Tag Archives: africa
June 7, 2013

Visa Stories: South Africa

Awhile back, I sat down to write about all our border crossings.  Almost without fail, each one had it’s own drama to deal with.  I never did get through writing them all, but I mined this one from that pile of first drafts.

Visa stamps

We almost ran into serious trouble trying to get into South Africa.  It started at our embarkation point, Ezeiza, Buenos Aires’ international airport.

We were checking out bags to Cape Town, when the person behind the Malaysian Airlines counter asked us if he could see our visas.  No, we told him, we were planning to get them when we arrived at the South African immigrations.

He began to grill us for information.

Did we have return tickets?
No, we were planning to continue our travels through Africa.

How were we planning to leave the country? Did we have plane or bus tickets?
No, we didn’t know how long we’d be staying and figured it would be impossible to buy South African bus tickets from Argentina, anyway.

He sighed and said he wasn’t sure he could let us on the flight.  “South Africa is very strict with their entrance requirements,” he said. “Very strict.”


May 10, 2012


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.


September 27, 2011

PVX: McDonald’s in Egypt

After a long Big Mac dry spell, we finally made it across Africa and found another country with Golden Arches: Egypt!  We ended up eating at McDonald’s again and again before we left the country if only because we kept stopping in for the AC and vanilla cones!  Egypt is hot in August!

This is the first video we didn’t shoot in the restaurant itself.  I find it ironic that we chose not to because the environment wasn’t conducive to good video, but look at the problems this video has!  The florescent lights in our room wreaked havoc with the image; sorry about that.  We weren’t planning to shoot another review, but when we saw the sandwiches on display in Aswan, I had to try one.  We only had Oksana’s point-and-shoot camera with us, however, and it did a horrible job with the audio.  (Not sure why, either, because we shot practically the whole Ecuadorian Jungle video with that little camera!)  These issues bother me, but I’m trying to remind myself that these McDonald’s videos were never intended to be perfect.  That comforts me somewhat.  It also helps when I think about the mayo that both Oksana and I had stuck to our faces in the first segment…

Speaking of awkward food review moments.  Boy, when you’re on camera, the time between taking a bite and swallowing it so you can talk again seems like an eternity.  I should watch the the Food Network and take notes on how they do it.

September 26, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt

I’ve got good news and bad news about Egypt.  Which do you want first?  How ‘bout the bad.

Oksana and I have visited somewhere between 25 and 30 countries so far and it’s safe to say that Egypt is our least favorite so far.  Why the hate?  Because of the hassle.

Our guidebook warned us, a tourist in Tanzania warned us, friends on Twitter warned us, even the guy behind the counter at our hostel in Cairo warned us, but I still couldn’t believe it would be as bad as they said.  It was.  Actually, it was worse.

Listen to me.  If you go to Egypt, you will be hassled, hounded, yelled at, and argued with.  You will be followed, lied to, cheated, and taken advantage of.  The people in Egypt will not leave you alone.  They will do everything in their power to separate you from your money.

There is no escape from it.  At the pyramids of Giza, camel riders will follow you around, pestering you with questions constructed from the seven words of English they’ve memorized:  “You want ride? Camel ride? Hello? Camel ride. Twenty dollars.  Hello? You want camel ride?”

At the temples, Bedouins will step in front of you to get your attention, point out a hieroglyph on the wall, lie about what it represents (“Look! Cleopatra!”), and then hold out their hand for money.

In the Valley of the Kings, “helpful” people standing at the entrance to the tombs will hand you a half-dead flashlight as you enter and then demand money for it when you try to leave, even though you never used it because the whole tomb was lit with florescent lights.

If you’re not a dark-skinned Arab wearing a robe or a turban, you’re a mark.  Egyptians will swarm around you like a cloud of mosquitoes, buzzing in your ears, eventually angering the most patient tourist.

We tried everything we could think of to avoid them; nothing worked.  Sometimes we lost our temper. I’m ashamed to admit that we even swore at a few.  They swore right back.  They know all the worst words, in every language, because they’ve heard them all before from travelers just like us.

We were told again and again that the best thing we could do was ignore them.  Don’t make eye contact, show them your back.  We tried.  It was as simple as ignoring that cloud of mosquitoes and just as effective.

September 19, 2011

Thoughts on Tanzania

Tanzania started off bad for us and then went downhill from there.

It all began with what was supposed to be a 27-hour bus ride from Lusaka, in the middle of Zambia, to Dar es Salaam, on the Tanzanian coast.  We knew it would be a nightmare, but convinced ourselves that doing it all at once would be better than trying to find a place to spend the night somewhere along the way.  That was probably a mistake.  Due to a couple breakdowns and a few of those who-knows-why bus stops in the middle of nowhere, our 27-hour bus ride turned into a 34-hour one.  That may not seem like much of a difference, but just try to imagine spending an extra work-day on a hot, sweaty bus after you’ve already spent a day and a night in the same seat.

When we finally reached Dar es Salaam, we missed our stop at the main bus terminal.  Fortunately, the next stop wasn’t too far along and even though it was after 1am, we managed to find a taxi driver who was willing to take us to a hotel… for just three times the normal price.  Of course, the hotel we’d picked from our guidebook was full.  Our second choice was also full, but the night manager said we could have one room as long as we vacated it before 8am.  After showers, that left us with barely five hours for sleep, but we took it.

The next day, we looked around Dar es Salaam and decided that there wasn’t much for us there.  Our plan, as it so often does, changed.  We opted to spend our time in on the island of Zanzibar, instead.  If you’ve been reading along, you’ll remember that’s where we were mugged at machete-point.

If you haven’t read our story about getting mugged at machete-point on the beach in Zanzibar, you totally should.  It has a few more details about life in Tanzania and Zanzibar, plus I promise that it’s a much more interesting and entertaining than this blog post!

The whole reason for going to Tanzania was to climb Kilimanjaro and we had to back out of that plan because it was just too expensive.  Thinking back, I wish we had at least left the coast to see the mountain.  We could have gone on another safari, this time in the Serengeti, and seen some of the big herds migrating.  We could have checked out the Ngorongoro Crater, or even climbed one of the lesser peaks in the area.  Lots of regrets, lots of reasons to go back.

In all, our time in Tanzania amounted to just 18 days.  We left with some disappointing memories, but also some great stories.


August 29, 2011

Thoughts on Namibia

Our GPS track through the Caprivi Strip

Believe it or not, I don’t think we took even a single photo in Namibia. So, here’s our GPS track, instead!

Our time in Namibia amounted to just one day as we decided the best way to get from Botswana to Zambia was via the Caprivi Strip.  The Caprivi Strip is a strange stretch of land that doesn’t seem like it should belong to Nambia at all, but it has a very straight road through a wilderness preserve that leads right to where we were going.  Getting there was a day-long adventure, however.

Early in the morning, we were dropped off at a remote border outpost between Botswana and Namibia.  Getting our respective exit and entrance stamps turned out to be the easy part.  When we asked how to get to the next town in Namibia, a very friendly border agent said, “Oh, you’re just a little too late.  Why, a car went by just a half hour ago!”

No buses, no taxis.  Waiting for a car and asking if you can ride along is business as usual way out there.

It took another hour or so, with us sitting on the curb by our bags, but eventually some kid drove by in a 90s-model Honda SUV.  There were already four people in the car, but Oksana asked if we could ride along.  I volunteered to climb in the back with the bags.

Once we started driving, I saw two things that gave me second thoughts about our ride.  First, the driver was using the emergency hand brake to slow the car.  I stared with dread fascination whenever he attempted to pass slower vehicles around blind curves.  Nothing was scarier than watching him yank up the e-brake, in the face of oncoming traffic, to get us back in our lane.

Except, perhaps, realizing that both the driver- and passenger-side airbags had been previously deployed.


August 22, 2011

Thoughts on Botswana

The great thing about traveling around the world for a year without a plan is that you can make it us as you go.  On our first night in South Africa, I found myself flipping through a National Geographic that was left on a coffee table at our backpackers.  There was a feature on the Okavango Delta, with beautiful photos of elephants pushing through marshy waters at sunset.  That’s something I’d like to see, I thought.

The Okavango Delta is in Botswana, huh?  Oh, and hey, look at the map!  Botswana is right next door to South Africa!  That’s pretty much exactly how we decided to go.

For a country right next door to South Africa, Botswana is very much a different place.  Parts of it matched up exactly with my preconceptions of what an African country would be like (the bus system, the sounds of the spoken languages) and some of it surprised me (3G cellular service, safety.)

A few days before we were set to leave South Africa, we met a couple Canadian girls in Pretoria that were volunteering in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, for a few months (Hi, Brandy! Hi, Angela!)  They offered to let us stay with them at their volunteer house for a couple nights, which was awesome for a number of reasons, not least of which being that we had a couple unofficial guides that had already figured out many of the ins and outs of Botswana society.  Their initial help with things like the bus rank were invaluable.

The Bus Rank

When we saw the bus rank for the first time, I thought, now we’re in Africa!