Yes, This Is Africa Too

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Let’s face it. If you rely on Western media to teach you about Africa you’ll walk away thinking the entire continent is just one big clusterf*ck of HIV, Ebola, poverty, war, famine, and lions…lots and lots of lions. And while Africa has its challenges, it’s also a place of vast wealth, immense resources, fast growing economies, diverse cultures, and AH-MA-ZING experiences.

My brief and wondrous trip to Johannesburg, South Africa only scratched at the surface of the dopeness of the continent, but it opened my eyes in a way that many people just don’t get to see.

So let’s clear up something right quick, okay?

Africa is NOT a country

It’s a GIGANTIC continent made up of 53+ countries, over a billion people, and way too many languages to count. It’s also home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, so while your cousins may be wondering if it’s safe to hop a plane to the Motherland, the rest of the world is busy investing. Get you a piece!

And another thing…

Don’t be scared

The amount of people who asked me if I was nervous or worried about going to South Africa because….Ebola (!), or crime…was astounding. And for the record…I wasn’t!

Listen Linda, it’s important to stay safe when you’re traveling, but heading to several parts of Africa isn’t any more dangerous than walking down the block in many major U.S. cities (as a matter of fact, many U.S. cities are more violent). Just like when you travel to Latin America, the Caribbean, or Europe, basic common sense stuff applies. Don’t flash your cash, don’t troll dodgy areas alone, and don’t be the stupid tourists who just trusts ANYBODY, ok? Ok.

Now…on to the part you been waiting for….pictures!

The view of downtown Joburg from the Nelson Mandela bridge.

The view of downtown Joburg from the Nelson Mandela bridge.

Johannesburg was BEAUTIFUL! It’s a major metropolitan area full of shopping centers, universities, museums, and several up-and-coming neighborhoods. If you want to see the stereotypical “shanty towns” (uh…why?) you might be able to find a few shacks here and there, but the city is overwhelmingly modern and growing quickly with African immigrants pouring in from all over the continent. As my Uber driver told me, “South Africa is the breadbasket of Africa.”

The Gautrain

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The Gautrain is a billion-dollar high speed train that connects Pretoria to Johannesburg, and includes a stop at the international airport. I took the train from my hotel near Sandton (an upper middle class suburb) to Braamfontein to go on a bus tour and the whole trip took about 10 minutes and was VERY smooth.

Soweto

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Soweto is the spiritual, political, and cultural home of Black Johannesburg. Soweto is also a big tourists draw because Nelson Mandela’s former homes is there, as is the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is a MUST SEE to learn more about the uprisings in Soweto during the 1970s that ultimately led to the end of Apartheid.

Braamfontein

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Braamfontein is home to a bustling arts district as well as the University of the Witwatersrand, the Johannesburg theater, and Constitution Hill.

Maboneng Precinct

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Maboneng is a privately developed neighborhood on the east side of Joburg, it’s home to tons of trendy restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, and loft apartments. If you’re looking for hipsters, you can probably find them there.

Alright, alright….there are lions…

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I didn’t have time to go on safari while in Joburg, but there’s amazing place about 45-minutes outside of the city called Lion Park. It’s a great place to see some BEAUTIFUL lions (and cheetahs, African wild dogs, and a giraffe) if you’re short on time but still want to bask in nature.

I only had four days in Johannesburg, but was wonderful! The city was DOPE and I absolutely cannot wait to return. This trip was not only my first to South Africa, but the continent as a whole, and it certainly won’t be my last. I’m already trying to figure out how to take Le Kid next year for a longer stay so we can really experience what Joburg–and South Africa–is all about.

Have you been to Johannesburg? What was your favorite part of the city?

17 Reasons to Use Your Vacation Time This Year!

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Unlike many Americans, I’ve never had a problem taking vacation days. As a matter of fact, when I was a part of the 9-5 set, I’d use ALL of my sick, personal, and vacation days (and then some) when I needed a break or wanted to take a short excursion because…well, why not?

Despite owning a business and being a freelance writer & author, I don’t believe in working myself until I drop. I mean, there’s a thin line between grinding hard and going “Karōshi” (the Japanese term for “death from overwork”), and I intended to stay on this side of the living.

While most people won’t kill over from putting in extra hours at the office, pulling long shifts can reek havoc on your life, cause relationship drama, and generally suck.

But in case you need more reasons to cash in your vacation time and go on a trip (or just chill), here’s 17 reasons to use your vacation days THIS YEAR!

#1 Working too much can kill you, especially if you work overtime.

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Yes, seriously. Via the Guardian: “The research shows a 60% increase in heart-related illness such as non-fatal heart attacks and angina in those who work for three hours or more longer than a normal seven-hour day.”

#2 You don’t really need a new car.

I know you think you do, and I know they’re pretty, but if you have less than 100k (and maybe even 250k) miles on your hoopty, you need to keep the riding that sucker till the wheels fall off. And even then, they probably won’t. Don’t believe me? Via Forbes: “Today’s cars are built to last as long as 250,000 miles or more with simple routine care,” says ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician and Chicago Tribune auto-service columnist Bob Weber.

#3 Working too many hours can actually make you stupider.

You may think you can pull long hours without consequence, but working too much can actually damage your brain. A 2009 study, found “working hours may have a negative effect on cognitive performance in middle age,” including a decline in reasoning and vocabulary.

#4 Mexican food tastes so much better in Mexico (or in L.A., whichever’s closer).

via thebaldchef.net

nom, nom, nom….via thebaldchef.net

#5 You won’t have to yell at your kids to clean their room if you’re in a hotel.

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#6 There are no dishes to wash after dinner (and you don’t even have to cook!).

#7 You can act a fool without caring if anybody judges you (as long as you keep it off Facebook…and Instagram…and Twitter).

#8 You can have a drink (or 3!) with breakfast and not feel like an alcoholic.

#9 Taking a week off will make your boss appreciate you that much more.

#10 You can finally be the one flooding everybody’s Facebook feed with annoyingly awesome photos that make people hate-like them.

#11 You can finally read that book everybody was raving about three years ago.

#12 You’ve already binged-watched Scandal, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black; your weekends are wide open.

#14 Wait, your passport is about to expire, and you still don’t have any stamps yet?

Seriously? Daaaaamn homie.

#15 You’re young, single, and ready to mingle

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#16 You’re not so young, married, and have a couple of kids; who needs a break more than you?

#17 You’ve only got 2 weeks off, USE THEM!

Got more reasons to use your vacation days? Leave them below! 

24 Hours In Savannah, Georgia

Savannah’s historic city hall

I’m channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain and doing my version of “The Layover.” If you’re not hip to the show, the premis is Bourdain spends 48-hours or less in one city and tries to experience it to the fullest.

Well, today I’m bringing you my layover in Savannah, Georgia.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a press trip with Harley-Davidson to caravan with a group of riders from Atlanta, Georgia to Daytona Beach, Florida.

Despite not being on a bike since I learned to ride last summer, I happily accepted the challenge to ride a hog over 600 miles to one of the biggest motorcycling events of the year–Daytona Bike Week.

When I started out in Atlanta, I was nervous but excited. Despite the 30-degree temps (and my complete lack of riding experience), I was insanely hopeful that I’d be able to safely navigate my bike (a beautiful 2013 midnight blue Softail Slim) to Savannah safely.

2013 Harley Softail Slim

The controls of my borrowed Harley Softailslim.

And I did…

….for an hour.

Then the gravity of the situation kicked in, and I decided to do the prudent thing and ride in the van to Savannah.

Luckily, my decision to ride in the vehicle instead of on the bike meant I had a little more time to poke around Savannah than my compadres who rode into the city a few hours later. #Winning

While I could have stayed in the hotel (the magnificent Bohemian Hotel on the Savannah Riverfront) to catch up on a little sleep, I headed outside to explore.

Downtown Savannah is filled with old school charm: cobblestone streets, lush trees, and tons of sculptures marking the city’s storied history.

Savannah’s tree-lined streets

And because of the Bohemian Hotel’s awesome location (right on the river), I was steps away from all of it.

My first stop was to check out the World War II memorial on the river walk.

World War II Memorial Savanna, GA

After taking in the view of the river, I headed over to one of the best known candy shops in the South and had THE most delicious pralines–ever–from River Street Sweets.

River Street SweetsHigh off of sugar, I decided to explore Downtown Savannah and take in the artwork which is scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Revolutionary War memorial in Savannah

Revolutionary War memorial in Savannah honoring Haitian soldiers who fought for America’s freedom.

While we were stopping through, the city was gearing up for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival, in which nearly 1 million people flood into the city to have a funky good time.

After our whole group surfaced, we headed over to Aligator Soul for a late dinner. While we weren’t too sure of the adventurous menu which consisted of rabbit, squab, turtle, fried green tomatoes, and of course, aligator, dinner turned out to be WONDERFUL. My sausage-stuffed squab was delicious, and the aligator appetizers were a surprising hit!

aligator soulUnfortunately, my trip to Savannah was super short. While I got a glimpse of the city that boasts so much Southern charm, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Early the next morning we headed back to the river walk so filmmaker F. Gary Gray could shoot his Harley-Davidson spot (and sport the famed Freedom Jacket), and we could continue our journey to Daytona.

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F. Gary Gray rocking the Harley-Davidson Freedom Jacket

Although I’d never thought of visiting Savannah, Georgia before, it’s definitely a place I’d love to return to again (and especially the Bohemian Hotel–too cute).

Have you ever been to Savannah, Georgia? Leave me a comment and let me know your  favorite part of the city! 

What’s On Your Travel Wish List?

My passport has been feeling very neglected lately. It’s been 5 months since I pulled it out and got another stamp in the Bahamas, and since then I’ve been itching to hit the road again.

After my epic trip to London and Paris last December, I made a list of places I wanted to go this year, and unfortunately that hasn’t quite materialized yet. Instead of traveling, I’ve been steadily racking up bylines (which, will hopefully lead to more travel), but come 2013 I definitely MUST add more stamps to my passport.

So where would I like to go?

Costa Rica

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been wanting to go to Costa Rica for years. Perhaps it’s the potential to travel through the rain forest, or maybe it’s just because all of the picture I’ve seen look downright beautiful, but I really, really want to go to Costa Rica.

Paris

Sure, I’ve already been to Paris, but it was for a mere 12 hours. After reading ‘Passing Love,’ I realized that my magical day trip to the City of Lights didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. I want to wander the city for days, or weeks, eating pastries and working on my French.

Africa

I know Africa is not one, big ol’ country, but I haven’t quite decided which of Africa’s 50+ nations I want to visit first. South Africa is all the rage these days. Tanzania is a draw for its beaches and safaris. Ghana with its history and “Door of No Return.” I want to see the Africa other folks merely dream of and never knew existed.

That’s it for now, although my ideal list is a whole lot longer.

How about you? What’s on your 2013 travel wish list?

Paris, In 90 Seconds

Tour paris

I must have lost my mind, or had a serious lapse in judgement, because I recently signed up for a Facebook group challenging its participants to make 30 Videos in 30 Days.

Although I love the video medium and would really, really like to make a documentary film one day, I’ve been making all sorts of excuses to not get started. Now, I have an excuse!

This week was the first of the challenge, and I’ve stayed faithful making a video every, single day. So far I made a commercial offering my services as a writing coach, and I shared a little advice on how to overcome the blahs and break out of a funk.

Today, I was fresh out of ideas and decided to put together a quick 90 second tour of Paris (like I did for London) using some of the pics from my trip.

Check it out!

Oh…and to keep tabs on my 30 Videos in 30 Days challenge, subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Abiento!

3 Things I Loved About the Bahamas

The view from my hotel at the Sheraton Nassau Beach

Is it really “better in the Bahamas”? Read on to find out!

I recently got back from a press trip to the Bahamas*, and let’s just say I had a magnificent time! Unlike many of you, this was my first time in the Caribbean and I went in without many preconceived notions about what I’d find.

Because I was traveling with the Ministry of Tourism, I figured my trip would be very “touristy” because their goal was to show off the best parts of the islands in order to get glowing reviews and get y’all to book a trip. I was prepared to be wooed by excursions and endless glasses of rum punch and the beaches, and more rum punch. But what I found–once we ventured off the beaten path–was something even more magical.

If you really want to know what’s “better in the Bahamas…” get out and mix it up with the people. Everywhere I go, I try to “fit in” with the locals. When I was London, I made a point to go to Brixton, and when I was in Paris, I wandered the streets and made it a point to not speak too much English as to be found out. I just like being treated like I belong. While it was difficult to pull off on this trip because we were chauffeured from place to place, I did manage to meet a few amazing Bahamians and it totally made the trip.

So, what were some of the things I LOVED About the Bahamas?

Most people in the country look like me: This may sound weird, but that I grew up in America and most places I’ve traveled to have been in the States and Europe, so I wasn’t used to visiting a country with so many black folks. It was evident as soon as we got off the plane. The customs agents, airport workers, the construction workers at the airport, our driver, the hotel staff. nearly EVERYBODY was black. While there are non-black Bahamians (a lot of the biz owners, British and American ex-pats, etc.), I can’t begin to explain how I felt to moving around in a country in which nearly everybody I met looked like they could be my kin. Visiting the Bahamas made me want to visit Africa. Weird, I know, but true.

The BEST burger ever! From the Sip Sip

The Food: I think I gained about 10lbs. in the 5 days I was in the Bahamas. Along with way too many glasses of rum punch, Bahama Mamas, and daiquiris, I ate…a lot. Although I don’t eat fish, I ate a ridiculous amount of conch and shrimp. The best fried shrimp I’ve ever had in my entire LIFE came from Indigo Cafe in Nassau, and even though I’d never had conch (a shell fish) before going to the Bahamas, I’m glad I did. I ate lots conch fritters (a must), conch chowder, grilled conch, and conch salad. Additionally, the best (and I do mean the best) mac & cheese I’ve ever tasted in my life came at the home of a Bahamian family we met during a people-to-people visit. OMG. It was the PERFECT mix of creamy cheese, pasta, and a little added spice. And I know I sound like one of those crazy infomercials, but THE best burger I’ve ever had in my life also came on this trip. All I can say is, if you love burgers and blue cheese as much as I do, go to the Sip Sip on Harbour Island. Delish!

When you go to the Bahamas, don’t try to stick to your diet…just go and eat and eat and eat (then swim, swim, swim…it evens out, I promise).

Trying on a hat from Junkanoo. It was the heaviest hat I’ve EVER worn in my life!

The People: Most people go to the Bahamas to relax, lay on the beach, and just enjoy the tropical scenery. That’s cool. But after you’ve had your fill of sun bathing and banana-boating, get out and meet the people. During our visit we had the opportunity to learn about Junkanoo, a cultural festival that takes place on December 26 and Jan. 1 of each year, from Mrs. Arlene Nash Ferguson and her husband. The Fergusons run the Educulture center in Nassau and had SO much energy and love for their country and its Junkanoo festival that it was absolutely infectious.

During the trip we also had the opportunity to visit with local Bahamians on a people-to-people visit. People-to-People is a program sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and allows tourists (yes, anyone can set up a visit) to hang out with Bahamians to learn more about the country and its people. Aside from the home-cooked food (which was down right amazing), I met so many cool people who were not only welcoming, but funny, friendly, and eager to share. If you ever visit the Bahamas…leave your resort and hang with the people!

Have you ever been to the Bahamas? What did you love the most? 

Unexpected Surprises: The Milwaukee Public Market

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Last month I traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to visit the Harley-Davidson museum and learn more about black biker culture.

Have you ever been to Milwaukee? This was my first trip and I’ll be honest, at first, I wasn’t excited about it. I thought to myself, what could possibly be in Milwaukee that is so great? And in the dead of winter? Nawl!

Initially I wasn’t feeling it, but I stepped out on faith because I wanted a new experience, and who passes up a free trip–even if it’s to the frozen tundra?

When I stepped out of the airport I was greeted by the cold, but it wasn’t as freezing as I expected. Good sign. The car took me and a few other journalists to the Iron Horse Hotel to check in and get situated. Because I had a few hours to myself I decided to head out and see something. Before traveling, I’d already looked up places of interest and had heard about the Public Market. I decided to hop a cab and see what it was all about.

The Milwaukee Public Market is located in the city’s Historic Third Ward, a gentrifying area  filled with shops, restaurants, art galleries, and lofts. The Third Ward also borders the river and in the summer, I imagine it makes for beautiful scenery.

The Public Market consists of food shops, spice stores, bars, candy shops, gourmet stands, and cute little desert shops. I was hungry when I got there, but because I was met with so many options I had to do two laps around the market to figure out what I wanted.

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I didn't know what the heck a Cow Pie was, so I took pictures!

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Who wants one?

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All of these smelled SO GOOD. I should have bought some. #fail

After making the rounds and oohing and ahhing over the treats,  I decided to grab a turkey sandwich from The Green Kitchen. Although it sounds very plain jane, the sandwich was totally gourmet! It was filled with mascarpone cheese, sun dried tomato pesto, spinach, and tomatoes. I didn’t have my camera on hand (all these pics were taken with my phone), but I don’t think it mattered, I just dove in!

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Above the Public Market

I took my sandwich to the second floor, which includes a small lending library where you can borrow a book to read, and enjoyed my meal above the busy market.

Before I left Milwaukee, I HAD to meet up with a friend and AMAZING photographer, Christina. Christina and I “met” years ago when she began reading a blog I was writing at the time, and she became like my sister-from-another-mother. She damn near brought me to tears in the market when she gushed about my writing & how it inspired her to start blogging (and now she’s DOPE). Because she’s also a chef and foodie, we had to grab a treat before we left. I picked a chocolate covered rice crispy treat, which was hard as hell on my teeth, but so so good!

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YUM! 

Before we left the market, Christina snapped a photo of me, and although I was super tired (and my eyebrows look a mess) I quite like it. Whatcha think?

Moi!

Going to Milwaukee reminded me to always operate with an open heart and mind. Although I was a little suspect about the trip going in, I ended up having a WONDERFUL time and connecting with many, many interesting people (and, I’ll be learning how to ride a Harley soon #score).

So the next time someone asks you to go somewhere or do something you never really considered before, do it! You never know how much you’ll enjoy something until you give it a shot.

Have you ever been to the Milwaukee or the Public Market? What was the last place you went that really surprised you? 

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London Lowdown, Part 1 (with video!)

London, Buckingham Palace

Outside of Buckingham Palace

Last month I took my first solo trip across the Pond and landed in London, England. Although I had been planning my trip for MONTHS (and dreaming about it even longer), once I was on the plane I was FILLED with nervous energy.

The questions ran through my head:
Would I have fun alone?
Would I get mugged?
What if I got lonely?
What if I lost my passport?
I’m on a budget, can I REALLY have a good time in one of the most expensive cities in the world?
HELP! I’m going to London alone!!

Luckily, all of my nervousness melted away once I touched down and began to feel the infectious vibe of the city. I’m going to go into my trip in more detail a little later, but just know that I had an AMAZING time and all of my fears were unfounded.

While I was in London (and Paris!) I connected with a lot of really amazing people, I went out EVERY night (yes alone), and in all eight days I spent wandering the city, I never experienced a dull moment. Not one.

I made sure to take lots of pictures and even shot some video footage while I was there, so I decided to do a quick clip about my trip.

Check it out & let me know what you think!

Have you ever been to London? What did you enjoy most?