Category Archives: Cities and Sites

Les grand-mères

Over the last two days, Parisian grandmas have criticized our dressing of Theo twice — once saying that he needed more protection from the sun (he was in a BabyBjorn and had a sun hat) and once saying that he needed socks on his feet (it was 81 degrees out in the park). AND THEN two American exchange students came up to us and started speaking French! We are sooo fitting in with the locals!

Theo can hang in the metro (which is a wonderful way to get around) and his stroller helped us skip part of the line to get into the Louvre. But just so we don’t paint too rosy a picture — he did scream all the way up the crammed elevator to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

Happy Mother’s Day

After our recent adventures having Theo, I definitely have a new appreciation for Mothers. The sacrifices they make day to day and in the long run to careers (although it shouldn’t have an impact it is obvious to anyone paying attention). I appreciate all the hard work and effort it goes into raising a child that for much of it’s life will challenge and annoy you when ever possible.

Seriously, some of the things mother’s have to go through blows my mind. While much of society and medicine has drastically improved, labor and delivery is still nothing short of shocking and barbaric. If all goes well it can be magic, so I hear, but it didn’t for us. During labor is still one of the highest risk chances of death for in any mother’s life. Considering it is such a common life event, one would think it would be one of the best understood and researched medical events, but conflicting advice with little to no research backing abounds. While sharing our delivery story with folks it was surprising how many people had rough experiences and still frequently are suffering side effects years and decades later.

Clearly, I hadn’t given enough credit on mother’s day (and every other day) to my own mom. Well we get to start working on improving that this year.

This year to celebrate Erin’s first mothers day, we went to Paris! We also brought my mom… Who has been looking to get back over to visit Paris again. So this mothers day will be spent out at cute cafes with a dinner.

On the last few weeks of Erin’s maternity leave we can spend some time celebrating being a mom with each of our mother’s as Erin’s mom will be joining us for the second leg of the trip in Amsterdam.

So cheers and happy mother’s day to every mom out there… Clearly, we wouldn’t be anywhere without you.

Bebe Goes to Paris

What we have learned so far:

— We packed more as carry-ons alone for this trip than we did in all our bags for our entire 5-month trip around the world. Had everything we needed, but we will have to work on getting the volume down. It was only possible because we had Gigi’s extra set of hands. +1 infant = +4 pieces of luggage?

— Airplane bassinets for the win — kiddo slept for 5 hours straight across the Atlantic.

— This website is awful, but the service was incredible — TaxiBabySeat picked us up at the airport holding a sign with my name on it and had an infant car seat in the cab to transfer us to our apartment. And when we forgot a piece of luggage at the airport (there were so many to remember!) our driver circled back to help us retrieve it. We reserved our beautiful Paris apartment on AirBnB, which allowed us to search for a place with a washer and dryer.

— Kiddo loves Paris, though he’s always been pretty good at restaurants, and the inside of his babybjorn travel crib looks the same as it does at home.

and of course bebe’s first passport photo is adorable.

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Aruba Advice

A couple of times now we have been asked something along the lines of, “You guys did your honeymoon in Aruba, right?  Where did you stay?  Do anything fun in specific?”

Now before giving any real advice, I want to preface this with a warning. This trip wasn’t our typical kind of travel. We were going for our honeymoon the primary goal was to do nothing and have no guilt about feeling that we should be doing something.

Quick Thoughts:

  • We liked it quite a bit if you are looking for a very relaxing and easy worry free vacation
  • Culture isn’t something Aruba has to offer so if you wanted to ‘see the sites’ or ruins, this is not your place. If you want very pretty beaches, it has you covered.
  • I normally think folks could really ‘do Aruba’ in 5 days, I just think a honeymoon is one of the once in a lifetime trips, so we wish we had been there longer than the nine days
  • We stayed at ‘Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa’ which was nice and but basic. The hotel wasn’t quite as nice as we were expecting, but the beach was secluded and lovely without the crowds, which is exactly what we wanted.

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American vs. European Style

There are two primary areas to stay the ‘European style’ side or the ‘American style’ side.

European

The European is a lot less crowded, has the nicest beaches, but the buildings are older and not fancy. Not taken the best care of from the places we walked through. The rooms often have mini kitchenettes so you can make food or snacks, which is nice. Many of the hotels offer rooms with full kitchens, and you see people there that cook their meals and don’t eat out much. On the European side, only a handful of restaurants are nearby. The hotel you are in likely has one or two, and each hotel along the beach has one or two. Every hotel offers all-inclusive, but it is easy and fun to walk to eat at different hotels during the trip. If you want night life or ‘better’ restaurants, you need to go to the American side.

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American

The American side, has all the night life, the fancy modern hotels with jacuzzi, crazy showers, flat screen TVs, casinos, and more. The beach is OK, but not as good. There are more docks here so if you are scuba, snorkeling, or day tripping by boat most of the launch points are in this area. The pools over on the American side were much nicer if you like spending time in and around the pool this is the place to be. All the night clubs, dancing, and all the restaurants are in walking distance of this area. There are lots of fun restaurants and places to eat.

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The Food

It is all good, but nothing is outstanding. The prices and the selections in restaurants are hilariously the same. As in the fish special from place to place on a given night is the same. Every place will have a chicken, beef, and seafood house specialty. Mostly that is the same too. It is pretty funny when you can start predicting specials before they even tell you. Erin and I are convinced they have the same french fry supplier for the entire Island. The fries are delicious but taste exactly the same everywhere where you go, Amazing! That being said it is still fun to go out, and everyone is friendly. Restaurants seemed to specialize more with drinks, live music, romantic atmosphere, spectacular views. Erin and I had a very lovely dinner in a little hut out on the beach during sunset, which someone bought us as a wedding gift.

Activities

The dancing was OK but nothing great, but Clubs on Caribbean islands always seem to be a bit hit or miss. The strip has the Senior Frogs, and 2 or 3 other dance clubs all on the same block, if you want to dance at all. Walking the ‘strip’ on the American side was always fun. Ice cream parlors, snacks, and other souvenir shops line the strip.

It is super windy, everywhere. So don’t plan on beach volleyball. You will see lots of kits surfing, wind surfing, and it makes for great waves to play in as they break around you. We really didn’t take advantage of many activities so not a lot to say here, we read books on the beach and lazily search for the best burgers and tacos.

Final Thoughts

Erin and I prefer the European style based on quite resort and calmer beach. It was easy enough to mix it up some of the nights, every other or so, heading to the American side. We would bus or cab to the American side and enjoy the night life. If you want to do the Euro style, just budget some time or money for getting cabs. It is about 5-10 minutes away, and the bus is cheap if you are willing to wait for it.

Overall Aruba was a great place for a honeymoon and because of the weather it is awesome for an island during hurricane season. If I were just hitting an easy beach vacation out of that, I would probably do Jamacia, Mexico, Virgin Islands, or DR over Aruba. For our trip and planning around our wedding, Aruba was perfect.

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“Like diving in a fish tank.”

Actually, it was diving in a fish tank.

Look, a shark.
Look, a shark.

Yesterday morning, we went diving in a shark tank, for the second time. Really. It probably says something that we both found the concept of strapping on some compressed air and fins and jumping into tank occupied by three female ragged-tooth sharks to be less stressful than our impending return to the “real world.”

We are a bit sad to be letting this cat out of the bag (this was one of the few activities that was still available for booking during the infamously crowded Christmas-to-New Years week in Cape Town), but if you are certified diver visiting Cape Town, you really should look into the diving at the Two Oceans Aquarium. It is substantially cheaper than the caged shark dives down on the coast and with substantially less time spent in transit, both in buses and on boats, and you aren’t in a cage. Though it is also true that they are not feeding the sharks while you are in the tank.

The sharks at the aquarium are fed once a week, on Sundays. So the sharks are really full in the beginning of the week and less full as the week goes on. The sharks are also surrounded by some of their favorite prey, yellowtails, so if they do get hungry they will go for a yellowtail fish way before they think about going after one of the divers. And yes, sometimes the sharks do get hungry or bored or annoyed and take a nip out of one of the yellowtails, they have even killed and eaten a few. The ones with small wounds from the nips are called “survivors” and yes, they keep swimming around in the tank. During our second dive, one of the sharks reversed swimming direction and got annoyed at one of the yellowtails in its path and took a quick bite — clearly just a warning. The sharks spend 2-3 years in the tank before being re-released to the wild.

The sharks swim at a pretty constant altitude, so we had to be careful to stay very low to the ground while swimming. But it’s still harder to to keep your eyes on your sixes while swimming and at one point, the dive master turned to me, pointed urgently and mimed for me to get on my knees. I let out my breath and promptly rested on my knees just in time to look up and watch a shark pass six inches from the top of my head.

As one of our safari guides would have put it, it was “gettin jiggy time” at the aquarium, so also during our second dive, we were spawned on by a female yellowtail — which really messed with the visibility for a bit — its kind of like swimming through caviar.

Reasons Erin loves this dive:

  1. No boat involved. (I get seasick.)
  2. We got to pet the sea turtle.
  3. It’s at a short depth, so you aren’t going to accidentally kill yourself (at least not with inert gas — you do have to be careful during descent and ascent not to hit a shark on the head).
  4. It was the first dive where even as I was descending I said through my regulator, “holy freaking s***” — there is just so much cool stuff in such a small space — there’s a shark, there’s a ray, there’s a turtle…
  5. It is a great value. If you plan to visit the aquarium one day and dive on a different day, then you actually save money buying the aquarium membership which drops the price of the dive from 700 Rand to 500 Rand (less than $50). You obviously also save money with the membership if you do the dive twice. However, the dive price does include aquarium entry the day of the dive and participating in the dive allows you to skip the entry line, so if you plan to dive only once and visit the aquarium on the same day, then you are better off without the membership. At less than $50, (or even at $70) this is one of the cheapest dives you can get anywhere — refresher dives in swimming pools in the US often cost nearly twice this.

“I’m a free spirit.”

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“Kobi’s Bar: This stilted bar next to Coconut Grove Beach Resort has a great beachfront location, cheap beers, music at w/ends, often supplemented by live performances on Fri. or Sat.” — Brandt Travel Guide to Ghana

I was excited. We were staying at Coconut Grove Beach Resort, (actually in their sister budget accommodation in the Village). And so, armed as I was with the Brandt-country-specific travel guide, I was ready to head towards Kobi’s bar. But no one knew where it was, and Dan was rolling his eyes. See, things are hard in (most of) Africa, so just because something is in a guide book, that doesn’t mean that it still exists, or that if it does, you will ever find it. And Dan and I had already spent quite a lot of time on Ghana’s coast searching for things highlighted in the book, often spending the equivalent of tens of US dollars in cabs searching an area, only to find a closed or empty bar or restaurant. But Coconut Grove Beach Resort is fairly isolated, and so I figured that, surely, we could find Kobi’s. We walked back and forth across the beach in front of the resort for about an hour before we gave up.

But as we walked back towards the resort’s restaurant for dinner, we heard the drumming. We asked the resort security guards about the music. Though none of them knew the place as “Kobi’s bar” they all knew where the drumming was coming from and could point us up the road to the house, which was set a bit back from the beach (hence our earlier unsuccessful efforts). “Do they serve food there?” “Maybe sometimes.” — We have found this to be a typical response in Africa, and not because people are dodging the question, but because that is actually the answer. They may not usually have food, or even have a kitchen, but anything is possible. So, we resigned ourselves to our overpriced resort dinner for the evening, but afterward, we headed up to what we knew as Kobi’s bar. We met the manager of the bar and the famous Kobi. (Though that is not actually his name, but as is so common in Ghana, one of the possible (though unusual) shortened versions of his name, Kwabena, which he shares with roughly 14% of the male population because children are named based on the day of the week on which they are born. And yet, as you will notice, neither of these names are the name painted on the front of his sign.)

Kobi's bar, or umm, Akumapa Theater.
Kobi’s Bar, or, umm, Akumapa Theatre.

Kobi teaches a bunch of local kids to drum and dance. They practice a lot. They’d be more than happy to put on a performance for us the next day. “Do you serve food here?” “No, but I own a drum store down at Stumble Inn, (the next lodging down the beach from ours) and we could probably work something out.” This was followed by a discussion of the food that we had most enjoyed in Ghana so far, and their favorite dishes. And so, trying to nail down a price, I suggested about what Dan and I had spent on dinner at our fancy, overpriced resort that evening, but made it clear that I wanted to feed the four of us with it — they said that should be fine. The price was 80 cedis — a bit less than $26.

The following evening, we arrived at the bar promptly at 6 PM. (OK, it was more like 6:15 PM, and still we were so early that they didn’t know what to do with us. — Africa time is a thing.) And so, we sat for a bit sharing a beer. (We were told to be mindful of how much beer we drank because there was a lot of food to eat for dinner). A girl, maybe eight years old, plopped down in the chair next to us. “I’m a free spirit.” “Oh wow,” I said. I thought this was an impressive declaration for an eight-year-old, and it had me wondering if I, too, was a free spirit. But then we learned that all of these kids are Free Spirits. They are all involved in a foundation that helps support the drum school, their care and transportation, and occasionally helps some of them travel overseas to perform — several of them had been to Poland and most of them are traveling to the US in March.

Then Kobi showed us their “kitchen” — an incomplete building where the bar manger was bent over three small coal fires. Kobi explained that with the amount of money we had suggested, they had decided that they would just feed the whole school and cook it themselves — and so (due in no small part to the ingenuity and grit of Kobi and his manager) for what we spent at one dinner at a fancy resort, we provided dinner for the four of us adults and 13 kids. And the dinner was no basic affair. There were multiple courses including a soup (which, as we’ve mentioned, is eaten with one’s hands), fried and baked plantains and cassava, red beans, and both fried fish and chicken. But before dinner, there was the show — kids having a ball drumming and dancing for their audience of two — though several local kids came by to see what all the excitement was about. At the end of their last song the girl dancers grabbed us and dragged us onstage, and proceeded to try to teach me to dance.

“No. Put your hand here. No, there. OK. OK, now move your other hand like this…ummm, no, looser, yeah, looser…umm ok.” (Shakes head in resignation of imperfect white girl hand moving.) “OK, now move your bodyMOVE YOUR BODY…” (Actually turns and walks off,) proving, empirically, that white girls cannot dance, and that they may in fact be a lost cause.

The Show:

And Dinner:

  

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 😉
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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.

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.”

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

Kenya and Uganda Overland, Days 1 – 6

Over the course of four days we rode across most of Kenya and Uganda in an overland truck (it’s a truck, not a f***ing bus), crossing the equator a couple of times, and camping along the way. We advanced from standard users to advanced users of squat toilets. I got safari ants up my pants all the way to my crotch, so that when they started biting, I had to actually drop trou in the middle of the trail and in front of our African guide and half of my truck crew, while Dan and I both worked to peel them off. (Travel tip: ALWAYS tuck your pants into your socks in the bush, plus, it’s a super cool look.) And all we got were these awesome pictures.

We tracked wild gorillas through the Ugandan mountains. There are only 600 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild, roughly split between Uganda and Rwanda. Of the roughly 300 gorillas in Uganda, approximately 100 are habituated to humans — that is, to fund conservation efforts, they tolerate humans taking pictures of them for about an hour each day. The trick, of course, is that the trackers just track gorillas, using GPS to find the approximate location of the habituated groups, but if the groups cross paths, they cannot be sure whether they are tracking the habituated groups or wild families. Our trackers found truly wild mountain gorillas, and then brought us along to track them, through the “deep bush” (i.e. you need a porter in front of you cutting away the forest, helping you find your footing, and grunting in order to stop the wild silverback from charging you) for three hours. Our total hike time was about 7 hours — so it took us about two hours each way to get to where we left the trail. But we did get to see truly wild mountain gorillas — the silverback protected the females and their babies (often giving our trackers and porters a bit of a scare and causing us to nearly need a change of underwear), and the females carried their babies on their backs, running away from us large, machete-wielding, picture-taking, fellow primates. After three hours in the bush, and getting a few, half-decent shots, we were — as several of our truckmates might say — completely knackered. So we went back to our bags for some much needed lunch and water (we had left all our provisions behind when we thought we were just five minutes away from an habituated group.) While sitting on the side of the trail, stuffing our faces, one of the guys in our group stood up, looks back on the trail and says, “There are three gorillas right there. I shit you not.” A mom and a three-year-old and a baby from the habituated group made a brief appearance right on our trail, due, likely, to the famous curiosity of said three-year-old, and the fact that the habituated group hadn’t had their daily visit.
More pictures from our gorilla tracking adventure:
In preparation for our gorilla trek, we spent a morning tracking chimpanzees through Kalinzu Forest Reserve. We found a wild group way up in the canopy that did not care one way or the other about us looking up at them from below. They cared so little, in fact, that one of the males took the opportunity to copulate with a female having her estrus for the third time. (You can tell a female is in heat by her swollen rear end. They go into heat frequently — often twice a month — until they get pregnant.) The reason that the non-dominant male was able to copulate with the female was that the females often don’t get pregnant until their fourth or so estrus, which is when the dominant male begins to be protective of their copulation.
A few more pictures from our African overland adventure so far:
Sunset in Nairobi.
Sunset in Nairobi.
Our truck.
Our truck.
Erin on the bus, I mean truck, after eight hours.
Erin on a bus, I mean truck, after eight hours.
Rift Valley.
Great Rift Valley
Buying fresh veg for dinner on the side of the road.
Buying fresh veg for dinner on the side of the road.
Equator.
The Equator.
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The Equator.
Campsite in Uganda.
Campsite in Uganda.
Campsite in Uganda
Campsite in Uganda.