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May 21, 2012

For Mema

2010

Eulogies always leave me feeling vaguely depressed.  When Steve Jobs passed away, newspapers, magazines, television, and the internet had nothing but wall-to-wall praise for the man.  How much nicer it would have been, I thought, if he were still alive to read it.  Why do we wait until someone dies before talking about all the good they’ve done in life?

Regret.  That was the first emotion I felt after hearing the news that my grandmother had died (a week ago today.)  My mom told me two days before that her parents had just celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary.  “Why don’t you give your Mema a call tomorrow and wish her a happy Mother’s Day?”  I could have.  I should have.  All the time zones between Australia and North Carolina aren’t excuse enough for why I didn’t.

In my sadness, I think no one could possibly understand how I feel, but that’s not exactly true, is it?  Probably most of you have felt the same sense of regret, of sadness, of loss.  If only I’d visited one last time.  If only I’d told her I loved her when last we spoke.  If only she were still here.

This pain feels so personal, so unique to my situation, but in reality, most everyone can relate to losing a grandparent.  I’m luckier than most.  I knew six of my eight great-grandparents (though their faces and personalities have faded from memory since childhood) and I almost made it to forty years of age before losing my first grandparent.  Not many can say that.

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May 10, 2012

Cheetah

A Cheetah in Kruger National Park, South Africa

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We spent four days on safari, driving through the Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Our guides drove us around for hours each day as Oksana and I hung out our respective windows, searching the countryside for the next amazing animal.

Before we arrived in South Africa, I never would have guessed that so many of the iconic African animals could be spotted in a single country.  For some reason, I thought you had to travel all over the continent if you wanted to see lions, wildebeest, rhinos, giraffes, leopards, hyenas, elephants, crocodiles, zebra, buffalo, baboons, and warthogs.  (We saw most of those the first day in the park.)  About the only big African animal I can think of that we didn’t have a chance of seeing was a mountain gorilla.

The highlight of the safari, for me, was spotting a cheetah.  After we stopped the car to watch him, his brother also emerged from the brush.  Both of those beautiful animals eventually crossed the road directly in us before disappearing into a ravine.

The next day, it got even better.  Oksana spotted another cheetah.  Our guides were blown away.  Not only are cheetahs among the rarest animals seen in the park, but we were the ones to spot them – not them, the more experienced guides!

It was nearly sunset when we spotted the cheetah on the second day and we were far from our camp.  Still, it was such an amazing animal, our guides graciously allowed us to stay as long as possible.  As we watched, the cheetah got up and stretched, then went about marking his territory.  Against all odds, his path again took him across the road we were on.

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May 9, 2012

Lost in Botswana, part 3

This might not make much sense if you haven’t already read parts 1 and 2.  Well… part 2, at least.

It occurred to me at the time – I actually had the thought – that the situation we were in reminded me of one of those crazy African travel blog entries I’d read online.  Dropped off in the middle of nowhere, not really knowing where we were, where we were going, or how we were going to get there.  I had the sense that we were in the middle of a great story, but at the time all I wanted to know was how it was going to end.

A large man in a military uniform was the last person to step off the bus.  Because he stopped to purchase something from the roadside stand, he was soon the only other passenger still around.  As he passed by us on the way down the road, Oksana asked if he knew where the river was.

He gestured across the countryside, “I’m not sure,” he said. “But I think it’s three or four kilometers that way.”  His accent was thick, but perfectly understandable.

Both Oksana and I looked the way he indicated.  It looked no different than any other direction.

“Do you… um,” I began. “Do you know how we can get there?”

“I would wave at the first car you see,” he replied.  Oksana and I looked up and down the dirt road.  There were no cars.
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May 2, 2012

Waiting in Maun, part 2

This is a continuation of the story told in the previous blog entry: Learning to use the bus rank in Botswana.

We spent a week in Maun, passing most of our time in a chalet at the Okavango River Lodge.  The lodge itself was nothing special, but it suited us just fine.  This far from the actual river, we expected the delta to be mostly dried up, but Maun was seeing the highest water levels in 15 years.  Our chalet was a two-room cement bunker set back in the landscaped grounds.  It was quiet, but not so far from the open-air bar and restaurant on the water’s edge that we couldn’t hear the more social travelers watching the hippos grazing at sunset.

Our room was a concrete box with a curtain hanging over a doorway into a small bathroom.  I set up my laptop on a narrow desk and claimed the only chair in the room.  Oksana spent a lot of time reading in bed, underneath the mosquito net.  After dark I joined her there.  That close to the river, the mosquitoes began to swarm just after sunset.  We learned to shake out our clothing and shoes in the morning, too.  There was a gap under the door that let in all manner of little crawly things.

We didn’t see much of the delta while in Maun because we were caught between jobs.  I spent most of the week diligently editing a video of our four-day safari with African Big 5 Safaris.  They had treated us to a fantastic time and I was set on giving them the best promotional video I could manage.  In the meantime, Oksana was coordinating our next assignment.  There was a tour operator up near the Okavango Panhandle that had expressed an interest in taking us out on their riverboat in exchange for some professional photos of their renovations.

Problem was, we didn’t have internet access.  There was a laptop at the bar we could use to check our email, but at $6 per hour, it was actually cheaper for both of us to drive into town and get online at an internet café.  We fell into a routine where we’d catch a combi to the city center every other day, buy some donuts for breakfast and check our email at a place called “Tech Times.” We’d load up on groceries before heading back out to the River Lodge – it was cheaper to eat PBJs and soup than to buy all our meals from the restaurant.

Eventually, I finished the safari video and, because it was impossible to upload it to Youtube with Botswana’s poor internet infrastructure, we planned one more trip into town to mail a DVD back to our friends in South Africa.  Oksana checked her email and discovered that our riverboat contact had just arrived in Maun the day before!  We’d already made plans to ride out on a bus the following day, but she was offering us a ride instead.

We were kicking ourselves for not checking our email the day before and for not going to the effort to get a cell phone while we were in Botswana.  If we’d done either, getting in touch with them would have been easy.  As it was, all we could do was reply to her email and hope they got in touch with us through the Okavango River Lodge.  Just in case, I printed off all the contact information and directions to the riverboat from their website.

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May 1, 2012

Learning to use the bus rank in Botswana, part 1

I wanted to write a story about what it was like to ride a bus cross-country in Africa.  I have two such stories that took place in Botswana, each interesting for different reasons.  This is the first. If some of it sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote briefly about this ride in my Thoughts on Botswana post.

South Africa was a good introduction to the continent for us.  While still very different from what we were used to in South America, it wasn’t so strange that we had trouble getting around.  We traveled around there for a month before moving on.

On our last few days in Pretoria, Oksana met a couple Canadian college students in the shared kitchen of our hostel.  They were volunteering in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, and had come down for the weekend to check out South Africa.  Oksana mentioned Botswana was next on our list and before we knew it, we had invitations to stay with them.  They departed ahead of us, but a few days later we hopped on a bus and joined them in Gabs.

The South African bus company we selected to get us there was both professional and efficient.  We made the 7-hour trip in surprising comfort.  It wasn’t until we traveled inside Botswana that we found the African busses I expected…and feared.

We spent just a couple days in the capital; our real plans for Botswana involved the Okavango Delta, further to the north.  Our new friends worked during the day, so we spent our time sightseeing and seeking out a prescription for anti-malarial medication.  In the evenings, we reconvened for dinner back at the dormitory house.

On our last day in Gaborone, we followed directions to the bus rank, to see about getting tickets to Maun.  Even after an explanation of what to expect, we were not prepared for what we found.

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April 14, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve been meaning to update the Postcard Valet FAQ for a long time; lots of people keep asking us what our favorite place was and now I have something to point to!  This’ll go up on it’s own page, too, but I realized it serves as good summary of certain parts of our trip and thought I might make a post about it as well.

If you have a question that’s not on here, let me know.  Be happy to add something to the list.

Post Travels FAQ

Index of questions:

Q: How long did you end up traveling?

Q: Where are you now?

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Q: What was your favorite place/tour/country/thing out of all your travels?

Q: What was the craziest/most disgusting thing you ate?

Q: Which countries did you visit?

Q: Which country was your favorite?

Q: What was your least favorite country?

Q: What was the most dangerous thing you did?

Q: Did you have any trouble while traveling?  Was anything stolen?

Q: How much did you spend?  Were you able to stick to your $100/day budget?

Q: Did you ever get sick on the trip?

Q: Are you still married?  How has being together 24/7 for 18 months affected your relationship?

Q: Do you miss it?  Does life seem boring now that you’ve slowed down?  Did you burn out on travel?

Answers:

Q: How long did you end up traveling?

A: Almost exactly 18 months.

Although… that answer doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In our minds, there are three or four distinct parts to our time away from home:  Crossing the US and Canada, staying with family, active travel, and living in Australia.  (more…)

April 11, 2012

An Invitation to Visit Australia

As I mentioned previously, Oksana and I have decided to spend a year living and working in Australia.  However, we’re trying very hard to replenish some of the savings we burned through traveling around the world, so playing the tourist isn’t something we’re planning to do while we’re in Brisbane.  Though it’d be a shame to live an entire year in Australia and not see anything outside of Brisbane…

So we’re making plans.  Plans which may involve you, especially if you’re one of our friends or family members (or pretty much anyone on our Facebook or Twitter list!)

Although I haven’t really had the opportunity (yet!) to share what happened on our Galapagos trip – the one where we invited friends and family to come along with us – both Oksana and I viewed it as a big success.  We had 5 people join us in Ecuador; a good friend, his cousin (who we’d never met at all), and a family of three I barely knew in passing.  We all hit the streets of Quito, found ourselves a luxury cruise at a reasonable price, flew out to the islands, and spent a week together on a boat.  Afterwards, our friend stayed an extra week with us in Ecuador, where we took him on a day trip into the jungle.  I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all.

Solo travel has its own rewards, but there’s something immensely satisfying about sharing adventures with other people.  For that reason, I’m not only glad I got to travel the world with my wife, but I’m also thankful that other people joined us, as well.

I know that many people consider Australia to be on their “bucket list,” that is, a place they want to visit before they die.  If you’re one of them, why not consider joining us Down Under later this year?

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