There is no charge for awesomeness

Bodhidharma, father of Shaolin and Zen Buddhism and eyebrow afficionado

Bodhidharma, father of Shaolin and Zen Buddhism and eyebrow afficionado

Written by Chris

I have just completed my first week of my month-long stay at the Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat in northern Thailand and I think I have finally settled into the groove. The early mornings take some getting used to as does the daily training after little physical activity over the last month and the simple meals after eating way too much Wendy’s in Kuala Lumpur. Now that I have learned enough to be dangerous (primarily to myself, I think) I would love to share.

I think to most people, kung fu is usually mysterious Chinese monks, awesome action movies, and wise sayings. I quickly learned here that, much beyond those things, it is truly a way of life. The teachings permeate your thoughts and actions and decisions throughout your day and your life. I can easily see how the study can be transformative and why there are those who choose to devote their entire lives to the pursuit of kung fu mastery.

The retreat is run by Master Iain, a British native, 2-time world champion, and lifelong practitioner. He is incredibly down-to-earth and approachable, truly a world-class expert, surprisingly knowledgable of technology and current events, and eager to share his knowledge with is students. It is really astounding how often he drops deep life lessons on us daily. Unfortunately, he just left to attend to the UK branch for a few months, but I will continue to train with his excellent disciples.

To succeed in kung fu requires only 2 things: First, you must start and then, you must keep going

Accommodations are spartan but quite comfortable right at the training facility. We have a dining/kitchen area, a large open training area, and a covered, padded training area. There is a large selection of traditional weapons; most are just for training but a few are very real. There have been anywhere between 5 to 10 students in the time I have been here with some arriving and leaving almost every day. Our daily routine looks like this:

  • 6:00am-9:00am – Morning training: Dawn Chi Kung meditation, walking meditation, Shuan Yang Tiger-Crane training, flexibility and tendon strengthening. Tea break in the middle.
  • 9:00am – Breakfast: Rice, soup, and vegetables and fruit, much grown on site
  • 10:00am-3:30pm – Free time / independent study and practice / tea breaks
  • 3:30pm-6:00pm – Afternoon training: Conditioning, more stretching, technique training, practice and drills. Also, tea break.
  • 6:00pm – Dinner: Rice, soup, vegetables and fruit…

Additionally, we have 2 rest days per week.

After the first day, I was barely keeping up, exhausted, and very, very sore. I had a lot to learn just in order to be able to participate. But after the first week, I have learned enough to practice a lot on my own and can keep up with the masses. Here’s a brief summary of the things I have been learning:

  • Shuan Yang – A slow, meditative rehearsal of the Tiger-Crane forms consisting of 66 steps. I have covered the first 13 so far. They have great names like “The General carrying his seal” and “Pan Gu opens heaven”
  • Chi Kung – (or Qigung, Chi Gung) A meditative exercise to balance your inner energy, Chi. I’ve learned the whole sequence and we do this every morning as the sun rises.
  • Sum Chien – A 13-step routine that is considered the essence of Shaolin.
  • Chin Na – A library of joint-lock techniques for gaining control in a fight. I’ve covered 2 so far.
  • Tan Tow, Chinese Broadsword – I started a bit of training on a sword sequence but I think I will let it slide since I can’t imagine a scenario where I would both require a sword and also have one present.
  • Staff – I have learned a complete sequence with the 6′ staff that the Shaolin Monks were rumored to have used exclusively to overtake armies in ancient China.
  • Stretching – After being a quite inflexible person my whole life, I am already starting to see gains in flexibility with our regular and thorough routines.
  • Breathing, meditation, tendon strengthening, and a host of other general lessons

A few things about the training have surprised me. The biggest is that there is very little actual fighting. Kung fu is very effective self defense, but training that part is very advanced. We first learn these series of poses, or forms, (“hungry tiger grasping goat”). Then you practice, practice, practice until your motions are just right. Then one day the instructor grabs your wrist as in a fight situation and says “show me hungry tiger grasping goat” and you do it and it breaks the hold. It is very much Karate Kid (wax the car, paint the fence, sand the floor). Another surprise is that there is very little striking in the art, punches and kicks, as there is so much more emphasis on gaining control of the situation, creating stability, and destabilizing your opponent.

If you are well-trained in kung fu, it is very difficult to get into a fight. Your opponent will usually sense it and back down early on.

Learning kung fu is playing the long game. You’re not going to go out roundhouse kicking people right away. Instead, you build up a rock-solid base and slowly add to it over time to make an incredibly robust philosophy of self-defense. There is much tradition and so much to learn it is hard to choose what to focus on. I hope to get a bit of an overview of the art in my month here. I already feel much fitter, I walk easier and am enjoying the flexibility, and I am heading in the direction of a quieter, more focused mind. I am excited to see what the next few weeks will bring.

There is also no charge for attractiveness:


Posted in Status Update | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

We cover more ground this way

Fooling around on the set of Entrapment in Kuala Lumpur

Fooling around on the set of Entrapment in Kuala Lumpur

Written by Chris

We just wrapped up a nice couple of weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and have just landed back in Thailand. Back in Thailand? Yes, Thailand has a 30-day limit on visas for us Yankees, but you can get a fresh one if you leave and come back (by airplane). Hence our side trip to Malaysia. But now that we’re back, Mindy and I will be traveling separately for the month so that we can check off sights twice as fast. Teamwork!

Well, not really. We had originally planned to be doing different things during this time, but, as previously mentioned, some plans fell through. I just landed in the mountains of northern Thailand to do kung fu and Mindy will be around Chiang Mai occupying herself with hiking, cooking, dogs, and elephants (please do note that there IS a comma between ‘cooking’ and ‘dogs’).

More updates to follow!

Posted in Status Update | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An Update on the Life of Chris and Mindy

I know everyone says it but I seriously cannot believe it’s 2014. Chris and my trip is only a few months from being finished, we’ve been married for over a year, (yes, I know that is a short time but it seriously feels like yesterday), and before we know it we will be back in the 9-5 working world.

As we were looking at our calendar and deep gulp planning our return to civilization it occurred to me that our schedule has completely changed and that we should send out a bit of an update. So here it is, our next 5 months of life. Of course who knows how long that schedule will stay that schedule but at least it’s a bit of an outline.

Currently, Chris and I are at the beach in Southern Thailand! We are relaxing and enjoying the fact we haven’t had to repack our backpacks in a week.

January 16th-29th, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So this is an addition/switch from our original schedule to head to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. After looking at prices of flights, we had to fly instead of overland back into Thailand due to Visa issues, timing, and our deep desire to pick a place to stay put for more than 3 days, Malaysia won. I have no idea what is there but quite a few people seem to really love it and we are excited to find out.

January 29th-February 27th, Chris will be heading as planned to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to learn how to break boards with his head and high kick while floating through the air. In other words he is going to be staying at a Kung Fu monastery and finding out if his true calling is to be a member of the Furious Five. (That was a Kung Fu Panda reference for those that missed it.)

I on the other hand am a bit up in the air though I will be heading to Chiang Mai as well. Unfortunately both of my sea turtle projects have fallen apart as even more unfortunately the areas they were supposed to take place in in Indonesia and Bangladash have been experiencing strife. Chris and I have been coming up with an alternative plan for my getting to do this at a later time which I will get to below. For the month my plan is to volunteer for a while at an elephant/dog sanctuary and then go where the wind takes me. I may just hang-out in Chang Mai and learn to cook Thai food!

February 27th – April 10th, Time to hit Australia and New Zealand! And one of my favorite parts is my best friend is coming with! My friend Mary from childhood has booked her flights and will be arriving with us in Australia on the 27th and staying with us through the 21st. Woot, woot! We will probably be spending a week in Australia before heading to New Zealand to do some trekking. Anyone else want to join?

April 10th, Time to fly back to the States. I cannot believe it but in just 4 short months we will be back. We will be landing in Tampa, Florida and the plan is to spend some time with our families and see some friends. As Chris’ job prospects are very location specific, his goal is to immediately start interviewing so we can at least figure out where we want to live next.

Towards the end of April, The plan at this point is for me to fly back out to Costa Rica and volunteer there with a Sea Turtle project for a month. After looking at all my options this seems to be the best idea. We haven’t worked out any of the details, such as if Chris will come with, but I am really excited that I will still get to do my time with sea turtles.

So there is the plan. We can’t nor want to say it’s set in stone but we are excited to see what it brings. And hopefully over the next few weeks of staying in place we might get caught up on blog posts!


Posted in Status Update | 3 Comments

A symbol in Nepal

Nepal: a land of symbols

Nepal: a land of symbols

Written by Chris

During our time trekking in Nepal, we had the opportunity to walk paths through the Himalayas that have been in use for many, many centuries. Along these paths are many towns and structures just as old. One of the things that immediately endeared me to Nepal is how deeply religion was integrated into everyday life. Religious icons and structures were all over from the stupas placed on prominent mountaintops, to the temples and monasteries in towns, to the simple icons in the homes. Seeing these everywhere, we could not help but wonder what they all mean. I took to figuring some of it out and ended up becoming a bit of an amateur symbologist myself (take that Robert Langdon).

Where we were in the northern part was primarily Buddhist partly because Hinduism migrating from the south had not come this far yet and partly because of the many Buddhist refugees from Tibet who had moved into this area. As such, the symbols we saw were primarily Buddhist in origin.

Om mani padme hum

Om mani padme hum your way to enlightenment

Om mani padme hum to enlightenment

Om mani padme hum is THE sacred incantation of Buddhism. We saw it everywhere on artwork, carved in stones, and on everyday objects like bowls. I have seen it translated as something like, “the jewel at the heart of the lotus” but I also saw so many other translations that I tend to think it is more like some sort of basic untranslatable phrase. It is the bread and butter of any Buddhist prayer, and if you really want to get down while praying check out the soundtrack. We heard this playing in about 1/3 of the shops and restaurants in Nepal and the track really is 24 minutes long. And they loop it.

Prayer flags

Flappin' prayers up to the sky

Flappin’ prayers up to the sky

Prayer flags are another thing you see everywhere in Nepal. They are strung across homes and businesses, over the streets, from trees, and especially on mountains where the endangered traveler needs that little extra boost of prayer. The flags are typically colored squares of cloth hung from a string and printed with a variety of prayers. The thinking goes that as these flags flap in the wind, the prayers on them are flung off into the heavens. Hang one of these, and you can pray all day with minimal effort. The flags are in five colors representing the 5 elements; blue (sky), white (air/wind), red (fire), green (water), and yellow (earth).

Mani stones

Mani wall comprised of mani stones. A lot of effort has gone into carving these prayers

Mani wall comprised of mani stones. A lot of effort has gone into these prayers

When you really want to send out a prayer in Nepal, you carve it into a stone. They call these inscribed stones mani stones and they are often piled together on or along a wall (mani wall). Some of the walls we saw were hundreds of years old as were the prayers at the bottom of the pile. Often, they are carved with an Om mani padme hum but they can also have very long and detailed prayer text.

Prayer wheels

Praying x 10,000 on a mega prayer wheel

Praying x 10,000 on a mega prayer wheel

The prayer wheels are cylinders inscribed on the outside with prayers. When spun, they fling the prayers out to the heavens similar to the prayer flags. They say that spinning a prayer wheel is equivalent to chanting the prayer 100 times. We often saw long walls embedded with them to spin as you walk past (as in the post’s title image) or giant ones in towns and monasteries. You can even get a small solar-powered wheel for your car’s dashboard to spin and pray for you endlessly.


A Stupa with a view

A Stupa with a view

A Stupa is a structure built as a religious icon. They are typically only for decoration and prayer but they occasionally hold the remains of an important Buddhist holy figure. They range in size from knee-high to 50 feet or more, are usually painted white, and are always placed in a place of prominence. Most hilltops have one, they are all over towns and especially and the gates to give good fortune to those traveling.


Buddha junior

Buddha junior

The founder of Buddhism is usually given this representation. You will always see a statue in the central prayer area of the monasteries (or more often 3 statues representing the past, present, and future Buddha). The fat, jolly Buddha representation we often see in the west is a different buddha (there have been many buddhas, or enlightened ones) but this one, Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha, was the first Buddha.

Buddha eyes

Buddha sees. Buddha approves.

Buddha sees. Buddha approves.

The Buddha eyes appear on many large stupas in Nepal, but it also a very common symbol all over. Like on t-shirts common. The eyes represent the wise and all-seeing eyes of Buddha, the curly-que nose is actually the Nepal character for the number 1 (unity of all things), and the swirl in the middle represents the third eye (perception beyond sight).

Ringsum Gonpo

Just standing under piles of stone, living dangerously

Just standing under piles of stone, living dangerously

This was a common arrangement often on the gateways to towns; the 3 different colored stupa configuration known as a Rigsum Gonpo. The red is for wisdom, the white for compassion, and the black/blue/gray fights evil. Together they can protect from evil from the three realms; sky, earth, and underworld. Interestingly, they seem to be providing this protection while their weight is straining ancient supports that you walk under. Adventure!


Me in mandala

Me in mandala

A mandala is typically a circular painting with a prayer inscription on it. It is used to aid in meditation to give something to focus on. Most monasteries had at least one of these painted on the wall. Buddhist teachings say that creating a mandala painting moves one towards enlightenment; and higher quality gets you there faster.


Not just for nazis anymore!

Not just for nazis anymore!

It was quite shocking at first to see swastikas all over the place in Nepal; even more so when you realize that they have an active communist party in the country. However, it turns out that the swastika is an ancient symbol of success or good fortune to most Buddhists and Hindus. Also, archaeologists have found the symbol inscribed on pieces dating back as far as 10,000 BC! It wasn’t until the 1920’s that is was adopted as the symbol of the Nazi Party in Germany. As a result of their antics, it has largely been eradicated from western culture.


A tiny dumbell for strengthening your mind muscle

A tiny dumbell for strengthening your mind muscle

The name means “thunderbolt” or “diamond” in Sanskrit. It is a device used in Buddhist meditation as yet another way to train one’s focus. So the name is intended to invoke spiritual power and strength. In addition to the handheld versions of various sizes, they are also often represented in sculptures or artwork in monasteries and temples.


108 cow's head waterfalls surround the temple in Muktinath.

108 cow’s head waterfalls surround the temple in Muktinath.

The number 108 is a sacred number around these parts, though there is not a strong consensus as to why. Often, places of significance would exhibit this number in some way; 108 water faucets, 108 prayer wheels, 108 decapitated animals during the festival of Dasain (darn, we just missed it). Perhaps it is the mathematical signifigance; 9 dozen, 1x2x2x3x3x3, among many others.

The Hexagram

A friend to Jews and Buddhists

A friend to Jews and Buddhists

The hexagram, or six-pointed star, is a symbol common to both Judaism (Star of David) and Buddhism. It is not clear if the symbol is shared due to common origins or if it is simply coincidence. Buddhists and Hindus view this symbol as a representation of the union between male and female and of creation itself.

Footprints of Buddha

Buddha trod here

Buddha trod here

We often saw people in temples touching their foreheads to a pair of feet on the ground and, it turns out, they were just worshiping Buddha. The footprints of Buddha (Buddhapada) are highly revered both as a symbol of Buddha’s presence (Buddha was here) and also of his absence (footprints are all that remain now that he is off to nirvana). Sort of surprising in a part of the world where feet are often considered unholy and the highest insult is to hurl a shoe at someone. But when it comes to the Buddha, it’s all good.


These things really holy-up the views up here

These things really holy-up the views up here

Marigold flowers are seen all over Nepal; grown in gardens, left as offerings in temples, and made into garlands and strung about for all manner of occasions. They just see them as an object of beauty and for good luck.

Lucky us!

Posted in Reflections on Travel | Tagged , | Comments Off on A symbol in Nepal

The Lady Post

Written by Mindy

Warning: If you freak out at the word tampon, this post isn’t for you.

We, as females and most males I know including Chris, all know being a female is in general more difficult than being a male. People can argue that this isn’t true, but all they have to do is think about female politics in high school, or unfortunately out of high school, and/or the lines for the bathrooms and most people will tend to agree. (Though I have to say I would so much rather be a woman!)

After having just finished a 23-day trek through Nepal and a month of traveling in India, this has never been more obvious to me than it is now. Our femaleness definitely makes it just a tad more frustrating to be on the road than it is for our male counterparts.

First the Practical Things

Let’s start with something simple, peeing. The places Chris and I are traveling to are often filled with dirty toilets or just as likely a disgusting pit in the ground (that is if there is any kind of bathroom at all) and a major lack of toilet paper. Take that lovely multi-hour, probably bumpy, bus ride with the only stop being alongside the road. Guys pop out, turn their backs, and they are ready to go. However as a female, you best hope you don’t have to go or that there is somewhere with a bit of privacy because otherwise you are just going for it or holding it. (Also, best be quick because that bus is only waiting for a few minutes!) Or if you are lucky and there is a bathroom stop, well you can often guess the state of that toilet as well as the long line you’ll have to wait in. My favorite is when you have been hiking for days on end so your legs are a bit shaky, it’s about 5 degrees (best go quick!), and you try to squat standing on ice over a hole, definitely keeps things interesting!

Also, there is our lovely once a month visitor. A period is a pain normally but I can tell you when traveling in places with squat toilets and no toilet paper, trashcans, trash disposal, or sinks, it takes on a whole new level of sucky. Add on jarring bus rides when you are at your crampiest and little access to showers, comfort foods, heat pads, or your favorite brand of tampons and well let’s just say it’s not a lot of fun. (If you want to make things a bit easier for yourself and the environment, try a Diva cup. They rock!) I will say it is a great way to commiserate with local women (who often just roll up a piece of fabric as a pad) and makes you truly appreciate the comforts we are offered in the US.

There is also the frustrating fact that is just takes a lot more for females to be presentable. I have found that women in most of the countries we travel to actually dress up significantly more than women in the US do. I already don’t wear jewelry, which is beyond comprehension to the women of South America or India, and combined with my limited resources, I often feel below par. Chris can get away with a pair of jeans and a button down shirt anywhere, not to mention he really just needs a bit of water to wash up with, (of course his beard makes things easier), however I often need a shower and definitely have to carry a wider range of clothing. It really does make you feel crappy when you go to a nice restaurant in a cosmopolitan city such as Lima and have to wear hiking boots and a fleece.

Now For The Things That Really Make My Ovaries Grind

Unfortunately in the countries we are traveling to, women are seen as 2nd class citizens. This is obviously hard to witness, especially as a female, and makes you yearn to be able to do something, to speak out. However, figuring out how to navigate supporting women’s rights with balancing cultural norms is a challenge in itself. Women are often, as they should be, incredibly proud of raising and feeding their families, and while you want to promote that education and careers should also be an option, you have to balance that with not putting down their lives, much of which may often be outside their control. (However, when it comes to the Gender Violence that you are bound to see or young girls at the age of 11 being sold into marriage, well then I think it’s time to speak your mind.)

Along with this is how others perceive you as a woman. First off it never seems that absurd to people that Chris is traveling. However, a female? Well I should be home. Further as a 27-year-old female who doesn’t have children, I am just plain weird. (At least Chris and I are married, I would hate to try to explain that all the time.) Femininity in many countries (and let’s be honest in the US as well) is so deeply entrenched in motherhood that I am often seen as less than a woman by not having kids. Whereas in the US most people assume I will at some point in the future, (whether making this assumption is wrong or right, it does make it so most people leave me alone for now), in the places we are traveling it’s often seen as already being too late. This can make it difficult to connect with other women and even more so for men to understand.

Another issue that I encounter once in a while is sexual harassment. This is one of my least favorite parts of traveling as well as my least favorite part of India, where a lot of men for some reason feel that it is their right to be allowed to intensely stare at a female all they want. Not that I have never experienced sexual harassment in the US but it is definitely much more prevalent in some other parts of the world, and while I wouldn’t say it is everywhere, it is an issue. (Check out this video for a bit about how women in India are working to counter men’s leering.)

Due in part to the US media and women travelers who don’t follow cultural practices (i.e. wearing the long skirt, seriously to you college age girls wearing just a sports bras and yoga pants while hiking in Nepal, what are you thinking?), along with women’s status in most countries, white women are often automatically seen as loose. It is rarely a problem when I am with Chris, through I do get asked regularly if he is my husband, but if he leaves my side, I am bound to get comments. Usually they are just aggressive come-ons, I’ve never been grabbed or anything, or being followed, but it is a bit unnerving. Thankfully, for the most part, completely ignoring them works. I’ve also had a woman in Zimbabwe step in and tell the guy to beat it, which was much appreciated.

So there you go, some of the difficulties of traveling as a woman. I will say in spite of these, traveling as a woman is completely possible, very safe, and definitely pretty awesome. People are much more likely to speak to a woman, I get kids and other women who want to talk to me all the time, and are also much more likely to step in and help when needed. Men give up their seats to me and are always trying to carry my bags and women offer me advice or show me the proper ways of doing things. Chris and I were even offered a ride and visit to a woman’s home, something I am pretty sure would not have been offered if it had just been Chris.

I also think it’s great to be able to connect and learn from the women I am meeting, something that Chris just isn’t able to do to the same extent with men. While I am fairly disconnected from the US feminists who created so much change for us in the early to mid-1900’s, on this trip I am constantly meeting women who are at the forefront of women’s activism. These every-day women are the ones who are leading grass roots anti-gender violence campaigns, who are figuring out at all costs how to send their daughters to school, or are building small businesses out of their homes. They are pretty amazing heroines in my eyes and I feel incredibly lucky to get the chance to meet so many of them.

It’s also great to get to share with them about the US and show them we have many of the same problems (albeit at a much smaller scale). Womenhood is a really powerful bond and it’s one I am glad to be a part of. Now if only I could figure out where to by a Shewee.

Posted in Reflections on Travel | 3 Comments

Out for a walk in the Annapurna range

And we're off with a little bit of engrish to get us going.

And we’re off with a little bit of engrish to get us going.

Written by Chris

I don’t know about you, but I love walking to places. I love the freedom of being able to come and go when I choose, the satisfaction of making it somewhere under my own power, and the opportunity to take in my surroundings at an agreeable pace. That is why Mindy and I jumped at this opportunity to spend close to a month walking our way around the Annapurna range in the Himalayas of Nepal, that feature some of the tallest mountains in the world such as Annapurna I (26,200 ft.), Machhapuchhre (22,943 ft. a.k.a. “fishtail” peak), and Dhaulagiri (26,795 ft., 7th tallest in the world). The Annapurna circuit is a hugely popular trekking route in Nepal and the route is well-supplied with guesthouses/restaurants, stores for supplies, and the occasional German bakery. Though it is long and involves some high-altitude, it is a very accessible hike and provides weeks of continuously changing, breath-taking views. It turned out to be as great as we were expecting.

After outfitting ourselves in some of the hundreds of gear shops in Thamel, the tourist hub of Kathmandu, we were ready to commence. The vast majority of stuff was counterfeit and faking North Face logos seemed to be a national past time. We did manage to find one of the few legit stores run by an Australian expat and he got us set up right. The next day we headed out to the town of Bhulbhule to begin our trek.

We were dropped off with a busload of trekkers on the evening of the first day and there was a mad rush to find beds in the few nearby lodges. We are not folks who like to fight through crowds so we immediately set-off out of the town in the hopes of finding something away from the masses. May not have been the smartest move as the sun was setting and we were not really loaded properly. We weren’t seeing any lodges and after a bit it started to rain and get dark. We marched on in silence, with Mindy freaking out a bit, but soon came upon a small cluster of lodges and ducked into the first one.

It was sort of like a motel with 4 rooms and a covered outdoor dining area. The owner showed us a room with an attached bathroom, but I was just happy to get out of the rain and dark. I asked him how much it cost and he replied, “How much you want to pay?” After I balked at the question for a bit, he asked me to pay the equivalent of $3 for the night. I thought this was amazingly low and readily agreed, but I would later find out that this was on the high end. We met a Swiss couple on their honeymoon out in the dining area. We all had dinner and tea, chatted a bit, and headed to bed.

The room turned out to be little more than some tin walls with a tin lid on top. It kept the rain off of us, minus the drips on Mindy’s head, but the wind blew right through. We spent a cold night, even in our beefy sleeping bags, but awoke feeling rested. I am happy to say that it all got better from here in every way.

After breakfast in the morning we headed off down the controversial road. In the interest of progress, Nepal has been putting in a road around the Annapurna circuit where there has, until now, only been trails. It is fantastic for those who live there as they can get goods much cheaper by car than hauled by donkey, but the trekkers are forced to hike along an exposed, pot-holey road while dodging jeeps and motorcycles the whole way. Hardly the pure nature experience. Much of our route planning was finding ways to avoid the road. Unfortunately, this was very difficult during the first few days.

Trying to route around the road. Where is the "you are here" indicator?

Trying to route around the road. Where is the “you are here” indicator?

Things settled into a nice rhythm pretty quickly. We would hike for a few hours, end up at a town for lunch then hike for a few more hours and pick out a lodge to stay in at the next town. Most days were between 5 and 7 hours of walking for us. The lodges were usually very basic; just a room with 2 beds and maybe a table, a lightbulb, maybe an electrical outlet, a shared bathroom (squat toilet, occasional hot water shower), and no heat. But none of this was ever a problem. We were camping. We were “roughing it” and even these simple facilities were far more wonderful than I could have asked for. Besides, the lodging went for bargain-basement prices; from a high of $5 near the difficult-to-access pass to a low of $0 (yes, we stayed for free a few nights on the promise of buying our meals there) throughout the circuit. We couldn’t have beat that sleeping outside in a tent.

Just packing it up in a typical lodge room. Where's the breakfast nook?

Just packing it up in a typical lodge room. Where’s the breakfast nook?

We spent the first 5 days hiking up the Marshyangdi river valley and trying to avoid the aforementioned road. The river was a raging torrent smashing through the rock cliffs down here, but it would gradually shrink as we got closer up to the source. We got many up close peeks at the river during our frequent crossings over the thrilling suspension bridges high above it. On many occasions, I found myself gazing deeply into the gorgeous blue-green waters charging by.

Bridging the great blue-green.

Bridging the great blue-green.

On the fifth day, we reached the town of Chame where an ancient archway over the path prevents cars from going further and marked the end of the official road. Things were much easier hiking the trail from here on, though many motorcycles still continued along the trail keeping us on our toes.

One of the other great things about the hike was the food. It’s great to spend your day exerting yourself climbing through mountain ranges and then to sit down to a fresh, tasty meal day after day. Menus were very similar throughout though they tended to evolve as we went. We started with all possible varieties of tea, rice and noodle dishes, momos (a Tibetan dumpling, steamed or fried, stuffed with goodness), and soups, but they eventually started to add things like pizza, burritos, veg. burgers, and buffalo steak, of greatly varying degrees of authenticity, often with comical results. The region was also known for many specialities including apple pie, the Snickers roll (a battered, deep-fried Snickers bar), and the ubiquitous Dal Baht; the staple Nepali dish of lentils and rice now a staple of every restaurant.

Classic dal baht deluxe. Lentil soup and rice, chutney, salad, and a crispy papadan. Yums!

Classic dal baht deluxe. Lentil soup and rice, chutney, salad, and a crispy papadan. Yums!

We started at an altitude of 2,760 ft. and had been slowly working our way up towards what would be the high point of the trek, Throng La pass. Besides having to eventually climb to an altitude of 17,769 ft., we would also have to climb back down the other side a distance of over a vertical mile. It was a very long day ahead of us, but for now, we focused on gaining altitude slowly so our bodies could acclimatize.

As we got closer to the pass, what had been almost continuous small towns started to coalesce into larger, more spread out towns. The scenery gradually shifted from endless rice terraces to fields of millet to fields of yak. The lodges were fewer and bigger, too, and we started to run into some of the same people day after day. In particular, we kept meeting up with a group of 5 Canadians about our age, and we eventually assimilated ourselves into their group along with another San Franciscan we ran into in the mountains of Nepal. Besides having some great company in the evenings, we were also able to greatly increase our collective bargaining power when negotiating lodging. A few of them even managed to get us all rooms for the low, low price of $0 (of course we agreed to eat and drink there and I’m sure they made a healthy profit that day).

Uh oh, the "where have you been" pose. Better get my butt back to the lodge.

Uh oh, the “where have you been” pose. Better get my butt back to the lodge.

We eventually all found ourselves at the final town before the camp after 12 days of trekking. We awoke at 4am so we would have time to clear the pass before any weather could roll in, we put on every stick of clothing we had, and set out. It was a tough climb, the altitude forced us to take it slow, but we just plugged merrily along. We finally reached the top of the pass after 5 hours and quickly ducked into the tea house on top to warm ourselves up (yes, some enterprising person built a teahouse at 17,769 feet and hauls himself and supplies up there every day and then goes back down because humans can’t really live above 16,500 ft. long-term).

Passing the pass with our porter, Santos.

Passing the pass with our porter, Santos.

It felt great to have the climb complete, but we still had a pretty punishing decent ahead which would take a different kind of endurance. We took our pictures on top of the pass and we noticed some flakes of snow starting to fall. It was time to get a move on before things got nastier.

The way down was pretty tough. It was a long, steep decent and the terrain was pretty unstable. And, the snowfall was accelerating, making the dirt and rocks slick and even more treacherous. We had to strike a balance between taking it slow, staying upright and getting down fast before things got worse.

Coming down the pass with some of our Canadian friends (the slow ones like us) and their porter.

Coming down the pass with some of our Canadian friends (the slow ones like us) and their porter.

Fortunately, though tired, we strolled into the town of Muktinath in the early afternoon. A few of the speedier (younger, more Canadian…) members of our group had gone ahead and secured us some rooms at the Bob Marley Inn so we could just plop right down. I walked in dreading reggae but was delighted by the sounds of Abbey Road playing in its entirety as I got some blissful relaxation after a long and difficult day.

Some of our cohorts relaxing in the Bob Marley.

Some of our cohorts relaxing in the Bob Marley.

We all spent the evening recovering physically (food!) and emotionally (booze!) to celebrate our successful trek. After a great night’s sleep, we awoke to a winter wonderland since the snow had continued through the night.

First snowfall of the year coinciding with the toughest part of our trek. Beautiful once we were comfortably inside.

First snowfall of the year coinciding with the toughest part of our trek. Beautiful once we were comfortably inside.

The backside of the Annapurna circuit was yet another new experience. Our little group had split up by now (the Canadians caught an adventurous bus ride down) and Mindy and I were back on our own. It was mostly downhill but there were still many undulations ahead.

We sampled many of the apples (in the form of apple pie), which the region is known for and we hiked under expansive views of some of the world’s highest peaks. We passed through many beautiful, picturesque, labyrinthian, medieval towns. Our favorite was the town of Kagbeni. It is in a river valley at the convergence of two rivers, every bit of land is covered in farm plots (nicely squared off) or houses (scrunched to one end), it has a beautiful town complete with a YakDonald’s and a Cafe “Applebees”, and a major Buddhist monastery and school. They were looking for volunteers to help with solar energy projects, organic gardening, and teaching the young monks-to-be and we almost thought about settling down permanently here. Maybe next time.

Picturesque Kagbeni. Farm fields on the near end and all the town's buildings scrunched into the far end.

Picturesque Kagbeni. Farm fields on the near end and all the town’s buildings scrunched into the far end.

We continued on with our trekking down and were mostly successful finding quiet trails through forest off of the new road on this side of the pass. The towns here were much more established and amenities increased as we went down due to the easy road access. We started seeing things like hot showers (I can get clean again!), electrical outlets (I can charge!), and, the dearly missed, western toilets (no more squat toilets, I can poop in comfort, hooray!). Things were getting easier day by day.

But not too easy. We did still have a pretty righteous day of climbing ahead of us towards the end. We had decided to head up to what is known as Poon hill where we could get some panoramic views of the great peaks in the range and some magnificent sunrises and sunsets. To get there we had to spend a full day trekking up, over one mile vertically, to get to the town at the base of the hill. Though the altitude was lower and the temperature warmer, the huge vertical climb made it as tough as the pass we had climbed a week before. But also as before, it was well worth the effort.

View of the giants from Poon hill.

View of the giants from Poon hill.

We were getting back near civilization now and things were continuing to change. We started to pass massive groups of fresh-looking hikers doing a quick few-day loop up to Poon hill from the main highway. They kind of seemed like alien creatures to us after so long in the pseudo-backcountry. They bounced down the hill past us, freshly showered, makeup, little day pack, as we trudged up, haggard and warn (well, maybe that just applied to me, Mindy still loved showering), lugging a full compliment of survival gear on our backs. These passing retirees and teenagers said things like, “I’m glad we’re close. I don’t know if I could go much farther,” and we had been at this for 3 full weeks. It was all quite surreal.

We awoke on our final day with about 2 hours of walking down steps ahead of us. When we finally stepped down to solid ground, after covering ground on foot for 23 days, 110 miles, and climbing and descending a total of about 25,000 vertical feet, it felt far too easy to simply wave down a cab and say, “take me to town.” We had stepped out of the past, where plows are pulled by yaks and cloth is woven by hand, and back into the present where a machine can take both of us 20 miles in a half hour.

The entire trek was a revitalizing experience. We were out in the clear mountain air all day every day, we toured ancient temples, greeted Buddhist monks in passing, ate enough dal baht to fill a bathtub, and met so many different and interesting people; both locals and travelers from all over the world. It was challenging and beautiful, surprisingly accessible, and we’re already planning which route we’re going to take for next time when we come back.

Good night, mountains. We're safely back down, relaxing in Pokhara.

Good night, mountains. We’re safely back down, relaxing in Pokhara.

Posted in Excursion Log | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Come see our Related Media

A new keystone page has gone live, Related Media. You can check out what we have been reading, watching, and listening to related to our travels. The page can be found under the “Keystone Pages” menu at the top of the page and we will continue to update it as we go.

Posted in Nuts and Bolts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Zanzibar, An Island of Spice and Mystery

Whew, last Africa post! Next up, Nepal and trekking the Himalayas!


Shortly After Landing in Zanzibar
Cab Driver turning around to look at Chris, “You want advice? You have pretty and nice wife, don’t take another. Not worth it. WAY too much trouble. More wives, more trouble. Stick to one.”

Chris and I immediately burst out laughing, with Chris responding jokingly, “Yeah, that seems about right!”

After smacking Chris on the arm, I turned to the driver with a smile thinking that I had known I liked him right from the beginning.


Chris and I had just landed in Zanzibar, a little tropical island off the coast of Tanzania for a bit of R&R. We had immediately taken to our cab driver, who was a charming man who obviously had deep pride in his home as he shared tidbits about the island as we drove along.

IMG_1169 (1)

He had also taken to giving us and especially Chris, a newly married man, life advice and had passed on the above gem after it came out that Zanzibar allowed men to have up to four wives. He, himself, had only two. Though this definitely seemed to be one too many if our talk was any indicator.

While neither Chris nor I are big beach goers, after 3 months of making our way through Southern Africa, we wanted a place that we could relax and recharge. Plus we were intrigued by what we had read about the island’s history and culture.


Zanzibar has a long and tragic history. Due to it’s strategic location and numerous resources, the island and its African peoples had originally been conquered by the Persians, with many of the traders intermarrying with local women. (The term Swahili which is Tanzania’s main language and “ethnic group” is derived from this Arab-Tanzanian intermarriage.) There it became the epicenter of trade, especially in spices, between Africa, Europe, and Asia. It also horrifically became the main trade post for slaves on the eastern African coast, with more than 50,000 slaves passing through its market each year. The market would also become one of the last ones to be shut down, only happening after Dr. Livingstone, of Dr. Livingstone, I presume?, pressured the British government to finally force the issue.

IMG_9677 The slave market memorial.

The island was colonized first by the Portuguese and then the British and only achieved its independence in 1963. Soon after Independence the long demoralized and dominated African population would rise up, massacring many of its conquerers and forcing the remaining Arab population to flee. However, since then many of the traders have returned mixing in with the influx of Indian and European immigrants who also have made Zanzibar home.


Chris trying a bit of pepper during our spice tour at one of the hundreds of Spice Plantations. Zanzibar is well known for its rich spices including cloves, nutmeg, and peppers.

While this island has obviously seen its share of tragedy and horror, its history has caused the island to become an incredible mix of rich and colorful cultures, making it quite a vibrant place. Islam is definitely the predominant religion, though it has been modified by many of the local people, with many African religions being blended in. There is also a strong Hindi and Christian population and the island and especially its capitol, Stone Town, is probably one of the most diverse places we have ever visited. Seeing the variety of dress among the women, with women in western wear standing next to those wearing brightly colored saris and headscarfs and those dressed in the brightly patterned kangas (a form of African sarong) is still one of my favorite images of Zanzibar.


After landing Chris and I immediately headed to a small resort on the beach to relax our still fairly sore muscles from the Kili Hike as well as our emotionally exhausted brains. We had planned to spend our days relaxing but also visiting the many sites the island has to offer, however we only ventured out once and spent the rest of the time sleeping, reading, and walking the beach. Hard to believe but this really was the first time on the trip that Chris and I felt like we were really on “vacation,” doing nothing more than wandering down to the pool and getting a cocktail.

IMG_1176 During our one excursion Chris and I biked to the Rock Restaurant to meet up with our new friends from the Kili hike. The restaurant is set on a rock out in the water and you have to wade to it! So beautiful and the food was great!

However, as Chris and I tend to get, we were soon restless and headed back across the island to the Unesco World Heritage site of Stone Town, a crazily chaotic small city made of an intricate maze of busy alleys and beautiful old buildings. Wonderfully we had booked a hotel well out of the tourist area and ended up staying in the heart of the locals’ market, where shoes, clothes, (including many a western Nike or New York Yankees shirt), and an incredibly array of foods were being bartered.

 IMG_9720 IMG_9690

One of the absolute highlights was spending an evening watching the sunset down on the waterfront. Thinking this would be a relaxing and quiet evening, we had no idea how alive the park would become. Turns out the area becomes an after-dark seafood market and it is a favorite treat of both the tourists and the locals. It felt like everyone who was on the island was there, all bedecked in their most beautiful clothes, with young boys jumping by the hundreds off the docks, young children running around underfoot, and women congregating as their husbands worked the wonderful food booths. It was fabulous, as was the food! Between Zanzibar pizza, that was more like a hot pocket made from a crepe and filled with veggies, seafood, and an egg, and the fresh and very spicy seafood kabobs, it was definitely a wonderful food fest.


 IMG_1217 IMG_1218

IMG_1222 IMG_1221

Zanzibar was the perfect end to our African journey. Feeling a bit discouraged after our previous frustrations, it was wonderful to end on such a high note and having such a fabulous experience. It just went to reminding us how unique each place in this large and complex continent really is and how much more there is to explore and know. While I am happy to be on to our next adventure, I cannot wait to get back to Zanzibar and spend more time with this big guy.


I was ecstatically surprised to find out that Zanzibar is home to over a 100 Giant Seychelles Tortoises. These gentle giants are second only in size to the Galapagos Tortoise.  



Posted in Excursion Log | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Great Africa Transit

View Larger Map

Written by Chris

Note: this is a delayed update from our trip across Africa from August to October.

We have finally come to what I anticipated to be the most challenging part of our trip and the part I was the most nervous about. For reasons that sounded good at the time of our original plannings, Mindy and I had decided to transit through the middle of Africa over land. This could be considered a little crazy for several reasons; it is a continent with many of the poorest nations in the world and as a result basic infrastructure is lacking in many, many places. We decided to check it out.

The real reason this happened is actually simple; we wanted to see two places on opposite sides of the continent and there was something in the middle we wanted to check out as well. We wanted to see South Africa because we heard it was great and Tanzania for the natural beauty and that “Africa feel”, but also in the middle is Victoria Falls, one of the world’s grander spills. It looked like it would make way more sense to just drive through rather than fly from place to place, because we’ve got more time and less money these days.

So we started out in Cape Town and after a great week there, we headed off. Ever since we settled on this trip, I became enamored with the idea of crossing Africa by rail. Rail lines were actually put in place across Africa to Victoria falls in the 1800’s to satisfy the wealthy Victorians who wanted to come for a visit. And, as luck would have it, the lines originated in major ports on opposite sides of the continent; Cape Town in the south and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to the east. So it seemed more or less possible to make it using a compilation of the various rail companies that still run routes on this line.

Cape Town to Johannesburg

So the first leg was from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Johannesburg is not a pleasant city to be in, so we were careful to select a route that got in during daylight hours (and with reasonable margin should things get delayed). However, once went to book the tickets, everything was full except for 3rd class and the next train was not for 3 more days. So we selected our seats like the 3rd class citizens we had now become and settled in for the exciting 26-hour seated journey that lay ahead.

The ride was unpleasant, to say the least. Train travel is normally slow and plodding to begin with (they usually seem to take about double the amount of time of a bus for the same route), but this got a little out of hand. It was making what seemed to be frequent stops and sometimes they were as long as an hour or two.

We tried our best to sleep through the stop-and-start, but 3rd class is just not made for comfort. The well-lit cabins stayed well-lit all night, but there was no heat to speak of. While we put on what clothes we had available, we still ended up shivering and staring longingly at the fluffy and luxurious blanket that a few of the passengers had known to bring with them. Dawn started to roll around, and every few hours some train official would come through with announcements. They weren’t clear and often not in English, but it appeared (surprise!) we were running behind schedule. One time is was blamed on mechanical problems with the train, another it was the switches on the tracks, and once it was even blamed on baboons messing with train. A likely story.

So imagine my surprise when, at our designated arrival time of noon, the train stops and the conductor tells everyone it’s time to get off. We’re here?

LOL j/k

They had me going for a minute. We were loaded onto busses for the remainder of the journey. I tried to ask a few people where we were or how far was left to go, but the only response we could get was, “not too far.” Time is very fluid in Africa.

So we rode and rode in the bus, had a pit stop, and kept riding and eventually we were in a city and we made it to the bus station at around 8pm, 8 hours behind schedule and well after dark in a pretty sketchy part of a pretty sketchy city. We couldn’t find an obvious taxi stand so we asked one of the night security guards at the station. She then led us through the station, out one exit underneath an overpass, through the packs of people congregating in the dark, and opens the door of some car. I was pretty suspicious, but didn’t have much other choice and, it turns out, this is the most legitimate a cab gets in ol’ Jo’burg. Once we gave the guard the tip she was demanding, she finally left and we were on our way. And imagine my surprise when we got to our hotel and the driver suddenly couldn’t find any change for me…

Johannesburg to Victoria Falls

The next leg was into Zimbabwe and we elected to take a night bus for this one so we could arrive during daylight again. However, this necessitated a border crossing at 2am. This was all very straightforward; we got out of the bus, checked out of South Africa, but as we were waiting in line under the eaves of the building, I felt something smack the top of my head, it was suddenly warm. I had been shat on by a nice little birdie.

I, luckily, had a handkerchief, Mindy had a wet wipe, and we were back in business. We got our visas, waited for customs inspection, and as we were waiting to reboard, an amazing woman on our bus named Charise started chatting us up. Turns out she lives in Victoria Falls and offered to let us tag along. That would really save us a lot of trouble sorting out logistics for a while and we gladly accepted her offer.

We learned that, just like South America, African busses love to blast music all night long while you sleep, but here, instead of the repetitive salsa music, we found that Africa really likes Tracy Chapman and they LOVE Kenny Rogers. We continued hearing him all across Africa, but, for some reason, this ride necessitated a four-peat of “The Gambler”.

We arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe at 10am; just 5 hours late this time. We planned to hang out until the afternoon bus to Victoria Falls left, but Charise’s sister happens to live in Bulawayo, and she picked us up at the station and took us back to her apartment. Instead of just sitting around at the bus station, we got to spend our layover watching the umpteenth Fast and Furious movie and something involving some Van Damme.

That afternoon, Charise took us to the Vic falls bus and we arrived, uneventfully, in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe at about 8pm. We were pretty far from our camp and didn’t know how to get there, but Charise’s husband had come to pick her up and he offered us a ride back to camp, which, again, we very gladly accepted. When we finally arrived, we again thanked Charise and her husband profusely and they graciously refused any kind of remittance we tried to give them. We said our good-nights and turned in.

Victoria Falls to Lilongwe, Malawi

After a great several-day visit to Victora Falls, we headed back out. Our lodging was close to the falls, and therefore the border, so we walked to the border crossing into Zambia. Since we arrived on foot rather than by bus or plane, we were mostly by ourselves in immigration and we bought our visas and were on our way. We caught a cab once legally in the country and headed to the nearby town of Livingstone where we hung out for a few days. Coming from Zimbabwe, walking into Zambia was like walking into the future. We were living the life of luxury in Zambia where I went to a mall and got take-out and used their functional ATM and returned to the hotel to use my computer, which fit in a single room to download and entire web page in under one minute.

No waiting in lines for this immigration

No waiting in lines for this immigration

It was a bit easier now. We stayed in Livingstone for a few nights and caught a bus to the capital, Lusaka, where we stayed a few more. From there, it was one more bus to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. All was reasonably uneventful save the border crossing.

Africa doesn’t really do standing in line and this was especially evident in Malawi. Often, but not always, if someone is in the way of their goal, they just walk around. Normally, there isn’t much to stand in line for, but immigration is a golden opportunity. There are no nicely roped-off aisles to guide you where you need to go, just a small, hot, open room. So, naturally, when busloads of people arrive, they just crash the gates in a big mass. Interestingly, they keep the immigration forms at the window where you submit them, so you have to fight to the front and then the world has to wait while you fill it out.

The sea of humanity had somehow washed me up to the window and I started shoving our passports and hastily scribbled forms through to get our special stamp. While I was bobbing about, Mindy was staying out of the fray. She was busy turning down all the photo ops from the locals to whom a white person is quite a rarity. We were veering off the beaten path.

With immigration conquered, we spent a few days in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. It was a big dust bowl with comparable infrastructure to Zimbabwe. Our host from the NGO we were to be working for made the 3-hour drive up to pick us up and bring us down to Balaka, our home for the next month for our Malawi volunteer experience. We spent a long, hot, and, enlightening month in Balaka, but it was soon time to move on.

Malawi to Moshi, Tanzania

Up until now, our stops had been at major (for Africa at least) transit hubs, but Balaka was no such thing. As such, no buses originate from Balaka; so you can’t hop on a fresh, empty buss, you only get already full buses stopping to stuff in some more passengers on their way through. Additionally, due to the distance we had to travel, a long night bus was the only option. So when we boarded our 40-seat bus at 6pm, we squeezed in to put the total body count up over 60. We could only hope that enough passengers would get off at the next few stops and we could grab their seats rather than stand for the duration.

No such luck was had and it turned out to be a horribly long night. People sure left frequently at the stops, but for every one that got off, it seemed 2 more got on. We wedged ourselves into corners, and leaned or sat on what we could, but there was little room to move and we got sore from being in the same position long. Fortunately, enough people were shuffling in and out that we were constantly rearranging to let them through. But there was such a backlog of people between us and the seats that we could never hope to get comfortable that night. Towards the end, I found myself standing in the middle aisle, falling asleep on my feet. I would periodically jolt awake when my knees unlocked and rammed the back of the person in front of me or when my butt hit the person behind. Mercifully, we reached our destination at 3am, the bus cleared out, and Mindy and I stretched out on the empty seats to finally sleep a few hours in comfort. At least we weren’t one of the many mothers who were forced to hold their 2+ children during the 10 hour ride.

We awoke and caught a bus to a minibus to the Tanzanian border. This is where things got really fun. In Malawi, tourists are a bit of a rarity and therefore only attract passing curiosity. But Tanzania, with Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and Zanzibar, is no stranger to the tourist who has come to spend their hard-earned foreign dollar. Our white skin makes us stand out as a mark for all those who seem to think it is their duty to separate us from as much of our money as possible by whatever means necessary (without getting arrested, of course).

The minibus experience. Normal van. Crammed in seating for 16. Fits 25 comfortably, with livestock

The minibus experience. Normal van. Crammed in seating for 16. Fits 25 comfortably, with livestock

We had several more buses to negotiate before our destination, but once in Tanzania, it was like a switch was flipped and everything was a battle. Mindy covered much of this in her Getting Swindled post, but features were constantly over-promised, drawbacks denied, and prices always started with the 150-200% markup mzungu (whitey) tax.

I’m happy to say we finally made it to our destination in Moshi, Tanzania with most of my wallet intact and it was indeed an experience to be had. I must say that even with the late-night rides through very poor countries, we never felt too unsafe and we met the most amazing people, often at 2:00am security checks. It was a challenge and it was trying at times, but we did get an up-close view of the dark continent, a much deeper understanding of the challenges locals face on a daily basis, and one heck of an unforgettable experience.


So, all told, in order to avoid 2 flights in Africa, our route looked like this.


Cape Town, South Africa to Johannesburg

36 hours

2 nights in Johannesburg


Johannesburg to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (overnight)

17 hours


Bulawayo to Victoria Falls

6 hours

4 nights in Victoria Falls


Victoria Falls to Livingstone, Zambia

1 hour

2 nights in Livingstone


Livingstone to Lusaka

8 hours

2 nights in Lusaka


Lusaka to Lilongwe, Malawi

14 hours

2 nights in Lilongwe


Lilongwe to Balaka

3 hours

1 month in Balaka


Balaka to Mbeya (overnight)

8 hours


Mzuzu to Karonga

5 hours


Karonga to Tanzania Border

3 hours


Kasumulu, Tanzania to Mbeya, Tanzania

3 hours

1 night in Mbeya


Mbeya to Dar Es Salaam

15 hours

1 night in Dar Es Salaam


Dar Es Salaam to Moshi, Tanzania

9 hours


9 days (excluding stays in Vic Falls and Balaka)

128 hours in transit

Fun fact: after all of this, we discovered an ultra-discount airline in Tanzania, Fastjet, which can often get you there for as little as half the price of a bus ticket, in a quarter of the time and with ZERO of the hassle. We used them for the rest of our time in Tanzania with great success, including my world-record lifetime cheapest flight; $49.50 for BOTH of us to Zanzibar. Score!

Posted in Reflections on Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nelson Mandela

As most people have now heard, Nelson Mandela died this morning at the age of 95.

Out of all our travels one of the most inspirational things we did was our visit to the Apartheid Museum in South Africa. As Chris and especially me were born towards the end of Apartheid we had little knowledge of this horrific period of history and for the first time we began to get an understanding of what apartheid really meant for the people of South Africa and just how far people will go to hold on to power. We also got an insight into one of the amazing giants, Father Mandela or Madiba, who fought this war, spending 27 years of his life in jail for his convictions.

He gave up living his own life, raising his children, eating dinner with his wife every night, to live for the truth and the people he believed in. And somehow throughout it all he came out with the ability to not hate but to forgive. Truly miraculous.

National Geographic’s Tribute to Nelson Mandela

I am writing this because I hope that everyone will take a few minutes to reflect on what Mandela was able to accomplish and the messages of social justice that he shared with the world. He was a remarkable man and he will be greatly missed.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela

If you are interested in learning more about Mandela and his struggles, I highly recommend his auto-biography A Long Walk to Freedom. It is beautifully written and an amazing tribute to both him and his fellow freedom fighters.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment