Tag Archives: travel

Overlanding through Tanzania

Chopper, the Land Rover Defender 100 that took us on our epic journey through Tanzania

Chopper, the Land Rover Defender 100 that took us on our epic journey through Tanzania

I saw Mount Kilimanjaro. And it was so amazing that I forgot to take a picture of it. That’s when you know a moment is special: when it’s so amazing to be in the moment, that all other superficial cares of the world are lost in it – there’s no need to take a photo, or check in on Facebook, or prove to other people how much of a good time you are having. Those are the ones that are often cherished the most. It’s difficult for me, though, because I love to share my experiences with other people. Now, all I can do is tell other people I have seen it, but I have no proof! I have had to learn how to appreciate that moment for what it was: just me and the awe of being in nature’s massive presence.

The moment was amazing: we were driving along, trusting the GPS that there was a large mountain somewhere ahead of us. We tried to identify which one it was – maybe it’s that one over theeeeeere in the distance, it seems a bit bigger than the others, right? Then you see a slightly larger one, and you wonder if it’s not perhaps that one. Then all of a sudden, you look up. As in, up up. High above the clouds, high above any of the surrounding mountains that you were assessing, and you are left without a doubt as to which one it is. And you can’t help but feel small at the foot of this enormous chunk of rock that just rises high above all that is around it.

Then it gets confusing to your mind because it is so far away but so big that it actually looks small…

The roads were long, and mostly decent. The sun was bright, and it was hot. You can see the water effect on the horizon - polarized sunglasses were necessary

The roads were long, and mostly decent. The sun was bright, and it was hot. You can see the water effect on the horizon – polarized sunglasses were necessary

Tanzania was beautiful. I was highly surprised by how green it was though! Particularly in Ngorongoro, but everywhere you looked there was green. I definitely had different expectations. Traditionally I had pictured Africa to be more Savannah-type landscapes, with bush-veld as far as the eye can see. Instead, there were trees, and green fields. It was almost like the UK or Europe, except with skies brighter blue than you could ever imagine, and a sun that shines directly from above chasing all shadows away.

I also wasn’t expecting the traditional cultures to proliferate as they did: you drive along, and there are just Masai tribesmen walking along in their traditional blankets, with massive looped earlobes, with their knobkieries, just herding their cattle. Yes, I am most definitely a city girl, but this experience particularly highlighted how different South Africa comes across to me: yes, we have traditional people, but often it feels like they are traditional at certain times, and then resort to commercial, modern, “first-world” tendencies. For example, they live and work in the city, wearing suits, driving BMWs and drinking expensive coffee (I’m thinking bank executive here), and then get married in their traditional garments with cows as labola. The Masai tribesmen seemed all-tradition, all the time. It was fascinating and good to see that there are still some cultures out there that have held on to their traditions and the simple ways of life that don’t require the hustle and bustle and stress of today’s “modern world”.

Yes, there are people that still live in huts like this every single day of their lives. It's incredible and beautiful and so simple it just about makes you want to live like that too

Yes, there are people that still live in huts like this every single day of their lives. It’s incredible and beautiful and so simple it just about makes you want to live like that too

Having said this, however, I didn’t get any photographs of the locals. Unfortunately, while they still live according to their old ways, they have been touched significantly by the tourism industry, and as a result, I found that one of the only English words in their vocabulary was: “Dollar?” We tried to drive up to Lake Natron and got stopped along the worst dirt roads and we were asked for toll fees (you know, to maintain the dirt road?) a good number of times. At the one stop, there was a Masai woman who was trying to sell us her jewellery, which is fair, but after the heavy tolls, I didn’t want to be buying some piece of jewellery (which, to be honest, was basically the same as what I would get back in South Africa, except triple the price). When I told her “No”, she insisted that that I at least take a photograph of her: “Photo? Dollar? Photo? Dollar?” I tried to say no in as many tones as I knew, and she kept repeating those two words and ignoring (and not understanding) my refusal. The Dollar tourism industry has made travelling quite expensive, even (especially) in Africa. None of the Masai folk would let us take photos of them without us handing over some cash. So I didn’t take any photos of them (religious reasons would be ok, but tourist exploitation was unfair on principle).

***

We took a slight detour off the only just beaten track to check out this huge crater mountain thing. This is what we found on the inside (a crazy hat man! Just kidding).  It was easy to imagine a lone tent sitting at the bottom of the basin, but we unfortunately didn't have time to spend the night

We took a slight detour off the only just beaten track to check out this huge crater mountain thing. This is what we found on the inside (a crazy hat man! Just kidding). It was easy to imagine a lone tent sitting at the bottom of the basin, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to spend the night

The journey took us up from Dar Es Salaam (which was polluted and busy and full of traffic and taxis far worse than any Johannesburg Kombi) to the foot of Kili at Moshi, up through Arusha, and a slight detour to Ngorongoro Crater and National Park. We would have done Serengeti too, had time and finances allowed. We took the scenic route from there up to the border. This route took us past some cool volcanoes and craters that we did our best to explore (uncomfortably by excitingly off the beaten track). There were Zebra, wildebees and buck roaming free, and the expansive wilderness was breathtaking and typically African. Unfortunately we never made it to Lake Natron, but it worked out better as far as time went anyway, so I can’t complain too much.

We were tasked with getting some rock samples from the foot of a special volcano in Tanzania. This sounded simple, but it turns out there's a whole load of different rock types at the foot of a volcano, that aren't necessarily volcanic rock

We were tasked with getting some rock samples from the foot of a special volcano in Tanzania, Ol Donyo Lengai. This sounded simple, but it turns out there’s a whole load of different rock types at the foot of a volcano, that aren’t necessarily volcanic rock

Tanzania (I still don’t know how to pronounce it properly) was an awesome African experience. It challenged my preconceptions of my continent as far as the landscape goes, and it showed me just how far of an influence America actually has. I loved seeing that there are some people who still hold onto their cultural traditions as tightly as they can, with no desire to change that, where I am a person who is confused by people who are not looking for progress, growth and development (in themselves or in the world around them). It is definitely a place everyone should experience some time in their lives. I’m not sure that I would go back, but if I did, I would definitely go with lots of “dollar?” just to make the journey that bit easier and less frustrating.

Chopper delivered us safely through this unknown terrain. Such an awesome experience

Chopper delivered us safely through this unknown terrain. Such an awesome experience

Hidden South African Gems – Port Alfred

I officially graduated from Rhodes University. I am no longer a Rhodent, I now part of the upper echelon of Old Rhodians. Supposedly. But #Rhodent4Life!

My gran was supposed to come down to South Africa from the UK to celebrate my grad, but her goat attacked her. How’s that for an excuse? It was a pretty bad injury, and I’m glad she stayed home and rested and recovered, though it did make some of our “grad-weekend” plans seem a bit dull…

Port Alfred

We figured we could make a beach weekend out of a weekend in Grahamstown, so we booked in a B&B in Port Alfred that was absolutely stunning, right on the beach front. PA is only 40 minutes away (30 if you’re one of the students I tutored last year who did the trip daily), so it seemed convenient at the time. It wasn’t really, because we spent most of our time in GHT, so it was a little bit wasted. But gorgeous nonetheless.

I know my mom will probably hate me for putting this up, but she is beautiful and it's her birthday on Saturday, so all my love to her, lying on some super comfy bed in a really neatly and perfectly finished B&B bedroom

I know my mom will probably hate me for putting this up, but she is beautiful and it’s her birthday on Saturday, so all my love to her, lying on some super comfy bed in a really neatly and perfectly finished B&B bedroom

I was glad to have the opportunity to visit PA again, as beach trips were seriously under-utilized in my time at Rhodes. It made for a great day trip, though one that was difficult to over do, because it was just that little bit too far away. I do regret not spending more time checking out Bathurst as well, which is a quaint little place.

Taught mom how to take a selfie. Not sure if it was a mistake to have done that or not...?

Taught mom how to take a selfie. Not sure if it was a mistake to have done that or not…?

Port Alfred is basically just another one of those gorgeous small towns along the South African coast. It is especially beautiful because it is situated in the Eastern Cape, and somehow most places there are beautiful. It’s a stunning coastal visit that still holds it’s small-town simplicity.

Rock pools

The kind of place that makes you want to attempt to capture each crashing wave and the incredible rows of shells, and the crystal clarity of the water, but its just too beautiful to ever adequately do it justice

We got a local’s recommendation to check out the Three Sisters rock formation just up the coast from Port Alfred, about a 15 minute drive. We were about 45 minutes too late, but if you ever get the chance, make sure to go just before and for the duration of low tide. It truly is a wonder to behold.

This seemed like a good idea in the time before I did it. Then I realised that I am pathetic and spider webs can be icky but it was too late to turn back...

This seemed like a good idea in the time before I did it. Then I realised that I am pathetic and spider webs can be icky but it was too late to turn back… I promise I didn’t Photoshop that sky either.

Port Alfred is just another one of those places that reminds you just how beautiful South Africa is, and how lucky we are to have such simple yet breathtaking places right on our doorstep, and a reminder to take advantage of it before we as humans do the inevitable.

How I ended up in Africa

Spike Reid. Adventurer. Writer. Explorer. Photographer. Gentleman. Motivator. Friend. Opportunist. British. He’s a climber, a sailor, a mountaineer, an expedition leader. He was even mine once.

Spike

Spike discovered an opportunity to deliver a rare Land Rover Defender 100 from Cape Town to Nairobi for an Englishman who is now working up in Kenya. Spike needed a co-driver, and I had decided that this was going to be my year of adventure, so I said “Yes”. And what an adventure it was!

Spike would laugh at me beforehand when I expressed my reservations about going to ‘Africa’. “But you live in Africa!” he would say. I think I can now conclusively state that I do not, in fact live in Africa. South Africa in particular is very different from the likes of Stone Town and Moshi.

Stone Town

Google also didn’t help. This was my first holiday “on my own” and I had little experience in planning this kind of trip. Google told me: “BEWARE!” Beware of the water, beware of the fruit, the vegetables, the disease and, of course, the malaria. So I got my prophylactics, purchased some go-to snacks (3kg of them to be precise), and made sure I had a well-stocked first aid medications kit. I was glad to have the snacks (particularly the nuts and fizzers), and with the amount of mozzie bites I got, I happily endured the trippy dreams in prevention of the malaria.

***

So it turns out that Africa is very African. I expected a few ‘big towns’, and Arusha and Nairobi did meet (and somewhat exceeded) these expectations, but I didn’t expect just how rural many of the “towns” were. The corruption in the police also took me by surprise. Yes, we got stopped by every group of traffic cops we passed by (ons blanke), but by the end of the trip, not one monetary bribe was paid.

Just your casual African petrol station not too far out of Arusha

Just your casual African petrol station not too far out of Arusha

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. It was different, it was educational, and it took me right out of my comfort zone, which was ‘fun’ for me, but which Spike probably didn’t enjoy so much – if you ask any of my family, you would learn that I am not the easiest of campers, though I generally happily take on the challenge.

***

Here are my tips and warnings for planning a (camping) trip to Africa:

1. Use local currency – US Dollars are not as widely accepted in the more rural areas as Google claims. It also works out substantially cheaper.

2. Take antimalarials. Get your yellow fever and tetanus jabs up to date.

3. Don’t take too much food, but easy and healthy snacks are nice to have with you because ‘healthy’ options are rather limited.

4. Check when the rainy season is. We weren’t affected by it (somehow – we were there in the rainy season, but all the ravines were dry as anything – it still made for some awesome 4×4-ing).

5. Water. We bought water. It was pretty reasonable, and out of sealed bottles you know you can trust it. Obviously this is for drinking, and if you’re as fussy as me, you can cook your pasta in it too. Don’t forget you also use water for brushing your teeth.

6. Make sure your guidebooks are up-to-date. Ours wasn’t even that old, but the recommended campsite no longer offered camping. Also related to campsites: don’t purchase drinks from the bars – they are so overpriced! Grab your G+T’s from local spazza shops in the towns.

London Ice Sculpting Festival 2014

I had a huge list of events that I really wanted to get to on my stay in London, but because London is so huge and buzzing, I didn’t manage to get around to doing most of them! I am glad I got to go to this event though, it’s absolutely the kind of event you would not easily experience in South Africa, even in the middle of winter.

Faces through the ice.jpg

The London Ice Sculpting Festival was held on a particularly bright winters day in Wood Wharf. This posed a challenge for the sculptors participating because the glaring sun was melting their massive blocks of ice. The sun shining through the ice was beautiful though.

Tribal ice.jpg

There were a number of countries participating, and you could tell which countries were able to get a lot of experience in ice sculpting: Russia and Canada were significantly good, while Africa seemed to have a slightly different style. All the participants were incredibly skilled – the sculptures they worked on were certainly not easy or basic.

The tools they used were quite interesting too. Electric chainsaws (plugged in to a power source, even in the puddles forming below them), soldering irons, and even your normal domestic clothes iron (it seemed like a normal domestic iron – I could be wrong, but it would probably work just as well anyway). Sculptors were required to wear chainsaw-resistant trousers – those are seriously hardcore trousers!

Russian ice sculpting.jpg

Castles and stuff

USA vs. UK? My friend went to the USA over the December break and she absolutely loved it, particularly when she got a whirlwind experience of New York just before the Polar Vortex hit (it’s quite a contrast to our Sunny South Africa Decembers). When she met me in London just afterwards, she was surprised at how less urbanised London was. Yet London is such a progressive city too, how can there be such a difference?

She was expecting more of the Starbucks on every corner (or Costa’s in UK) and big chain stores like Primark and H&M to pop up wherever you decided you needed one, but we ended up having to Google these places and then walk for ages (well, more ages than you would in NYC by the sound of it at least) just to find the shop you are looking for. One of my favourite things about the UK, particularly London, is how accessible everything is. One of my other favourite things about the UK is that they offer you this accessibility alongside all their rich history and heritage.

Dramatically viewing the scene.jpg

After the family festivities of Christmas, Kenilworth Castle opened their gates for free public access, as a Boxing Day treat. It was rather chilly, but the sun was cheerily brightening up the crisp blue skies, as it attempted to heat up frozen children noses. This may sound cute, but not when a particular “children” is moaning about how cold they are and how they want to go home because they have no interest in the ruins of a castle that held many royals (including PRINCESSES, sweet child!).

Kenilworth Gardens .jpg

Thankfully, the organisers also hosted a duck race. We felt very foreign when we heard about this: isn’t animal racing like this considered to be animal cruelty? It turned out to be a really fun event involving thousands of numbered rubber ducks going downstream. You place a bet on a number, and if yours makes it to the end first, you win! It was all very novel, and definitely worth celebrating with some mulled wine.

Duck racing .jpg

Castles are definitely one of the things you absolutely HAVE to visit in the UK: each one has a pretty unique story, and to think that people actually lived in those freezing stone halls with no electricity, yet still managed proper grandeur – it’s a humbling experience (as in: how badly do we really need it?).

kenilworth characters .jpg

Cuppa 1800’s tea?

Mom insisted that we had to do something cultural. We simply HAD to. But what educational things can you do in London when you only have 3 hours to spare? You simply can’t do museums and galleries any justice in that minimal amount of time. So we hopped on a train and headed down to Greenwich, on what was possibly the wettest day of my UK stay.

Masts and rigging always look so spectacular!

Masts and rigging always look so spectacular!

It's quite high up there, but mom is steering us true!

It’s quite high up there, but mom is steering us true (sort of…)!

 

The wet weather didn’t deter, however, and we really felt empathy for the poor sailors who would have had to deal with so much worse when they were aboard and sailing the Cutty Sark itself, in her hay day.

My brother isn't even very tall yet. The conditions must have been seriously cramped!

My brother isn’t even very tall yet. The conditions must have been seriously cramped!

 

She’s a recently refurbished old-school boat (tea clipper). She burnt down in the refurbishing process, and has recently been completed and opened up to the public again. She has an extensive history, that covers things from the tea and wool trade, coal delivery, and even served to educate new sailors. I couldn’t quite gather what made her so significant (apart from all that she’s been through), but I think this is also due to the fact that I am severely lacking in ship and nautical appreciation. I will work on that shortcoming soon.

The hull of the ship sits in a rather large hallway with a coffee shop at the back. It's incredible to think that there is a whole great big ship right above you. Then you think of the weight of it and how much cargo it used to carry and you suddenly feel very small and fragile.

The hull of the ship sits in a rather large hallway with a coffee shop at the back. It’s incredible to think that there is a whole great big ship right above you. Then you think of the weight of it and how much cargo it used to carry and you suddenly feel very small and fragile.

Things that stuck out for me was that she seemed rather fast. The museum housed in the ship itself really do a good job of demonstrating what it was like to sail the ship using a number of multimedia platforms. It’s an interactive and fun experience; they even had a ship sailing simulator to give an indication of how fast she sailed from eastern Australia to London.

In memoriam

 

It is an interesting visit even if you know nothing about anything to do with the ship, though some kind of knowledge of it’s existence would have helped us. Most people would have some motivation to visit it, though I think I was a bit unprepared. It’s definitely something nice to do in Greenwich that is a little less conventional than just visiting the Meridian (which, granted, is worth a visit as well).

Ship in a bottle (and the most hipster camera around)

Ship in a bottle (and the most hipster camera around)

You could say I’m some kind of hot fox…

… because I’m a serious browser! I love to shop, but when I say “shop” I don’t actually buy anything, so it’s definitely more of an aggressive and distracted browsing…

I came to London, knowing very well that I would be shopping quite a bit, but somehow forgetting that I had experienced a lot more of the Internet than the last time I was here, somehow. I have been in my absolute element, and I have pretty much only scoured Oxford Street in the West End. Below is a collection of some of the funniest and some of the most interesting things I have found so far.

"Dear Santa... I want it all." So true of my shopping explorations. So many wonderful things!

“Dear Santa… I want it all.” So true of my shopping explorations. So many wonderful things!

Clothes oxford

I nearly bought that dress for a Christmas party, but as you can see there was a little problem, and I didn’t have time to buy heels to make up for it. Why don’t they make short long dresses yet? The PJs would be appreciated by many students at Rhodes, and the panda skirt would be purchased in a heartbeat for a lovely friendle of mine who is mad about pandas. Pity that I come from South Africa, and the Rand is depressingly weak at the moment. Also: leggings absolutely everywhere! I still can’t decide if people should be allowed to wear leggings as pants (it depends if the way I wear them counts as wearing them as pants or not).

An array of drinking chalices

An array of drinking chalices

Some of these are appropriate for my four-year-old cousin, some of them she would absolutely love inappropriately. Either way, this is a really fun shop.

Some funky quotes to keep you inspired and motivated on your browsing way

Some funky quotes to keep you inspired and motivated on your browsing way

Quotes on posters, quotes on money tins, quotes to buy for your house, and quotes as graffiti. Everywhere you turn there is someone offering up their own piece of wisdom. I guess that’s just the world today, right?

Shoes. OMG shoes. So many weird and wonderful types... I have this problem that even if they are ugly, I want to try them all on! I also have a problem that I don't actually end up liking any of the nice ones either, so I find the purchasing of shoes to be rather problematic

Shoes. OMG shoes. So many weird and wonderful types… I have this problem that even if they are ugly, I want to try them all on! I also have a problem that I don’t actually end up liking any of the nice ones either, so I find the purchasing of shoes to be rather problematic.

It took me ages to find boots! It turns out there were quite a few unanticipated purchases that have been made since arriving…

The best part of the shopping experience: the food of course. So many treats available at every turn, it's no wonder that high up on my shopping list are a new pair of jeans (in my current size...).

The best part of the shopping experience: the food of course. So many treats available at every turn, it’s no wonder that high up on my shopping list are a new pair of jeans (in my current size…).

Not to worry about all these sweet things though, I am off to gym today (the first time since I’ve been here, how shameful!), which also means I’ll need new gym gear. I optimistically brought along some running clothes. Unfortunately, it really is cold here, and I don’t much fancy running in this unfamiliar area in the dark. So, gym for me! I will also get the added benefit of attending spinning classes which means I won’t completely die on the 110km cycle race that is the Argus in early March 2014.

I have many more hidden shopping districts to attend to shortly, but for now I have done one of the bigger and more important streets. I’ve got that out the way, now I can learn to be less of a tourist and find all the local spots to save some cash and still look as fabulous as everyone else here does.

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