Seeking the Lion’s Head, Cape Town, South Africa OMG

So as we were planning our trip, a tweet from @gingerale, whom I follow, popped up.
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The tweet linked to a photo posted by @EarthPix
An amazing shot at the top of Lion's head
An amazing shot at the top of Lion’s head
It was an amazing photo, and inspiring to me, as I was thinking about our upcoming travel. Since I knew we had South Africa on our list, I decided I needed to learn about this hike and plan a visit. In fact I replied to the tweet saying, I needed to do visit, and added it to my travel checklist.
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Well it only 160 days later and mission accomplished. I am nothing if I am not good at completing todo items ūüėČ
standing on the edge
Standing on the same rock from the original photo
¬†Oddly enough, finding the original photo so I could link back to my inspiration was a bit hard as @EarthPixs has since removed the photo. Luckily, nothing is ever really gone on the internet and a few google searches turned up the photo. However,¬†I still don’t know who exactly to credit for the photo, so I will still just refer to the no longer working @EarthPixs post.
Anyways, it is an amazing hike. It’s actually more what I would call rock scrambling. There is a nice standard trail for about 3/4’s of the hike, then it splits to the easy route or the chains and ladders route. Both routes are reasonably difficult and will require climbing with your hands and feet. The chains and ladders is more popular, but was very crowded so we only use it on the way up, opting for the less popular ‘recommended’ route on the way down. Some of the ladders are just metal hand holds bolted into rock. Others are legit ladders secured into the rock face. There are still many places you will be ‘scrambling’ up with hands and feet together over slightly challenging terrain. Besides a few overcrowded moments where we were¬†are forced to stand with a crown by a cliff face, this is my favorite kind of hike, a mix of walking / climbing.
a partial pano from the top
a partial pano from the top
The spiral climb is amazing because you get to see the view from all sides of the mountain. It still has nothing on the 360 degree panorama you are treated to if you reach the peak. I was really happy to have to chance to experience this ‘todo’ item. It took us 3h40min because of crowds and a picnic lunch in the shade of a cave on the way down. Going our normal speed without crowds it would likely still take 2h30min.

Finally the beach you see below our feet is Camp’s Bay Beach, which was so beautiful that we had to make it our next stop. Down the mountain and straight for the sand. The view of Lion’s head, which we had just summitted, from just outside out beach umbrella was impressive.

If you ever have a chance visiting Cape Town for Lion’s Head hike, I highly recommended it. Just might want to visit during a less crowded time than Christmas and New Years, as everything is packed even the trails.

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A few notes from Ghana

Ghana was the first African state to declare independence from European colonization. There have been peaceful hand-offs of power from one legitimately-elected head of state to another since 2000, making Ghana among the most stable states in Africa. The last three US Presidents have visited the country. President Obama and his family visited in 2009. Here are some notes about our time here so far:

1. The power was out all day on Tuesday¬†in Cape Coast, because it was Tuesday. (Cape Coast is the former British capital¬†and home of the infamous Cape Coast Castle through which millions¬†of slaves were loaded onto slave ships bound for the Americas through the Door of No Return. We visited the castle on Tuesday. President Obama unveiled a plaque at the castle in 2009.) There was no power or water in our hotel room Tuesday night, because, TIFA.¬†¬†It’s not the first time we’ve run into power outages on the trip, and it likely won’t be the last. And when I lived in Honduras, this kind of thing happened all the time. But, still. Next time you walk into your bathroom, flip on your light switch, and wash your hands in the sink, just think about all of the things that have to go right for that to happen — the power and water have to be available,¬†the government has to not fail at getting them to your house, and then the wiring and plumbing in your house have to enable it to reach you.

2. There is a name for the weather pattern that is happening right now in Ghana, when hot wind blows the sand in from the Sahara, coating everything in a fine layer of dust — harmattan. December in Ghana is hot. So, without power,¬†even if you sit completely still, new beads of sweat still form. On the plus side, our laundry dried in a day.

3. In Ghana, as in Honduras, you can buy drinking water in bags. This is brilliant. Think of all the times you have an empty bottle and you just need to refill it. Or all the times you are hot and thirsty and you just want to slam some water and not be burdened with carrying around the bottle looking for somewhere even slightly environment my friendly to put it. Also, we can buy 15 liters of drinking water for the equivalent of slightly leas than 1 USD. I think this is partly because it is a commodity that so few tourist buy in bulk (why?) that locals are thrown off their game when we ask for it, and just charge us the standard local price. (Note: this happens with nothing else.)

4. The beaches are really quite pretty, especially from a distance. They’d be much nicer if they were cleaner and were not required to include public bath and toilet among their various uses.

5. My vertigo has become more intense as I have aged. Which meant that there were times when I was legitimately freaking out during the rain-forest canopy walk at Kakum National Park.

6. Though we were unimpressed with the reggae at world-famous Big Milly’s¬†in Kokrobrite, their¬†cultural drumming and dancing night was incredible, all the more so because the show was not put on for us, at least not entirely — the entire village was in attendance.

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7. The adorable baby goats running around all of the towns have convinced Dan to become a goat farmer. Anyway, when you visit us and hear the baa-ing, at least you will know what that is all about.

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8. Our “VIP” air-conditioned bus from Accra to Cape Coast began with 20 minutes of preaching and group hymns
followed by 20 minutes of biblical trivia. Unfortunately, both were conducted in Twi, which, in addition to being a language we do not know, is a tonal language we do not know, so we were unable to join in. On one hand, it is nice to have a group of people praying with you as you think, “Please, God, do not let anybody steal my bag from under this¬†bus, and please do not let this bus topple over as it swerves to avoid the potholes.” On the other hand, particularly as the preaching entered it’s second half hour, Dan was longing for a greater separation of church and state, and I have to admit that it is a bit disconcerting that across Africa (we ran into a similar group prayer/song to Allah on the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar) — the safety of¬†your journey is entirely in the hands of God or one of his sons.

9. One night in Cape Coast, Dan and I bought a round at a neighborhood bar, for everyone in the bar. For $1.75, including tip. The whisky did come in bags.

10. In Ghana, people eat their delicious ground nut soup with their fingers (there are hand-washing stations at the tables). It still grosses Dan out, something about the dirt under your finger nails slipping into the soup. It is best with what is sometimes called banku, but goes by other names as well — fermented maize dough.

mmmm. Ground nut soup.
mmmm. Ground nut soup.

11. Many of the kids we see in the villages are happy. Some are reasonably well off, though most are not. Some are malnourished, but the vast majority are not. Most wear shoes, but some do not.

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Ghana Must Go is a good book, particularly in its descriptions of Ghana, and it includes references to Kokrobite and Big Milly’s. You should read it. This is one of my favorite parts:

“The child was smiling brightly, possessed of that brand of indomitable cheerfulness Kweku had only seen in children living in poverty near the equator: an instinct to laugh at the world as they found it, to find things to laugh at, to know where to look. Excitement at nothing and at everything, inextinguishable. Inexplicable under the circumstances. Amusement with the circumstances.”

And a bit later:

“Later in America he’d see [those kind of eyes] again, in the emergency room mostly, where eleven-year-olds die: the calm eyes of a child who has lived and died destitute and knows it, both accepting and defying the fact. with precisely the same heedlessness the world had¬†shown her, and him, all dirt-poor children. The same disregard.”

These little piggies went to the beach

Just a view of the beach from Cape Coast Ghana, at castle restaurant. A nice moment to lighten the mood. After our very depressing tour of Cape Coast castle one of the largest exporters of slaves. A place made even more famous, when Obama visited a few years ago. I will say both tourists and locals come to the tours and seem to leave believing in a better future than our past.

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Discovery Channel Live

There are far too many thoughts, to really ever sum up our safari in one post. I am sure we will make a couple posts over time about specific parts of the trip, or reviewing G adventures whom we did the trip with. In the end though, there is an overwhelming amount of feelings and thoughts that you have over a 24-day overland Africa trip. I won’t begin to try to cover it here, but I did want to write out a few thoughts before they fade from memory. (From Erin — the long and short of it is that it is awesome and you can totally hang. [Even we totally hung, and if you ask around, you will find that I am not low maintenance.] If you are thinking of doing a 24-day overland African safari…just do it…it will be amazing. Sure, sometimes you will be uncomfortable, but mostly, it will be just fine. We had a good time on our G Adventures tour — one awesome guide and one fine guide. We are guessing that other operators do it just fine too. Find an operator¬†with a sale going on, and just book it.)

1. A safari is like a really long unedited version of Discovery channel.

Seriously, all the things you see on animal planet are real, and common — not even that hard to find. You can find a sleeping lion next to it’s kill with baboons taunting it for fun, while a jackal tries to creep in and steal some loose meat from the kill.

2. You will appreciate zoos a bit more

I am not talking about sad zoos that mistreat animals. I am talking about ones with breeding programs for endangered animals. Ones that are helping study animal behavior in responsible ways. Even things like Disney’s animal kingdom, which is massive, and really simulates open wild game parks.¬†There are tons of animals in the wild¬†having their habitats split up and destroyed in ways that will decimate the animal populations. Without study and intervention, some species will die because we don’t¬†understand their migration patterns and we destroyed a part of it.

Some of the breeding programs are the best bets to help some animals survive. Also, when an environment is built really well it can help study animal behavior in less invasive and destructive ways than completely invading the space of the few remaining wild groups of animals.

Finally, having seen some animals in a zoo and as a child, I thought the animals¬†just laid around boring like that because they are in captivity — so not true. Free and wild lions will sleep 20 hours a day, and really don’t give a crap about tourists or most other animals if they aren’t hungry at the moment. So, what you see in a good¬†zoo is a pretty accurate sample of their lifestyle. If you are at a humane zoo, you can see real animals behavior¬†without hours in a hot truck. I am not saying that zoos are the same as safaris, or that we don’t need protected parks if we have zoos,¬†I am just saying that good zoos¬†can be part of the overall solution to protect and fund habitats for the planet’s animal population.

3. Everything is 50/50 in Africa.

  • Is it going to rain? 50/50
  • Will we reach camp before sunset? 50/50
  • Does the campsite have hot water? 50/50
  • Will we be chased by hyenas¬†when we try to make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night? 50/50

4. After the Safari I have come to appreciate some things much more than I used to, a few examples below:

  • hooks (particularly in bathroom showers)
  • hot showers
  • showers that don’t electrocute you (we ran into slightly electrocuting water faucets at two different campsites)
  • flush-able toilets (although I will still take the “long drop”¬†over a flush-able squat toilet)
  • traffic laws
  • a back-lit kindle
  • good headlamps or lanterns
  • a real bed
  • non-instant coffee (thanks Joel, for the coffee pot filter trick)
  • really cold beer (this one is for Mauricio)

5. You will watch something amazingly beautiful and brutal at the same time

Probably the most interesting thing we watched on safari was a leopard that carried it’s Red Buck kill across the road¬†and then up into a tree. It was pretty incredible to watch and ¬†it seemed a bit odd to so casually watch the rawness of life.

celebrating its victory
celebrating its victory

“When you see a¬†herd of animals with a predator nearby, you always cheer for the prey.¬†‘You can do it, run, run…stay together… ‘ but once it is obvious that the predator is going in for the kill, you begin to cheer for¬†the predator, ‘kill, kill,’ because you realize that the lion is hungry… and¬†you want to see it happen.”¬†-Erin

A slightly late Thanksgiving note, but hey, TIA.

TIA — This is Africa. Sometimes abbreviated TIFA. Our power has been spotty and our internet has been slow, so it has taken some time to get our Thanksgiving post together. But, in honor of my favorite holiday (a whole day focused on family, friends, and food), here it is:

We are thankful for all of the awkward restaurant experiences in China, for the chance to see the Great Wall, and for all of the delicious food and the buzzing culture of Vietnam. We are thankful for getting to see mountain gorillas, paddle boarding on the Nile, watching a leopard drag its kill up a tree, and getting to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. We are grateful for friends who have hosted us in their apartments, taught us about soldier stew, invited us over for a harvest festival dinner, joined us for parts of our journey, and showed us around their new homes in new countries. We are thankful for the amazing people we met on the roads of Africa and who joined us for a not-so-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a pizzeria on Zanzibar. And we are thankful for our family and friends back home who have promised us some turkey and mashed potatoes in early 2015.

 

 

Tired Goats

One of the evenings we were in Zanzibar, we walked over to a neighboring resort that was hosting a local jam night. After dinner, drinks, and a few dances, we walked back through the village towards our hotel. As we arrived at the hotel, we discovered that the driveway was filled with sleeping goats. (It would be a driveway, anyway, if it was paved and located directly in front of the hotel.)

Me: Why are all of the goats sleeping here?
Masai night guard: Because it is night time and sometimes goats get tired.
Me: No, I understand why they are sleeping…but why are they all sleeping here?
Guard: Well, sometimes when people come into town for the music, the houses fill up and so the goats don’t have their rooms anymore.

Fair enough.

Tired goats that have been kicked out of their houses.
Tired goats that have been kicked out of their houses.