The (easy) decision to venture out to London was out of pure randomness. I’ll just go for the heck of it. No rhyme or reason. But what I thought would be pretty sweet, was to go during the Christmas holidays. This would be my first Christmas away from home and my first foray into the United Kingdom, and I am pretty excited about not knowing what I’m getting myself into. All I knew is that it will be a very merry, holly jolly, good ol’ time!
There’s another, more endearing excuse why I spontaneously chose to visit the United Kingdom; a handful of volunteers I met over the years also live in or near London so it would be cool to visit them too. So I booked a flight for the week of Christmas to the epicenter of England. I was giddy, after all, Christmas is my favorite time of year. The corny music, all the lights and decorations, even that particular Christmas scent (a mixture of pine trees, garland, candy cane mints, wrapping paper, and clementines), I love it all! I made sure to pack my Santa Claus hat and flew across the pond to London! The first person I first met up with was none other than…
I met Nichola in Cuzco, Peru in 2011. She lived with Maria in her home-stay but I first met her pre-gaming outside in the middle of Plaza de Armas, before we went hopping around all the discotekkas on one of my first nights in the country. What I love about Nichola was that she was always chock full of energy and was always fun to be around. She knew how to have a good time, every single time. She’s hails from Manchester, U.K and has the coolest British accent to prove it. Whenever Panjabi MC came on, we were the only ones to bust out into some Indian dance, anytime we heard it, while everyone around looked at us like we were crazy (which was quite often actually.) Over time, we went White Water rafting in the births of the Amazon river, where she handled the chilly rapids like a pro. I left right before she went on to explore Bolivia, but we have kept in touch ever since. As a matter of fact, my going to Tanzania last year was all her idea. A suggestion which proved to be the right one. Thanks for that Nichola!
I knew Nichola went to Uni in London, but didn’t know if she would be around for the holidays, so I contacted her and let her know of my plans. She had just left London and went back to Manchester for the holidays but took a train right back to London to meet up with me. I told her, once I get off the plane, I’ll catch a taxi and meet her and her boyfriend Edward wherever they were. Instead she suggested, since taxi’s cost a ridiculous amount, to buy an oyster for a few quid and catch a tube…
Let me translate that. I should buy a pass called an Oyster card which costs just a few pounds and catch a tube (subway) to wherever I need to go. It’s much cheaper that way. So that’s exactly what I did. I tubed it to her University (UCL) and reunited with my old Peruvian buddy. Since I last seen her, she has been doing some traveling of her own to places such as Bolivia, Chile, Paris, and Egypt to name a few. After that, she’s hard at work with school and has other trips studying abroad in the works. She is studying towards a Spanish and French degree here at UCL. She also has a flat (dorm), that her, Edward, and I would stay at for the next couple of days. But before we did anything, I really REALLY needed a nap. I could barely sleep on the plane and I have been up for almost 24 hours. It was about noon here so I didn’t want to sleep too long, just maybe an hour. After that we went into town and got some grub. I found out that lemonade here in England is not lemonade at all! They call their sprite or 7-Up here lemonade, and actual American lemonade they refer to as cloudy lemonade or fresh squeezed lemon juice or something like that. So to you unaware Americans, if you go to England and order a lemonade, you’re in for a surprise! Afterwards we walked to the British Museum which is gargantuan! And best of all, free. Also, I had no idea the actual Rosetta Stone was held here.We decided to call it a night afterwards because I was still quite jet lagged. So lagged that I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until nearly two in the afternoon the next day, which is a new record for me. I never sleep past noon, ever! It also got really dark, really quick so I was a bit disoriented when we went outside. Nichola, Edward, and I took the tube to Westminster and saw a few pretty cool things.
That same day, December 21st 2012, the world was supposed to end. Thank God it didn’t because I was really worried…
So we went to a friend of Edwards for a “Hey, So It’s Not The End Of The World” party. Any excuse to party is fine with me! There I met a house full of aspiring young actors, actresses, and musicians. It was fitting because they were all quite the characters. All they wanted was to feed me and make sure my cup was always filled to the brim. An important observation I made; any place I go where I’m in a different state/country/continent/planet and I am at a party or just hanging out with people (mostly foreign strangers), they have all been so incredibly nice and like to cater me with lots of drinks and tasty food! It’s awesome and I always make sure I return the gratitude in some way.
The next day, the three of us went to Camden Town Market (I think) where they have a bunch of shops and food stalls. Food stalls with different food from places like Brazil, China, and Peru! I just got a chicken sandwich and fries but regretted it when Nichola and I saw the Peru stall and were instantly bombarded with old memories. The lady at the stall was impressed that we knew quite a bit about the delicacies she offered and about the places we’ve been in her country. It just makes me want to get back to Peru again one day.
We chilled back at the flats and ordered some pizza for the remainder of the night. She and Edward had to catch an early train back to Manchester in the morning. It was really good seeing Nichola after almost two years! It was also nice of them to make the trip down to see me. I don’t get too sad with these goodbyes too much because they’re not really goodbyes, they’re more like an “I’ll see you later”. On the same token, it doesn’t make it easier.
I met Prem during my second outing in South Africa. She along with a handful of other newbies took over the Rec House once I left for Tanzania. Prem is from London and I’ve never met someone so hilariously witty. Along with a few others, we would always play Chinese Snap, a zany table pounding card game, in the Rec house a few times and her hand was always the victim of my intimidating death slaps on the table. She swore vengeance on me once I seen her in London though. I’ve only hung around the new crew at the Rec House a few times and Prem was always the standout comedian. Her English accent made everything funnier to me. In case you haven’t noticed, I love that accent. If I could swap my generic American accent for a English one, I would in a heartbeat.
I took the tube to North Greenwich and after getting lost on the city bus for an hour, somehow found my way to Plumstead where Prem resides. I never sweat when I get lost; I’m pretty resourceful. I was greeted by her, her mother, and her friend Natalie from her Uni. Since I last saw Prem, she has been hard at work studying and working even debating where and when to take her next trip. She really wants to go to New York City. On an interesting note, most of the Londoners I met want to go to either New York City, Florida, or Los Angeles. There is way more to the U.S. than those three places! I thought it was amusing. Prem keeps in touch with several people she met back in Muizenberg still which is awesome and we had a good time talking about things we may have not known at the time. The first night was very relaxed, we watched a movie, drank some wine, and I taught them how to play Wisk, a card game I learned from another English friend of mine who I will reunite with in a bit. Her mom assumed I knew how to cook because she said I have fat cheeks! I can’t cook for the life of me, so give me something to cut or peel. I can also supervise pretty well. If I did any cooking I would have ruined Christmas dinner for everyone!
I actually spent Christmas Day in this household and it was mighty relaxing. Prem introduced me to something festive they do here in London. She bought a package of…gosh I don’t remember what they’re called…poppers? Crackers? Anyways, they are these things that look like giant tootsie rolls, still in the wrapper but in cardboard form. What you do is, you and a friend pull each side and it pops open with goodies and surprises. In mine were a king’s crown, a pocket mirror, and some small book. I guess Londoners do it all the time here. Later on, we took Natalie back to her flat at her Uni in which Prem and her mom tried to give me a mini tour of this part of the city as we drove, but I was fast asleep in the backseat. From all that wine probably. It happens.
The next day, Prem and her mom drove me to the bus station so I could get to Kensington. I said my goodbyes to them and assured that whenever I get back to London I will see them again. Thanks for everything Prem! Now to get to Kensington. There was a tube strike today and most of the tubes were out of service so I had to take the buses. I am pretty bad at navigating the buses but I managed to get to Kensington…eventually.
I met Nick a few days before we started our week-long trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in July 2012. He lived in a home-stay, while I stayed in the main volunteer house. He was also part of LX6 (the group of us six volunteers who banded together to ascend Kili). Right after Kili, we went directly to Zanzibar Island for another week, so I spent a considerable amount of time with him. Nick and I were tent-mates the entire time on the mountain which reminds me, I have a funny story about that, that I never mentioned on here before. (Nick, if you’re reading this, don’t hate me!)
Each night on Kilimanjaro, there was something that happened I liked to call “Nick-at-Nite”. At the hotel we stayed in, the night before our ascent, Nick warned me that he would often sleep walk at night and would sometimes spaze out and say and do unusual things. “You’re fine” I responded. I thought he was exaggerating, but I found out soon enough he certainly wasn’t . At the hotel, in the middle of the night, he popped up out of his bed like The Undertaker and didn’t know where he was or even who I was. “HUH!! ..Wha??? Where am I? Who are you?”
“Nick, you’re in a hotel. It’s me, Dan. We are climbing Kilimanjaro tomorrow” I said. “Oh okay” he says and he falls right back to sleep. That was just the first day. Our first night on Kilimanjaro, he did the exact same thing. “Wha?! Where am I? Who are you?!”
“I’m Dan and we’re in a tent.”
Now the second night on the mountain was even funnier. He unconsciously woke up in the middle of the night, grabbed his torch (flashlight) and proceeded to lift my feet up to find who knows what on my side of the tent. He then dropped my feet and started tossing around my bags. I was lying there cracking up because I knew he didn’t realize what he was doing.
“Nick are you alright?” I finally asked. “Looking for my torch.” he responded. “It’s in your hand, haha!” I chuckled. “Oh, okay” he says and goes back to his side of the tent and right back to sleep.
All this stuff makes him sound like a weirdo, but that’s only just when he’s sleeping. He’s actually really bright and a good friend. He made sure I didn’t drown or get eaten by any sharks when I decided to exercise in the Indian Ocean after a few too many drinks one late night in Zanzibar…
By this point I have already been all over London: North, South, East, West, and Central. I have become adept at navigating the tubes (not so much with the buses). Nick took a train from somewhere just outside of South London to come visit and I took the tube to Charring Cross and met up with him at the front of the train station. We headed down South Bank nearby to a pub called The Coal Hole where we could catch up.
When I last saw him, he was leaving Zanzibar and heading back home to London, just as the Summer Olympics were kicking off. These days Nick is a pharmaceutical assistant and working towards his degree in the field at the University of Bath. He’s been doing well these days and it was pretty good reminiscing over the good, the bad, and the overall memorable times on Kilimanjaro. I was also able to ask him in person what he thought of the Fruity Pebbles I sent him a couple of months ago. You see, for those that don’t know, I am a big cereal junkie. I could live off of it if I had to. While on Zanzibar, I found out Tanner, Katie, Lana, and Nick (all foreigners) have never heard or even seen a box of Fruity Pebbles in their lives. I was astonished! So I told them once I got back to America, I would send them each a box; and that’s exactly what I did.
While tossing back a few pints, we were able to catch up on A LOT of stuff. I told him about the rest of my Africa trip and then about Vegas. He asked if I still kept in touch with my school in Tanzania, the Shining Star Pre-Primary. Just occasional emails back and forth, but not too much else. And it’s understandingly so because it’s hard to get internet out there. He kept in touch with his school too, Cheti Primary…until recently. His old directors at Cheti emailed him asking if he could send quite a substantial amount of money over to help the directors kids get through school. Nick hasn’t responded because he doesn’t know what to say. There’s no telling if Cheti will actually use the money for the students or for other personal things. As a matter of fact, the schools that we volunteered with in Tanzania are not supposed to ask us volunteers for money because a portion of our money already went towards the schools. And I know for a fact the money went towards the schools because each volunteer literally hand delivered it to their primary’s directors in person at the start of the volunteer program. Once you leave though, there is no telling what they will do with the money (the locals in Tanzania were a bit sneaky when it came to this kid of stuff). Nick has yet to respond to them, but I can’t blame him.
After sometime, Nick and I parted ways once again at the train station. It was very good to meet up and I know that I’ll see him again one of these days.
Sam is another that I met during my second outing in SA in August 2012. He occupied the Rec House and I met him a little later on my trip. The whole time, he reminded me of a certain celebrity but I couldn’t put my finger on who. It wasn’t until my last night in SA that I pointed out he looks like Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. “I get that all the time, but I don’t see it!” he would say. From the short time I knew him, it was apparent that everyone at the house liked him a lot. He told me he lived in East London, however far or close that is to the main part of London (is there a main part?) I’m not sure. But once I knew I was going, I messaged him and we met up!
Good thing Sam was wearing a Santa hat or otherwise I would have never found him! We met up on the London bridge and it was a miracle that we found each other so quickly because there was so many people everywhere! I thought I was going to have to resort to asking people if they have seen Chris Martin walking around with a Santa Hat. We went directly to the Borough Market near the bridge. It’s a huge outdoor place clustered with food stalls galore! It’s almost impossible to go through the market without buying something to eat. Everything smelled and looked so freakin’ delicious! I even tried “mulled wine” for the first time. The Londoners have told me about mulled wine before, but this whole time I thought they were saying “mold” wine, which didn’t sound great at all. Mulled wine is a heated Merlot that is moderately blended with cinnamon and other spices. It’s actually not that bad. It tastes almost like a warm apple cider with a bit of a bold red wine finish.
Sam is a teacher here in London and an avid surfer on his free time. He has surfed in Australia, California, South Africa, and even while it was snowing in Northern England! In Muizenberg, he was volunteering with the surf program. He and Prem actually left at the same time.
We went to a pub near the London Bridge called “A Bunch of Grapes”…I think. I should have wrote this stuff down! But we were able to catch up and seeing as he is a teacher, I was able to ask him a lot of questions about the United Kingdom. He was able to explain a lot because I’ll be honest, my knowledge of England or even Europe as a whole is severely lacking. It’s so small and there are so many countries in one tiny area. For example, (I’m going to sound like an idiot now) I always assumed the Queen had a King that no one ever spoke of for some reason. She has a prince she’s married to but he’s not really the king. I also thought she was the sole ruler of the country, but as it turns out there’s this Prime Minister guy who actually makes all the rules. I was completely oblivious to all of this. I guess I focused all my attention more on third world countries. Well anyways, Sam couldn’t stay long because he had a plane to catch soon. He was going to Prague to spend New Years there. Lucky guy!
If there is anyone I have to blame for my random arrival in London, then I blame Pip! We were sitting in the volunteer house in Arusha one day when Pip proposed the idea that I should just come to London and visit her for Christmas. She was mostly kidding, but that was the seed she planted in my head. Thanks Pip! Pip hails from Brisbane, Australia and she has the blue-est eyes you would ever see on a human being! Seriously, her eyes are so blue. Let me find a picture…
Pip arrived in Tanzania the day after I got there and we couldn’t have had a better first full day in Arusha. Her, myself, and a handful of others went on a muddy fun waterfall hike near Mt. Meru. The best part was the Bota Bota’s we rode on through the streets and villages to get there. This is the part when I started to fall ill to a sickness and horrible cough that lasted me well through Kilimanjaro. Speaking of Kili, Pip also climbed it after I had already left Tanzania. She even started up her own fundraiser for her efforts. You can read all about it on her blog site Many Shades. I even wrote a post for her site. Check it out! Pip got along well with everyone in the house and stayed in Tanzania for a total of three months before she made her way up to London to visit family for the holidays. This was the perfect opportunity to reunite with Pip again.
I met up with her in Covent Garden, along with her cousin Katie. Pips eyes are still bluer than ever and it was humbling to see her again. She told me her time on Kili didn’t go as smooth as she hoped and is going to attempt it again with her dad this upcoming summer. She also has plans on returning to Arusha for a bit more too. Lucky her! Pip and I stood outside the tube station for a bit because we were waiting to meet up with another fellow volunteer we met in Arusha. That volunteer is the one and only…
Danni was one of the very first volunteers I met upon arrival from Kenya to Tanzania. She doesn’t know it, but I always thought of her as the leader of the new pack of volunteers that arrived, which includes me. Danni was pretty amazing, and not just because of her British accent, she has an adventurous spirit. She is a P.E. teacher here in London and since she left Tanzania, she’s been active in different athletics and continuing her role as the coolest P.E. instructor in all of England! We actually didn’t have a proper goodbye in Tanzania. The last time I saw her was right before I left to Kilimanjaro. We were on Zanzibar at the same time but never got the chance to meet up because she was on the opposite side of the island. By the way, Danni also wrote a blog during her travels which you should check out here Danni’s African Adventure.
Once Pip and I spotted Danni waiting for us, it was like a very mini Arusha reunion. We had the whole day to do whatever we wanted and what better way to start the day than pub crawl all around London!
I can’t recall the number of pubs and restaurants we went to (it was a lot!). I do know it took up the whole entire day and closed out my last full day in England with a bang! It’s been months since I’ve seen last seen Pip and Danni but seeing them again felt like I just saw them yesterday. They felt the same way. In just a few days, Pip would be returning home to Australia and in a few months Danni would make her way there also to visit friends including Pip and another member of our safari squad, Rachel.
This London trip wasn’t planned and to be honest England wasn’t anywhere near the top of my list of places I needed to visit (I’m more of a rustic guy). The biggest draw for me were the friends that I met, that I will never forget. 🙂