#EvaMeetsWorld – Dawid: Holidays that changed his life

Dawid was looking for a new job when he found a volunteering trip to Nepal. While the data analyst was mixing cement for a new school on the top of a mountain during his holidays, he realised that this trip was about to change his life.


I met Dawid in a small town more than 140 km outside of Kathmandu. Dawid is a 29-years old Polish guy living in England. He was part of a project which aimed to rebuild a school that had been destroyed by the recent earthquake. My friend and I went to see their project and to give a hand for the day. Quickly I realised that for Dawid, this was not just an interesting way to spend his vacation, there was more to it.

Looking for a job and finding a trip

Travelling has always been part of Dawid’s life, up to four times a year he tries to go somewhere he’s never been before and be it just a different town in the UK for a long weekend. He loves to discover new places, especially in his own way: «I don’t like to visit a city by taxi or rickshaw, I usually run», he says. He doesn’t use a precise map but just runs through different streets. «I love getting lost because then I find myself.»

A picture of Dawid in Nepal

But actually, Dawid was not looking for vacation when he found this trip to Nepal: «My main drive is knowledge», says Dawid. «In my job, I haven’t learned anything new in one year, so I was browsing for a new job, without any specific idea in mind, more a bit like window shopping…»

While looking for different job offers, he happened to stumble upon a Canadian organisation that was looking for volunteers for a school-building project in Nepal. The earthquake of April 2015 had destroyed many schools, one of them in a small town on a mountain close to Gorkha where the epicentre of the earthquake was. The plan was to work on the school for two weeks, and to do some sightseeing on a few days, to see the Himalaya and Kathmandu.

A picture of the place where the school is being rebuilt

No fear of challenges

Dawid got interested. He liked the idea of combining travel with volunteering. This trip was quite expensive, even the flight itself. «But I wanted it really bad, so I made it happen.» This is a Leitmotiv he follows in his life in general. «I hate standing still.»

When he was 19, he left his home country Poland to go to the UK in search of work. He was not afraid of arriving in an unknown country, no, he was hungry for the unknown. He found a job, an apartment, friends. He realised he had managed to build himself a new life in a completely different environment. When the company proposed to send him to the branch in Singapore, he happily accepted this challenge, too.

So Nepal was his next big adventure. Used to work on a computer as a data analyst for a behavioural marketing company, he found himself in a sleeveless shirt mixing cement with water under the burning sun. And surprisingly, he felt satisfaction. «Volunteering for an NGO is much more rewarding than working for a company where you are just a small fish in a pond», he says.

A picture of Dawid in Nepal

Doing something good while travelling

This experience made Dawid discover that there was something in his mind that had been sleeping for years: «I don’t want to make money, I want to do something that matters.» His first decision was: «No more two-weeks-on-the-beach vacations: I want to do something good when I travel.» There are many NGOs who are in need of volunteers, and at the same time, it would allow him to discover a new place, a new culture. «Anyway, it is not possible to say which projects deserve more attention, so I just pick the ones which are in a region I’d love to discover.»

Soon, he realised that this would not satisfy him. Why only doing good when travelling? «I decided to quit my job and look for work in an NGO», Dawid says.

Meanwhile, he found a job in an NGO in Honduras and left the UK for good. A new life is awaiting him.

And he’s sure to go back to Nepal, too. A freshly made tattoo on his leg keeps a permanent reference mark of this experience on his skin: a volunteering-travel trip which had literally changed his life. His advice to other travellers: «Don’t think too much, but have an open heart.» And: «Don’t take a cab. Just walk.»

A picture of the tattoo Dawid got

One year on the road – and still not enough

I started my dream – a trip around the world – exactly one year ago. Time for some reflections.


So here I am, in a coffee shop in Japan, publishing this blog post while thinking about all the things I’ve seen and experienced in the past 12 months. It’s incredible. I’m probably as surprised as you are that it has been already one year since I started my trip around the world. It feels like I left only a few months ago, yet if I think about all the experiences I made I feel like I must have been on the road for years, so intense and rich has my trip been so far.

So here are a few thoughts about my trip, travelling alone, what’s the best part of a trip around the world – and what the worst.

 

Why a trip around the world?

Some people ask me whether this is a self-finding-trip or even if I am running away from something. The clear answer is: NO. As unspectacular as it sounds, I just love to travel, to explore unknown countries, to learn more about a new culture, to meet strangers and become friends. I am very curious and I learn more by experiencing things on my own than just reading or hearing about them.

I have travelled a lot in Europe during my studies. Because Europe is small and compact, I was able to spend a long weekend every now and then in another country. I had not seen much outside of Europe, so now I wanted to discover the rest of the world. Also, it was the perfect moment to go on this trip: I had finished my studies, gotten some working experience (and saved some money), had no apartment, no kids, no dog.

Streetart in Morocco saying Why not

Why not?! Street art in Morocco. Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What were my favourite countries so far?

This answer is very subjective because I feel it’s mostly due to the people I met during these trips and the experiences we share. Therefore, I’d say Ethiopia and Myanmar because these are the countries where I had the most magical and intense moments on my trip. They were also by far the less touristic ones. Also Nepal, India and China, as well as Senegal and the US (well I’ve just been to New York on this trip) were amazing. But every country I’ve been to so far was a great experience, I don’t regret visiting any of them.

 

What is travelling alone like?

First of all, I’m not alone all the time. Either I am lucky to have friends joining me for a lap, or I visit friends in their home country. I consciously picked most destinations according to where I have friends. But there are a few countries on my way I want to see even if I don’t know anybody there. Also, my local friends can’t spend their whole time with me since they have to work/study, so sometimes I travel on my own.

I am a very sociable person, I love to spend time with people. I’m definitely not a loner. To be honest, I am still in the process of learning how to be alone without feeling lonely – sometimes I manage better, sometimes not. But travelling alone definitely has its advantages too, I am incredibly spontaneous and more careless because I’m only responsible for myself and don’t need to have a bad conscious if something goes wrong or not as planned. Since I have a very optimistic attitude, I try to consider unplanned things and mistakes new adventures.

Graffitti with the words "Make your own luck"

Street art in New York.  Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What did I learn?

Honestly, I feel like I learn something every day. Sometimes it’s just small things like different perceptions about life, little cultural customs, different social behaviours. Sometimes I feel like I add huge pieces to my picture of the world, the global context, for example when I talk to someone about the history or politics of a country. I feel like – even though I studied International Relations – I have learnt more about the world in the past few months than I did in the three years of my Bachelor’s degree. Then again, it’s valuable to have some basic knowledge and theory from university that allows me to put new experiences or findings into perspective and think about them critically.

The answer: The egg came first.

Sometimes you find the answers on the street. Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, I learnt a lot about myself. That I am able to find my way in a completely different country without knowing the language and without internet access. I learnt trusting strangers, listen to my intuition, be spontaneous and flexible, be open-minded and uncomplicated. I learnt not to take things for granted or consider them to be better at home than in other countries, but to understand different lifestyles, economic orders and social standards.


What is best about a trip around the world?

I love the freedom. I can go wherever I want and do whatever I feel like. I am dependant on much fewer things than back home. I can change plans spontaneously or just go somewhere without any plans. I love meeting new people from different backgrounds and hearing their stories. I love learning and discovering. I love experiencing the local culture and trying to get involved as much as possible. I love facing challenges and adventures, and, to a certain extent, even being vulnerable.

Ticket to anywhere

A bag tag my dear friend Lorène offered me for this trip. Photo: Eva Hirschi

 

What is the worst on a trip around the world?

I discuss this topic too because I feel like I only showed the shiny side of a trip around the world until now. Of course, not every day is a crazy adventure and I’m not happy and smiling every minute of this trip (even though I am maybe 90% of the time) – which is totally normal. The worst is being sick, as it is much more stressful in a foreign country than back home. The worst is not seeing my godson growing up. The worst is not being able to be fully there for my friends and family, not to be able to help or support them, and to see them taking big steps in their life without me participating. I sometimes feel like I miss out a lot.

A compass in the world

Only the compass always points in one direction… Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also professionally by the way: I miss many interesting events, conferences, networking occasions, working experiences, job offers. And there is this uncertainty about how potential employers will consider my long trip around the world, even though I manage to work part time at the same time.

Oh and one thing I consider really annoying meanwhile: small talks! Really. I feel like I explained to about a thousand people where I am from, what I do, to which countries I’ve been and where I go next. Of course, these are totally normal questions to ask someone who’s on a trip around the world, but I almost want to print the answers on a sheet and give it to new people to read so I don’t have to repeat them every few days…

 

Do I miss home?

No. Not home. Nor Switzerland. I feel comfortable wherever I am, I can adapt easily and I realised that I don’t need any material things to be happy. Already as a kid, I was never homesick so I guess I have the wanderlust in my blood. What I do miss incredibly: My family and my friends. Not that much in the beginning to be honest, but now I miss them more every day.

At the same time, I’m incredibly lucky that some of my closest people are joining me for parts of my trip. My brother came to Canada, my two best friends joined me in Morocco, Senegal and South Africa respectively in Nepal, and my mother will visit me in Australia in two months. And I believe my late father is accompanying me as my personal guardian angel.

My friends

Mes cheris joining me wherever I am…! <3

But also all my other friends back home do a great job staying in touch with me, integrating me as far as possible in their daily life by sending me messages, pictures, videos, calling me regularly and making me feel still being a part of their life, even though I am so far away. You don’t know how important this is for someone on such a long trip. Small shout out: Guys, I love you!

Postcard into the world

The sweetest digital but actually non digital message ever! From a Dutch girl I was travelling with in China and who saw me writing a bunch of postcards… Thank you so much, Floortje!

 

When will I go back to Switzerland?

Honest answer: I don’t know. I don’t have a ticket back home (yet). I used to say «when I’m fed up with travelling». But then I met this Japanese guy in Myanmar who wanted to become a monk, and when he asked me the same question and I answered «I don’t know», he added: «so when you’re satisfied.» And this is so much of a better answer.

 

Trip around the world

Trying to conquer the world… Photo: Eva Hirschi

Solo travelling in India as a woman

There are many horror stories and prejudices about travelling in India as a woman. I travelled one month from the North to the South of India, most of the time on my own, and had an amazing time. So I thought I might share my experiences with you and give some recommendations.


When I told people I would travel to India alone, many were very surprised, sceptical or even shocked. «Alone, as a woman, really?», is a phrase I heard often. Many told me to be careful and talked about all the stories they had heard about girls getting robbed or raped, if not even killed.

After all those stories I thought I would better ask someone who definitely knows whether travelling through India as a blonde European girl was a big risk or not: My (female!) Indian friend who is living in Ahmedabad. Her answer: «It usually not a problem (given that you practice caution)»

Train rides in India

Train rides in India.

So I started my journey in November. The first two weeks I travelled with her and her friends, then I visited the touristic part (Rajasthan, Agra and Delhi) on my own, spent another few days with her and then travelled alone down to Kochi. And I must say: It was absolutely fantastic! I had no bad experiences, neither with men nor with women (okay, one bad encounter was the one with a street dog who bit me, but I doubt it was because I am a blonde European girl travelling alone….).

Of course, I cannot tell whether I was just lucky or if I was just very careful. Also, I must say I travelled in touristic places only (on purpose, as it was my first time in India and on my own, I felt it would be more secure to go to places where they are used to see tourists). Anyhow, here are my few basic rules I followed during this trip:

  • Dress properly – as conservative as this may sound, it is important. I do not say that it is the ultimate protection and that only lightly dressed women get stared at or raped. You can be sure that as a (very) blonde woman I got a lot of attention anywhere anyhow. But it is important not to provoke either. And even if a girl does not mind having men staring at her, in my opinion, it is also a sign of respect to dress appropriately to the culture. In hot and not very clean India loose and wide pants or a long skirt are more comfy anyway than hotpants. Instead of tank tops, I wore long thin blouses which would also prevent me from getting sunburnt so there are several reasons which speak for such an outfit.
Travelling to Taj Mahal in India as a woman

Travelling to Taj Mahal

  • Hitting the bed early: I always tried to reach my accommodation before sunset, so I could see the surrounding area during daylight. If I felt secure I would maybe just go grab a bite close by, but not going out wandering the streets in the dark on my own. As a tourist, it is hard to know which areas are safe or not, so I preferred to stay in my room, read a bit and most of the time I would fall asleep early anyway, exhausted after a long day. And – theoretically not being a morning person – I started enjoying the early hours of the morning when the city just wakes up.
  • The thing with the ring: Many people recommend to wear a ring and to pretend to be married. Actually, an Indian guy I met on the street told me if someone annoys me, I should just tell this person that my husband would not allow me to talk to strangers. This seemed to be a good answer, especially coming from a local and male person. In the end, I did not wear a ring but I felt like every second person I was talking to would ask me anyway sooner or later whether I was married or not. It is not necessarily because I felt safer when I started replying with «yes», but because I actually got a bit annoyed by their surprised, even shocked reactions when I told them I was not. 26 years old seems to be rather «old» for getting married for some Indians, so I prefer to say «yes» anyway.
Travelling in India alone as a woman

Indian marriage: The groom arrives on an elephant.

  • Taxi/Rickshaw drivers: When I would take a rickshaw or taxi, I would usually either write down or take a picture of the license plate of the vehicle (in a way the driver sees it) or call my hostel/guesthouse and hand over the phone so he could explain the way to the driver who rarely knew the small, cheap places I stayed in – and in this way he would also know there was someone waiting for me and knowing where I was. I also used Uber a lot, which made me feel more secure, too.
  • Look for female accomplice or families: In public transportation, I tried to sit next to women, old couples or families because I felt more secure that way. And not only foreigners risk getting stuff stolen from a train ride, so sometimes families showed me how I could tie my backpack to the metal pole underneath my seat to be sure it does not get stolen while I would be sleeping.
Women only waiting room in Goa at the train station

At the train station in Goa.

  • Special lines for women only – actually, not only foreign women take care in India but also local women. In train stations or at the subway, the lines for the security check were usually separated for men and women, which was a big advantage because fewer women than men take the subway in India, so the line was moving quicker for the girls – finally the opposite to the bathroom lines… Also, waiting rooms are separated by sex which was very comfortable. At the subway in Delhi, there is even one waggon reserved for women only at the very beginning of the subway. But do not think it is easier to get into this one than into the common ones – Indian women are really good at pushing their way through, too. 😉
Only women allowed in this zone at the subway in Delhi

At the subway in Delhi

So after travelling one month through India on my own, I can say it is an amazing country definitely worth a visit – also for the female solo traveller. I met many amazing people and had a great experience. Talking with many Indians I actually got the impression that Indians seemed to feel sorry for this bad image India has gotten, and they wanted to show that it is just a minority that treats women disrespectful or is only interested in your money.

The good side about this whole polemic is that it raised awareness for solo female travellers. It is not only important in India to be cautious when travelling alone, but also in other countries. I recommend being rather safe than sorry, stick to a few basic rules and also listen to intuition. With this mix, travelling in India – and in other countries – as a woman is definitely a great experience!

Female solo travelling in India

Travelling as a woman in India? No problem!

 

Travel hacks Ethiopia – things you should know before starting your trip

Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonised and maintains its own distinct culture. Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of Ethiopia. These travel hacks will help you navigate Ethiopia like a local.


Why you are China

Despite my blonde hair and blue eyes, the people of Ethiopia regularly pointed at me and shouted «CHINA!». It isn’t that Ethiopians can’t tell the difference between Europeans and Asians rather that most of the foreigners that Ethiopians typically see are Chinese construction workers doing road work. Sometimes, you will also be called ‘ferenji’ which comes from the word ‘french.’ This is because the French were the first Europeans to drive in Ethiopia.

Travel hack: If someone calls you Ferenji or China, point at them too and say «Habesha!», which means Ethiopians. Laughter and surprised faces are guaranteed. 

A picture of me with my blond hair next to an Ethiopian

Habesha & Ferenji ;-)

Hidden juice bars

One of the most amazing things about Ethiopia are the juice bars. At most of the fruits stands, you will find an entrance to a back room. There, you can order fresh salads with avocado and bananas, or get freshly pressed juice. 

Depending on the size of the fruit stand, you can get orange, mango, banana, guava, papaya, strawberry, or, my favourite, avocado juice. It is served with a spoon next to it because it is more of a thick smoothie than a liquid juice. Because of the thick texture and the fresh fruits and vegetables used the juices tasted amazing. The juices are often served with syrup as a sweetener and a lime on the side which is dripped into the juice.

Travel hack: If you can’t decide which juice to take, then order a «spris». It means «mix» and is not simply a multifruit juice but is presented in nice layers for each fruit. 

Fruit stand in Ethiopia

Fruit stand in Ethiopia – Picture: Eva Hirschi

Eating with the right hand

I could probably write a book about the gastronomic culture of this country, but let’s just get the basics. Ethiopians eat with their hand, therefore before you start eating you must go to the «hand wash», an outside sink where you can clean your paws with some soap. In fancy restaurants, they will bring you the water and a small bowl to wash your hands.

During the meal, you will only use the right hand. This is accomplished by taking some injera, or flatbread, and wrapping it around some of the toppings which include fish, meat, lentils, vegetables and salad. If you’re a pro, you can manage to make something that looks like a little package even though I’m still far from this.

Travel hack: Licking the fingers is not well seen during the whole meal since it’s not very hygienic when you stick your licked fingers back in the common plate. Makes sense, right?

Travel hack II: It can happen that someone at the table wants to put a handful of the food directly in your mouth. This feeding is called «gursha» and is a sign of hospitality and respect. Usually, a gursha is always given three times during a meal. You can also give a gursha back to your host, but you don’t have to.

Typical Ethiopian dish

Typical Ethiopian dish – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Intimate bus rides

There is a surprisingly big amount of people that fit into an Ethiopian bus. In the city of Addis, you will often find mini-busses. Designed for 12 people, they can easily fit twice as many passengers in there. If you need a comfortable seat and privacy, then just don’t take the bus at all. It is absolutely normal to squeeze three people into two seats or let them sit on boxes on the floor.

You pay the (very small) price directly in the bus, a guy called assistant collects the money from all the passengers and shouts the direction or final destination of the bus when there is a stop. There are no bus stations indicated, so you just tell the assistant where you want to get off.

Travel hack: Try to get one of the two front seats next to the driver, they are way more comfortable and less bumpy.

Like a local: Public bus rides in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Like a local: Public bus rides in Addis Abeba – Photo: Eva Hirschi

How to greet

In Ethiopia, you shake hands to greet each other, often followed by a short touching of the shoulders, as you would bump into each other. This is followed by a series of questions about how the person is doing, how the family is doing, how work is doing etc. By the way, not to look into the other’s eyes can be a sign of respect, contrary to what we are used to.

Travel hack: Support your right forearm with your left hand while shaking someone’s hand, it strengthens the gesture.

This handshake shows how Ethiopians greet each other

A typical Ethiopian handshake – Photo: Marwan Abdalla

Telling time

If you travel by bus, you might think the clock is wrong, showing a completely different hour than it actually is. But even though it’s true that Ethiopians don’t take being on time very strictly, the clock in the bus is correct – Ethiopia just uses a different system to count the hours than the rest of the world. The day starts with the sunrise, so when it’s six o’clock for us, for them it’s 0 o’clock. Ten o’clock in the morning would, therefore, be four o’clock for Ethiopians.

Travel hack: If you fix an appointment with an Ethiopian friend, don’t forget to ask whether the indicated time refers to the Ethiopian time system or the western one.

How to tell Ethiopian time

Is this Swiss or Ethiopian time? – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Move your body

In Ethiopia, everybody can dance. Women, men, babies and grannies. And they do it all the time. If you are in Ethiopia, sooner or later someone will teach you how to dance. This doesn’t need to be in a club or in a bar – sometimes when there is nice music in a restaurant, people would spontaneously stand up and start dancing, so don’t be surprised.

Travel hack: Don’t be shy and try to dance as well as possible – it will make the Ethiopians happy.

Example of some random dancing in a restaurant, performed by a cute little boy

Get coffee addicted

Ethiopia is the origin of the green gold. So it is no surprise that in Ethiopia, people don’t just drink coffee – they have a traditional coffee ceremony which is an integral part of the daily life (check my blog post about how to perform the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony).

The coffee is served in small cups, but since it is a stronger coffee than the one we are used to in Europe, it’s perfectly fine. And traditionally, you get three «rounds» of coffee; the first one being the strongest coffee, the last the least strong one.

Travel hack: Tell them in the beginning that you don’t want any sugar in your coffee, since Ethiopians put the sugar directly into the cups before pouring the coffee.

Ethiopian coffee

Ethiopian coffee – Photo: Livia Röthlisberger

Chewing plants

Even though I never tried it, «chat» (khat) is very important to some Ethiopians, so I am briefly going to explain why you might often see chewing Ethiopians. It’s not chewing gums they have in their mouth, but a plant called «chat» which grows in the South. It has a mildly stimulating effect and is totally legal.

Some Ethiopians swear that it increases concentration, so it happens that students eventually chew this plant while studying. The leaves taste bitter so often the Ethiopians take sweet soft drinks and small snacks with them to get a better taste.

Travel hack: You can find «chat» all over the country, but make sure an Ethiopian friend helps you with finding some good one. Prices do reflect quality, and the youngest leaves are supposed to be the best.

How to perform the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Coffee originates from Ethiopia. However, one does not just brew coffee here, no, there is a special ceremony for it. I got the honour to make coffee for Ethiopia’s New Year, so here is an introduction on how to do it the Ethiopian way.

In Ethiopia, a small sign reveals the presence of a place where traditional coffee is prepared: fresh green grass on the floor. This is said to keep away bad spirits. Also, Ethiopians put some incense on the fire on which the coffee is cooked, which envelops the room with a very nice smelling smoke. This is believed to stimulate the men when they see the wife preparing the coffee. However, once you smell this odour, you will quickly recognise it from a time when you were in close proximity to a coffee place.

Traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

The traditional coffee is served like an espresso, with two spoons of sugar, and is called «buna». Usually, it’s the women who prepare the coffee. For special occasions, they wear the traditional white dress with coloured woven borders. My Swiss friend, currently living in Ethiopia, put me in contact with two friends. With them by my side, I learned how to do the traditional coffee ceremony.  These are the steps:

1: Washing underneath the skin

Ethiopian coffee is made with fresh coffee beans. First, you have to wash them. Not because they are dirty, but because you want to scrub off the skin of the beans. Therefore, you put a little bit of water on the flat pan and scrub the beans together until the skin comes off.

Washing the coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee

Washing the coffee beans

2: Roast it over (incense) fire

So far, the beans are still green so you need to roast them over a tiny charcoal stove. Move them constantly on the flat pan so they are roasted equally and regularly. They will become black and shiny because the heat coaxes the aromatic oil out of them. Once they have all reached the same colour, you’re done.

Roasting coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee

Can’t forget the intensive smell…

3: Small workout for the arms

Now comes the tricky part: you need to make a powder out of the coffee beans. Therefore, you need to grind them with a pestle and a mortar. It takes a lot of effort, so prepare yourself for this task. Note: modern families nowadays use electric coffee mills, but we want to do it the traditional way, right? Keep on!

Workout for the arms: grinding the coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee

Making everyone laugh because of my soft technique…

4: Boil and wait

Before you boil the coffee, you first have to boil the water in the «jebena», the traditional Ethiopian coffee boiling pot. Once it boils you add the coffee powder. Usually, it’s one spoon for two people. Let it boil for a couple of minutes. Soon you’ll get to smell the awesome fresh coffee!

Waiting until it's done: Traditional Ethiopian coffee

Enjoying this Ethiopian coffee tradition.

5: Rest (in peace)

Once you have boiled the coffee, you can’t drink it right away. Be patient. Put the jebena away from the fire and let it rest. This makes the coffee powder go down to the bottom so you’re not going to swallow small pieces. This is similar to how Turkish coffee is made. Some families strain the coffee through a fine sieve several times instead of waiting.

6: Don’t forget the extra cup

After a few minutes, it’s finally time to taste the coffee. Put sugar in the small, handleless cups (Ethiopians usually drink it with two or three spoons of sugar and can’t believe I prefer mine black…) and carefully pour the hot coffee from as high as possible into the cups. On the countryside, they add salt or traditional butter instead of sugar sometimes. Don’t forget to put an extra cup on your plate – this is for spontaneous guests or for God – but don’t pour any coffee in it. After all, it is meant to be symbolic, right?

Ethiopian coffee

There is always time for a coffee break in Ethiopia.

The first cup goes to the oldest person in the room. Don’t forget to serve popcorn or peanuts with the coffee, this is how it is done in Ethiopia (and you won’t drink your coffee without popcorn anymore afterwards, I promise!) This is rather new, however. In the past, they used to serve a homemade pastry called him bash, but the coffee ceremony also goes with the pace of the modern times so popcorn is prepared instead because it is easier and quicker.

7: Three heavens

If you think that was it, then you’re wrong. Coffee is always served in three rounds in Ethiopia, yay! The first is the strongest one, the second is less strong and the third is the weakest. The third round is considered a blessing. After all this hard work, it would be a pity just to have one small cup of the precious green gold, right?

 

Meskel – Ethiopians most holy holiday

The most important Ethiopian holiday – Meskel – took place last week and we went to Dorze in Southern Ethiopia in order to celebrate this special day. A glimpse of one of the craziest days in my life.

One good way to learn more about a culture is to celebrate a holiday. In Ethiopia, the national holiday, Meskel, was the perfect occasion to do so. The region of Dorze is known for its traditional celebration of Meskel, so we decided to go there with our friend who is originally from a town there.

Dorze, Ethiopia

Beautiful Dorze

From Addis Abeba we took a public bus to Arba Minch, where a friend of his picked us up and drove us all the way up to Dorze. This region is composed of 12 villages at a altitude of 2600 meters above sea level, which is 600 meters higher than where I usually go skiing in the Swiss mountains…

Orthodox celebration

The main part of the population belongs to the Ethiopian orthodox church. On Meskel, the discovery of the holy cross is celebrated. According to a legend, in the year 326 Queen Helena discovered the cross upon which Christ was crucified. The celebration takes place over several days and starts on September 26th.

Women dress in white when they go to church

Women dress in white when they go to church

During these days, you even have to greet each other in a special way in Dorze. When you meet friends, you have to jump and shout «Yo, yo, yo!» and then all the people reply with a long «Yooooooo!», hugging each other. We tried to apply it on this day and it worked perfectly – whether young or old, female or male, everybody greets like this and was highly amused by us doing so too.

Bloody field

The most important event of the celebration is the slaughtering of the bulls. On a big field where the market usually takes place, about 700 to 1000 bulls get killed on this one day! When men bring a new bull to the field, people will assemble around and watch them slaughter the animal. To do so, they tie its legs together and make it fall to the side. Then, a guy cuts the neck of the bull with a big knife and it dies within several minutes from bloodloss.

The slaughtering of the bulls

The slaughtering of the bulls

If you walk over the field – as we couragesely did – you’ll find a dead bull lying on the ground every three meters. Or sometimes just parts of it, like a leg, the head or the tail. You need to be careful not to slip on the small lakes of fresh blood, and if you here people shouting «suts suts», watch out, because it means they are carrying a big piece of meat through the crowd, so make sure to get out of the way.

Singing, dancing and drinking

Admittedly, the slaughtering was not my favorite part of the celebration, even though it was very interesting. After this experience, we felt like we needed a beer or two and so we went to a bar close to the field with seating outside on the grass, in the shade. Quickly, people started talking to us, interested about the white foreigners. After a few beers, people started singing, usually with one guy shouting some headlines, and the crowd replying in a choire. They also started showing us some traditional dances.

Meskel celebration in Dorze, Ethiopia

Meskel celebration in Dorze

A group of four people sat there too, with a big piece of fresh meat. They had brought injera (the sour dough flat bred) and some spices, and started eating the raw meat. I got the honour to try some too, and to be honest, it was delicious! People drink a very strong liquor called Araki with it, to «calm down the concert in the stomach» after the raw meat.

My two cents

I’m not a big fan of slaughtering – not at all, actually – but since its part of the culture and I do eat meat, I felt like I should see it. And to be honest, it was a really interesting experience. Even if on first sight it might seem brutal, it’s actually more natural than the methods employed in Europe. Also, the animals lived their whole life in the nature on the fields, and not in metal cages as in Europe. So even if we are not used to it, we should learn about the slaughtering instead of just buying nicely cut pieces of meat in the supermarket without questioning ourselfs on where it comes from.

Meskel in Dorze

Typical scenary of Meskel

Highlights of Morocco

Morocco is the perfect introduction to the African continent: a bit slower, a bit less organised and a bit more colorful than Europe, but yet not as chaotic and crazy as the rest of Africa.

Morocco is a very diverse country: from mountains to beaches, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, from forests to deserts, from Arabs to Berbers – you’ll find a lot of variety in this country. That’s the reason we decided to do a road trip and see as many different things as possible within our two and a half weeks here. We visited nine different places (Casablanca, Meknes, Azrou, Ouzrou, Marrakesh, Essaouira, Oualidia, El-Jadida, Rabat) so here are the highlights from our trip.

Calm Meknes

Meknes is the sixth biggest city in Morocco. Since the city of Fes is a bit bigger and in the same area, most tourists tend to visit Fes, so if you want a less touristy experience, you should go to Meknes – and it’s no less beautiful!

Meknes, Morocco

Meknes

The medina – the old town – is like a small labyrinth: it’s not easy to find your way through the countless small roads and paths, but it makes the exploration of the city even more stunning and exciting. Also, in literally each corner you’ll find a cat taking a nap or chasing some flies… Make sure to drink the traditional peppermint tea or go for some fresh juices like mango or avocado – delicious!

Wild Ouzoud

This was probably my biggest highlight of this trip: the waterfalls of Ouzoud. At first sight, and especially if you walk down the main road with the stairs, you might be disappointed by this place. There is this very nice waterfall, yes, but many many tourists around and not that much nature. But don’t stop here, walk all the way down and continue your way along the river that comes from the waterfall. You will find many different camp sites, the one I recommend is called «Le panard». The owner was one of the first ones to open a campsite next to the waterfall and he has a lot of stories to tell about how the area has changed the past 30 years.

Waterfalls of Ouzoud

Waterfalls of Ouzoud

This place is especially nice since you can also sleep outside without a tent. Actually, there is a kind of a terras with thin mattresses, roofed by plants. For only 30 dirhams you can grab one those mattresses and sleep outside – in summer this is perfect, just take a sleeping bag or a thin blanket since the temperatures might fall a bit in the middle of the night. Even with the ceiling, you’re able to see a bit of the surrounding mountains and the sky with its stars, which is truly beautiful. The next day you can get a delicious breakfast.

Sleeping under the stars

Sleeping under the stars

Instead of going for a swim next to the waterfall, like most of the tourists, you should walk down the river even further and you’ll find different places where you can take a perfect bath, sometimes next to mini waterfalls. The owner recommends the place where this river joins another one, which is about a one to two hour walk away from his camp site, but we never managed to get there because we were already struggling enough with the 40+ degrees during the day. You can also get dinner at his place, I definitely recommend the Berbers omelette (which doesn’t taste like a European omelette, but is served in a tagine).

Crazy Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh is the most famous destination in Morocco – and even if I usually don’t like touristy places, I definitely recommend Marrakesh. Very distinguished from the other cities of Morocco, it feels like entering a different world: more colorful, louder, crazier than everything else. Especially on the souk – the big market – the ambience is vibrating and energizing. Still, Marrakesh is more than just the souk. We did Couchsurfing and stayed with a lovely Moroccan family. They showed us the local life in Marrakesh – for example, we had a night picnic in the park and walked through the very animated streets of a suburb of Marrakesh without seeing any other Europeans.

Another authentic experience was the hammam – not the touristy one for 400 dirhams, but the small local one for 10 dirhams. It was a crazy experience to find yourself topless and only with the bikini sitting on the wet floor of a very simple hallway, pouring hot water on your skin and rubbing it with a special exfoliating glove (kessa) and black soap. And – as our host had predicted – an elderly woman approached us and asked «Madame ou Mademoiselle?» – We were wise enough to answer Madame, not wanting to get her marriage recommendations in Arab.

Beautiful Essaouira

From Marrakesh, we went to Essaouira, a very nice – and in Europe not yet that known – harbour city on the Atlantic coast. Moroccans call Essaouira the windy city, and we can confirm this. Better bring a small jacket or sweater with you, even in summer. Also, the Atlantic is very cold at this place so we decided not to go for a swim. Still, the city has a lot of other things to offer. There are many nice restaurants and bars (check out the Pirate’s Zion, they have a café in the city center and a hostel a little bit outside the center if you are looking for an alternative, artsy place to be) or go to one of the cafés next to the busy main street and sip your tea while watching the people pass by.

Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira

Also, make sure to be at the harbour from 3pm on. This is the time when the first fishermen come back from the Sea and sell their catch on the quai. I discovered sea creatures I’ve never seen in my life before. They even sell shark, if they happen to catch one by accident. Our favorite spot was on top of the wall that surrounds the harbor; from there you can overlook the whole place and take nice discrete pictures.

Royal Rabat

After having checked out some beaches on the Atlantic coast, we drove north all the way to Rabat. You’ll realize very quickly that this is the capital city, the city of the king. The streets are cleaner, the buildings taller, the people more chique. The mausoleum of Mohammed V and the Hassan tour were nice, but I found the Kasbah of the Udayas (Kasbah des Oudaïa) even more impressive. This ancient fortress is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites. On top of a hill, you have a nice view on the beach, the neighbouring city Salé and a bit of Rabat. You can walk through narrow paths between blue and white houses, seeing cats and kids playing. Behind the houses, you’ll find a small paradise: the Andalusian garden. Take a coffee and enjoy the smell of the different plants and the sun on your skin.

Morocco's cats

How to behave like a Canadian

This is a non exhaustive (and non serious) list about typical Canadian behaviors, applying mostly to Eastern Canadians.

  • You grab coffee at Tim Horton’s, and nowhere else. Several times a day.
  • You don’t like to be compared to Americans because you feel superior.
  • You have relatives in Europe.
  • If you were born in Quebec and your mothertongue is French, people from France will still not understand you when you talk.
  • You call the Canadian one dollar coin a Loonie.
  • You’re very tolerant and openminded, and in favor of LGBT rights, even if you’re not part of the scene.
  • If you’ve travelled once to Paris, London or Greece, you say you’ve been to «Europe».
  • Flying from Eastern Canada to Europe is actually cheaper than flying from Eastern Canada to Western Canada.
  • You’re used to see mooses on highways. And to eat them in a burger or in a soup.
  • You most likely own your own kayak.
  • You call people from Newfoundland «newfies».
  • You call winter days with minus 15 degrees mild.
  • You eat „Poutine“. Not the Russian president, but fries with a brown sauce on it. And you like it (see picture below).

 

Poutine Canadian dish

„Poutine“

 

Highlights of Eastern Canada

From Quebec to Newfoundland: These were my highlights from our road trip through Eastern Canada.

This was a trip I had on my bucket list for a while: A road trip through Canada. After having visited Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec with my brother, a friend from Toronto joined us and we rented a car from Quebec on. Final destination: Newfoundland. We visited many different places in three weeks, so here are my highlights of the trip.

Hiking on rocks

One of the most stunning places on our trip was the Fundy Bay National Park where we visited the Hopewell Rocks. This spot is famous because there are the highest tides in the world. At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor and have a look at the fantastic stone formations from close. At high tide, everything is covered by water up to 15 meters. On the official website or at the entrance of the park, you can check out at which time is high tide, as it changes each day.

Hopewell Rocks

Hopewell Rocks – Photo: Jonas Hirschi

We went there at low tide which to me was more fascinating as we were able to walk around and even climbed over the rocks to the other side. A very funny – and muddy! – experience. After this small hike, we realised why there was brushes and water at the entrance of the park; our shoes really needed them. But for me, it was totally worth it!

Lobster rolls fresh from the Sea

On our way through New Brunswick, we stopped in Alma to eat delightful lobster at Alma’s lobster shop. This place is a family business and if you’re going to the bathrooms, you can even get a glimpse of the production. Here, you can either buy lobster to cook yourself – or do it the easy way as we did : get some lobster rolls – a kind of a sandwich with pieces of lobster, celery and mayonnaise – delicious !

Delicious lobster rolls at Alma's Lobster Shop.

Delicious lobster rolls at Alma’s Lobster Shop – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Generally, New Brunswick is a great place for seafood. Even in pubs, you get delicious food, for example, fish cakes or fish and chips at James Joyce Pub in Fredericton or fresh and local mussels at Saint John Ale House in Saint John. Then you should continue to Picaroon’s to have a couple of awesome craft beers.

Kayaking on the Sea

img_20160618_165902Enough about food, let’s get into the action: we found the perfect place for kayaking! On the southern coast of Nova Scotia, at Blue Rocks. In the middle of a hand full of islands you’re protected from the waves from the Sea and you get to discover the beautiful landscape and islands which accommodate a lot of birds – and if you’re lucky (as I was!) you even get to see a bald headed eagle!

We rented the kayaks at the company Pleasant Paddling. The guys are really nice and give good recommendations for the itinerary considering the current weather conditions. For 35 dollars you get two hours in a single kayak (50 dollars for a double) with a map, life suits and even a waterproofed pouch for your mobile phone included. I would definitely recommend this experience!

From Blue Rocks we passed by Peggy’s Cove while driving the coast northwards. Here stands the probably most photographed lighthouse in Canada, or even in the world.

Peggy's Cove

Peggy’s Cove – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Admittedly, the scenery is truly beautiful: The lighthouse is situated on some smooth rocks and if you get there by sunset, the sun dips everything in a beautiful warm light. It’s easy to take a perfect picture there.

The must: Newfoundland

Most tourists end their East Canadian trip in Saint John in Nova Scotia, but you should continue to St John’s (don’t confuse them!) in Newfoundland. From Sydney, you can take the ferry to the island Newfoundland including decks for your car. Small tip: Bring some beers to drink in your cabin, at the boat’s bar they are ridiculously expensive. Also: go to the top deck in the morning to see the ferry approaching the coast. Sometimes you can even spot a whale from the ferry.

From Port aux Basques, we drove directly to Gros Morne national park. The drive through the park alone was incredibly beautiful. You can do many different hikes from there and we got some nice ideas from the information centre.

On a trip with the iceberg man

The Iceberg Man

The Iceberg Man

Arriving at the east coast, you should pass by Twilingate. The village itself is not necessarily worth a trip (even though they have a place where they sell moose burgers!) but there is another attraction: Icebergs! It’s not rare that parts of icebergs from Greenland find their way down to Newfoundland. Sometimes they even get stuck in the harbour but mostly they are outside in the ocean close to the shore. It’s definitely worth it to book a guided boat tour. The «Iceberg man» was the first person to offer those types of tours and I highly recommend his tour. I’ve never seen a person talk with so much passion and emotion about ice… You will definitely learn a lot about icebergs but also about the ocean, Twilingate, and Canada.

Secret tip for whale watching

How we learned about the whale watching tours of «Sea of Whales» is a long story, but it’s the best trip I’ve ever taken in my life. I’ve been on two whale watching tours before but this one was way different. Instead of taking a boat, we took a zodiac. And our guide, Chris Prince, truly knows how to find whales.

He drove the zodiac expertly with ease and with remarkable speed! Chris is said to be the best whale expert of all Canada. Already before we left he talked to some fisherman to know if they’ve spotted some whales. We went to one bay and saw a minkey whale just a few meters away from us. Amazing!

Whale watching tour on a zodiac

Whale watching tour on a zodiac – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Then, Chris turned to us and asked what we wanted to see – more minkey whales, icebergs, or big whales. We definitely wanted to see some big ones. Quickly we changed directions and on the way to the other side, Chris showed us a nice stone cave where we were able to pass with the zodiac (by the way, it’s just underneath the place they turned the movie The Grand Seduction) and he spotted two bald headed eagles. We even saw a caribou next to the trees on top of the shore.

Then Chris spotted the blow of a big whale. He shifted into max speed and we rushed in the direction of the whale. The regular blow (every seven minutes to be precise) became visible to us too and at one point, Chris stopped the boat and we waited. And a few minutes later there it was! Just a few meters away from our boat, a fin whale (second largest animal on earth!) turned up – it was simply breathtaking! This was my favourite highlight of the trip.

My (literally...) biggest highlight of this trip: a fin whale.

My (literally…) biggest highlight of this trip – Photo: Chris from „Sea of Whales“

Trip to Montreal

Heading from Toronto to the East coast, a stop in the beautiful city of Montreal is necessary – and the best introduction to the French Canadian culture.

By arriving in Montreal, we also arrived in the province of Quebec: the French-speaking part of Canada. But be aware: If you studied French in Europe or even if you were born in France, you’ll need to get used to the dialect spoken here.

Frenchiness

Even if in the whole of Canada, French is a small minority (20%), the francophones are concentrated in this area (and also in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province of Canada).

French Canada

Festival de la francofolie – Photo: Eva Hirschi

The French culture is very important, and you can feel it. I got the impression that they try to avoid including English words in their language even more than in France. Québecois won’t say «weekend» but «fin de la semaine» for example.

Stop sign in bilingual Canada

Even stop signs are bilingual – Photo: Eva Hirschi

Also, I was told that there was protest when the coffee chain «Second cup» refused to change its brand’s name to «Deuxième tasse» – apparently the protesters even put a bomb inside one of the cafés – which ended up in being free publicity for the company, without them changing their name…

Student city

Even though Montreal is smaller than Toronto, it definitely has its own charm. In Canada, Montreal is known for its university: McGill University. A walk on the campus is definitely worth it, the old buildings are beautiful and there is even a small natural historic museum in one of them – with free entry. There you’ll find – among other things – very impressive dinosaur bones.

Very animated city

A walk along the harbour and the streets next to it is really nice too. Even if the streets parallel to the harbour are somewhat touristic, it’s still very charming with many people sitting on the patios of the restaurants and bars and enjoying life.

Harbour in Montreal

Harbour in Montreal

What surprised me most about Montreal are the numerous events that happen here. I first thought we just arrived on a special weekend : The formula 1 race on Notre-Dame Island (one of the few urban races), the beer festival, the science festival, and the festival de la francofolie with free concerts in the city centre took place at the same time…

But people from Montreal confirmed that this is a normal weekend, there are events going on all the time in summer. Since the summer is not that long in this part of the world, the inhabitants try to enjoy their time the most possible apparently.

The small mountain (or big hill)

To get a nice view over the city, you should get on top of Mont Royal. People from here say you should hike on this mountain, but since I’m Swiss I’d rather say you should walk on this hill, but anyhow: the view is beautiful and the park slash forest is very pretty.

It was actually designed by the same landscape architects as the Central Park in New York. You’ll find many runners and people walking their dogs and kids. On top, there is a very artificial looking small lake, which is a pity.

Mont Royal in Montreal, Canada

Mont Royal

Bagels you shouldn’t miss

When you walk down the mountain (Swiss: read hill) you should make sure to end up on the east side of the hill, in the area called Mile End. It’s a beautiful area with pretty buildings (pay attention to buildings with stairs at the outside, a really nice architecture you won’t find in Europe) and many green spots with trees and flowers.

Also, make sure to get a bagel at Fairmount Bagels Bakery – the best place for bagels in Montreal (for me even in the world, as far as my bagel experience goes…). From the counter, you can actually see how they bake the bagels, including the old stone oven. Just get the classic: a regular sesame bagel with cream cheese and cold smoked salmon – delicious! Unsurprisingly, sometimes the waiting line even starts on the street.

Fairmount bagels bakery

Fairmount bagels bakery

Another very nice place is the café of Pâtisserie au kouign amann. It’s very small, there are only three tables with a couple of chairs in it, but if you’re able to get one of these, you feel like in a cozy old living room, with the permanent smell of fresh croissants! Even some French people say their croissants are the best in the world…

If you’re not so much into croissants, you should try their maple tarte – a small cake with maple syrup in it, really tasty! And from my whole Canada trip it was here that I had the best coffee. Enough reasons not to skip this city, right?

Pâtisserie au kouign amann

Pâtisserie au kouign amann – Photo: Eva Hirschi