with a SIM card. Doesn’t make any sense to me as the result is pretty much the same, but whatever, let them have their way. I got an AT&T phone with a surprisingly good plan for a to-go phone: on days where I use the phone I pay 2 USD for unlimited calls and texts, nationwide. On days where I don’t use the phone, I don’t pay anything. And I’ve got 50 USD to spend, from the prepaid card. How did I get all this? I have no clue, I did not do that myself. I asked about the possibilities I had right at Target and they said that I had to get a prepaid card, call customer service and set up the specifics of the plan with them. Talking on the phone to strangers is horrible for me, because of my bad hearing, so I freaked and asked if they couldn’t do it for me. And the guy said yes! I had not expected that, back in Vienna they’d have said no and wished me good luck. But that young guy at Target took my phone, took my prepaid card and called the line for me. Then he called again, when the connection got cut. Then he called again when they told him he had to do something different because I didn’t have an American credit card. Then he did this thing where you kind of call, but all you really do is punch numbers and # and * into the phone. And then, after about half an hour of this craziness, he handed me my perfectly set up and working phone! I found out afterwards that that wasn’t even part of his job description, because he was actually the Sales Manager and not some random employee, who you’d rather expect that from. So, well, thank you very much, nice guy at Target. You were very helpful.

Now I can call and text all my pre-existing and new friends here, from CS and otherwise, without having to worry about recharging my credit on the phone. And I can be flexible when meeting people. It’s great.

So, where are we..? Yes, I’m in Plantation, Florida, and I have a brand-new cell phone number. What happened next? Nothing.

Really, nothing. Spent some time job-hunting but gave up when my three applications from the first day got declined (I hate you, translators who work for next to nothing!). It’s not that I gave up just because I didn’t get anything the first day, that’s nothing special. I decided to give up, because I’m not yet dependent on working as I still have saved money and waiting until September with the workload is fine. I’d rather enjoy being in Florida. Only, I couldn’t enjoy Florida yet, because I was stuck in Plantation and there are no beaches here – and beaches are what South Florida is all about. To me, anyways, because I’ve already been to the Everglades twice. So I filled the past 3,5 days with hours of relaxing in bed after waking up late, watching Smash (thanks, Béa) and Game of Thrones (thanks, Paola and Michi), walking around the area and lying by the pool reading.

Until today, that is. Today, everything changed. But that story is in the next blog entry. Go read it now!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Patriotic Sunburn

I spent the day by the pool as I have nowhere else to go at the moment - no car and no jobless friends, I'm really pretty lonely...- and now that I got back to the apartment and took off my bikini to change back into proper clothes I saw the coolest thing ever on my belly: 


I spent one half of my time reading my book in a deckchair next to the pool and the other half - admittedly, the smaller half - swimming around in the pool. While reading I had my cute red fan with me, because it was pretty hot and I was lying in the sun. So I'd either use it to fan myself or to shield my head from the sun whenever it beat down too hard, but when I wasn't doing either of those two things, I left it lying on my stomach. With no sun screen around it whatsoever. 

Usually, that's not a problem. I don't tend to burn, I'm so lucky I inherited tan-easy-burn-hard skin from my parents. But compared to the rest of my body, the skin on my belly has hardly been exposed to the sun this year and the times I went to the beach so far, in Puerto Rico, everybody stayed in the shade. So this was really the first time that the middle of my body got any exposure. And it burned! Obviously!! It doesn't hurt or anything and it'll be gone in a few hours, as I already put aloe vera gel on it, but it is burnt nevertheless. 

And because I had my fan lying across that oh so sensitive part of my skin, it's now red-white-red. Just like the Austrian Flag. 

To all the people who keep saying I don't love my country because I left it: On my tummy!! In your face!!! 

Saint Sunday

Stop number two on my criss-cross trip around the Caribbean: Santo Domingo, República Dominicana. I didn't really know what to expect from that city, because I did no preparative reading whatsoever and the only information I had came from my good friend Andrés, who's from Cali but lived in DR for a year. And I'd gotten a bit of information from my CouchSurfing hosts Luis and Liza, but that was more about themselves and our time together than the city per sé. 

So I arrived there knowing next to nothing about the place and if I'm honest, I didn't know that much more when I left. So I'm not going to write very much here and just post some of the surprisingly few pictures I took there - that says it all, though, doesn't it? 

Anyways, here's pictures of Santo Domingo: 

El Conde, a central pedestrian shopping street in the colonial zone.

Where the street Palo Hincado, the limit of the colonial zone, meets the sea.

Monument to the new government after the fall of the dictator Trujillo.

Old man relaxing close by the Alcázar de Colón.

Modern statue close by the Alcázar de Colón.

Christopher "pigeonman" Columbus.

Jason and I found shelter at this little tienda, or colmado, as they call them in DR, when it suddenly started raining. It did that a lot while I was in Santo Domingo, it was never just sunny. The tienda was cool though, the owner was having a great time blasting Bachata and Reguetón through the neighbourhood at full volume and he was nice. 

On my last evening Jason, Luis, Liza and I went out for dinner together and I finally got to do something nice for them by inviting them after everything they'd done for me. What you see here is Luis' mofongo de yuca (the big one in the back) with sancocho (left) and carne asada (right). I'm not sure what exactly mofongo is, but it's pretty tasty!!

I'll be honest. I didn't really like Santo Domingo. I'm sorry for this, I tried, really. Honestly, though, I didn't feel welcome there. Oh, don't get me wrong, I felt very welcome when I was with Luis and Liza - such sweet people! - but not anywhere else nor by anyone else. When I asked questions, I'd get snappy and annoyed answers and people looking at me like I was trying to waste their time and should be punished for it. Half the time it seemed like people were deliberately speaking unintelligibly, I'd actually understand more when they were talking to each other than when they were talking to me. And of course the weather was a problem, because more often than not it would suddenly start drizzling or properly raining and all you could do was search refuge in a building's entrance or one of the tiendas, like we did that one time. And the city was so much dirtier, so much more run-down than any other city I've ever been to in Latin America and the Caribbean, and that's a few. This one is definitely not making my list of favourites. I don't know. I guess it wasn't meant to be.

For me, thinking of the Dominican Republic will always equal thinking of Luis and Liza, because they were the one really good thing about my trip. They organized a cell phone for me so I could get in touch with them at any time, they regularly picked me up (not just from the ferry dock, also from other places so I wouldn't have to walk home or take a taxi), they gave me a really long tour of the city by night one evening where I saw more than I saw in my 3 days of walking around by myself - unfortunately it was dark so I couldn't take pictures there - and explained everything about everything we saw. Like the place called Alaska (derived from Las Cabañas: me voy a las cabañas turns into me voy a Alaska) where young couples (and older couples) (and more people, we saw a party of three at one point) can rent motel-like rooms when they don't have anywhere else to go and "like each other very much". Funny place! Oh, the things they showed me from that car and the anecdotes they shared with me, that's what every day should have been like! Only I didn't get to those places walking by myself and the weather by day wasn't half as nice as by night....  

Sorry I don't have more stories. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Boatride in space!

Usually on this trip (and on most of my trips) I travel by air or take a bus, but I went from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, by boat. I booked via the dominican company Colonial Tours Travel and the trip was operated by America Cruise Ferries. It would have been a lot quicker to just fly, it's supposed to be just 45min and the boat trip did take something like 13hrs, but I love the water and being in it and on it and around it so when I saw there was the possibility of taking a ferry I just jumped at it. 

The ships leave from Muelle Panamericano 2 in San Juan and arrive at the docks that are up the river Ozama in Santo Domingo, right next to the colonial part of town. The trip's from 7PM to 8AM and you can simply get your ticket and travel in the open area of the ship, which many people did, but you can get a cabin as well, so you can actually get some real sleep. That's what I did. I made my reservation for a single cabin, a pretty simple little thing, but when I finally got the invoice and paid Colonial Tours they told me that my reserved room wasn't available anymore but that I could switch to a suite for a few more dollars. 

I went for it and got the suite, I wasn't going to travel on the ship as if it was an airplane - if you do it, do it right. And, man, that was the right decision! 

Here's my suite: 

I got 4 beds!!

 I got my own bathroom. With a tub! Hot water!! All the time!!! And 2 fluffy towels!!!!

My backpack got to rest as well, he had his own bed too.

Hey, wait, what? Why is there a guy in the first picture? Who is he and what's he doing in isa's suite? It's all OK, nobody worry. That's Jason. I picked up a stray as I have so often before. It's because I'm a CouchSurfer, nothing I can do against it. 

The thing is that I'd told Monika (the girl from the hostel) that I was taking the ferry to Santo Domingo and she remembered one of the guests telling her that he was also taking that exact same trip. So she got us in touch, because then we could find the dock and everything together and not be alone on the boat. Originally, we'd agreed that he could leave his things in my room while he slept wherever, so he wouldn't have to worry about something getting stolen while he rested. But, of course, when I saw I had four beds I said he could take one. So I got myself a roommate for the night on the boat, he's not a CouchSurfer but he surfed my suite so he's an honorary one now. 

It was sad to leave San Juan, but the view from the ship was great. 

The trip itself was very calm, no rough sea or bad weather at all. Also inside the ship there wasn't much going on. The people who didn't have rooms had fun in the casino and restaurant and in the bar/entertainment area, but Jason and I just spent some time outside and then went to read some and sleep.

Being on deck was crazy for me, though. Like, seriously crazy. 

I haven't told many people this - simply because it's not something that comes up in a random conversation -, but it kind of freaks me out when I have an overnight flight over the Atlantic and the skies are clear. No "if I have a window seat", because I always make sure I do for long flights. It's so weird, you know. Everything under you is completely black and above and around you it's also completely black. And you see so many stars! So it almost feels like there's nothing keeping the plane down inside the Earth's athmosphere and if the pilot tips the plane's nose up for a sec we'll just go into space! When I'm on a flight like that and I look out the window I have to constantly remind myself that that's not possible - which of course I know, but fears aren't known for their rationality. 

So being on that ship at night, I assume you can already guess what's coming... 

Let me just show you these pictures by means of an explanation of what went down inside my head. 

It's black. Black! Nothing out there but blackness! BLACKNESS!! NOTHING OUT THERE!!! 

You would not believe how freaked out I was. I stepped out the door onto the deck and saw what was in front of me and I couldn't even walk away from the wall. I mean, BLACKNESS!! COMPLETE BLACKNESS!!! My stomach's tightening as I'm writing this... 

So I got all my courage together and ran (ducking, sort of) over to the railing and then I stood there, holding on for dear life with both hands. Not just holding on, actually, I basically weaved my hands through the railing and then held on. The thing is, with everything being so utterly and extremely black, I got that same sensation that I described before, about being on an airplane at night over the sea. Only this time I wasn't inside a closed cabin. There was nothing between me and the nothing. Nothing! Oh gods... That was such a horrible sensation, because I kept feeling like if I let go I would fall off. And I'm not talking about falling off over the side of the boat. I mean falling up. I know that doesn't make any sense, but as I said before, fears are irrational. All I know is that I was freaking scared of having to walk back across the roofless deck in order to get back inside and into safety. Justin even offered to take me by the hand and walk me over! I refused, though. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. That's how I got those pictures too, there was nothing to hold on to where I was standing to take them. I went inside and got my camera just so I could show that I could do it, just stand there with no protection at all and take a picture of the nothing. 

There's also a picture of me standing in the middle of the deck, trying to smile at the camera while trying to keep myself from running over to the railing or back inside. But I don't want to post it here because I don't like it. 

Then after a while I remembered that the ship was going along the coast of PR and then after that along the coast of DR. If we'd taken the exit on the other side of the ship, all of what I just described would never have happened because I would have seen coastlights the whole time. Derp!!

No matter how stupid that sounds, I'm pretty proud of myself for going out onto the deck even though I was so scared. I like forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I would have been angry at myself forever if I hadn't done it. Just like the night before I forced myself to go talk to a guy at Nuyorican, where we went dancing. I saw him dancing and he was really good, loved his step. So I wanted to know where he'd learned but I got so unnecessarily nervous that it took me an hour to work up the courage to just go over and say "Hey, where did you learn to dance?". Glad I did it though, proved once again that I'm not that much of a chicken. 

Oh and of course the ship arrived in Santo Domingo the next morning and the trip continued. But more of that another time. I'm seriously behind with my stories here...