Serengeti Safari: What you really need to know

I’m writing this from my flight back to NYC (unsure when I’ll publish though), listening to Toto’s Africa on Turkish Airlines audio entertainment selection. Honestly I’m too overwhelmed by my experiences of the past month to write more than just a lite post on how to pick a Serengeti safari for anyone with half an inclination to do such a thing. Guidebooks for this part of the world are only updated every 3-5 years and it’s glaringly obvious that they don’t check much – some of their listings have been out of business for many years, and half the websites no longer exist.

African safari companies and hotels are the worst marketers on the planet. They change their URLs and are for some reason completely ungoogle-able beyond that old address. They rarely check email. For the most part, I took a chance and showed up hoping they had a vacancy – and then I’d see their new web address posted somewhere on the premises. Pretty f***ing useless. Emails change almost as often. Overall, 60% of email inquiries were ignored, 20% bounced back, 20% replied.

Don’t book a safari before you go. You will pay 50-100% more for the same quality.

My brother & I got on a scheduled (meaning anyone can join) 7 day/6 night budget camping safari covering Serengeti – Ngorongoro Crater – Olduvai Gorge – Lake Manyara – Tarangire for $1280 each (over half of that is the fixed game park fees-on-top-of-fees and campground charges). Very few safari company websites display info on that option and expect you to email or fill in a form, which they may reply to in a week or not at all. Okay, enough of my bitching about that…sorry, but it’s so frustrating! Anyway, it turns out no one else booked onto that week’s trip so it was an *awesome* deal for two. From what we could see, other people had the exact same tents, same meals, etc. though maybe a newer Land Cruiser. I got the info 4 days before our intended departure date and booked it 1 day before.

TOUR OPERATORS:  There are different ways the safari company is likely to be operated. For some, the guide and cook are hired and the company provides the equipment and program, so they’re employees. For others, as was the case with mine, the guide is freelance and everything (tents, vehicle, etc) was his, so the company I booked through essentially subcontracted, and we got very lucky.

My tour operator & guide: The company was Planet Kenya Safaris and our guide was the wonderfully deadpan Bariki – 10 years experience, neither too quiet nor too chatty, great English. It’s pretty obvious he’s well-connected on the Serengeti circuit, and he knew his stuff. We saw things no one else did, from the elusive black rhino to a kill (lion took down a zebra not 15 feet from our truck!!), and he’s great at spotting the unusual, like a dead impala draped over a branch by a hungry leopard.

Other tour operators I observed:  I noticed that Explore used the local operator Leopard Tours, and Good Earth Tours had newer, taller tents – most operators have standard tents with a dome of about 5’6″ in the middle, which worked fine for me. We did not see any operators that used camping cots (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Good Earth did).

VEHICLE:  The Toyota Land Cruiser is by far the most popular safari vehicle you’ll see. Ours was 20+ years old on the outside, but the parts were frequently replaced and maintained – our driver topped up tire pressure often, checked for loose bolts and stuff underneath, and all kinds of stuff daily. he also had cushions and slipcovers on all the seats. Our main concern was that it had a pop-top that stayed overhead as shelter – about 10-20% of the vehicles we saw did not and we cringed at the lack of protection from the equatorial sun. Note that things can get really stinky in the truck because the parks require you to remove your own garbage. So…you get the wafting aroma of your food garbage decomposing in 90-100 degree heat. Throw in a cook that didn’t shower all week, and you’ve got quite a bouquet going on.

CAMPING:  We did the budget option, which is different from “tented camps” – very luxurious and add $100-300/day to your costs (which is not a terrible idea if you’re traveling as a couple instead of with your brother who uses half of your supply of baby wipes to futilely clean his fingernails, grrr). Bring your own sleeping bag. Check that the operator you use supplies foam mattresses – they’re about 2″ thick and really help a non-camper like myself. We stayed at the Panorama Campground (great scenery and a bar!), Seronera Campground on the Serengeti (eh…but then I can’t compare it to any other options), Simba Campground on the crater rim (the only one on the rim so it’s pretty lively), and I forget the name of the one near Tarangire.

What the guidebooks have wrong: The campgrounds now have showers and electricity! They actually ship in water by the truckload, so be conservative because it does run out. And many people recharge their cameras and cell phones in the very limited supply of power strip outlets in the dining hut. Apparently both of these amenities are less than 2 years old, and boy were they welcome!

FOOD:  It’s not fancy but it’s decent, and it can often be too much food when you’re doing little more than sitting in a truck for 9 hours a day. Breakfast is usually omelet (just egg, occasionally with veggies in it); sometimes “sausage”, which is really a hot dog; toast (jam, margarine, peanut butter offered for spreads); a rolled up large pancake that I suspect is called a chapati there. 3 days you’ll get a boxed lunch, which are pretty consistently: chicken leg, boiled egg, veggie samosa, small hard poundcake-like muffin, triangle sandwich with a strange shredded carrot spread, mango juice, tiniest banana ever. Dinner and the other lunches start with soup and will have an abundance of either noodles or potatoes; meat is sometimes canned ground beef doctored up or a hot dog stir fry with the usual peppers/carrots/onions. Bear in mind there’s no way to get fresh meat once you’re on the Serengeti, though I think they buy meat from the Masaai who farm around the Crater area sometimes. Coffee is instant and tea is pretty good – milk comes powdered.

TIPPING:  I overheard a fair amount of debate on this topic, and we struggled with it too. All of the guidelines I read referred mostly to Kilimanjaro treks, which have more staff. We went with the $5-10 per day per staff member: $10/day for the guide and $7/day for the cook from each of us. I didn’t let the fact that our guide was an independent contractor affect tipping. And by the way, that’s about double what the Europeans tip them.

OTHER TOURISTS:  I’ve done some pretty adventurous trips like this in the past and noticed that, unlike past trips to Peru and Jordan, groups seemed to keep very much to themselves, and Americans were noticably ostracized by the younger groups. I found that really upsetting. I’d like to attribute it to crankiness from the heat, jetlag, and sever culture shock – I suspect many of the younger ones hadn’t travelled enough to be “ready” for Africa. Americans made up maybe 10% of the safari tourists we met, and in the rest of my travels I met a total of one (an ophthalmologist working at a Dar es Salaam rehab hospital for 3 years). Huge quantities of Scandinavians everywhere though, and boy do they stand out with their white-blond hair and Nordic paleness in Africa!

ARUSHA:  Arusha is the city (I use the word city loosely here) where most Serengeti safaris leave from. I stayed at 4 different hotels that ranged from $8 to $110/night because the $8/night place, the Arusha Backpackers Hotel, had two fatal flaws: the unbelievable amount of street noise 21 hours a day, and the showers. They always ran out of water by 7am and wouldn’t refill the tank for hours – which sooo sucked for the folks leaving for Kilimanjaro that day (no shower for a week). The Impala Hotel looks nice on the surface but their internet is a pain in the ass and doesn’t work in-room, their bathrooms look fantastic but most have flooding problems, and quite honestly for $110, they should have a/c. The two places that ran $50-60/night for a single/double with breakfast didn’t feel like they were worth $45 more than the $8 place for what I needed some of the nights I was there, but if you’re a light sleeper, it’s necessary. They were Le Jacaranda and Outpost Lodge (the Outpost was one of the main offenders for defunct website issues). Both had good restaurants. Outpost had fans and a pool, Jacaranda had better internet and was much closer to the main road if you felt like going anywhere…which wasn’t fun because of all the con “artists” – literally guys selling you paintings on canvas or batik for 4x what you’d pay in the airport. I preferred the Outpost, which has a really great restaurant with fancy coffee drinks if you’re jonesing for something other than instant.

Go ahead and ask any questions in the comments below… I’ll be writing about the volunteer experience in Bagamoyo next, so hold off on that.

Tip on the WHOLE bill

I’ve recently started a habit of patronizing Buffalo Wild Wings on Tuesdays, when wings are 45 cents each. I eat about a dozen, and the bill for me and my “wing wingman” usually comes to about $20 for food, drinks, tax. Now I know when I go any other day of the week, that bill is closer to $30…so I tip $5-6. I know people who work at chain restaurants that have deals like this, and a lot of them don’t like working on days with specials like that because the tips are lower, so they’re working a lot more for the same money at best.

I didn’t used to think like that. But now I work for a company that puts on promotions for its customers and takes on 100% of the expense. My rate of pay is completely unaffected – in fact, I tend to make more because of the increased business. Personally I think restaurants should pay staff the *real* minimum wage those days (well, actually all days, but that’s a whole other battle) – it wouldn’t entirely make up for the difference, but is certainly a gesture in the direction of fairness. However, I’m pretty sure the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings, TGI Friday’s, etc. want to hear this.

2011 in Review: Too much uncertainty

I definitely lead an unconventional life and have a higher tolerance for change than most (especially given how long-in-the-tooth I am now), but it has definitely been a rough year. I’ve recently picked up on reading Chris Gillebeau’s blog, which does a great job of making me think constructively while also reminding me of how travel has always fed my soul. Anyway, he does a very in-depth annual review at the end of each year, and the first step is listing what went right and what went wrong. Know what really stands out? That I have another category with about as many things in it: the “Jury is Still Out” column. It’s not that I’m leaving room for a silver lining to appear – I just truly don’t know if these things are good or bad yet. So…here it goes.

What went RIGHT in 2011

– I enacted my plan to become a Ro1fer, completing 2 of the 3 units with greater openness and progress than anticipated.
– Found my own niche and secret to success at my phone job, including a stream of passive income.
– Underwent some intensive hypnotherapy to deal with some pretty old stuff and despite my skepticism, it has helped phenomenally. And I found a way to pay for it without it costing anything out of my pocket!
– My support network in times of stress has expanded.
– I have lost and kept off 20 lbs (probably more like 15 with the holidays…sigh).
– I made 2 new friends, which pretty much doubles my total. And it turns out my friendship means more to a few of them than I realized.

What went WRONG in 2011

– Got expelled from the third and final part of my Ro1f training. I’m allowed to try again, but I’m very worried about a hidden agenda and lack of student support. I am prepared to hire a civil rights lawyer if I am blocked from taking the March course.
– I had to deal with bedbugs and a lazy-cheap extermination plan that took 8 weeks to work. It overlapped with the second part of my training course, and I had to keep that stress entirely to myself.
– My best friend since 1988 cut me out of her life two days after I got expelled. She did this once before, a few months after my father died. I don’t think she realized how hard it was for me to be friends again two years later. The likelihood of being friends again is negligible.
– I may weigh less than I did a year ago but I do not have a good grip on this aspect of my health.

The Jury Is Still Out

– I left NYC in April. I think it was right at the time, but now I feel like I’m being kept away. I hate this place and love it at the same time, and as long as I’m living in this country, this is where I come closest to ‘belonging’…in a city full of sharks and misfits. My two visits since moving away have been eye-opening. Damn, why does it have to be the highest-rent locale on the planet??
– I have a roommate who is very optimistic and calm, but whose life is rather full of drama. On the one hand there’s her psycho ex-to-be who got her fired from her job and repossessed her car. On the other, there’s her utter lack of depression or even a tendency to wallow.
– Last week I *think* I had an offer of a semi-relationship – the first such offer from an unattached man in a decade. I don’t know what to make of his motives, but if it’s a real offer and still available in May (which was certainly his indicated timeframe), I’m going to take it.
– I shortened my trip to Africa from 7 weeks to 4 and coughed up $350 for the ticket change to make the March course at the institute happen. Of course, I could get excluded from that by the powertripping teacher and I’m not due back until 6 days before the course starts. I can see it now…me on the Serengeti borrowing my brother’s satellite phone to hire a free speech lawyer.
– I ditched my health insurance.

Help me turn Expulsion Lemons into Life Lemonade?

Some of you already know I got expelled from my course at the R0lf Institute – but if I jump through a lot of hoops and humbly grovel, I will be allowed to complete my course. I refuse to get into it here because I have no expectation of privacy and things have a way of coming back to bite you in the assets.

My African Dilemma

Of course I didn’t get the boot until AFTER I bought my ticket to Nairobi for 7 weeks in East Africa for Jan-Feb 2012 (another post on that will follow – but I’ll be helping out here for 4 weeks). In order to fulfill the requirements I need to mentor for 12 consecutive weeks. I can’t even manage 12 split weeks before the March course. So now I’m looking at June and this means being stuck in Boulder until August. First – to put it kindly, Boulder doesn’t resonate with me. I have little in common with the people here. Second – summer and early fall are the most competitive months to find an apartment and being self-employed, I don’t need that handicap. It will translate to more hits on my credit report (never good) and up to $10K in additional security.

Possible Silver Lining

I’m really trying to swallow this bitter pill and it’s just not going down without a fight. I’m trying to find something positive about this situation but I keep coming up empty-handed. So I need to create a silver lining and came up with this: I could go away for 10 weeks after the next course ends on August 3 (assuming they truly do intend to allow me back). That’s long enough to live somewhere for awhile. I could end up back in Africa but…

Should it be Italy?

I have a BA in Italian and I haven’t been to Italy in 12 years. My language skills are appallingly basic for a degree-holder. Maybe…maybe I could find a small furnished apartment for a couple of months and bring my awesome Vonage unit so I can work as normal. I could have some fun developing “habits” – coffee, riding a bike everywhere, gelato (hence the need for a bike!), weekend excursions, maybe entice friends and co-workers to visit, take a class of some sort.

Any Exotic Ideas?

But…I’ve been there before. Five times for a total of 13 weeks (I’m no Chris Guillebeau, but hey- I’m no slouch in the World Traveller stakes!). So maybe I need a corner of the earth to explore, one that offers a lot to keep me interested for 10 weeks and also has reliable high-speed internet. I have both American and British passports. So – got any ideas? I’m dead serious about this.

Add one to the masses of the uninsured

When I discovered that my $425/month Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan added a deductible that essentially made it worthless to anyone without a condition or disease, I cancelled it. I checked around and found that insurance is 50% cheaper in Colorado across the board for similar coverage…what the hell does New York require that Colorado doesn’t that’s worth so much?? Geez. I had 63 days to decide whether or not I was going to buy back into a very broken system (health insurance – not healthcare), and when I found myself leaning very slightly towards “yes”, I discovered that since I’m not currently insured, I had to apply at least 10 days before I wanted coverage to start. Missed it by 1 day.

I hate to negotiate

Oh well. Not upset…in fact, it’s kind of freeing. My biggest headache will be negotiating fees with doctors and especially labs. I hate how the lab bills are like $140 but they accept $35 as full payment from insurance companies.  I can’t pick the lab the doctor sends to and I don’t know how flexible they are with individuals. I’m guessing not very. I’ll be googling advice on that.

Alternatives to Insurance?

I’ll also be looking at non-insurance like Aflac to mitigate the biggies. They don’t publish their rates online and I hate dealing with aggressive sales people so I’m not looking forward to this process. Plus I avoid buying insurance from companies that spend a lot on advertising – in other words, if I was shopping for car insurance, I’d be leery of Progressive and Geico.

My Version of Financial Responsibility for my Health

In the meantime, I set up a “Health Fund” within my ING Direct savings account. I transfer $250/month to it automatically. If I get some terrible diagnosis or another, I can always move back to the UK (I am a citizen – it’s legal!) with my internet telecom stuff and do my $50K/yr phone job from there while I get better.

So…got any advice for an uninsured 41-year-old that doesn’t involve marrying someone with amazing coverage?

Never thought I’d miss NYC this much

I’d like to describe my historical attitude towards where I live as “transient stability”. I like to live somewhere and build little habits specific to that location and find my place within that place. But I never think of any one place as forever.

I was looking forward to living in Boulder for 6-12 months – I really was. I thought maybe so much exposure to the hippie/alternative stuff would entice me to try new things…but instead I see a lot of flakey people with too much money or financial irresponsibility – kind of hard to tell the difference around here. I can’t seem to conjure up any respect for their lifestyle/beliefs and therefore will not be enticed to beat a drum on a hilltop during the full moon or participate in an ecstatic dance event or even pursue Hakomi (body-centered psychotherapy) because it hinges on forming a “loving bond” with your therapist (creepy!). I look at my classmates and teachers and wonder, what the hell am I doing here? My god – I handled the culture shock of living in Japan way better than I’m handling this!

I need Manhattan. I can meet the pulsing energy of the city head-on and 5 minutes later be the relaxed, attuned manual therapist my fellow city-dwellers seek. I need to be around people who don’t take themselves so seriously – and despite what you see on TV, that’s most New Yorkers. I hate holding back my sarcasm and snarkiness and self-deprecation because I’m “putting negative energy into the universe”. Well damnit – just wave some smoldering sage twigs at me like you do at all the other imperfect moments in your life and call it even.

So I will be taking on hideous rent again – about $3000 for a large 1BR or small/”flex” 2BR. Even if a landlord insists on 3 months’ deposit because I’m self-employed, I have that in the bank in addition to my $10K cushion. I’ve got my phone job up to a steady $4K/month gross even though I’m in school 36 hours a week, so I’ll be able to make my bare-bones expenses without a single Rolfing client. I will crank up the marketing machine a month before I return and continue to see a handful of massage clients that haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement for me. And I can pull all of this off even with 2 months in Africa earning very little from the phone job – I won’t be earning nothing though thanks to Skype and royalties.

All I need at this point is for the institute to let me take the course that starts 11 days after my current one ends instead of making me wait until March. Please. I want to get back to my life!

The Cost of Bedbuggery – Boulder Edition

I can NOT believe my misfortune. Just 20 months and 1700 miles after my first incident of bedbuggery, I am back in this awful situation of having to deal with it. AGAIN.

Three hours ago I killed two blood-filled bugs between the pages of a paperback and captured another – also between the pages of that paperback, but since it hadn’t fed on me yet, it didn’t “squish”. This happened around 12:15am local time (bedbugs are nocturnal), and the trapped bug can’t climb the sides but keeps trying (bedbugs can’t climb plastic, metal, tile, etc). I was looking for them tonight because I found a shed exoskeleton and got suspicious. Further investigation found a smear of something on my just-washed sheets toward my feet – and I have no cuts. My sheets are the color of fruit punch so I couldn’t figure out the smear color. So…after 10 mins of lying still while playing Words With Friends (well…strangers), I’d exhaled enough carbon dioxide to attract the little bastards.

That mild rash on the back of my elbow/upper arm that I thought was related to heat or friction? Bites. Those odd red marks on my neck and upper chest? Bites. Strangely I thought I knew what the bites look like but I have something that’s more rash-like – I have the Wikipedia bed bug entry to thank for finding out that’s how it can look. Guess I’m a little allergic to bedbugs. I wish the reverse was true.

In a few hours I’m going to take the trapped bug to the management office and hopefully they can skip the inspection step and go straight to the spraying. Unlike my horrible NYC experience, I don’t have much stuff to spray and wipe with alcohol and pack into plastic bags.

Last month we had new windows installed, and they taped notices to our doors. One of my neighbors across the hall scribbled on their notice “bed bug spraying tomorrow”. I called management and they said “the tenant bought a suitcase from a thrift store and got paranoid”. I think management LIED. But to be fair…everything in my apartment is second-hand and I could easily have brought them in. If I did, I suspect the couch. I’d noticed little bugs but since it was daytime, figured they were something else. However… they’re just like the ones I squished in my paperback.

I’m worried about how they “treat” for bedbugs. The inspection is done by human eye, not sniffer dog snout. I’m worried they’re going to pump a little spray – much as I could do myself for $9.99 from Bed Bath & Beyond. Well see if Boulder can match the Big Apple on this one.

I moved 1700 miles by airplane. No truck – van – pod.

My sister once moved from Bellingham, WA to Aspen, CO and the “reputable” moving company she thoroughly checked out called her the day of the move and said “we can’t do it today – we’ll do it tomorrow”. Uh…she had a flight booked that evening. She didn’t even have that much stuff (at least in theory) – I think her only furniture was a queen-size bed w/nice frame and a dresser. Everything else was clothing and personal effects plus some outdoor sports equipment. Hardly a houseload o’ goodies. It cost her $1200. I learned from that lesson…

My New York City furniture

A friend with a pick-up truck is storing my bulkier things (bed, couch, trunk, massage table) and some household goods (dishes, vacuum, etc) in a friend’s garage. When he moves back into his apartment on the upper eastside, he’ll use any of those things he wants to – he threw out all his really crappy stuff and sublet his studio 3 years ago.

Getting to Colorado

I paid an extra $25 for the Classic ticket on Frontier airlines that allows for two 50-lb pieces of luggage (I snuck 5 more lbs in for free). Actually…the ticket was free thanks to a Frontier Airlines gift card from one of my phone fans 🙂

My lease deal

My 8-month Boulder lease at Glen Lake Apartments – which is on the outer edge of central but has everything I need within a 10-min walk (Safeway, Rite Aid, Starbucks, Taco Bell – joke!) – came with $200 off the first month’s rent as a signing bonus. I looked upon that as my craigslist furniture fund. Some of my purchases were awesome and some still SUCK.

My Second-hand Escapades

  • Couch $100 + $20 delivery: Not terribly happy with this. On the mushy-foam side and it’s low – like it should have 4″ feet screwed onto the corners.
  • Queen-size bed $50: I knew when I bought it that it was a mistake but my back and hips hurt so much from one night on the floor, and the friend helping me probably wasn’t good for more than that day. It reeked of curry for weeks and now – 6 weeks after purchase – still has a savory smell. The guy’s ad was a total lie in more ways than I can count. But strangely enough…it’s comfortable.
  • Coffee table $15:  By far my best deal – looks hand-made, inlaid with ceramic and terracotta tiles, very heavy.
  • Canvas chair for my balcony $15: Fantastic bargain! Currently living in the massage room until I get a more suitable one.
  • Two floor lamps $10: They have those CFL bulbs in them (4 total), so the guy was way underpricing. Not crazy about the one in the living room but the one for massage – it’s an “old-fashioned” dimmer one which is sooo perfect.
  • MEXICAN MICROWAVE for $10: My coolest score of the lot! The brand is LG but it was bought while the guy was living in Mexico City. All the pre-sets are for things like frijoles and albondigas. Hey – did you know that salsa verde and salsa roja are SO different that they get their own buttons? I love this thing!
  • 20″ CRT television $30 + $10 bribe to deliver: Only sort-of happy with it. She listed dimensions and I thought it was screensize. No 27-incher for me 😦
  • Green fabric armchair FREE: Thank you neighbor for leaving it in the lobby for whoever wanted it. Soft texture, firm cushion. I like it better than the couch.

Sending out some Dollar Tree love 

Even at Walmart the simple household stuff I bought (like veggie peeler and dishes and shelf liner and bucket) would have cost at least $150 instead of the $42 I laid out. And by the way, I really really like the dishes I got. Only a buck but I’ll miss them!

…and some Rite Aid love!

Sometimes they do deals on household stuff. I desperately needed a box fan and got one for $8….$24.99 minus $3 off $15 purchase coupon, $14 in +Ups and $8 + tax in cash. Got back $5 +Ups. I also wanted a little plastic table for my balcony and got one free – on sale for $7.99 get back $1 +Up and $2 rebate. So I “sacrificed” $4.99 in reward bucks. It’s this sort of thing that makes playing that game so worthwhile 🙂

Great use of returned-gift credit at Amazon

I had $300+ credit built up from returned gifts from my phone customers. So instead of stilettos and miniskirts that I couldn’t dream of fitting into, I have a coffee press, Dirt Devil vacuum, drinking glasses, yoga mat, all-purpose knife, etc. that didn’t cost me a penny.

No love for the US Postal Service

Mom sent me a box of things I forgot and needed but didn’t send it parcel post because she thought it was urgent to send me a shower curtain (I like baths and she knows it!). So it cost twice what it should have – $43 for 16 lbs. I was a little pissed…she won’t take money from me for it but I’m still not happy. Then she put together a flat-rate box of smaller clothes for me…she should have put in something heavy to make it worthwhile.

The Art of the Barter

Me and my bartering…I know. Craigslist for Boulder is pretty sparse but there was a handyman/painter offering his services – just make him an offer. Turns out his wife has scoliosis and could use my services. And so the deal was done – I got my room-separating pole hung(pole was $11.50 from Home Depot plus $4 worth of hanging hardware), and I worked on my first local.

Freedom from Manhattan rent is a beautiful thing!!

I moved out of Manhattan on April 15th (and it was pretty hellish both emotionally & logistically) and into my new digs in Boulder on April 25th. This morning I transferred $2500 into my saving account leaving nearly the same amount still in my checking account. Boy did that feel good!

Manhattan v. Boulder Expenses

I was paying $2125/month with utilities included for my 500sf studio in Manhattan, and they were very adamant that I would be raised to $2200 if I renewed. Here in Boulder I’m paying $830/month plus utilities (average is $55 for my unit) for a 600sf one-bedroom. So that just liberated $1240. With my coupon and eating habits, my food/toiletry/etc costs remain pretty much the same, and to my surprise public transportation has the same price tag as The Big Apple. In fact, the pizza place up the road charges 50 cents more for a plain slice of pizza than most places in Manhattan – and I’m quite sure it won’t be up to par.

Manhattan v. Boulder Income

But my income has taken a hit because I’m no longer doing massage therapy – for the moment (more on that in another post). Was I making more than $1240/month at it? Yes – but my $4oo goal was a close call every week and it was stressing me out. A big factor was my appearance…I put on a lot of weight between May 2008 and Aug 2010, and I felt very anxious about having a door slammed in my face. It has happened. You can say they were interested in something else but that doesn’t stop it from smarting. My last massage appointment in NYC was 2 days before I moved out. He looked through the peephole in his hotel room door and didn’t answer the door or my text or the call from the bell desk. I took it as the most definite sign from the powers that be that I was meant to get the hell out of the city for a while*.

The new pad

I’m going to put my bed in the “dining room” (5’x6′ bed in a 7.5’x7.5′ space) because there’s only one a/c in the apartment and it’s not going to help me sleep. So in essence, I’m going to live in a studio again lol. But the bedroom has a purpose – it’s going to be my massage room. I’ll be setting up my student practice (read: can’t charge market prices) when I return from two trips this month (post about those is pending). Now if only I could get my city-hating electrician brother-in-law to come put a ceiling fan in the massage room…

I can travel again!!!

Travel has been sooo important to me since my teen years, and with that huge Manhattan rent bill combined with the NYC hotel-instigated law that you can’t sublet for less than 30 days (plus my building’s rule about such things), my vacation-renting habits were no longer viable. Of course I couldn’t afford tickets to Delhi or Nairobi anymore so it wasn’t a big deal. However…I’ve had two domestic travel opportunities arise for this month alone and I feel free to take them because there’s no longer this thought:

10 days away = $750 wasted on rent and cable/internet/phone and NO massage income to offset that.

So…do you see what I mean by “freedom”?

* I’ve dropped 23 lbs in the last 37 days on a very unusual and questionably healthy diet.

Cost of Weed permit v. Gun permit in NJ

My mother told me yesterday that a permit to carry medical marijuana (MMJ) in the state of New Jersey is $200. She remarked that it was excessive taxation (something NJ is well-known for – like trying to double-tax tires on a new car a few years back) since you don’t need a license to carry any other prescription. It’s essentially a sin tax.

So for fun I looked up the price of a carry permit for a handgun in NJ – $20. MUCH cheaper sin tax.

Then I had a brilliant idea, should a county or state politician in New Jersey decide there are too many guns in circulation:  surrender your permit and get a FREE one-year MMJ permit for each gun that you surrender or sell. They’ll be so happily stoned they won’t miss their guns 🙂