Tanzania: The Tarangire Edition.

It was a long drive in. As we got closer to our turn off point, we realized we needed to stop for petrol because we wouldn’t be able to get any for a couple days. The problem… There was not a petrol station anywhere in sight. We had to turn back. At this point, we were ready to kill each other. It was just one of those days… I felt Brad didn’t listen to me or think things through, so here we were rerouting, wasting time, etc. It was nothing short of classic marital nonsense.

So with our journey slightly rerouted, we searched for a petrol. We found a spot, but they didn’t accept credit cards, so we decided to check one more station… …and, naturally, they didn’t accept credit cards either.. We were at a loss and just decided to bite the bullet and fork over more of our cash. We didn’t have a choice. We were burning through our cash faster than we knew was possible. This was a major unexpected problem we were having in Tanzania.

Back on track, we followed the long dirt road back to the Wildlife Management Area which was further back than the GPS made it seem. We wondered if we were on the wrong road, but decided to press on because we had no idea where else it could be. Our perseverance paid off, and we got there around 3PM, but we were not ready for the headache that we were about to experience. Brad got out to speak to the guard who insisted that we were supposed to get our permit back in Arusha. He refused to take payment there, and told us the only way for us to get through was for us to go back to Arusha for the permit. We were flabbergasted, given our experience at Lake Moshi, where the man took our cash without hesitation. NOTE: I wonder if the man at Lake Moshi, just pocketed it…  We wondered, could this day get anymore frustrating?

Young WarriorWe waited patiently as possible, and Brad insisted the man call our hotel to work out the details. After constant back and forth phone calls, the manager of our next hotel worked out a deal wit the guard that the hotel would pay for the permit, and it would be delivered the following day by a colleague in Arusha, but the guard had to let us through. He agreed. NOTE: Thankfully, this time wasn’t totally in vain; the silver lining to this mess of a situation was the pictures I was able to get of the Young Maasai boy dressed in his warrior costume. I was able to trade these photos for a bottle of water 1000 Tanzanian Shillings.

Finally past the gate, feeling agitated and simultaneously relieved, we pressed on. We thought we made it through all the obstacles for the day, and were finally ready to dropped our bags, relax, and unwind so that we could enjoy tomorrow. Unfortunately, an even bigger obstacle lay in our way. A river. IMG_1871-2I wish it were a joke, but it’s not. At this point, swear words were flying from my mouth, and we were feelng defeated and disheartened. We could literally see our hotel on top of the cliff across the river. We were envisioning the worst, such as a night without dinner and breakfast and sleeping in our car. Quickly, I tried to pull it together and plan. We got out of the car to try to examine the depth, thinking it might not be as bad as it looked. I was throwing in rocks the size of my head and sure enough it was a hard plop and they were gone… Brad volunteered to wade in and see how deep it was, but I was strongly advising against it because if I lost him to the river, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had seen a sign for a hotel a little ways back and decided we should head there to try to call our hotel. We did just that, however, we hit another snag. IMG_1874When we pulled into the parking lot, we were dumbfounded. The place had burned down (I am cracking up while I write this, by the way). Was this situation real, we were wondering. It was straight out of bad dream. Brad took the lead, and headed to speak to the workers who were working on rebuilding the place. They sent for the manager, while Brad and I waited restlessly for about 15 minutes. We still hadn’t heard from anyone so Brad wandered off in search of someone who could help us. Finally, two people came over, and we were able to explain our dilemma. They tried to call our hotel, and while this was going on some of the construction workers ran off to the river to check the depth. We followed along in our 4×4 with the hotel management in the back seat.

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When we pulled back up to the river side, one of the workers was wading his way across the river. He was able to navigate all the way across on foot, and it never went past his hips, so we knew we would probably be fine. Our path was determined.

Once that man was back on our side, a car came charging down the hill to the water, and pushed its way through to us. A British chap hopped out of the vehicle and gave us the run down. He was the manager of our hotel, and came to our aid. He informed us that they had been yelling to us from the hotel, but we were never able to hear them.  Brad and I thanked the locals & hopped back in the vehicle, and followed our new guide across the river, to be led to our next restful location.  As we wandered up the hill and into the tall grass we were delighted to see elephants right by our hotel… NOTE: This meant there were rules… like, don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Stick with your Maasai guide. 

When we got there, the Tarangire River Camp, we followed our rescuer to the lobby area. We had a good chat about the river (it had appeared just a couple of days earlier because of all the rain), Tanzanian politics and tourism, and how difficult it is to do your own self-drive tour in that country,  then filled out our forms…and, next, we were ushered to our tent. The Maasai carried our bags for us, and led us down the dirt path to our little piece of heaven. We unpacked a bit and got ourselves organized before we went to wander the grounds.

IMG_1884We found our way to the viewing deck which overlooked the river we had to cross. We couldn’t believe the day we had. We were so grateful to be at camp and be able to let loose. We wanted drinks with dinner to help take the edge off, but with our cash situation being slightly dyer we kept it light. We enjoyed the incredible meal, and turned in early.

It was a great night’s sleep followed by an early morning. We were eager to get a jump-start on our day. We got our bags back to the car, and enjoyed a simple breakfast. We had to pay cash (cards weren’t accepted) for the remainder of tab which included our fee for the WMA gate and our beverages with dinner.

With everything loaded and ready to go, we were ready to cross the river again, and take on the challenges of the day. Thankfully the water level of the river had lowered over night, so navigating the water wasn’t quite as challenging.

DSC_0214.jpgWithin 20 minutes we were back at the WMA gate. Brad got out to see if we were okay to exit, but sure enough the guard would not let us through. We were beyoooond frustrated. Brad had the guard call the hotel and speak to the manager, who assured the guard that his guy was on the way with the permit. …but that still wasn’t enough. We were required to wait until the man with the permit arrived, despite showing him the proof that we paid the hotel for the permit. We discussed just going around the barrier and taking off, but we didn’t. We waited about 30 minutes, Brad kept going in and out of the office hoping the man would cave, but he was resistant. Brad contacted the man with the permit who assured him he was on his way and would be there soon… but “soon” seemed to be a loosely used term in this country. Finally, Brad called the hotel manager himself to see what his take was. His advice was exactly what we wanted to hear… just go… haha. So, we did. Brad told the guard we were leaving, quickly got back in the car, and we took off around the barrier. We were not going to keep playing the games. We had shown proof of payment and he had assurance, from multiple people, that it had been taken care of. It was out of our hands; we had to get on with our day.

Luckily, it was a short drive to Tarangire National Park. We got out of the car, had one last bathroom break, filed our paperwork, and paid the fees (they took card). We took the map and high spirits, got back in the car and went through the gate.

DSC_0543Tarangire took us completely by surprise. We were in the park for several hours. We took turns driving, and went down many differentroads in search of lions and leopards and cheetahs. That portion was all standard, but what got us was the insane amount of elephants. We saw hundreds!!! That is pretty much the only thing I even remember seeing in Tarangire: elephants. Old elephants, baby elephants, bulls, females, families, pachyderms… it was absurd. Several hours of our life were spent invading herds of elephants. I would stand out the sunroof filling, photographing, and of course, speaking to these beautiful, powerful, majestic animals.  There was one time we were even threatened by an elephant to back off. Don’t worry, we did.

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Thanks to you pictures, I can tell you that in addition to the elephants, we saw zebra, antelope, springbok, a variety of birds, giraffe, vervet monkeys and more. But, elephants were the only animal in the Big 5 group that we saw. Aside from the quantity of elephants we encounter, Tarangire wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we were, also only there for maybe 6 hours. I think with the right amount of time, we could of tracked more.  Here are additional images from the park:

We eventually decided that it was crucial for us to make our way out of the park, and get back on the road. We had to make our way to our next overnight location Gibb’s Farm, which sat on the exterior mountainside of Ngorongoro Crater.  It was about a 3 hour drive, and we wanted to make it in time to relax before the sun went down.

…to be continued.

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Yosemite National Park: The Tourist Edition.

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There is no point in me going on and on about our day to day visiting the main attractions of Yosemite… so, I’m just gonna hit you with the highlights and cover the various activities that are available…  Ready? Let’s do this.

Yosemite as a tourist (not a backpacker) in the month of June may be one of the most frustrating experiences I have had. Though Yosemite is very beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there… I have no desire to go back during the height of the tourist season. The place is packed!!! To the brim!!!   Hotels are booked solid, there is no parking and everywhere you look there are people…. in my opinion it defeats the purpose of being in nature…. You know what I mean?? That time to immerse yourself in God’s beautiful creation, find your center, and just unwind and relax.  If you think your time in YNP will be relaxing in June, you may be mistaken… It’s like Disneyland. …but there are no churros. Thankfully, it is more spread out, but the parking is an absolute nightmare, traffic is backed up, and the buses are maxed out with people trying to get from point A to point F, and the bus lines require waiting for possibly an hour.

So if you can go, go before kids are out of school, or when they are back in. Maybe, when it’s cold. The waterfalls may not be in their full glory, but there will be more room for you to enjoy them.  Winter, when the ground is covered in snow, also, sounds magical.

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 Here are some of the things we did while in the park.

  • latest iphone 138Walk around Yosemite Valley. We were fortunate enough to find parking outside of the Village store, which was almost as difficult as actually backpacking through the park. We headed through the shop full of souvenirs and groceries where we later picked up a variety of souvenir tees & camp cups.  The walk around was really enjoyable. In June it was quite warm, but nice to be out of the car. We walked down the bike/walking path stopped into the Ansel Adams Museum, visited the Visitor Center while we continued our walk toward Yosemite Falls. It was lovely & the oncoming mist was incredibly refreshing in the warm air. However, I was very excited to get past the falls. Once again, there were just too many people for my liking.  (I should note that I don’t thrive in crowds. They make me uncomfortable and can give me anxiety – so take my notes with a grain of salt if you are the opposite.)  We continued on our nature walk around the grounds and eventually headed back to find a place for lunch. We stopped in at the Mountain  Room Restaurant & Lounge. It’s safe to say the food was subpar in the lounge. I actually sent my chili back as it wasn’t even hot enough to melt the cheese on top. I was greatly disappointed, and instead of ordering anything else, I just nibbled off everyone else’s plates & decided to hold out for dinner at the hotel. The food my mom had gotten from the Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court when we she picked us up post-backpacking was far better, and seemed fresher. …but that also, may be because I was dying for real food when I got in the car.
  • latest iphone 177.jpgVisit The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. If you aren’t staying here already, this is a great place to stop in for lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Bar or dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room. The food is far superior to that in the valley. The interior is very cabin-tastic, historical, and interesting to wander through. The grounds are beautiful & it’s easy to walk through parts of the park from there. We found our way toward Mirror Lake across from Half Dome. We were able to wade in the water to our knees to cool down our body temperatures and shrink our feet before wandering back.

  • Explore the great Sequoias. There are 3 groves within Yosemite NP that you can explore. Tuolomne Grove ( this is the one we visited), Merced Grove, and the biggest and most famous Mariposa Grove.  These light nature hikes are a great way to get some quieter time, a little work out & time away from the crowds and, of course,  marvel at some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.

  • Just drive. See what Yosemite National Park has to offer, with miles and miles of winding roads, scenic views, and possibly some great wildlife sightings you can’t go wrong with a packed picnic lunch & a little wanderlust.

  • yosemite & cartagena 723Technically, we hiked past Vernal & Nevada Falls on the last leg of our backpacking excursion, but it’d make for a great day hike too. Be forewarned, the Mist trail is very packed. However, the closer you get to the top, the less crowded it is. The bulk of the people stop between Vernal Falls (lower) & Nevada Falls (upper) sunbathe on the flat rocks and take in the scenic views near the railings. This hike up is probably pretty tiring as it has a lot of steep steps covering the incline, but the way back down is fun. …and Vernal Falls does provide a nice cool down of mist along the way.
  • Enjoy dessert with a view. At the Mountain Room Restaurant you can sit in the dining room enjoy a sweet treat or a full meal with the possibility of watching Yosemite Falls in it’s fully glory. One of my dad’s favorite things… preferably with apple pie (they no longer serve it). latest iphone 128

There are other things that you can do while you are in the park such as climbing the rock face of El Capitan or Half Dome. You can, also, attempt the rigorous hike up Half Dome’s backside, feel free to be just an onlooker of rock climbers, get a massage at the lodge, camp in one of the camp’s campsites, day hike some of the many trails. The list probably goes on and on with things like bird-watching… but that’s the most I can come up with right now.

Hopefully this will be helpful for planning your upcoming trip to Yosemite. And hopefully you will enjoy it’s beauty as much I did… maybe even more!yosemite & cartagena 881

Yosemite National Park: The Gear Post.

With my dad being the Yosemite backpacking veteran that he is… I took note of a few things he has used in the past & sticks with now.

  1. Gregory backpack.
  2. Merrells.
  3. always bring a knife.
  4.  sleep under the stars. ( it’s not gear, but definitely requires the right gear.)

…so with that, let’s dive in.

1) The only gear requirement that Yosemite NP has is the Bear Vault. It’s not my favorite for when it comes to packing because its cylinder shape makes packing a little more difficult, but it’s a great way to keep your food safe from the critters.  …including but not limited to marmots. The BearVault BV500 Food Container is the ideal way to lock your food safely away. Note: Don’t try to put your stuff in trees… Bears climb trees.  Also, the BearVault does also come in a smaller size. You take your BearVault out of your pack at night and set it a safe distance away from your sleep sight.

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2) My dad made it clear that the best backpacks on the market for backpacking are made by Gregory. …naturally, I followed his advice. After, I received it in the mail, I had to take it into the store to get fitted properly because I kept feeling like it wasn’t fitting right. Not only did the swap out the straps for a different size, they made sure I was 100% comfortable and satisfied before leaving. TIP: the waist strap should be sitting just about over the naval on a woman (maybe a man too).

My pack was the Gregory Deva 70. A little on the large side, but did make my life a little bit easier because of having to pack the BearVault.  I was able to get everything inside, unlike my sister who was having to strap in her sleeping pad at the bottom exterior of her pack. TIP: If you are going somewhere without bears, then you could easily downsize to a smaller pack. because it’ll be a lot easier to pack without that large cylinder. 

sleeping gear3) Sleeping Bag: I’m not going to lie, a big part of why I picked my sleeping bag was the color. I banked on the fact that I would be warm enough because I’m the type of person that would rather be cold than hot when they are trying to sleep. I picked the Marmot Trestles 30 Elite Sleeping Bag. This sleeping bag was great. It is lightweight, and it was warm enough the first two nights, and I would have been fine the last night if I would have put on my pullover.  The only bummer was that the color faded quite a bit after washing it one time.

4) Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow  These are nowhere near the perfect pillow. But the small size does fit perfectly inside the top of the sleeping bag for added comfort while you snooze. 

5) Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite SV Sleeping Pad  To be honest, I don’t know if I believe that there is a perfect sleeping pad. All three of us had different pads, and all three of us kept having ours deflate. Mine didn’t fully deflate on the last night & I think it’s because I did a better job of sealing it up. However, these are very convenient for backpacking as they thy inflate & deflate easily, and also roll up small and compact. I guess do your research & read reviews before you buy to make a better informed decision than I did.

6) Tarp. We picked up a 9×12 tarp at Lowes. We were not camping in tent, but instead were allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to the elements all night long. We needed to protect our gear from the dusty ground and rocks, so a tarp was a very practical option. It was inexpensive & we were able to donate it to the hotel before the trip was over.

knife7) Pack a knife for emergencies. My dad took the liberty of hooking us up with some nice simple ones from Smith & Wesson. The Smith & Wesson HRT 9B is affordable for the non-knife enthusiast, comfortable to hold, and well balance. A great addition, with a clip on on case.

yosemite & cartagena 1148) Let’s talk water bottles. I went with my usual liter Nalgene option. I loved the color, & I like being able to see my water contents. This is a good option, but there are also water bottles that will keep your water cold for hours, which would have been nice at certain points.  HydroFlask is what my sister swears by. She even got my dad hooked on his. He takes it everywhere with him.

Also, one mistake I made was going for the smaller mouth opening on the Nalgene. This was strategic simply because I have a small mouth, so occasionally when I drink from a wider mouthed bottle, I struggle with spilling all over myself. ….However, the smaller sized made filling up the bottle more difficult.

9) Dishes & Utensils.

bowl & sporkA: Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork – Long This item was great! The extra length was great for mixing food and dishing it up out of the bags. Also, it’s a two in one which was convenient & the aluminum makes it extra light weight.

B: Sea to Summit Delta Bowl A collapsible bowls would be ideal, but after dealing with my sisters, this one was far easier to clean & was better for mixing. The cut out meant it could be clipped on to the exterior of my pack, which was great for easy access & storage.

IMG_6842C: GSI Outdoors Baked Enamelware Cup – 12 oz. This cup was the dumbest thing I bought. I bought it because I loved it. It was nostalgic & fun. It was great until it wasn’t Here’s why it’s dumb. Once we got to our hotel, we were rolling everything to our room on a luggage cart. My bag was on the top & tumbled right off as we made it into the building. The cup was clipped onto the outside of my pack & got completely smashed almost into a pancake. I was so bummed, and at the moment wished that I had been a practical shopper. There went $4.95 plus tax, and my memories. haha.

10) Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System This item was an absolute essential for cooking our hot meals. You simply boil your water & add it to your bag of food or in our case boil your Lipton Noodle Soup. The cooking rig breaks down into a nice compact form that packs quite nicely.

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11) Cooling Towel This item was a life changer. We were able to rewet at every water crossing it was a great way to keep us cooler while we were cruising through the heat of day and under the beating sun. We all agreed that this was an item we would not want to go without again.

12) Tactical Flashlight A highly recommend a strong flashlight that is compact & puts out bright light.

13) Food List: Nuts & Seeds are really convenient for a quick snack break. Granola bars, fruit snacks, tuna packs, crackers, avocados (we ate ours by day 2), pita bread for tuna sandwhichs, mustard/mayo packs. We had a collection of freeze dried food, but got very tired of it after day 2. Here is what we had… Mountain House Breakfast SkilletMountain House Beef Stroganoff with NoodleMountain House Chili Mac With Beef is all that we ate. The breakfast was very satisfying. The stroganoff was delicious, mind you I was starving and it was first dinner on the trip.  The chili mac was probably good, but my appetite was completely wrecked by night three. We were all struggling to eat.

14) Clothing: Pack wisely.

  • For instance, I chose Nike athletic leggings with a side pocket, which was great… However, I am prone to mosquito bites, and at the end of the trip, I figured out that they bit me many times straight through the pants despite covering myself in bugs pray regularly. That’s when a looser pair intended for outdoor activity would have been better for preventing the bug bites.
  • Basic tees for comfort & sweating…lots of sweating.
  • A pullover fleece.
  • Good, strong, thick socks. Smartwool makes great ones that are very comfortable, non-itchy, and durable.
  • shoesHiking Shoes. I got the Merrell Moab Waterproof Low Hiking Shoes. I loved these, they were pretty comfortable considering the circumstances, and the waterproof portion was incredibly handy considering there were several areas where we crossed rivers and creeks, so stepping in a very shallow section wasn’t an issue at all.
  • Light weight sweat pants or long johns are great for sleeping at night.

15) Necessities:

  • Space Blanket: We planned to use these if it started raining in the night. Thankfully, we didn’t have to.
  • Bug Spray: I brought a travel size. That was a mistake. Next go, I will be bringing the larger can because not only did I use this on my body, but we were using it along the edge of our tarp every night to repel the insects from our sleep site.
  • Sunblock: remember you are at a higher elevation, so will be more prone to sunburn
  • Toiletries

 

Yosemite National Park: The Backpacking Edition.

When my Dad initially brought up the idea of backpacking through Yosemite, I didn’t take it all that seriously. I wasn’t sure how committed I would be because the idea of roughing it in the wilderness was never my idea of a good time.  Eventually, though, things began to change. My dad reserved a few nights at a hotel just outside the park for all of us to stay after we backpacked through.

At this point, I had no choice but to commit. My dad had always wanted to take my sister & I backpacking in his favorite spot. He had been backpacking in Yosemite since the age of 14 (nearly 40 years!!) , and Touloumne Meadows is his favorite escape from reality.

As the dates came closer and closer, I knew there was no backing out. Thankfully, in March, during my trip through the African wilderness with Brad, I did get a little “roughing it” experience which including popping squats in the African jungle to relieve my bladder, missing entire meals, and light snacking in time of desperate hunger…. Not to mention, all those mosquitoes, which were actually worse in Yosemite.

Finally, it was prep time. We began plotting our course through the forest on our map, and shopping for our gear. We were doing back and forth trips to REI for footwear, backpacks, sleeping bags, and doing our best to take advantage of the periodic promotions to save as much as possible.

My dad kept making phone calls to the park rangers to find out about what trails were open and what was closed due to the record snowfall that they had been having last winter. He was sad to find out that the trails, Toulumne Meadows, and the roads leading to it were all closed. We had no choice but to reroute.

He kept reaching out to the rangers, in an attempt to plan our journey and to check on the snow levels… The problem was that with the record snow, our plan kept having to change. We had a loose plan to hike near Upper Merced Lake in the High Sierras, but knew that nothing would be final until we arrived.

Finally, the day was here. My dad and I headed to the airport, checked our backpacks, and brought along our carry-ons. We headed to our gate where we awaited the arrival of my sister. She had flown in from Charlotte earlier that morning & was heading on with us to Fresno. We were all tired, but also anxious to get there. We were ready to have a good time, and have a new adventure together.

When we got to Fresno, Erica (my sister) & I gathered the bags while my dad went on to collect the car. We had a red Dodge Durango that we loaded up with our gear before hitting the road.  On our way out of the city we made a pit stop at Big 5 Sporting Goods where my dad picked up some fuel cans for our quick boil stoves & some emergency space blankets, just in case it rained at night (it didn’t) because we were sleeping under the stars. That’s right… no tent.

We finally arrived at the park gates where we paid the $40 park entrance fee, and then headed on to get our permit at the Wawona Visitors Center north of the south park entrance off of the 41.  The office was a few miles up the road.

When we got there, we parked the car & we all headed inside. My sister and I took turns wandering through looking at displays and keeping my dad company in the very short line. Finally, it was our turn. We  made our inquiry about getting a permit for an area around Upper Merced Lake, and thankfully, we had no issues. There was plenty of room for us in the backwoods. TIP: You have to get permits to backpack throughout the national park, so I would advise to be checking on availability prior &/or have a backup plan.

We all got back in the car, and began our drive to our final stop, the Glacier Point lookout.  I should point out, first, that the traffic in Yosemite in June is ridiculous. There were long lines of cars, and parking lots were pretty full. We were directed to the visitor shuttles originally, but when we explained that we were backpacking they forwarded us on to Glacier Point.  When we got there, we began getting our gear in order. We changed into our hiking boots, and got our backpacks stuffed and organized with any possible necessity that we had. My sister and I made the mistake of using the bathroom before we began the journey. TIP: These bathrooms are one the most rank and disgusting things I have ever encountered. They don’t flush, are covered in every type of bodily excretion possible & smell so bad that it took all I had not to vomit all over the floor four times!!! So, in other words, if you can hold it… Pop a squat in the woods, ladies. It’s far more pleasant, believe it or not.  

With that stinky experience behind us, we headed back to the car and got strapped into our backpacks which all weighed between 30-40 pounds. It was literally a physical burden.  We made our way towards the lookout point where we snapped our starting photo in front of Half Dome & the falls. …and it was all downhill from there. …or so I thought.

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The descent was pleasant. We were in the shade, the air was tepid, and I was in the company of two wonderful people with some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen.

When we arrived at the Illilouette Creek,  we all dropped our packs to cool off and fill up our water bottles. It felt so good to drop the weight for about 15 minutes. The great thing about the record snowfall is that rivers were rushing with freshly melted clean clear water. We didn’t need to filter or treat it. We just drank straight from the earth.

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yosemite & cartagena 124With packs back on we crossed the river over the bridge and proceeded on the trail. We made it up a couple of the switchbacks when we began to question our path. At this point, I was beginning to struggle. The uphill climb combined with the weight of my backpack was slowing me down immensely. We stopped to look over the map since the path seemed wrong.  My dad & sister were in charge of directions while I was handling the photos.  The general consensus was that we must have somehow missed our trail, so we headed back down to the river and crossed back over the bridge. We went one way, and then the other, but were surrounded by dead ends. My dad headed out to survey the land and search or the missing trail, but there was no sign. Our only option was to head back the same way we were going before.

So, we began to climb once, again. It was exhausting, draining, and down right brutal, or as my dad just called it, “a bitch”. ..and it truly was. By the time we reached “the top” AKA Panorama Point, the lookout point that overlooks Yosemite Valley, I didn’t know how much further I could go, but I knew I had to keep going because we were nowhere near water.  So after, calling our mom (I know, I can’t believe we had service either) and I texted Brad… We put our packs back on and kept pushing ourselves forward, or should I say up. The views along the way were incredible. Being able to see Half Dome at sunset was truly a special moment for me.

The trail we were on was leading us straight for Nevada & Vernal Falls, which was not where we were wanting to go on day 1.  So when we came to a fork in the road, the map came out once more. Erica and my dad looked it over, and not 100% certain, mostly because of drinking water restrictions, we took the road less traveled. As we walked, we noticed a couple of spots that would make good campsites, but there was no water source. My sister went ahead to scout it out, and came back with the assumption of water ahead. We continued to trek forward with flashlights in hand because by this point, we were in the dark. We found ourselves, quickly making our way back down the mountain in the dark, and slowly wandered back below the tree line. We were wandering through a “bear infested” forest in the dark.  I was getting so frustrated and crashing fast. We still had not found water, and were at a complete loss.  …on day 1. I couldn’t keep going, I felt like my body was going to collapse.  We found a large clearing, and set up camp. I’d like to say that we got it done quickly, but considering we all were exhausted, and we all somewhat felt sick, it took a little longer than planned. Armed with flashlights, we started setting up camp. We laid out our tarp, and sprawled out our gear. My dad took the initiative to start the fire, after all, he was the Yosemite expert.  We gathered wood, and as he got it started I couldn’t help but  stare. I was so exhausted, in physical pain, and at this point my desires were food had vanished. All I wanted to do, all we all wanted to do, was sleep. We each took turns wandering off to relieve our bladders, and change into our sleepwear.

We all agreed that we had no desire to eat except for a light snack. We all had two issues, a lack of desire for food, and a lack of water to cook our food.  We were to concerned with the fact that we had not found water, to waste it on a hot meal.

As the fire began to fade, I struggled to sleep, I kept fading in and out. I was having severe pain in my chest & trouble breathing which I figure was muscle fatigue from my pack mixed with stress & anxiety. I couldn’t sleep and was so overwhelmed with emotion, thinking I might die in the wilderness on my first night (haha). I was ready to jump off a cliff to relieve the suffering, I knew I just needed my body to relax. As I sat there knowing that I was miles from civilization, had no way of calling for help, I did all that I could do: I stayed calm. I knew if I woke my dad or sister they would not be able to help me, so I took 3 Advil and a small sip of water, and stayed lying flat on my back, and stared up at the night sky focusing on monitoring my breathing.  Within, 30 minutes I was finally asleep. Although, my painful & difficult symptoms subsided. My first night was rough. I got hardly any sleep.  I kept thinking about the spiders getting into my sleeping bag, and was plagued by one pesky mosquito as the sun began to rise. It was just very uncomfortable.

I laid there as long as I could. My sister and dad finally woke up & were moving around before I could. We took our turns finding cover to use nature as a bathroom & change. We all agreed that cooking breakfast was still out of the option. We had to conserve water. We munched on some of our nuts and granola, and packed everything up.  It was time to get back to the trail.

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As we continued in the same direction from the night before, it wasn’t long before we ran into another backpacker.  We had a very quick chat about how he hadn’t seen anyone in a while, and there was water ahead.  We marched on through the forest with hope.  Water.

When we reached the small creek, we all grabbed our “camp cups” , and filled up. We were basically chugging at this point. It was cold and incredibly refreshing. We were all so excited. The pep had been returned to our step.

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Onwards, we went.  We need a deeper stream to fill our water bottles.  Within about 30 minutes we had it. Sadly, there was no shade to keep the brutal sun off of us, but there was water. We tried to find the best place to setup our make-shift kitchen. We crossed the creek one way, and then back to the other side to a small clearing. It was perfect. There was a tree to prop our packs against, and a stream just a few feet away. We were dipping our cooling towels, and constantly filling our water bottles to hydrate, cook, and clean.  Our dehydrated egg breakfast tasted soooooo good. It was so nice having a hot meal.

We enjoyed the break to play and truly reset our bodies for the grueling journey that was ahead.  Our goal was to try and make it to Upper Merced Lake. Little did we know we would never make it.

With breakfast devoured, and cleaned up, we strapped back in and headed back to the trail. The sun was beating down on us hard. We all re-wet our cooling towels, and had them draped all around our necks and heads. (They were a game changer.)  We made our way around Mount Starr King, and found ourselves reemerged in the forest. yosemite & cartagena 278

Because of the record snowfall they had last winter, there was tons of caked tree debris on the ground, which I think also contributed to the large amount of insects.

As we trekked on, we found ourselves, walking across large fallen trees to get across raging rivers. My sister, had a hard time with this, and several times had to have my dad help her across. Oddly enough, crossing over dead trees above a raging river with 40 pounds on my back was nothing. I’d rather do it 100 times than endure day 1 again.

 We crossed Clark Creek where we stopped for a lunch break. Tuna with avocado & mustard on pita pockets. Let me tell you… It was one of the most delicious sandwiches of all time.  I  enjoyed it with a side of cheese filled Ritz Bitz & a fruity snack.  We soaked our feet in the creek & cleaned up our mess once again.  We all had been slightly revived, and had to face the reality that it was time to move on.

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We geared back up & continued to press on. It wasn’t long before we came up on Red Creek. The water levels were quite high, and so we had to wander a bit to find a place to cross. Finally it happened.  We had a short climb before we rose up into a clearing which overlooked the beautiful snow covered Buena Vista mountain range.  We ran into a group of people out for a day hike (from their camp), and chatted for a little while about what each other had experienced thus far.  Erica rigged her phone on a tree so we could take a group photo, and then we shuffled along. As we moved on rain clouds began to finally catch up with us. It started as a light drizzle and only picked up for a few minutes. The cool water was incredibly refreshing, but

did also slow us down a bit.

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Eventually we met up with Illilouette Creek, and it was much more than that. It was a raging river. We had been trekking in the rain for a while now, but as we started moving further and further along the creek, the forest floor became more and more treacherous. There were many fallen trees that had yet to be cut through, there was rotting plant debris everywhere, and I had mosquitoes biting me through my pants.  I was losing momentum fast, but knew I had to keep moving & keep up with my sister… especially my sister. My dad & were feeling about the same physically on and off for the duration of the trip, my sister on the other hand was a lot like the energizer bunny until the final day.  We all did our best to keep each other going. My sister wanted to keep pressing on to the lake, but my dad & I had to persuade her to our side. It wasn’t going to happen.  Instead we found an incredible make-shift campsite with a great flat spot on the granite. We were able to set up between a creek and the river.

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My bodies physical pain began to melt away as I slipped my feet out of my Merrils and into my Birkenstocks. That act alone had a sense of revival in it. We took turns heading down to the creek to wash up and do some light laundry, mostly socks.  We got our camp set up, collected firewood, & then began preparing for dinner. We all pulled out our dishes and sporks. We boiled the freshly collected water & poured it over the dehydrated beef stroganoff. As we let it stew, we also boiled up some Lipton chicken noodle soup.  We were so excited for our dinner. We were starving, and ready to get comfortable. As we sat there, we saw a furry creature run from one end of the granite to the other and then vanish into the forest. It was one of two animals we had seen so far.

We enjoyed our dinner immensely. The temperature was dropping and so was the sun. My dad got the fire going, and we gathered around with s’mores necessities. Yes. I brought stuff for s’mores, and we ate them off of sticks! But now, I would pack it completely different.  The sweet crunchy gooey goodness was overwhelming to my taste buds, I couldn’t eat much, but it was fun to roast marshmallows on a stick over a campfire under the glowing stars. It brings out the kid in you.

We each enjoyed tea while we finished up by the fire. Then we brushed our teeth, and were off to bed. I was at peace watching the stars shoot across the sky above me while we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company from the comfort of our sleeping bags. (It will probably be one of the most memorable nights of my life.) As the fire died off in the distance, we drifted off to sleep one by one. It was the only night I slept the whole night through. I was at peace on that slab of granite.yosemite & cartagena 483

The next morning, my sister was the first up. She started the fire, and made sure we got moving. I finally had a full night sleep. I slept like a baby. I did not want to crawl out of my sleeping bag despite the fact that my air mattress had deflated. Clearly, my body was able to relax enough after all of the exhausting experiences I had put it through in the previous 48 hours. The temperature had been just right to allow me to sleep comfortably without being too hot or cold. However, freeing myself from the clutches of the sleeping bag was a different story. It was cold. I was bundled up in sweat pants, wool socks & my fleece pull over. I slipped on my Birkenstocks and found a quiet place to use as a bathroom.

yosemite & cartagena 570 - CopyWe readied our small quick boilers to make some breakfast, tea & coffee. At this point, the dehydrated food was starting to wear on us. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as it was before, but our bodies needed the fuel for the day.  We started packing up our gear, and as we sat on the tarp doing so, a critter appeared from the forest: a marmot.  It was scavenging for food, and wasn’t too concerned with getting close to us which seemed odd. In this area, it was doubtful that they interacted with humans regularly. It was easily within 10 feet of us, sniffing around our open bear vaults, hoping to snag a prize. Slightly skittish, it kept a close eye on us, if it thought we were getting to close, it would skedaddle.  A little while later, we watched it sifting through the ashes of our exhausted fire, where we had dumped our breakfast scraps, and the area next to it where we had washed our dishes out with water. That marmot  ate every tiny morsel that it could get its tiny marmot lips on. Off in the distance, we noticed a second marmot. It’s possible they were tag teaming our camp for food.

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Finally, we were all dressed and packed. ..but our journey was different this time. I had removed the day pack that came with my back pack and filled it with our essentials. We hid our backpacks (without the bear vaults) back behind a large rock in the forest & left our bear vaults out on the main rock behind a boulder.  We didn’t want to risk a bear getting into our packs while we were away, and we didn’t want to risk other backpackers getting into our bags, so everything was hidden.

latest iphone 045We set off on our journey. We headed further back into the wilderness in search of  Upper Merced Lake. We climbed over large granite rock faces with the tiniest trickles of water flowing down, along the rushing rapids of Illilouette Creek, and through the marshy forest floor.  Nothing had prepared us for the wilderness we were wandering into.  The forest floor was in such shambles that it was almost unbearable to walk through. Between the amount of bugs, decaying debris & the lack of crossing points for the river, we were tempted to give up the journey. …but we didn’t. We headed down river a ways and found a large fallen tree that spanned from one side to the other. Mind you, it was close to 30 feet across.  We each took a turn crossing. My sister lead the charge in trying to find our way back toward the trail. We were basically in a free climb through very rough terrain, but eventually met back up with the trail. We followed it for as long as we could, but it wasn’t long before we were back on our own.

yosemite & cartagena 629All we had to navigate with was nature, and that wasn’t much help.  The theory is that because of the large amounts of snow melt passing through the area, the trails were basically gone. We had no way of finding it. Our only option was to wing it. We were crossing stream after stream over log after log, jumping from rock to rock, trudging over snow banks, and eventually found ourselves climbing up the side of mountain wall made entirely of granite.. Steep granite that was at times slippery. There were a couple close calls. We had come so far, and it seemed like we were continually losing hope, but for some reason we also held onto the hope, saying “we have to be close” & “we’ve come so far”.  We were all feeling it, but we kept going. Eventually, we ended up on top of a mountain top… or close to the top of the mountain. We stood across from Red Peak on the edge of the Buena Vista Crest. The views were incredible You could see for miles. We could see where we came from (around Mount Starr King) over the last couple days. It was truly incredible. We found a shady spot under a juniper tree and snacked on our sustenance… Nuts & stuff.  We were all hungry.

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We had a long journey still ahead of us, so with no lake at our feet, just a tiny murky pond tucked in the crest, we knew it was time to head back down. We quickly made our way down the granite mountain side, navigating our way over and around large boulders while hoping not to misstep.  Before we knew it, we were back in the tree line. We navigated our way back through the marshlands, trying to find our way across streams and river. We would go one way, and then back the other. It was truly challenging terrain that we were all incredibly thankful to get out of. There were many mosquitoes that were constantly pestering me. I just wanted to be free and clear.

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On our way back to our main crossing log, we stopped off at the raging rapids plummeting over the small waterfall. We grabbed a couple of photos, and then it was back to trekking. It truly was trekking. The floor was treacherous. The goal was not to misstep… not to scrape your leg… not to walk into a spider web… because there is no way to call for help should something be broken, you fall into the rushing freezing river, or better yet, you’re unconscious or dead. WooHoo!!!!

Finally after weaving our bodies over and under fallen trees, we followed the river quite a ways. There was concern we had passed our crossing-log. We didn’t it was just a little further ahead. My sister led the way, I followed, and then my dad. We were making our way back quickly. We kept going. I kept swatting away mosquitoes and we searched for the trail we had lost hours ago.  Within minutes, we were back on track. We hustled our way back to our packs. We grabbed our gear and headed to the opposite side of the river, on a clearing just downriver from where we slept. We found a great spot where the water was shallow & the raging water slowed to a safe pace allowing us to wade in slowly and soak our aching feet, refill our water, and clean our dishes. We set up for lunch which was a mix of snack, tuna, and whatever else. NOTE: Don’t leave a bag marshmallows in the heat. They turn into one giant sticky blob. We were famished. We soaked our feet in the shallow granite shore of the rushing river, and tried our best to regain our energy.

Once again, it was time to put our hiking shoes back on & strap into our Gregory backpacks. We filled our water bottles & headed back North West. We knew where we were going to camp. Just on the south side of Clark Creek where we had eaten lunch the day before. We pushed ourselves hard that afternoon. It was a lot easier to make the journey without the rain, fatigue, and inclines.  We were moving quick. We came face to face with a dear on the path, and watched it until it ran. Once again, I didn’t have my camera out and ready which was disappointing, but it was okay. I enjoyed a beautiful & serene moment while wondering how long it would last & how close could we get before it left us.

In the last 24 hours, we had seen more wildlife than people and we were okay with that. It was great to have a break from people, an opportunity to truly connect with nature. We came to the intense river crossing once again. We waited as my sister kepting waiting to step up and cross. I couldn’t take it anymore. I cut the line & went first. My dad helped her across, and we wrapped up our trek for the day. Finally, early that evening we reached our campground.  Found what seemed to be the clearest spot, and did our best to make it even clearer by shifting small rocks & moving the bigger rocks over by the already built fire pit.  We laid our tarp for the last time and strategically placed our sleeping bag, my dad & I at opposite ends, and my little sister in the middle. Everything  was laid out as we wanted it.  Pillows were placed at the top of sleeping bags which laid on our inflatable mats. The knives laid by head and the tarp was lined with a border of Off! (the bug spray).  Our backpapcks were propped up against the adjacent tree, and our bear vaults sat by fire pit.

We took turns by the river washing up and changing our clothes into our sleeping gear. The water was freezing, but it felt good to wash away the sweat. When we were ready we wandered the campground to gather firewood.  My sister took charge of the fire while my dad took some time to rest. She became very proud of her ability to start fires. …but this one wasn’t taking off the way she hoped. We were all involved. …naturally, my dad was the one who got it going.

With the fire burning, it was dinner time.  We opened up our bear vaults & sifted through the food. It was Chili Mac night. We lit up the quick boilers and heated the correct amount of water for two packs of food.  We let it sit until it was ready and split it up amongst the three of us. The only problem was… none of us had much of an appetite. Two days of grueling activity and dehydrated food are just hard on the body & on the digestive system. We all ate as much as we could, but then decided it was time to clean up. We dumped the remaining food into the fire, rinsed the food bags & stuck them in our ziplocs , then my dad and I washed the bowls a little ways away.  We reconvened by the fire. As the sun was setting we had a lot of fun talking and taking  group photos. We drank tea & tried to relax.

Once again, it wasn’t even completely dark when we nuzzled into our sleeping bags, but it felt good. It was cold that night, and for whatever reason I was struggling to sleep. In fact, I barely slept (my tea was probably caffeinated, haha). I was so cold. Sleeping without socks this night was a mistake. (It was however, the only night that I got my air mattress pad to stay inflated the entire night, so that was a win.) As I laid there frigid, tossing and turning, I kept trying to sleep. It felt impossible. I couldn’t shake the concern for bears and spiders as I laid there cold and almost shivering. Looking back, I wish I had made an effort to find my socks, but in the moment it felt far to overwhelming in the cold darkness.

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The next morning, we all slowly woke up. But, of course, my sister was the first up, eager to start the fire. We all gathered around for our last breakfast. A mix of random things from our vaults. We didn’t even bother with trying to eat the freeze-dried stuff, we could barely stomach the thought of it.  We all had uneasy stomachs & a long journey back to the village area. We headed back over to our sleep spot & started packing up. Within 20 minutes we were ready for the final leg of our great excursion.  We made sure our fire was out, and headed back across the river in the direction we came barely more than a day before.

yosemite & cartagena 708yosemite & cartagena 709The final leg was rough. It was hot, we were tired, had uneasy stomachs, and were all ready to drop our packs for good. We were sluggish but pushing our hardest to make it through. We took a different route than we had before, and it was paying off. It was a little shorter, but a good chunk of it was in the hot sun. We had our last water fill in a small creek near the back of Kings Peak, and pressed on. We went up and over & found ourselves at the lookout point facing the back of Half Dome near the falls.   We were so excited. We finally had cellphone reception to call my mom to let her know where we were and where to meet us.

latest iphone 077We thought we were almost done. My dad had made it sound as if we would be down and out within 30 minutes, but it took us at least 2 hours, maybe 3. Honestly, I think the end may have been the worst part simply because of the amount of tourists that we came into contact with. First we headed down a long paved trail that took us from the lookout point down to Nevada Falls. This part wasn’t too bad because it seems fewer people decide to go past Vernal Falls. We had to cross the bridge over Nevada Falls & began our next decent down steep rock steps. Thankfully, the traffic was still mild.

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We continued down and along the path until we hit flatter ground and the next bridge. It was time for the next crossing. We found the crowds…. We continued on the given trail which was a little tricky to find at first because the large space was packed with sunbathers and families. We made it to the railed in stairway down… It was steep. The further down we go the more people we were coming into contact with. Here we were walking along massive water falls on rock steps that were completely lined with tourists that half the time didn’t seem to be fully paying attention. After over 72 hours in the wild without a real shower, sweating, drinking river water, and not having a hot fresh meal, the last thing you want to deal with is mobs of people who could care less about about your sleep depravity, aching feet, and bruised torso.  #respectthebackpackers  Its hard to slow your momentum on your downward climb of massive rock steps, so it’s incredibly frustrating when you have people just coming out of nowhere right in front of you.

latest iphone 095When we reached the south side of Vernal falls, we were soaked. Vernal Falls is the one you have to look for! It It was like my encounter with Vic Falls. There had been so much snow last winter that the snow melt was raging over the cliffs  and was drenching every person that was bold enough to pass through. It was 100% unexpected, and although it wasn’t ideal, I still sort of enjoyed the cool down and the little bit of peace that it brought to my soul. …but then came the traffic jam. The rest of the way down had the largest amount of traffic, at one point there was a small mob where it seemed no one could move. It’s how I imagine a New York department store is during Black Friday. …awful.  Finally, we made it to flatter grounds, but it just kept going. The paved trail just kept going. It was cloudy & damp, my poor dad was lagging behind, and my sister was really worn out. I was on my second wind with the thought of being done. We just wanted to reach the end.

When we did cross the final bridge and made it to the road, we headed to the bus stop where the line to get on seemed a mile long. We called my mom & found out that there was no way for her to get to us. We came to the realization that the only way this was going to work was for us to take the bus into the village & meet her. However, the traffic in the area was so dense that buses were not running on time, were taking alternate routes, avoiding stops & doing whatever they could to keep things moving as efficiently as possible. I think just our bus ride took nearly 40 minutes, and it wasn’t the most enjoyable. We all got separate seats and I was freezing as I sat next to a stranger in my damp clothes looking like a trainwreck. Haha.  We stayed in constant contact with my mom, and rearranged our plans in an attempt to meet sooner.  Finally, it worked out. We got off the bus with our packs and headed her direction. We got into her rental car, where she greeted us with cups of chili, soups, salad & drinks… She had literally read my mind in some magical mom way.  Earlier that day we had all been talking about what we were wanting to eat… mine was a salad.  Thanks, Mom!

Our day still wasn’t over though. We had to go back up to the Glacier Point Lookout in order to get the other rental car. It was probably another hour and a half of driving before we ever got back to the hotel. It’s safe to say that shower was one of the best of all time.

…to be continued

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Victoria Falls: The Road Trip Edition (Part 2).

 Day 14:

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iphone update 1385With a game plan in mind, we were going to Zambia, we started our day off right. Breakfast first… then we parked our car in the lot just outside of customs and across from the Victoria Falls National Park entrance & made the walk to the Zimbabwe customs office. Getting our of Zimbabwe was a cinch. We paid our fees, got our stamps, and crossed. We made the walk across the Victoria Falls Bridge. We were able to take in the breathtaking view of the “smoke” rising up from the water crashing below. It’s a view that would never get old. Within minutes, we were greeted by a couple of Zambian men who were curious about us. They asked us all about our homeland, how long we were visiting for, what we were doing that day. It was fun, until they relentlessly tried to sell us jewelry that we didn’t want. NOTE: The key is to just be as gracious as possible in turning them down. Sometimes, even when you tell them that you have no money, they keep pushing because they know that you could just get more money… Their selling strategy: wear you down, but the key is that once you buy one thing, they will try to get you to buy another.

When we were almost to the Zambian customs office, we were greeted by another man… He would get us a taxi. He was so persistent on getting us a taxi, that he followed us into the customs office and watched us until we were done. At that point, he just kept on talking to us and telling us that it was a long way into Livingstone and that we needed a taxi. We agreed on a price, and he took us over to one of the drives who then drove us into the town. We were dropped off in front of a cafe, and proceeded on foot. We followed the main road passed many shops and even saw an event happening in a parking lot, that appeared to be the national soccer team doing some contests and entertaining the “commoners”. It was interesting, and it seemed like everyone was having a great time.

iphone update 1389We continued on. We ended up at a Mukuni Park Curio Market that lines one block and had a covered walkway. It was great. There were several shops (most of which sell the same stuff), but they had far better things to offer on this side of the border. I had my eye on a few things, but we knew that we would need more cash. So, with goals in mind, we continued on. We ended up wandering through a shopping area that was definitely for the local people. There were shoe shops, mattress shops, and home supply shops.

NOTE: It was one of those moments, where I looked around and realize how blessed we are to be American citizens because the shops were very small and crammed full of simple things, and the shops were mostly dirty and so poorly lit that some of them seemed dark. It was a truly humbling moment. If these people saw how we live here, with our large shopping malls that are so immaculate, they wouldn’t even know what to do.

Brad told me a story about a couple of Congolese that were brought to the US for training. One of the first places they were brought was Walmart. Apparently, they were completely overwhelmed, but at one point brought back two overflowing shopping carts full of alcohol. What we take for granted, our living in absolute excess, to them is like sweet manna from heaven because they are so used to living with the bare minimum. Sometimes, I think we lose track of reality here, I know I do at times.

We ended up near their large market which had produce, tech products, clothing, textile.. it was interesting, but it wasn’t for us because it was clearly for the locals. We ended up turning back toward where we started. Brad was thirsty and needed some caffeine to help him gear up for the negotiating ahead. After fueling up at Cafe au Lait Limited, it was time to find the ATM, so we headed across the street to Barclay’s (a large banking institution). The ATM line was pretty long, and I ended up in an awkward situation when a drunk Zambian guy came up to me and was trying to give me his keys. He kept telling me that I had to drive him because he was too drunk to drive. He then continued to make some unkind remarks, and was telling Brad that he wouldn’t say what he was thinking because it wouldn’t be appropriate… It was really uncomfortable & I was really happy when it was our turn to make our way up the steps to use the ATM. By the time we came back down, the guy was gone. NOTE: we didn’t want any trouble because of being in a third world country, where the people look out for each other not necessarily visitors, so we did our bests to just let him do what he needed, and just minded our own business as best we could. 

iphone update 1394.JPGWith relief, we made our way back to the curio market. We passed several booths before getting to the first one that I wanted to see. We negotiated hard here. I ended up with a beautiful tribal mask. Then we went down a little further where we negotiated the price down for 3 paintings. …we were ready to go… but on our way out, we were stopped. One of the shop keepers really liked Brad’s sunglasses. He told us that he would trade Brad’s sunglasses for any three things in his shop. We were on board since Brad’s sunglasses were not expensive. However, the shop keeper, and now his brother, were then telling us that we couldn’t have any three items and that if we wanted what we had chosen (a large carved out bowl, a carved ironwood elephant, and a mask) then we would have to pay them extra. They wanted a lot, and it took a lot of effort to get them where we wanted them. We weren’t messing around because they intentionally tried to trick us. We were ready to walk (reluctantly) if they didn’t give us what we wanted. We settled on the three items traded for Brad’s sunglasses and 100 Kwacha (their currency- when I looked up the exchange rate, it was wildly inaccurate. I think it was about, 1 Kwacha to 10 cents when we got it).

iphone update 1393.JPGWith our hands full of Zambian treasures, we headed back toward the border. We were dead-set on finding a place for lunch and ended up at Kubu Cafe. They had a fairly well diversified menu, so we ended up getting a sandwich and a burger. The food was pretty good, and the service was wonderful. It was a pleasant place where you could sit on the patio without being hassled. We felt ridiculous with our large pile of loot sitting on the table next to us, but we also, had a great deal of pride in our stack of finds.  With lunch over, we still had some Kwancha to get rid of, so I headed next door to the grocery store to buy some food to take back. They didn’t have as good of options on the other side of the border, surprisingly. Here, I was able to grab another pack of Oreos and Kips.

We felt so alive, and felt as though we were finally starting to find our stride in this part of Africa. We wandered back toward the street wher we grabbed a taxi to take us back to the border. When the price was agreed upon, we loaded up and climbed in. The drive back was short, but we had an unplanned stop along the way. Our driver was stopped by an officer that was in the middle of the road. Our driver, then, pulled over and got out of the car and was talking to the officer for a while, and then was over by the police car. Brad and I were concerned about the situation and were quite confused. Frustration was setting in because we had no clue what was going on. Were we going to have to walk back?? haha.

Finally, our driver returned to us and shared that they were looking for someone, and that he had told the officer that he would take us to the border first since he had committed to that, and then return to help in the search. It was peculiar, but we said ‘okay’ and continued our journey.

At the border, as soon as we were out of the cars, the locals around the customs building began talking to us. I had one man telling me to make sure I kept my food up high because the baboons would try to steal it. I wasn’t entirely sure how true this was, but I figured he must know from experience. I was going to be dammed to let some monkey steal my precious Oreos, so up into my large trough like bowl they went.

Going back through Zambian customs was, once again, a breeze. We just got in the short line, and waited our turn for our stamp. We then proceeded back toward the bridge. A man came up to us on his bike with a small pull-cart attached. He begged us to let him give us a ride to the Zimbabwe customs office. We had to continually decline. I think he was frustrated that we wouldn’t say ‘yes’, as he started to get a little snippy with us. It wasn’t long before our friends from earlier showed up, claiming that we had said we would buy jewelry. The guy that had talked to me was far more accepting when I declined his offer. Brad, on the other hand, had a very persistent Zambian who did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer (I’m cracking up as I am writing this). While Brad was continually trying to rid himself of the persistent salesman, I ended up with another guy begging me to trade my food for his trinkets. I continued to politely say ‘no’, as I looked straight ahead and increased the speed of my walk. Brad was finally able to catch up, and the guy trying to peer-pressure him began to back off. Finally, we reached the office.

Getting back into Zimbabwe was, as usual, a pain. Although, it was far more organized than when we were coming from Botswana, we still were dealing with silly problems. We waited in line as the officers took their time processing each person in front of us. Thankfully, we had beat the rush of a tourist group, that somehow seemed to pass us by. We filled out our necessary forms, and handed the man our card (we were purchasing double entry visas this time – which sadly, we were never told about the first time we crossed over). Naturally, despite several efforts, our Chase Visa card wasn’t working – the irony, it worked fine everywhere else before & after. Both of our cards were continually declined, so we ended up using most of the cash that we had. We were so frustrated, but did our best to shake it off because there was nothing more we could do.

With everything finalized, we felt rather silly walking back to the car with our stockpile of goodies, but we were so excited to have found such great items. We headed back to the hotel to unload & unwind. We decided it would be a good night to go to The Boma for dinner & a show. …and we did just that.

We showed up without a reservation & were given a sarong to wrap around us and tie over our right shoulder. We were just in time to be greeted by the greeting committee. A group of Zimbabwean men and women dressed in tribal garb with faces painted, all while singing us a fantastic greeting. It was slightly overwhelming to the point that I had a ridiculous large smile on my face and couldn’t help but laugh with pure joy. I was so excited, like a kid at Christmas.

iphone update 1404.JPGWe were led to our table  off to the side in a quiet area near a stock pile of drums (when we figured that they prefer you to have a reservation). They took our drink order, and then proceeded to bring us an appetizer with some exotic meats (such as crocodile & kudu), and some not-so exotic things like a vegetable samosa and something else. Everything was delicious. We then, were able to hit the buffet. Each of us started with a bowl of soup, that I remember was fairly sweet but definitely delicious. It was then time to move on. It was time to get serious. We were hitting up the big buffet, a buffet of meats and stews!

I wasn’t feeling bold enough to go wild and try everything, so I made it a point to make my main food source the chicken skewers. I ended up having a nice chat with a guy from Australia, and was talked into trying the peanut (butter) spinach by an American. I grabbed a bit of the guinea fowl stew, and a white grain like-substance that resembled mashed potatoes, but had a consistency more similar to couscous.  I also, ended up grabbing the tiniest scoop of mini-fish because I couldn’t tell what it was when I was in the line… The low down: the chicken was chicken, the peanut-butter spinach was not my fave (turns out I’m just not a huge peanut butter fan), the white stuff was bland but went well with other dishes, I didn’t even bother trying the tiny fish because they still looked like tiny fish, and the guinea fowl stew was BOMB!! Sadly, my guinea fowl was mostly bone and skin & not a lot of meat, but I was so glad I got to sample it. While sitting there, Brad gave me some warthog from the stew to try, and it’s safe to say it was, hands down, the best thing at the table. The flavor was amazing, and it was incredibly tender. I would have thought that it would be gamy and maybe fatty, but I guess it makes sense… I’m a pork-lover!

While we were eating a team of drummers and dancers took the stage to enlighten us with their talents, and give us a little sample of Zimbabwean culture. It was so fun! It was loud, but fun! They had festive costumes and their dancing was crazy as they went along with the overwhelming rhythm of the large drums. I LOVED IT!  ….a little bit later on, after dessert, they passed around smaller drums to all the guests to join in and did small competitions between each section of the room. At one point, they had everyone up in a circle on the main floor competing in a dance off. Brad & I stood there for a while before we tried to escape in fear of getting picked because we are your stereotypical white people that are terrible dancers and have no musical rhythm.. or just rhythm in general.  As the majority of patrons danced on, Brad & I decided we were ready to go back. We wanted to explore the National Parks the next day, and were tired from our grueling border-crossing journey earlier that day.

Day 15:

We woke up at a normal hour, and decided that it was a good day to head back to The Lookout Cafe for breakfast. The weather was beautiful. It wasn’t quite as good this time. Brad got what I will call a “deli plate” (because it was meats & cheeses), and I have no remembrance of what I got… Probably just eggs and toast. Sometimes, less is more…

With some slight disappointment in our hearts (over the food, never the view), we headed back tot he car. The plan was to head south toward Hwange National Park. We took the detour that was in place because of a road closure. We weaved our way through part of the town, and back to the main road. Dead ahead was another police stop. Brad’s immediate reaction was to just turn the car around. He didn’t have it in him to be hassled again over the car. I think he was on a short fuse at this point. I was frustrated now too, because it was another plan that we had to scrap. We just decided, instead, to go try to enter into the Zambezi National Park that sits just down the street from the hotel.

We had tried to get in a couple days before (or maybe after Zambia), but they would not let us because they didn’t think our vehicle could handle the terrain, nor did they think our car was actually four wheel drive… (makes sense, it kind of looks like a mom car).  Today though, we succeeded. The lady at the desk told us to take caution, stay on the main road, avoid flood areas, and that if anything happened to us we were on our own. We paid our fee, got our pass, and headed into the park. We reached the gate keeper who verified our documents and let us through. It was all dirt road from here. We didn’t think it was nearly as bad, as the lady had made it seem. There were definite rough spots, but we didn’t feel doomed from the start.

ipad update 1881.jpgWe were incredibly eager to see some more wildlife. We spent many hours in the park driving up and down roads as far as we thought possible. At one point, we attempted a mud spot along the main road, and ended up having to back out because we were not getting enough traction. We were disappointed because we hadn’t seen anything other than birds, springbok, and monkeys. We ended up turning back with the intention to start exploring side roads.  Things started to improve. Small crocodiles had beached themselves along the stream near one of the bridges in attempt to warm up. We began to see larger types antelope grazing or lying in the grass… and as we took on one of the large hills, we saw zebra and wildebeest sticking together.

ipad update 2128.jpgWe made our way back down and unsure of what to do, headed back toward the entrance with the goal to explore more of the side roads. We drove up and down a couple with nothing exciting to share, but then, as we began our descent down one of them, on our left hand side, stood a large bull elephant snacking on the tall grass. He was so handsome, but didn’t have much interest in us, so began to wander away, and as did we.. As we headed further down we came across a group of warthogs that spooked as soon as we got to close. We decided we wanted to trek on a little further, but our journey was cut short by a deep mud hole. We were stuck.ipad update 6205 Thankfully, not too stuck. Brad hopped out, and was able to give us enough of a shove while I pressed the gas pedal to get us out. We ended up finding another way around, but it just led to a dead end and no other sightings. We were wearing down fast, and losing hope. It was too hot for many animals to be out, and the grass was way too tall to see anything resting below. Before we headed out we decided to head back a little ways so that we could do one final check because the elephant had renewed our spirits. We ended up heading down by the river to see what else we could find. We were hoping to see some animals getting a drink, but that was not the case. As we continued along the path, a bathroom break was required. Once again, I was vulnerable to the elements, but my bladder was feeling so much relief.

ipad update 6129We continued driving along the river for a little while, and we got pretty lucky. We ended up running into a mash up of zebra and giraffe, and we had the pleasure of watching them for a little while before we all decided to part ways. The sun was sweltering, and we knew it was time to go… but before we did, we headed back the opposite direction  along the river where we had seen another random driver. From there you could see a narrow strip in the middle of the water. A small group of hippos rested along its bank, and a crocodile laid upon it. We were really excited about this because the crocodile looked quite large and well-fed. It was the first time we had seen one this large in the wild.

We were 3/4 of the way back to the exit when we snuck up on a tower of giraffes. FUN FACT: A tower is what you call a group of giraffes. We watched them for close to ten minutes before parting ways once again. Giraffes are such fun animals to watch with their excessively long limbs. (A Zambezi NP Gallery is at the bottom)

We finally made it back to the hotel, where we dropped off our gear, and cleaned ourselves up. We hung out for a little bit longer while I did a little bit of laundry in the sink.

iphone update 1452.JPGWith dinner on our minds, after not having a proper lunch (it was Kips & granola bars again in the car), we headed to Shearwater Cafe just along the main road that takes you through town towards the falls, the bridge, and Zambia. We were ready for a really good meal. We ordered our drinks, a pizza for me, and pasta for Brad, and enjoyed the warm African air.  I continually had issues with my sparkling water, as it was clear that the manufacturer wasn’t probably sealing the bottles. Thankfully, the restaurant was willing to take care of the issue without any trouble and even comped our drinks. The food was really good! It was nice to be eating something more familiar and more substantial.

We wanted to do a sunrise game drive the next morning, and were eager to get back to the hotel to get rest so that we could be up by 5 AM. We discussed going to Chobe National Park, but decided to just go back to Zambezi NP. We had heard amazing things about Chobe, but because we were wanting to do a sunrise drive, we thought it best to stay closer so that we didn’t have to be up as early, or deal with customs that morning.

Day 16:

iphone update 1455First, we stopped at the office & took care of fees & paperwork before setting off on our journey once again. It was a fun drive, and it started off with a couple of guinea fowl running up and along the road ahead of us before spastically jumping off into the grasses.  We were continually hoping to see some lions crossing to the river for morning drink, or to see a leopard in a tree with a fresh kill, but we got nothing. No dogs or cats on this trip. We followed the main path as we did the day before. We followed behind a troop of baboons for a while until they cleared the road. ipad update 5973We tried again to make it past the large mud pit, but it was too risky. We ended up turning back. This time with a photo of the map, we headed in search of new trails. First we made our way back up the large hill from the day before, but saw nothing on the way up. As we made our way back down, and as we approached the main road… There in the trees, shaded in mystery were a couple of Cape buffalo. It was the high point, thus far. The biggest thing we had seen that day. We wandered back down some of the smaller roads in hopes of finding a new trail. We had success. We found a small road that was quite overgrown most of the way that led us further baipad update 6064ck into the park. We did not see a thing. It took us across a river, and over a large outcropping of rocks.

Eventually, we decided to turn back because it didn’t seem like there was much hope for sightings if we continued on this road. We found a spot to turn back, and crossed through the river, and attempted to make the climb over the outcropping of rocks, but had a very difficult time. We were getting stuck. The front of the car was bumping the ground below  and our front right tire was up in the air.  I had to get out of the car in attempt to help guide Brad through this section. It was far more helpful to have a set of eyes on the road outside of the car, than two sets inside. From here, getting back was a breeze. We cruised right along, and seems like we spent less time going back than we did going in.

ipad update 6096When we reached the main road in the park. We continued on a little ways, and decided to head down another small road. On our way up, we ran into yet another group of giraffe and zebra. We watched the towering giants slowly meander through the area, while the zebra took off in pure fear. We followed the small road as far as we possibly could, back through large trees that looked like elephant land. The path we were on came to an abrupt end at the paved main road that leads you from Botswana into Victoria Falls (the one we had driven through on our way into town the first night). We were baffled that it was so easy to get into the park. It seems like easy access for poachers, as there was no fence or any other protection, but I guess elephants could just break it down anyways. We also, found it funny that we had just paid $30 dollars to get in to the park, when we could have just entered through a random dirt road off of Kazungula Road. Ahhhh, Zimbabwe!!!

Our sights were few and far between that day. With nothing truly exciting to report. It was all the usual, but this time Cape buffalo instead of elephants. (Don’t forget the photo gallery below!)

Since breakfast had been a stock pile of granola bars, and the remaining Kips… We knew that we needed to get some food, and clean up. We head back to the hotel, and upon arrival, I noticed that we had actually done some slight damage to the vehicle around the front left wheel-well, but it was able to be repaired. Thankfully, a couple of the men from the hotel, came over & helped us pop things back into place. We were incredibly grateful for their willingness to go above and beyond.

iphone update 1242After getting ourselves a bit more put together, and changing our clothes, we headed into town, and back to The Lookout Cafe. We decided we wanted to enjoy that gorgeous view one last time before we left.  We scarfed down our delicious food, while we watched the place fill up with other patrons who were equally as enthralled with their surroundings.

When we were done & the check was paid we decided to walk down the hill a little ways in search of the nature walk, but I think we missed our turn because we just ended up near the train tracks where the local guys try to sell you the fake currency and carved items.  We spent some time down there photographing the baboons that had walked down with us from the top of the hill, and then decided to turn back because we began getting frustrated, so we decided to turn back.

We headed for the hotel, so that we could start getting organized, but I just felt like going back into town and browsing the shops one more time. There wasn’t really anything that I needed, but I thought one of the flat woven baskets would be fun to hang on the wall. We ended up in the handcrafted market down the street and across the train tracks. This time we went to an area where there was suppose to be no hassling, but that wasn’t the case. I, also, remembered that there was a specific printed fabric that I wanted, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. When I communicated what I wanted to one of the shop keepers he was determined to find it for me…. however, he just continually showed me patterns and color schemes that I didn’t want and were nothing like what I showed him. While we were waiting for him to check elsewhere, we wandered into one of the shops, where we found a woven bowl that we could agree on. Brad got the price to what he thought was reasonable, and we left. We were almost to the car, when the shop keeper who was looking for the fabric found us. He brought us down the road back toward the market we had visited a few days prior. He brought inside of the women’s building, and they all proceeded to completely overwhelm me by showing me tons and tons of fabrics that were nothing at all like what I wanted. …not even close. They were trying to guilt us into buying just about anything at this point too. I was so over it and burned out because everywhere you look there was a woman with fabric or keychains or some nonsense trying to get you to buy it and they all talk over each other in attempt to get your attention, so Brad and I just turned around and left while turning them down one by one from start to finish. We said we may come back the next day, but the danger with that is that they try to get you to commit to a time, a day, a place. Its insane.

iphone update 1478.JPGSo we got back in the car and drove a very short distance to The Three Monkeys, a fun outdoor restaurant with a big “I ❤ VIC FALLS” sign in the yard. We were excited because we had driven past it several times, and were curious. When we got seated, our awesome waiter took our drink order. While we sat perusing the menu Brad notice that the shop keeper that was on a fabric hunt, was at the restaurant entrance being kept out by the restaurant staff. They had more fabric in hand. We thought the situation was taken care of until we noticed that they found their way around, and into the yard. They came up to the railing (we were on an elevated platform sitting maybe four feet off the ground), and started lifting up the fabrics that they had found. I was dying on the inside. I didn’t know whether to laugh or yell, at this point. Nothing, was even close to what I wanted, and their scheming to get past the entrance was hilarious. You just have to admire their commitment to trying to close a sale.

Brad and I enjoyed our dinner. I got a chicken wrap and a salad (both were huge), and Brad ordered a pizza. Brad’s pizza was really salty, and my wrap had a lot of dressing, and my salad wasn’t quite what I expected… But, overall it was pretty good. I would go back! It was fun atmosphere, and would be a great place to go with a group. We didn’t stay too long after because it was time to head back and start packing.  So when we got back to the hotel we did just that. We did our best to get organized, and had fun watching the reality shows on Discovery Channel.  We just enjoyed each other on our last night.

Day 17:

We were up somewhat early, and headed to breakfast. We decided to eat at the hotel for convenience reasons, and I just found myself frustrated while we were there. We ordered from the menu for obvious reasons: it was the cheapest option. The food was fair, and I could not wait to get out of there, so that we could focus on other things.

Our Britz rep was meeting us that morning so that we could drop the car off. We ran into him in the parking lot, and he let us know that he needed our paperwork from the border crossings. Thankfully, I had held onto every piece of paper through out our journey, so it was just a matter of going back to the room and sorting through it.  He looked over the car, and we were good to go. Brad & I followed him back by his house, where we met a couple of guys that were responsible for driving the vehicle back to South Africa. Once all the details were sorted (which meant our rep was keeping the African in check by stating that he didn’t want his customers hassled over details, and they needed to figure it out), our rep drove us back to the hotel.  He told us that he had been trying to work with the government to instate laws or actions that prevent police from constantly harassing or bribing tourists. NOTE: I was thankful for that effort because we had definitely experienced it, and it is just frustrating. I can’t imagine how terrifying it for people who don’t understand how those things work. 

Brad & I worked to get everything packed up, and then met our taxi driver out front. We got checked out, and were on our way. It was a beautiful drive and a bit long.  When we got to the airport, a man came and got our bags for us & brought us to the ticket counter. Getting through security and customs was a breeze as it was a very nice new and small airport with a couple of cafes & shops.

The flight back to Johannesburg was easy and short. When we got there, I had four hours until my next flight, so after dropping off my checked luggage again, I headed back to Brads hotel, so that we could hang out together for a while.

Eventually, it was time for me to head back to my terminal. Brad walked me to security… and for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was not ready to let him go this time. But it was time for me to head to Spain to meet my sister.  So finally, I let go, and tried to make us laugh to ease the pain.

I was through security and it was time for the next chaper.

Zambezi National Park Photo Collection:

Victoria Falls: The Road Trip Edition (Part 1).

I should forewarn you.. Zimbabwe caused us quite a bit of frustration from the start, so prepare yourself for some honesty, and to probably feel some of my inner-rage come through….

Day 11 continued:

As soon as we crossed into Zimbabwe territory (in other words the customs office), it felt like we stepped into another world. The office was a complete mess. There was no sense of order, no lines… It was a shove your way to the front & do your best to make it happen. We were looking all over the counter for forms to fill out, but we could not find them. Thankfully, a representative from Pack Clearing Company was there. He got us the forms from the service counter, and we filled them out quickly. He then directed us to one of the agents and willingly helped keep other nationals, who were trying to push their way forward, at bay. We  gave them our visa credit card to pay for our entry visas. The process to run the card took forever, but it may have been because while we were waiting, a massive and thunderous rainstorm began to assault the building.

Funny enough, because running our card was taking so long, the building began to fill up with other people hoping to get through. I don’t know if we beat the crowd or caused the crowd. Finally, with both of our entry visas paid for, we could move onto the car. For some reason, that chair was empty for an extensive period of time. We stood there waiting around, until finally our rep from PCC started to take control into his own hands… (Africa…) He began to fill out the paperwork, and finally had us back on the move, so when the rep showed up, it was just a matter of payment again. Another charge on the credit card, and $50 USD cash for the PCC guy.. and we were back in the car.

When we got the gate, we were not sure who was working. No one seemed overly attentive, but that may have been because of the rain. Finally, a man came up to the car, and decided to just climb in the back seat (Africa…). He was trying to avoid the rain, as he asked for our proof that we had paid our fees and gotten or stamps. However, we didn’t have what he wanted. We showed him all that we had, and without much hesitation, he let us through.

Thankfully the rain had quit as we approached a police stop not even a quarter mile up, just along the Zambezi National Park. The officer asked us how many safety triangles we had, if we had safety vests, and walked all the way around our car. At this point, he had Brad get out of the car to show him that our car didn’t meet their requirements because we did not have two red reflective stickers on the back of the vehicle (instead we had white). He told Brad that he would have to fine us $100 USD.  NOTE: The funny thing about this was that there was no paperwork, he just expected us to give him $100 USD, and be on our way. In our eyes, and realistically, he would probably just pocket the money because it was obvious that we were tourists in a South African car, and had no clue about Zimbabwe road rules, not too mention, it wasn’t our car to put stickers on. If Zimbabwe wanted to fine us, they instead need to fine the Britz. We had the money, but we were not going to give it up because we obviously needed it… We were not going to give into what could potentially be organized crime behind the badge (haha). When we told him that we didn’t have it, he tried telling us that the total fine was now $200 USD. (too funny). We told the man that we had 27 Pula (Botswanan currency) & some change from a couple other countries. We had no problem giving it to him, but the funny thing was that at this point, he turned it down. Apparently, it was all or nothing, and he sent us on our way.

Zimbabwe was off to a very rocky start. It was just flat out ridiculous.

As we drove through Zambezi National Park, we were able to see the mist from the rains move through the jungle. It was truly beautiful. As we continued to drive, the sun had set. Traffic was practically non-existent until we got closer to the city, in which case we ended up in a small traffic jam due an elephant blocking the road. We were sitting completely stopped, unsure of what was going on until he walked more into the light. No one was doing anything (because the last thing you want to do is piss off a large elephant) until Brad turned on the brights. The elephant apparently didn’t like the blinding spot light, and decided to clear off the road. Finally, we were in motion again.

When we made our way into town, the small buildings began to slowly turn into a cluster. We did our best to find our way into the hotel, but the car was moving faster than the dot on our iPhone map, but we eventually figured it out. When we reached A’Zambezi River Lodge, we were somewhat shocked to find out that they could not find our reservation, they even called their reservation department (one man) to verify, and nothing. I had obviously booked through Hotels.com (gotta get those free nights), and paid in advance for the room, but they still showed nothing.  This required me to log into their wi-fi to dig through my email, and get on the website, just to get them the confirmation information. NOTE: I was frustrated because I had read in the hotels reviews that this had happened a few times before with other guests, and I didn’t think it would happen to me, but that’s probably why it did. When it was all worked out, they put us in a room, but what we realized is that they put us in a garden view room, when we had paid for a river view room.

We figured we would deal with specifics in the morning because we were already frustrated and mentally exhausted. We decided to go grab dinner. We got the menu, and only had a few options to order from because they were out of several ingredients. So, I got the schnitzel and Brad got fried crocodile tail, which is like eating chewy chicken.  Dinner was mediocre, and we were wiped out. It was the type of exhaustion that you can see taking over in the eyes, so we just headed to bed.

Day 12:

We had our bags packed and ready to be moved. While, I finished getting ready, Brad went to the front desk to have things sorted out. When he got back, he told me that they wouldn’t have any rooms available until that afternoon because they had to wait to check someone out. They were also unwilling to issue us any credits for the price difference between the two rooms or apparently comp meals, even though they screwed up.

iphone update 1247.JPGWith that slightly out of the way, we headed to The Lookout Cafe. A beautiful cafe/activity venue that overlooks the gorge of the Zambezi River. From here, you can also see the Victoria Falls Bridge, and the mist rising up from the crashing water. It’s absolutely beautiful. We were here for breakfast, and we both ordered a poach egg dish that has had me craving poached eggs ever since! We wanted to sit along the railing, but it was a cool and windy morning so we moved further in behind the partition. We watched the other tourist as they cheered on their friends who were more daring than they, as they jumped off ledges and slid across cables. The Lookout Cafe was the place that makes you want to retire in Victoria Falls.

iphone update 1244.jpg

We had decided that we wanted to head to Zambia, so we ran back to the hotel to grab all the things we thought we may need, and then headed to the border. It was much more orderly there than it had been at our initial crossing into Zimbabwe, but it wasn’t until after the man had stamped our passports that he told us that we would be paying multiple fees to get the car in and out of both Zambia & Zimbabwe and that we would have to get a new entry visa every time (this was not what we were told at the hotel, shocker!).

iphone update 1260.JPGThis felt like a devastating defeat. A true blow. We were frustrated beyond measure, and didn’t know what to do since we didn’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars just to spend the first part of our day in Zambia. We ended up just heading back into town to wander around. We figured that we would check out the shops and grab some lunch. So we did just that. Most of the shops just offered the same old things that did not excite us at all.  After wandering aimlessly for a little while, we stopped at Lola’s Tapas & Carnivore Restaurant, which offered exotic game meat like giraffe and zebra to name the weirdest two. FACT: Turns out that Brad loves giraffes so much, that it’s the one game meat that he won’t eat. I opted for pasta (not the best choice), and Brad chowed down on a burger. We enjoyed each others company and tried our best to not let Zimbabwe get us down and rebuild our spirits.

After our refreshing lunch in the warm Zimbabwean air, we headed back down the street to the out door curio market. We were on the hunt for a mask to put with our one from Zanzibar. The market was a decent size, and had a lot of touristy trinkets to take home family, and some fun things for yourself including large carved sculptures. We didn’t buy anything that day, as we figured it was best if we just left it as a browsing day. I think we were both, also, so frustrated that we didn’t feel like haggling with the shop keepers, let alone have them continually follow us trying to get us to buy things that we don’t want.

We stumbled into another shopping center just up the street, The Elephant Walk, that actually had stores where hassling and negotiating was not allowed; everything had a set price. It was just passed the crocodile cage diving facility where you could actually cage dive with crocodiles… It looked about as exciting as it sounds (I didn’t think looked exciting at all).. Basically… It’s a shallow curvy swimming pool that can’t be more than three feet deep with only one or two crocodiles. They put you into a cage & lower you down, and you can use oxygen if you want… but I don’t think you actually need it. Then they use bate to draw the crocodile near. NOTE: When we exited the shops we walked back by, and I touched the crocodiles foot… I was feeling bold.. I ‘m a real wild child! haha.

The shops were really nice, but the one that had real tourist stuff was extremely over priced. We have some of the same stuff here in Arizona, at one of my favorite shops, that is cheaper. It was insane, so naturally, we skipped it.

After that, we headed back to the hotel to hang out for a while, after all… we were supposed to be moving rooms that evening. We just wandered the grounds in attempt to find the river walk that our hotel claims to sit on…. We walked from one end of the grounds to the other, but there was no path… Turns out, it doesn’t sit on the river walk (which makes sense since it is quite a distance from the falls)… just another disappointing blow. All we could find were boat ramps with tour boats, pretty flowers, and bright insects… We didn’t know what else to do, so we decided to sit at the room for a while until they called. I ended up on the patio, and as I sat there waiting I watched the staff. One member walked along the sidewalk opening every room door of the river view building as he walked along. I thought this was kind of strange. As he disappeared, I got up to inspect because I was fearful that it could be a security issue for other guests that may be in those rooms; or if they were empty, I was curious why we weren’t already in one. Sure enough every one of those rooms was empty and I was flaming mad at this point. There was no reason why one of those ready rooms wasn’t provided to us that morning, especially since they weren’t going to reimburse us for the difference, or comp our meals.

Anyways, we finally got transferred to our new room overlooking the central grounds and a “view” of the river. (I would, also, like to note that a big part of why I picked this hotel was for the wildlife that visits.. warthogs, a hippo, and all the monkeys.. We only saw monkeys during our time there.)

We ended up heading back into town for dinner, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where we ate. Neither can Brad. so on that note… After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and proceeded to hang out and watch TV before we fell asleep.

Day 13:

Since we had pretty much seen all that we had seen, we decided that we wanted to try and head to Hwange National Park. We were running behind and didn’t feel like trying to track down breakfast, so we decided to eat at the hotel. This, once again, was a frustrating dilemma (but partially our fault). Prior to being seated, we were offered the option of three breakfast “directions”: the buffet, the continental, or order from the menu. That was all that was said. Not thinking much of it, we chose the buffet. We had our fruit, toast, and omelettes, tea and coffee. ..and tried to relax while caffeinating for the day. When we got the check, we were incredibly shocked that the bill was $70 USD for our breakfast because we go the buffet. We were frustrated that no one or nothing pointed out the extreme price differences, but we also, should have though to ask (lesson learned) .

Once again, we were both in a funk of disbelief, and got in the car to head to the park. There was just one problem. The road was blocked off. We immediately, were feeling the defeat… again. Frustrated, we just turned back around to figure out a plan.

iphone update 1269.jpgOur plan ended up being to visit Victoria Falls. So, with our water resistant jackets in hand, we drove back toward the border (Victoria Falls is a dividing point for Zimbabwe & Zambia), parked the car, crossed the street & bought two tickets. Brad had heard rumors of people getting drenched, but at the first stop it was just a light mist, and didn’t seem too bad.  The sights were so beautiful. Everything was so green. It was like being a rain forest. It was a beautiful walk along the paved paths. It wasn’t very crowded which was great because it made me feel more at peace with nature.  This was the first time that I actually began to feel love for Zimbabwe. The paths were lined with giant trees encased in vines and tall grasses and shrubs. At one point a small antelope stood next to railing eating the grass that lined the cliff. We wondered how he found his way there.

iphone update 1329.JPGAs the path progressed, so did the mist. Eventually, as you reach the long line of falls, you begin to get more and more wet. You end up drenched, from head to toe. My water resistant shell was, indeed, not water proof. It had become useless as my tank top began to grow lengthwise. But it was incredible. It was the type of experience that makes you feel more alive. You can’t help but laugh as the water streams down your face as if you are in a rainstorm. We now understood why the locals rent out raincoats across the street from the entrance.

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I think it was the first time in Zimbabwe that Brad and I were truly having fun. We were laughing at the situation and at ourselves for once again underestimating the situation, while simultaneously hoping that my Fjallraven Kanken, kept my Nikon from getting wet (it did!) . It was great fun to watch as the mist would clear out to present the beauty of the water collapsing over the cliff’s edge, and then watch it fill back up again as if you are staring a cloud in the face, should a cloud have a face…

We made our way toward Victoria Falls Bridge where we were able to get a beautiful view, and see the people and cars crossing. As we began our departure from the park, the mist/rain began to clear. We could finally see the sun shining through again, and the we were able to enjoy the beauty of the park.  We were able to see some fuzzy orange caterpillars, and there were monkeys running amok through the park, as well.

FACT: When the rivers are at their highest and the waterfall is pouring at its most, The intensive level of mist that rises from the falls actually will create rain in the town of Victoria Falls. It creates an environment all of its own for a brief time in the year. 

ipad update 5563After having a nature shower, it was time for a man-made shower. So we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up.  I, also, got to spend some time on the patio, monitoring the monkeys that were running circles on the lawn & rough playing with each other, and jumping into the trees for snacks. All, while Brad waited for hotel maintenance to fix the hot water that went out (If it wasn’t one thing it was another with this hotel. Seriously, I haven’t even mentioned that the toilets in both rooms looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned – thank the Lord for antibacterial wipes, i just did it myself). I had a great time photographing the little lunatics, and was even able to get in a long phone call with my parents before we headed to dinner.

We headed back down by the markets (that I mentioned above), to an Asian restaurant called Nam Took (I’m pretty sure). It was really good. I got a spice chicken & noodle dish, and Brad got some other noodle thing… We enjoyed a little bit of each other’s while we engaged in meaningless chatter & perused social media. For the most part, it had been a really good day, and things were looking up. We even decided, after careful deliberation, and thought, that we would go to Zambia the next day.

After dinner, we needed to get some cash for the next few days, so we went in search of an ATM. We drove around in search of one (which took a while, and a few stops), and there happened to be a few ATMs behind the big grocery store. When we got to the ATM, we were trying to get $100 Zimbabwe Dollars. We tried a few times, and then the security guard told us to try a lower amount. It finally worked, at about $30.00. We ended up having to go to 3 ATMS (all in one area) to get the money we needed, and ended up having to use all of our free international ATM transactions that our bank gives us. (Could Zimbabwe, make life anymore difficult? haha).

Finally, with cash in hand we headed back to the hotel so that we could have our adventure the next day.

to be continued…

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Namibia: The Road Trip Edition.

Day 5:

Our journey from South Africa had come to a close. As soon as we landed in Windhoek, Namibia we went through customs & grabbed our luggage, which took about 5 minutes because the airport was so tiny. Immediately, we headed out in search of our rental car representative. We were looking all over for a sign with our name or for someone wearing a Britz shirt. Neither were found. We were uncertain of what to do because we had no phone service, and had no clue of who we should ask.  Thankfully, one of the locals who I assume was probably a taxi driver stopped to help us.  Once he saw Britz on the paperwork, he told us to wait in place. He came back not long after, introduces us to the Brizt guy, and then recommended that we wait while he gathered the other Britz customers before transporting us all to the office.

Upon arrival at the Britz office, we were offered beverages and then set up with a representative. They brought us to their desk where we had to fill out several documents and give them as much information as we possibly could. They were incredibly thorough. In addition to a heap of paperwork, we were shown our car, and our rep walked us through everything on the car & even made sure that all the lights worked, and showed us some of the features… She even made sure that we had all the safety requirements that are required by the countries we were going to visit, such as neon green safety vests & 2 safety triangles.

As we were wrapping up our checks, I watched as one other couple that was there going through the checks of their camping truck.. The kind that has pop up tents attached to the top. I pointed them out to Brad, and that I thought they were more hardcore than we are. However, Brad then shared with me a funny and crazy tip from some of the locals that he knows from working in the DRC. TIP: You don’t want to camp on top of a 4×4 vehicle in Africa because the lions have figured it out. They know how to get you. …and that just doesn’t sound very pleasant to me. I joked about telling the campers, but why freak them out? Why kill their African buzz, you know??? …we never saw them again. haha!

With our vehicle loaded up, we hit the road. Brad was still driving on the opposite side of the car and opposite side of the road. Our first stop was in the actual town of Windhoek. We needed food & water for the road, and we needed to grab lunch. Our first plan of action was to eat. So with not many options in the Windhoek mall we decided to grab a couple burgers from Steers because the last time we had it in SA with Neil (remember, Neil??), it wasn’t half bad. This time, however, it was awful…. Room-temp burgers & soggy fries felt more like a punishment than an actual meal. We didn’t bother trying to finish our food. A swing and a miss. We just decided to move on. So we headed into the cute little market that sat near the parking garage, and decided to grab some grub. We grabbed a couple of apples, salted nuts, oreos, crackers, and I snagged a KitKat for later… Along with this, we grabbed 3 gallons of water for the journey. The goal was to grab things that could last us for about 10 days, and could withstand warmer temperatures if necessary. I’d say we succeeded.

Once the car was loaded up, and the parking was paid… the fun could begin. First, we had to navigate our way out of the city which was slightly tricky, at one point we were going the wrong direction and had to turn back. One thing that Brad & I don’t do… Pay for GPS. We utilize our iPhones as much as possible, which means, we are grabbing wifi at any possible moment to upload our maps, check routes, get addresses, whatever we need to do. This is also why I do as much mapping and routing as possible when I am home, that way I am able to have an idea and mental notes of our locations before our trip even starts. It’s kind of like The Amazing Race training.

iphone update 694We began heading south toward Sossusvlei. That was our fist big sight to stop and see on this road trip. The drive was quite long at approximately 5 hours but the scenery was EXQUISITE! I think we both felt that we were constantly at a loss of words because we took in some truly stunning views. Before the road turned to dirt, we were stopped at a stopping point where the lady asked us where we were going and for Brad’s drivers license, shortly after we passed a troop of baboons, and then… it was dirt.  At one point in the beginning of our drive we watched a massive eagle swoop down right in front of us to snatch some road kill out of our path. Our drive was starting off on a high note. The wildlife sightings were on point, but after that there wasn’t much more. We saw a couple other smaller animals such as tortoise, guinea fowl, warthogs, and of course a ton of cattle… We continued on through the valleys admiring the massive nests that were built up on the lines (phone or power, who could know??)… and constantly anticipating the next sighting. We passed through a gorgeous mountainous region where you could see for miles. The terrain was jaw dropping as was the view… We finally were beginning to drop in elevation, and the terrain began to change from grasslands to desert.

iphone update 261.jpgThe animal sightings vanished as we entered into the sandy vastness of Namibia. The drive was becoming slightly more dull as a sandy and rocky landscape became more constant. Finally, we began to see a bit more wildlife. springbok. We also had the great pleasure of passing over the Tropic of Capricorn.  A sign in the middle of nowhere covered in colorful stickers noting that we were in a pretty cool spot!iphone update 265.jpg

We finally reached the hardly existent “town” of Solitaire where we filled up on fuel and took advantage of a bathroom break before we continued onto our hotel.

We arrived early that evening at Moon Mountain Lodge. I was so excited about staying here because you feel somewhat exposed to the elements. Each individual room sits segregated on the side of the mountain, and requires 4×4 just to reach your room (otherwise, you park at the bottom and someone has to drive you from there). It was so worth it. Once we were checked in we had a couple hours to kill until dinner time. We wandered the grounds trying to get photos of butterflies, hawks, and whatever else flew our way. With minimal success, we headed back toward the lodge. We ended up grabbing our necessities and walked up to the main house where we sipped on our beers, scrolled through our photos, and watched the sun as it began to set.

NOTE: I should state here that after writing this blog & getting through the first 27, I realized that I am too boring when it comes to food. So, I have been doing my best to try new things when I travel. Now, when I get to China, don’t be expecting me to eat their green fermented eggs… That’s not going to happen. 

iphone update 293.jpgWith the dinner bell rung, everyone grabbed a table. We sat near the entrance and were quite close to the lovely buffet. I wasn’t sure of what to expect when Brad told me that they were serving springbok lasagna & oryx steaks, so I started with a bowl of amazing pea soup (normally I wouldn’t gravitate towards that), and geared up for my next course. I was going to do it! …and I did. I filled my plate with a mixed green salad, rice, mixed veggies, oryx steak, and springbok lasagna. With each bite, I was pleasantly surprised. You see, chicken is my main source of protein… and tuna. (I know, right… tuna, so stinky, but so delicious) I will occasionally go for steak meals, or pulled pork… but nothing too exciting. Anyways, with my plate loaded up…. I took my first bite, and realized that my food problems are mostly mental…. The problem is that unlike with chicken or steak: when I eat oryx I can’t stop picturing an oryx… So as I tried to work that out mentally, I began to realize that I was actually somewhat enjoying something new… I didn’t love it, but I didn’t mind it. I think Brad was proud of me too. Then there was the springbok lasagna… it wasn’t like traditional lasagna, the springbok had a very distinctive seasoning that I wasn’t keen on. But both new meats were tender and lean. I at least knew that what I was eating wouldn’t kill me and it was pretty healthy, fresh, and probably organic given that it was probably hunted off the African plains. Full from new meats, soups, and fresh breads.. dessert was announced. A type of sticky cake with a custard sauce… It was sweet and rich. I was thankful that they only served small pieces, as my stomach took all it could bare.

With full and satisfied tummies, we led ourselves down the dark raw walkway guided by only our iPhone lights. When we reached our room, we realized that our room had become bombarded with insects that seemed to be in a flurry all around us. There was nothing to do…. We were basically in the bush. …and it was the nature of the experience. Our sleeping quarters and our bathroom were separated by an open bridge, which was a little frustrating only because I didn’t want to let in anymore insects. But we made it work. We took turns going back and forth, taking quick showers & prepping ourselves for sleep. Once we were both lying down and ready to sleep, we realized that the flurry of insects would not leave us alone. This is when I realized that my husband is a genius… He turned on a light at the opposite end of the room to draw them away. Thankfully, it wasn’t a bright light. (Thanks, Africa.)  We were off to dream land.

Day 6:

I was up sooooo early. I knew breakfast wasn’t being served until 7, but I couldn’t help it. I could sleep no longer. Nature acted as our alarm in the form of a bird sitting outside of our open window chirping us awake. It was both annoying and magical at the same time. I don’t even know how the two can coincide, but it can. As I began to wake, I realized that the sun was beginning to rise over the mountains in the distance, and the view was just as beautiful as the evening before. I escorted myself out the door to the bathroom to start getting cleaned up and ready for the day… There was so much driving to be done, and I didn’t want to be late to breakfast.

All prepared, with bags in the car.. We drove up the hill to the main house & waited until they were ready to serve. Omelettes and toast made from homemade bread… The bread was so soft and so moist… It taste like the homemade bread my mom would make when I was a kid. It was so good that I went back for seconds.  We had to get going though… We wrapped up breakfast, checked out, made our way back down the mountain and took on the drive to Sossusvlei.

You could see for miles in all directions, and we had the pleasure on seeing a few groups of oryx on the way into the park. Once we reached the Sossusvlei park we went into the shop to purchase our park permit, and we both took advantage of the bathroom. …and then we were off. We showed our permit to the gatekeeper, and made our way in. Our first destination was the famous Deadvlei. It was the farthest back & also required a 1 kilometer walk in each direction, so we figured the sooner the better, in attempt to do it before the day was at its hottest point which I think was about 40 degrees Celsius, and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Namibian Dunes
SHOP THIS PRINT

The drive was overwhelming in a sense. The size and quantity of the orange dunes was absolutely magnificent. ….but that is the thing about sandy desserts, you get thirsty just by looking at them. They just look overbearingly hot. The drive to Deadvlei felt like it was going on forever. It was much farther than it seemed on Google Maps, but when is that not the case??? When we reached the entry for Deadvlei, there was a pick up & drop off for anyone that wanted to take a park shuttle… We, however, had 4×4… but our X-trail even seemed to struggle. The sand was intense… Fine, Shifty, Deep. There were a couple times when we weren’t confident that we could make it either way, even as we were being guided through by one of the local drivers. We could feel the car slip and slide as the sand would shift under and around the tires. Despite the struggle, we made it.

 

We geared up & made sure we had plenty of water. It was sweltering, but nothing that either of us couldn’t handle as we are both desert dwellers here in AZ. The walk naturally, started off easy, and we were feeling confident that it we could handle it with relative ease. We did for the most part… But the heat definitely slowed us down, and my Toms were constantly filling with searing hot sand… but I would say that it was definitely worth it for the experience, Let alone the view. We spent probably close to 30 minutes in the very small valley, as I snapped many stunning photos of the preserved trees, and towering dunes surrounding the area, while Brad naturally stood in the shade of one of the dead trees.

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Once we wrapped things up, we made our way back which was harder than the journey in, probably because of the steep exit, and prolonged time in the overpowering sun. At this point, my shoes were taking in so much sand  that my feet felt they were burning, and were completely packed into place. I could not move my toes as they were ever so carefully wrapped in fine sand. By the time we reached the car, the temperature inside had gone up significantly. We had to crank the AC, much as we do at home during the summer. As the car began to cool, I stood under the nearby tree to drain the sand from my faded navy slip-ons (here’s a video). It seemed like it went on forever. Well, I think it took about 9-seconds.

Our car ride back to the main road was a bit tense, as you never know at what point you could get stuck in the sludgy sand. Brad, somewhat calmly, continued to chomp down on his corn nuts as he weaved through the old tracks of other visitors. Meanwhile, I was ready to lose my cool between the stress and Brad’s crunching… #Marriage.  Finally, we reached the pavement and we were both relieved. We decided to skip Bid Daddy, because realistically…. All the dunes were big and orange… and it was hot as balls!!! So instead, since we still had to drive to Walvis Bay that day, we turned right back around with the intention of stopping at Dune 45.

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At Dune 45 there were only a couple other people there. One guy was having a solo dance party, and Brad & I were cracking up while watching. I had a strong admiration for his commitment to fun in such a desolate place. We watched as one other couple took their individual photos on the dune, and as they left we rotated in. Brad went first. I snapped a few pics of his adorable face on the massive pile of sand and then we switched… However, I didn’t just want to meander up about 30 feet… If I was going to do this I was going to commit. …and I did. I did my best to work my way up to the top of Dune 45 as quickly as possible. It was hard. The hot sand was filling and covering my feet again, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was steep. I did my best to jog up, but at several points had to stop. I noticed, also that the other couple was waiting around watching me as I made this daring move at midday… As I continued up, it looked like would never end.. I don’t think I truly ever reached the tippy-top, but it definitely looks like I did. It just felt like it kept going and going… but I guess that is the nature of the desert, and Dunes never do stop shifting.  Finally, Brad snapped his photos, and I ran down…. I got off that dune as fast as possible, and immediately made my way to the giant tree for shade and to catch my breath.  Once I was settled, we were back in the car and on our way out of the park.

We wanted to stop for lunch, and thought that we had seen that there was a restaurant at the reception, but it looked like it was only a bar… and a bread dispensary??? There was a lot of wrapped bread on the table for sale. haha.  So we used the restrooms, and headed over the gas station in hopes of something to eat. We grabbed a container of Brie to eat with our crackers, a couple of drinks, and a candy bar, and fueled up again for the drive to Walvis Bay.

horseIt was another extensive drive, at approximately 5 hours, and we departed Sossusvlei around 1 PM. For the most part the views were quite barren but that didn’t keep us from seeing zebra in the distance where they could find grass, a baboon troop running free, and wild horses wandering in search of small patches of grass… In all honesty, I’ve never been so close to a wild horse, nor have I ever seen such skinny horses, but none the less.. They were beautiful. I think the people that drove past me photographing them probably thought I was crazy getting so close, but I couldn’t help myself.

Anyways, the terrain we passed through changed about every 100 km. We past through some grassier plains, rocky hills, areas that seemed to be composed of nothing but canyons, and sandy regions where it looked as if nothing could survive a single day, if even an afternoon. Eventually, it began to turn back into pale dunes… That’s when you know you are approaching Walvis Bay… more dunes.  We arrived into the city around 6 PM, and sadly, our phones went grid, which meant we were doing things by my memory. It turned out to be tricky… I just knew we were near the water, our hotel, Protea Hotel by Marriott, was blue and white, and had sea views… At one point we were going the wrong way, and we were getting frustrated. The key was to stay calm and just work it out mentally… Within 20 minutes we were there without any major issues. We got checked in and brought our bags in, which required us to haul them up stairs because there was noooo elevator.

We took about 30 minutes to unwind and get ourselves sorted before we headed down the way for dinner. We figured since we were in Namibia, it would be a good idea to get some German food… So, Brad scouted out Anchors at the Jetty Restaurant which was 3 minutes away, in a boating area right across from the hotel. We got a seat fairly easily inside because it was quite chilly and windy outside. It was a no-brainer with what to order… Schnitzel and chips… Holy Hell… We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. (Brad ordered the same thing). They brought us 2 massive pieces of chicken and a big pile of chips (fries) each!!! It was so much food, and it was incredible. We stuffed our faces like a couple of fat kids at a birthday party. It was so good!

With incredibly full stomachs, we quickly walked back to our hotel in attempt to escape the chill. We had to shower… and I’m glad I did when I did because when I was getting ready to wash my face later on, I learned the water died. I had to have Brad help me rinse my hands with our bottled water, and just left the soap on my face until we could be We were without water for about an hour.  We were exhausted, and I had started to fall asleep while we were watching a movie, so with that we wrapped things up in preparation for our early morning the next day.

Day 7:

It was the same old thing the next day, an early call for kayaking with seals with Pelican Point Kayaking. Because the activity interfered with our checkout time, we had to have our bags packed and in the car before our buffet breakfast, so that we could be to the kayaking company (right next to Anchors at the Jetty) by 7:30.  It was a slightly stressful morning because even though I am madly in love with my husband, we think and do things differently, especially since we spend more time apart than together, so sometimes things can get a little tense. Like how we got to breakfast, and had to rush… and I didn’t think he was eating fast enough… haha. There are times I want to smother him with a pillow, and times that I’m sure he probably wants to trip me into a pile of crabs.. I don’t know… It’s just marriage woes.

Either way, we had everything in the car, and the main debate was whether or not to bring my Nikon… I decided not to because 1) Brad was pretty against it, 2) it was more gear to bring, 3) there were water concerns… but I really wanted to, and sadly I went against my gut. But I had my iPhone.

ipad update 3629We ended up not needing to rush to the kayaking venue because they apparently had issues with another couple and had to get it worked out before we could all leave. But eventually we all loaded up into a big-ass 4×4 vehicle with kayaks in tow, and began our drive through town & on to Pelican Point, a long and skinny strip of sand that is ever-growing out through the Atlantic.  We passed along the lagoon filled with pink flamingos, drove through the salt fields, and passed the lighthouse. We saw jackals on the beach which look very similar to our coyotes here in AZ. (I was wishing for my camera at this point.) Also, there were many dead baby seals along the beach which was heart breaking, but when you realized how many seals were living on the beach, it did ease that slight heart ache a bit. Once our guide, Jens, had everything set up, we loaded into our kayaks and hit the water.
iphone update 441We first headed toward open water in hopes of sighting whales and dolphins, but none could be seen, so we switched direction back toward the massive line up of seals of all sizes. Some dried out and beached in their lustrous grey fur suits, and some looking oiled down as they flopped and glided through the water. We spent about an hour or two on the water observing the seals. Some came close and gave us a show, and others would retreat back to the beaches as if we were carrying the plague. It was fun. There were a few surprise splashes… which means I was incredibly upset that I didn’t bring my camera at this point.  All I wanted to do was get in and play with them, but the water was freezing (that’s the opinion of an AZ girl though).

Upon a water departure Jens had a table of sandwiches, tea & coffee set up for us.. Nothing fancy… but a satisfying snack after the exercise & fun. We all stood around and talked about Namibian history & the changes that are coming to Africa. It was a great educational time. It was sad to leave, but I knew there was more to see, and Brad & I, again, had another long drive coming.  On our way back into town, we pulled over to grab some snaps of the flamingos. Because I didn’t have either of my Nikons, Brad and I ended up grabbing the car & going back for a few more shots after we were dropped off.

From the flamingos, we began our drive to Etosha, making it a point to stop in Swakopmund for lunch. Brad has a co-worker with a flat there, and apparently he raves about how much better it is than Walvis bay. NOTE: However, apparently the two cities have a bit of a rivalry happening. Swakopmund seems slightly more geared to tourism, but I didn’t spend enough time in either to take sides with either. We drove through town in search of a place to find water and lunch! We found the Pick n’ Pay first, so we stopped in for a few gallons of water. Then we were back in the car driving up and down the streets in search of food… We found The Tug. A two story restaurant partially made from an old tug boat. We were able to sit on the balcony patio overlooking the Atlantic. We both ordered our fish dishes, and like most times… Brad was better. Mine was bone-in (a first for me!!), and although mine had a good flavor, I wasn’t crazy about the texture. I like mine a little more meaty and flaky.. and mine was more mushy. We ate all we could before we requested our check. With a need to satisfy our sweet tooth we headed back toward the ice cream shop we had passed by en route to The Tug. We pulled over and parked across the street from Ice & Spice Cafe. There was a short line, but it extended out the door. We new it would be good! We each got chocolate on a cone, and it was as refreshing as it was delicious. In true Natalie fashion it was gone within minutes… I had to eat it fast! It was melting!!!

From ice cream we headed to fuel. We wanted to top off before the journey continued, and it was crucial that we checked one of our tires as it seemed to be continually losing air slowly. We also grabbed a quick bathroom break because after our 40 minute drive into Swakopmund, we had another 4 hours and 45 minutes (approximately) until we reached the outskirts of Etosha National Park.  Honestly, this drive was pretty dull. There was no wildlife to be seen partially because once we hit the green plains and hills,  we also started hitting massive rain storms. We had to slow down drastically because of traffic, and the rain was pounding the car so hard at some points that you could hardly see more than 15 feet in front of you. ….but as most African storms usually do, it cleared up within 30 minutes.

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Our lunch at The Tug had ended up longer than planned, so because of that we also ended up driving in the dark which was a little bit terrifying because we knew at any moment a kudu or a springbok could lunge right in front of the car which would then leave us stranded with no phone service, possibly a totaled car, and/or dead! WOO-HOO! So we both attempted to keep our eyes pealed on the road. This night was rough. We were so exhausted from the early morning, and I was doing all that I could to stay awake & help Brad. Eventually, we arrived safe and sound at Etosha Safari Lodge, and once again we had gone without a meal. Dinner was not an option because we got in too late, but with that tardiness, exhaustion, and food deprivation came crankiness. Our best option was just to go to bed. We (mostly I) did our best to unpack the bare minimum since our belongings would be back in the car in less than 10 hours.  Honestly, this lodge was better than expected. It was clean, fairly comfortable, and I loved that our room was a completely separate building so we had no contact with or did not hear any other guests.

Day 8:

We were up early once again… We got ourselves ready, Brad loaded his things into the car, and went down for breakfast first. It was taking me longer to get ready and packed up, so I decided that I would just meet him. About 20 minutes later, I had everything in the car, and for the first time, was driving on the opposite side of the car! I found it to be surprisingly easier than anticipated. I drove down the hill to reception where breakfast was also served. It was once again a buffet. When is it not a buffet??? The buffet was filled with all the typical sorts, but the setting was phenomenal. It was in an outdoor courtyard filled with quirky furniture made with old tires and things… Their were large trees full of interesting bird nests, and the walls were painted with colorful people playing musical instruments. It was an enchanting space that I wish we could have enjoyed at dinner time.  With breakfast wrapped up, we checked out & then headed to Etosha which was maybe 15 minutes down the road.

Upon arrival, Brad checked in at the gate and filled out all the necessary paperwork & the pointed us in the direction of the permit office. Down the way was a small shop where I insisted that we get a map. …and like most wives, I was right. Although, the map was somewhat confusing at times… it was definitely helpful, and it had a great animal guide, which I think was the main reason Brad was okay purchasing it.

iphone update 1099Etosha served us well. Our first major sighting: a black rhino having a mud bath, literally on the side of the road. It was so beautiful. We watched as it rolled and cooled down, and then rubbed its horn against a dead tree, then crossed the road as if no one was watching.  We continued on and didn’t see much… tons and tons and tons of springbok and impala. There is no shortage. We also, got in some great bird sightings, and even saw a chameleon. Brad almost ran it over, and somehow as it was crossing the road ever so slowly, I saw it. I was so excited because a chameleon is one thing that I really wanted to see. Here are some great photos:

Giraffe Horizon
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NOTE: Within Etosha, there aren’t many rest stops… There was one that we went too because I needed to use the bathroom.. The gate was closed, but we weren’t sure if it was to keep us or wildlife out, so we entered it anyways and closed the gate as instructed. Unfortunately, the “bathroom” area was completely overgrown so I was forced to pop-a-squat over in a random area, and instructed Brad to keep a lookout for big cats.  SIDE NOTE: I prefer not to pee in nature, but when you gotta go, you gotta go… What I didn’t realize is that on this trip this would be the first of four times… There just aren’t many bathrooms through Africa’s vastness, and truthfully, looking back, I am surprised it was only 4 times… but I have a large bladder. 

iphone update 1110We spent probably 6 hours within Etosha driving up and down the dirt roads, most of which were in great condition . Again, Africa’s vastness is greatly downplayed on Google Maps. It took almost that whole time (with one major detour due to a road closure) to get from our starting point to our end point. We drove out to the lookout point of the pan, and it was interesting to see how vast the now dried up body of water once was.

NOTE: The thing with Etosha– We saw no elephants and not cats… We didn’t see any giraffes or zebra until our last hour… BUT!!!!! We did see spotted hyena, and don’t forget the rhino. There two that were walking along the pan, and it was so incredible to see them in person. Also, we got some beautiful photos of Wildebeest and we saw a red hartebeest for the first time ever.

Namibian Rains
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Eventually, we had to leave Etosha National Park in order to move along with our journey… We were headed to Rundu to spend the night. It was another 4 hour drive, and at this point, we had been surviving on granola bars and nuts…. and there was a slim chance of finding a decent meal between there and Rundu.  We stopped in Grootfontein to get fuel, and found another small grocery store where we were able to grab another container of brie and a box of Kips spring onion crackers… We were living on them at this point… NOTE: Thanks Kips for keeping us going! Nothing like cheese and crackers for lunner (between lunch and dinner), AGAIN… At some point, we were driving through a gnarly rain storm, once again: an Africa classic on this trip. Because we got out of Etosha a couple hours later than planned (also, the norm for us), we ended up driving in the dark again, but it wasn’t too bad. Thankfully, Rundu was a fairly decent size town, so that eliminated the threat of large animals, however…. getting to our hotel was kind of a pain. When we reached the road for our hotel we were all sorts of confused. The road was supposedly closed off and was all torn up, but there were no signs to redirect traffic. We had no clue how to get to our hotel, Tambuti Lodge, especially because it looked like there were no other roads connecting to it. Brad ended up getting out of the car and moving things out of the way so that we could get through.

Namibian Monsoon
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We arrived at our hotel a little before 10 PM. The ladies were getting ready to close up shop, and were glad we made it before they left. Again, we missed dinner… but we were welcomed with their hibiscus drink, and shown our room. It was fairly nice considering we were in Rundu. We also had a resident gecko, which gave us fond memories of our time in Zanzibar. FACT: Geckos are welcome guests because they at least eat the insects. …and in mosquito territory, that is always a welcome attribute.

iphone update 1131We snacked on a couple Oreos (Thank God, for Oreos in Africa), and then made the short journey to the car in the rain to grab our necessary luggage. At one point, I almost stepped on a millipede, and I had Brad telling me to stay on the path so that I don’t get bit by a mamba or a puff adder (no thank you). FACT: Life in the jungle is so much more intense than it should be… Threats of getting bit by anything venomous, and monkeys stealing your stuff.. It’s just not always a good time!

Finally, we were in bed with the intent to be up at a decent hour the next morning for another drive to Maun.

DAY 9:

iphone update 1142We woke up, started packing, and then made our walk to breakfast. Breakfast was served on a built out patio overlooking the Cubango River which separates Namibia from Angola, in other words… We could see Angola.

For once we didn’t have a breakfast buffet! But it was still Africa… which means there’s no American pancakes and American bacon awaiting me! I think we both ordered eggs and beans or something. It was decent, and enough to get us through. They also prepared a small serving of one of their traditional meals ( a type of porridge which was sour) for us to try. They also had hibiscus jam for us to try. It was good! Brad wanted to sell it in the US (he’s crazy). While we were there, we ended up having a long conversation with a really nice Aussie couple who was biking through Africa. They were spending several months taking it day by day through the vast African terrain. It sounded amazing, but I just don’t know that I want bike all over the continent… To each their own!

We got everything loaded into the car, and dropped our key off at the front desk. It was time…. time to head to Botswana!

With a 7 hour drive ahead of us (not including our time at customs) and the car loaded, we exited the premises, and in the day light we found the detour to the main road. We didn’t have to move anything out of our way this time! We stopped for fuel where I kept exchanging smiles and giggles with one of the beautiful women who was working there.

ipad update 4825.jpgWe headed in the direction of Caprivi Game Park which was a little under 2 hours away. When we got there, there was a full-figured woman sitting on a balcony with a pad of paper. We quickly registered, and were instructed to drive through. We didn’t have to show any documents this time, just sign on the line basically. Within 5 minutes of entering the park it began to rain. This greatly diminished the odds of us seeing any wildlife. At this point we still had not seen an elephant & it was killing us on the inside. But, we were not giving up hope! On this portion though, we got to see kudu in the bush, and we had beautiful adolescent Roan antelope staring us down in the middle of the road as it rained down around us. Other than that, nothing else was noteworthy.

We eventually reached the Namibian customs building. We filled out the necessary forms and were quickly in and out, and were directed toward Botswana.

…to be continued.

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Notes to my Readers:

It was brought to my attention by an acquaintance that it didn’t sound like I enjoyed Namibia.  So if it comes across that way… please note, it wasn’t the place. I love Namibia, and i would go back in a heart beat. It was the journey through. I didn’t give us enough time in Namibia.  We were on a very tight schedule which meant we were missing meals, and driving constantly. We spent more time in our 4×4 x-trail then out of it, almost.  So with a grueling journey, would I do it again?? Absolutely! Namibia is a truly incredibly diverse place that perfectly mix-up of European influence while maintaining the Namibian culture. It was easy to get around, the roads (even the dirt ones) were in great condition, and there are so many jaw-dropping views to take in. We were constantly stopping for photos.