Archive for the ‘Thoughts On…’ Category

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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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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Thoughts on Namibia

Posted by Arlo on Aug 29, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

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.

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Thoughts on Botswana

Posted by Arlo on Aug 22, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

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!

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Thoughts on South Africa

Posted by Arlo on Aug 15, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

Elephant in Addo

Going to Africa for the first time was a huge step for us and it’s hard to remember how worried we were about the whole thing.  Would we have trouble with the languages?  Would we be safe?  Will the food be safe to eat and the water safe to drink?  Should we worry about racism?  Civil wars?

In retrospect, I’m very glad our introduction to Africa was through Cape Town.  The infrastructure there is good, the population is mostly white, English is spoken by just about everyone… starting at the southern tip really eased us in.  Later on, as we progressed through the rest of Southern Africa, things became more difficult for us as travelers, but by then we had gained enough confidence to handle anything thrown our way.

Africa has elements of the Western and Eastern worlds (and even the Middle East), but it’s not really much like either.  Africa is its own place, with its own cultures, and its own way of doing business.  The list of notes I jotted down on South Africa grew rapidly.  As our first introduction to a new continent, there were bound to be many differences from the other countries we’ve visited, not to mention the United States.
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Thoughts on Uruguay

Posted by Arlo on Jul 13, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

I want to make sure I do a “Thoughts on…” post for every country we visit, but I’ve fallen way behind.  While traveling, I try to jot these things down as they occur to me, usually on my iPhone.  I still have all my notes for every country, but I wrote down Uruguay’s way back in April.  They’re not as fresh in my mind as they were back then.

Still, let’s try to catch up a bit:


We only visited coastal areas in Uruguay – Montevideo, Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo, and Cabo Polonio – so I didn’t get to see much inland, but what I did see reminded me strongly of North Carolina.

Most of the roads between cites were two-lane blacktop and the view from the bus window was of nothing but flat farmland.  On the red dirt roads to Cabo Polonio, the view was split between farms and groves of pine trees.  Out on the highways, they even had the occasional John Deer dealership, complete with tractors and harvesting equipment lined up for display.

The beaches were uncannily like the Outer Banks, too.  The same color sand, the same tall dunes, the same tall beach grass.  I even spotted some sea fleas in the surf.  Aside from the occasional penguin or sea lion carcass washed up on the shore and the rocky point, everything on the beach was so familiar that the first thing I did when I got back to civilization (i.e., internet access) was look up the latitude for Cabo Polonio.  Sure enough, it was at almost the exact same level as Nags Nead, NC, just in the southern hemisphere instead of the north.  Makes sense that things were so similar: Same position on the globe, same Atlantic Ocean joining them together.

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