Archive for September, 2011

PVX: McDonald’s in Egypt

Posted by Arlo on Sep 27, 2011 under McDonald's of the World, Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

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.

Thoughts on Egypt

Posted by Arlo on Sep 26, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

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.
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PV017: Diving in Zanzibar

Posted by Arlo on Sep 20, 2011 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

There’s not much to say about the video that we didn’t already say in the video, but I’ll give it a try:

We spent a little more than a week on the island of Zanzibar, near a tiny village named Bwejuu.  We spent the majority of that time very near our lodge, but we did manage to get out of our hammocks long enough to do a 2-tank dive with the Rising Sun Dive Center.  Glad we did!  The diving staff that worked there were great and we saw or did something new on each of our dives!

Technical stuff:

In some ways, I wish we could reshoot elements of this video.  For instance, our underwater footage is overwhelming blue — so close to monochrome that my normal trick of color-correcting some red back into the imagery didn’t work at all.  In all fairness, I expected this would happen as soon as I learned we would be diving at a depth of almost 100 feet.  Water filters out the colors of light and red is the first to go.  Besides that, it was an overcast day, and the sunlight wasn’t that strong to begin with.  We could see just fine down there, but our point-and-shoot camera can only do so much…  (Too bad we can’t travel with diving lights, too!)

We also recorded our voice-overs outdoors, at the lodge.  The tropical scenery behind us is quite fitting, but the wind noise was something we couldn’t avoid.  Not to mention the birds.

Still, even with these minor problems, I think you’ll get a good sense of what our dives were like when you watch this video.


Rising Sun Dive Center
Breezes Beach Club and Spa
Our tour review of the Rising Sun Dive Center

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Thoughts on Tanzania

Posted by Arlo on Sep 19, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

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.

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Thoughts on Zimbabwe

Posted by Arlo on Sep 12, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

When we were in South Africa, planning our route northward, we discarded Zimbabwe as an option.  Wikitravel and Lonely Planet painted a grim picture of the country, warning us of empty gas stations, food shortages, dangerous animal on the roads, and health care nightmares. (We read somewhere that the best thing you can do if you’re injured or sick is to get the hell out of Zimbabwe as fast as possible.  For all intents and purposes, they claimed, there was no health care for tourists in Zimbabwe.)  We hadn’t been in Africa long and I’m sad to say that we succumbed to our own fears.

By the time we were ready to move on from Botswana, we’d met other tourists who passed through Zimbabwe and had long conversations with our Okavango riverboat captain and first mate, both from Zimbabwe.  Everyone assured us that, yes, Zimbabwe is still recovering and has its share of problems.  On the other hand, there are many worthwhile sights to see and tourists are very welcome.

As for the food shortages and gas scarcity, I got the impression it was much like going camping in the Alaskan wilderness: Go prepared and everything will be fine.

We did go to Zimbabwe, but only for a day and just to see the other side of Victoria Falls.  Turned out to be a memorable day, however, as we ended up going on an elephant-back safari ride, too.  Obviously we didn’t get to see a whole lot of the country, but I did learn a thing or two while we were there.

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True Fan Boost 2011

Posted by Arlo on Sep 5, 2011 under Here's an Idea, Postcard Valet

Having been on the road a good 14 months now, I haven’t had as many opportunities to support my favorite artists this year.  But that’s why I came up with this whole True Fan Boost idea in the first place, isn’t it?  To use Labor Day as a reminder to do just that!

So even though I’m unemployed and living off savings, I’m going to make sure to give at least a little something to the people’s whose work I enjoy.

Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton, who made headlines this year with his interview on NPR, has just released a new album — perfectly timed to coincide with my Labor Day purchase!  I just picked up the $10 digital download version of Artifical Heart, but I’ve yet to listen to it (I’ll wait until I have the time to give the first listen my full attention.)  JoCo’s put a lot of his music out there already, but this album is different.  It’s his first studio-produced outing and also his first major album with a theme.  I also see he’s got Suzanne Vega on there!  I’m looking forward to this.

But I’ll confess one thing.  I haven’t played Portal 2 yet, so I removed one song from my playlist until I first listen to it at the end of the game.  Spoilers!

Roam The Planet

If you’ve been following along on our travel site, Postcard Valet, you’ve probably heard me mention a couple new friends.  We met Wendy and Dusty in Ecuador, hooked up with them again in Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, and even lived in the same building for a time in Buenos Aires.  We expect to see them again in Thailand in a couple months, too.

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Thoughts on Zambia

Posted by Arlo on Sep 5, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

We didn’t realize how large Zambia was until we bussed across it.  The whole reason for visiting was to see Victoria Falls, which is in the south.  Since we entered from Namibia, we didn’t have that far to go to reach our destination.  Our plan afterward was to climb (or at least see) Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which is on Zambia’s northern border.  Getting there was a nightmare.

Our first bus from Livingstone to the capital, Lusaka, was only six hours.  The following day we decided to push all the way to Dar es Salaam.  We spent 34 hours on that next bus, with the same four Thai martial arts movies on a loop and no air conditioning.  It just about did us in.

Before all that, however, we spent about a week in Livingstone.  Being such a tourist hotspot, it was more comfortable (read: wealthy) than most of Zambia and we enjoyed our time there.  Most of my observations are from that area; I expect things where much different in the rural parts of the country.
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