Tanzania: The Serengeti Edition.

Our entry into the park took longer than we anticipated. It was a bit of mayhem. There were different desks to file the paper work and then pay, and lines are not something they use there… It’s more of a mob mentality where you have to push your way through. The last time we had experienced this was at the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe the year before. I didn’t expect this as much in the tourist regions of Tanzania, but I suppose it’s because primarily only Tanzanians were frequenting the “lines”.

DSC_1146Once, we had everything squared away, we passed through the final checkpoint with our car where they verified our documents and then dropped the chain barrier so that we could officially enter the park. We still had quite a ways to our next hotel, which as you know, was an impromptu booking.  On the drive in, we were ecstatic to see a hyena bathing in a big muddy puddle right on the side of the road. We were able to stop right next him, and as he got up and began to walk away we were able to move forward side by side. Even though, I have encountered hyenas in person (fed one by hand even!),  and just seen them earlier that day in Ngorongoro, I had never been this close to one in the wild. I was electrified.

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As we passed through the park “center” we saw a petrol station, and figured it would be a good idea to top off the tank since the park was so vast, and we didn’t want anything stopping us from exploring in the coming days. As it turned out, the petrol station in Serengeti National Park was the only gas station we had found in Tanzania that took credit card. haha. Brad was in utter disbelief, and it allowed us a good laugh.

Once we found our lodge, checked in, unpacked & got settled, we decided to head back out for a little while. The one thing we quickly learned about was the dreadful tsetse fly. They loved our big white SUV. Flocked to it, really. There we were in the African savannah constantly swarmed with massive gnarly flies. ..but it didn’t slow us down. …and it definitely did not stop me from hanging out the sunroof despite their aggressive bites, that had Brad cursing and swearing constantly as they snuck into the car.

That night, we were under strict instruction not to wander off on our own on the hotel grounds. We were to be escorted  to our room after dark because of the wildlife. While dinner was good, but not exciting we didn’t linger too long. Instead we headed back to our room to get some rest which was aggressively interrupted in the middle of the night when we were awaken by a ghastly intense screeching roar. I had a feeling what we had heard was a leopard, and it was right outside our room. …no wonder they had the rule. I was accustomed to hearing buffalo or antelope or night, but I was not prepared for that bone trembling sound that I experienced. You know, the kind that even though you just turned 30 (literally, that was the early hours of my birthday) makes you want to hide under the covers and wonder if it could break through the tiny window by the door because it can smell you and your snacks!

DSC_1202That new day was my birthday, but not just any birthday, my 30th! …and I was ready to get the show on the road. I was eager for lions, cheetahs, leopards, anything and everything I could see, but especially the big cats I had never seen before in the wild. So, we loaded our gear back into the car & headed out once again.

With our sightings few and far between, mostly just giraffe, warthogs, baboons, etc… You know, the basics. We decided to call it a day since Brad’s stomach was starting to act up. We raced to get to our hotel in order to beat an incoming rain storm. We were navigating a very rough, and overgrown road, and at this point, the humidity and the bush areas of the park were giving us the royal tsetse treatment. It was the most we had seen, and even our hotel host couldn’t believe the amount of flies that we had brought with us.

As the rain began coming down, we hunkered down in the lobby. Our host told us that on occasion they have a visiting leopard that likes to come into the open air space and take up comfort on the sofa along the wall. I was hoping it was something I could bear witness to, but I did not have the opportunity, unfortunately. Wouldn’t that have been something??? To just wander into to lobby one day, and see a leopard ‘posted up like it ain’t no thang’. I don’t even know what I would do in that situation, but if I had to guess I would say that I’d probably just start talking to it! haha.

When we got to the room, it was clear that Brad was done for the day. He was feeling pretty crappy. He decided to soak in the tub, so I went and walked the grounds hoping to see wildlife. I got nothing, not even a monkey. It just wasn’t my day, which was very disappointing since it was my birthday, after all. My husband was sick, and I had no critter sightings. Romance & adventure were definitely out the window!  When I got back to the room, Brad was in bed. I talked to our hotel host, who was kind enough to bring us some tea, ginger ale, and crackers. Their service was top notch which was great since the room cost us nearly 1000 USD a night. …but if you could see our view from our balcony, and feel the beds… It was worth every penny, and definitely the only place where Brad could be sick and comfortable at the same time! The massive tree house-esque tent was pretty luxurious considering we were in the bush!

We had a gorgeous view at dinner again overlooking the Serengeti. We sat on the patio and enjoyed a wonderful meal, until it started to drizzle again. They were kind enough to move us under cover to finish dining. Again, we were waited on hand and foot, and shortly after dinner they surprised me with a birthday cake and song! It was truly special to be treated in such a way in one of the most incredible places I have been. Despite the disturbances in our day with the tsetse flies and Brad’s intestinal troubles, the views and first class treatment were definitely easing my woes!

We finished off a movie before bed that night, and the following morning were packed up again before breakfast. It was a bright new day for wandering the savannah, as well as, Brad’s stomach.  We found our way back through the high grasses that covered the rough muddy road, and were headed toward the next hotel which was the opposite direction. We spent the bulk of the day just driving around in hopes of something  spotting magnificent.

With the luck we were having, I wasn’t expecting to see much more for the rest of the trip, but I tried to stay positive. We kept trying different roads, and watched where the other vehicles were headed, and sure enough we got lucky a couple hours later. In a new area we stumbled on a long line of cars overlooking a log with 3 lions lounging the day away. They had no interest in the tourists or their snapping cameras; just the cool breeze brushing through their fur and warm sun. It was perfect basking weather for a cat. After a little while, we moved along to let some other people in.

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DSC_0241As we continued our journey on the opposite side of the main road, about 30 minutes later we were just doing our thing when we were caught completely off guard by a LEOPARD carefully settled in the middle of the road drinking out of a puddle. He blended so well with the color of the dusty road and the shadowy shades of gold and green behind behind him that we barely even saw him at first. It all happened so quick that at first I couldn’t tell if it was a leopard or a cheetah. Within a couple seconds of us spotting him and him spotting us he was on the move. He played coy for a bit hiding behind the grasses before crossing the street right in front of us and heading for cover in the overgrown pasture. While I stumbled to get my camera and focus in on the leopard I was in complete shock that we had just miraculously encountered this shockingly beautiful creature, whose movements were paced with poise. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I was just gushing over this animal as we went our separate ways. As I lost sight of the tips of his blackened backs of his ears, it was as if he was waving goodbye with the tip of his tail.

DSC_0836-2Brad & I continued to traverse around that same area in hopes of seeing other big cats, but no luck was had. There were plenty of buffalo and birds, but then our luck continued to change. As we headed back to the main road, we noticed a group of cars huddled near a tree…. We new that meant only one thing: a sighting! We headed that direction with steep anticipations, and thankfully were towards the front of the pack with an excellent line of sight of a pride of lions, mostly cubs and a couple older females hanging out in a tree. Yes, your read that right. These massive kitties were in a ginormous tree. We were probably there for 20-30 minutes, but because of the nature of this sighting we ended up getting trapped in a massive mob of safari vehicles. Thankfully, because of our excellent position, we were not bothered to be stuck. I was having the best time photographing the sweet youngsters as they rested in the tree, and then one by one followed their mother across the dirt road to a new tree. This was probably one of my favorite and most special safari memories.

It was a good day for cat sightings, and we had our full day of adventure, but with the evening start to creep up, we decided to try to find our next hotel. It proved to be a massive challenge. Probably, the biggest of our trip. We attempted to follow the GPS, but it was of no use. We ended up heading down dirt paths in the completely wrong direction, so we tried a different route, but no luck. At one point, we headed to the Visitors Center to get help, however they were of no help. While they had sent us in the correct general direction, there was no possible way that we could have found the place alone. At this point, tempers were starting to flare as we had no idea what to do. We had passed another tented camp that I thought could have been it but there was no signage, it seemed to be in the wrong spot, and we couldn’t figure out how to get to it (because of roads). Thankfully, at this point after hours of trying to find our way, we met a safari guide on the road who was able to help us. In fact, he was headed to our exact same tented camp with other guests! It was an honest to God miracle! In that moment the Lord was looking out because there was no way we could have found this place on our own.  We thought we were pretty far out, but it turned out that we had to go even farther!

DSC_0623 (3)We were in the middle of nowhere now & our hosts were telling us about how they had been having lions in the camp hunting… which we never saw, of course.  It is safe to say, the tented camp was the least luxurious place we stayed while in Tanzania. It was just us in a giant hot tent with small dim bathroom amenities, but we still had an overwhelming thirst for adventure to compensate. Our dinner was incredible, but followed by a rough night of sleep. The winds were so aggressive as they whipped against our tent that I thought it might start to pull up from the ground or the roof might blow clean off. It was mind boggling!

DSC_0815-3We had a really early breakfast the next day, and our camp hosts were kind enough to pack us to-go lunches for the road. We spent the day mostly exploring the area closest to us. I loved seeing the large rocky outcroppings where I hoped to see a pride of lions chilling, or cheetahs resting…. but during the first half of the day, we only got one big loner male lion sleeping on top of a stone heap… Just his head was hanging down a bit, as the flies buzzed around his large snout.

Later on in the earlier hours of the afternoon, we were roaming solo on what felt like the southern most parts of the Serengeti. There was no one around. It was quiet and the sun was beating down on us through the windows, but we just kept driving hoping for a sighting while fighting the urge to give up. When we finally saw another vehicle we pulled up behind it, and noticed they were watching something in the far distance barely even noticeable to the naked eye. It was two female lions stalking a family of warthogs. The lions would come up and down from the tops of the waving grass whilst keeping a watchful eye, waiting for the pigs to unsuspectingly inch closer and closer. However, as far as I know things didn’t work out for the lions. Despite their patience and talent for ducking low, the warthogs headed farther away. We were disappointed not to see a mad dash for a meal, but I was, also, relieved for the pig family knowing they probably got another day to stick together. We ended up leaving with the suspicion that the lions were not going to be having warthog for dinner, and felt our time may be best spent elsewhere.

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It was crazy how one day we had incredible success, and the next we saw hardly anything. It was hard to stay enthusiastic when all you wanted was to see more leopards, and even a cheetah for the first time. That’s what is crazy about doing a self-drive. It can really be an all or nothing gig. It’s all left to chance!

DSC_0553 (2)-2As Brad was ready to turn back & head to camp for the rest of the afternoon, I wanted to push on a little further as it was still early in the day with nothing waiting for us at camp; and thank God we didn’t! Lady luck was shining down on us after all! As we drove down the windy and very bumpy quiet road with no one even miles near, we stumbled upon a cheetah. One gorgeous cheetah who didn’t really want to give us the time of day, but also was in no rush to get away from us.  We stalked her from a safe distance, hoping to respect her boundaries as she sauntered away, but all I wanted to do was leap from the car and walk along side her through the giant field while I stroked her back with admiration.

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Feeling lucky again, we pressed on more, but nothing more came to be seen. At one point we lost track of the road, so we decided to stop so that we could figure out where we were at. I climbed on top of the car to get a higher vantage point, but I couldn’t see anything. We had no choice but to do a little mild off-roading. NOTE: Both getting out of your car & going off road are big No No’s in the Serengeti. You can get a big fine like Kristen Bell & Dax Shephard (complete with music video).

Once we found the road again just a short jaunt away, we knew it was time to head back. I was ready to be out of the car since it had been another  long day on the road, and I was psyched to clean myself up and have a hot meal again. That night was, also, a rough night of sleep. I didn’t think it could be any noisier than it was the night before, but I was dead wrong. It was so loud, I was actually slightly concerned for our safety.

The next morning we were up early as usual, enjoyed breakfast, packed up our bags, and began making our way out of the Serengeti. The sun had barely risen, but we noticed a little tan head just above the grasses watching some warthogs in the distance. We sat and watched the patient girl for a few minutes, but then passed on figuring that this could go on for hours.

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DSC_0721 (2)I was sad to leave the Serengeti, but was, also, kind of eager to head home since this trip had very much so had its challenges. That morning began our long journey back toward Arusha.  We cruised around some of areas near the main road and actually had some fabulous encounters with elephants, impala, and even a chameleon crossing the street before we officially said goodbye and topped off our fuel.

…to be continued.

 

Here are some of our other photos from the Serengeti:

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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.

A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

Australia: The Sydney Edition.

Day 1:

Barely a week after returning from Charlotte, I had Brad dropped off at the airport on the morning of May 20th & I was wrapping up all my loose ends before I headed out on an evening flight that same day. I was bound for Sydney.

I was going to visit one of my best friends who has been working over there for the last several months. The plan was for me to grab a cab to her place in the suburb of Surry Hills. It is definitely an artistic community, and as I shared with her… at one point I felt like I should be in some form of hipster music video strolling passed stores of refurbished vintage furniture, and old records.  …but back to day one.  When I arrived at my friends home, she wasn’t there. Shit. I wasn’t sure what to do because I didn’t want to leave and then have her arrive, but as I was sifting through my phone for options, I figured out that there was magical wi-fi throughout the city that I was able to sign up for right outside her home for like $10.  I was finally was able to get a hold of her. She was still at work, but on her way to let me in.

When we got inside her small, modest home. I dropped my bags, changed and quickly freshened up so that we could go get some lunch. First, we made our way to the metro, where I loaded up a pass with travel funds & then made our way into the heart of the city, the Circular Quay stop, Sydney Harbournew 1619.jpg

Lunch was in a food court type setting. There was just about every type of food you could imagine. I, as I usually do when travelling, was craving asian food. In particular, dumplings. I had never had them before, but a I could not shake a certain level of curiosity that had been plaguing me for months. Finally, it happened. Inside the Gateway Shopping Centre is Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung had magical dumplings. They were an explosion of flavor that have made my desire for dumplings stronger than ever before.

After lunch, we parted ways. I headed further into the city to find a cellular provider who could get me a SIM card for my phone. It ended up being a much cheaper option than paying for international service with my US provider.   Once that task was complete, I headed back to Gateway to Four Frogs Creperie. If you know me by now, you know how much I love a tasty Nutella crepe. Four Frogs were pretty delish. Were they the best, no. …but they held their own.  iphone 217I headed toward the end of the wharf as I snacked on my sweet treat. I took a seat by the water and watched the ferries pull in and out of the harbour. Then, I decided to make my way around to the other side. I followed the waters edge all the way to the Sydney Opera House, and then back into the amazing Botanical Gardens. I followed the water quite a ways until I had the best view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. FACT: For $253 AUD you can climb the Sydney Bridge. I didn’t climb it because walking up the side of a bridge in a line of people in matching jumpsuits, just doesn’t appeal to be for the cost.  It was some of Sydney’s biggest sights all in my first day.   Here’s a little photo collection from that afternoon:

I was doing well at keeping the jet-lag at bay. I took my time wandering back into the city. I had agreed to meet my friend at her office before we commuted back to her place. It was a casual night in for dinner as she cooked up a quick meal for us to enjoy. We exchanged funny conversation before we headed to bed for the night.

Day 2:

The next morning, my friend headed into work early, and I slept in. I took my time getting ready, and didn’t make it into the city to close to 11 AM. I stopped into Gateway to find a quick snack. I decided on Top Juice. I figured a juice would be a good way to settle my system  with all the travel I had been doing, and fill me up enough without ruining my appetite. It was perfect.

iphone 231I wandered around for a little bit before heading to my friend’s office so that we could meet for lunch. She ended up taking me down by King Street Wharf where we settled on a burger joint called Beer Deluxe. Here a beer with your lunch was basically mandatory.  We downed our burgers, fries, and drank our beer before my friend escorted me along the wharf.

 

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My thoughtful host walked me to the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, where I proceeded to spend a decent chunk of my afternoon alone. …well, I wasn’t really alone I was with the animals!

I spent a couple of hours here enjoying the various exhibits. Jellyfish… sharks… a manatee/dugong… rays, fish, etc… My favorite part though, was the penguin exhibit. I definitely spent the most time enjoying the funny little birds as they waddled around and attempted to interact with the visitors. TIP: I had a great time there & would recommend it to anyone in the area, especially if you have kids.  Here are some photos from the excursion:

After that, I began making my way back toward’s my friend’s office, but made it a point to weave through the shopping district first. I was in and out of department stores and wandered through the malls. There were beautiful things to see, but the price points were outrageous, higher than home… So I walked away empty handed.

Once my friend and I were back together, we took the train back into Surry Hills. We grabbed some warmer layers & headed out to dinner. IIMM Thai was the choice. I grabbed the chicken fried rice for a big, but light, and warm meal. It was a great option while we exchange funny banter.  I paid the tab at the counter before we headed down the block for gelato at Gelato Messina. The place was very busy. The line was out the door, and the product was worth it. They had a series of unique flavors. Mine was chocolate based and super delicious… TIP: Stop at Gelato Messina if you are in Sydney, they have a couple different locations, and it’s really worth the stop in!

We headed back home so that we could just unwind at the house. We spent a while talking before we headed to bed.

Day 3:iphone 503The next morning I woke up, got dressed, and we headed down the street to a small cafe called Reuben Hills. I ordered the avocado toast, which is the best avocado toast I have had thus far! Once we finished up, I grabbed an Uber to Bondi Beach.

I spent an entire day alone in the area just wandering along the coast and photographing the sea. I started at Bondi Beach and made my way all the way south to Shark Point right next to Clovelly Beach. I took the Coastal Walk which will take you all the way to Coogee Beach if you are up for it or if you have the time. It’s a very scenic walk which takes you through Waverley Cemetery which sits on the coastline.  (For the record, I grabbed lunch at the restaurant at Hotel Bondi & was able to enjoy an order of chicken parmi & fries, and the quiet patio with an ocean view.  It was so delicious & pleasant!) Here is my collection:

BONDI POOLS
SHOP THIS PRINT
SURFER PARADISE
SHOP THIS PRINT

As my free time was coming to a close, I was able to sit on the beach and watch the sun set over the ocean and watched the surfers catch the last few lit up waves before I had to get back into Surry Hills. I had the house key, and had to get back so we both could get in the house.

When I got back to the house, we took time to relax before we got wrapped up to go back out. We were having dinner with my bestie’s Aussie boyfriend & Jamaican was on the menu. Rosie Campbell’s is where they were taking me, and I will say that I never though Jamaican food would be a thing for me… by the pulled jerk chicken sliders were one of the best things that I have ever eaten.  After some sweet live music & filling myself up on tiny sliders,  we headed back to Gelato Messina so that I could get my second helping of gelato… like every girl needs.  We took a seat and gabbed for a little bit and got to know each other a little better before we went our separate ways for the night.

Day 4:

iphone 663.jpgWe were in agreement on a zoo day, so my friend and I woke up a little bit earlier than usual. I ran out to pick up breakfast from Reuben Hills again before we headed out. We took the train to the ferry and on to Taronga Zoo. It sat just off of the edge of the water, and we took the cable car up to the top. We bought our tickets, and made our entry. We were in our element. We both are major animal lovers and were dying as we watched the platypuses, were entertained by the seals, and fell in love with the meerkats. The zoo is a pretty good size, and has a beautiful collection of animals. Some of which, I had never seen anywhere else. Also, it is very well done, and because of its location in certain areas you can take in beautiful views of Sydney Harbour and the downtown area, and The View restaurant serves delicious lunches.

…I never did get to see the koalas.  But here are some photos:

After a great day with the critters, we took the ferry back to the city, and then took the train back to Surry Hills. We had a short walk back to the house, where we whipped up a quick dinner & just spent time hanging out chatting. It was nice to just relax and enjoy each others’ company without having to worry about going anywhere or paying for anything. It was just a comfortable night in.

Day 5:

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The next morning, I rushed around town in search of the Aussie version of Ibuprofen & picked up our breakfast at Kawa Cafe. It was another adventure today. We took the train to the ferry again & headed to Manly Beach. She was insistent on bringing me here because she thought the beach was better than Bondi, and the town was a little bit quieter, & I would agree. It was a cute area to wander for the day. We popped into Jellyfish for lunch, where I grabbed a pulled pork sandwich that was pretty good! Nowhere near American BBQ level, but it was still good enough to mention. …and the curly fries were BOMB! We wandered slowly, popping in and out of a few shops, and made a stop for gelato just outside the ferry station.

When we got back to the city, we picked up wine & Pellegrino for a girls night out, at Phamish, a Vietnamese Cafe in Darlinghurst. I got the privilege of meeting my friend’s group of ex-pat friends. Here I was, an ex-pat wife at a table with a bunch of women from all around the world and who have lived all over the world. It was a really great experience, but a little overwhelming. These girls were ready to party, go dancing, live their crazy lives to the fullest. Me, I was ready for bed.

Side Note: I don’t like Vietnamese food… 

Day 6:

Our plan… Head south to Kiama to visit the blowhole. The uncertainty was whether or not we would have a third party that morning.  Sure enough, we all met up at Paramount Coffee Project for breakfast, and then very quickly made our way back to the train station. The three of us girls rushed as quickly as possible, reloaded our train cards, boarded and took nearly a two hour train ride south. We were in awe of the idea of seeing a blowhole in real life, but the added possibility of seeing whales had us in pure excitement.

new 5421.jpgWhen we arrived, we all needed a snack and to use a bathroom. We stopped in at a small cafe for drinks and cakes, and began taking in the delightfully warm sun. It was warmer than we anticipated, but nothing short of pleasant.  Along the way to the coastline, we became distracted with a small farmers market full of all sorts of handcrafted items. As we continued on we found a small black sandy bay where we sat on the sand and enjoyed the warmth and the view of others around us. I was obsessed with taking photos once again.  Finally, we were back on track and began an incredibly leisurely walk along the coast line in search of the blowhole.

new 5596We found our way over to what we thought was the blowhole, which was tucked in a little ways. We waited a short time, and it spit out a small spray of water, and we decided it wasn’t good enough. So we extended our wait time, and it paid off (sort of). Finally, we got to see  a decent spray. We all hoped for bigger, but we didn’t want to spend the bulk of our day waiting on a blow hole, so we continued on our way. (Turns out, this wasn’t even the right blowhole.) We passed by the lighthouse, and wandered back along the coast line in towards town. Along the way, we found the most beautiful small bay where the water was crystal clear, and the colors you could see were of the most beautiful shades of blue, yellow and orange. It was a perfect spot. You wanted to dive in to the chilly water just to see what was in it!  TIP: If you want a romantic night away from the city, Kiama is great spot. It’s absolutely stunning. 

Here are some of the photos:

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When we got back into town, along the street, we stopped into a small shop for sandwiches to take on the train with us. The train ride back was far more mellow. We were disappointed about not seeing any whales, but as it turned out… whale season was a couple months away.

When we got back into Sydney, we went our separate ways. My friend  & I arrived back at her house and had a little time to unwind before we went out once again! This time, we were heading to her co-worker’s house for another girls night.

When we got there, it was just a small group of girls gathered around the coffee table that was littered with assorted cheeses, meats, crackers, veggies and more. It was great. We were entertained by the funny cat running all over the place, and his constant attempts to steal the food. We were there for several hours. It was one of my favorite nights. It was one full of laughter and joy, and it was a great way to meet new people.

Day 7:

It was my last day in Sydney, and I was pretty worn down. I was ready to get home. It had been a crazy month & I was ready for some time to myself.  …I had to pull myself together.

We headed to breakfast with the intent to meet up with my friend’s boyfriend again. We all met up at Rogue Cafe. Honestly, I don’t remember what I got… and if it isn’t memorable is it worth sharing??? Probably not…

After breakfast, we ended up spending a good chunk of our day with my friend’s friend again in the botanical gardens. We walked and explored and enjoyed the warm weather with the cool breeze once again before we headed back to the house. I had decided to stay at a hotel that night since I had to be up early and my friend had to be to work early. So, I packed up my bags and left them by the front door while we headed out for the evening. The one thing I was wanting before I left were the dumplings from Din Tai Fung just one more time. So we headed back out on the train to circular quay. We weren’t just going for dumplings, we were going for VIVID, the electric light show that covers the harbour.

We ate our Chinese food, and then headed for crepes. I had to have my nutella crepe again from  Four Frogs Creperie, and it was the perfect night for it. It was chilly and so gently raining that the hot sweet treat was perfect to warm my core. While we waited for my friend’s friend to show up… (yep! she was meeting us again! lol) We wandered into the tourist gift shop, and were amazed at all the funny things that were in there for crazy prices.

Finally, the three of us were reunited, and more crepes were in order… So we waited, and finally, we were free to head off on our adventure with snacks in hand. We began wandering through the lit up buildings, and through the light exhibits. It was fantastic! We wandered from one end of the harbor to the other, taking it all in in enjoyment.

The time did finally come for us to head back home. We said our final goodbyes once again to my friend’s friend, and were off. When we got back to the house, I promptly ordered my Uber to Meriton Suites Mascot Central, my hotel.  We said goodbye to each other knowing it would only be a month or so until we saw each other again; and after that, I was off in a flash.

When I got to the hotel, I checked in & made my way to my room. My room was far better than expected. It wasn’t just a room. It was a full suite. I could finally spread out in this immaculate place.

Day 8:

I was up early, and debated taking an Uber or the train. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the cold, so an Uber it was… Sadly, the Uber ended up taking quite a bit longer than the train would have because my driver took me to the domestic terminal instead of international, and there was a heap ton of traffic as well. But it wall worked out. I made my flight without any issue, and found my way back home thru LAX.

THE END.

 

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:

Thailand: The Chiang Mai Edition.

It was a long journey from Phoenix to Chiang Mai. Iiphone update 160.JPG had stops in both Los Angeles & Hong Kong. By the end, I felt I was in desperate need of a shower, and some personal space.  I arrived in Chiang Mai around 14:30, and was settled into my hotel,  around 16:00. (I had a driver pick me up and drop me off.) I figured the best thing I could do was freshen up, and get some fresh air. So, I changed my shoes, washed my face, put makeup back on, grabbed my purse, and put some of my things in the safe. I was going to be on my own.

iphone-update-175Not 100% sure of where to go, but just remembering a little bit from studying google maps, I headed toward the night bazaar. From their a couple of left turns led me on a journey through souvenir shops, and Buddhist temples. I pushed on knowing that I had to wear myself down and go as long as possible before I could go to sleep. I probably lasted about two hours on the streets. Not feeling bold enough to sample Thai food yet, partially because I didn’t feel like making the effort to figure out what to order, I ended up ordering Pizza Hut because it was literally right outside our hotel.  I did my best to eat all I could despite the fact that I felt like I could pass out at any second. With a full belly, I took a quick hot shower, then waited to hear from Brad when he was in Phuket. I didn’t last much longer. I was trying to stay awake until he got there, but it wasn’t possible. I could feel myself dosing off, and immediately grabbed my phone to let him know that I wouldn’t be awake upon his arrival. Seconds after sending the text, I was gone. I remember, a little while later hearing the hotel room door open, and the sound of my husbands voice. We were finally back together.

The next morning we had to get our own breakfast, so we found a Starbucks. It was a nice choice because it gave us a little bit of our normal cuisine while we got “wild” with the Thai food. …and it was just a nice relaxing routine way to start our mornings together.

Our first day, we just stayed in the city. We wandered all over looking for fun treasures, and popping in and out of the small temples. As we wandered along the city walls, and near the river, we ended up finding John’s Place, this restaurant had the best Pad Thai in all of Thailand…. Here are some of our beautiful photos from that day, click to see where:

Tip: Make sure you have the appropriate attire for entering temple grounds… Some places may supply you with it, but not all… Shoulders should be covered, and often knees…

After a day of wandering through the city, we were tired, sweaty, and couldn’t wait to relax. We ended up wandering through the Night Bazaar, enjoying food & checking out the local vendors. Eventually though, it was time for bed, I had hung in there as long as possible.

iphone-update-247The next morning we woke with only one one activity in mind. Elephants. Our first task was to wander upstairs to the concierge to try to book an event. We ended up booking with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, mainly because it was within our time frame, and they don’t offer elephant rides.  They were picking us up late that morning to take us to the Sanctuary, so with the time in between we went to Starbucks to get our breakfast, and then did some light wandering through the city, a different area than usual. We ended up finding a fun temple with mother of pearl inlaid pillars, and mirrored mosaic detailing. We also, had fun taking pictures mimicking the Buddhas.36.JPG

We got back to the hotel, packed the back pack, and waited downstairs for our driver. It was an extensive drive in an open back vehicle with a group of about 10 other people. It was easily about 1.5 hours of driving, with a stop at a gas station for snacks. The drive was very scenic, but towards the end I was starting to experience some motion sickness from not being able to see out completely.

34Once we were out of the truck, we were instructed to put on one of the festive “ponchos”. Then we were shuffled over to the picnic tables for our orientation. Our guide/instructor walked us through the timeline for the afternoon & shared information about Thai elephants and the organization. Eventually, it was time to play. I was so excited to interact with Asian Elephants. Fact: Asian Elephants are significantly smaller than African Elephants. Take a look here: iphone 2 121.jpg

iphone 2 109.JPG

We started off our interaction with handfuls of small bananas. Elephants love bananas! After probably 30 minutes of loving the beauties, we headed up the hill to meet the mama & her 5 day old baby. It was such a treat! We watched the little baby slowly wander around near its mom & practice using its trunk and ears. It was so cute! We all watched in awe wanting to love on the baby, but eventually it was time for everyone to have a mud bath. Our group scurried back to our belongings & readied themselves in their swimwear.  Here is some of our fun, click for a larger view:

The Thai employees had already begun working the elephants toward the mud, and were not far behind. Within moments there were 5 elephants and approximately 20 people in a giant pool of muddy water. The elephants began jubilantly rolling around, and the people gathered round throwing mud on the elephants and giving them mud massages.  It was so fun… At one point it became a bit of a mud fight as patrons began lobbing large wads of mud back and forth towards each other. No one was safe.

About 15 minutes after, we all made our way towards the river for our baths. We all grabbed old bowls and buckets & began rinsing each other and the elephants, splashing one another like children. It was one of the best times that I have ever had in a river.  Once play time was over, and everyone was “cleaned off”, we headed back up the hill to the outdoor showers, where we were able to rinse off river debris and remaining bits of mud.  Then it was snack time.  Elephant Jungle Sanctuary provided us with some amazing Thai dishes & some watermelon. It was all delicious, and great to get something before our long drive back.

Eventually, we arrived back at our hotel, which meant it was time for real showers before we headed back out.  We wandered a little bit, not fully sure of what to do. We explored the area a bit more, and ended up deciding to eat at one of the local restaurants, Pizza Hut. We couldn’t shake the “lame” away, and for some reason we were both craving it. So we went with it. It was surprisingly expensive compared to the Thai food, but really hit the spot.

We headed back to the hotel in an attempt to get some cool, dry air. We also wanted to scout out a potential zip-lining company. We found one. Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. I booked us for the JF3 package, with arrangements to be picked up in the morning.  We were so pumped.

I wasn’t ready for bed just yet, I wanted a little more time on my feet, so we headed back out for about an hour until Brad was worn down. The extensive rows of street vendors and tourists were quite overwhelming, and seemed like they went on for miles and miles, probably because they did. Finally though, the weather overtook us and we were back in our room with a movie before getting some rest for a very fun day ahead.

It was zip-lining day! We headed out to grab a quick McDonald’s breakfast before our big adventure. Next thing you knew, we were in an air-conditioned van headed for the bumpy Mountains outside of Chiang Mai.  Upon arrival, we were issued a locker and basically asked to leave anything that couldn’t be firmly secured to our person. We filled out our paperwork and then were geared up and broken into our groups.

They took us down to the starting point, and from there we were off! It was incredible! Especially the 1000M line…. The view of the canopy was so amazing that I wish I could do it every day. We didn’t see any wildlife, and the only loud noises you hear are those of other thrill seekers near by. It was a really fun afternoon… except maybe the “roller coaster” you are latched in & hold onto two handles over head and basically get voluntarily whiplash… It was truly thrilling, but also a bit painful at times. It is possible to get flung, but you are still attached and still make it to the end. We eventually ran out of lines to zip, and were led down the road to a local restaurant that had some cuisine prepared for us. Honestly, it was good, but it sketched me out a little bit so I didn’t go hog wild for it like I did at the Elephant Sanctuary.

When we got back to the hotel, we quickly rinsed off the jungle sweat and then headed out to wander and to grab an early dinner. We were thinking about going to Doi Suthep the next day, and I needed something to cover my shoulders so that I wouldn’t have to wear my lightweight pullover again because that was brutal. I had found something at one of the souvenir shops, but it was a little pricier than what I wanted, but I didn’t want a traditional Thai silk sarong… I wanted something that I could wear at the beach or wherever. …anyways long story short, I thought about it, looked at other places, but went with the one I like best.. Tip: Ladies – pack something lightweight to cover your shoulders with if need be, and that can just be tossed in your bag while you explore. It’s a game changer.  For dinner we went to a restaurant that sat along the river, The Riverside Bar & Restaurant (it doesn’t get more straightforward than that!). We had a great view, and great service. I went with Chicken Fried Rice, and Brad got something a little more exciting. It was a calm & a fast meal, but it was all I needed at the moment.

iphone 2 123.JPGWe headed back to the hotel after so that I could change into something more comfortable given the weather…. A dress and humidity just don’t go hand in hand when your thighs stick together. I’m not one of those stick leg model types…  Anyways, we then headed back out to explore more of the markets. We wandered for several hours, wanting to try several things and just experience Chiang Mai. We tried some of the hummus from the middle eastern couple, we tried Pad Thai from one of the local ladies (it was exquisite)…. We ended up at another market where we wandered for a little while, and then Brad ditched me to find Thai beer… While we were separated, I considered it a perfect time to buy a few pieces of fun jewelry.  With my purchase complete, and my first “negotiating” sale done, I went back to find Brad. He had  pitcher of Chang, and I couldn’t help but assist him with it. We enjoyed sipping our beer and watching the tourists and locals mingle and mix.

Then it was time for something new. Brad wanted to try another dish, so we went across the way to one of the restaurants and got a small table where we both proceeded to order soup. I’m pretty sure that may be part of why the Thai people are so skinny — soup and hot humidity just make you sweat even more…  I enjoyed mine as it was basically a chicken noodle, and Brad hated his… I think it was like a seafood soup that he said had a very strong ginger taste.  It was pretty funny to watch him try to suffer through it, but eventually he just couldn’t do it, so we got the check and left. We wandered on a bit more…. and found another market for Brad where he was able to find another snack…. Finally, we were both full. We were both exhausted, and we headed back to the hotel. We were leaving the next day, so we packed the bags the best we could, and headed to bed.

iphone-2-139The next morning we finished packing our bags, and got ready to head to Starbucks for breakfast. While we were eating we decided to go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple on the mountain. Once we were finished eating we needed to find a driver. The trick was finding one for a reasonable rate. Once we had our guy, we headed up and up and up. He stopped at a picturesque spot where you can overlook the city. This is also a spot with several street vendors offering food and souvenirs. We were able to snap a pretty great selfie, and then were quickly back in the car. We finally arrived at the top, and our driver agreed to wait for us until we were finished. We bought our tickets, and took the tram up. It was packed with people, and honestly… the stairs wouldn’t have been a problem. Anyways, when we got to iphone-2-133the top, we found the spot where we had to remove our shoes & we headed into the temple. It filled with tourists and locals paying their respects to Buddha, and many dressed in black to honor their late king. It was decadent and beautiful. Although I personally am not a follower of Buddha, nor do I understand Buddhism, I find it to be a very beautiful and peaceful religion. We spent probably about and hour to and hour and half wandering the grounds before we found our way out and back down the stairs.We wandered across the street and headed down hill past the street vendors. We grabbed some meat skewers, and perused.  Without souvenirs we crossed the street once again to find our driver. He found us first, went and got his “tuk-tuk”, and drove us back down the mountain, and dropped us off at our hotel.

We immediately regretted having this as our drop off point because we wanted to go to John’s Place again for lunch, and neither of were dressed for that journey. I was in jeans… It was a miserable, hot and humid walk. We drank through our water quickly, and scarfed down our Chicken Pad Thai once again, and then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags, get checked out, and just sit. We had a driver scheduled to pick us up early that afternoon to take us to the airport.

LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) For countries where religion enforces a dress code, make sure you have something comfortable for covering your shoulders

2) The best Pad Thai is in Chiang Mai – it isn’t overly saucy

3) Mud is way better when it involves elephants

Tanzania: The Zanzibar (I’m Not Referring To My Dog) Edition.

So you may know (from Instagram) that I have a whopping 11.5 pound Yorkshire Terrier named Zanzibar… If you don’t, well she is not your ordinary small dog… She doesn’t like sitting on your lap.. If you try to get close, she usually avoids you… and she lives for fetch. I label her as a working dog. I try to keep her mind busy and learning so that she never gets bored or too crazy. ….But she isn’t the point of this post, although I wish she were.

africa-extras-459The point is: Zanzibar the place. After a lengthy set of evening flights from Cape Town with a stop in Joburg, Brad and I eventually landed in Zanzibar. We had various documents we had to fill out on arrival, we had to have our pictures taken, and purchase our tourists visas. Thankfully, because it is not a large airport, this process was incredibly quick, they basically handed us our bags as we were two of the last people from our flight to pass through. Our driver was there waiting to take us to our hotel. Thankfully, Brad had rejected the idea of driving ourselves around because turns out there were no real road signs, bikes and humans were constantly in the street, and it would have been a nightmare!  A long night commute & an airport arrival brought reality to my attention. FACT: Zanzibar is primarily a Muslim population… You can imagine how uncomfortable I felt arriving in a tank top.

africa-extras-499-1Eventually, we arrived to our hotel, Next Paradise Boutique Hotel, after about a 45 minute drive. Upon arrival, one of the owners (a European gentleman) was there waiting. He quickly got us checked-in, and then informed us that we were the only guests there (this change each day that we were there, and was because they had just finished some light renovations, & we were visiting as the slow season was coming to an end). That part was amazing, and felt a little odd. They were nice enough to offer us dinner that evening, so once our bags were dropped, and we were ready. We headed out to the dining area to eat. The staff was incredible, and the service was fantastic… Literally, every day we were there, we were well taken care of. TIP: Coat yourself in bugspray at night, they go for your feet especially. After dinner, we headed back to bed to rest. Our time in Zanzibar was all about leisure, and relaxing considering the fact that the several days before were jam packed with events.

africa & extras 487.JPGThe next morning. We headed to breakfast. Again, we were the only one there. They offered a small buffet of meats, cheeses, fruits, small crepes, toast, etc. It was a good offering, and I never left unsatisfied. After that, we suited up to head to the beach. The view was stunning, unlike anything I had seen before. The water was so clear, and the sand was incredibly fine like white sugar. We couldn’t help but love it. We dropped everything & headed into the water. It was the perfect temperature. We just waded and played, and enjoyed what Zanzibar was offering.

As the day continued, we needed to cool off from the intense tropical sun, so we headed back to our patio which faced the pool. The staff was kind enough to come over africa & extras 472.JPGand offer us some drinks, so we ordered a couple of African beers, that turned out to be amazing! ..then it was time for more beach time & pool time… then lunch time came.. and we headed back in. We ate, and then decided to do a beach walk. We put some clothes on to protect us from the intensity of the sun, and headed left from the hotel. TIP: Be prepared to feel scorched, and don’t forget your sunscreen. It was a fun walk, and we found many beautiful seashellsafrica-extras-495. FACT: Taking shells out of Zanzibar is illegal, so I highly recommend putting them back unless an African prison is your idea of a good time. ….but there were some really beauties. Large, delicate, colorful, intricate… Skies the limit in Zanzibar. This was pretty much our day…. Low Key walks and talks and dining at our hotel and on the beach, it was a welcome break in an otherwise crazy trip.

africa-2016-682-1The next day was really exciting….. We spent the first half enjoying the ocean again, after breakfast & before lunch. We even wandered into town, where we observed the locals & livestock go about their business. We bought a small case of water & met a wonderful couple that owned one of the local small hotels which only had two rooms. They invited us to try their restaurant, and stay with them the next time we were in Zanzibar. If it wasn’t for Brad’s basic knowledge of Swahili, we probably wouldn’t have had the offer.

Finally the time came to head to Cheetah’s Rock. Cheetah’s Rock is a wonderful wildlife sanctuary on the island of Zanzibar. It was started by a leggy, German woman named Jenny who seems to wear cutoffs and converse as her uniform (she kills it!).  It was clear from start that she has a true passion and love for each of the animals within her sanctuary that had been rescued. We started with Chaka the Zebra. Jenny embedded into our minds, as we interacted with Chaka, that she trained him by building trust with treats and praise, not by force or tricks. This was a clear indicator of her love for animals. After each of us got to work with Chaka, we then moved on to the primates.. We were interacting with everyone, birds, lemurs, bush babies, hyena, her large male lion named Aslan, and even her Cheetah named Tyson. FACT: Cheetah’s purr like house cats. One of the things that I loved most about Cheetah’s Rock, is that Jenny was with us every step of the way, sharing each animal’s story.  Some animals were abused by humans, some were found abandoned… each story was unique. I think our time there was truly special, and it’s something I will never forget. It was another life changing experience about how love and trust can be between many species, like the fact that I was in a cage with a Cheetah receiving kisses. It was magical. FACT: Cheetah’s Rock does provide back and forth transportation. Here are more of our photos from the excursion – have fun!

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel in time for dinner. With such an amazing day behind us, the trip was all down hill. Unsure of what to do the next day, we planned on going to bed, and figuring it out in the morning.

africa-extras-643Arising at a semi-decent hour, we discussed our plans over breakfast and settled on a Stone Town tour. We had no idea what to expect, but it was something to do. We spent the better part of the morning on the beach as the tide was out…. We were able to explore the low tide waters shuffling through corals, looking out for urchin mines, and hunting for moving animals. We ended up being “picked up” by one of the locals who basically & automatically tries to give you a “tour of the area” and find animals for you to interact with… That was the hard part because even if you say “no, thank you”, they are relentless, and then want your money at the end. haha. TIP: Never commit if you aren’t interested. They won’t stop bothering you either. You have to outplay them at their own game. Some areas were a little hard to walk through, there were a couple points, I thought that my feet might bleed, but it was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop. We wandered past the kelp fields that the women tend to, but eventually we did have to get back and grab our things for our tour.

africa-extras-660Late that morning, our driver came and picked us up. He drove us into Stone Town which is on the other side of the island. He dropped us off near the market where we were greeted by our tour guide. He was great, but I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he wanted to be a News Anchor in London… He gave us the grand tour of the city, taking us through markets, leading us through the streets and telling us about the culture and the history… Also, he shared about the ornate doors on the homes lining the streets. He told us that the more ornate the door the wealthier the family, and their were two different styles, one that belonged to middle eastern families, and one that belong to Indian families. After trekking through the humid and crowded streets, we end up at The Seyyida Hotel and Spa near the Palace. This is where we had lunch, which turned out to be just fair, but the hotel itself was beyond beautiful, so my style! We also had great roof views of both the ocean and the roof tops.

From there we headed over to the Beit-el-Sahel africa & extras 664.JPGfor a very quick walk through. This was a former palace to the Sultan. It was interesting, but quite worn down. However, portraits of all the Sultans lined the walls around the large, creeky staircase. We saw the living quarters, and listened to the stories our guide had to share, but not long after entering, we were exiting. TIP: I’m rusty on the history so if you are interested, click the link above. On our way out, I snapped a picture of Brad with the tiniest cannon we ever did see.  FACT: This tour was really rough to get through because we did the entire thing on foot, and it had to be 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with extremely high humidity, so we were struggling. …Not to mention, I don’t think we had bottled water with us.  From here we continued southwest toward the Old Fort. We just basically cut through one end and back out the other, and then continued on what felt like a run through a maze. We were constantly turning different directions, but eventually it led is in a full circle, and we ended up near where we started.  The tour was interesting, but not my favorite. Our guide was fun and definitely had great information to share at the time. It’s too bad that the only thing I remember is the fact about the doors.

AWKWARD EXPERIENCE: Like I said, it was quite hot and humid, which is a big part of why I wore shorts. By no means was my bootie out, and they were probably towards my mid thigh, but it did create some awkward moments for me.  At one point a group of Muslim girls walked past me, stared & then starting whispering, I could only assume it was because of my risque attire & my amazing calves… but then another moment happened… As I was walking along with my husband and our guide, another man just stared at me as he walked by, so intensely that if felt like he was burning my alive with his eyes. It just made me realize how sensitive certain individual can be even though my level of dress was acceptable for an area so densely populated with tourists. It made me want a skirt. TIP: Ladies, pack a maxi skirt, or dress that passes your knees… I didn’t & that was a mistake. 

With our tour over, we ended up back at the hotel in the late afternoon. We went back to the room, and changed into our swimwear. We decided to do a beach walk. This time, we went right as we left the hotel gardens. We found a couple of the other resorts, and we found the Masai guys, or the salesmen of the beach. Each hoping they can convince tourists to buy things they don’t really need. They had beach tunics, tribal masks, jewelry, art, and various other goodies. We however, weren’t interested at that moment, but those guys would practically beg you and trick you into their small beach side hut in hopes that they can get more for it than its worth.  We however, were more interested in going back to the hotel to unwind for dinner. We wrapped up our evening with a hot meal in the cool Zanzibar air, and then headed back to our room to relax. We ended up watching the majority of Armageddon before we fell asleep.

africa & extras 671.JPGThe following morning, we decided we wanted to go scuba diving, but unfortunately, we were too late in trying to schedule, so we settled for snorkeling. We had a few hours of time to just hang out before our afternoon snorkel session because we had to wait for the tide to come back in. This warranted another beach walk down to the Masai. Honestly, I had my eye on a couple things the day before, and had requested that one of the guys custom make something for me. I requested that one of the ebony wood plates be carved to say “Zanzibar” because my plan was to put it in my dog’s corner once we have a home again. …and I got a fantastic African mask which now hangs next to my vanity in my bathroom.

africa-extras-677-2As we waited, we started to wonder if our snorkeling trip would be cancelled because the sky over the ocean was becoming incredibly grey, as we watched the women come back in from their work.

Eventually, it was snorkeling time, and they didn’t cancel which made me question how the visibility would be. Once again, we were picked up in a van and brought to a different beach north of our hotel. We wandered through the small village and had to walk through the ocean to get to the boat, little did we know… We were completely unprepared for walking  through urchin-infested water, and in some ways I think we are incredibly fortunate that neither of stepped on one. Once we were in the boat, we headed north once more, we passed the villagers coming in from fishing, and braved the waves. It was a fairly long ride, but the sea was a textured painting of rich colors. africa-extras-687-1I couldn’t get enough! Eventually though, it was time to jump out & swim… we were in the water for probably about an hour. We saw large bulbous starfish that look more like a rock, a striped sea snake, many fish, and periwinkle colored coral. It was beautiful. However, towards the end, we did have a run-in with a few tiny jellyfish. The stings were fairly painful. I had one that got my wrist, and one that felt like it wrapped around my torso. Brad also got stung a couple of times, and in the end even had his nipple bit by a small salty fish, which was hilarious!!! Our guides cut up fafrica-extras-697resh pineapple  & watermelon for us, and it tasted so refreshing, crisp & vivid after an extensive period in the warm water. Sadly, it was time to leave, and as we headed back inland the waters were even worse than before. At one point I was concerned that the boat may flip.  Thankfully, we made it back in the boat and in one piece. I was so happy when we hit land. Because the tide had come back in, we didn’t have to walk through the water. They basically were able to beach the boat.

What we found upon our return to the hotel, is that we had missed the rain. Turns out we were lucky because we passed it.

africa-extras-706-1It was our last night there, and we had no big plans… It was mostly to just relax once again, and pack. We were able to do one last beach walk in search of pretty shells & peace. We just wanted to enjoy our time together as it was beginning to run low. We found a fantastic crab that was behaving quite oddly, I imagine due it is egg sac, as it would wander and freeze on the beach, but it made for a fantastic photo.

After dinner we played a bit of very casual badminton in our room. It was the perfect blend of playful and competitive, as our games usually are. Then we did our best to get our things in order for our flight the next day.

africa-extras-719The next morning, we finished packing, had breakfast, and then got everything ready to be moved. Our driver eventually arrived to transport us to the airport, and like that our vacation was over. We were both headed back to Johannesburg where we parted ways after one last Indian meal together.

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LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) You WILL feel uncomfortable if you are not dressed for the culture

2) BUG SPRAY! BUG SPRAY! BUG SPRAY!!!

3) Lemurs fingers are as soft as the finest lamb skin leather

4) Lemurs are my new favorite primate

5) You can never interact with too many animals