Announcements: Can’t get enough photos

Written by Chris

We have finally ventured back into the world of reliable and reasonably fast internet and have been doing some behind-the-scenes work around here. As such, we have have been rolling out a lot of new stuff for you to check out:

The new video page is in full force and the 5th and final video from the Galapagos, Swimming with Turtles, has been uploaded. I’m still playing a lot of video catch up, so I will continue to keep you in suspense with the rest of the moving pictures 🙂

All of our existing photo galleries have just been upgraded to a slick, new format and they’re worth having another look at. Also, we have added several new photo sets, including:

These pages, along with all of our photo galleries, are available from the menu bar at the top of the page under “Keystone Pages”. Enjoy!

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We Found Pride Rock!


There is a picture from my senior year of high school, Mary you know which one I mean, where three of my friends and myself are standing on a rock as we sing the opening lines of “Circle of Life” from Lion King, my second favorite Disney movie. (101 Dalmations will always be my favorite, with Aladdin as number three, just in case you were wondering.)

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama
Siyo Nquoba
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala
Translated, this roughly means in Swahili, here comes the lion, a lion comes to this open place. After looking up the actual words, I cannot believe how wrong my pronunciation has been all these years!

Growing up I absolutely loved The Lion King; the music, the story, the beautiful animation, everything. It also instilled in me a deep longing to see the real life Lion King, the Africa of legends. As such a safari in Tanzania, with a visit to the Serengeti, was an absolute must for me. (Poor Chris keeps getting dragged to all these animal parks and I am pretty sure he would much rather be hiking or visiting ruins, but luckily for me he is a great sport.)

Hey Pumbaa, what’s shakin’ bacon?
Chris and I spent a good portion of our safari quoting and singing lines from Lion King. I am pretty sure the German couple we were with, who weren’t sure they had ever even seen the movie, found us a bit annoying at times. The best part was our guide got in on it too, telling us constantly “Look there’s Timon” or “Everybody look left, it’s Sim-ba” said in deep resonating voice.

We booked a 5-day, 4-night, camping safari visiting three different parks. I desperately wanted to camp as I had this vision of waking up in the middle of the night to hearing an elephant outside my tent or waking up early to zebras grazing outside. Sadly neither of these happened, the whole thing was actually quite tame, though we did get to listen to hyenas throughout the night and also set-up our tent next to a huge pile of elephant dung the one night. (For our mothers, it was very safe. There are park rangers that patrol the campgrounds all night.) Minus the very frustrating problems we had with the owner of our tour company, see previous post, it was an awe-inspiring experience and something I will cherish forever.

Sunrise on the Serengeti

On our first day, after a truly horrid jeep ride out of Arusha, (they are currently redoing the whole road between Arusha and the parks, so if you visit in the next year expect three hours of bumpy, jarring dirt road, as they finish the smooth paved road), we arrived in the first park, Tarangire. Every night we would camp somewhere new and over our time we got to visit Tarangire, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater.

The stupendous Ngorongoro Crater, the largest crater in the world and home to the 40 remaining Black Rhinos in Tanzania. While we didn’t get to see the Rhino, it was really interesting to hear how the park is working to protect them. Poachers have been flying in by helicopter to prey on these creatures, their horns are worth upwards of $300,000 in Asian cultures, so the rangers have put elecronic collars on them complete with a sensor to let the rangers know if a motorized vehicle comes to close. Chris also read about a new poison they are putting on the rhino horns that isn’t dangerous to the rhino but will make anyone sick who ingests the powder made from the horns. Hopefully these measures will provide some security to these shy beasts.

When we entered that first day, the first thing I noticed was there are a LOT of people and a LOT of jeeps. It was extremely humorous how many tourists there were, all bedecked in their safari gear with khaki vests, big boots, floppy hats, and huge cameras. Woo, do tourists really like their gear and wow, are companies good at projecting what you should wear for a safari! It was like there was a uniform and you weren’t allowed in if you weren’t wearing it. (Well I guess they let Chris and I in.) The funniest part was, as you never get out of the jeep, other than in designated picnic areas, you really don’t need any of it, minus the camera.


At first I was super nervous about the amount of people but it turns out that these parks are huge and we often only saw another jeep or two. The one major exception being when there was a leopard siting on the main road into the Serengeti, I was more into watching the other jeeps and the photo-snapping people than the leopard!


The second thing I noticed was the monkeys. They were lounging in the trees and putting on quite a show for the tourists. While we had seen some monkeys/baboons before in both South America and South Africa, this was our first time with truly tourist-domesticated monkeys and as I very quickly learned they are extremely smart, sneaky creatures, and as a result very well fed!

Excuse me sir, but do you have a cookie?

We were constantly told not to feed the animals, a rule I have always tried to follow anytime I am around wild animals. However, I learned the very first meal that that is easier said than done when a monkey is involved. During lunch our first day I stuck a sealed package of cookies in my pocket for later. I then walked over to the fence to peak down into the valley. Instantly a monkey jumped over the fence and started chasing me! I squealed and continued shrieking as I ran away, only to be followed! The little guy was only a foot away from me and it hit me what he wanted, and a bit hysterically I threw the packet of cookies away from me. A moment later 10+ monkeys had descended on my little pack of cookies, split it open, and were fighting over the goods. I was horrified that I had broken this cardinal rule, bad environmentalist!, but it must have been a ridiculous site to everyone else as when I turned around Chris and our other safari companions were laughing their heads off at me as they snapped photos. Later, I would watch from a few feet away as two huge baboons jumped the fence onto a picnic table, and stole everything out of two tourists lunchboxes, all within seconds, while the poor tourists just sat there terrified. Baboons are quite large, size of a toddler definitely, with huge teeth, and I have to say I am now a bit terrified of monkeys.

Them was my cookies!

Beyond these few moments of sadness (I really wanted those cookies!) the next five days were comprised, for me, of one fabulous moment after another. We would see a giraffe from 30 feet away, only to have our driver be like, oh we can do better, turn a corner and there was a giraffe two feet from our car. See an elephant, turn the corner and all of a sudden have 15 elephants all around us.


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We got to see everything we could imagine, minus the very endangered Rhino, and it was definitely a dream come true for me. Unfortunately Chris, who was kind of only on the safari because I so desperately wanted to go, took ill, stomach issues, and the poor guy got stuck riding around in a jeep that was shuttering, tossing, and turning all day. A bit like being stuck in a washing machine that has become unbalanced! And definitely not fun if you’re not feeling well.

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Sicky Chris, he didn’t even care that there was a Cheetah outside the window.

Below are some more photos from our excursion. As I am not the best writer and you probably don’t want to hear me say incredible or gorgeous a hundred more times, I thought I would let them do the talking!


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Excuse me human, you are in my way.

Mom, I’m hungry.

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Thanks Mom! Fresh zebra is my favorite!

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Cheetah                                                                Leopard



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Terrible photo but this little one week old elephant could not get out of the river. He would take a few steps and slide back down. Just about the cutest thing I have ever seen. Finally Mom helped him out.

Absolutely love that I get to experience these amazing moments with Chris!
Travel has brought us together is such amazing ways. There really is nothing like sharing seeing a herd elephants for the first time or sleeping in a tent when one of you has the stomach bug to bring a couple closer together!

Posted in Excursion Log | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Getting Swindled, From Start to Finish

Disclaimer: This post reveals a bit about the unsavory parts of travel Chris and I experienced in Tanzania. It was a hard three weeks of travel and we wanted to share this as we wanted people to know that backpacking is not all fun and relaxing on the beach. However, I want to emphasize that this was one small part of our amazing trip through 5 different countries in Africa and cannot emphasize enough how awesome so much of this trip was and how much I would encourage people to go. Traveling in parts of Africa is not always easy but its rewards far outweigh the costs.

One of the facts about long-term, backpacker style travel is as amazing as it is, it is also exhausting, dirty, and draining. You accept this and try to fit in some times of relaxation and re-booting (i.e. McDonalds for Chris and hot showers for me) but once in a very great while it gets to be too much and you kind of just want to go home, where everything is safe and familiar. And NOTHING makes this happen faster than getting swindled.

While I am not actually ready to go home, sorry Mom but there is still too much world to see, the weeks in Tanzania, on top of an already stressful month in Malawi, put me close to the edge. At the very least it made me want to go hang out on a beach for a week. While Tanzania is a beautiful country, full of amazing natural beauty, interesting cultures, and warm people, it also has its fair share of swindlers, dirty dealing business, and people who only see foreigners as ATMs.

From almost the moment we arrived in Tanzania via the Malawi border, we were getting touted, swindled, lied to, or extorted. We first got men touting taxis to the nearest city (costing about $50 US), telling us that the buses weren’t running as it was Sunday (never mind that the majority of southern Tanzania is Muslim and their day of rest is Friday). Even after we said to him that that we know that wasn’t true, as we had been travelling in Christian Malawi with no problem, he wouldn’t give up. On top of that no less than 10 guys were hounding us about exchanging money. We had already stopped in the border bank to exchange a bit (for about half the cost of what they were touting I might add) so we told them we didn’t need them. However, they would not give up and kept giving us the lovely “why don’t you want to do business with a black man?” line.

One thing we did need was to get a moto-bike to the bus stop about 3kms up the road. We first got offered a bike for 1,000 tsh, about 70 cents US. However, this guy was quickly pushed out of the way by two guys and was told what I am sure was equivalent to f*** off in Swahili. These two new guys, who spoke great English, kept pushing us that the cost was 5,000 tsh each. Yeah right dude, I know what a moto-bike cost, go away. They wouldn’t give up and as we tried to approach other moto-bikes they kept stepping in front and telling us they charged the same. Finally Chris talked them down to 5,000 Tsh for both of us (we had to take two bikes) and as we were exhausted and just ready to go, we gave in.

However, it soon became apparent that they were not done. First, Chris’ bike driver took off with him as my bike got “stuck” for a few minutes. My bike then proceeded to park in a different place, where I couldn’t see Chris. A bit creepy and nerve-racking, however as there were other people around, I wasn’t too worried. Immediately the driver started hounding me for the 5,000tsh (my share would have been 2,500). I knew something was up and refused to talk to him till he walked me around the corner to where Chris was. Turns out they wanted 5,000tsh for each of us, claiming that was the deal we agreed to. Chris’ guy was hounding him (in perfect English I might add) and saying he hadn’t understood what we meant when we said both and he never would have agreed to that price, blah, blah. My guy kept hounding me, saying I was a liar and trying to cheat him, blah, blah. I actually didn’t have any money on me as we had only exchanged $20 at the border and Chris had it, so I was able to play the my husband has all the money card. My guy even threatened to call the police, to which I told him to go ahead, being fairly certain the police would be on our side. (Tanzania’s government is nothing if not friendly to foreigners, especially Americans.) He, of course, immediately backed down on calling the police and kept calling me a cheat. I probably should also add that there were about five extra people surrounding us, very intrigued on who would win the argument.

This is the part where as a tourist you go, how important is that extra couple bucks and your principles/ the hassle. You know these guys need the money more than you, the average salary a day is $1-2, but at the same time the fact they are lying and cheating to get it, just rubs the wrong way. Plus, above all, it makes you feel more and more like a dollar sign. It feels like in their eyes we can afford it, so why shouldn’t they cheat us.

On the flipside you know they need the money and if you have studied history/the modern day, you are aware of just how much the US, Europe, and now China are taking advantage of countries like Tanzania and in turn how often the governments are then taking advantage of the people. The corruption runs deep and is the way of life. Plus on top of this, let’s be honest, you probably also have white guilt.

So we gave in and negotiated meeting them in the middle, 7,500tsh, roughly 5 bucks for a ride that probably should have cost $1.50. I think overall the worst part for us, besides this being our introduction to Tanzania, is knowing they are going to continue to do the exact same thing to the next tourists and so on.

That was our first hour in Tanzania and it just continued from there. We didn’t take a single bus ride where someone didn’t outright lie to us, “of course it is a big bus with only four seats across,” oh wait it’s a medium sized bus with a fold down seat in the middle, making it a very squished 5 seats across, or massively over charged us, of course we wanted to pay 30,000tsh more than the accepted price on a “air-conditioned” bus that only runs the air-conditioning for 5 minutes during the whole 10 hour plus ride.

Now these issues probably don’t seem that extreme. After all when travelling you kind of expect to pay a bit more than the locals, we had experienced this in Malawi and Ecuador as well, but this was the first time while travelling that we experienced outright lying and the constant idea that we were just bags of money. Maybe we had been lucky in South America and the other parts of Africa we visited but it really felt like we crossed a border and something just changed. Unfortunately the worse was still to come.

Moshi is a small, but busy town that is at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and the start of most Safaris. As such, it sees a LOT of tourists, though most only from behind the glass of the fancy Land Rover Safari jeeps or behind the gates of the luxury resorts outside of town. So when a tourist is staying in town, especially the young, backpacker tourist, it is open season. Chris and I could not walk outside for more than a minute without having a tout latch onto us. We would explain that we had already booked our adventures and no we weren’t interested in art but they would not give up. If we went into a store they would follow hoping to escalate the price of what we were buying in the hopes of receiving the difference. Or worse, in some ways, were those who were incredibly helpful. One guy literally walked Chris around for an hour helping him find what he needed, the whole time Chris kept saying he was okay, only at the end to try to get him to come buy art. Leaving Chris and myself when similar things happened, feeling guilty that we wasted the guy’s time.

Every transaction also requires numerous people, making one always feel like prey. For example we got a taxi to the airport and for some reason we needed a driver and a baggage handler. Or when Chris went into a local’s restaurant to get some dinner, he had a guy step in, Chris originally thought he was the waiter, and act as the go-between between him and the proprietress, thereby causing the price to almost double. (Luckily Chris got smart and asked the price ahead of time, saving himself a buck.)

After the travel and a few days in Moshi, we were a bit tired of going it alone and ready to start our packaged tourist plans. Little did we know, dealing with the owner of the company David, would be by far our biggest challenge. He met us for a Coke at a coffee shop after we arrived and we hashed out the plans for the next twoish weeks. Granted he brought an entourage, something we soon realized was completely normal, and had his two cell phones, which he was continually answering while we were talking, but overall it sort of seemed good. However, I have to admit from the beginning I had a weird vibe as he was always talking in circles and speaking a lot without saying anything, i.e. specifically answering our questions. We had experienced a lot of that in southern Africa and just chalked it up to cultural differences. There were also a couple distinct “miscommunications” that Chris and I, being generally people who always think the best of people, let go. However, I now think this branded us an easy mark.

Over our next week and half of dealing with David, he would:

  • Continue the lovely talk around, never just answering our questions, always reiterating what a great operator he was, “I’ve never had a complaint,” and constantly stating how busy he is, as he makes us wait around while he talks on his phone. And when we would try to get him to be direct, he would say my now least favorite words, Hakuna Matata. (Seriously going to punch the next person who tells me to not worry.)
  • “Accidently” place us with people on the 6 day trek instead of 7, then refuse to compensate us for the difference, minus giving us a night in a hotel. He then lied to us, saying the people we were with paid the same price as us. Of course we found out later that that was not true.
  • Forget some of the clothing/equipment we asked for and provide us with ill-fitting/ not correct clothing.
  • Mysteriously raise the number of porters we needed for Kili. Yet when we were on the mountain we never really saw them. (I found out later this was not an uncommon tactic of extricating extra money through the tips we give them.)
  • Show up with his entourage at the hotel bar and start ordering drinks on the tab we had opened up as a thank you for our guides and cook. Thank god Chris caught on and talked to the waitress/proprietress who turned out to be super nice and stepped in to make them pay for their share.
  • Dirty deal with our flight to Zanzibar. He would tell us one price, we would agree, and then hours later the price had gone up. Even when he finally booked us (after we tried to book online, which he kept insisting was too dangerous and those tickets never materialize), he booked us on two different airlines, meaning we had to re-check-in in Dar, and just didn’t bother mentioning this to us. Chris only found out after the Boy Scout in him made him call to confirm the flights.
  • Mislead us, promising us a full day in Ngorongoro Crater when we were actually only getting a half.
  • Ask us to let another couple join us on our safari. Then when Chris and I started to ask about a discount for it to be a group, he again outright lied saying he had charged the other couple a $100 less than us and offered to refund the difference. We thought it was so nice that he was being honest and upfront. Then we found out later that he had again lied and they had paid hundreds of dollars less.

I will say the tours themselves turned out to be great. Our guides were wonderful and the groups we were with were incredibly fun. However, all the issues just put us in a horrid place with David and made us feel like crap.

The night we got back from the safari, we tried to talk to David about all of this. I already knew I was giving him a bad review on TripAdvisor, he was constantly asking us to review him, but we wanted to be upfront and let him know that we knew he had lied/mislead us throughout our time with him, just incase it was some crazy mistake. What ensued was an hour long runaround from him where he used phrases over and over again, like that’s business (in reference to the lying) and asking us if we really wanted to get upset, i.e. give him a bad review, over a just a few small things. He also blamed EVERYTHING on everyone else. We knew he was still lying and as his lies equaled close to a $1000 (UGH!) for us, we were done. We were so upset that we didn’t even take him up on his “free” ride to the airport and paid for a taxi ourselves so we didn’t have to deal with him again.

Needless to say while we have had some amazing experiences in Tanzania, we left with a bit of a bad taste in our mouths. I think one of the saddest parts is that while I made some great connections with local people in other countries, here I had none. While I have no doubt that the majority of Tanzanians are wonderful people, we had wonderful hotel operators, nice seatmates on the buses, and a lovely immigrations officer who gave us a free coke because it was so hot, the stress of having to deal with the touts and tourist-business men made me shy away from reaching out and talking to anyone. Plus it stopped us from spending money in other places. There were times I wanted to purchase fresh fruit, (something I did once, only to have two men step in front of the women selling the bananas and demand double the price, I really hope she got some of the money!), or maybe even a souvenir and I just didn’t have the energy.

I do still think I would recommend Tanzania as a must do travel destination. There is no way to get past the fact that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or seeing Elephants and Lions from a few feet away are just too amazing of experiences to pass up. I will say however that unless you are a truly experienced and hardened traveller, that I would recommend booking with an American or European travel agency and letting them plan everything out (and shuttle you back and forth in an air-conditioned car). This is something I would never recommend with our other destinations, as I believe in keeping money in the visited country and that independent travel allows you to see the country in ways that packaged tours don’t. But I’m just not sure if I feel independent travel in Tanzania was worth the hassle. And while I am sure there are good Tanzanian run tour companies, David appeared online every bit as one of them, (should have realized that almost all his reviews on TripAdvisor were from “people” who had never done any other reviews, i.e. probably fake accounts). And when you are spending this kind of money, especially for a once in a lifetime experience such as Kili, you really want to know you are getting what you paid for. If you do book with a Tanzanian company, just do your research. We definitely should have done a bit more!

Overall I have loved my time in Tanzania and if nothing else Chris and I have learned some incredibly valuable lessons about dealing with the unsavory aspect of travel. Something tells me those lessons will definitely come in handy as we head to India.

Posted in Reflections on Travel | Tagged | 6 Comments

Top 5 Things We Didn’t Know We Were Thankful For

As Chris and I have travelled we have become increasingly aware of how incredibly lucky we are. We were born into a wealthy nation to parents who worked hard and provided us with the opportunity to launch the lives we have. We both have worked hard most of our lives as well and especially to save for our trip, but we also had the ability to obtain our college degrees with a fair amount of ease, something only 7% of the world is able to do!, and afterwards held stable jobs that were unaffected by the economy. We didn’t get to choose where or to whom we were born and we definitely won the birth lottery. We’ve been given the ability to choose the life we want, something that most of the world, including some Americans, have very little control over as they are concentrated on just surviving.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, here are the five things Chris and I never knew we were thankful for until we travelled. While we are thankful everyday for the big things, our loving families, awesome friends, education, health, and healthcare, it is often the little things that make us realize just easy we have it at home.

  1. By far the number one thing we miss is drinkable tap water, and a never ending supply of it in general. Most of our western world, at least as far as I know, has clean, healthy water that runs crystal clear, (we even get to choose if it’s going to be hot or cold!), out of the facets in our houses. For the majority of the world this is just not true and it is a lot of work to achieve water, let alone clean water. It is a common scene in almost every country we go to, to see men and especially women standing around a community tap and waiting to fill their water vessels. For some this takes hours out of their day. No where was this worse than in the places we visited in Eastern Africa, where drought makes water a constant challenge. It is especially disheartening to see women filling their water canisters with water from rivers and lakes that are also used to water cattle, bathe, do laundry, and everything else. As we are tourists we almost always have access to a tap with water and as we also have access to iodine tablets and bottled drinking water, we really have no right to complain. However, the simple fact is that to our spoiled selves, it is a nuisance to have to think about obtaining drinkable water. While traveling you get used to remembering to take your bottle of water with you when brush your teeth and it is definitely not a hindrance to wanting to travel but is something that makes you very aware of how easy we have it back home.                                                  On a side note, think twice about buying bottled water both at home or abroad. Bottled water needs to be transported, probably by a truck that uses oil and releases pollution. Also, something we hadn’t really thought about before we got to Nepal, but most countries do not have recycling programs and more than likely that bottle will end up on the ground or being burned. Some great alternatives include Iodine Tablets, a filter, or a SteriPen.
  2. We are now incredibly thankful for toilets and specifically western style toilets, you know that porcelain thing you sit on. For most of the world it’s about all about the squatting toilet (the picture here is quite a bit nicer than most we have seen). Time for a gross moment. Imagine having a horrific stomach bug. You’re weak and dehydrated, and instead of having a comfy clean toilet to sit on, with a fresh supply of soft toilet paper, you are squatting over a hole in the ground, trying to keep your pants from touching the very often nasty ground, and working to keep yourself from falling over or falling asleep! (Also hope that you remembered to bring TP with you!) Even when your pipes are in good, working condition, these squat toilets are just not a lot of fun and you better believe that anytime we get access to a western toilet, we make full use of it.
  3. Sidewalks. Oh, the beautiful sidewalk creating a glorious safe haven for the walker, stopping cars and motorbikes from running one over. Growing up in the country where you were more likely to get run over by a buggy than car and then moving to cities with impressive infrastructures complete with these glorious pedestrian pathways, I had no idea how important these structures were. Walking in busy cities where one little path is a chaotic maze of cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, bicycles, hawkers, food venders, cows, children, dogs, and pedestrians makes you realize how important paying attention to where you walk is. And don’t even get me started on avoiding all the lovely poop and mud covering the ground!
  4. Our freedoms, whether it’s the right to vote or freedom of speech, religion, or media, when you grow up with these as a given you forget that much of the world does not share them or what that really means. While these seem like they would be givens to be thankful for, and many of us say regularly that we are, I don’t think we often really think about what not having those freedoms would really be like. Most of the countries we have visited are very young democracies with a long history of political strife and they are still desperately trying to figure things out. While many are making incredibly impressive strides, Nepal is in the process of its second non-violent vote and hopefully passing over of power, there are still a lot of challenges to face as many governments continue to try to hold power by limiting freedoms, especially that of the press.
  5. The fact that in the end, while the world is a wonderful mass of different cultures and traditions, most of the world’s people really are very similar. This may sound like an odd statement and a lot of people may disagree with me, but it’s something that I find not only to be true but incredibly comforting. I’ve seen women on four continents, including my own sister, getting their children ready for school, fixing their clothes, holding their hands as they walk them, and the children turning around to wave at their moms before running off to join their friends. The children may all look different, the moms may all have different levels of ability to care for their kids, but in the end they all want the same, for their kids to be safe and happy, with a better life than they had. And it’s no different when it comes to the men. The pride a man has in his family is so evident, the look my dad often had was the same look I have seen on fathers’ faces in Malawi. While every place we visit is wonderfully unique, we also often find it eerily similar, people going about their daily lives, doing the best they can, and taking care of those that matter to them.

Everyday one of us will be asked by a local where we are from and when the person hears that we are from America, their face will light up and the response is inevitably, “oh, that’s a nice place, isn’t it?”. You can see how eager they are to hear that America is every bit as wonderful as they imagine.

Right now with all the issues our country faces, most of which we are creating for ourselves, it is easy to say something flippant like “sometimes” or even “when our politicians aren’t messing everything up!” But the simple fact is at the end of the day, the US really is a nice place where survival is not usually a question but a given and for good or bad, choice exists.

So as you are sitting down today to your turkey dinners and going around saying what you are thankful for, take a moment to think about not only the big things but the little things that being American grants us. Or even better yet take a moment to do something to show your gratitude. Make a pledge to live life a little more to the fullest or to take shorter showers, think about donating some of your time or money to a local school, or make a donation to a charity that delivers clean drinking water to those without. We can all say we are thankful but I think it is much better to show it.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Posted in Reflections on Travel | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Top of Africa

Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above our hotel room.

Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above our hotel room.

Written by Chris

As part of our “catching up from a month without a computer” series, we’re filling in the gaps in what we have been up to lately. We have just finished with a month of trekking in Nepal, but much of our time in Africa was left undocumented. Our next several posts aim to get us caught up. So without further ado, I present, “The Top of Africa”.

It is one of the “top” (zing!) attractions in all of Africa, but I feared we were in danger of missing the chance to stand on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro while we were there.

“I’m not climbing all the way up there!” Mindy told me. And she was probably right. It is an imposing sight, as evidenced from the picture above, and “the world’s largest free-standing mountain”. But I still wanted to go and we found a compromise: we would do the Kilimanjaro climb if I agreed to a big animal safari. We were in business.

Mount Kilimanjaro is just a bit under 6000 m in elevation (5895 m) which puts it just a bit under 20,000 ft. (19,308 ft.), but we started from 1800 m elevation (5,905 ft.) and we had 6 days to climb it, so it shouldn’t be too bad, right? Right!

Our tour picked us up at our hotel in Moshi, Tanzania and we were joined by 2 German guys our age who were spending 3 weeks in Tanzania in an effort to use up their prodigious German vacation time. We got along great from the start and it was great to have some company for the climb. In addition to us 4 climbers, we were accompanied by 2 guides, one cook, and 14 (!!!) porters to carry all the food and supplies needed to get us up there. It seemed like a lot until I saw all the stuff they hauled up; big tents for us to sleep in and sleeping bags with pads, dining tent complete with folding chairs and a table, a stove with propane tank, and all the food required for 21 people for 6 days. This was becoming a pretty big operation.

We got dropped off at the gateway to Kilimanjaro park and there was much paperwork to be completed by our guides (in addition to paying the gigantic park fees) so we joined a bunch of other climbing groups in a small pavilion and had our boxed lunch. The base of Kilimanjaro has a jungle climate and we were delighted to see a group of monkeys come to check us out and start to play around. Delighted, until we realized that they were well aware that this was the lunch spot and they were gunning for some fried chicken. They had absolutely no fear of us and stayed just out of reach of the swing of trekking poles. They were also remarkably clever and while some were horsing around and entertaining us, another made of with a French guy’s donut. That monkey feasted on a donut the size of his head that day. And probably got monkey diabetes later.

Hide yo' sandwiches, hide yo' pies

Hide yo’ sandwiches, hide yo’ pies

The first day of hiking was surprisingly pleasant. Though we climbed over 3,000 ft., most of it was through cool jungle which started to transition to alpine desert towards the end. We arrived at our camp and had a surprisingly delicious dinner considering that it was cooked on a single-burner stove on the side of a mountain. We slept well that night.

By now, we were above cloud-level and we were afforded spectacular, heaven-like views most days with nearby mountain peaks peeking through. Occasionally, we got a glimpse through the clouds of the plains already very far below, but the cloudscape usually dominated. The second day was another big climb, but it was still long and relaxed. We reached camp at 12,600 ft. elevation and had a good night telling stories in the dining tent while a nearby expedition sang copiously. Our guide told us that their singing porters, “enjoyed the mary-jew-anna”.

High above the clouds already with the peak of Mt. Meru peeking through

High above the clouds already with the peak of Mt. Meru peeking through

By the third day, we had gotten used to the porters blazing past us every day, hopping up the rocks like mountain goats. They stayed behind to pack up camp and then had to get ahead of us to the camp spot to have things ready when we arrived for dinner. They did all this while carrying most of their 45 lb. loads in the traditional African way; on top of their heads. Today, our goal was to acclimatize to the altitude, so our route took us up to 15,000 ft. and then back down to sleep again at 12,600 ft. as the night before.

Our porters stuck behind me while I navigate the "kissing rock"; staying in kissing range to avoid sliding into oblivion.

Our porters stuck behind me while I navigate the “kissing rock”; staying in kissing range to avoid sliding into oblivion.

By the fourth day, one of our fellow climbers had been struggling with the altitude and made the wise decision to turn back. We were sorry to see him go, but altitude sickness can become really dangerous, really quickly and it is best not to take chances. So our party of 3 continued on up a rocky scramble that would eventually take us to base camp at 15,000 ft. before we attempted to summit the next day. Along the way, we got some cold rain that hit us just before lunch but, as we climbed, it fortunately turned to snow and allowed us to stay reasonably dry. With the combination of the anticipation of the next day’s summit and the challenge of high altitude, we didn’t get much sleep at all.

When I say we were to summit the “next day”, that belies the total absurdity of what lay ahead. Our bid for the summit would embark at 12:30 am after a “night” of no sleep, so that we could reach the top while the skies were still clear, and hopefully see the sunrise and get the heck back down before any weather rolled in. So we set off for 6 hours of climbing in total darkness, exerting ourselves considerably, but only getting paid back with 25% of the oxygen we would get at sea level. We followed the Swahili Kilimanjaro mantra that was repeated to us over and over on the climb: “pole, pole“; slowly slowly. We were lucky to shuffle along a half-step at a time and we got a 5 minute break every hour or so to try our best to harvest any oxygen we could. It was a very long and grueling morning which was not helped by lack of sleep and lack of appetite. We had sat in on a talk about Kilimanjaro about a year ago and the speaker described his experience thusly, “It consists of 4 days of nice hiking followed by one day of extreme torture.” That sounded about right.

Kilimanjaro is now a dormant volcano, but at the top, a massive crater still remains. We reached the rim of that crater at 5:40am, just as the sun was rising. We saw the world around us bathed in a deep gold and glacier at the top was bending the light into a brilliant array of blues and greens. That sight, coupled with the relief at the end of that hard climb, left me in a sublime state, if only for a few minutes because there was more work ahead.

Worth the work? Absolutely!

Worth the work? Absolutely!

We climbed another 500 ft. (child’s play at this point) along the rim to the actual summit of the mountain while the rising sun finally warmed my frozen hands and feet. We were in a daze by now and everything felt quite surreal. We finally reached the summit in another hour, snapped all our pictures, and headed out because we still had a long way to go down yet today.

Marshmallow people on a very big mountain

Marshmallow people on a very big mountain

I was completely wiped out after the climb, though Mindy was doing a little better. I remember little of the descent back to base camp and I felt like a zombie forcing myself back down the tough slope. We finally reached camp at 10am where I promptly fell into a dark sleep until I was awoken for lunch. I was completely spent, had no appetite and little sleep, but I managed to have a few slices of watermelon and I began to return to life. We suited up our gear again and continued on a more gradual descent now until we finally arrived at the night’s camp at 5pm.

That day tallied 15 hours of trekking, 4,000 ft. of climbing, and close to 10,000 ft. of descent. Now that it is over, I think it was worth it, for the sights and the experience and the sense of accomplishment, but I cannot imagine choosing to do that again. At least not for a very, very long time.

We had one last day of descent back to the bottom. It was another knee-pounding day of rock steps, but it somehow felt like a relief after the previous day. We were back in the jungles again and there were more monkeys high in the trees around us. They were welcoming sights and, despite the hardships, I was still sad to be going. We reached the bottom and were shuttled back to our hotel where we were presented with a Certificate of Accomplishment and spent the afternoon enjoying a celebratory beer (Kilimanjaro beer, of course).

Beer: the solution to life's pains.  The knees especially.

Beer: the solution to life’s pains. The knees especially.

And if you are considering a visit yourself, hurry up! The glacier on top is shrinking rapidly and is expected to be completely gone by about the year 2020. The glacier at dawn is one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen and a picture does it little justice.

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Check Out Our Moving Pictures!

Chris has been hard at work putting together some of our Galapagos video clips. In case you ever wanted to see Albotrosses beak fighting in preparation for mating or me getting chased by a baby sea lion now is your chance! You can check them out here. There will be more videos to come so check back to see what else we have been up to.

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Weekend fun in Malawi

Lakeside Anniversary

Lakeside Anniversary

Written by Chris

While we were in Malawi, we had a few weekends free while we weren’t volunteering for the good of mankind and we took off from our main base for a few excursions. Getting around Malawi is actually incredibly easy and it usually goes something like this. You head out to the road (there is usually only one unless your town is lucky enough to be at a crossroads) and you stand on the correct side where traffic is going in the direction you want to go. Within about 5 minutes, a minibus will come by and usually stop for you, whether you flag them down or not, since they are always desperate for business. You tell them how far you want to go, pay, and they always make sure to tell you when to get off (so they have room to fit in another fare). Eventually, you end up in the town you want to be in for a rather reasonable price.

Lake Malawi

Our first weekend just so happened to be our first wedding anniversary (congrats, honey!) so we decided to have a nice getaway to the resort area of Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. Malawi is a long country and Lake Malawi lies along most of its eastern border with Mozambique. Cape Maclear is towards the southern end and was “discovered” and named by none other than Dr. David Livingstone himself. The area is rich in wildlife and was protected, first, as a national park of Malawi, and later it became a UNESCO world heritage site. Its also a nice place for a swim.

We checked into a nice beachside resort in our own grass-roofed bungalow and settled in. There was not much to do nearby besides lounging around on the beach, and we were more than content to do just that. We discovered a nice beach drink, the Pineapple Fanta and Malawi Rum (drink name pending) and spent the evenings trying to watch the sunset over the lake. The astute reader will now notice that the lake is on the east side of the country yet we watched the sunset over it towards the west. After watching it set twice, this troubling fact occurred to us as well. A glance at a map upon our return revealed that we were out on the west side of the cape looking out over an arm of the lake. Whew, the rotation of the earth had not reversed.

On our anniversary proper, we chartered a boat to take us out to one of the islands in the lake for the afternoon. An interesting character named Solomon accompanied us as our guide. Though the area is a protected national park and heritage site, there are still many indigenous people who lived there before the park was created and still call it home. They live on the shore and use the lake for all their water needs including cooking, cleaning (clothes, pots, their bodies), fishing, and likely other unmentionable activities. This leaves the water on the shore quite cloudy and unappealing, to say the least. However, out on the island, the lake was brilliantly crystal clear.

Fishes, you cannot hide from me in this clean, clean water!

Fishes, you cannot hide from me in this clean, clean water!

We spent our day swimming around and snorkeling with the brightly colorful tropical fishies. Solomon prepared us a fantastic lunch over a campfire of grilled local fish, kapango, rice, and tomato sauce. We spent some time lounging in the sun and chatting with Solomon, whose number of children seemed to keep growing the more he learned that we weren’t going to donate more money to him than we already did for the (slightly overpriced) day tour. We soon packed up and headed back to the mainland with a bit of sunburn and some full bellies.

Holy S___! This just happened!

Holy S___! This just happened!

One nice thing about Malawi are the frequent power outages. On this occasion, it allowed us to have a nice, candlelit anniversary dinner overlooking the beach. It was a wonderful way to spend our anniversary, a cool and relaxing break from our time in Balaka, and just a little bit too short before we had to head back.

The Shire River

For our next act, a week later we headed east to the Shire river where there are several more resorts including the famed Hippo View Lodge. I was at first very excited that we were going to The Shire and thought I might find a hobbit, but I later learned it was pronounced “SHE-ray” and got sad, but THEN I learned that Mr. JRR Tolkien had visited Malawi and likely used the name of the river for his books! It was the actual Shire. But still I saw no hobbits just hippos.

We first checked out the Hippo View. It was a grand place with sprawling grounds along the river, a fantastic outdoor dining deck, an array of life-sized plaster African animals, and seemingly hundreds of rooms. It had a feel of 1960’s elegance, like parts of Fremont street in Las Vegas, that it was THE place to be 50 years ago, but that things have not changed much there since. However, the prices have come up to date and then some. When we found we could stay at the place next door for 1/10th the price, we decided to live without the plaster gorilla and save a few (hundred) bucks. The place we did stay is actually in the running for our cheapest nightly stay and it was a private bungalow with a bathroom AND hot water. The luxury!

Despite not staying there, we still managed to make full use of their amenities. We spent our days hanging out there and had most of our meals there. When we first arrived, we headed straight to the water and, true to its name, we immediately viewed a hippo surface and then disappear into the river. Again, there was not much to do in the area, so we spent our time eating while looking out over the river, sitting with drink-in-hand looking out over the river, or walking through the gardens along the river while looking out over it.

Lunchtime at the Hippo View.  Though we couldn't see him directly, we heard him snorting while we ate. Charming

Lunchtime at the Hippo View. Though we couldn’t see him directly, we heard him snorting while we ate. Charming

One night, for a change, we decided to head over to the resort across the river from the Hippo View. It looked much nicer, newer, and bigger so we walked over the bridge to give it a try. When we entered the gate, we were stopped by two guys who told us it was reserved for a private function. This whole huge resort was rented out by an NGO to celebrate something or other. So this is where all the aid money is going into Malawi.

We found ourselves back at the Hippo View and we had another nice candlelit dinner thanks to Malawi’s unpredictable infrastructure and listened to the hippos snorting out in the river. A nice way to wrap up the weekend.

View the hippos.  View them!

View the hippos. View them!

And, believe it or not, that’s all the excursion time we had in Malawi the whole month. The other weekends were spent in transit. We had a great time in the spots we hit up and it was great to get away from superhot and dusty Balaka, but we certainly would have liked to see more; the other nearby cities and the mountains to the south in particular. We’ll swing by next time we’re in the neighborhood.

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The Malawi Volunteer Experience

Written by Chris

We had never really set our plans for how we wanted to spend the rest of our time in Africa, though we had had the idea of volunteering in mind. We happened upon a good-looking organization that we thought were doing some cool things. They did happen to be in Malawi, a country we had not originally planned on visiting, but we thought we would give it a whirl. So after we finished in Victoria Falls, we soon found ourselves in Balaka, Malawi for a month-long volunteer experience.

Malawi is one of the poorer countries in Africa and in the world as a whole. Though it has remained remarkably conflict-free, they have had serious problems with drought and famine, AIDS, corruption, and all the usual issues that Africa is dealing with. In other words, it is a great-looking candidate for foreign aid and the bulk of their activity is putting that money to use through a plethora of NGO’s (non-governmental organizations).

We got hooked up to an NGO that we found through a reputable African volunteers website, the director was very responsive to our emails, and they were doing some work that sounded exciting to us; environmental management, women’s rights, schools, and HIV/AIDS work. And they didn’t have the exorbitant “volunteering fees” that many other organizations seemed to have.

Things got off to a good start. We met the rest of the staff at their office and they couldn’t have been friendlier to us or more welcoming. On the first day we wrote out an “action plan” of our activities to be reviewed by the program manager and then the director (as a former British colony, they certainly retained some of their beloved bureaucracy). Our first week or so, we would shadow the workers on their field visits so we could get a sampling of the work that was being done. We would see the tree plantings and fish ponds, the empowering women group, the early childhood development centers, school construction, and the HIV/AIDS community groups. Afterwards, we would decide what project we would like to get more deeply involved with and spend our remaining time on that. At least that was the plan.

Things got derailed immediately when there was a major meeting with the city council to present project proposals that week and the entire office was absorbed with preparations. We got to attend the meeting, it was an incredibly formal affair with dreaded powerpoints, but they seemed happy with the results. After the meeting, we were geared up to get to work, but we learned that there was a major grant proposal due in 2 days. All work was again focused but we did get a bit of a chance to help with proofreading and our native English-speaking skills came in handy. With that complete and submitted, finally on Friday of that first week we made it out on a field visit. We observed one of their early childhood development programs for a bit of the afternoon. It took place in a small, one-room building with about 30 kids aged 2-5 years and 3 volunteer instructors. They sang songs, had a snack, played outside and did what kids do. It was a nice visit.

Geared up for our daily commute

Geared up for our daily commute

The next week, we found ourselves back in the office, trying to keep busy. The director promised to have me do a bit of website work during our downtime, but he never managed to get the password for their site. Mindy had a bit of work helping to review grant proposals, but with the always unreliable power in Malawi, she and the rest of the office were rarely getting any work done. We did make it in on another field visit in the middle of the week to sit in on a meeting with a local community group working to fight violence against women. It was quite a lively affair compared to the meetings I’m used to.

The meeting started out with a song. In fact, here, they can’t seem to form a committee of any kind without first writing a theme song to sing at their gatherings. I think that is an idea worth spreading. They then put on a skit (or “drama” as they call it) demonstrating a situation where violence against women can occur. Dramas also turned out to be a common occurrence at community meetings. There was then a bit of a roundtable discussion about issues and how to address them. The whole thing was wrapped up with a much more substantial song performance featuring dancing, drums, and a sing-along. There was no Powerpoint. It was a good meeting.

Getting down to business. This is a typical scene in a community meeting where they often share their objectives in song and dance form.

Getting down to business. This is a typical scene in a community meeting where they often share their objectives in song and dance form.

Aside from the one visit, not much else was going on that week and we were mostly hanging around the office. The next week, we had a chat with our director about the lack of work and the deviation from the “action plan”. We gave them a break for the first week with all the business, but we were not able to do much the second week despite the promises and we didn’t want to be wasting our time there if they didn’t need us. We made some plans for a few more field visits that week and things seemed to be getting back on track. Except they didn’t

The third week proceeded much as the last. Employees headed out on field visit without us and we tried to keep busy in the office without electricity. We were getting a lot more promises with no follow-through. Told we would get picked up for a project at 8am; no show. Promised we could work on a new project tomorrow; it had been idled since the funds were used up. We were told they were so happy to have us there to share our experience but they had absolutely no willingness to use it.

We were getting acclimated to the pace of life in Africa. It wasn’t just the two of us that weren’t working much. There were some who seemed to sit around the office most days. Literally just sit, in a chair, the entire day, not even really chatting or anything, just sitting. Naps were common. Someone was almost always out on the porch for a break, and when we asked when the next thing was happening, we were usually told, “later, later”. This seemed to be the way of things in this organization. And in this country. And on this continent. This was turning out to be a real learning experience and not in the way we were expecting.

We did manage to tag along on a few more of the field visits and see a few more things, but we did little else besides observe. There were a few visits to their school project and we did get to attend their big ceremony where they passed out donated bicycles to some members of the community. The organization is doing many good things for the community but not nearly to the level that they seem to be representing themselves. It is hard to blame them, though, as the problem seems to be deeply embedded in the culture. In the constant pursuit of more and more grant money, accomplishments get inflated to their maximum possible extent, on and on, continuously. The reality of what we experienced was far removed from how it had been described to us in advance.

The great bike project. Our NGO secured funds to provide bicycles for many members of the community to get themselves around.

The great bike project. Our NGO secured funds to provide bicycles for many members of the community to get themselves around.

During our help with some of the grant proposals, it was frightening to see how much grant money was coming in and how little there was to show for it. They are very good at stating “we have accomplished X, Y, and Z with the funds you gave us,” but in reality they have only accomplished half of X and seem to be living in a fantasy world where things got done. It was mind boggling; as though they believed the lie.

Our month in Malawi was frustrating but it was also extremely enlightening. We got a peek into the reality of many of the struggles being faced in Africa. It no longer looks to me, as I’m sure many outside see it, like we can just throw in a bit more money and a few more non-profits and shape things up. We are facing a culture where those in charge feel they are entitled to a cut of any money that passes by them, where business owners feel that if they are able shake any more money out of a transaction by any dishonest means necessary then they are entitled to it, and where there are no rewards visible for hard work and so most people work hardly at all. There is a reason I chose to work in an easy field like laser science. These are some tough problems to go up against.

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Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

IMG_7192The famous Dr. Livingstone. From the moment we stepped out of South Africa (where Nelson Mandela rightfully rules the land) till our last day in Tanzania, the number one person we heard about was Dr. Livingstone. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania all laid claim to him and it is easy to see why. While I had obviously heard the line “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” and knew that he was a famous explorer,  who seemed to have a penchant for getting lost, what I didn’t know was how huge a role he played in ending slavery in Southeast Africa and even in leading the charge for African Independence movements. While no one can actually say where the famous line was spoken, Victoria Falls lays claim to it on a rock near the falls.

Well this post is about 2 months late in coming and while we can definitely blame part of it on the internet, it’s mostly our own laziness. To be honest our trip through Africa was exhausting and until we removed ourselves from the stress, it’s been a bit difficult to reflect and write. Over the next week(s?) we will get caught up with posts about the travel (oh the “buses”), our time volunteering in Malawi as well as our time in Tanzania, and even a bit about getting swindled. It’s been an exhilarating and exhausting journey and now that we are gone, all I can say is thank goodness and when can we go back?

So let’s go back two months to Chris and my leaving South Africa. Cape Town was this super sophisticated, almost European city (at least according to Chris since I have never been to Europe). However, then we left the city and things definitely got interesting. We had done our research, read everything we could, and talked to a lot of people, but still one’s first time travelling and hanging out in Southern Africa, is going to be a shock. There is just no way around it. The infrastructure is almost non-existent, the cultures are all wonderfully different, nothing is as you expect it, and EVERYTHING, is just a bit more difficult than you think it’s going to be.


During our travels through Africa we have broken down on a train, bus, car, and even a boat!

Chris and I had had a great time in Cape Town, spent a few days in Johannesburg, and headed out of South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Chris will fill in with more details about the travel part but let’s just say getting to Victoria Falls, our next stop, involved Chris getting pooped on by a bird at 2am at a border crossing and meeting one of the most wonderful and helpful ladies of our trip. (Her story was also amazing. Her mother had been widowed when she and her four siblings were very young and her mother had supported them by importing goods between South Africa and Zimbabwe. This meant she took buses basically 20 hours in each direction. As Chris and I can attest to that is one exhausting trip, fraught with perils such as broken down buses and cops who need to be bribed. But her mom put them all through school and her sister is now an engineer, who unfortunately can barely find work since Zimbabwe is so under-developed, and two of her other siblings are professionals in Scotland and I believe England. Her youngest brother is now in University and plans to be a lawyer. She was a really wonderful lady and reminded us that sometimes trusting people and letting them help you is a good thing.)


Sunrise in Zimbabwe.

We arrived in Victoria Falls to find a town that is full of tourism without the tourist infrastructure. Scary roads, terrible Internet, no phones (seriously just needed to call freaking Comcast, oh the horror that is Comcast), and very little to do other than very expensive, extreme sports (i.e. bungee jumping). Plus there was a UN conference going on so the place was packed.


The town’s Baboon colonies definitely rule the roost. Traffic constantly has to stop for them and the poor shopkeepers are forever having to clean up after the messes they make.

The first night we arrived, after 36 ours of bus travel, we were exhausted. We actually ended up getting in a night before we meant to, thanks to the most wonderful lady in the world, but due to the conference, there were no private rooms available and we ended up in a four-person dorm. Which to us was no big deal. We met our one roommate, a nice enough guy who didn’t speak much, and went to bed as early as we did. However, the other guy was never there and after we fell asleep the weirdness started. First, this guy kept barging in the room, flipping on the lights (major no-no in a dorm, if your roommates are asleep, use your flashlight) and then disappearing. One of us would get up, turn the lights back off, and shut/relock the door. He was obviously drunk (the UN crowd was definitely partying) and I was getting super pissed though Chris was just sleeping through it (seriously snored through most of this).

However, than it got worse. He came pounding back into the room (probably about 1am?) again only to I guess notice Chris and I for the first time. He and the other guy had taken the bottom two bunks and we were on the tops. He wakes up the other guy (not sure if they were friends?) and starts yelling at him about how there is a guy (Chris) in his bed. Saying the same thing over and over, “there is a guy in my bed”. He storms out, our roommate turns off the light, locks the door, only to have the guy storm back in. “There is a guy in my bed” and storms out again. Next time the drunk guy comes back, he can’t get his key to work and starts pounding on the door. I refuse to answer it (hoping he will just go pass out on the couch) and Chris just keeps sleeping. After about five minutes our roommate lets him in. The guy this time goes straight up to Chris and starts berating him about how he is in his bed, over and over again. Chris finally wakes up and sleepily, and obviously having no idea what is going on, just starts saying no this is my bed.  I however, roll over and start going at it with this guy, (shocking my red-headed temper got the best of me), telling him this is a four-person room and he will have to talk to management in the morning, as Chris and I are not leaving. We go back and forth over and over again and finally he says, I am sleeping in my car and storms off again. The other guy is apologizing to us (I think he felt guilty since he was from the same African country as the drunk guy) and we thought it was the end of it. However, the drunk guy once more came in, flipping on all the lights to apologize. Seriously, I appreciate an apology but not at 4am when I finally get back to sleep. It was also lovely to walk back into our room the next morning to him in the process of changing. Obviously has no idea how a hostel works.

So that was our first night. Luckily we got a private room the night after and things started getting a lot better. The town turned out to be okay with some decent restaurants and the falls were absolutely spectacular. We spent a day exploring the park they are in and I have to say I have never seen anything like it. Victoria Falls is over a mile long and just beautiful. The locals call them Mosi-oa-Tunya or the “the smoke that thunders” and they can shoot mist 100s of feet into the air. Sometimes out of nowhere it was like it was raining or a beautiful rainbow would flash for an instant. It was definitely fabulous. IMG_7208

I absolutely loved that the falls felt almost untouched. It’s a National Park so unlike Niagara Falls where you are surrounded by casinos, here you are just surrounded by the lush forest the mists cause in the middle of the otherwise dry grasslands. As an added bonus, thanks to Zimbabwe not being the foremost enforcer of safety, you can go and sit right up on the edge of the gorge. As Chris and I have no fear of heights we loved sitting there with our feet dangling over the 350-foot drop.

IMG_7234             IMG_7242

The other amazing thing we did was take “high tea” at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Victoria Falls had originally been a major resort area for British colonizers and the Victoria Falls Hotel was and is the place to stay. (Even the Queen stayed there!) While we definitely couldn’t afford a night we decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity for an afternoon of fanciness. The elegant food was delicious and the setting divine. It was so easy to imagine hundreds of years ago, women in hoop skirts swishing around, while elephants and warthogs lumbered nearby.


IMG_7328 IMG_7329


Victoria Falls was also our first introduction to African wildlife. There were baboons and warthogs running around town (do NOT walk around with food, baboons are mean and huge!) and while we actually only saw one elephant during a nature cruise, the evidence of them was everywhere. One night Chris even woke me up to hear elephants that were outside our hostel thumping through the trees and calling to one another. I have to say it was definitely one of the moments where you can’t believe you ever thought about staying home.


Evidence that elephants do exist.

During our nature cruise we also saw a ton of hippos and met a Zimbabwean man who knew more about American politics (and political scandals) than my poli-sci professor in college. Seriously made me feel guilty since I couldn’t even have told you who the Zimbabwean president was. (It’s Robert Mugabe by the way.) It was fascinating hearing what he thought about our country, as well as learning about the horrid challenges he is facing as a professional in a very under-developed country where jobs are scarce, resources are non-exist, and the government probably just doesn’t care and may be exploiting you.

IMG_7428Did you know that while hippos are vegetarian they are one of the largest killers of humans in the world? They actually kill more people (they are super territorial) than sharks or crocodiles!

After the rough start it actually turned out to be an awesome and educational couple of days filled with cool people and awesome sights. I have to say every time I start to get really sick of the trials of backpacking, something happens or we meet someone who reminds me of just why we are doing this and not home in our own quiet, comfy bed. (It really seems to be that the more horrid the bus ride, the more awesome the people we meet. And for some reason night buses are the best for this.)


After a couple days at Victoria Falls, Chris and I headed on to Malawi via Zambia. Unfortunately at this time I came down with a cold/flu and can’t remember much. However, Chris will be sure to fill you in, in the next couple days.

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Asia bound

The sun is setting in Stone Town, Zanzibar

The sun is setting in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Written by Chris

Two continents down, and two to go. Today we are reluctantly leaving the beautiful island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania in Africa to head to Nepal. Our months in Africa have been a truly illuminating experience but we are ready to move on. This time, we only have 4 flight segments taking us to our destination but we managed to do it on 3 different tickets. Lucky us!

We’ll see you in Asia!

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