Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wow. We did it.

I have been putting off writing this entry for weeks. How do I summarize the events of the past year of my life? What words could possibly do justice to the incredible things I've experienced? And how do I begin to grasp that it's over?

Twelve months. Fifteen countries. SEVENTY THOUSAND kilometers. Eighty beds. Nineteen flights. Hundreds of new friends. Just the two of us.

Being home is completely surreal. In many ways, it feels like we never left. Which doesn't feel quite fair somehow. It seems like things should be different. It seems like I should be different. How is this life the same one that I left in 2009?

One of the most remarkable things I can say about this trip is how EASY it was. Embarking on this adventure, there were so many unknowns. So many fears and concerns about safety and security and stability. But the fact is, it was a piece of cake. Really. We didn't get robbed or lost or injured or sick of each other. We didn't cut the trip short or go into debt or ever for a moment question our decision.

But we did make a remarkable dream come true.

We did learn how to greet a stranger in Portuguese, order sheesha in Arabic, count in Swahili, and say thank you in Hindi.

We did get invited into strangers' homes, for lunch or a drink or a three week stay.

We did hike on a glacier.  Make that two glaciers.

We did watch the sun rise over a dozen different horizons.

We did hike to Machu Picchu, get soaked by Iguazu Falls, party at Carnival, safari in the Serengeti, ride a camel to the Pyramids, watch the sun set over the Taj Majal, and live in a camper van for two months.

We did dive with great white sharks, ride ostriches, pet tigers and eat guinea pigs.

We did walk play soccer with schoolkids in the slums.

We did celebrate Ramadan with family across the globe.

We did eat new foods and meet new people and try new things.  Every single day.

We did grow closer than we ever were before.

And we lived to tell about it.

December 2009
December 2010

Sunday, January 23, 2011


It's no walk in Retiro Park. Stress, culture shock, more stress, denial. Reece and I have had more arguments in a month of being back than we did in our entire year of travels. I can't lie. Being home has been hard. Not being able to run around freely on our own schedule. Worrying about finding work again. Dealing with the hassles of re-entry to society. It's grating on our nerves and it's testing our patience and it's making Reece really, really cranky. Yes darling, you.

Of course, I haven't been back to work yet, so I may be having a slightly easier time with things. I'm sure once I return to the land of cubicles, I'll have my very own meltdown. Till then, I'll be on my netbook watching the videos from our trip. Again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'd like to thank the Academy.

Ah, award show season.  A relentless reminder of all the movies, music and pop-culture references we missed out on in the past year.  Frankly, I'm not that impressed.

It's also a reminder that I have some prizes of my own that I'd like to hand out.  This blog features a lot of me me me.  It's about time we spotlight a few other folks who deserve recognition.  And the award goes to...

Kathy Shamma
"Most Involved"
My mom holds the proud title of the only person who came to visit us on our enture trip!  She flew 6,000 miles.  She made us feel totally loved.  She brough HELLA SNACKS.  She also followed my blog and emailed me throughout the journey far more than anybody else did.  Thanks, Mom, for making me feel missed!

Felicia Shamma
"Most Supportive"
She may not have been happy about me being gone.  But she was happy for me nonetheless.  She stuck up for us when others complained about our absence.  She did her best to keep everyone from worrying about us unecessarily.  And she almost never asked when the hell we were coming home.  Thanks, Sha, for having my back!

Ayman Shamma
"Most Understanding"
A lot of folks thought we were crazy for deciding to take this trip.  Most of them are in my immediate family.  My dad, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about adventure.  He moved to the US from Egypt at a young and impressionable age, and totally gets where my wanderlust comes from.  Thanks, Dad, for understanding!

Lou Valdez
"Most Interested"
My grandpa is a bit of a history buff.  In fact, he is a buff of all kinds of relevant facts and figures.  At any given time, my grandfather would probably know the geographic coordinates of our given location, and the local weather we'd likely be experiencing.  He was often up to date on current events in the area and always looked forward to asking us more about it.  Thanks, Grandpa, for making us feel important!

Theresa Valdez
"Most Enthusiastic"
I wish I could have recorded my grandma answering the phone each time we called.  I don't think she could have mustered up more excitement were I Mr. Ed McMahon himself calling to find out when the giant check could be delivered.  I can safely say I'll probably live the rest of my life without ever having anybody quite so happy to hear from me.  Thanks, Grandma, for making me feel so special!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


One of the many wonderful things about removing yourself from the routine and spending a year traveling is that you begin to see the whole world through fresh tourist eyes. Even those places you have lived in for years. Perhaps especially those places.

I have fallen in love with Venice all over again. What a beautiful, eclectic, friendly, unique, absolutely buzzing place to call home. A beer on the boardwalk that turned into three pitchers. A rip roarin' Doors cover band. A warm and stunning sunset. It's the stuff worthy of blogging about. But it's right in our backyard.

It's good to be home.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two point six decades

I realized something the other day that is worth mentioning in it's very own post.

At the typical American vacation rate of two weeks per year, it would have taken us 26 years to do everything we did on our trip. 


If that's not reason enough to quit your job and travel the world immediately, I don't know what is.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I'm not very good at picking favorites.  I can't tell you my favorite movie.  I don't have a favorite band.  I'll go for the variety pack of cereal over a large box any day.  Gold medal ribbon ice cream from Baskin Robbin's is probably the only thing I've ever committed to whole heartedly, but I'll still taste a couple of sample spoons for the heck of it before I order my usual scoop.

As you can imagine, the one question we've received more than any other since returning home from our trip is...

"What was your favorite place??"

I'm sorry.  I just can't do it.  I am SO the mom who loves each of her little countries for different reasons.  I couldn't possibly be asked to favor one visa stamp over another.  The absolute BEST I have been able to do is to narrow is down to four great nations.  Which isn't saying much, considering that's nearly a third of the grand total.  That's about as specific as selecting ten of Mr. Robbin's delicious creations.

Anyhow, without further ado (an in no particular order).


From the glaciers of Patagonia to the splendor of Iguazu Falls, Argentina offers an incredible array of bang for your buck.  A world-famous wine country, a stunning lake district and a bustling tango-tastic capital.  You'd be hard-pressed to run out of things to do in this incredible country, and it's wonderfully affordable.  Top all of that with friendly residents and melt-in-your-mouth steak, and Argentina is a no brainer.


Similar to Argentina, South Africa packs a lot of variety into a relatively small country.  Where else can you dive with great white sharks, go on a safari, ride an ostrich, surf infamous breaks and taste award-winning wines?  Combining the beauty of California's coast with the ruggedness of Africa...the comfort of what you know with the excitement of all that you don't...and South Africa is tough to beat.


The history in Egypt is mind-blowing.  The culture is awe-inspiring.  It's an enchanting, mysterious, challenging and fascinating place, and we absolutely cherish the time we spent there.  No doubt, having family in Cairo made our experience what it was.  Egypt is definitely the type of place in which you benefit from the luxury of a local connection.  And we happen to be connected to a fun, generous, fantastic host of a family.  It's one of the few places I look forward to returning to in the future.


I can't visit the local animal shelter.  Cause if I did, I'd come home with a dozen of the oldest, most flea-ridden dogs they've got.  Forget the puppies.  Everybody loves them.  My heart really goes out to the ugly ducklings.  That's why I wouldn't be myself if I didn't give a shout-out to this dusty dark-horse.  Even making the aforementioned comparsion pains me.  Cause India is no ugly-duckling.  It's beautiful.  It's spiritual.  It's serene.  It's chaotic.  It's magical.  The food stole my heart.  The people held it captive.  And the scenery decided I wasn't getting it back anytime soon.  In two months, we barely scratched the surface of this overwhelming country.  I can't wait to spend much, much more time there.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Is that lamb?

You may recall our brush with fame in New Zealand.  Well, you will be delighted to learn that we actually made the cut!  Reece even has a speaking part!  Don't blink, or you might miss it.

Clearly it was only a matter of time before we became famous overseas. If you can get your hands on a package of Heller's sausage, I'd be happy to sign it for you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

20 minutes remaining?!

We've seen a lot of different sights over the past year. I mean, A LOT. And the one sight we've seen most...?

We took a total of 17,069 pictures on this trip. That's an average of nearly 1,500 a month. Not too shabby.

If we sat down and looked at every single shot (for one second each), it would take us almost five hours to get through them all. Wow.

Anybody wanna come over for a slideshow?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Up and Running

I have a new driver's license. Renewed registration. Activated insurance and road-worthy wheels again.

It's official. I am once again a functioning member of society.

I bought a Droid too, with a brand new cell phone number to go along with it. There's no turning back now.

Oh yeah.  Reece had a pretty significant reunion of his own.

That's right friends. We're home.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

St. Christopher

The Patron Saint of Safe Travels. The man whose image Reece hoped to tattoo on his arm before our trip, but for several reasons it didn't work out.

Today, after a year of waiting for it, he is now plus one peice of body art! He's earned it. And now, we are totally set for the next trip.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Twenty Eleven!

Just days after arriving on US soil, packed our bags again for a whirlwind visit to the city by the bay. We couldn't think of a better place to ring in the new year than with our nearest and dearest in San Francisco. It was just as cold as we remembered. It was as champagne-fueled as we hoped it would be. And it was also, well, kinda awkward.

Of course, it was super exciting to see our friends again. So good to meet them for drinks and give copious amounts of hugs and be social with people who actually know us. It was also a total challenge at times determining what to talk about...

"Tell me all about your trip!!"

Well, this one time... actually, you probably already read that in my blog.

"So, how's work...?"

Yeah, totally, I feel ya. I mean, no, I don't actually.

"So you know that movie everyone's talking about?!"

Nope. Haven't seen it yet.

"Um... How 'bout them Giants??"

Luckily, there is one thing we can all relate to...


We couldn't have asked for a better one.