A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

Johannesburg, South Africa

Most people did not recommend coming here, but...

sunny 80 °F

We had mixed feelings about going to Johannesburg (or Jo-burg as the locals call it). Everything we read online and everyone we met advised against it because of crime and nothing much to do there. We decided to give it a shot and found a great deal for renting a flat in Standton. The Standton mall at Nelson Mandela Square was reminiscent of LA with its flashy people and shops. It would have been completely awkward a year ago to be walking around in such a fancy place with our backpacking packs, but apparently we’ve gained some courage since being on this trip.

On the bus ride from Botswana we drove past a few townships and shanty towns outside of Johannesburg. It was comforting to be heading to a nicer part of town but there was an eerie feel to the whole city. There wasn’t a house without bars on the windows and big walls around the property topped with rows of electric fencing. The apartment complex we stayed in had a really big park like backyard and over our first bottle of S.African wine, it made us wonder how all the neighborhood cats and birds survived without getting electrocuted on the daily!

When it comes to tourism, Jo-burg could use an overhaul. We kept our itinerary short, visiting the Apartheid Museum for some history and the Carlton Center for a 360 degree view of the city. The views were nice, but it was a shame that they neglected washing the windows or adding any up to date information regarding the skylines that you could see.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:09 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Gaborone, Botswana

Escaping the capital

sunny 90 °F

We spent a few days with Vermz in Gaborone prior to his epic 60-hour journey back to SF and then headed out to a backpackers near the Mokolodi Reserve for some R&R. Gaborone was fun, they have a great minibus system and was a mixed bag of fancy malls and African souvenir stands.

We spent an evening doubling down at the Palm Resort casino and got lucky on the roulette table. It was just another day in Africa when the dealer paid Vermz for his blackjack and then a second time (by mistake) for having a winning hand!

Although where we stayed by Mokolodi was super comfy and more like a resort than a backpackers, the Mokolodi Reserve was a bit of a bummer and we wouldn’t recommend anyone heading out there. The reserve advertises bike safaris and night drive safaris but don’t actually have any bikes, and don’t have any predators to see at night. So we just relaxed in our banda and used the time to plan the next phase of our trip.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:53 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Camping Safari, Botswana

Chobe, Savuti, Moremi, Okavango Delta, and the Makgadikgadi Pans

sunny 85 °F

To summarize our safari briefly, it was AMAZING! We saw so many different animals each day that we couldn’t remember them all! Despite it being about two weeks into rainy season the weather was great, our guide, Max, was extremely knowledgeable as well as hilarious. We completed our spotting of the Big Five and more importantly learned about the Little Five! We met up with Max in Kasane and then took the jeep on game drives through the parks, camping along the way. Our route finished in Nata, and looked like this:

Sleeping in the wild was quite the experience. While setting up camp, we’d watch elephants walking by and then hear them at night in watering holes 300m from our tent that sounded like they were just outside. Max was an excellent tracker; we’d follow the fresh animal tracks from the night before to find game on the morning drive. We noticed a lot of people wearing ‘proper’ story book safari outfits (think Tin Tin comics and the guy with the dome hat), and asked Max if anyone came dressed in camo gear with camo face paint before. He said we were the first and probably the last :)

The safari company also sent us an ex-chef (KB) who completely blew our expectations away with the quality of food he made. He would even bake us fresh bread on the camp fire!

We spent New Year’s Eve in a small town called Maun… it made for quite a tough early morning New Year’s Day flight over the Okavango Delta.

After Max dropped us off in Nata, we made our way to Francistown and Gaborone for a little Botswana city life. We put a few of our highlights of our trip with Verm together in a movie that is about 9 minutes long, but well worth the viewing! The safari footage starts at 3:30 into the video.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:10 Archived in Botswana Comments (2)

Livingstone, Zambia

An adrenalin filled Christmas

all seasons in one day 89 °F

Livingstone is like Disneyland for adrenalin junkies, and we tried to pack in as many activities as possible within our four day visit. We had such a packed schedule it was hard to remember that it was Christmas, however a kind visit to our hostel from a kid’s choir and a lunch feast at a nearby orphanage reminded us to be thankful for what we have.

On our full day of class five rafting, the fun started straight away in the first rapid when ‘someone’ forgot the ‘hold on’ part of the guide’s command and a huge wave sent him like a linebacker straight into Kevin.

Who knew that you could grab a lion’s tail while he was walking without him even noticing! We spent a morning with Simba (white lion) and Nala (brown lioness) and our favorite cheetah in the whole world, Pablo. Although the lion is one of the most feared predators of the Africa, it turns out that they are quite lazy creatures. In fact, getting them to walk at all was quite a feat!

Pedro was like an over-sized house cat with an extremely loud purr and a tongue that couldn’t get enough of licking our arms.

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River upstream of the falls with some great views of hippos, crocs and the sunset. Then we went to Victoria Falls with some of our new friends. We signed up for the walking trip to Devil’s Pool where we were told we could swim in a pool right on the edge of the falls. What we weren’t told was that we would wade through a knee deep rushing river for 1 ½ hours to get there. The journey was long and strenuous but well worth it!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:48 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Lusaka, Zambia

The new and the old Africa

Lusaka is the capital of Zambia, and thus it has several tall buildings and some developed areas. There are parts of the city where we felt as though we were back home, like when we were watching the Hobbit in the new 3D cinema at the Levy shopping mall where there is a hot light for fresh donuts… and then there were other parts of the city where we jumped puddles on dirt roads through crazy markets and came face to face with enormous amounts of poverty. It was here where we saw people sifting through piles and piles of used T-shirts from abroad. . . we probably even saw your old middle school basketball championship shirt!

We were so happy to meet up with our good friend Hossein (aka Vermz) in Lusaka after his daunting 37 hour journey to come visit us. He came fully prepared for our upcoming safari with a 64 ounce camouflaged liquor flask with matching hats and Christmas cookies from Kevin’s mom. We headed straight for some fish, nshima (similar to masa or tamale) and Mosi, the local ale.

Northmead is an area packed with clubs and street vendors selling cartons of what they call ‘Shake Shake’ which is a thick mixture of fermenting maize that according to the label is +/- 10% ABV. Every morning we’d see piles and piles of empty Shake Shake cartons, so one night we had to give it a try before going in... btw, the clubs here have mirrors all along the dance floor so that you can dance with yourself!

After years of cutting his own hair, Kevin thought he knew everything there was to know about buzz cuts. Au contrair mon frère... notice how the barber in the video is going with the grain of Kevin's hair! Apparently he hasn’t had much experience with Mazunga (white folks) hair and made for an interesting final cut.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:03 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Lower Zambezi River, Zambia

Hippos in the heat

sunny 90 °F

Africa wilderness trips are not a great place for backpackers on a budget because safaris and staying out in the jungle are typically paired with luxury accommodation. Luckily, we found a resort on the Lower Zambezi River that offered both 5 star accommodation and 0 star camping! In order to reach the camp, we took a mini bus from Lusaka to the Zimbabwe border and then jumped on a speed boat.

The ride to the resort was basically a river safari since we stopped to view hippos, birds, dugout canoes and a big elephant! We reserved a basic camping tent for the week but because there weren’t many people at the resort we were upgraded to a luxury tented cabin.

The river was filled with wildlife; we had monkeys, ginnea faul and big 5 foot ‘lizards’ strolling around camp. It was the beginning of rainy season but it didn’t affect us much other than making for some amazing skylines and sunsets. There were lots of available activities including canoe, boat safaris and sunset cruises. We managed to see more hippos than we could count, tons of elephants, a few crocodiles and lots of birds!

We spent most of our time hanging out by the pool, catching up on our blog, reading, and playing scrabble. We also went for walks to nearby villages and were greeted by lots of young children who were eager to say hello to us. Besides the fact that we couldn’t actually go into the water because of the tiger fish and crocs, it was fun have our meals overlooking the wildlife do its thing. The most hilarious thing we saw was a hippo walking along the river side and then plop/slide down a 10foot drop to the water!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:33 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Jinja, Uganda

The Source of the Nile

sunny 85 °F

We went to Jinja for our last few days in Uganda to raft the Nile and to relax with our new friends that we met volunteering. We rafted a total of 8 big rapids, and managed to stay in the boat for just 3 of them.

There were only 4 of us paddlers in the raft plus our onboard guide, followed by a crew of 3 kayakers, a photographer, and a full sized safety raft. We thought this was a little overkill, but we soon realized that class 5 rafting in Africa is a little bit different. The first thing we did was go over a few safety precautions to the eerie bubbling of a puncture in the raft just below Kevin’s feet. Then, instead of paddling through the rapids we were told to “get down and hold on.” On the second rapid, we both hesitated a little when the get down command was called, and we instantly fell out of the boat.

As we walked through the busy market looking for the bus stand, it was really strange to hear the locals blasting old school Xmas carols in the dusty dirty African roads. We moved from town to spend a few nights along the water at Nile River Camp where we learned how to play the harmonica, make leg dreads and drink sambuca from an old raft paddle.

On the radio we listened to talk shows speak of western aid. The DJs were telling people to quit expecting western aid money and instead get up and work harder. They were amazed with how the US and European countries continue to donate their hard earned wages to countries like Zambia where over and over the corruption in the government wastes it away on huge birthday parties and other personal items.

We couldn’t have asked for a better trip through Uganda and savored our last dip into the Nile via rope swing.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:39 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Ruhanga, Uganda

Countryside community development

sunny 25 °F

We volunteered for a week in a small community program started and run by one of the local village members. In six years with the help of other volunteers, Denis has built a community school, a fresh water source and a bunch of other goodies including gardens, a women’s craft group and a computer club. The school is the main attraction and is located in the beautiful Kigezi Highlands west of Mbarara in a place called Ruhanga. It was quite the trip to get out there from Kampala and on our way there our bus was continually boarded by men selling big sticks of what looked like plastic meat, but smelled amazing. A few times these venders didn’t get off the bus in time and were stuck on board for kilometers at a time.

Since we were at the school during their holiday break, there were not many students around, but there were still chores to do. In the mornings we would milk the cows with Frank and then clean and paint the school rooms.

In the afternoons we’d grade the land and save the orange trees! An orange grove was recently started and the trees were young and overgrown with weeds… but even Ugandan weeds weren’t tough enough to survive the Kevin and Robin gardening combo.

We worked with a really fun group of people from the UK who really made the evenings fun. There was something special about playing camp fire games and drinking liquor from plastic bags!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:14 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Kampala, Uganda

Welcome to the jungle

We spent a few days around Kampala acclimatizing to Uganda. It was complete mayhem downtown with every street packed with vendors and people going every which way. It only took a few minutes to realize that the people in Uganda are extremely friendly. This totally made our day, contrasting to the unrest we felt in Egypt, we were now able to talk freely and openly to the locals. The city of Kampala itself was an adventure to walk around, kind of like a big game of Frogger. We quickly learned that the matatus (mini buses) claimed right of way without slowing for pedestrians. As you can see, the main matatu stand had plenty of options for adventure...

Just out of downtown we stayed near Soya Stage on Konge Rd where the neighborhood was full of bars all playing a mashup of African and pop music. The fish and posho (corn flour mixed and cooked into what looks like mashed potatoes) was amazing and so was our first sampling of Uganda’s beer (which was a real treat since we had just spent 25 days in Muslim countries). It’s a fun place to visit, but just don’t go there expecting to have any meaningful conversation since the neighboring bars crank up the volume in competition.

One day we headed out to KK Beach, which turned out to not have a beach at all! Instead there was a tiny little village with ‘cute’ places to eat fish on the banks of Lake Victoria. There was a cement boat landing for fishermen to sell their catch, but sadly the water was a scary green color that made swimming not an option. We jumped on board a boat full of locals and headed out across the lake. We didn’t have a clue where we were going and there was quite a scene when we arrived at a shoreline they called the ‘Miami of Uganda.’

Downtown Kampala is basically one big market with everything being sold on the streets and in small labyrinths of venders. On the flip side there is an area of big glamorous hotels and shopping centers. It is here where you will find mazungas (white folks) pushing shopping carts around large shopping isles. Some might have been preparing for their trip into the jungle to see the world’s only dwindling population of mountain gorillas, or maybe heading out to Jane Goodall’s island chimp foundation, but we were preparing to head into a different kind of jungle, a small village with a school full of little kids!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:04 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

Hey Tourist!!!

Being a tourist in Egypt

It is sad that the largest industry in Egypt is tourism, yet, to be a tourist in Egypt is one of the most frustrating experiences. In all of our travels Egypt wins the prize for “The Worst Place to Visit.” Egypt is so backwards from our understanding of tourism that for example you don’t hail a taxi when you want one… every taxi that passes by will hail you! “Salem” is a form of saying hello in Egypt, the literal translation is peace. Sadly, this is the last thing that you will find in Egypt.

Here is a list of a couple of things that might make you chuckle, but when they occur more than 10 times per day, well, let’s just say they have a huge potential to bring out the worst in even the nicest of people.

1. “My friend, take my fast boat, you know the price? – Just 5 pounds.”
TRANSLATION: The ferry is safe, reliable and only 1 pound per person. You should instead pay me 5 times as much to take my poorly maintained boat to one of my island shops on the way.

2. “Looking is free, no hassle!”
TRANSLATION: Come into my shop so I can point out every item in the shop to you and make you feel really uncomfortable when leaving without paying anything.

3. “Hello my friend, where are you from?!”
TRANSLATION: For the next 5 minutes I will walk next to you in an attempt to sell you something that you probably aren’t interested in.

4. “Hey, Cassanova, two wives!!”
TRANSLATION: A man is walking next to two females, thus he must have two wives because it is unheard of to have any other kind of relations with a female.

5. “Hello, Money?!”
TRANSLATION: This is a young child who only knows two words, and practices them on every tourist.

6. “What are you looking for?”
TRANSLATION: I can help direct you away from your point of interest and into my shop for a small fee.

Traveling in Egypt on our own definitely put our patience to the biggest test yet and was quite exhausting. We would imagine that being on an organized tour would be a much different experience than exploring the streets alone, but then you’d miss out on all the free heckling!!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 00:06 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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