Thailand Part One

Apr 13, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe

Our itinerary was simple. Fly from Kathmandu to Bangkok on December 7th with a minimal layover in Delhi, then store or luggage at the Bangkok airport for a few hours and explore the city before flying to Krabi in the south of Thailand and taking a ferry to Koh Lanta the following day arriving on the December 9th. This was all easier said than done; getting to Thailand was a debacle. It certainly wasn’t as easy as it was supposed to be and drove me to writing a letter to Kingfisher Airlines which borders on maniacal with tones of an author diagnosed with borderline personality disorder to mildly amusing. We arrived midmorning but it felt like we were swimming in air. We were not jetlagged, not tired, but somewhere in between, numb.

Our next flight wasn’t due to leave for another 8 or so hours. I walked as briskly as I could while shaking from Dunkin Donuts coffee and exhaustion to the Air Asia ticket counter. After standing twiddling my thumbs I realized that I needed to draw a number rather than stand in line. I didn’t understand why there was a line if we all had to draw numbers. My number was called and I gently strolled to the counter with a smile and the simple request to please put me on one of the two flights in between when I was standing there and when mine was due to leave. I left thanking the woman with a smile having not immediately realized that she had told me that it was simply not possible and there was nothing I could do. She was just so nice and I was so stunned, that I couldn’t comprehend being disappointed. We opted for a high class hotel by the hour that was built for travelers with lack of sleep and a layover. We got a room with aircon, cable television, and a shuttle service for six hours and 900 Baht (USD$30). The exchange rate is approximately USD$1 = 30 Thai Baht.

The place was classy but not worth 900 Baht. We immediately fell asleep and woke a few hours later. Still in a fog I walked down a few streets admiring the fact that there were cars and they were new Hondas and Toyotas at that. I was amazed by the condition of the roads and that there was no garbage strewn about. I couldn’t believe that there were sidewalks and that no one was honking. I also couldn’t believe how bloody hot it was. After a brief stroll I finally came across a restaurant filled with patrons who worked in the industrial areas around the airport. We both hadn’t eaten any seafood in a few months and Cori hadn’t eaten chicken since the raw chicken incident in Delhi and before that probably in South Africa six months prior. I ordered the two things I could recognize and happily the cheapest things on the menu to boot, one pad Thai with chicken and one shrimp pad Thai for me.

The meal was devoured. One thing that I’m sure most people don’t know is that pad Thai is one of the only Thai dishes were using chopsticks is appropriate. Most Thai food is eaten with a fork and a spoon. The fork is used to shovel food with one hand onto the spoon in the other. Food is eaten with the spoon. The Air Asia flight was brief and we were greeted by an extremely nice hotel worker who took us to our hotel in Krabitown. We got a fan room with no windows for around $18 a night. We had to get used to the extravagant Thai prices. I was blown away by how quick the internet was. I was getting speeds about 3x faster than my cable internet at home. We downloaded the Grinch That Stole Christmas and a few other movies that helped cure our homesickness over the holiday season.

We left the next morning for Koh Lanta. Koh means island in Thai. So anytime you see Ko or Koh, just know that it is island. We broke the budget for a few nights because it was Cori’s birthday and we wanted to stay someplace fancy. I think in these two days we called everyone of our family members because the internet was so fast and free. This was the first time in almost six months where we had good internet that didn’t cost a fortune. Believe it or not but internet in Africa is bloody expensive. In South Africa it costs about $4 to download the information the size of a gnat fart.

For the amount of money we were paying, we were surprised that breakfast was not included, that it was a 10 minute walk across the main road through another resort to get to the beach, and that the nearest restaurant was an Australian burger place. It did however have a decent kitchen and I made one good breakfast and one bad one because the water was turned off so I had to use what little water we had to boil eggs instead of washing the previous morning’s dishes. The beach in Koh Lanta is not one to write home about. I called Cori a beach snob in my previous blog about Goa but after spending so much time in Zanzibar, I had now become a beach snob. We’ll just say Koh Lanta is not Koh Zanzibar (yes, I know that Zanzibar is an archipelago not the name of an island, and therefore this is a lame joke. But most people don’t know that fact).

Cori’s birthday was great. We woke up late I made breakfast for us and we went to the beach. We lazed around for the better half of the day at the Funky Fish beach resort. It was a nice place with a really good atmosphere. We had a few beers and sat on triangle pillows. The triangle pillow is a Thai staple for lounging around. It is perfect for using as a pillow for your head, to lean back on against your lower back, or even to put one underneath your knees to prop the legs up. They’re excellent and dirt cheap. Unfortunately because of how bulky they are the cheapest we could find them on the internet was for about $125 a piece back home. I think that I may go into the triangle pillow business.

We have always had the rule of ordering new and exciting foods instead of sticking with what we knew. I pointed at the menu and what came back mystified me. It was a shrimp that was surrounded by a crunchy noodle with spicy sauce. It was excellent. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it again in all the time we spent in Thailand but I would love to revisit it. Koh Lanta isn’t a crazy party island like Phi Phi or Samui but it was a full moon the night of Cori’s birthday and we were a little worried that we’d be kept up until dawn. After an amazing dinner on the beach, we walked back across the street and on our way noticed that it was a full lunar eclipse. This was one of the few times I’d ever seen that. It was pretty incredible.

After spending two overpriced nights in a nice place far from the beach, we decided to spend 450 Baht on a bungalow about 25 meters from the beach. We went back to Funky Fish. We liked that it was on the water, had really good food and is run by an overly friendly ladyboy. We spent four days in total on the beach lounging around and enjoying the relative silence in comparison with Kathmandu.

Ladyboys are a funny phenomenon. They are extremely feminine and live their lives as women. Some are pre-op some are post op, but they are all a staple in Thai culture. I by no means have any kind of repressed attraction to them. I am however attracted to the fact that they are lucky enough to live in a place as accepting as Thailand. After traveling through a few places in Africa where that kind of thing would have had you killed, it was a welcome change. There is a general rule in Thailand that when in doubt, she probably has a penis. Even when not in doubt, she could probably have a penis.

Like I mentioned the beach wasn’t the best in the world, but it was an excellent spot for sunsets. I couldn’t believe how every night we were there we blessed with an incredible one. The other part that made Koh Lanta worth visiting was the food. Every dish we had whether it was at Fat Cats or a shed on the side of the street was epic. We have more pictures of us eating than we do of us on the beach.

We took a scooter around and cruised the length of the island a few times checking out all the different beaches along the coast. The island has great amenities and made us feel like we could be anywhere. It was clean, safe, and relatively inexpensive. The bike broke down a few times that day and we ran out of petrol, but otherwise it was fun and I only tried to drive on the right hand side of the road twice out of habit.

We broke the budget one day and went on a ‘four island tour.’ It sounded good and got a resounding review from an Irish couple we made friends with. The place I was most excited to see was Koh Mook with the Emerald Cave. It was the inspiration for the movie The Beach. The Beach was not filmed there but on Phi Phi Leh. The book described Koh Mook perfectly. We hopped into the water about 20 meters from a giant limestone karst. The cave was nearly impossible to see. We had a guide behind us and one in front of us to lead us. They both had flashlights and without them it was pitch black. We swam for around 15 minutes until we arrived at one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. It was the most pristine beach imaginable with limestone cliffs at least a hundred meters up all around. The sand was so white and pure it squeaked when walking on it. The water looked fake and the pictures we took did it a disservice. Imagine floating rock a hundred meters high and maybe a hundred across that is shaped like a wheel with a tiny cave that opens up into the middle of the wheel. The wheel has the most incredible beach imaginable and insane forest and plant life inside. It was ethereal.

On the way to visit the other two islands our boat’s propeller shattered leaving us marooned for 30 minutes until we could get a tow from another boat. We had lunch and did some snorkeling. The snorkeling was pretty good and come to find out fish really love rice. I threw handfuls of rice in front of my face while snorkeling so that I could immerse myself completely in the life of a hungry fish. After we snorkeled for a while another boat came that was going to take us back to the pier. For clarification, we had visited four places, but all of the guests concurred that being marooned didn’t count as one. The French guy who worked for the snorkeling company said (insert insanely thick French accent here) ‘so we see everything and we go back now, no?’ We overpaid for the trip by about $40 so I came a little unglued and said ‘NO, you didn’t take us to four places and we paid for four.’ ‘But the weather is bad and the sea is rough, so we cannot go to the fourth place.’ I called him on his BS and settled on sitting on a deserted beach for about 20 minutes so that he wouldn’t have to hear me marveling at the atrocity of not seeing the fourth island.

Something worse than being stuck on a boat with an extremely pompous Frenchman happened that day, our camera broke. It was the third camera from the trip. We had two stolen in Quito, Ecuador the day before we were going to leave to the Galapagos Islands and now this one. We got a lot of use out of it and took over 14,000 pictures which considering that I probably took more pictures with that camera than most people in their lifetime, I am happy. Goodnight sweet prince you will be missed Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS 2011-2011.

We took the amazingly comfortable overnight bus from Krabitown to Bangkok. We were a little apprehensive and on edge about entering a metropolis over 7,000,000 inhabitants after relaxing on a beach for four days. Bangkok is an incredible city but our first impression left us craving more. All overnight buses seem to arrive before the sun comes up. Our bus was due to arrive at around 7am however we arrived at 4:30am. Arriving too early is even worse than being stuck in traffic at times. We had absolutely nowhere to go and didn’t want to get a taxi ride into the city at that hour. We sat around for an hour and a half until the sun started to peek up. We found out that we had gotten off at the wrong terminal about 30 minutes further away from where we wanted to go. The taxi drivers were merciless, it was so early in the morning that the taxi stand operator wasn’t working and the drivers could name their own price and refuse to turn on the meter. I finally managed to get a price for half of what they were originally telling me but probably six times more than it should have cost.

We had reservations at a place near the infamous Khao San Road. The taxi took us directly to our place and because we had a fixed price we didn’t have to worry about him driving us all over Bangkok to milk the meter. The door was locked and a metal grate similar to the ones in New York had to be lifted. A groggy woman opened the door, took our bags, and impolitely let us know that we were welcome to return after 11am and not before. We did what anyone else in our position would do. We wandered around the streets of Banglamphu and Khao San Road. It was amazingly well organized and chipper for being a street known for being a haven for drunken travelers leaving their country for the first time. The 18-20 year old British male who’d been out drinking all night continuing into the morning demographic was well represented and out in numbers. Most were friendly and knew that this was simply what you do on Khao San as not to expect any dirty looks from anyone.

One great thing about the area is the breakfasts. In every country there is a hangover food and on Khao San you can get said hangover food from around the globe. The American is almost always cheesy eggs, toast, potatoes, and bacon. The Englishman is eggs, beans, toast, a fried tomato, and sausage. The Aussie is usually the granddaddy of them both which will be eggs, beans, toast, a fried tomato, potatoes, sausage, bacon, and ham. I don’t know if it is a competition, but if so I think that it would seem from the menu alone (forget my personal experience here) that the Aussies can drink; or get really bad hangovers.

Lack of sleep is like a hangover but without the fun of the previous night. I ate my monthly quota of pig and marveled at the amount of people having beers while we were having brekky. The street smelled like a frat house and was stained black from spilt booze. We did a fair amount of walking around and walked into an internet café to skype with family. One hangover breakfast, a few family conversations over, and 200 times getting turned around later, we could finally get our room. The room was one of the most spacious in Bangkok. What it had in space it lacked in windows and air circulation, but for 350 Baht we were in good shape.

Commence operation buy a new camera. We knew we wanted another Cannon because we love them and know how to use them. However, being that we only had a few months left on our trip, our budget was greatly diminished.

Thailand is completely in love with their king. It is not creepy or fear driven like in a lot of nations. This is genuine love. His picture is proudly adorned nearly everywhere and at many street intersections. Before any movie at the theater there is a 4-5 minute propaganda film about the king showing him do a number of different things, visiting farms, holding babies, smiling with strangers, whatever. It is kind of cool and extremely unique.

The back of the 1,000 Baht note has a picture of the king from the waist up. Adorned behind his neck is what? A Cannon camera. It is the camera of choice for the Thai people. Cannon sales in Thailand are significantly higher than any other brand. If you win on Jeopardy because of this morsel of knowledge, please keep me in mind. We felt lucky that we hadn’t wanted to buy a Nikon.

We went to MBK. MBK is kind of like a cross between an entertainment mega center, an indoor swap meet, and a congregation for tweens escaping the oppressive Bangkok heat. There is an entire floor that sells knock off clothing, another for cameras and cell phones, and everywhere you look is crap to buy. 9/10 of what is under the roof of this building is garbage with flashy packaging. I managed to do some excellent bargaining and got a camera for around 70% of what I would have at the Cannon store.

New camera in hand it was time to start getting temple fatigue. A disease that is common amongst travelers after seeing hundreds of temples in Asia, they all start to look the same. I will say though that the reclining Buddha is truly spectacular. Wat Pho that houses the reclining Buddha is one of the biggest and oldest temples in Thailand. The Buddha is over 150 feet long. It was well worth the visit. We walked into the complex through an open gate and wandered around for about an hour before we saw the ticket booth. Not believing in Karma but knowing it would only help it, we paid the entrance fee and even gave a donation on the way out.

We decided that we were going to go to the Sunrise Temple or Wat Arun even though it was the afternoon. To get there we took the ferry across the river, but before that we had the most amazing lunch to date. We had fried tofu and seafood padthai on the side of the road for less than 100 Baht. The Sunrise Temple was great too. Again it was a building that we could climb all over and roam freely. I don’t think I’m going to visit another American or European site until I’m too old to climb on things so I don’t get upset that I cannot do so. The structure itself is about 250 feet high with very steep steps and an awesome view from the top.

We took the water ferry from there back to our neighborhood in time for happy hour. We didn’t bring the new camera with us I think out of preservation. The next morning we left super early for Cambodia via train, tuk tuk, bus, and taxi. But more about that later.

Africa Part 4 of 6 Zimbabwe and Malawi

For part one of my Africa Series please click here
For part two of my Africa Series please click here
For part three of my Africa Series please click here

Africa Part 4 of 6: Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi

Victoria Falls The City
Victoria Falls Village Trip
The Waterfalls
Crossing into Zambia
Entering Malawi
Hike to Livingstonia
Crossing into Tanzania

Zimbabwe has an interesting history and painful history, it was known as Rhodesia until it gained independence 1980. Mugabe since 1980 has been president. One of his famous and probably his most disturbing quote is “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold.” He’s known to be charismatic, well educated, racist, and has been described as a power monger. His people have suffered dearly because of him. An amazing documentary that anyone interested in this region is Mugabe and the White African it gives a really good and in depth account of the “Willing Buyer Willing Seller” land reform which was to distribute the land which white farmers held back to the blacks. In reality it was to Mugabe’s men and the people never saw any of it. I know that Zimbabwe is much more than just Mugabe. I was excited to see the country, get acquainted with the people, and of course see Victoria Falls.

Most people know a little bit about Zimbabwe’s ‘funny money.’ At one point the largest single note was One Hundred Trillion Dollars ($100,000,000,000,000.00). Ray told us that in the past their dollar was 1:1 with the US Dollar and the most valuable currency in Africa. In 2009 the Zimbabwean Dollar officially was discontinued and all of the ATMs in Zimbabwe distribute US Dollars.

Victoria Falls is the name of the city, which is in the park, which houses the falls themselves, all of which have the same name. We arrived in Vic Falls and before setting up camp were forced to watch another video offering all of their optional activities including bungee jumping over the Zambezi River for $130 (which was $30 more than I paid to go from the highest bridge in the world), elephant safari for over $100, walking with lions over $100, river rafting on the Zambezi for over $100 per person, and a few other BS activities that were WAY too expensive. This is Zimbabwe, one of the poorest countries on the planet and they expected us to pay these outrageous prices for their activities. We later met a local guide that would have taken Cori and I rafting with his group for $40 a person, so if you shop around you don’t have to pay as much for the same activities.

We set up camp at one of the more beautiful camp sites we’d been to. We could hear Victoria Falls in the distance rumbling and see mist rising from it in the distance. We had a beer by the pool and hung out for a while before going out to wander around. We decided that we were going to go walk across the bridge to see Victoria Falls from one perspective and walk a few meters into Zambia. We watched a friend bungee jump and walked around town a bit more. One of the coolest things about Vic Falls is that there are a ton of Pumbaas (warthogs) running around town. They would let you get right up to them and take their picture. We saw a Pumbaa getting into the garbage at the campsite when a monkey attacked it. It was a brief altercation but pretty cool to see nonetheless.

The end of the first night we had our goodbye dinner. The tour was split into two parts the first was Cape Town to Victoria Falls the next was Victoria Falls to Nairobi. So those who were leaving at Vic Falls were stopping here. We had an amazing time that night, after dinner we went to Shoestrings, a hostel in town, which was lame-o-potato and left when it closed at midnight. We decided to go to Hunters, a kind of locals only joint, we had to walk down a dark path to get there. This normally wouldn’t be a big deal but because we were in a National Park, there were animals around and elephants had been known to kill people in the streets that spooked them (this is what we’re told and I no reason not to believe them). The walk went fine and a large group of us went into the bar and were greeted by blaring beats. Super good African music pulsed and the place was absolutely packed. We all drank too many beers and got back to bed around 2am. It was one of the happiest nights that I had on the trip. It was awesome to hang out and be welcomed with open arms (sometimes the local guys would grind up a bit too much on the women from our group, but it was a friendly grind); we danced until we couldn’t stand, partied with the locals, and got to listen to some awesome music.

We had to start saying goodbye to some of the people we had gotten so close with. David and Cinzia were leaving, Cameron was heading back home to Mozambique, and Rob and Marieke were deserting us as well. I could go on and on about all the people leaving, but it happens. Janus and I were drinking a Fanta by the pool when a black guy covered in tattoos asked me where I was from. I said America and he said that his brother Tupac was from America too. He went on and on about Mugabe and what a horrible person he thought that he was. He even said that he wanted to be a security guard for him so that he could “make it an inside job.” Once he said that, I freaked out a little bit and left not wanting to get involved with a guy like that.

For pictures from Victoria Falls, the City please click HERE

That day Cori and I went on a village tour to see what people lived like outside of the city. We paid too much for it, but in hindsight was a pretty good experience. We went to a village about an hour outside of Victoria Falls and first met with a farmer who didn’t speak much English. We learned about making some traditional foods. Culturally it was a funny experience for me. The guy’s place we were visiting was obviously a little buzzed. We all sat inside of his mud hut which was built by his wife. Women build the huts. I got to sit on a small chair inside of the hut while Cori sat on the floor with the man’s daughter, because, women of course, aren’t allowed to sit on chairs either. Elephants from time to time will terrorize villages, take all of their food, and sometimes knock down their huts. So from time to time these elephants are shot and killed by the park’s authorities. Everyone from all around will share in the booty from the elephant and no part gets wasted.

The man was a sculptor and made hippos from teak wood, which was technically illegal to chop down but he said that he did it in the night to not get in trouble. While he was trying to sell us his wares, he kept talking on his cell phone. I asked him where he charged his phone and he said, “At the bar next door to my house, of course.” This is where the memory gets a little better. I’d read about Chibuku before coming to Zimbabwe and knew that it was a popular drink and hard for Westerners to get accustomed to. It comes in a two liter plastic bottle with a screw top lid 5 centimeters in diameter. When you take a sip undoubtedly, your nose will touch the brew. It is to be served at room temperature, which in Zimbabwe is hot. The brew is not at all fizzy like beer, but it flat and chunky. The brew is also to be shared and not drunk alone. To recap, Chibuku is a warm and chunky brew to be shared warm everyone around while their noses touch it. We had six liters of the brew while we were there.

Throughout the day they kept asking if we had any questions. I didn’t know if it was okay to ask about Mugabe or if he was feared enough to where people didn’t say anything. His picture was up all over the place and I thought that it would be taboo to ask the questions that I really wanted to know. I asked them if they had any questions that they wanted to know from an American. They were interesting and thoughtful questions. The first question was, “why did your government impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, why does your government want to hurt the Zimbabwean people, and what do you think about it.” My jaw hit the floor and I think I said something along the lines of, “we’re citizens of a country which does things all around the globe which I don’t believe in; we’re here spending money in your country and I’m buying the next Chibuku.”

We got to go to the township of Victoria Falls as well to see what the people hawking goods on the side of the roads lived like. Which in all honesty, the township looked better than a lot of places in Los Angeles or Arizona. One thing about Victoria Falls which is wears on us is the number of people hawking goods on the side of the road. They pester you and walk with you the entire length of the walk which makes it impossibly difficult to avoid or ignore. Cori thought it was so bad that she didn’t want to leave the campsite; which even there people were trying to sell us goods through the fence. We ended up trading a lot of used clothing for some pretty cool wood carvings.

We had our briefing with our new team leader which left a lot to be desired. He seemed like he was in a partial coma and didn’t do much talking at all. He wasn’t the charismatic leader that we’d gotten used to with Ray.

For pictures from the village tour around Victoria Falls please click HERE

After the briefing we went to see Victoria Falls. They were magnificent and truly amazing. There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about them.

For pictures from Victoria Falls please click HERE

The next morning we went to Livingston, Zambia. Crossing the border was simple. We paid our $50 visa fee and went right across. Livingston, like many African cities is much more modern than you’d expect, has a few malls, and restaurants all around. We went to the grocery store and picked up some wine (which is getting more and more expensive the further away from South Africa we were getting). Our camp site that night was at a beautiful location right on the Zambezi River. Charles and his wife Thien-An joined us for a few beers by the river. There was a giant crocodile sleeping under the deck by the river that afternoon.

Jan and Karen joined us for beers as well. We bunked with them when we had our party dorm in Swakopmund were an amazing duo. Jan’s daughter was married to Karen’s son. The two of them planned their wedding from New Zealand as the “kids” (who are Cori and my ages) lived in England. They are such troopers, leaving the significant others behind to camp with a bunch of kids half their age and loving it. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for these ladies and hope to do something that cool when my kids are all grown up. We’d gotten close with them on the first leg of the trip, but naturally had gotten closer as time went on.

Zambia as far as Cori and I are concerned doesn’t really count as a country we visited, but rather a country we paid to get into and drove out of three days later.

The coolest things about the drives were the kids and getting a sample of “real Africa”. The kids we’d see would get so excited to see our big green truck coming. They’d all wave like crazy. Some of them would be jumping up and down because they were so excited. Our arms would get tired from all of the waving back we’d be doing. It was really cool to see to start seeing the women who were draped in colorful sheets (called Kanga) walking slowly with baskets on their heads. The roads surprisingly weren’t as bad as we’d anticipated and certainly better than a lot we’ve been on in Asia. Nonetheless, it was tiresome only being able to go a maximum speed of 80kms an hour (about 50mph).

Long boring days of playing cards in the truck pursued for the next three days until we crossed into Malawi. Malawi for whatever reason had been calling me. I really wanted to visit and was ecstatic to be going. Crossing into Malawi was a breeze, no visa fees for most of us, except oddly the nations who need one which include Ireland, South Korea, and Switzerland.

One thing that was very different about this trip versus the previous one is that there was a fine line between whom the crew was and who the people on the trip were. On the first leg, Ray stood up to make it more accommodating for us and anyone who wanted could sit up front with Christie. This leg our guide sat alone on the best and most comfortable seat. Our cook, who actually was a great cook, sat in the cab next to our driver the entire way. We were given strict chores and the men were referred to as “dog’s bodies.” Dog’s Bodies is a derogatory term for someone who is meant to do menial tasks. These menial tasks were performed by us men while the crew stood back and watched. The women were assigned to be in different groups. One group would do the prep work with the cook. The next would clean the truck.

The cook was a complete and total scum bag who would treat the women poorly and degrade them while they were on his duty. He wouldn’t even tell the women what it was that they were helping him make. One of the women on our trip was constantly being harassed by him and had to fend off his sexual advances on a daily basis. He asked one guy on our trip who took a slice of avocado which was waiting to be served, “What’s your problem,” when he did so. It was a much different vibe and one that I wasn’t happy with. I feel okay posting negative things about Africa Travel Co because we complained to them and never received any response back from their office. If anyone was going to do an overland trip, I wouldn’t suggest using them.

For pictures from Zambia please click HERE

Malawi is home to Lake Malawi, the second largest lake in Africa. It is wide enough to not be able to see the other side and is the border with Mozambique on the east and Tanzania on the north. 20% of the country is water. David Livingstone came to Malawi in the mid 1800s and played a large role in the colonizing of Malawi by Britain’s as bringing Christianity to some of its people. There is a town which we hiked Livingstonia which was the site where he successfully settled after a few failed attempts at other locations.

We stayed at Kande Beach for three nights; but we arrived late the first night. It was a beautiful location right on Lake Malawi. Beautiful clean sand as far as we could see in both directions and an island covered in rocks laid a few hundred meters from shore. It was a perfect location and a wonderful and welcome stop after all of the driving we’d been sitting through. We chilled out, drank a few beers, and swam out to the island on the first day. Later we were met by Janus and Marlene, the doctors from Denmark that traveled the first half of the trip with us. It was good to see that Janus still hadn’t shaved. Nate, Charles, Janus, and I all decided that we weren’t going to shave until the trip was over. If you look at us day one versus the last day we look more and more like we’ve been camping through Africa.

That night we got sauced and forgot that the second half of the trip had been pretty bogus so far. Janus and I got up to our usual no good and Cori and the girls enjoyed themselves pretty well. It was a stellar night and one of the fondest of the trip.

Liz, who has a heart of gold and has been travelling with us since the beginning stopped by an orphanage the day before and told the man who ran it that we’d be by to give some things to the kids. The next morning I was super hung over but persevered. We went to the orphanage early in the morning and a few minutes later Jonathan showed up and let us in. We first went and met with a group of women who were all HIV positive and were making crafts that were sold in Australia. Jonathan said that these women were all free to stay there and that living with HIV wasn’t the end of the world for them. It tore my heart out to see all of these women, some with babies in their laps, and know that despite everyone’ efforts they wouldn’t get the medical care they needed and may not be around much longer.
Cori and I bought coloring books crayons, and bubble mix in Lilongwe so that we could donate them. We gave them to the kids who were incredibly appreciative. They were very careful with the books and crayons. They didn’t fight over the goods nor did they cause any fuss when someone else was using the colors that they wanted. It was the first game of the Premier League season and we were invited to Jonathan’s village to watch Liverpool play Sunderland at one of the few televisions in town. We went with Jonathan to his village which was about a twenty minute walk from the beach through cassava farms and palm groves. We arrived to an outdoor hut which had bamboo mats up on the walls so that people couldn’t see in on 3/4 of the sides. We weren’t asked to pay an admission but the rest of the people were. There was around six of us from the trip in total and the rest of the place was packed with locals. I decided that we all needed to pay for Fanta (alcohol was not allowed) and buy some snacks as well.

Luis Suárez scored a goal for Liverpool. Everybody in the place booed and hissed. Remember, Suárez was the guy who during the World Cup while playing for Uruguay used his hand to score a goal against Ghana and eliminated the last African team. Everyone in Africa from what we were told hates this guy. It was funny because everyone wanted Liverpool to when but was disgusted to see him score.

That night we did more of the same. We had to go the next day early in the morning which didn’t make much sense because it was only a short drive up the coast to our next site. We stopped at a market along the way. The power was off which made shopping more difficult and made me worry about eating the meat we’d be served later that night. We stopped for hours to pick up supplies and by the time we arrived it was already too late to enjoy the scenery.

For pictures from Malawi please click HERE

The next morning I went on a 35km hike up to Livingstonia. The hike itself wasn’t that great. We got up there and the church we were supposed to see was closed and didn’t seem to be worth it regardless. We stopped by a beautiful waterfall on the way back which made the trek completely worth the while. We swam in a pool and took some great photos. On the way down my knee crapped out on me and I struggled almost the entire way down.

For pictures from the hike to Livingstonia please click HERE

The next day we were to go to Tanzania! Animals Animals Zanzibar Animals! Crossing into Tanzania was the easiest one that I’ve ever had to do. We gave our passports and visa payment to our leader; he went in, returned with our passports, and a receipt. We didn’t even have to leave the truck.

Africa part 3 of 6 Etosha National Park and through Botswana

Feb 9, 2012 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Botswana, Brandyn's blogs, Namibia, Uncategorized, Where we've been, Zimbabwe

For part one of my Africa Series please click here
For part two of my Africa Series please click here

Etosha National Park and through Botswana

Etosha National Park
Divindu and crossing into Botswana
Okavango Delta
We stole a Pumbaa!
Chobe National Park

I was a little tired of seeing scenery that reminded me of home and I was ready to see some animals. I was incredibly psyched that we were going to Etosha National Park. My expectations were so low because in all honesty, I hadn’t heard much about it at all. Etosha to the native Owambo people means ‘Great White Place.’ The ground of the park looks dusty and the elephants here are white from the fine dirt.

The thing that I loved about Etosha, which purists have reason to argue about, is that Etosha has dozens of artificial watering holes throughout the park. This gives people a better opportunity to see the wildlife. We arrived in the afternoon and within a few minutes saw a small family of elephants. It was starting to feel much more like Africa now. We were dropped off at a watering hole where we got to look around for a few minutes before going back to the camp site. First we saw a few giraffes drinking, which is really cool to see. It is such an ordeal for them having to bend all the way over making themselves vulnerable while doing so. A young male elephant was drinking when another male came along. The two trumpeted and the young bull charged the other. It was a small confrontation but incredible nonetheless. That night Ray was behind the grill and we ate well.

The next morning we were going out in the truck for a full day game drive going at Christie’s sometimes too fast pace. We saw a few female lions playing the morning. We saw giant herds of springbok, zebra, and a few giraffes littered around the park. The highlight of the day came when we were having lunch and someone motioned for us to go to the watering hole and we found dozens of elephants getting water just meters away from us. My heart split open, this is what I came to Africa to see. Seeing the elephants interact with one another is something to behold. We watched mothers feed their young and others splash and play in the water. The elephants hardly noticed we existed and went about their business just as quickly as they’d come. While watching the elephants walk away, it was incredible that they could disappear as quickly as they did. Then on the way to the campsite we saw a leopard, which brought the big five count to three.

For pictures from Etosha please click HERE

We drove along the Caprivi Strip which at one point was owned by Britain. The Germans did a straight trade with Britain, Zanzibar for the Caprivi Strip . If you look at a map of Namibia it is the thin strip of land in the upper right hand corner. We hovered around the border of Angola for most of the day and that night we could see Angola across the river. We didn’t dare cross go in the river because of crocodiles.

For pictures from Divindu please click HERE

When we arrived in Maun the sun was due to set at any moment so we were all eager to set up the tents so we wouldn’t have to do it in the dark. We pulled into Delta Rain Campground and were greeted by a man who introduced himself as Nick, the Manager. Nick told us that before we could set up our tents we had to hear him give is talk about the optional tours that he had to offer. The first of which was the Okavango Delta trip itself; this was a no brainer and we were definitely going. The next was a flight over the Delta which he said would be great because it was at 5:30PM when the sun was setting so we’d be able to see the animals that go out at night that hide during the hot days. We paid for both, asked for a receipt, and were denied. Nick said that it wasn’t necessary so went about our business. One guy on our tour was told by Nick that he didn’t have change for him so just to drink at the bar en lieu of giving the change. I hope you can see where I’m going with this story and remember it because I’m going to talk about the Okavango Delta first then go back to Nick and Delta Rain afterwards.

The Okavango Delta is located in North Central Botswana and is the largest inland delta in the world. A delta is basically a flooded area which does not drain out to sea. The Okavango Delta is especially cool because of it is home to Africa’s Big Five. The Big Five was named so because they were known as the most dangerous animals for men to hunt; Cori saw that fact on a place mat and was sure to call me out when I mentioned it to someone. The Big Five are elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo, and lion.

We were visiting the delta in the right season. When the land is somewhat covered in water you’re more likely to see animals. However, unfortunate enough for us, we were there when it was really flooded; one of our guides said that it was the most flooded that it had been in over 50 years which meant that it had too much water and too much of the land was submerged to have many animals around.

We took an open aired Jeep to the launching off point where the makoros were waiting for us. A makoro is a dugout canoe that you lean back in while a ‘poler’ is in the back pushing you along. The makoros aren’t hat comfortable at all, but they are really cool to be in. They scrape across the long grass that grows from the water. Our heads were almost level with the water which gave us a much different perspective on things. We stopped at a midway point so that Ray and some of the others could set up decorations by our camp site for a woman named Lee, whose birthday it was. We saw a bunch of different kinds of animal dung all around. This was a good sign and I was more excited than ever.

Before we left on our trip, I talked with a friend of mine and he said that the Okavango Delta was his favorite place in Africa and that it best Game Park he’d been to. My expectations were set high. We arrived and the tents were already set up for us. Our tent was a little on the outskirts and we were far enough from the snorers that we could get a good night’s sleep. Before going out on our first game walk we were given safety briefing which let us know that these were wild animals, don’t be an idiot, and what to do if we do see dangerous animals. Our guide was the slowest talking person imaginable, the briefing which we could have gotten in 2 minutes took about 15. We. Will. See. Elephant…Elephant…Elephant…We. May. See. Lion…Lion…Lion… and on and on and on.

Long story short, because of the flooding, most animals weren’t able to get to where we were. It turned out to be a poo safari because we just saw so many different types of poo. We saw rhino poo, elephant poo, poo that had been rolled up by a dung beetle, hippo poo, hyena poo (which is white because of all the calcium from the bones they eat), and every other poo imaginable. David summed it up perfectly with his thick Italian accent, “all of dis a sheet and no ahneemals.”

We went back for lunch and had; I’m not kidding here, a few slices of white toast, canned beets, and shredded carrots. We all lost our heads, everyone went mental. After a breakfast with no protein and only grain, we were given absolute garbage. It was appalling to think what she thought was appropriate for us to eat. One night in Solitaire our Danish friend who is a doctor who was going to Victoria Falls to volunteer at their hospital, Cameron, and I were all singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the shower. The acoustics carried well and everyone outside could hear us; it became a bit of an anthem for the trip. So that night, our hosts from the Delta sang some traditional songs and we all played some games. They then told us it was our turn to sing a traditional song from where we came from. A good percentage of us were from the UK, Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar, and it is one of the best songs ever…all 20 something of us belted out (poorly) Bohemian Rhapsody to a confused and (I hoped) an appreciative audience for giving it our best shot.

Later that evening I was woken up by a grunting. A primal and intense fear hit me awake. There was a brushing around just a few meters from us. Again I heard a weird guttural vocalization and footsteps. I couldn’t sleep knowing a hippo was so close to me. We’d heard by one of the guides that more people die each year because of hippos than any other animals in the Game Parks. I don’t know if it is true and didn’t care, but it was the first time in my life that I was scared of being hurt by something that wasn’t human.

For pictures from The Okavango Delta please click HERE

We got back to Maun at the Delta Rain and tried to take showers. The camp site didn’t ran out of water mid shower and a few of us were stuck sitting around for ages with shampoo stuck in our hair. We arrived back around lunch time and shortly after our arrival Nick showed up and told us that it was time for us to go on our flight. Now, we had booked the 5:30 flight and that is what we wanted. Charles, who has turned out to be my closest friend from the trip and I flipped out. We paid $65 per person for a 30 minute flight and we were going to be out in the middle of the day, which Nick had said that there would be no animals because they hide during the hot sun. We were furious.

Charles and I demanded our money back and didn’t want to go. Nick said, ‘don’t worry; I’ll get your money back for you.’ We asked him to give it to us in writing, which again he didn’t do. We were lied to in the face by this guy and we were getting shafted. We talked to his boss and she told us that we had to suck it up and that if we didn’t go on the flight everyone else would have to pony up and pay for our portion of the flight we wouldn’t be on. So Nick from Delta Rain in Maun, Botswana lied to us, sold us tickets for a flight that we weren’t going to be on instead we’d be on a flight where we saw no animals, and then lied to us again about getting our money back.

We did the flight, I would give it a strong 2/10.

It was Mama Cinzia’s birthday that night so we all drank a lot of wine and had a great time despite the whole delta flight debacle. After dinner we did what anyone else would do in our position. We stole something from him, because in Africa, contrary to what our mothers told us growing up, two wrongs definitely DO make a right. We continued on from the earlier wine and got really sauced up, drinking our own alcohol at the bar. Demanding to speak with a person whose name rhymes with Nick we were getting sloppy. I felt sorry for the bartender who had to deal with us.

For pictures from Maun please click HERE

In the movie, The Lion King there was a character named Pumbaa which was a warthog. Pumbaa we all thought meant warthog in Swahili so we named all warthogs Pumbaa; it actually means “to be foolish or silly.” So that night we were being very pumbaa. Behind the bar there was a warthog’s head hanging on the wall. That was our trophy. It would soon be ours. Charles’ wife and Cori, I’m sure being sick of our hyjinx went to bed early. The bar had closed and planning begun. It was determined that I would walk in the front door and if there was a person still behind the bar I would order a drink loud enough for Charles and Janus, who would be lurking by the side door to hear. Then one of them would steal the Pumbaa while I would then run to a far corner of the camp site screaming enough to get the security guard to come my way instead of the stumbling across the boys and the Pumbaa head.

Liz, the next morning said that I walked by her tent and said something like, ‘we just did the coolest thing we’ve ever done before.’ We had another starchy breakfast. I told Cori what we did. She urged me to fess up and tell Ray so that he wouldn’t have any repercussions from our awesome stunt the previous night. I told Cori that we would present Pumbaa to everyone as soon as we got outside of the gate. That way we would be close enough to return it if the others thought we had to do so. A jolt of anxiety hit me as they opened up the gates and I could see the office where I was stolen from the day before. The gates closed, and revenge was ours! We showed everyone the Pumbaa and were on the road.

Ray was sleeping when we stole the Pumbaa and said that he had nothing to do with it being gone, we stole it, and it was ours. VICTORY! We drove east towards the border with Zimbabwe to Chobe National Park.

For pictures us stealing a Pumbaa please click HERE

Botswana had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease so we all had to get outside of the truck a few times and walk through a watery solution that would kill it while the truck had to drive through the same kind of liquid. At one of the stops a curious police officer told us that he really wanted the Pumbaa. He kind of insinuated that we may have trouble if we didn’t give it to him because Ray asked us nicely if we would mind parting with it. We told him that he’d have to take his picture with it so we could remember it. The officer said that he wasn’t allowed to have his picture taken in uniform. Then a stroke of genius happened when Jan asked if Ray had asked the officer he could accept stolen merchandise. That the Pumbaa was stolen and it was usually against the rules in any country for a policeman to have stolen goods. We left with the Pumbaa and were on our way to Chobe.

That night Cameron and I had a few drinks and talked with some really friendly locals who were hanging out with their friend who worked behind the bar. They were a friendly and lively bunch. We talked for ages but three things stuck out for me. The first was that one of them said was that Cameron and I were the nicest white people that she’d met and that most of the people who visit the parks look down on the locals and that the whites from around there were particularly racist. I couldn’t grasp why anyone would racist would come to Africa, but who knows? She bought us both drinks and told us about when they went to go see a UB40 concert. There wasn’t supposed to be alcohol allowed in many public events including this one. Their way around it was to soak their shirts in hooch and suck the alcohol from it once inside. I shook their hands as they left and gave the woman a big hug who told me that it was the first time she’d ever touched a white person and was happy, they bought us another round and left us with fond memories.

Chobe National Park is home to some of the largest herds of elephants in Africa. Elephants have always been my favorite African animals so I was jazzed to be going. We took a sunset cruise on a river which separates Botswana from Namibia. The herds of elephant were so amazing. They all seemed to have so little care. We got to see them playing in the water and swimming a bit. It is incredible how massive they are, we saw a family next to a crocodile and the lizard looked so tiny in comparison. We saw many hippos that day as well. They looked too lazy to be dangerous but they were incredibly big. I couldn’t believe how big their heads were.

For pictures from Chobe National Park please click HERE

Zimbabwe has a certain mystique to it. The name rings a little taboo in my ears. A vague fascination had me really excited to see it. Crossing into Zimbabwe was simple but very time consuming. Everyone had to take their passports to the official, pay the Visa fee, and was free to enter. We had another starchy breakfast while waiting in line. The Visa for Zimbabwe is actually really cool. Within hours we’d be seeing one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls!

For part four of my Africa series where we go to Zimbabwe, drive through Zambia, and spend a week in Malawi, please click here

Africa part 1 of 6 To Overland or Not to Overland

An organized tour doesn’t sound like the way to do anything; one travelling more than 10,000 kilometers in a truck full of strangers, camping every night, and having zero flexibility on route or schedule sounds especially tedious and lame. So why did we chose to do an overland trip? Simple answer, we didn’t feel like we had a choice.

The longer answer, we both wanted to see Africa the same way that we saw South America. We traveled overland on our own from Bogota, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina stopping at cities and small villages down the entire continent. Truthfully, we were a little overwhelmed and underprepared for Africa; it is not in our repertoire to plan to far ahead. Having arrived in Cape Town with nothing more than a backpack, a wife, and a vague idea of where we wanted to go. This is the first time that lack of planning seriously bit us on the hind sides. After speaking with a couple who had done the trip from Tanzania through Malawi to Mozambique and another guy who’d done the same and hearing the perils and tales of woe. We gave in and decided that it would be the easiest and most importantly the safest way to see as much of Africa as we could. Shortest answer, we got a half off promotion which sealed the deal. I’m glad we did it this way because stress is no way to spend a vacation and that is what Africa would be if we tried to do it on our own.

Looking back six months from this point, I still have no idea if we did it the right way or not. Also I would say that I do not regret the decision and am happy we did so because I have some of the greatest memories of my life because of the trip. We met many incredible people, saw scenery only previously known from National Geographic, and got to see Africa.

Africa, like I have told many surprised faces is expensive. It is expensive by western standards in that you don’t pay for what you get and it is assumed that if you’re there that you’ve got money. In Africa hostels will be on average a little less expensive than Europe but the quality will be vastly different. We stayed at a hostel in Arusha and paid $20 for a room with no windows, no fans, no sheets, and not enough room between the floor and bed to put our bags. This was the cheapest room available in the city. Everything is imported throughout the continent, so a candy bar in Botswana will cost you more than it would at home, a coloring book and crayons in Malawi will cost around $12; it is bloody expensive in Africa.

We were in Outdshoorn, South Africa and decided to talk with a woman at their official travel desk. She had a recent fax on her desk that was a promotion for Africa Travel Co that said that if we book the first half of the trip (Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) we would get the second half (Vic Falls to Nairobi, Kenya) for free.

After doing the budget, we found that overlanding especially because we got the promotion with an organized group would cost us less in stress and money than if we were to rent our own 4×4 vehicle and explore some of the same parts of Africa.

We went from Cape Town, South Africa north into Namibia visiting Etosha National Park, then going east along the Caprivi Strip into Botswana visiting both the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, we then went to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, made a mad dash through Zambia, spent a week on Lake Malawi, we then went to Zanzibar, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park and finished our overland trip in Arusha before heading back to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar on our own. Here’s an interactive Google map showing where we went, zoom in for more information of specifics. I will try to be as specific as possible about where we went and what we did in the blog. There is a flaw in Google Earth and it thinks that Spitzkuppe, Namibia is in the water.

For part two of my Africa blog which took us from Cape Town up through Namibia, please click here



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