Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Onto a New Chapter

I have heard it said a life in which you do not travel, is like having a novel and only reading one page. If this is the case, I have read countless pages to my book of life - inviting thrills and adventure into every chapter, laughing at the mishaps of the heroine, finding friendship and even love with the characters and, after each chapter ends, long to relive every illuminating escapade. My experiences seem to have turned me into a heroine, but while I was tackling the aspirations of fellow dreamers, to me I was just turning pages. And the book so far has been a exquisite. Now, as I head back to my hometown of Bridgewater, Connecticut, I realize I am starring at a blank page that I can fill up with whatever I want. Some are worried for me while most consider me lucky, but either way the task is at hand. All I can hope is that everything I have learned in the past 2 1/2 years will be put to good use, and that my novel will continue to be filled with joy, love and adventure!
Backtracking a couple of months, my last week in Africa was spent traveling the Garden Route from Capetown to Johannesburg. Only four travelers remained from the original Absolute Africa crew, which made for easier cruising - more space, no more camping or cooking, and a lot less noise. We headed from Capetown to the southernmost tip of the continent Cape Agulhas (where you could put one foot on the Atlantic Ocean side, and one foot on the Indian Ocean side), and then I got a chance to fulfill a childhood dream (as seen on Swiss Family Robinson) of riding an ostrich as we traveled through the Ostrich capital, Oudtshoorn. After a brief stop in Storms Village, we carried onto the legendary surf spot Jeffreys bay, but didn’t get to enjoy anything but fog due to the excessive rain. Johannasburg was nothing special, so in my last couple of days I went to the movies, the mall, and figured out a way to fit everything into my backpack before I headed to Australia.
Next I spent 2 1/2 months in Adelaide, Australia living with my favorite X-traveller, Mick - who traded in his backpack for a beautiful house, a job, and even a dog! While there I enjoyed the spoils of a being well taken care of. I wasn’t able to work due to my visa constraints, but did manage to improve my cooking abilities and work on organizing my travel photos (I have over 11,000!) We took a couple trips to visit his family on the Yorke Peninsula and even an overnight camping trip to Kangaroo Island, where we saw breathtaking landscapes, surreal sunsets and not shockingly, lots of kangaroos!! Unfortunately, international love is not easy. After begging God in vain to invent teleportation and listening to Whitney Houston’s “didn’t we almost have it all”, I reluctantly got on a plane to Bali. The connection between two travelers who have shared love during such remarkable life experiences is unparalleled - for a moment in time we held the the world in our hands and this I will never forget.
A common nickname for a 30th birthday party is a “Dirty 30” party. Had I known I would end up covered in mud and blood on the night of my 30th, I would not have tried to change the name to “Flirty 30.” An amazing birthday party at Warisan Restaurant in Seminyak, Bali, thrown by my favorite new friends, consisted of a lovely 3-course meal, lots of laughs and not one, but three delicious birthday cakes. I couldn’t have asked for a more memorable event, and only wanted to enhance the evening when Lindy and I set out on our motorbike to Kuta (in the most ridiculous short dresses). Kuta is where I stayed last time I was in Bali, and at any given point after midnight there are at least 50 Australians bleeding from bar fights, and over 65 people throwing up from too much alcohol. We headed to the Sky Garden, a 4 -story dance club, and stayed there for an hour or so before deciding it was WAY past the bed time of a 30 year old. On the ride out of town Lindy and I were chatting away, as usual, when suddenly a motorbike carrying two locals got extremely close to us and ripped my purse off my shoulder. My first instinct was “let’s get them!” so we blazed after them, screaming “help” and beeping our horn. Throwing caution to the wind, or thoughts of what we would do if we actually caught them, we sped behind them for over a mile. As the thieves took a right hand turn, we jerked right, and because it had just rained, the bike slipped out from under us. As Lindy, I and our smashed up motorbike lie in the street, the assailants sped away. I guess they didn’t know it was my 30th birthday! After a trip to the hospital the next morning we were finally ready to laugh at our misfortune. Otherwise, my 3 1/2 weeks in Bali were phenomenal - filled with relaxation, beach hopping, eating and massive amounts of fun!
From Bali I had an overnight flight to Seoul, South Korea, a 9-hour layover where I spent the day visiting the city, and eventually arrived to my final destination of Anchorage, Alaska. I spent the next two days with my old friend Mike, traveling to Denali National Park, looking at glaciers and enjoying the everlasting sunlight (it stays light until 11pm.) Two nights in San Diego with my grandparents consisted of some heated games of scrabble, looking at travel photos and eating early dinners. I even got to spend one night out with my college friend Lauren. For the last week I have been with my best friend Veronica in Raleigh North Carolina enjoying her company and finally getting around to sending out resumes.
I dare not write this is “The End” to my novel, but merely must accept I am starting a new chapter. Someone told me it is time for me to go to where I belong and belong there, and that is exactly what I am doing. Thanks again to all my followers, and I hope you have enjoyed reading the pages of my book!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tourists Beware!

I was warned before heading to Capetown that it is known as a dangerous place, and just as I had heard the same about Lima, Saigon and other places I have visited, I assumed it was just a standard warning given to all tourists to scare some sense into them. But when you are facing down an angry bum with a knife up his sleeve or even worse, a gang of hungry baboons, you start to believe the rumors are true. Whilst walking down the street in Capetown (in broad daylight) next to the city stadium, ereceted for the World Cup 2010, a bum began pushing his way into my line of vision, asking for money and holding out his hand. All I saw was a handful of beans, and told him "NO" forcefully. The friend I was with, James, started backing away slowly as the bum moved towards him speaking words I couldn't hear, all the while I am yelling things like "James, you don't need any beans", "dude, lets go!" and "why are you harassing him, James can't even afford to buy food." After a weird stand-off between the two, and the appearance of a local woman, the bum ran off. What I later learned is that the bum had a knife up his sleeve, so I spent the rest of the day telling everyone about my unbenunced brush with death. A few days later 5 of us rented a car to drive out to Cape Point, what explorers originally thought to be the most southernly point in Africa. On exiting the park, we decided to make a pit-stop at the Visitor's Center to buy some chocolate (my idea). As the two boys opened the left side doors and got out, Hari, who was sitting in the front passenger seat let out a blood curtling scream. I looked up to see a massive baboon sitting in the front seat, and Hari frantically trying to unbuckle her seatbelt. I opened my door, jumped out, and looked around to see 20+ angry baboons looking at me. A couple got in the car and started going through our bags, one got on top of the car, one was eating a friend's wallet and some others on her toothpaste, as all of us looked on with horror. It was funny until the baboons started attacking us when we tried to get our stuff back, and even scratched one of the friends I was with (after attempting to pull her pants off, which was admittedly pretty funny.) In the end, a long stick and rocks scared them away, but they did manage to get their revenge - they left a nice present of poop in the backseat. Capetown was definitely an amazing city, but tourists beware - it may be as dangerous as they say!!

Stellenbosch, South Africa, is a beautiful college town, situated at the base of lush green mountains and surrounded by hundreds of vineyards. Two full days meant lots of good food, a wine tour (for the rest of the crew), and a bike ride out of town (for myself and friend Esmee.) The following day we arrived Capetown, for our 4-night stay at the Ashanti Lodge. We immediately headed up to the top of Table mountain (via cablecar) because when the mountain isn't covered with cloud cover (which it often is), locals say you should seize the opportunity. Table mountain is exactly as it sounds, a flat mountain (that resembles at table), perched behind Capetown, overlooking the beautiful bay and beaches that surround the city. The following day we took a 45 minute ferry to Robben Island, where until 1984, stood a working prison housing politcal prisoners, including most notably Nelson Mandela (for 18 of his 27 year sentence.) We were guided through the now vacant prison by a former political prisoner, and accompanied by 60+ white, elderly Americans, many of which came off the Queen Mary 2 which happened to be in Capetown's port. Besides the overcrowding, the prison was moving, and only reinforced the racial divide that used to legally exist in South Africa. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last blog, each town (including Capetown) stlll has it's racial divide apparent from the unemployment rate (22%), HIV rate (around 80% of blacks) and the shanty towns that line the cities. That afternoon James and I took our fateful walk around the city dodging knives, and visiting some markets and museums.

On my second day in Capetown I got up at 5am and headed 2.5 hours out of town to do a caged shark dive. It wasn't exactly what I expected, considering you don't actually do any diving, there are 20 other people in the boat who you share cage time with and the water is absolutely freezing, but it was overall an amazing expeirence. Five people cram into the cage as fish head bait is thrown out into the water, and then you wait. When the guy on the boat yells "go under", you put your head under water and see the shark attack the bait just a few feet away. When you are on the boat you can watch from above as the sharks breach and dive for their snack. I arrived back in Capetown at 3pm, and set out to hike up to table mountain at 4:00pm for sunset. The hike up was about 1.5 hours straight uphill, but the distant mountains, partially covered in rolling clouds, in the dipping sunlight was one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen. Our final day in Capetown was spent driving around capetown in our rental car, hitting up cute coastal villages, braving the windy cliff-edged roads and ending up at Cape Point.

We are currently on "The Garden Route", the coastal road that runs along coastal South Africa. I will eventually make my way up to Johannsburg for my flight on Febuary 7th.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Racial Divide

In Southern Africa, and probably in many other countries that apply, segregation is apparent. It didn't start yesterday, but years ago when white men came to these areas and established their colonies, with their distant ancestors today still wedging an obvious racial divide. (South Africa only abolished legalized segregation in 1994, although it clearly still exists.) The white people have the wealth and property, living in the safe areas of cities, while the blacks live in squalor on the outskirts of town. (I am not saying there are no affluent blacks, but I am saying there are no whites living in "shanty town.") Swakopmund, a tourist city created for sandrenaline pumping activities (yes, I meant to include the 's',) lies on the western coast of Namibia. While the city center looks like the a German Disney world (or Farquad's city from the movie Shrek), the outskirts get progressively worse, solidifying the disconnect between races. The government has created plots of land equipped with plumbing, electric and othr facilities in the area known as the Township, which can be obtained by locals for $30,000 Namibian (about $3,750 USD), who can then begin to build their homes. The idea is good in theory, as the money is required to go to the building of the home and utilities, but leaves little choice for the homeowner, and considering Swakopmund unemployment sits at over 50% the option is unlikely for most. Those people who cannot afford to build in the township reside on the outskirts of town, awaiting the day they can move inward. While these people live in immobile buses or makeshift one room homes built with mis-matching material, pay 10cents per liter of water to "bucket shower" in their back yard, and just generally struggle to get by, we take 20 minute showers and live in a paradasical facade, completely unaware of what lies just miles away. Yet does this disconnect not also exist in New York, Chicago, London, and your own city? Maybe we all need to open our eyes to see it.

Etosha National Park houses a vast array of wildlife, and after two nights camping and 4 game drives (where we saw hyenas eating a rhino with a baby rhino standing nearby, two packs of lions, a million giraffes and tons more), I started taking pictures of birds. You know you have seen too many cool things when you start taking pictures of birds - that is my theory at least (birdwatchers probably wouldn't agree.) From Etosha we headed to a nearby cheetah reserve where a local family houses the cats which gives the local farmers, after having lost a cow or two, another option instead of killing the animal. They have 3 cheetahs that live in their house, and 10 that live in the adjacent 40 acre reserve. More of a tourst attraction than a conservation effort, it didn't matter to us, as we got amazing photo opportunities and even licked by the tame animals.

We then headed down Namibia's skeleton coast to Spitzkoppe, where we camped at the bottom of the majestic red rock formations, smaller but simliar to Australia's Ayers Rock. We climbed the rocks for sunset and took a group photo, forming our bodies to make the word Africa - if you looked hard enough. The following morning we headed to Swakopmund, stopping at a massive seal colony on the way. If you thought La Jolla, California had it bad, you should (and smell) this beach!! Millions of seals and their babies covered the sand, all the while screaming at eachother - I was convinced the babies were yelling "mom" and the moms were yelling "baby", as they scuttled around looking for eachother.
The highlight of arriving in Swakopmund should have been the nearby sanddunes, where you can sandboard and ride on quadbikes, but it was the fact that I got a bed and free internet! After 40 days of camping a bunk bed looked like heaven and the wifi became like crack. The following day I did break away from my comforts - I spent 2 hours with a perma-smile speeding over and up sanddunes on a ATV, and the afternoon doing a tour of the city, but came back to doing nothing.

After three amazing nights in Swakopmund, we headed south through the Namibian desert to Sossusvlei. Here are the most picturesque red dunes you can imagine, and after a two exhausting hikes to the top we wached the sun fall behind the the hills. Dune races, sand fights and a couple attempts to slide down on our stomachs resulted in a lot of extra sand in places it shouldn't be (I had a sand beard), so a thorough shower back at camp was necessary.
The following day we headed to Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) where we took in sunset at the 85K long earthly divide. After a quick stop over in Orange River, where we met our new guide Ally and our new truck Wiley (named after the Coyote), and are headed South to Stellenbosh and onto Capetown.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Knowledge is Only Power if we use it

If you had asked me two months ago to point out Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana on a map, I probably would have taken a moment and considered whether or not you had created fake countries to fool me. I can't speak for all Americans but I do believe that many of us know very little about our world, our environment, our fellow people , or Africa specifically. The unfortunate reality is that most people don't want to know. Africa (or Cambodia or Bolivia, the places I went last year) are too far away and too different to our way of life. As I spend my days uncovering that which is foreign to me, I have also learned of sad realities the world is facing - poverty, disease, and environmental destruction - and the beautiful nature and goodness hidden in far corners of the world. With this knowlege I now have the responsibility to pass it on, hoping my words will inspire someone to explore, embrace and get involved with everything that lies out of their comfort zone - maybe to even help change the world I am not sure I can personally make a difference, but I believe we can.

Antelope Park in Zimbabwe doesn't have antelopes, but it does have Lions. Due to the rapid decline in the Lion population (90% over the last 30 years due to feline HIV and hunters) this organization hand rears Lion cubs, in an effort to not save one, but to save the species. The offspring of the hand reared lions will have had no human contact and can then be released into the wild. ( So for $125 I spent the morning walking with Lion cubs, as they cuddled up to my legs and posed for pictures. In the afternoon I watched a lion feeding where 5 gigantic male lions battled it out for a piece of meat that lay right in front of me (with a fence seperating us of course.) Over the next two days I did an additional lion walk, some horseback riding (where I stuck to walking) and drank lots of Antelope Parks coffee (because it was free!)

We headed from Antelope Park to Matapos National Park, situated next to the town of Bulawayo. Early the following morning we met our guide, Ian Armour, a 3rd generation Zimbabwean, stood out in his short shorts and high socks, sporting safari colors over his weathered white skin. He is so passionate about wildlife that he has appeared on several television shows, and told us all about it on our way to find some Rhinos. The knowledge I was made aware of that day is that the Rhino population is also in serious decline, and the black rhino will soon be extinct if something is not done. The trouble, we were told, is that a rhino horn can be sold for about $500,000 (ussually to asians who believe it will enlarge the size of their junk), so poachers will do anything to get the horn. It is hard to blame the poor man, who has nothing to lose already for killing an animal to make money for his family, but the sad truth is that the demand remains. All of the rhinos we saw that day had no horns because in an effort to save the species Ian has tranquilized the animals and cut off the valuable commodity (it is the same material as finger nails), but it still hasn't stopped the poachers from taking even the littliest stump they can get. The only way Ian suggests we can solve the problem is to legalize the trade of rhino horn, they can then be properly harvested, and eventually the demand will go away. We were able to get right next to some rhinos, who Ian had "known" since he was a child, and take pictures.

That day we also went to a local village within the park and met their animated chief, 80 years old with a lot of spunk, who (through translation) told us the story of how he almost got killed by a leopard but was saved by a passing white man. He thanked our ancestors for his life, and then let us wear the stinking outfit while his tribe performed a local dance. He also told us that 5 of his 10 children had died of AIDS, and that at least 1/2 of the beautiful grandchildrenchildren who had just performed for us also had the disease. While statistics say that 50% of Zimbabwe has the AIDS virus, locals believe it is more like 80%. And since medications are so expensive, most people would rather use the money to buy food for their families, and therefore do not have a fighting chance to live very long.

On December 31st we made our way to Victoria Falls, arriving in town just in time for the fesitivies. What we later learned to actually be quite a nice hostel, looked like a scene straight out of woodstock with tents, young people, alcohol, sex (noted by the shaking/moaning tent) and drugs everywhere. We spent the evening playing silly drinking games, throwing eachother in the pool and dancing to strange techno beats. The following day we headed to the falls and took in it's monumental power, with water debris pouring into the air and thousands of tons of rushing water pushing over the edges, all right at your feet (literally - there are no fences seperating you from a swim.) Speakihg of swimming, while we all had our adrenaline pumping activities scheduled for the following day we learned of a fellow overlander (what we call people travelling in overland trucks) who had been the last of her friends to do a bungee jump that day, escaped with her life when her bungee cord snapped and she was pulled down grade 2 rapids with a cord tied around her ankles. (check out the video on you tube, "bungee cord snaps in zimbabwe.") Needless to say we cancelled our bungee jumps, and just did white water rafting, gorge swings, flying foxes and ziplines instead (which were also totally budget, but amazingly fun.) That night we feasted at Boma, a carnivores paradise, gorging ourselves on warthog (the best meat I have ever had), Eland, Buffalo and crocodile.

The last three days have been spent at the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, a beautiful marshland where our local guides (called polers) used long sticks to guide our mokoros (long canoes made out of trees known as sausage trees) through the reeds (while you get slapped in the face with them constantly). The days were too hot to do anything so we sat around our campsite played cards, read, slept and just generally melted. The mornings and evenings were spent doing game walks (where we saw a lot of animal poop, mud and tracks, but not a lot of animals) and sunset cruises. The best part was holding onto the wet reeds, letting them go just in time to get your fellow boatmate right in the face or racing the boats next to you. The last night our polers performed some local songs around the campfire, and I showed everyone how to make smores. Today we are off to Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Life in Motion

If you need to find me my current address is "Pluto", an Absolute Africa Truck - big, yellow, noisy, with open air windows held down by tarps, filled to the brim with 20 people, crates of food for every meal and loaded with tents, sleeping mats and backpacks. To get onto the truck you have to climb a four-step ladder then stairs, because underneath the truck are massive containers that hold everything we need on the road. To get anything you need out of your big backpack you have to move 20 other packs, and for someone whose arms barely reach into the compartment it proves difficult. People hang their laundry in the truck, leave stinky shoes on the floor and everytime you need to get something out of your locker the people sitting in the seat have to raise their feet so you can get in. We spend most days starting at 6:30am and arriving at our second location at 6:00pm, sweaty and wind-blown. We then set up our tents (rain or shine), and depending on what group you're in that day, start making dinner, clean up after dinner or clean the truck. I am slowly acclimating to the lifestyle, but considering there are 20+ other trucks out there (including a bright pink Swedish truck where the campers party like rock stars and sleep on the bus' roof), this seems to be the easiest way to travel through Africa. The only real set-back of a life in motion is we never get to stop and experience the "Real Africa", which we only see out of our windows in between gated campsites.

After a long drive day we arrived at Candee Beach on Lake Malawi. Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, is called "The Heart of Africa" because of its friendly people. As you drive through the countryside there are many water pumps, clay homes with grass thatched roofs, and villagers who appear to be somewhat self-sustaining . When we arrived at the campsite we were immediately pursued by local wood carvers who craft beautiful chairs, necklaces, spoons, etc. out of a dark wood, which they sell to tourists for a bartered price of anywhere from $5 to $150. A lot of local people make their living this way so I went ahead and supported them, and my shopping habit. At the campsite, lthough 15 of my fellow campers upgraded to nice rooms for the 3 nights at Candee, my tent-mate Meghan and I opted to save the $15 total and stay in our tent. It's amazing how cheap you get when you're travelling.

The next day we spent the morning dealing with massive amounts of rain, and then got ready for our horse ride. Even after my last experience falling off of a horse in Argentina I thought I would give it another go. Well my horse, Bolt, lived up to his name, taking off at fighter-jet speed, running me directly into tree banches, while I subsequently lost my stirrups, balance and held on for dear life, while screaming "someone help me, I am going to fall off!!" Luckily I wasn't the only one to have problems as two of the beginners nearly fell off, and one Hungarian spent the entire ride screaming "Stop. Why won't you listen to me horse?! Why are you not like a car and stop when I tell you. Stop laughing at me everyone. This is not funny!" (All said in a Borat-like accent.) Pretty hysterical. The BEST and redeeming part of the ride was when we rode the horses bare-back into the lake at sunset and then held onto their bridals as they rolled in the sand.

That night we had a pig roast and punch party, accompanied by a "fancy dress party." Earlier in the day we had arrived in a small town, which had a market (which looked like a sea of wooden boards, haphazardly arranged into a maze of square stalls). As we pulled in, men ran to our truck with bags of the ugliest and most ridiculous clothing, donated by people like you and me back in 1990. Each person had to buy an ugly outfit for one of their fellow travellers, and reveal it that night. With most of the men in 90's prom dresses and the women in ugly velvet two-pieces it made for a hysterical evening.

The next two days were spent on long drives through Malawi (with a stop in the capital city, Lilongwe where we were all excited by several pizza places and even a Nando's ) and Zambia (with a stop in their capital city Lusaka, which had a shopping mall!!) After one last painful border crossing into Zimbabwe (where we all took bets as to how much time it would take, and with our Hungarian disaster it was over 3 hours) we arrived to our Christmas destination, Lake Kariba. The houseboats weren't exactly what I thought they were going to be (think two story sheet metal boat with thin walls seperating each room, matresses on the floor and drapes for doors, with an upstairs "jacuzzi" that was filled up with lake water, and a trillion knat-like bugs on every surface), but the setting was picturesque. All around us where mountains and beautiful green islands occupied with hippos, elephants and other animals. Even though the water was crocodile infested, we did jump off the boat's roof a couple of times, but spent the rest of the day swimming in the Croc Cage. We had an amazing Christmas morning where we were woken up at 2am because the boat was experiencing the most massive storm I have ever seen, and we had to shut our tarp windows and brace ourselves. That day we had top notch lunch, a hysterical game of bad santa (where my face paint sticks were not appreciated), lots of sun bathing in the extreme temperatures, and evnetually an tear-jerking call home.

After two nights we headed back to mainland, and started our journey to Antelope Park where I am now. While here I will walk with Lions, horse back ride again (I am a glutton for punishment) and spend the two days enjoying the beautiful game park before heading south to Victoria falls.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

TIA Mzungu

For those of you who aren't great with acronyms, or haven't seen the movie "Blood Diamond" with Leonardo Dicaprio, the letters TIA stand for "This Is Africa." Mzungu is the term locals use when they see a white traveller. The African ways take some getting used to, often different, time consuming and sometimes even shocking, but are almost always explained with the simple phrase of TIA. When our Serengeti tour guide got out of the 4x4 and said he would be back in 10 minutes, we learned about "African Time", after he arrived 1 hour and 20 minutes later, TIA. Whilst driving through Zanzibar Island I saw a man dragging a dead cat by a rope, TIA. Upon our first arrival at the Indian Ocean I dove in with enthusiasm, only to be surrounded by 20 locals, and subsequently groped by any and everyone within swimming distance, TIA. When getting our bags off the ferry after Zanzibar Island you literally get pushed, elbowed, and knocked into while people try to scramble for their bags (I will never again get upset if someone steps in front of me while at a US airport), TIA. During every drive we constantly get locals staring at us with confused looks or waving to us with enthusiasm, some yelling "Mzungu", some giving thumbs up and even some giving the middle finger. While driving through Dar es Salaam traffic, we had our first video taker, so I hammed it up for the camera and did a little smile and dance, only to later learn that while this video enthusiast distracted us, his buddy was stealing our truck's taillights, TIA. Needless to say, "This is Africa" and these are some of the things that come with it, but I promise it does have many redeeming qualities.

After meeting up with 8 members of my group in Arusha, we headed bright and early, via 4x4 vehicles to the Serengeti National Park. It was a long bumpy ride, especially considering Frank our local driver smells pretty fragrant to begin with compounded his manly aroma with consistent flatulence. On our drive in we were lucky enough to see a beautiful Cheetah, giraffes and a lion in the distance. We weren't allowed to get out of our trucks, so anytime we thought we saw something we would pull over, and all 8 of us would pop our heads out of the roof with cameras in hand.

At a lunch pit stop a hawk attacked us for our boxed lunches, coming so close that it scratched one of the girls in the face, but made for a hilarious story afterwards. After a night camping in the Serengeti (making sure our tents were at least 6ft apart in case Elephants decided to walk through) we woke up for an early morning game drive. This morning was amazing as we got to see a tree filled with baboons, ponds swimming with mud covered Hippos, families of elephants, two leopards and more giraffes. That night we camped on the edge of the Ngororo crater - a volcanic collapse thousands of years ago created this breathtaking circular enclosure, permananetly inhabitating a wide variety of animals that do not need to migrate because of the diverse climates within the crater.

The next day we did an early morning game drive in the Ngororo crater and the best way to describe it was a scene right out of The Lion King (minus the singing, dancing, and stampedes in the gorge.) With tall jutting rocks encircling you, Zebras, Wildabeests, lions and all other wildlife walk around freely. We spent most of our day saying things like "Simba, hes alive", "Rafiki", and "Asante Sana, Squashed Bananana" (scenes from The Lion King). In Swaheeli Simba means Lion, while Rafiki means friend, and Asanta Sana means Thank You very much. I didn't know I was learning Swaheeli while watching The Lion King all those years ago, and that someday it might actually be useful!

On our way our of the park we stopped at a Masai camp, a local tribe of people who wear orange and blue plaid material draped over their bodies, and thick beaded jewlrey on their arms and necks. (Some of the more stylish Masai Warriors on Zanzibar island also wore man purses and designer sunglasses.) We were directed into their small dirt huts and told about their culture, where each man gets as many wives as he wants (the Patriarch of this family had 15 wives), the women build the houses and the men tend to the cows. We later performed a traditional Masai dance (and I showed them some traditional American dance, which made them laugh) and were forced to haggle for traditional Masai jewlrey. That night we headed back to Arusha to gear up for our early morning drive in the direction of Zanzibar Island.

After one night camping in Dar es Salaam, on a beachsite overlooking the Indian Ocean, we arose early to head via tuk-tuk, short but packed with people ferry, and then 2 hour ferry to Zanzibar Island. Stonetown is part of the island developed by the Ottoman empire in the 1800's for slave and spice trading, and is exactly as it sounds - made of white stone. Although historical, and boasts an amazing night market where you can buy skewers of all types of seafood (I got octopus and calamari), I wasn't too impressed with it.

After one night in stonetown we headed to the beach, to stay three nights at our "resort". Located directly on the most amazing beach I have ever seen I saw past the dirty bathroom and ant-infestation to have the most relaxing 3 days of scuadiving, swimming with sea-turtles, and sunbathing. Currently badly sun burnt and super relaxed, I am in 12-hour transit in the direction of Lake Malawai.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kilimanjaro - A Once in a Lifetime Experience

Most of the time when you say this is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" it means this is probably the one and only chance you'll get in your life to do something , but that is not what I mean when I say it. I bet at a later point in my life I could come and hike Mount Kilimanjaro again, but the point is that I don't want to. Although it was an amazing, beautiful and exhiliarting experience, I am sure it will only happen ONCE in my lifetime!

Apparently US airways cannot check a bag completely through that has 4 connections, and I did - Orlando to Charlotte, to Washington DC, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and finally to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Because of this set-back the ticket lady in Orlando (at 4:00am) had to hand write my final destination on my baggage sticker - JRO. As I looked out the window upon landing in my first destination, Charlotte, I saw the baggage men panic at the sight of my baggage ticket. Waving their arms and pointing at the ticket with looks of confusion, I knew at this point my bag wouldn't arrive in Kilimanjaro. What I didn't know, is that it would spend 3 days in Frankfurt, Germany. Luckily I have a bulldog of a mother who persisted with US airways to find my bag. I ended up renting all my hiking gear, buying toilettries and even undewear at the local Tanzanian market, and was eventually hand delivered my bag to my campsite at 3,720 meters four days after arriving in Africa.

Upon arriving in Tanzania I was picked up by Sampson, a representative for Absolute Africa. He briefed me on the climb, ending his spiel by telling me that vomiting is normal due to the high altitude. I should have listened! The next day I started the 6 day Marangu Route also known as the "Coca Cola Route", considered the easiest of the six possible options. 50% of all travellers use this route because of the "comfortable" mountain huts with solar powered lighting. At the entrance gate I was greeted by my guide William, my two porters and one chef. As the others ran up the mountain carrying all my clothes, food, and gear on their backs (and heads!), I walked leisurely through the initial rainforrest with William until we reached the Mandara Huts at 2,700m. After a hot dinner of cucumber soup, fried bread, curry, rice and fresh fruit, I climbed into my sleeping bag for a good (but cold) nights rest.

The second day I met up with some fellow travellers who became my hiking buddies - Owen from Norway, Ronnie and Patrik from Sweden and Sam from Canada. On day 2 we walked through grassy moorland, eventually ending at the Horombo huts at 3,720m, where there is a real sense of being above the clouds. Apparently altitude sickness is a serious thing when hiking such a high mountain, so not only does your guide repeat the phrase "polle polle" which means "slowly slowly", but I also had to spend 1 extra day at the Horombo huts to help acclimatize.

On day 4 we climbed very gradually through a "lunar desert", eventually ending at the Kibo Hut (4,700m) which sits at the base of the crater! Here we were told to get as much sleep as possible because we were going to start hiking at 12am the following morning. In what seemed like an instant we were woken up with cookies and tea, and set out in the pitch black night to start our ascent. We started in high spirits, singing and laughing, but as things started to get cold (I thought they were cold before, but didn't know what I was in for), I started to lose my spirit. The zig-zag climb over loose volcanic rock was steep and at about 5,500 meters my Kilimanjaro dreams began to crash in on me. (Only 6 days ago I learned that altitude sickness pills exist, but I wish I had known this before I started my climb!!) I began to get a horrible headache, nausea, and was so cold I couldn't move my fingers or toes. As the other members of my group continued up the mountain I was left behind with William, doubled over in pain. After about 4 1/2 hours I ended up making it to Gilman's point, where I proceeded to drink hot tea and then vomit it all over the Gilman ground. My poor guide was rubbing my back and wiping the snot from my nose, while I moaned in pain.

I insisted on continuing and walked the two painful hours to the summit, just in time for sunrise. It was so cold that my guide William had to take all my pictures because I couldn't get my fingers out of my gloves. But with glowing white ice, glaciers and mountainous peaks in every direction I attempted to shake off my miserable state to take in the scenery. At 5,896m it was glorious. But what was even more glorious was heading back down the mountain! After another 2 days of hiking I arrived back at my hotel this afternoon to a hot shower and hamburgers with my hiking buddies. I have now conquered the highest free standing mountain in the world, and I only cried twice! Woo-hoo!

Today I am off to Arusha to hop on my Safari truck and begin my 60 days down to Capetown.