Monthly Archives: August 2016

Ain’t no one.

Livingstone, Zambia

We crossed this bridge to get from Zambia to Zimbabwe. (It’s also where we met up with everyone else later on to cheer on the bungy jumpers and zip liners.)

Travel/visa tip: Try to book Devil’s Pool tickets more than a week in advance. Because of limited spots, we were split into 3 groups – the morning group with breakfast included, the lunch group, and the afternoon tea group. H, Rachel and I already decided on afternoon tea but, splitting the other 2 groups became an unnecessary nightmare. As for visas, we were able to get them upon arrival at all the border crossings on this trip. Just make sure that you have relatively crisp USD issued from 2006 and on, and try to have exact change. They tend to give you a hard time about getting change back. As of Aug 2016, the Zambia visa for U.S. citizens was $80 and Zimbabwe $30 or 35. Carry a pen with you.

Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya), Zimbabwe

The afternoon tea group (minus the Canadians since the Zim visas were double the price for some reason) decided to hit up the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls in the early morning to avoid long lines at the border. We began at the David Livingstone statue by Devil’s Cataract and made our way to Main Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Rainbow Falls at a leisurely pace. We didn’t go chasin’ them.

There was literally no railing at the edge, and a simple trip could have you free-falling, then floating down the Zambezi below. Hand clamminess level: high.

Interesting that they would call this Rainbow Falls. Can someone tell me why?

History tidbit: The indigenous name for these falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya or, translated, “The Smoke That Thunders.” David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer who supported the abolition of slavery, named the falls in honor of Queen Victoria. Because Britain.

Armchair Falls and the Eastern Cataract towards the end of the trail. Rafters below were beginning to set off into the river on the right.

After reaching the end of the trail, we circled back and spotted the breakfast group chilling out in Devil’s Pool on the Zambia side. If you can’t see them…

…here’s a closeup, (They’re in the top, middle in the zoomed out photo.) That’s where we were going for the afternoon. YAY.

Devil’s Pool / VIctoria Falls, Zambia

Before our scheduled departure, we grabbed a delightful lunch at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, a place so out of our league that they had their own giraffes and zebras roaming around their privately-owned premises. From here, we took a boat ride to Livingstone Island, the access point to the Devil’s Pool and, of course, hors d’oeuvres, scones, tea and beer.

The backsides of Alex, Rachel, H, me, Mandy and Isabelle as we all leaned against the naturally formed rock enclosure. Rachel’s extremely nervous, hysterical laughter was definitely a highlight to the experience. What weren’t highlights were the asshole little fish in the pool that nipped at our legs.

A view to the left, to the left.

And, the view to the incredibly ominous-looking right.

Yup, we swam around somewhere along the edge back there. Hell yea.

Livingstone

Our cozy campsite was on grounds that were adequately fenced off to keep out the cool animals that could kill us. If you look closely to the right, you will see our laundry tree. We felt pretty genius about it because the branches were sturdier than the clothesline. Then we later found out that there was a nice ant colony that also very much liked the tree and, later, our clothes. Quite literally, we ended up with ants in our pants. Monkeys also later made their way to the trees and it became a legitimate concern over the safety of my banana shirt. But, unlike some U.S. citizens, they know when something is fake.

Our group for the second leg: George, Hayley, Erin, Chris, Courtney, Tanja, Ashley, Mandy, Viv, Connor, Isabelle, Kate, Hayden, Robyn, Nadine, me, Shani, Taryn, Alex, Rachel, Casey (?) and Whitney. We then said goodbye to 11 and hello to 9 new people.

Our Zambezi River whitewater rafting group was split into 2 rafts and the guide taught us some basic skills at the very beginning. Before entering the rapids, we were to stop paddling on his signal, duck into the raft, and hold onto our paddles against the “oh shit” line (rope handles). But, I have Trump hands and it’s damn difficult to hold onto a rope and a paddle simultaneously while going through thrashing water. The bumps of the raft against the rocks easily dislodged me and the guide kept yelling at me to hold on. I don’t handle people yelling at me well, especially when I’m trying my best to follow directions. Sorry that I’m not anatomically equipped to handle whitewater rafting. Even my childhood piano teacher yelled at me when I struggled to play octaves. But, I can damn well properly wash the bottoms of small jars.

Just to elaborate a bit more, my previous whitewater rafting experience was in the Delaware Water Gap. “Whitewater” in Delaware is a loosely used word. “Whitewater” in the Zambezi, on the other hand, is fucking terrifying. I was under the impression that we’d want to avoid raft flippage. Our guide promised not more than two. TWO. And, both times, the raft ended up flipping on top of me, once on the bottom flat side where there are no air gaps to help you out. I had to inverse crawl my way out. Then, when I finally freed myself, I gasped for air only to have the whitewater constantly splashing in my face. It’s hard not to panic. (That is me in the yellow helmet about to be pummeled by the raft in the above photo, by the way.)

There was another guide, though, who was a real beast. He sat on a wooden platform within the raft with 2 oars attached and paddled the shit out of the Level 5 (6 is the highest) rapids. He even went through the “Washing Machine” like it was still bathwater. That is exactly how it sounds like.

Mfuwe / South Luangwa National Park

This campsite had a small pool but, by the time we arrived, it had become a very pretty shade of green. “Pretty,” in this case, did not look sanitary. So, we chilled on the loungers and watched the sunset instead. I went to bed early since I opted for the morning game drive and fell asleep to the sound of Patrick and Catherine’s pronunciation of “mayor” in a very thick Irish accent. Then, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of elephants and/or hippos roaming in between our tents. I’d say that it was an interesting night of sleep.

Road blockage en route to our morning game drive.

We indiscreetly followed this elephant around and he was obviously annoyed by it. He abruptly stopped walking to turn around and shout WTF with this facial expression.

LEOPARD. Marking its territory. When I see its cute tail and paws, I momentarily forget that it’s not just a cat. Then, I realize that it would rip me to shreds if I, let’s say, walked up to it and hugged it or something.

I didn’t even have to zoom that much for this photo. It was right in front of our 4×4 and the driver had to tell us to carefully sit back down or else it would think we were threatening it. Oh, okay.

Boulders in the water? No.

Hippos. Why do they look so damn cute from afar? Another animal I want to hug but clearly won’t.

Reflection after sunset.

We weren’t able to catch a kill but, we saw the aftermath of one during a night drive. After watching the leopard go through many unsuccessful attempts at dragging the carcass up the tree, it was getting pretty late and we had to go before closing time. It was a little disappointing that we couldn’t stay longer. But, on the way back, we stopped abruptly to let a hippo family cross the road in the pitch black with nothing but the headlights to illuminate them. A baby hippo trailed behind in complete cuteness. “Ain’t no one fucks with tiny hippo. Ain’t no one.”

While falling asleep in the 4×4, I got whacked in the face on 2 separate occasions by a low-lying tree branch. That shit had thorns.

Bee-yoo-tee-ful Botswana

Ghanzi, Botswana

George was always on top of his game as CEO. He let us know the daily itinerary and made sure we knew each time we entered a different time zone. And, by the time we all woke up, washed up, packed our stuff and rolled up our tents, he always had the breakfast table set up, sometimes with eggs and bacon already sizzling on the pan. So, when we arrived to an empty table this morning, all of us scratched our heads. Did we all miss something? Luckily, by now, we became familiar with where things were packed and figured out on a whim how to turn on the makeshift stove to make tea and coffee. Turning on the stove was a collective moment of sheer pride. Yes, we were able to turn on the gas and light a match! You get a coffee; you get a coffee; everybodyyyy getssss a coooofffffeeeeee! (Or, tea.)

By the time we were washing the dishes, George stumbled in looking all alarmed and disheveled. He had forgotten to set his watch forward one hour.

Because of our awesomeness, we made it in time for our morning walking tour with the Kalahari Bushmen (the San people) who then demonstrated their hunting techniques and survival skills. Badass.

Maun / Okavango Delta

H, Rachel and I have been discussing this flight for about a year and here it finally was! It was a true test of Rachel’s stomach and the power of Dramamine.

The Okavango Delta is a huge wetland, all swampy and marshy, that is flooded seasonally by the Okavango River. I highly recommend watching all of Planet Earth II. The Okavango is featured in Episode 5: Grasslands and if the amazingness of the visuals and the dramatic orchestral music aren’t enough, you also have David Attenborough narrating in complete majesty.

Yup, amazing.

The reflection of our Cessna on the blades of grass. By now, all of us were still beaming with smiles while Rachel had her head down in silent meditation, “safety” bag in hand.

We finally completed our Big 5 bingo when we spotted some buffalo, the other four being the lion, elephant (pictured above), leopard, and rhino which we first saw in Etosha National Park. Apparently, there was a croc in the midst that I completely missed. Doh.

The next day, we packed smaller bags and took mekoro (plural of mokoro, a dug-out canoe) out into the delta to a spot where we were going to camp out for the night. We later tried out steering the mokoro ourselves and when I thought I was getting the hang of it, I began going in a circle, several times. Then flies began to devour my ankles as I was trying to maintain balance. I wanted to swat them away so badly but, apparently, there are leeches in the water and the thought of possibly falling in and having them latch onto unwelcome places resulted in me getting swollen, incredibly itchy ankles instead.

We had the afternoon to ourselves before our sunset walk. Connor, Viv and Hayley had the right idea of how to spend it.

Hippos lurking in the water. I really think they have the best life. They are land animals who spend their days in the cool water and are also scary as hell. They’re in the top 3 list of creatures in Africa responsible for human deaths. Also in that mix are mosquitoes and snakes. Combine all 3 and you have a nice party. Of death.

We ran into a herd of (I think) lechwe antelope, zebras, elephants and warthogs. The usual suspects.

It appeared that this turtle was attacked and eaten by a lion. Seeing that he was not too far from the water…

H: “Aww, he almost made it!”

But, s/he didn’t. What are you gonna do.

Uh huh, sunset. We also had a sunrise walk the next morning. It never gets old.

After dinner, we huddled around a campfire and the locals sang and danced for us. The main song that stuck with us:

Bee-yoo-tee-ful ___________! ( ___________ )
Bee-yoo-tee-ful ___________! ( ___________ )
I shallllllll never for-gettttttt
Bee-yoo-tee-ful ___________! ( ___________ )

The blanks changed with each repeat of the full song – Botswana, animals, tourists, toilet, etc. To be fair, the toilet was a freshly dug out hole. Not quite beautiful but, it wasn’t the worst one we’ve had. And, on that topic, we were told to buddy up should one of us have to use the toilet in the middle of the night. We were in the wild and hippos were known to roam the premises at night. Most of us tried to stop drinking liquids after dinner and we all agreed that there was no shame in peeing by your tent. Because shame is determined by the presence (or lack thereof) of majority agreement. Sure enough, around 3am, I heard grunts and snorts so loud, I felt like the hippos were only a few feet away. COOL. (Scary.)

Back in Maun, Lando Bloom needed a kick starter and we all hauled ass. Well, except for Connor. Guess which one he is.

Kasane / Chobe National Park

Before heading to Chobe National Park, we camped out one night at a place in Gweta with baobab trees and an awesome pool. The camp was aptly named Planet Baobab. After cooking duties, I participated in a game of “Who Could Fold Down The Top Portion of Every Camp Chair The Quickest Without Knocking Them Over,” an awesome adult game possibly invented by Chris and Ashley. This may sound like a simple task but, with a few beers in your system, it becomes quite the challenge and ignites a heightened sense of competitiveness. I forgot who won but, it sure wasn’t me.

We took a BYOB (and BYO-Biltong & BYO-Pringles) river cruise where we saw crocodiles, elephants, hippos, buffalo, and a variety of birds, some of which were getting free rides on top of hippos and buffalo. One younger elephant, however, was limping with a white puffed gash in its leg that looked infected. It was probably attacked as prey and the guide told us it was likely that the park officials had already been alerted about it. The likelihood of it being saved, though, didn’t seem great 🙁

Boats, elephants, sunset.

And, then, we hit the lioness jackpot during a morning game drive.

It is, indeed, a bee-yoo-tee-ful Botswana. So beautiful that Alex had a, and I quote, “chubby for Chobe.” [Shivers.]

Damaraland

For some reason, the second I step out of a plane and onto foreign soil, I develop a ravenous craving for Pringles and it suddenly becomes my mission to try every local flavor offering. The most unique one so far has been cream of mushroom soup in Hong Kong. Africa seemed to cater more to tourists – salt & vinegar, sour cream & onion, cheddar cheese, and BBQ. You know, just in case any of you were wondering. Now that I’m back in the U.S., Pringles hasn’t entered my mind a single time until now. Curious.

Spitzkoppe, Namibia

As soon as we arrived and set up camp, the majority of us went for a hike while some decided to chill out on the rocks and drink beer. I went for the best of both worlds. One of the girls was geocaching and we all excitedly followed along. A lot of us weren’t wearing our hiking shoes, though, because we thought they’d be simple hills. Wrong. The rock face was too smooth for our Chucks and while most of us made it up halfway, the way back down was scary AF (yes, I’m actually using this acronym). Phil, probably the nicest guy ever, had to help each one of us down. (Photo credit: H)

Due to the lack of scary animals, we were allowed to drag our mattresses and sleeping bags out onto the rock and sleep there for the night. The sky was slightly cloudy around 11pm but when I awoke around 3-4am to go pee, it was beautifully clear and sparkly. I tried to stay awake to stare at it but blinked my eyes to suddenly find the sun on its way up.

We visited the Damaraland Living Museum where we learned the ways of life of the Damaras, only to later find out that they go back to wearing shirts and pants and live in a less primitive looking setup somewhere else. (We also met some Himba people selling handmade jewelry on the way here.) The Damara men demonstrated how to start a fire by repeatedly turning a stick left and right against a stone which most of our guys failed at doing. The locals have been egging Chris and Ashley on for not being “man enough” to try out their other demonstrations, so Chris decided to shut all of them down by being the only guy to successfully start a fire. Booyah!

Twyfelfontein is the site where thousands of rock engravings were found. The exact origin is unknown but one thing I can tell you is that these drawings may be better than mine. [Hides animal rock garden.]

The guide then began to explain the different animals when she was interrupted by a misunderstanding.

Tanja: “Oryx lay eggs?”

Nope, ostriches do. But, thanks for a quote that we will be repeating almost everyday for the remainder of the trip. Note: oryx are a species of antelope.

Etosha National Park

I must say, we got pretty damn lucky with all of our game drives. We spotted a lion napping in the shade of a bush on our very first day. SQUEAL.

Impala, springbok, and other kinds of antelope became so common that we’d excitedly spot an animal only to disappointingly say “Oh, just another springbok.” But, at this point, they were still quite exciting. We even saw one springing (or stotting, pronking) which was a treat until we realized it was most likely a warning sign to scare us off.

At night, we camped ourselves by the watering hole with our cameras and beer. First show on prime time was just a casual herd of elephants following a casual sunset.

Then came the giraffes and black rhino. Still casual.

Then, two male elephants engaged in a full showdown of manhood, with their manhoods later fully erect as if to finally settle the matter. It always comes down to that, doesn’t it?

And, as if the male springbok caught onto the idea, we encountered this the next morning. The females were probably somewhere getting actual life done.

I was later chased by a giraffe into the horizon of nothingness. Chyea right. This is the most exercise I got during the 54 days and it was for the purpose of posing for a photo. It really was the middle of nowhere, though, and this is all you could see for miles.

Beautiful creatures and the unfortunate mascot for Fruit Stripe gum. Google it if you don’t know what it is. That zebra’s name is Yipes, as in “Yipes, the flavor has disappeared after the first chew.” I’m starting to feel like Sean Spicer and his rant against Dippin’ Dots. Anyway, ignore all that commentary and look at the magnificent grazing zebras in the wild.

Oryx out, wildebeests in! And, okay, you too, springboks.

Wonder what the gossip is like around this water cooler. Hm, a lot of grunting. Must be about current politics.

“Damn, Zeb took my headrest.”

This was Chris’ paradise. He was the ultimate lover of giraffes and every time we saw one, we’d shout “Chris!”

The male giraffe kept trying to get it on but I think the presence of our vehicle ruined the romantic moment. The female kept inching forward every time the male tried to enter.

George: “Okay, guys, it’s time to go.”
Phil (in his German accent): “Nooo, we cannot leave until the male is inside the female!”

10 minutes pass, and still no luck.

George: “Okay, let’s go. Are you guys ready?”
Chris: “No, I’m not listening to you!”

We passed another 4×4 from which a man shouted in 3 syllables, “Le-o-pard!” It made me think of Bugs Bunny as the conductor, Leopold. And, sure enough, there the leopard was, quietly napping in the camouflage of the grass. Can you spot (ha ha) him? (Psst. Bottom, middle.)

To top that off, Joseph spotted a honey badger with his hawk eyes. A sole honey badger, a lone ranger more badass than Chuck Norris.

George: “How many of you are going on the night drive?”
Tanja: “What is a night drive?”
Robyn: “It’s a drive…at night.”

But, a drive at night that involved awesomeness in the form of jackals, a lion, lioness and her 3 cubs.

Windhoek

This is probably the only time we went “glamping.” The tents were “permanent,” meaning they set up nice individually standing rooms and put a tent-like structure around each of them to give it a camping feel. We still had to use communal bathrooms, so I suppose that counts? But, anyway, here is where the first leg of our trip ended and we said goodbye to Kristina, Phil and Rukshana…and then added 3 new people.

History tidbit: We didn’t find out until later (after we left the country) that there was a forgotten genocide of the Herero and Nama people during the German colonial rule (early 1900s) of what is now Namibia. Apparently, the methods used here in Namibia were the first experiments of what would later be used during the Holocaust. The officials in Germany didn’t even acknowledge it as a genocide until mid-2015, over a century later, and the remaining descendants of the Herero and Nama are still seeking reparation payments.

Happy Days – Cape Town to Swakopmund

Cape Town, South Africa

I always thought Africa would be something I’d do in way older age. It seemed daunting in terms of time and cost. But then, I realized that by camping and cooking your own food everyday (well, helping to cook), costs can be kept relatively low. And, I had time. So, I joined my 11th trip with G Adventures. Can you tell I like this company? No, I don’t get paid to say any of this. This blog barely gets visitors anyway.

54 days, 10 countries, many hours spent on the road. There were 21 of us to start (+ the G CEO and the driver, George and Joseph, respectively), and only 7 of us were going the entire distance.

Travel tip: Visas were not required for up to 90 days for U.S. citizens in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

Trawal/Cederberg

Our first stop was a wine farm and camping site called Highlanders. There was a pool here but, it was getting late in the day and we all opted for the wine tasting instead. Here, George taught us how to put our tents up and take it down, something we’d be doing almost everyday to the point of it becoming an automatic, involuntary action. Like coffee in the morning. Or morning poo.

At night, we all sat around the campfire and went through several rounds of Would You Rather. Among the dirty ones, there were some serious questions, like “Would you rather be the only one to transform into a T-rex or be the only human living amongst them?” Well, what if you were a homeowner? Would you still retain the deed if you became a T-rex? Is estate planning necessary? Are you still covered under the Constitution? I know, serious.

We camped our last night in South Africa by the Orange River, where we could see Namibia just on the other side.

And, the next morning, we went canoeing for about 2 hr in the river. I agreed to partner up with someone without realizing what I was getting myself into.

“Ah, this is nice.”

(10 minutes in…)

“So, how long more do we have to go? I’m tired.”

She then proceeded to stop rowing. Just like with Trump’s presidency, I was exhausted within minutes. I seem to have bad luck with canoeing/kayaking partners [Re: Odda, Norway].

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon is Africa’s largest canyon and a magnificent beast to watch a sunset over. We didn’t have permits to hike down into it (apparently, it’s a 5-day hike that you need to book in advance).

Rachel taking photos that I won’t get to see for another decade (hehe).

As we were walking towards our dinner spot, “someone” needed to relieve himself but the only coverage available in this vast canyon was this one tree (and luckily the darkening sky). But, as he tried to do his business, strong winds began going in the wrong direction and ultimately prevented him from doing so. Nature didn’t want his nature. Nor did he want his nature on his nature. Savvy?

Namibia’s night sky was incredible. We cooked and ate dinner against this backdrop and George treated us to boxed wine. Not a bad capture for a point and shoot, right?

Namib Desert / Namib-Naukluft Park

En route to our next campsite, Sossus Oasis Campsite, we stopped for lunch by the only tree that we could see for miles. It provided adequate shade and pleasantness as long as you didn’t inadvertently walk into one of the low lying thorny branches.

Desert for miiiiiiles. We had to cover our noses and mouths every time an occasional car or truck passed by. No matter how frequently you washed your clothes, there was always sand and dust embedded in the fibers.

According to this Evolution of Man, I clearly haven’t progressed much (I am second from the left). I’m also wearing my banana shirt so, I guess that’s fitting.

The campsite where we were staying made a poor choice of fencing off areas with a thin metal wire not too far up from the ground, about mid-calf level. It was easy to forget to step over it, especially when going to grab your 3rd or 4th beer. I tripped and face-planted onto the sand in said scenario and slightly damaged the camera I had slung over my arm. So, yea, I really haven’t progressed much in life after all. Going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, half asleep with a head torch, proved to be a serious challenge and others have tripped and fallen also. Just not in front of everyone else like I had. Whomp whomp.

Dune 45, nature’s Thighmaster.

We made it just after sunrise and the red hue was on full blast. We sat here in complete wonderment…before we littered the undisturbed sand with our footprints as we ran almost uncontrollably down the slope.

By the time we reached the bottom, I had grown a sand dune inside each shoe. Hayley was smart to have taken off her shoes and walked barefoot.

We then took 4×4’s to Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan, where we then embarked on another thigh-mastering journey into…

…what appeared to be a Dali painting, minus the melting pocket watches. Officially, Deadvlei.

Me: “I walked halfway up the dune where you can get a more panoramic view.”
Courtney: “You mean, you walked a quarter of the way up…”

She was right. But, my legs felt otherwise.

At our next campsite, the guy running the camp took us on a walk to show us the desert and talk about how the Bushmen survive. Various desert plants can remain dormant for a long time while dry and sprout again with water, an adaptation clearly useful with unpredictable rainfall. The surrounding sand contained black iron which can be maneuvered around with a magnet. Beetles are able to hydrate by collecting condensation on their backs in the wee hours of the morning. And, there are hideout spots within the sand where spiders hide. I have no idea how he spotted them but he stopped at a seemingly random spot, kneeled down to reveal the teeniest tiniest hole in the ground, opened up a small flap with a blade of grass to reveal a slightly larger hole, dug into the hole with his hands until he reached a white ball, then provoked that white ball enough until the legs popped out of it to reveal a highly alert creepy ass white spider. GAHHHH. Quite loudly.

We then took a drive around the desert to see zebras galloping among the neighboring oryx with the African sun setting in the distance. There are sunsets, and then there are African sunsets. Ahhh.

This campsite also had a watering hole that animals frequented late at night. So, after dinner, we grabbed beers and chairs and sat silently a good distance away for almost an hour. A group of zebras finally came by. They were like little kids fighting for the water fountain after their gym period. Then came the farting, as if water was the last component to add in their bodies to cause a chemical reaction. It was a whole chorus of the flattest, thinnest sounding passing of gas. If sound can be described as 2-D, this was it. It took a whole ab workout for all of us to keep our laughter silent. Whatever our age, farting noises are always hiiiiilariousssss.

First came the Arctic Circle. Then came the Tropic of Capricorn. HRC (standing as CRH), crossing imaginary latitudes, one by one.

Our amazing group, standing by our overland adventure vehicle, lovingly named Lando Bloom. Because it’s not a truck, it’s a Lando. And if I heard this line one more time, I would’ve exploded.

Left to right: George (CEO), Rukshana, Rachel, Isabelle, Hayley, me, Kristina, Hayden, Ashley, Chris, Phil, Joseph (our driver), Courtney, Connor, Kate, Robyn, Viv, Erin, Mandy, Shani, Nadine, Alex and Tanja.

Flamingoes!

Swakopmund

We took a break from our tents and slept in actual beds for 2 nights. Except, 15 of us girls were stuffed into one room stacked with bunk beds, while the 6 guys enjoyed a more sprawled out space. Something seemed unfair. At least we were able to catch a part of the Olympics on TV and watch a replay of Usain Bolt’s win! We also tried oryx, kudu and zebra for dinner. That was creepily delicious. Although it’s not really different from eating beef, I still felt some guilt while eating it.

Now in the city of adventures, we did everything from skydiving to quad biking to sand boarding. Being on a budget limited me to just sand boarding and I almoooostttt landed that jump. Almost. If I hadn’t said anything, I could’ve just had you believe that I did. Hm.

Then, we did the other kind of sand boarding. Remember to keep your elbows and feet up. Oh, and your mouth closed :T (Photo credit: H)

On the way to our next campsite, we stopped for lunch by the Skeleton Coast, a graveyard for ships that were unaware of its craziness. It was also endearingly dubbed The Sands of Hell by early Portuguese sailors. The Bushmen called it The Land God Made in Anger. I will name it The Gentle Giant…Who Will Then Rip You To Shreds.

August 7 – September 29, 2016: Ultimate Africa

Good Hope

Cape Town, South Africa

We officially made it to Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk and Trevor Noah country.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – we grabbed lunch at the Tea Room before taking a stroll through the gardens. The day was very golden and much deserved after laying over at Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Bole International Airport for a second time.

We got used to it being forbidden to lie on the grass in the public parks in China that being able to lay on this was such a delight. Yes, a delight. Now go get me biscuits for my Earl Grey, love.

Magical trees from another world, a world where Obama was still president.

Travel tip: It’s not really safe walking out in Cape Town when it’s dark. Uber was really easy to use and actually pretty cheap throughout the city. We even used it to get into the city center from the airport.

Next morning, we took an Uber to the cable car entrance of Table Mountain which was under its annual construction the week we were there. So, we began our hike up from there. Everything was great until we reached the midpoint, when my mind/body decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Just like that. I still completed the hike, though, just with cement blocks for legs.

As expected, it was totally worth it. It was so damn windy up there that at times, the entire top would be covered in clouds, aptly called the “tablecloth.” Oh, and I also ate a really juicy pear up here.

The view of Lion’s Head, Sea Point and Green Point out yonder. If you have a day to spare, take a leisurely stroll along the promenade from Green Point to Sea Point.

Stellenbosch

And, the best part? Well, the best part was probably the combo of Table Mountain suffering + the chateaubriand I ate later that night as a reward. But, the next best part? WINE TOUR. We booked with Wine Flies and visited 5 wine estates in the Stellenbosch area. The first two we visited were Lovane Boutique Wine Estate (above) and Annandale Wine Estate, which is owned by ex-Springbok player Hempies du Toit. We were given a sampling of chocolates in the first and not enough bowls of biltong (best meat jerky ever) in the second.

The next two were Middelvlei Wine Estate (pictured) and Villiera Wines. At Middelvlei, we were served a farmhouse lunch that, while being mass produced for the throngs of tourists strolling in and out, somehow managed to taste like it was especially made for us. A true homecooked meal that made you feel all cozy inside. Grilled meats, grilled sandwiches, a nice small soup and a salad.

Last stop – Remhoogte Wine Estate. By then, everyone else on our bus was utilizing the spit bucket. My spit bucket was called my esophagus.

CHEEEEESE, Gromit.

And, if you haven’t guessed it already, I passed out on the ride back to our hostel back in Cape Town.

V&A Waterfront, where we caught a ferry to Robben Island (try to book this in advance!).

This is Nelson Mandela’s tiny cell, with nothing but a bucket, a small table and a floor mat to sleep on. As if being imprisoned wasn’t bad enough, black prisoners were given only shorts to wear, even in the harsh winter season, and very little rations to eat. White prisoners were given way better nutrition. Communication with the outside world was highly censored and book privileges were limited. Mandela had to write his book in secret in the middle of the night with the help of three other inmates. Persistence and perseverance. I suppose those two are taught for a reason, huh?

Our tour guide was a former prisoner who, in retelling his stories of the cells’ horrible conditions, found redemption and the will to forgive and become friends with the very guards who had tortured him. Now that’s very in the spirit of Mandela.

And, then, ROAD TRIP!

Around the Cape of Good Hope.

H&C now became the trio HRC, in full support of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The original cast of Jackass on location at Boulders Beach. (They’re called Jackass penguins or, African penguins.)

Travel tip: Check out the market at The Old Biscuit Mill and grab a cortado there at Espresso Lab Microroasters. Order a steak at Hussar Grill, a burger at Royale Eatery, seafood at Codfather, breakfast and flat whites at Jason Bakery & Origin Coffee Roasting, beers and app’s at Bootlegger, and, yes, go get that cheeky Nando’s!

Lemosho Route, Part 2

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Day 5

The start to the day was made even more glorious with an oat porridge breakfast. The past few days, we, instead, had millet porridge which tasted fine on day 1, but started to taste sour in the days after. We literally rejoiced out loud at the sight of it, probably the only time people were this excited about oat porridge.

Then, we set out for the Barranco Wall above. If you look really closely, you’ll see the bright colors of the hiking gear of very tiny people.

The wall was probably our favorite part of the entire Lemosho route because it was a really fun rock climb. Nothing technical but still really cool. The above was the view of our last camp from the wall, becoming more and more empty as other hikers packed up their stuff and headed towards the wall.

About 45 min later, we were at the top of the wall and I immediately went into mermaid pose. An air mermaid, because I make sense.

With this incredible view, a Chinese couple engaged in a shouting match. Correction: the girl was yelling at her significant other who was failing horribly at trying to appease her. Jeffrey spoke Cantonese but he was able to translate the major theme of the couple’s very loud Mandarin. “How could you abandon me! You left me behind!” It appeared that she expected to be handheld throughout the Barranco Wall climb.

We made it to our next camp 3-4 hr of uphills and downhills later. On our last hill, though, Tom and Allie (brother and sister duo) devised a plan to build a bridge from the last hill to the campsite, all in the name of exhaustion, laziness…and tourism profits. They then came up with an even better, lower cost idea – a zip line. That idea occupied our minds for that last leg and helped pass the excruciating time. We estimated foot traffic to reach 25K people per year. With a per person charge of about $10-15, perhaps we could breakeven in the first year and start making profits the second. On what basis did we estimate building costs, I have no idea.

Karanga Camp – Elevation: 3,995m (13,107 ft); Vegetation zone: Alpine desert.

After a quick nap, we acclimatized with another hike up 100m to about 4,100m in elevation, about an hour’s worth. Our teeny tiny camp is in the middle of the photo above.

Back at camp, it was popcorn and dinner time before the CEO’s went into a brief history of Kilimanjaro, a name that, among others, stuck after being butchered by the Europeans. The current name was thought to derive from a saying in local dialect that meant “unconquered journey,” which was mistaken for its name rather than its description. Hm, foreboding.

Before heading to bed, I made sure to make a bathroom stop, which seemed to be everybody else’s plan as well. While waiting in line, Marilyn walked out of the bathroom enclosure and simply said, “I did not do whatever you see in there,” and walked away. I braced myself, took a deep breath and did my business as fast as possible. I walked out quickly, with Catherine and Allie as the next two in line, and planted myself by a rock a short distance away to take this night shot. A few minutes later, I heard Allie yell, “HEATHENS!!”

Day 6

It took about 3-4 hr to reach base camp. Gerald told us not to ask returning summitters how they felt during their ascent and we all laughed. After all, he wanted us to believe that it was all “easy peezy lemon squeezy.” The real struggle came at 5:30pm, when we were given a local dish of potatoes & plantains for dinner. The plantains just had a very odd texture and it was so starchy that it made us not want to eat it. It was the only dish that we collectively didn’t like, by the way.

By 7pm, we were in bed.

Barafu Camp – Elevation: 4,673m (15,331 ft); Vegetation zone: Alpine desert.

Day 7 – Summit Day

We woke up at 11pm for the midnight ascent. H and I probably managed to sleep only 1 hour. I had on 6 layers on top and 2 layers on the bottom and I still felt chilled to the bone. Apparently, it was about -12°C (about 10°F). I started to warm up as we zigzagged up the mountain but, my toes remained frozen the entire way.

Walking up a mountain with nothing but the light of the stars and head torches was a magical experience. I could only describe it as “like walking on the moon.” The only downside to the head torches, though, was that every so often, I would look up to see how much further we had to go. When I saw head torches wayyyy up there, it made my heart sink a little. The altitude and really cold winds started to take its toll on me so, I would walk up a zig, take a breather, then proceed up the zag before taking another breather. This, unfortunately, translated into “I’m having great difficulty” to the CEO’s and they insisted on carrying my daypack. I was stubborn about it for a bit but, finally agreed to it to get them off my back (pun maybe intended). Around 2am, I saw my first moonrise.

My hydration pack eventually froze but, luckily, the water in my Nalgene was only half frozen. At one of our short breaks, Jeffrey asked Tom to play a song that had high energy and when Queen’s We Are The Champions came out of his phone’s speakers, all of us started shouting along to the song, now fully pumped. “WEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMMPIONS! NOOO TIMEE FOR LOOOSERS ‘CAUSE WEEEE ARE THE CHAAAAMMPIONS!” Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.

Further up, our morale started to droop again. Saddam and the other G Fighters broke out into their local songs, the main one being the Kilimanjaro song, and brought it right back up.

“…Jambo! Jambo bwana! (Hello! Hello sir!)
Habari gani? (How are you?)
Nzuri sana. (Very fine.)
Wageni, mwakaribishwa (Guests, you are welcome.)
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata! (Kilimanjaro? No worries!)

Tembea pole pole. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (Walk slowly, slowly. No worries!)
Utafika salama. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (You’ll get there safely. No worries!)
Kunywa maji mengi. Hakuna ma-ta-ta! (Drink lots of water. No worries!)…”

By 5:45am, we reached Stella Point right before sunrise.

I never expected the top to be THIS beautiful. For some reason, I pictured barren land and more dirt. Instead, it was a sea of clouds broken up by a giant glacier that seemed to come out of nowhere.

It was another 45 min before reaching Uhuru Peak in time for sunrise. I lagged behind H a bit but, by the time I caught up to him, I gave him a dumbfounded high five which came out looking like an unenthusiastic, super exhausted gesture on his GoPro video.

The sun making its way up over Kibo’s crater rim…

…and over Rebmann Glacier and Mt. Meru in the back.

HELL FREAKIN’ YEA. Uhuru Peak – Elevation: 5,895m (19,341 ft).

The queue to take this photo, though, was mayhem. A bunch of Spaniards dumped their cameras into Tom’s hands before he even agreed to take photos, then proceeded to spend a good 5 minutes trying out various poses. They even had the nerve to tell Tom to take off his gloves so that he could take better photos. Um, the wind chill made the -10°C (14°F) feel like -30°C (-22°F). After that, H and I then pushed through and went up to the sign for just ONE quick photo but, when the porter lifted my camera, a Korean lady crawled under his lifted arm and walked into our space while gesturing to her posse of other Korean ladies. Ruthless.

After one last look, we began our descent, 2 full hours of running down scree (small loose rock and soil) with our trembling legs. We bumped into the slower half of the group still making their way up. But, in the end, everyone had made it. It was an emotional moment particularly for Floyd who, at age 70, decided to grab life by the balls and attempt Kili without much previous hiking experience.

By 9am, we were back at base camp and the G Fighters had set up a mini station where they gave us very enthusiastic high fives and glasses of the tastiest mango juice EVER. After lunch, we packed up our stuff and headed to a lower camp, High Camp at 3,950m, back in the moorland.

Gerald: “So, do you guys have any complaints?”
Everyone but Tom: “No, everything was great!”
Tom: “I agree that everything was great! Well, except that meal with the potatoes & plantains…”

Day 8

Before heading back to Moshi, the 30 or so G Fighters and CEO’s sang and danced for us again. Things got emotional. Saddam led the group once more and got so much into it that he kicked up a dust storm with his dancing. Gerald had to walk over and calm him down a little as people started to cough. They’re probably the most hardworking, enthusiastic group of people I’ve ever met.

5-6 hr later, we reached Mweka Gate and ran into blue monkeys en route who aren’t obviously blue until you see their testicles.

At the gate, the G Fighters prepared one last lunch for us.

“It’s an African dish…”

Tom’s face dropped.

“…beef with plantains!”

To make matters worse, the tables were set up with various soda bottles for people to choose from. I saw a bright yellow bottle labeled “Sparletta” and, never having heard of it, I decided to try it. Catherine warned me, though. She tried a green Sparletta once that ended up being an odd cream soda. That should’ve given me the hint. So, I took a sip. Bubblegum flavor. Gross! Now curious, everyone else wanted to try it. H thought it tasted like Malibu and Tom described it as “all the jellybean flavors at once.” We then discovered that the bottle cap said “Pine-Nut,” a misleading abbreviation for pineapple coconut.

Finally, we arrived at the hotel where we took excessively long showers and shampooed everything at least 5 times. For our last dinner, we decided to eat at Indoitaliano which Tom and Allie had been raving about for the past week. It was worth alllll the hype. We also proved that mosquitoes loved Asians because in the dim lighting of the restaurant, swarms of them appeared only on top of my and Jeffrey’s heads. This is even after we both sprayed copious amounts of bug repellant. Seriously?

Travel tip: The neighborhood around Moshi isn’t the safest so, even in broad daylight, the 11 of us split up into 3 cabs to go the short distance to the restaurant. All of us managed to squeeze into one minivan (the “clown car”) on the way back.