A Travellerspoint blog

Oooooookavango where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain

Nomad Safari, Part One: Johannesburg, South Africa --> Okavango Delta, Botswana

sunny 105 °F

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For our second safari, we spent two weeks on a round trip trek from Johannesburg through Botswana (Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park), Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls), and back to South Africa for Kruger National Park. This time we chose Nomad - a company specializing in overland adventure tours (thanks again to Summer!). Africa is a vast place, and the most affordable way to get to place to place is via an overland tour - that means lots of driving, but also a chance to see the countryside, settlements, and other off-the-beaten-path things you wouldn’t see if you chose to fly. For this trip, we drove over 5,000 kilometers in 2 weeks. We have become quite accustomed to sitting for long periods of time. Luckily, we’ve gotten a lot of reading done, and forced relaxation can be a beautiful thing. The Nomad trucks are all named after dead singers, and our truck was named Sid, for Sid Vicious - gotta love the Sex Pistols.

The first two days of the trip were essentially commute days, just driving in a very hot truck and sleeping in between. Day 1 we drove from Johannesburg to Palapye, Botswana, taking about 9 hours, and the second day we continued to Maun, another 8 hours, with only “bush bathrooms” on the way. Our first night on the tour we were met in Botswana with torrential downpour - a crazy storm with buckets of rain, thunder, and intense lightening. The place where we were staying had a lot of dirt which became deep puddles of mud. We had our first group dinner in the camp cooking area huddling under a small covered area for shelter and shoveling the food in our mouths standing up, trying to stay dry. It was at the beginning of dinner that the thunder and lightening got really close and the electricity went out! As a result, we couldn’t see the food we were eating, but it sure did taste delicious - a chicken curry made by our guides - perfect comfort food. About half of our group was camping, and the rest of us wimps got accommodation. We were feeling so badly for the people camping. Our room at the first place was…..rustic. There was a living ceiling of spiders in our room, rating at a very high spider factor of 9. The sheets and towels were not so clean, and there was no hot water. I think we were both worried about what we had gotten in to for the next two weeks. Turns out, we are not so low-maintenance. :) Luckily, the rest of the rooms were A-ok, and the weather cooperated for the rest of the trip.

Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta, and on the 3rd morning we got on our 7 seater prop plane for a 20 minute flight to the heart of it. They had to weigh us for the flight, and we were shocked to see that we had both gained weight at an alarming rate of 1 lb/week. I guess that’s what happens when you stop exercising and eat out most meals. Ouch.

The Delta was by far our highlight of this tour! We spent an absolutely wonderful 3 days there, staying at a place called “Oddballs” where we had permanent tents. The camp kept us on a wonderful schedule, with trips on the delta on a traditional mokoro (see cover photo) and bush walks in the morning at 6:15am, and in the late afternoon around 4:30pm. They served coffee and muffins before the first bush walk, a late breakfast around 10:30am, lunch at 2:30pm, and dinner around 7pm. From breakfast to the 4:30 bush walk, we did nothing but read books, look at wildlife from our camp, and relax. The days were too hot to do much else (about 100-110 fahrenheit). We happily settled in to this relaxing routine. The delta is an absolutely magical place - the animals here are not as used to people as the animals in the national parks, and there are much fewer people here.

Our bush walks were quite adventurous. The guides here do not carry rifles or any weapons, and we were on foot in the bush with lions, elephants, hippos, you name it (we later found out this is illegal everywhere else). The guide first briefed us on what to do if each animal charges at us. For an elephant - run in a zig zag pattern down wind and get to a tree, but make sure to get to the other side, or they will crush you against the tree. Lions - stand still and make eye contact. Rhinos - run to a tree or a termite mount and run around in circles. Hippos - same as a rhino, but just don’t get charged by one. When we asked them how often this happens, they said “pretty often”. Yikes. We did, in fact, have some very close encounters with animals during our walks here. One of note was when we were walking with a group of 4 of us, and we rounded a patch of trees to find ourselves face-to-face with a lone elephant bull, only about 20 meters away. It’s hard to describe how intimidating a wild elephant can be while on foot; they are enormous, and despite their friendly reputation, can be quite aggressive and cause many deaths every year. The guide assessed which direction he was moving, and instructed us to slowly walk the other way. We had gotten about 20 feet when I hear Tyler say “Guys….HE’S COMING!”. We turned around to see the bull charging at us at full speed, only to stop after about 10 feet. Our hearts all jumped to our throats. The guides just laughed at us and explained that it was just a “mock charge”. Mock or no, that s*&t was scary! Minutes later, one of the guides spotted a lion, so we started tracking it. Tyler and I looked at each other and silently said with our eyes “wait - so we want to walk TOWARD a lion on foot with no weapons? Is this a good idea?” He also explained to us that he “will probably charge”, but we just need to stand still. Despite our misgivings, we soldiered on, our hearts pumping. We tracked him for about 30 minutes and gave up without seeing him. We were partly disappointed, but mostly relieved. Heading back to the camp on another walk, we encountered a “hippo road block”. That is, a family of 8 hippos were parked directly in front of our boats that we needed to board to get to our camp. This was our first hippo spotting - we were so excited! They are pretty cute, despite being the animal to cause the most human fatalities in all of Africa. We waited until they went slightly down the delta, got in our boats, and got paddled furiously quickly to the other side. It was quite thrilling!

Picture of the bull that charged us:
Before charge:
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After charge:
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Lost Interest:
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Hippo road block - "YOU SHALL NOT PASS":
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Night time at the delta was wonderful. We spent the evenings having dinner and chatting by the campfire. Our guide had enough stories to keep us entertained for days, and he was a wonderful story teller. The fireflies sparkle over the delta at night, and we were lucky to be there on a full moon, giving us remarkable visibility. Lying in our tent, we could hear all of the sounds of nature around us. Elephants and hippos come right in to the camp, and we could hear hippos calling to each other all night long. Our tents had restrooms outside (with awesome bucket showers!), and the staff advised us that, if we needed to use the toilet in the middle of the night, we were to flash our torch outside the tent slowly from left to right. If we saw eyes reflecting back at us, we should go back in the tent and not use the restroom until the eyes aren’t out there any more. The first night was a bit restless as we heard so many hippos and a large animal of some sort right by our heads. In the middle of the night, one guy screamed, and we were convinced he got attacked by an animal. Turned out a gentleman nearby had a wild nightmare involving a lion!

The next day we saw tons of elephants from camp, including one IN the camp. Looking at the picture below, you can see the elephant right by our tent. He left a lovely gift of a large, fresh poo on our door step. We were fascinated and all gathered to take photos. The staff didn’t even seem to notice him, as apparently this is a regular occurrence, along with a leopard who likes to come visit the kitchen. For us city folk, it was quite a rush.

Elephants in camp:
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The next day we headed to Nata, then to Chobe National Park. More updates on this coming soon! As you may be able to tell by this very long post, we LOVED this portion of the trip. Also, let us know what you think of the large picture format. :)

Our trusty truck, Sid (Vicious):
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Kama Rhino Sanctuary:

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Flying in to the Delta:

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Our home in the Delta:

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Bush Walks/Delta Misc.:

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Elephant in Camp:
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Goodbye, Delta!
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Posted by tylerandshawna 09:08 Archived in Botswana Comments (2)

The Beautiful Garden Route

Stellenbosch —> Hermanus —> Outdshoorn —> Knysna —> Plettenberg Bay —> Tsitsikama National Park —> Port Elizabeth

semi-overcast 60 °F

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Tyler and I spent 11 days on the famous Garden route, driving along the rugged not-unlike-Northern-California coast. We were both sad to leave Cape Town, but we immediately found so many wonderful things to do on the Garden Route that we couldn’t possibly stay despondent for long. By this point, Tyler was driving on the left side of the road like a natural; I was very impressed.

Our first stop was Stellenbosch. We spent two nights in a bed and breakfast walking distance to downtown called the Bonne Esperance. Stellenbosch is in the heart of wine country and is quite reminiscent of the Sonoma/Napa area in California. The little town was full of our favorite things - delicious eateries and even more delicious wine. We spent our first day indulging in both around the downtown area. We were delighted to find a brewery that made a nice, hoppy IPA. Considering how much people love to drink beer in Europe and Africa, most are lagers and pilsners, which seem a bit boring coming from San Francisco and Colorado. The next day we did a wine tour through Stellenbosch and Franschoek, stopping at 4 wineries. The folks we toured with were fantastic companions for the day; it may or may not have had something to do with the bottle and half of wine we each drank.

After leaving Stellenbosch, we headed down to the Southern coast to Hermanus for two nights, stopping en route at a strawberry farm to gather fruit for the journey. Hermanus is a sleepy seaside town, mostly known for their primo whale watching and Whale Festival in early October (we just missed it). We planned this stop to relax, watch some whales, and dive with the great white sharks, a lifelong dream of mine. After we were settled, we took a long walk on the bluffs overlooking the ocean (reminded us of Sea Ranch), and found a great happy hour spot where we were able to sip a beer and watch the whales (they get SUPER close to shore here). The restaurant was set up so that every table had a view; unfortunately a group of Germans next to us kept standing up right in front of said view and blocking it for everyone. We encountered these folks (here on after referred to as the “whale blockers”) at our next stop in the Garden Route as well. The following day was what we had been waiting for - shark diving! We left out of Gansbaii, and had great luck in finding the sharks - we were able to see them within feet of the cage. Our doctors gave us prescription patches for seasickness, and they worked like a charm. We were very grateful for the medicine, as we were in the middle of the ocean for about 4 hours and it turned in to a serious vomit fest about half way through. We were able to find 3 sharks, and they stuck around the boat for a while. We attracted the sharks using “chum”, a lovely mixture of bloody fish guts and other secret ingredients. They also dangled a large fish and a “decoy” foam animal shaped like a seal to attract them. You can imagine how we smelled after a day of swimming through fish guts - they also kept dragging the dead fish over our heads in the cage. But, it was worth every fishy moment. We took a lot of underwater footage; once we edit our videos we will post them for you guys! We didn’t do much with our nights in Hermanus. At this point of the trip, Tyler and I were tired of eating out, so we spent both nights in our cottage, huddled together eating yogurt and muesli for dinner while watching some South African sitcoms - we were even able to find a scary movie to warm up for Halloween!
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The next day we drove to our next destination, Outdshoorn. Outdshoorn is best known for their Ostrich farms (Ostrich is heavily featured on all menus in this region), and the nearby Cango Caves. We stayed at a wonderful lodge about 15 minutes out of town called the Thabile lodge. The owner, Len, was great company, and there were three resident dogs (A Basset hound and two Jack Russel terriers) and a cat running around the property. We booked a Meerkat experience at dawn our first morning in town - it was adorable. We were able to get very close to this particular family of nine as they are quite used to people. The guy who owns the company spent six months acclimating them to human voices by reading books to them, starting from a far distance and gradually getting close to them - now that is dedication. Meerkats are known to be very shy creatures, so it was a treat to get to be so close to them. In the afternoon we visited the Cango Caves, which were fascinating, and the largest caves we have ever visited. The caves date back millions of years and only about a quarter of what they have found is open to the public. We also incidentally ran in to the whale blockers from Hermanus once more. Later that night, we discovered they were staying at our lodge as well. Our lodge had a lovely 3 course meal that they offered every night by candlelight. It was pretty inexpensive for what it was, so we dined there both nights, sitting with the other guests; particularly with a couple from Holland.

The next day, it was back out to the coast, and we drove through Mossel Bay for lunch, then proceeded to where we were staying in Knysna. We stayed at a guest house of an ex-overlanding couple that are dear friends of Summer and Gavin. Unfortunately, it rained most of the time we were there, but we didn’t let that stop us from walking the waterfront, going to Mitchell’s, Knysna’s local brewery, and doing a few hikes. There was one particular hike, however, that did not quite go as planned as we encountered a “problem with the permits”. That is, there was a HUGE rain spider in the permit box and we were too scared to reach in and sign ourselves a permit. :) You learn a lot about a person when you travel together - I thought I knew Tyler through and through, but we are still finding surprising facts about one another. For example, I had NO idea that Tyler was so incredibly frightened of spiders. Coming from the urban jungle, we haven’t had much occasion to see spiders together. There are LOTS of spiders here. We’ve started rating our accommodations based on the “spider factor”. rainspider_edit.jpg

A quick side note - during our many hours of driving here, we had a lot of time to scan the radio for music. Let me tell you, South Africa LOVES their top 40 pop stations. This was literally all we could find on AM and FM radio for the entirety of the route. For a brief moment in time, we found a station that played some Simon and Garfunkel and local music, which quickly faded to fuzz and was replaced by yet another top 40 pop station. Turns out, today's top 40 music is pretty craptastic. We heard the same songs over and over again. Do yourself a favor, if you haven't heard Nick Jonas' song "Jealous" yet - NEVER listen to it. It will be in your head for 3 weeks, a unique brand of torture.

From Knysna we made our way to Tsitsikama National park, taking our time and being major tourists along the way. We stopped at the Knysna Elephant park and fed the Ellies, stopped at Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay, (where I got peed on by a Vervet Monkey - our guide said that it was auspicious and means I'm going to have twins - let's hope he's wrong), and had some hot chocolate while watching people jump off of the largest bridge bungee jump in the world. Tyler was getting a bit sick of driving at this point, so we were happy to get to our last stop on the Garden Route. We filled our days there with hiking. We hiked the storms river mouth, and all along the coast. It was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to end this portion of the trip. We spent two nights near Storms River, then headed off to Port Elizabeth to catch a flight to Joburg where we started our second safari of the trip. All in all, we had a great time on the Garden Route. The peak was the scenery and food, but Tyler is happy to give up the car and be a passenger once again.

==Stellenbosch:
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Strawberry Picking:
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Hermanus:
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Outdshoorn:
thabile.jpgMeerkats have great vision - this is them all looking at a jet in the sky: outdshoorn5.jpgoutdshoorn4.jpgoutdshoorn3.jpgoutdshoorn2.jpglarge_outdshoorn.jpgTyler does a killer meerkat impression: meerkats3.jpgmeerkats2.jpgmeerkats-cover.jpgcangocave2.jpgcangocave1.jpgcangocave.jpg

Knysna & Plettenberg Bay:
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plettbayellies.jpgknysnaellies6.jpgknysnaellies5.jpgThis poor Ellie was sad because no one was feeding him. :( :knysnaellies4.jpgknysnaellies3.jpgknysnaellies1.jpgknysnaellies.jpgKnysna1.jpgknysna.jpgmonkeyland4.jpgmonkeyland3.jpgmonkeyland2.jpgmonkeyland.jpg

Tsitsikama National Park:==
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Posted by tylerandshawna 06:21 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Cape Town, San Francisco's Sister City

5 days in Cape Town

sunny 78 °F

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Cape town is my new favorite city. It is the perfect blend of city, nature, weather, cultures and activities. We spent four nights here but could have stayed four weeks. There are enough restaurants, bars and outdoor activities to entertain ones self indefinitely.

Cape town is located in the south western corner of South Africa near the Cape of Good Hope and is one of Africa’s most affluent cities. It is located on the coast and feels smaller than San Francisco. In the middle are two mountains, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, both easily climbable and both afford amazing views of the city.

On the day we arrived, after a hair raising drive into the city (they drive on the left side of the road which is a bit like writing with your left hand), we made it to our hostel which was as nice as any hotel we had stayed at. It turns out that good WIFI is almost as important an amenity to us as hot water but much more elusive. We set off for the V&A water front which is somewhat like San Francisco’s Pier 39 but much more pleasant.

Along with my acute photography addiction (I’d say we have a few thousand pictures at this point. Get ready of an epic slide show!), I also suffer from WIFI addiction. When we arrive at a destination with good internet, Shawna and I (especially me) are both absorbed by our phones; everything else comes second. A fast internet is something I really took for granted in the US and not having one can be quite restrictive.

There are many things about Cape Town that remind us of San Francisco. They are both port towns which are now primarily tourist destinations. They are both urban environments with easily accessible out door activities. Cape Town has a lot of gourmet restaurants focusing on fresh, local, sustainable foods and trendy bars to choose from. Both are also in close proximity to amazing wine regions for weekend get aways. I must say that the one thing Cape Town has over San Francisco is the warm weather; it was in the mid to high 70’s the whole time we were there.

The next day we headed out early to climb Lion’s head. Lion’s head is a large rock outcropping in the middle of the city, about a 15 minute walk from our hostel (I was thankful I didn’t have to get behind the wheel for another day). Our guide book described the hike to the top as “easy” so we didn’t think much of it. It turned out to involve a lot of scrambling over boulders and climbing aluminum ladders along sharply dropping cliffs. I’m glad to say, after a lot of effort, that we did make it to the peak. The trail to the top spirals around the entire mountain twice so the hiker is blessed with ocean views, city views and a unique view of Table Mountain, its larger brother to the North. Both Table Mountain and Lion’s head are more plateau like than cone shaped so, upon reaching the top, one feels like they are floating in the clouds above the city.

The next day we took a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope, the treacherous coast traders have been navigating for centuries, and about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town. My second day of driving on the wrong side of the road was much more successful than my first. On the way down we stopped to see African Penguins which nest along the coast. The national park at the Cape of Good Hope provides lots of hiking and beach access. It was entertaining to see baboons running around in the low scrub brush and grasses along side giant ostriches on the bluffs above the ocean. Apparently there are several ship wrecks that can be seen from the beaches along the cape but, sadly, we weren’t able to find any.

On our third day we decided to visit Table Mountain. Most visitor take the gondola which runs from the base to the peak every half hour or so. The brave summit the mountain on foot. Initially we had intended to climb the difficult route up but, after our experience on Lion’s Head we opted for a gentler trail and were glad we did so. The trail we selected was about 3 hours to the top and was all stairs (and by stairs I mean rocky stairs which could be 3 inches or 2 feet in height). Our approach to the hike was to climb stairs for ten minutes, stop, rest and then repeat. About two thirds of the way to the top, once we were in the shadow of the mountain and the climbing got steep, the wind really picked up. That, in conjunction with our jello-y legs and the knowledge that the gondola down is often shut down in strong winds, made both of us more than a little anxious. Luckily we made it to the top in time to take two pictures and jump in the last gondola back down to the bottom before it was shut down for the day. We rewarded our weary legs with a few local beers and some lunch down at the brewery on the water once we were safely on the ground.

Some of the culinary delights we’ve discover in South Africa are the wide variety of meats you can try. To date I’ve had oryx, blesbok, hartebeest, eland (my favorite), crocodile, buffalo, kudu, warthog and mopani (a type of worm and probably my least favorite). I’ve also found that everything goes better with Peri Peri, a tangy, spicy sauce that can be found everywhere.

All in all Cape Town was a thoroughly enjoyable city and I would love to come back some day. We’d like to thank our friend Summer for all her wonderful suggestions. Her advice has so far not lead us astray. Next stop is Stellenboch and the rest of the Garden Route along the southern coast of Africa.

A little late, but this is a pic of our crew from the Namibia tour:
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V&A Waterfront:
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Lions Head Hike:
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Boulders Beach:
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Cape of Good Hope:
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Table Mountain:

scorpion.jpgtable_mountain.jpgtablemountain.jpgtablemountain00.jpgtablemountain4.jpgtablemountain22.jpgtablemountain33.jpgtablemountain44.jpgtablemountainsteep.jpg I told Shawna to give me her "tired face". This is what I got:tablemountaintired.jpg

Posted by tylerandshawna 07:28 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Happy Days!

10 days in Namibia

sunny 100 °F

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If you had asked me a year ago where Namibia was, I might have guessed Africa but I sure couldn’t identify it on a map. Having spent a week and a half there, I can tell you that Namibia is an beautiful and unique place. It’s mostly desert and sparsely populated (only 2 people per square kilometer and the smallest population of any African country). It is located northwest of South Africa along Africa’s west coast (far away from Ebola country). Namibia is also delightfully affordable. A beer is about $1.5; Shawna and I can go out to a three course meal with wine for around $50.

We spent the first three days in Windhoek which is Namibia’s capital and most populated city; it is also a thoroughly boring city. The lack of excitement was exactly what we were looking for. We did our laundry (long over due), sat by the pool and ventured out to the local italian restaurant only when necessary. The one down side was that our hostel doled out internet rations at a measly two hours per day.

Once we had rested, we set out on our first safari of the trip. It took us up to Etosha National Park, out to the Skeleton Coast and then into the desert. The highlight of the trip was our two night stay at Desert Camp. Desert Camp consisted of twenty or so tent cabins, with adjacent pool and bar located in the middle of the desert. The best part was dusk when the baking sun would set behind the mountains making the whole desert glow orange. Once the last rays were gone the stars would shine brighter than I had ever seen. The Milky Way stretched from one horizon to the other. It was strange seeing completely different stars from what we have in the Northern Hemisphere.

Our first day on safari was spent at Na’ankusa, a wild animal refuge riding along on a carnivore feeding. We were able to see several large predators at close range. The most thrilling part was feeding the lions who would charge the electrified chicken wire separating us from them. Shawna was lucky enough to discover the crate of horse meat placed casually under her seat while on the way out to the first feeding.

After that we spend two days in Etosha National Park driving from watering hole to watering hole looking for African game. On our safari scavenger hunt we saw: lions (including 2 mating), elephants (including a week old baby), black rhinoceroses (endangered - and a baby too), giraffes, zebras, hyenas, ostriches, warthogs and more types antelope than I can list. Being a life long Animal Planet fan, going on Safari has always been a dream for Shawna and I don’t think she’s been disappointed so far. The catch phrase of the trip became “happy days”; something our guide was inclined to say after he found some new animal for our observation.

One of our overnight stops was located near a large watering hole in the middle of the park. At night, onlookers can sit in bleachers and watch the various desert animals vie for a position near the water. Sitting there after dark, we saw a rhinoceros and her baby scare off a much larger elephant and a rhino scare off an aging lion from the area. Its never a dull moment at the watering hole. Shawna says it is pure magic.

We had a few difficult nights sleeping in the tent cabins. When you spend the entire day following ferocious animals around the park, every sound you hear while trying to fall asleep at night is a hungry leopard sniffing around your front door.

The best part of our safari was the group we traveled with. We had people from several continents as well as a few native South Africans. Shawna and I were both surprised when all three of the South African ladies informed us that they carried handguns whenever they left the house and slept with one on their nightstands. Its hard to imagine living in conditions like that on a day to day basis.

I think Shawna and I have really gotten into the groove of traveling on this leg of the trip. Around week four, we had both come down with a chest cold, traveling felt like a lot of effort and, at time, being home sounded more appealing. I was concerned that four months of travel might be a bit too much. I would say we have finally mastered living out of a duffle bag, the art of packing and unpacking several times a week and enjoying new experience as they come without too much thought about the future. Now I’m wondering if we’ll experience whatever the opposite of homesickness is upon our return to the states.

Shawna has been a major asset on this trip (yes I just called my wife an ‘asset’). Her planning has been meticulous, from the carefully chosen hostels to her detailed budget forecasting, updated on a weekly basis. Her direction and navigation skills are flawless. We have not missed a plane or train connection, gotten lost or otherwise experienced any difficulty in reaching our destination throughout the entire trip.

Shawna also loves laundry. We do laundry about once every 10 days and on laundry day she has a glow about her, an extra little spring in her step. We talk about laundry a lot on laundry day. I guess these are the things you learn about your spouse on a trip like this.

We did many other fun things like quad biking through the desert, star walks at night, and sand dune hiking to name a few. All in all, I’d say we enjoyed Namibia more than we expected and would certainly like to go back some day.

Windhoek and Na'ankusa:
Our hostel, the Chameleon Backpackers:
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Etosha:
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Swakopmund:
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The Desert (Desert Camp, the dunes, Sesriem):
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Posted by tylerandshawna 10:27 Archived in Namibia Tagged animals Comments (0)

The country where East meets West

8 days in Turkey (5 in Istanbul and 3 in Cappadocia)

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We just spent the last 8 days in Turkey, divvying up our time between Istanbul and Cappadocia. Travel here was quite interesting, and we both agree that we would fully recommend Turkey to anyone else, and may even come again. Unfortunately, we were ill with a doozy of a chest cold for the entire duration of our time here, which put a damper on things. We experienced the country through a cold medicine-induced haze (Tylohot is our savior)!

We started the trip in Istanbul, just a short 3 hour flight from Barcelona. Here we stayed at Cheers hostel, in the heart of the old city (Sultanahmet) near all of the major sites. It was definitely a downgrade from our last hotel, but we still got a private room and bathroom (although the wall between the bathroom and the room was completely see-through glass, barring any kind of privacy). I guess we're married now - no more secrets! ;)

We found Istanbul to be a fascinating and picturesque city, full of rich history and culture. The architecture is quite a sight to behold, as this area has gone through various reigns of Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Venetians, before the Ottomans occupied the country. Each reign left behind physical reminders of their tenure, which makes the city quite interesting and diverse. The city skyline is full of domes of various mosques, many which were converted from cathedrals from the Roman occupation. The most famous of these are the Aya Sofia (or Hagia Sofia, now a museum), and the Blue Mosque. Both are incredibly beautiful, as you will see from the pictures below. As you walk the city, the sounds of the call to prayer fill the air 5 times per day. Just walking through the streets feels like a visit to a museum!

We were sick, but determined not to slow down too much so we could experience the city, and we sure did accomplish a lot! The first day we toured the Basilica Cistern, the largest of many subterranean cisterns throughout Istanbul. Cisterns are receptacles for gathering and retaining water - this particular one can hold up to 100,000 tons of water (though it only holds a few feet today), and was used to provide water for the Topkapi palace. It was built in the 6th century during the Byzantine era. The cistern is supported by marble columns collected from Greek sites. The most famous of the columns are supported by Medusa heads at the bottom. This was a huge highlight for us! The next day, we joined a group tour, and visited the Petite Hagia Sofia, the Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Aya Sofia. It was a lot to fit in to a day, but it was great having a guide to tell us the historical tidbits behind each place. Unfortunately, there was a 4 day holiday right after we arrived in the city, so we had to squeeze as much as we could in to one day before the Bazaars and museums closed. Every site we visited was beautiful in it's own way - the Blue Mosque was incredibly impressive, and the Harem within the Topkapi palace is a sight not to miss (amazing tile work).

The next day, as all Bazaars and museums were closed, we decided to tour the Bosphorous by boat, and explore the Asian side of the city, walking over the Galata Bridge. This marks Tyler's first visit to the Asian continent (he has now been to all continents but Antartica)! The Bosphorous cruise was kind of a bust, as it was FREEZING and they didn't give much explanation as to what we were looking at or where we were. Still, it was fun to take in all of the views. We were both very impressed by the Asian side of the Bosphorous, and both wished we had spent more time there. Next time, we may even consider staying in the area. We explored the area of Beyoglu by foot, which had many winding streets full of shops, restaurants, and bars. It has a less touristy, bohemian feel, and is the place to go in the city for the best food, drinks, and shopping.

The following day, we decided to pay a visit to the Archaeology museum, which was absolutely fascinating. I would highly recommend a visit. They have a wonderful exhibit called Istanbul through the Ages, with artifacts from the earliest signs of human inhabitants through today. They also have an impressive collection of Egyptian and pre-Islamic Arabic art. In the afternoon, we paid a visit to a traditional Hammam, or Turkish bath. The Hammam we chose was built in 1584 and had separate quarters for men and women; it felt quite traditional. After all, how many chances will you have in your life to have a traditional bath in a 16th century Ottoman construction? We had no idea what we were doing, but eventually figured it out. We both got the traditional bath experience. You go in, men wear a small wrap around them, and women are given a pair of underthings and a wrap as well. Upon entering the bath, there is a large, circular marble slab in the middle of the steamy room. An attendant lies you down on the slab and proceeds to pour buckets of hot water on you, give you a thorough scrub down and and massage, and wash your hair. It's quite relaxing, and you come out feeling squeaky clean. Hammams were originally used as a main form of bathing, as cleanliness is very important in Muslim tradition and many houses did not have bathing facilities. Nowadays, since most people have their own plumbing, Hammams in Istanbul are a beehive of tourist activity.

We spent the rest of our time in Istanbul resting, reading, and eating! We've been very happy to have menus with a heavy focus on vegetables and fruit. :) I found the food to be delicious, flavorful, and healthy. It wasn't Tyler's favorite - I think he was expecting something a bit more spicy. Overall, Istanbul was great, but more touristy than we expected - lots of long lines at each site, crazy crowds, and aggressive salesmen. We heard from many people that tourism has taken a large upswing over the last 5 years.

We moved on early the next morning to Cappadocia (in central Anatolia), which was the highlight of our entire trip thus far, along with Switzerland. At this point, we have both preferred the more rural areas we have visited over large cities. Upon Tyler's parent's recommendation, we stayed at a WONDERFUL hotel in Ugrup, the Argos in Cappadocia. This was quite the luxury after our hostel in Istanbul, and was by far the nicest place we've stayed in so far, with unparalleled service. The hotel is on the site of carefully restored cave dwellings, and was once the site of a monastery. Upon arriving, we were shown to our room, given a plate of fruit and nuts and a complimentary bottle of wine for our honeymoon. We chose to spend the afternoon relaxing and recovering, as we were both still pretty sick. The hotel is the best place to do so - with many corners to sit back and take in the beautiful views. We took the tour of the hotel that evening, and were shown the old monastery, a preserved network of underground tunnels, and their spectacular wine cellars and gardens.

The next morning, we got up bright and early for a 5am pick up for a hot air balloon ride over the valley - the quintessential Cappadocia experience. We went with the Royal Balloon company. The weather conditions were perfect, and it was unbelievable to experience sunrise over the tufas and chimneys in the valley, created by volcanic eruptions and following erosion over the years - we had never seen anything like it! Beyond the views, being in an air balloon in that weather at that time of day is so very peaceful and quiet. After this, we went with a group to explore the underground city of Derinkuyu, the ancient 5 level underground city, which was thought to be able to hold up to 20,000 people and their livestock. They think it was possibly built between the 7th and 8th century BC by the Phrygians, and probably enlarged in the Byzantine era. The people used them to hide from invaders back in the day. There are many other networks of underground cities and tunnels, and it is thought that they all interconnected at one point, though only a small portion of them have been excavated due to cost, and conflicts with private landowners. This was such a cool experience, though our guide was not fit for the hospitality business, and seemed bored, angry, and was pretty rude. He and one of the girls on our tour got in a full-on yelling match - ridiculous! The tour made several other stops, and we watched the sunset from the top of the valley. After a long day, we returned to our hotel, built a fire in our room, ordered room service, and took our cold medicine. After all, we had to enjoy the luxury of the hotel as much as we could! The next day, we relaxed for a full day, then returned via plane to Istanbul to prepare for our next long leg of travel to Africa. Overall, Turkey was wonderful!

ISTANBUL:

Video of the call to prayer between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Taken from a rooftop during lunch on our last day!

Scenery/Random:
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Cisterns:
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Petite Aya Sofia:
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Aya Sofia:
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Blue Mosque:
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Grand Bazaar and Surrounds:
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Topkapi Palace Harem:
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Bosphorous and Asian Side:
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Archaeology Museum:
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CAPPADOCIA:

Hotel and Surrounds:
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Balooning:
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Underground city and tour:
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Posted by tylerandshawna 05:29 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

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