Sunday, June 30, 2013


Our group poses in front of the fruits of our labors.

Insane volcano running aside, El Salvador (and Phil) have been good to us. So good in fact, that we felt like we owed it a little something. And then, just like that, the perfect opportunity presented itself. 

We were invited to join in on a Habitat for Humanity build in the town of Juayua, with a number of US Embassy and USAID staff and friends. We've preached the merits of serendipity in the past, and this is another perfect example. Being hardcore voluntourists, it was an invitation we couldn't pass up.

What was not so excellent was the 6 a.m. departure time. That's 6 a.m. "U.S. time," not "Salvadoran time," which would have been a much more tolerable 7-7:30 ish. No matter. Phil, a McDonald's connoisseur and unofficial Fastfood Ambassador, knew of a great local restaurant where we could grab a quick breakfast on the way (see photo at right).

Once fully fueled, we were all set to grab some shovels and get to work. And there was much to be done. The house was without a floor, and hundreds of buckets of sand were needed to bring the interior floor up to the correct level. And so, we began shoveling.

And shoveling....and shoveling.

And when we were done with the shoveling, and pouring, and pounding the dirt with paint cans filled with concrete, that floor looked beautiful.

And we were proud of ourselves. But there was still more work to be done.

We pulled weeds, moved rocks, got started on building the exterior patio, and primed the entire exterior and interior, for both plaster and paint.  Not only did we get to help out a great organization, we also got a killer triceps workout, and worked up an intense appetite.

But yet again, serendipity had our backs. The town of Juayua is also home to an incredible weekend street food festival. And this just happened to be a weekend. 

Needless to say, we stuffed our faces with grilled pork, beef, rabbit, and anything else these happy ladies heaped on our plates. Unfortunately, gorrobo (iguana) wasn't in season, so we'll have to come back. Shucks.
Two happy ladies prepping our lunch at the famous weekend Juayua food festival.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


"Hey, let's run up that volcano in the distance!" said no one in their right mind, ever. The view from Phil's balcony.
The paved, "flat" part of the run.
No one remembers exactly whose idea it was, but somehow it was decided that running/walking/crawling 18 kilometers (11 miles) up a volcano in El Salvador would be a great way to spend a Sunday.


Before we get too far into this, we have to take a moment to first thank Phil (we'll blame him later). 

Phil is a friend of Liz's from DC who now works in San Salvador. He also lives in a gorgeous apartment with AC, cable (oh, to see SportsCenter again), wi-fi, hot water and an extra bedroom that he lets us crash in when we're not slumming it at the beach these days. We love Phil for the hospitality. We also might blame him for looping us into this 18 km volcano run. 

From Phil's balcony you see stunning views of the city, as well as of a tree-covered volcanic cone rising up on the horizon. 

Turns out, there's an annual run that goes from the base of this volcano up to the crater's edge and then slightly back down afterward. It's an 18 km race and from what Phil said, a lot of folks do it and we maybe should do it to. Plus, we get a t-shirt for signing up, and a medal when we finish. Win-win, right?

In fact, he even had a group of insane friends he works with who were considering doing the run and maybe, no, definitely we should all do it together this 18 kilometer, uphill both ways, steep-as-hell, knee-jarring, back-breaking slog and it could be a great way to spend a Sunday in San Salvador and we would all have such an amazing time and...for a while that Sunday, we no longer called Phil our friend. 

Now that we've had a while to recover, everyone's on good terms again. Phil even continues to let us stay at his place from time to time (thanks, Phil!) 

But from here on out, we'll no longer be taking his advice what's an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday in El Salvador, at least if it involves running and a volcano.

That's us with Phil after the race. It was all his fault.
Despite the volcano's best efforts the whole crew survived the run. Thanks for letting us join you, guys!
With our medals at the finish line. 
Phil helps Kip to the finish.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Our favorite rent-a-car window in El Tunco, El Salvador
In addition to the amazing sunsets, Playa El Tunco in El Salvador is also a great place to rent a car.

Although lots of classic cars have fins, the "cars" for rent in Playa El Tunco are of a more aquatic variety. If you plan to rent one, you better be ready to tame the numerous "buenas olas" in the area such as: El Sunzal, La Bocana, La Bocanita, and numerous others farther up the beach.

In addition to the trusty rent-a-car location, El Tunco serves up some mean cuisine at its restaurants. We tried lots of places but, after our first taste, we never ventured farther then Taco Guanaco, the best beef tacos we've had on the continent.

Surf and turf, indeed.

Friday, June 21, 2013


A surfer ventures out for a final session before darkness takes over in El Tunco, El Salvador. 

El Tunco's helping turn around tourism in El Salvador. At least, that's what it says in Kip's latest story for Men's Journal--"EL SALVADOR'S NEW BEGINNING"

By the way, we're still a little behind on our posts, but from here on out, we'll be updating from our current location...Central America! We promise to get more up-to-date soon!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


It may not look like it in this photo, but these kids were totally pumped to hear us speak.
No really, they were!
Who could resist an invitation to speak in front of a class of high school students? 

Certainly not us, particularly since the students in Mrs. Paula Callender's class at Pleasant Hill High in Louisiana have been loyal followers and commenters on our blog for all these months. They even hand-wrote notes to us!  

When we got the invite to talk to the class of juniors and seniors during our brief stay in the US we were excited...and a little nervous.

What should we say? What could we do? What if they fell asleep? An entire class period in front of high school students wasn't a situation we were accustomed to. 

So we went overboard. A PowerPoint was created. Lots of photos were readied for display. We brought visual aids, including our backpacks and lots of crazy stuff collected during the trip.

Liz posing with "Miss Inspiration" herself, Mrs. Paula Callendar,
teacher extraordinaire.
But we should have known from the kids' previous letters and what we knew of Mrs. Callender, we had nothing to fear. What was billed as a "talk" ended up more like an in-depth discussion.

The kids were on their best behavior, and as soon as we walked into the classroom we were hit with a whiteboard full of intriguing questions. 

These guys had some serious issues they needed addressed. Some of our favorites: 

  • Q: What is the drinking age in Africa? A: We weren't real sure on this one, particularly country by country, but we guessed "18," which turned out to be pretty close.
  • Q: How did you handle the language barrier? A: Usually with a lot of pointing, smiling, and head nodding. We also try to at learn a few basics, like please, thank you, bathroom, and cerveza. 
  • Q: How do you pack for a whole year? A: Terribly, and with way too much stuff. More details are here, though we've improved since then. Slightly.
  • Q: Do you get scared when you visit weird places? A: Sometimes, but if we're going to somewhere that's a bit sketchy we do extra research in advance about where not to go and what not to do, at least until we can confirm with some locals.
Nearly three hours later, the kids were still going, and so were we. After the friendly interrogation, they checked out some "never-before-seen" photos from the trip. Next, the kids tried on some gear (scuba mask, hats, backpacks, a turban) and then passed around some of the stuff we brought along (foreign currency, coins, and wooden dragonflies, which were the most popular--with everyone, for some reason). 
Us with our backpacks in front of the whiteboard full of intriguing questions from the kids.
We've had an excellent time on the road. But getting to discuss our trip with some smart kids--and, more importantly, hearing their thoughts on life, travel, volunteering, and so much more--were an unexpected highlight. We owe a big thanks to Mrs. Callendar and her class at Pleasant Hill. We had considered calling the trip quits, but you guys inspired us to keep going. And so we did. Thanks guys! More updates from El Salvador to come.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


U.S. Postal Service
It's not often you get a handwritten letter these days. Blame it on Facebook or the failings of the U.S. Postal Service, but few people take the time to put pen to paper to send personal correspondence anymore. 

We had a big surprise waiting for us at home during our recent stop between trips. While we were away a class of high school students we had never met decided to write us letters. On paper. With pen and pencil. 

It turns out the kids and their thoughtful teacher Mrs. Paula Callender at Pleasant Hill High School (La.) had been following our travels and volunteer activities online for months. One day in class, they decided to write us letters on what they thought about traveling, our trip and giving back (Mrs. Callender later invited us to speak to her class, which we'll write about this week).

We read every letter, most of them a few times. Some were hopeful, some a little goofy (you know who you are!), all of them inspirational and well written. 

Thanks again to Chiquita, Mrs. Callender, and all the students who wrote us. While every letter they sent made us smile, one particular note stood out, the text of which we've included below:
"You inspired me to look beyond Pleasant Hill. You inspired me to be a better me and help others. What you guys are doing is beautiful and selfless. You guys have showed me that the world is a canvas and where ever you go, you can paint your life story. I just want to say thank you for opening my eyes to all the possibilities there are."
--Chiquita Carhee, student, Pleasant Hill High School

Friday, June 14, 2013


One year ago this week, we were enjoying a stunning sunset in the Philippines, and we wrote about all the crazy modes of transport it took to see it. 

This week, a sunset in Playa El Cuco in El Salvador was made all the better by the presence of a nearly symmetrical sand dollar Liz found on the beach. In monetary value, the little sea urchin doesn't come to much.

But considering it was Liz's first sand dollar ever to see in the wild, it sure meant a lot to us.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Big thanks to the folks at World Bicycle Relief for all the work they do...and for posting the story below on their blog about our recent experience with them in Uganda. 

For more than 100,000 individuals across Africa, WBR has shown bicycles can change lives. Thanks again, guys, and keep up the great work!

WBR: Wheels on the Ground in Jinja, Uganda

Liz Zipse and her husband Kip have been traveling the world for the past year, with the intent to learn, adventure, and most of all--give back. 

With a goal of incorporating one day per week of volunteerism into their travels, Liz and Kip have participated in a myriad of amazing projects as they've hiked, dived and surfed their way around the globe...

Read the full article here... 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


A street scene in Giza, Egypt, with a mix of the ancient, modern and everything in-between.
How did we end up in Egypt on an eight-hour layover en route to DC? 

We would have loved to stay in Africa for many more months, but it was time to go home. Briefly. 

To help pay for this trip, we had rented out our house in DC last year. But the lease was up for our awesome renters (thanks, Bob and Ali!), and so, being responsible adults (sort of), we had to get home using our few remaining frequent flyer miles to take care of some business, like filing our taxes and re-renting  our house to new and hopefully equally-responsible tenants (that means you, David and Michael!).

Considering we don't mind taking long layovers or making endless connections through out-of-the-way airports on our trip back, especially when the ticket is basically free, we began the search to see how we could best "enjoy" the trip back home. 

Our ensuing 40-hr marathon, while perhaps horrifying to a business traveler, included two scenic layovers, taking us from Uganda to Cairo to London and on to Washington. There are still advantages to booking with frequent flyer miles when you have the time.

Our first stop, flying Egypt Air, took us to Cairo. These guys know about proper layovers. Upon arrival, a representative presents you with a menu that includes options on what you want to see based on how long you have before your next flight. They handle transportation, transit visas and making sure you get back in time for your departing flight. 

We picked a tour of the Great Pyramids, with a quick stop for lunch in Giza. 

The ancient, the modern, and everything in between--that's what you get walking through Giza, the just-outside-of-Cairo town that serves as a foreground to the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

While the area immediately surrounding the well-aged structures is covered with sand (and camels and tourists), a bustling street scene with some stellar local eats is just a stone's throw away. And we just happened to be hungry.

Ever heard of "koshari?" If you've been to Egypt, chances are you have. 

The carb- and protein-loaded dish, the country's most popular fast food, comes with rice, macaroni, lentils, and chick peas topped with caramelized onions and a spicy tomato sauce, among lots of other things, depending on who's cooking (here's a recipe)

London's first koshari restaurant recently opened to rave reviews. Could be a koshari food truck opening in your hood soon.

A national pastime in Egypt--drinking sugar-dosed tea and smoking cherry-flavored tobacco from a hookah pipe. We didn't inhale, Mom, we promise. 

And so, not quite halfway through our near two-day return trip, we bid farewell to Africa. 

After an adventurous overnight in London that included chicken gyros near Paddington Station and a brief meeting with Gaia, the darling baby daughter of good friends Cecile and Augustin (thanks for the wine and the short but good night's sleep!), we headed back to Heathrow for a short stay at home before our next trip south of the border...coming soon!

Monday, June 10, 2013


Sandy lips?  Too old? Missing a nose? 

Really, who could resist a quick smooch with a 4,500 year old icon? Certainly not Liz. She puckered right up. And no, we're not talking about Keith Richards, although the similarities are striking.

This photographic evidence proves we tried our best to make the most out of every possible photo op during our short time in Egypt. And when it came time to goof off with a camel, Kip was not one to miss out. Unfortunately this camel didn't have the sense of humor of our classic photo-bomber in India.

It's safe to say we had us a good time.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Yes, if you're going to the Pyramids in Egypt, you are required by law (or at least by the tourism police) to climb aboard a poorly treated camel and pose for a photo. All the better if your camel wrangler is wearing a Yankees hat and calls you Jim and Suzie. 

Considering we were on an eight-hour layover from Uganda en route to Washington, DC, via London for $46 and 15,000 miles, we weren't ones to question the words of Muhamed, our guide.  

At least we didn't get photo-bombed like we did by a camel in India

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Kids take a break from supervising Liz's painting skills to wave hello. 
Sadly, there are folks out there who still don't comprehend the value of short-term volunteering. 

For example, guidebook publisher Lonely Planet's Africa guide informs potential volunteers that, "Unless you’ve got some expertise, and are prepared to stay for at least a year, you’re unlikely to be much use anyway." 

Really, Lonely Planet? A year or nothing? 

Perhaps the publisher should discuss its ill-advised statement with the folks at Soft Power Education or with the thousands of kids that Soft Power and its short-term volunteers have helped over the years. 

Like Big Brother Mouse in Laos, Soft Power seeks out travelers who aren't able to commit to weeks or months (or a year) of volunteering. The nonprofit offers visitors various options, including a "One Day Volunteering" program, which enables participants to tour its facilities, learn about issues affecting the area, donate, and work on an ongoing project such as painting a school or helping construct a building. 

Kip trying to stay between the lines.
Liz having a much easier time than hubby.
We had a few extra days in Jinja, so we emailed Soft Power through their website to see if they had anything available (click here for tips on finding volunteer opportunities on the road). From there, they hooked us up with an opportunity through their school refurbishment program

We were told to meet Kibii, their energetic volunteer manager who grew up nearby, at a local Nile River rafting company. From there, Kibii gave us a tour of some of the projects the organization had completed, including the Amagezi Education Centre and the Kayabirwa Children's Centre. After the tour, off we went in the back of a pickup to the site where we'd spend the rest of the day.
Kip and our guide Kibii, who manages volunteers and organizes projects for Soft Power Education. 
Painting walls back home can get tedious quickly. Yet, there's a certain joy in brushing some color to the walls of a noisy school while being closely-watched by kids who would much rather critique two muzungus working than play outside during recess. The students didn't seem to be going anywhere, so we put them to work and started testing out their English skills. 

"Which letter comes next?" we asked, as we painted our alphabetical-way around the room. In unison, the kids would shout back their answers. "Name an animal that starts with that letter"...and the game continued. 

All was well and good until a teacher came by the room. Playtime was over, it seemed, at least for the kids. 

For us, we still had hours and another alphabet or two to go. And despite the duties at hand, we couldn't wait to keep going.

Interested in volunteering with Soft Power? Check out there volunteer page and see what option works for you. 
Oddly enough, this sign is directly next to this "interesting" building.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


With tears in his eyes, Gert proposes to Rhoda. 
Memorable travel moments come in all shapes and sizes. 

Some may involve the terror of falling off a cliff in Thailand. Others could stem from the joy of getting lost underwater while surrounded by thousands of friendly fish

On a sunset boat cruise at the source of the Nile River in Uganda, we were invited to share in someone else's travel moment. And it will go down as one of the most sincere and touching memories of the trip.

As we boarded the pontoon boat, Rhoda, a stunning Kenyan woman with a constant smile, told us she had always wanted to cruise the Nile. She thought that's what her doting boyfriend Gert had brought her to Jinja to do. But Gert had other plans.

Unbeknownst to Rhoda, her boyfriend had been planning stealthily to make the boat trip far more than just a cruise. Gert was going to ask Rhoda to marry him, which he whispered to Kip only minutes after they climbed on-board. The plan was hatched. 

We shared drinks, travel tales and laughs. We took an unauthorized swim in the dark, swirling waters of the Nile. Soon after, to the tune of Shania Twain's "From This Moment," Gert dropped to one knee and, tears in his eyes, he asked the "woman of his dreams" to marry him. 

The happy couple.
Between sobs, Rhoda screamed "Yes!" Gert slipped the ring on her left hand. He held her close and told her he loved her. She cried some more. 

Drinks were served. A celebration ensued. 

Somewhere in the middle of it all, Rhoda explained to Gert that he would need be ready to negotiate with her family on how many cows this would cost him. She laughingly added he might get a discount for her poor cooking skills. Gert assured her he would be ready. 

And a very special travel moment went deep into the memory banks for all of us.

Congratulations, Gert and Rhoda! Thanks for sharing your special day with us!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


There are so many good things happening in Jinja, Uganda, it can be a little hard to keep up.  

Though we were there only a few short weeks, we were fortunate to meet some inspiring people doing incredible things, from educating kids to improving health to empowering women through job creation. It really changes your view about humanity when you encounter so many organizations helping others.  

Because of their partnership with the founders of Light Gives Heat, whom we had gone to Jinja to visit, we had the good fortune to meet the Collie family--Asher, Dru, Quinn, Asa, and Silas. Former North Carolina residents, the Collies are the heart and soul of the non-profit Sole Hopewhich is working to put close-toed shoes on African children to eradicate foot-related diseases. 

They're also one of the coolest families we've ever met. In addition to running a  life-changing nonprofit, they moved to Africa with a three-month old baby, their kids are hilarious and well-behaved, and most importantly, at our second dinner at their house, they cooked us fried okra. In Uganda.

And we LOVE okra.

Over this heavenly, deep-fried dish, we got to hear how a youtube video inspired this family to move to Africa and take on the daunting task of putting shoes on the feet of African children, while teaching others a way to earn a living. Did we mention we think they are awesome?

Somehow we left without one photo, so this is from their
website.Thanks to Sole Hope and the Collies (and Betty, too)!
Thanks again to the Collie family for giving us what we were in dire need of...a home-cooked meal, good conversation, and a brief chance to feel like we were part of a family, if only for a little while. 

You guys knew just what we needed!

To learn more about the incredible work of Sole Hope, check out their website and blog. If you're inspired (how could you not be, really?), there are many great ways to get involved! You can also check them out on Facebook.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Kip Siping Uganda
Kip drinking Aqua Sipi water with Kip(rotich).
When we saw this billboard on a busy street in Uganda, we had no idea the man pictured, draped in a Ugandan flag, won the gold medal in the marathon at the London Olympics last fall. 

We also had no idea that when Stephen Kiprotich returned home from the UK, he was given a hero's welcome for winning what was Uganda's second gold medal ever (the first was in 1972 for the 400-meter hurdles). He also scored $80,000 in cash and a house for his mom and dad. Not bad for someone no one thought would medal.

What we did know was that we had to find out who this thirsty, patriotic person was, and more importantly, that Kip had to get his picture taken with a Ugandan who we thought was named Kip, or more specifically "Kip Siping."

As it turns out, "kip" means "keep" in Swahili (we think), and "Kip Siping" basically means "keep sipping." Oh well. Next time.

For more on Kiprotich, check out his somewhat dramatized life story in this minute long video/commercial for Aqua Sipi water, which includes a nice tour of Uganda.