Tinder is an online “dating” app and with Tinder Plus one can
easily meet new people from anywhere in the world.
15) Saint Lucia
A local named Else invited me to an extensive, vibrant street party that occurs every Friday night in Saint Lucia. Else informed me that a month earlier two people were shot at the street party while she was there. When she saw my shocked expression, she added, “Don’t worry, they were not random targets. They shot designated people.” Despite her story, I felt quite safe among the crowded throngs of people– dancing shoulder-to shoulder in congested sections of the street. The streets were lined with disc jockeys playing music, local food stands, and colorful markets with crafts, clothing, and jewelry.
While in the Bahamas, I enjoyed meeting and spending time with Katya. She had a relative that was working at Atlantis, a huge resort with a lively casino and an extensive water park with a slide that takes patrons under the water to view sharks! I was able to get a nice tour of the resort something that is usually only allowed to paying customers. I particularly remember a funny conversation Katya and I had about going out to clubs in the evening. When I asked if she “partied” mostly with locals or foreigners, she explained, “We don’t care who we party with, but it does determine what we wear. My girlfriends have a saying ‘heels or no heels’. Heels means we are dressing up fancy to party with foreigners. No heels means we wear jeans and are partying with the locals”.
I visited Kingston, Jamaica’s capital and largest city, with a population of approximately 600,000. I drove my rental car to meet Gillan, a local Kingston resident, for dinner. The Jamaicans described the spicy, delicious chicken and sausage as “jerked,” and the tasty side dishes; the flatbread was “jammy” and the dumplings were called “festival”.
I figured there was one major topic to discuss with a pretty Jamaica. I asked “Have you ever met Usain Bolt?” I figured this was likely since the city was small with a limited number of “elite” bars and clubs. “Yeah, we met a few times. I’ve even been to his house when he invited a group of us to a pool party. But, he ignored us girls and just played water polo with a group of friends in the pool.”
12) Barrow, Alaska, USA
When touring the “world”, I decided to venture to Barrow, Alaska, the town furthest north in the USA, where few tourist visit. Barrows is dark for two full months during the winter and consistently light throughout the summer. The 4500 residents, of whom a large percentage are Inupiat Eskimo, seem to adapt to the cold weather, the blizzards, and the all-or-nothing sunlight.
There are only three hotels in Barrows and all were a bit above my traveling budget (The least expensive was almost $200 a night). Fortunately, I had used tinder plus and made contact with Dante, a Barrow’s resident; she connected me with Craig, a recent dental school graduate who was working as a “Tribal Dentist” in Barrow, Alaska. He was happy to meet me and offered to let me stay at his place when I arrived. From his neighborhood, Craig and I caught the hospital shuttle and rode to the main hospital. This shuttle, operated by the hospital, ran every morning just for him and a few other employees. Craig gave me a thorough tour of the dental clinic which was located in the hospital. I was very surprised to find this isolated city to have one of the nicest dental clinics I had ever seen – complete with endodontic microscopes, isolites, CEREC machine, and other “fancy” dental equipment.
Darline, a young woman from Gabon, translated for me as we spent a busy day exploring. That evening, I experienced taking a “shared” taxi –which means we shared a taxi with others who were going to the same place; we waved at each taxi we saw, knowing only a driver with exactly two open seats would stop. Finally, one stopped, and took us along with three others to a local bar in Gabon. It was quite ramshackled and dusty–with partial walls, a half-covered ceiling, and rickety, foldable picnic tables and chairs. Darline told me “I have never seen another white person in here. Most would be scared to death to visit”. But as I’ve learned over and over again, looks are deceiving. I had an absolutely great time; everyone seemed to know each other, as they were chatty and animated, and interacted openly–often talking across tables. They shot questions at me continually and listened sincerely and intently, asking about America and my family at home, my travels, my job, and my life in Singapore. The evening was filled with nods of understanding and deep belly laughs.
Darline’s brother was there and offered to drive me to my hotel on his way to his job, as he worked the “overnight” shift at the airport. Time and time again while traveling, I met wonderfully kind and helpful people.
A local in Laos invited me to a large, busy party at the home of an affluent friend. Her friend had her own pool and large yard. Lavish tables of food and drink were served and a live band played. I joined in on the fun and tried to learn some traditional dances. I was told she hosted these parties every couple of months. This was interesting for me because I see so much poverty in Laos and other countries during my travels and most of my new friends have humble homes and limited financial resources. Her friend put on the event for friends every 2-3 months.
9) Iraq, Kurdistan
I matched with a woman from the Philippines who was living in I Erbil, Iraq– the capital of Kurdistan, a region that is officially governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). She was a housekeeper for the President. She said that she and her friends cleaned all the rooms, except for the president’s bedroom. Only Iraqis were allowed to clean that room. She was off work the day I was in Kurdistan, so we explored the city together. That evening, she invited me to accompany her at to a big birthday party with food, drinks, and people singing Karaoke. I met many Filipinos at that party who were living and working in Iraq.
8) Cook Islands
A local named Shalini from the Cook Islands invited me to a “progressive” party, which started at her neighbor’s house in a lovely, secluded area at the top of a hill. Many locals gathered to talk, laugh, relax, and enjoy some drinks in the yard. I was surprised when about hour later, a long party bus arrived. The bus must have given its “everything” to make it up the narrow dirt road to the house on the top of the hill because once the bus was shut off, it wouldn’t start again! Party hosts called for a new bus to come to transport all of us while the first bus just stayed parked in the yard. The party bus took the energized group to five different clubs. After the third club, it started pouring rain, so we got soaked running from club to club. To make things worse, when we got to the final club, I realized my car rental keys had fallen out of my pocket; of course that was a significant problem since my flight was at 8:00 am the next morning! I had to run back in the pouring rain to our earlier stops to look for my keys. Because I didn’t have any contact numbers, Shalini was a great sport and accompanied me–just in case I needed to get a hold of someone. Eventually, we found my keys at the very first bar. They had fallen out when I sat on a couch!
My Direct flight from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was cancelled for three days so my best option was to fly to Fiji and arrive at 10pm, and then leave at 7am the next day. Though, most “reasonable” people would go straight to the hotel to hopefully get six hours of sleep, I didn’t arrive at my hotel until 3am. Why, you ask? Well, because, of course, I had an Tinder match in Fiji named Priti, whom I called. Pritiarranged for a taxi to pick me up from the airport and take me to a house where she was hanging out with six other local Fijians. They were enjoying beers while playing cards at a local’s home. They cooked me a surprisingly tasty dinner (surprising because they were able to cook and drink). Then, since it was Friday night, we went to three different bars. Discussions are relaxed and detailed– not abrupt or rushed like they often are during the busy work week.
6) Chile, Punta Arenas
I was in Punta Arenas for one evening before flying to Antarctica the next day. Diana picked me up from my hotel and drove me around the city to see sights. As evening approached, the temperature dropped substantially, and I got really chilled. (Even though I’m from Wisconsin where the snow can pile knee high, living in Singapore for four years has made me a bit of a cold weather wimp!) Diana, left me to play the two video games available at a bar while she went home to get her dad’s jacket for me to wear. She said, “You are going to Antarctica without a jacket?” I responded that since it’s the summer, I thought it would be warmer! I also pointed out that I lived in Singapore and therefore only owned a light coat, but I brought a few long-sleeved shirts and planned to wear several layers. She told me to take her dad’s warm winter coat to Antarctica and just return it if and when I returned. Once in Antarctica, I was very grateful to Diana and her father for their generosity. Even in the summer Antarctica was freezing cold with a cutting wind chill. In hindsight, I should have known or at least looked into that rather obvious fact, but my lack of preparation gave me the opportunity to experience the kindness and generosity of a lovely Punta Arenas friend. *Important note: I returned the coat to Diana!
I met a tinder match, Ferrs who introduced me to her good guy friend who had lived in California for several years. He showed me a mountain where we could have gone downhill skiing had we arrived earlier (there was snow at the very top); however the ski slopes closed at noon– Iranian skiers must be early birds!
In Liberia, a girl about my age named Courtney met me at the airport. She immediately became my advocate, refusing to let the taxi driver at the airport overcharge me, telling him he set outlandish prices just because I was a foreigner. She argued long and hard with him and finally he relented and took us to my airbnb hotel, where again she looked out for me. She firmly insisted that I could not stay there because it was too dirty. Instead, she guided me to her home where I met her mother and siblings. She and her mother walked me to a hotel near their place. It was the same price as the previous hotel that I had reserved but much nicer and cleaner. After checking in and dropping off my small carry-on, I walked with the two ladies to a market where they bought local food. I remember our interesting and open conversation on the way to the market. Her mom asked if I would ever date an African, and I answered, “Yeah, of course.” Then she asked if my mother would allow me to date an African. I explained that my mom wants me to date someone that has my same values. Her race wouldn’t be important, but it would be important to my mom that the love interest in my life be open-minded, ambitious, kind, and most importantly– nice to her-my mom! I heard a tone of sadness in Courtney’s mother’s questions. She said she asked because most of the people she knows in Liberia believe that foreigners would not date an African and/or the foreigner’s parents wouldn’t approve of them dating an African. After shopping at the market, her mom went home to cook for us while Courtney and I went around the city sightseeing. Later, back at her parent’s’ place, we enjoyed a wonderful meal and watched a Nigerian drama on TV before I headed to my hotel for the evening–with a full belly and a happy heart.
A local, whom I had previously contacted on tinder, picked me up along with her friend from my Airbnb hotel. As we were out eating dinner, one of them received a phone call informing her that her neighbors had just been kidnapped. The ladies explaining that kidnapping often happens in Venezuela to “wealthy” people who are released after they pay about $30,000 (in USD). Venezuela is experiencing hard economic times. For example, the largest Venezuelan bill in 2016 was worth only 10 cents in American coins. I exchanged $20 in USD and got 200 bills. That $20 lasted me the entire 3 days I was in Venezuela. My friends explained – “People are struggling to find jobs, so they are resorting to kidnapping as an easy but dangerous way to make money”. One of the ladies said he lived in a very safe area of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, whereas I was staying in a dangerous area in downtown Caracas. She insisted I stay at her place to avoid the dangerous downtown area. We drove home after the dinner in the dark night. While driving she didn’t even stop at the red lights, saying, “It is dangerous to stop at lights after dark.”
I bet you didn’t know Tinder was used in Afghanistan! I matched with a Filipina named Anna who worked in Afghanistan. Anna and her driver picked me up at 6am from the airport. Anna showed me what it was like to be a foreigner living in Afghanistan. She took me to a compound where she both lived and worked; it had a high cement wall surrounding a group of buildings. She invited me to eat breakfast with her within the compound, where I met other foreigners including a fairly young, blond Scottish man. He joked that his presence should make me feel safe since I was not the palest guy in town–he was! He had lived in Kabul for several years and felt safe. He said I didn’t have to worry about safety during my two days in Kabul. Anna was so thoughtful; she even bought me some local clothes as a welcome gift! I was thrilled to have something clean to wear since I had been traveling for over two
weeks with a tiny suitcase. Anna
introduced me to a local Afghani named Jack who had the day off. As Jack guided me to explore Kabul, he wore a T-shirt and jeans while I was wore traditional Afghan attire, so many people thought we were both locals.
1) Senegal, Dakar
I arrived in Senegal around 6[m and rented my car from “Eurocar”. It was an International car rental company, so I was a bit surprised that my rental car was dirty, filled with mosquitos, and barely functioned! Driving in a foreign country that has a high rate of malaria with mosquitoes biting you with is never a good idea. It was also super hot and the car had no AC. Making things worse, I could not find my hotel because it wasn’t where google maps said indicated it should be was, and no one answered when I called the hotel. I checked with other hotels, but they all wanted over $150/night which I thought was too steep. Finally, after much searching, I found a reasonable, but somewhat dingy, dirty place. I don’t usually complain or feel sorry for myself, but, it was such a rough day that I sent my family a message to express my dismay at my first evening in Dakar, Senegal.
However, daylight brings a new perspective! The next day I matched with Nicky. I needed to go to the Guinea-Bissau Embassy, but since French is spoken in both Guinea-Bissau and Senegal, I figured it was likely the embassy employees wouldn’t speak English–the only language I know. I, therefore, asked Nicky to come with me to the embassy to help translate. She graciously agreed to help translate for me, but the Embassy guard told us that I could not get a VISA there. After our stop at the Embassy, Nicky joined me on a 20-minute ferry ride to the UNESCO World Heritage Site on Goree Island. While we were walking, Nicky, who said she “wasn’t prepared” for a boat trip, bought clothes from the sidewalk venders–such as sunglasses and a skirt, so she didn’t have to wear long slacks all day. In many parts of Africa, you can buy bargain clothes on the street. I drove Nicky back home later that day; she lived in a large 3-bedroom apartment by herself. She offered to let me stay in one of her spare rooms for the rest of the time in Senegal – I took her up on this kind offer: a huge improvement from my dirty hotel!