12 months, 12 countries

I came to Senegal hoping I’d be lucky enough to see a bit of this country and a few others nearby. Things worked out beyond my wildest dreams, and I ended up visiting 12 new countries in 12 months, a personal record. Half the trips were for work, half for vacation, but all of them were a pleasure to see. (Though they were definitely not pleasurable at every moment, to say the least.)

I’ll share my favorite pictures from Dakar later, but first, here in one place are my travelogues from all the countries I visited from last February to this January.

Senegal: the western and northern parts, and a central / southern part

Portugal

Morocco: Marrakech and Casablanca

Liberia

Ethiopia

Tanzania: safari on the mainland and Zanzibar

South Africa: Cape Town and Johannesburg

Benin

Mauritania

Burkina Faso

The Gambia

Cape Verde: Cidade Velho, Praia, and Mindelo, and the island of Santo Antão

And with that, I’m off to the airport, America-bound…

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Six distinctive things about Ethiopia

A few things that stood out to me:

– Their scaffolding is seriously death-defying (or not). Ethiopia was the first time I saw anything like this and I thought it was a unique quirk of the country, but then I saw it in Benin and said a silent prayer for their construction workers, too.

– Juice bars are ubiquitous, and mixed juice smoothies served parfait-style is very popular (and delicious, especially when avocado is one of the layers).

I would think that having juice bars on every corner would be the bi-product of a country in which alcohol is prohibited, but that’s not the case. Maybe they just know that they lucked out in the local fruit lottery (papaya, mango, avocado, pineapple…) and are taking advantage of it?

– As I mentioned before, Ethiopia is the only African country not to have been colonized by the West.

– Ethiopian cuisine is entirely unique.

The ancient grain, teff, is grown throughout Ethiopia and hardly anywhere else in the world. Since teff is what injera is made out of, and since injera is served with almost everything, it means that Ethiopian food tastes different than any other food on earth (except for maybe Eritrean?…).

Here’s a recent New York Times article about how Ethiopia is negotiating the tricky balance of bringing teff to the world market without rendering it out of reach of Ethiopians. (As was the case with quinoa in South America.)

– I have never seen anything like Ethiopian shoulder dancing, aka eskista:

I can’t say it (literally) moves me, but it does fascinate me.

– They use their own quirky clock (and their own calendar), and it definitely doesn’t match their official time zone. This article explains.

Ethiopia

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Last month I went on a whirlwind three-country tour of Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa. Carrie Bradshaw once told Big, “We’re so over, we need a new word for over.” On this vacation I repeatedly told myself, “This is so amazing, I need a new word for amazing.”

This post is devoted to my Ethiopian amazement… Continue reading

the weekend is here…

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…but I’ll be working my way through it to try to complete a video project before I go on vacation next week. I’m heading first to Ethiopia, then to Tanzania, and then flying home by way of South Africa. The southern detour was a last-minute addition, which happened after I booked the first two legs of my trip as one-way tickets using my United miles (at 17,500 miles each), only to realize right before I booked the final homebound journey that I could have worked the system much better.

This New York Times article alerted me to the fact that when you book an international round-trip ticket with United miles, you are allowed to add in one stopover of any length AND two open jaws (meaning the destination or the origin is not the same in both directions), all for the same number of miles as a standard round-trip ticket. So, had I booked my three tickets as one round-trip instead, I could have spent only 35,000 miles to go from Dakar to Addis, Addis to Kilimanjaro, and Dar es Salaam to Dakar.

I tried changing my ticket retroactively but some of the dates were no longer available. Since that meant I was looking at spending an additional 17,500 unnecessary miles to get home, I decided I better make those miles go further than 35,000 would have. After hours of plugging in a million different combinations of dates and destinations unsuccessfully, I finally found one that worked:

I changed my one-way Dakar to Addis ticket into a round-trip (I had decided to fly there one day earlier so I would have paid a change fee in any case).

I left the Addis to Kilimanjaro ticket alone as a one-way ticket.

For the return portion of the round-trip ticket, I booked an open jaw from Dar es Salaam to Dakar, with a five-day stopover in Johannesburg en route. (I first figured out where all the possible stopovers were by identifying the overlapping cities in two Google searches: “direct flights from Dar es Salaam” and “direct flights to Dakar.” Then I picked the one that was most attractive to me – albeit thousands of miles out of the way.)

Total cost: 52,500 miles, the $75 change fee, and maybe $200 in taxes – a teeny tiny price to pay for a 3-country tour across Africa.

I spelled this all out as a PSA of sorts. Before you book your next trip with miles, I would encourage you to do the due diligence I did not and make sure you are getting the absolute most out of them that you can.

That said, I’ve always wanted to visit South Africa so I have no regrets about the way this turned out. I am so, so psyched for my upcoming adventures… but have yet to plan any of the South African portion, so I have to get to work on that this weekend in between actual work.

Enjoy your weekends! Here are some relevant reads and videos that I found interesting this week:

American politicians who speak Spanish.

Can you guess what the most metal word in the English language is?

A 17th century constructed language divided everything in the universe into 40 categories.

A life is a life, wherever and whenever it is cut short.” The devastating human toll of terrorism.

How colorful is your language?

The grief that white Americans can’t share.

We need a language and a system to understand spin.

P.S. I would gratefully welcome tips on: reliable Ethiopian car hire companies; places to eat in Zanzibar; where to stay along the northern loop in Ethiopia, in Addis, and in Cape Town; and the best things to see and do if you’ve only got five days in South Africa.

[Photo: courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.]