Intercontinental Moorea: Family Friendly Fun

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m pretty excited to talk about this today, simply because the Intercontinental was such an awesome stay.

I’ve told you guys previously that I have Platinum status (the second highest) with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) simply because I hold their co-branded credit card. It’s got a $49 annual fee and gives you some pretty decent benefits. The sign up bonus from this card is also how I booked these nights, as detailed here.

Anyway, the benefits of being Platinum include early check-in, late check-out, a room upgrade, and a welcome amenity. That’s pretty cool, but there’s another oddball program out there specific to the Intercontinental Hotel called the Ambassador program.

Unlike every other program, this one you can purchase for $200, and it provides a host of benefits specifically at Intercontinental hotels. I’d been wavering on whether or not to purchase this, but on the day I was due to check-in, I went ahead and did it. (I’ll detail all the other benefits of the Ambassador program in a later post)

I’m so glad I did. You see, since I was booking my stay using points, I only qualified for the cheapest room available. That room, which goes for $300/night, is a hotel room in the main building.

With my status as a Platinum member, the hotel went ahead and upgraded me to a premium hotel room. This was about a $30/night difference. Not a huge deal, but pretty cool.

However, when I arrived, I wrote down my newly purchased Ambassador number on the check-in form, telling the reception clerk that I was indeed a Platinum Ambassador.

I kid you not, he gasped, starting typing furiously on his computer, and then swiftly disappeared to the back room.

When he came back, he handed me the key to my room, informing me that as a Platinum Ambassador, he’d gone ahead and upgraded me to their best available room, which was an entire bungalow with another private pool.

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These rooms go for about $600/night. That’s a difference of $1200 over the course of my three day stay, and an excellent return on the $250 investment in my status ($49 for the card and $200 for the Ambassador program).

I was floored. I thanked him profusely, loaded myself and my luggage (my backpack) into a golf cart, and I was off.

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The Intercontinental, while on the same island as the Hilton, is a totally different world. It’s on the opposite side, for one thing, and this hotel is much more…tropical.

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Where the Hilton was polished and pruned into perfection, the Intercontinental is a part of the environment, a fact you can see as wild animals climb the many lush trees. This hotel also houses a sea turtle recovery clinic and a dolphin program, both of which are free to check out as a hotel guest.

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How cool is that?

I really enjoyed my stay here. I dug the different vibe from the Hilton, and I’d have a hard time choosing between the two in the future. However, while the Hilton gave off a very romance-y honeymoon feeling, the Intercontinental seemed much more geared to families, and I saw a lot more kids here. The hotel is also a lot bigger, and takes a while to walk from place to place.

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I signed up for the themed buffet here too, since I was interested to see how the shows differed, and what kind of foods they would serve. The food was great- a traditional Polynesian barbecue, but you guys. It was the same show as the Hilton. Like, I don’t mean the same style. I mean the same exact performers came over two days later and did the exact same show at the Intercontinental. I was a little peeved, I’m not going to lie. At nearly $100 for dinner I felt a little gypped, and sat sulkily on my phone for a fair bit of it.

That is, until the lead dancer took advantage of my inattentiveness and pulled me on stage to dance. Luckily there was no one there to film it, so my poorly performed Polynesian dance is forever lost to history.

Next up- the benefits of the Ambassador program!

-Carissa “Platinum Ambassador” Rawson

 

The Hilton Moorea: Honeymooners and Romance

Hello Dear Readers!

As you know, I’ve just spent the last few days on the island of Moorea, in some of the best hotels I’ve ever seen. My trip overall was very relaxing- I got up every day, hung out at the pool, swam in the ocean, and generally enjoyed so much needed downtime.

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It’s absolutely stunning

Today’s post is going to focus on the Hilton Moorea, my first hotel on the island. I broke down before how I booked it, but to summarize, I used Chase’s travel portal to book the hotel. This is because the price was $772 for two nights, as opposed to $1500 on Hilton’s own website. (Chase acts as a third party booking site, much like Priceline.) I also used my Chase Ultimate Rewards to pay for it, which can be redeemed at a value of 1.5 cents per point (if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve), meaning I spent just over 50,000 points for the two nights.

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Now, since I booked on Chase I wasn’t able to receive any of my Diamond benefits, but I figured the $700 price difference was worth missing out on late check-out and a room upgrade. They even gave me an upgrade anyway, simply because they didn’t have the room I had originally paid for.

 

Let me tell you, this place was fantastic. They have hotel rooms, but I booked a bungalow with my own private pool, which is luxury at its finest.

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My first thought upon reaching the Hilton was “pristine.” This hotel, costing $700/night, can afford to care for every detail. It’s also a very small resort, with only about 100 rooms. It’s got a number of overwater villas (which I didn’t pay for) and lends out free snorkeling/kayaking/paddle boarding equipment to enjoy at the water.

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My biggest gripe with these hotels is the price they charge for everything. Like, I get it, they expect someone who’s staying here to be down with paying $17 for a cocktail, but I most certainly am not. Luckily, my breakfast was included with my room rate, and I’ve always got bunches of food squirreled away in my bag in case of situations like this.

I did treat myself once to the traditional Polynesian dance show and buffet, which the concierge informed me was available for a “nominal” fee of $87. (Gag).

The show was really cool:

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My second biggest gripe was that I was the sole lone traveler, a fact which apparently boggled the mind of everyone there. This is definitely a honeymoon destination, so be prepared to face lots of questions if you show up without someone on your arm.

Overall I really enjoyed my stay at the Hilton, and absolutely plan to come back here.

I mean seriously, who wouldn’t?

-Carissa “No, That’s a Table For One” Rawson

Pure Paradise: French Polynesia

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from my new favorite country, French Polynesia, where the water is blue and the beaches are pristine. Like I’ve mentioned before, my stay here is taking place across two different hotels: the Hilton Moorea, and the Intercontinental Moorea, both of which are utterly gorgeous and deserving of heaps of praise. To that end, I’ll be writing about them separately, both their positive and negative aspects, and which I’d rather visit again (it’s a tough call!).

My flight here from Los Angeles was as painless as can be. I’ve now stripped my travel gear down to a single backpack and tote bag, so I had nothing to check. Thus, I checked in online, waltzed through security, and hung out in a lounge until the very last minute when I boarded my flight. This was only my second flight with Air France, and I’m always tickled pink by the teeny baguettes that they pass out during the meals.

Less awesome was the fact that my flight in Tahiti landed at 4am. Now, I’m going to go ahead and admit to you all that I had no excuse for being unprepared, but I did almost no research to figure out how to get to Moorea.

No joke, my knowledge was like: “Uhhh, isn’t Moorea a different island? Do I need a ferry?”

The answer to that is yes. You do need to take a ferry. But first, you need to get to the ferry. When I asked the woman at information, she told me to take the bus “that way” (pointing to the left) “to the market, then get off and walk.”

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But first, bask in my photography skills. Ooh. 

Seriously, those were my instructions. So, I headed up in the pitch-black (it was about 4:30am) to the bus stop, waited for fifteen minutes on the wrong side, then another fifteen minutes on the correct side after I realized the bus I wanted had just driven by.

I finally made it on the bus, which looks like many of the buses we have in the US. That is: decrepit, worn down, and utterly devoid of information. Obviously, I was already supposed to know where I was going, and nobody spoke any English to help me.

At this point, my plan was to look out the window and, like, hope that I’d see something resembling a market so I’d know when to get off.

It didn’t exactly work like that. After about twenty minutes, I noticed we seemed to be heading into some sort of downtown, and at one particular stop a ton of people got off. I took that as my cue and disembarked, where I found, to my immense surprise, that I was right!

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So, so right.

I even managed to find my way to the ferry, where I purchased a ticket to Moorea, and spent the next two hours drinking an extremely French cappuccino and paying 4 euro for access to internet. Boo.

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My first glimpse of Moorea

Next post is the Hilton Moorea- see you guys soon!

-Carissa “Seriously Why Aren’t I Tan” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: Burj Khalifa

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, I promise this is the last post about Dubai. I just really enjoyed it, ok? PJ and I had a really awesome time there, and I would absolutely go back.

I think probably the most touristy thing we did (ok, everything we did was touristy) was visit the Burj Khalifa. We lucked out, since the time it takes to get to the top usually takes around two hours. I picked a time in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, during Ramadan, which meant that it was empty and we walked on.

The Burj Khalifa is really cool, and the views from the top are spectacular:

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It’s obviously a necessary stop if you’re in Dubai.

After this are posts from my new favorite place…Tahiti! Catch you guys on the flip side!

-Carissa

Discovering Dubai: Iftar Japanese Style

Hello Dear Readers!

I am slightly ashamed of this. Like, very very slightly. But my favorite iftar meal wasn’t Arab at all. It was Japanese.

Listen, we all know that Japanese food is not cheap. Sushi rolls cost, as does sashimi, teppanyaki, and the many other accoutrements that come with a Japanese style meal.

But what…what if it was all unlimited, for one price?

What if a Japanese restaurant was celebrating Ramadan with their own version of an iftar buffet?

Enter PJ and Carissa.

Looking fly AF, we rolled up into the Kanpai Japanese Restaurant with a BOGO coupon and appetites whetted by a nearly full day without eating.

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So fly

And oh, did we eat.

We. Ate.

Did I mention that this particular iftar also included unlimited alcoholic drinks?

Let’s just say that our buffet lasted a full two hours, and spanned from an entire range of appetizers (edamame, tempura, prawns, egg rolls, pot stickers- two platters of these)

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To 5 different sushi rolls as well as sashimi (I ate it!)

And finally our entrees, which consisted of both steak and chicken teppanyaki, as well as bowls of fried rice.

This was all followed up with both desserts available on the menu- fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and also a scoop of gelato.

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Liberally mixed in with all of this were four large glasses of red wine.

And you have our Japanese iftar.

It. Was. Glorious.

Afterwards, we shambled through the Dubai Mall, trying desperately to look sober.

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Act. Sober.

I’m like 99% certain it didn’t work.

-Carissa “Why Don’t My Pants Fit?” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: The Dubai Mall

Hello Dear Readers!

For obvious reasons, we spent most of our time in Dubai indoors. This meant we were constantly looking for cool new things to do. (Thanks Entertainer app!) It also meant we spent a lot of time in the malls, where all the awesome activities are.

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Like ice skating

In fact, after our day trip to Oman, we re-showered, got re-ready, and went back out to the Dubai Mall. Since PJ didn’t really care for our Arab iftar the night before, we decided to go full American and hit up the Rainforest Cafe. Yes, it was delicious. But someone really needs to train the Emiratis on how to make chicken fried chicken. I mean, they gave us brown gravy instead of country gravy? It was a travesty, really.

Then we watched the Dubai Fountains, which were really really cool:

We also went to the ‘Aquarium and Underwater Zoo,’ which sounds really cool, right?

Yeah..so…the ‘aquarium’ part was just a single underwater tunnel that you walk through. I mean they literally have one aquarium tank. The rest of it was way cooler, but when PJ and I walked out the other side, we looked at each other confused, like “is this it?” It truly was.

To make up for it they have a gigantic crocodile, but still. Don’t sell me a ticket for your aquarium of one tank, all right?

To head off the night, we got some freshly made nitrogen ice cream, which pushed our waistbands to an uncomfortable point. Ramadan!

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Waiting for the fountains

-Carissa “Is this Authentic?” Rawson

 

 

Discovering Dubai: Daytripping to Oman

Hello Dear Readers!

After my inglorious defeat by the bunny slope at Ski Dubai, I really needed a pick-me-up. So I was looking forward to our day trip up the coast of Oman, which promised “snorkeling, banana boat rides, fishing, an international buffet, and unlimited drinks,” all in a dhow boat that sailed up the coast.

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I’m on a boat!

Well…there was a boat…and I suppose it was a dhow boat? But it was a motorboat, not a sailboat, and the temperature was roughly 100 degrees. This meant it was too hot for fishing, and since it was Ramadan all the drinks were non-alcoholic.

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And…I guess the water in Oman is not to be outdone by the temperature outside, since the water was roughly 98 degrees. Maybe hotter, even. Like getting into a really hot shower after a hard workout and you’re already overheated.

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At least it’s pretty?

Despite these things, the day was pretty fun. We spent most of it chilling on the deck, and when we finally stopped for the snorkeling/swimming/beach time, PJ and I decided to ignore the speedboat to the shore in favor of swimming there.

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Our original beach destination

……

No, we didn’t make it. If you need a speedboat to get there, you’re probably not going to have a fun time attempting to swim there.

However! We did make it to the closer beach, which was totally abandoned. We hung out there and recovered before heading back to the boat, covered in some kind of weird mud/slime that wouldn’t come off no matter how hard we tried.

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The much more attainable beach

This, we found out from the guide, was actually crude oil.

I guess that’s how you know the Middle East is literally swimming in oil.

Get it? Get it?

I felt like one of those baby birds in an oil spill except way less tragic since I washed it off later that night.

We also sailed by a limestone cave, and PJ took a thousand photos of it as quickly as possible because we weren’t able to stop. (Due to the waves).

And there’s one more thing. By the time we returned from the boat ride, all of us in our tour group were thoroughly overheated. Like, heat exhaustion overheated.

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We’re meeeeelting

So we climbed gratefully into our air conditioned mini van and cranked up the A/C. PJ and I were in first, so it was our honor to do so.

There are two levers in the van, you see. There’s one up top, with a hi-lo setting, and one, on the left, with the same setting. So I- yes it was me- flipped them both to max and settled in to cool down.

There were ten of us in the van, you see. So we just thought that perhaps our combined body heat defeated the A/C. After an hour of sweltering doom, finally, the guy in the back pipes up, “hey, the A/C isn’t working.” The driver, hearing this, immediately turns around, flips the lever on the left, and glares at me. I guess…I guess that was the heat. And I had accidentally set it to max. This was while the A/C was simultaneously blasting on max, which meant that the A/C, which came from the vents above, was trying desperately to cool the floor, which was lava, because that’s where the heat was pumping out.

It was so bad I had already taken my feet and legs off the floor and laid them on the transmission, which was only scalding instead of lava.

I tried my best to look innocent. I really did. PJ and I looked at each other and stifled maniacal laughter as everyone tried to figure out what the driver had done to save us all.

No, I didn’t claim responsibility. I wouldn’t have made it back to Dubai alive.

-Carissa “It Was Me!” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: Skiing in the Summer

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m just going to go ahead and admit now that I booked these tickets to Dubai solely on the fact that I knew Dubai was this insane city of gleaming metal and novelties, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

Now, Dubai may be short on the whole Arab culture thing (almost no one is actually Emirati), but what it does have is style. Lots and lots of style. Think of Dubai like a gleaming, un-trashy version of Las Vegas. Everything is huge, glittering, and gaudy, and almost everything there is built for your amusement.

Which is how we came to Ski Dubai. Surely everyone by now has heard of the mall with a ski slope built inside? I certainly had, and I made sure that I had skiing at the mall on my to-do list of UAE activities.

Shout out here to Hairless Hannah, whose advice about Dubai I stumbled across in January, and whose recommendation to use the Entertainer app saved me almost $400 between food and activities. This is her post here, if you’d like to check it out. Essentially, you buy the Entertainer app and it gives you massive quantities of buy one get one free specials, which is basically how PJ and I dictated where we ate and a lot of the things we did.

We used one such coupon for our first day at Ski Dubai, which includes a snow park as well as the ski slopes.

That’s right. We, PJ and I, bobsledded down a hill, threw snowballs at each other, rode inner tubes down a half pipe, and climbed inside an enormous rubber ball before we decided to pick up our skis and try out the slopes. I promise we are adults.

If you all recall, I’ve really only skiied once before, during a Valentine’s Day trip earlier this year. I took lessons for a day in an effort to avoid re-breaking my tailbone and ankle like I had the first time I attempted skiing. I did great! However, it had been months since that lesson, and I was feeling decidedly nervous hopping back onto skis. I think it has something to do with my tragic first time.

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Anyway, I forced PJ to go down the bunny’s bunny slope with me a few times before I finally mastered the courage to head up to the regular bunny slope.

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Also, side note here, I would just like to say that Ski Dubai is really cool. It’s got 5 different slopes, from beginner to expert, and they’ll sell you a full day lift ticket (like 9am-11pm) for 80 bucks. There’s no wind or sun, and though it’s cold, they also give you snow clothes to wear while you’re inside. The snow gets a little packed by the end of the day, but overall it’s not super busy and it’s probably one of the best/cheapest places to learn to ski.

I got my ski legs back pretty quickly, and finally felt confident enough to try out the bigger slope. There’s only one problem. The only way to get up there is via the drag lift, which is a little pole that slides between your legs and literally drags you on your skis up the mountain.

To date, I have never successfully ridden a ski lift. This now also includes the drag lift. I ate it on a corner where the lift changes pulleys (people fall so often they have someone stationed there) and was so embarrassed that I ended up trudging back down the slope. No, I couldn’t ski it. It was the black diamond slope, and I wasn’t about to attempt that immediately after beefing it on the stupid drag lift.

I returned shamefully to the smaller hill, where I immediately fell down for the first and only time of the day.

Confidence is key folks, and I know when I’m beaten. I took my skis off and went home for the day.

However! The Entertainer app had one coupon left for a BOGO full day ski slope ticket, so PJ and I decided to return for our final day in Dubai.

First, we spent the greater part of the day tanning at the pool in 110 degree weather. Then, when we were nice and overheated, we returned to the hotel room, cleaned up, checked out, and dragged our luggage back to the Mall of the Emirates (for free luggage storage) before hitting the slopes from about 5pm-8:30pm. No, it wasn’t a full day, but we had planes to catch.

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This time went much better! It took me a lot longer to get my groove back, but once I got going I started nailing the carving.

No, I didn’t try the drag lift again. I think I may be cursed.

Anyway, we had a blast and spent our last few hours in Dubai carving up the slopes before heading home.

I’ve got more stories from our trip ahead!

-Carissa “Snow Bunny” Rawson

Discovering Dubai

Hello Dear Readers!

As you all know, I had just recently hopped a plane from Ethiopia back to Dubai, in order to meet my brother PJ for our six days in the UAE.

I wrote about coming here earlier this year, and explained how I used both the Citi Prestige 4th night free and a promotion from Starwood that gave me two more free nights in order to stay six nights for the price of three at the St. Regis Dubai. This is important, because the hotel is way too expensive for me to stay at otherwise. Our room was fantastic, and I took a couple surreptitious photos of the hotel as possible, so you guys could see the kind of ridiculous luxury of the hotel.

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Now, one of the best parts of the St. Regis brand is the inclusion of a 24 hour butler service, which brings your luggage up for you, unpacks it, provides tea and coffee service on request, and presses two items of clothing per day for free. As you guys can see from the photo below, the only thing I had with me was my backpack, which was full of dirty laundry to boot, so I declined the unpacking service offered. Something about a tuxedo clad butler pulling out a plastic bag full of dirty laundry felt a little less than…luxurious. Especially when that was all I had!

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Pictured: All my luggage

However, since the hotel had me feeling all kinds of fancy, I sprung for a real wash with their laundry service, and my clothes (and nearby strangers) thanked me for the cleaning in a washing machine rather than a sink. Don’t ask me how much it cost.

I had an entire day to myself before PJ showed up, and since my flight from Ethiopia didn’t land until 4am, I slept in pretty late. That is, until a butler showed up with a fruit platter and I answered the door in my underwear. I’ve had better days.

Did you guys know it’s Ramadan? When I bought the tickets to Dubai, I didn’t even think about it, but the city essentially shuts down during the day for the entire month. Eating and drinking in public is against the law, and if you’re a dirty heathen they have special segregated areas for you to satiate your hunger if you must eat.

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Shamelessly drinking coffee during daylight hours.

However, being Ramadan meant there were all kinds of awesome feasts going on every single night. Obviously PJ and I took full advantage of it, and devoured quantities of food that would otherwise be shameful. Don’t worry, full details are coming.

Like I said, I was there alone for the first day, so I ended up doing iftar (breaking of the fast) by myself. I asked the St. Regis concierge to arrange a reservation for me, and *deigned* to allow the chauffeur service to drive me to the restaurant.

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This will suffice.

If you guys aren’t familiar with Ramadan, and iftar, it’s a time that’s very family/ friend oriented, and everyone heads out in large parties to celebrate together. So when I showed up alone, in the middle of Dubai, I attracted many strange looks. Nevertheless, the food was amazing and threw me straight back to Jordan (which I only left a little over a month ago. Isn’t that weird?) I really miss that place! Anyway, PJ showed up around 11pm, and we stayed up late before heading to our supremely comfortable beds in preparation for the busy days ahead.

Looking forward to telling you about them!

-Carissa “I swear I’m super rich” Rawson

 

Exploring Ethiopia: The Merkato

Hello Dear Readers!

This is my last post on my Ethiopia trip. Next up…Dubai!

Our entire trip in Ethiopia was jam packed. The country is huge, and we only had five days to spend, so making the most of our time was really important. Thus, we found ourselves on the last day of the trip having spent some serious time outside of the city, but not much time inside Addis Ababa itself. The Merkato, then, is supposed to be one of the best things to visit inside the city, aptly described as ‘a world unto itself.’ I had originally (and incorrectly) decided that we could visit by ourselves. I was disabused of that notion immediately upon my arrival to Ethiopia, so booked us both a full city tour with a guide (via Viator), who took us through the Merkato.

Words fail me here. The Merkato is…huge, a sprawling mass of commerce. It’s concentrated wealth, business, tourism, and poverty all in one place. It’s a teeming mass of humanity that thrives on the countless customers from across the country.

We had no business being there.

Still, our guide led us adroitly through the narrow alleyways, wending his way through the ironworks, the spice market, the basket weavers, and the textile center, never losing his way as he dragged us across the muddy pathways.

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It was incredible.

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Since the Merkato is well-known as the home of those with the stickiest fingers (so, so, many pickpockets) Harrison and I both walked with our hands inside our pockets. I bought a money belt just for this trip, but managed to forget it in my suitcase, so my cell phone was literally tucked into the waistband of my pants. I let Harrison take all the photos, (I’m not risky enough) which led to a ridiculous situation, in which we were making our way through various piles of injera baskets (of course) and he took his hands out of his pockets (with his phone) in order to take photos of the market.

Immediately, this ragged little kid darted up, his hands reaching for Harrison’s pockets, which I swiftly hip-checked out of the way. I mean they were empty, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.

I then turned full around, faced the kid, who stared unabashedly into my eyes, and shook my head. He grinned at me, knowing full well that I had caught him, then continued to follow us for another five minutes, reaching every so often for one of our pockets.

That cheeky little bugger.

In the end, nothing was stolen and we exited the Merkato, heads spinning and eyes wide open. It was a really cool end to a really cool trip.

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A few other notes before I wrap up. Ethiopia is not the easiest country to navigate, with hardly any internet capability. My T-Mobile plan, sadly, did not provide me data, and social media within the country is literally blocked (Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, etc.)

A VPN will save you from most of those troubles, if you can find WiFi. Hola VPN on the Chrome browser works well, and the iTunes stores has a number of free VPN apps as well.

As for getting around, I used the Addis Map, which cost me ten bucks on Amazon and saved my butt numerous times.

Apparently, (though I didn’t buy one), SIM cards in Ethiopia are dirt cheap. So bringing an unlocked phone and buying a local SIM card should do you good.

Please haggle, haggle, haggle. With everything from souvenirs to taxi drivers, everywhere you go, people are sizing you up and overcharging you to see what you’ll pay. Don’t be fooled, most of those prices can be cut in half.

Finally, both Viator and Go Addis offer some really cool tour options, each of which provided friendly, professional service. We had an excellent time with them, and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a good tour guide.

My time spent in Ethiopia was just the beginning of a love for Africa, and I look forward to heading back to explore some more in the future.

Until then, I’ll feast myself on some injera.

-Carissa “The Unpickpocketed” Rawson