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Trekking through the "Land of Fire"

Travels in Puerto Natales, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina

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Puerto Natales.
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After a 6-hour bus ride from Calafate to Puerto Natales, a tiny lively Chilean woman (our B&B hostess from Pire Mapu, Fabiana) picked us up at the bus station. TripAdvisor has been guiding us well on this journey, and we stayed in a quaint bed and breakfast for three days just outside the city center. This town is about 100km south of South America’s most visited national park: Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. A ton of hikers go to the national park to complete the “W” trek or the full “O” circuit around the Torres del Paine and the Cuernos del Paine. Ryan and I were not that ambitious and only planned on spending one day in the park.

Sadly, there was a huge fire at the park that started in December, 2011. A hiker was cooking in the wrong area, and wind caught the fire. It lasted for 3 weeks with fire fighters from all over the world (including the States) arriving to assist with putting out the flames. The problem is the excessive wind in the park, and the fire kept getting blown over the lakes rather than stopping at the water. Upon entering the park, we had to watch fire prevention videos and sign paperwork saying that we would not start a fire. I bet that person felt like a huge jackass for starting that fire. Here is a picture of some of the damaged landscape:

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After catching break after break with relatively good weather everywhere we’ve been to this point, our luck finally changed a bit in Torres del Paine. We were told to plan for all four seasons at the park, and our draw once we got off the bus was a Winter storm (in the middle of summer). It was incredibly windy and sleeting at the same time. Ryan was a little hesitant to take many pictures initially since there wasn’t much to see and he didn’t want to risk damaging any of his gear. We caught a bit of a break when Spring showed up for a few moments allowing us to make another quick video and snap a few photos (the bright moss and absence of trees really made for some interesting shots). We’ve also included a ‘borrowed’ pic from Google images below to give you an idea of what this place looks like with a bit better weather. With the weather looking terrible and the forecast not promising, our day excursion turned into only a 3-hour hike due to the weather. Once back on the bus to Puerto Natales we felt like pansies for only spending a few hours. Other trekkers who had been hiking at the park for 4 days to a week were passed out everywhere on the bus. (Apologies in advance for the howling wind on the video...)

Ryan's Picture - Stormy

Ryan's Picture - Stormy


TDP via Google in the Summer

TDP via Google in the Summer

The silver-lining to crummy weather in the park was that our half-day trek around the park allowed us time to come back and explore the charming town of Puerto Natales. It started as a mining town, but all of the hiking traffic headed for Torres Del Paine has really boosted the tourism economy. We spent the rest of our day sightseeing around Puerto Natales and finished with a delicious dinner at Afrigonia – a fun restaurant serving “African-South American Fusion” cuisine. Afrigonia and the recently-established brewpub Baguales kept us well-fed on our Chilean stopover.

After reading Bruce Chatwin’s, “In Patagonia”, the statue of the giant bear sloth at the entrance of Puerto Natales makes sense. Apparently there were sightings of milodons (giant bear sloths) throughout Patagonia, and the town had the image on each street sign. Also, there was the most creative sculpture next to the water of a man and woman flying over the bay. The imaginative sculpture accurately captured the feeling of the wind and the waterfront.

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Ushuaia. Patagonia is an expansive place, and our bus ride from Puerto Natales, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina took 13 hours. Aahh! Luckily, we won’t have any more of those sedentary days on a bus. We could not wait to walk around once we finally made our destination in the southernmost city in the world (nicknamed “el Fin del Mundo” – the End of the World). Random fact: the Pan-American Highway actually ends just west of the city here in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (where it is known as “Highway 3”). This highway actually runs more than 17,000km from Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to Alaska! Ushuaia is a beautiful town with the Andes running west-east marking the northern border of the city and Ushuaia Bay and the Beagle Channel marking the southern border just a few miles from the mountains! Random fact #2: the province (and park) of Tierra del Fuego (Land of the Fire) get their name from the native Americans (“Fuegians”) first discovered here hundreds of years ago. They wore very little clothing at any time of the year but were able to stay warm by effectively keeping fires going all over the place (even in their canoes). As result, the region earned itself the nickname “The Land of Fire.”

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There is a fair amount of cruise traffic in this town because people embark on trips to Antarctica from Ushuaia. Ryan and I had some energy to burn after our excessive bus ride, and we attempted a local hike up to a glacier (much smaller than Perito Moreno). The trail was not really well-defined, and we ended up getting a little lost on a trail that was making a huge loop. Regardless, it was fun until it started dumping rain. One moment we were in the woods, and there were three different options of possible trails to take. Fortunately, we picked the option that took us to an abandoned ski trail that went straight down the mountain towards town… Maybe we should stick to guided tours!

I knew I was getting close to seeing my favorite animal because all of the store windows were adorned with stuffed versions and tiny sculptures of them – PENGUINS! We were so excited about our excursion to Haberton Estancia and our boat ride out to Martillo Island to see the penguins. This was our main event in Ushuaia. Ryan and I were blown away with the sheer number of the Magellanic penguins on the island. Our group of 18 tourists slowly got off the boat and sat on the beach. Most of the penguins just watched us, but some of them waddled over and closely inspected us. They were really friendly and didn’t seem afraid of us at all.

Our spunky tour guide warned us to control our emotions once on the island! I guess people get overwhelmed and try to pet the penguins or something. We slowly hiked around the island, saw their nesting grounds and even observed baby penguins in the process of shedding all of their grey feathers. Every few moments a male penguin would look to the sky and make quite a bit of noise trying to call its mate. Magellanic penguins mostly stay with the same mate for life. Our guide said that the female looks around to see which nesting hole created by the male was the best and chooses her mate based upon the most inviting habitat for raising her babies. On rare occasions the female penguin may change mates, but interestingly, she will never change the neighborhood that the original nest was located in. We had to move slowly throughout the penguins’ area because different penguins kept joining us or wandering near us over the course of the hike. There was a section of the island where slightly larger penguins, Gentoo, hung out. These penguins had white fluffy eyebrows with orange beaks and feet. All in all, it was a huge treat to hang out with the penguins! (As with Perito Moreno, there were so many fun pictures on Martillo that we included a few here - but feel free to check the others out in the full photography gallery)

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Ushuaia is a charming town full of cafes, chocolate shops and seafood restaurants. The night before our penguin excursion was Super Bowl Sunday. At the southernmost city at the end of the world, we came across an Irish pub advertising the game. The restaurant had its own idea on “Irish food” – even going as far as to offer up Ryan’s dinner choice of a cebolla (king crab) pizza freshly caught near Ushuaia. Ryan and I continued our policy of trying different local beers from everywhere we travel and opted to try Isenbeck that evening (think Coors Light) instead of the Quilmes that had been our staple prior to that point in Argentina. Apart from the food, it felt nice to watch some familiar football after 3 weeks of “soccer” watching. The older Argentinian couples in the bar couldn’t have cared less about the Super Bowl though.

The next evening Ryan and I stumbled across a gem of a restaurant called La Casa de los Mariscos (Seafood House). The fish tasted like they had just caught it that afternoon. We were in heaven and if we had more time in Ushuaia we would definitely have eaten there again. Also, Argentinian wine is very affordable in restaurants. For about $8-10 USD you can enjoy a great bottle of Argentinian wine with dinner. Casa de los Mariscos allowed Ryan and I access to a part of the local culture that he and I both share a real appreciation for – the food! Getting out around these towns and stumbling into local establishments to sample the local cuisine is a big part of what we both feel really constitutes a significant piece of the travelling experience.

After a terrific dinner, Ryan and I took one last well-lit late night stroll through downtown Ushuaia and headed back to our hostel. Southern Patagonia gets roughly 16-18 hours of sunlight during the longer parts of the summer; it takes some serious discipline to be in bed before the sun goes down!

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Posted by mcpherson.nyc 06:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

Wrapping Up SA in Rio

Buenos Aires the Sequel and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Buenos Aires (take 2). After 8 days travelling though Patagonia, we headed back to Buenos Aires and stayed at a lively hostel called America del Sur. On our one full day in Buenos Aires, we walked to the Teatro Colon and went on a tour of the famous opera house. Our tour guide thought he was a bit of a comedian and kept singing excerpts from different operas. Apart from its seating capacity, the thing that makes the Teatro Colon so unique is that it is consistently ranked the #1 sound for operatic performances in the world and usually #1 or #2 for symphonic performance acoustics as well. Our tour guide also told us that Argentinians are a tough crowd, and they like to hiss if they do not like a new piece of work. Unfortunately, there were no performances while we were in Buenos Aires for us to get a chance to see some performers brave the BA crowds. Our day continued with a short walking tour to see the Plaza de Congress (interrupted by one of the protest marches BA is so widely-accepting of these days) and a few other points of interest around the city (Avenida 9 de Julio, the Obelisk). Walking through BA feels like being in a European city. The older buildings show tons of French and Italian influence due to the immigration history these countries (especially Italy) share with BA.

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Throughout BA, graffiti is everywhere. There are two types of graffiti in BA: art and propaganda (Ryan has begun a photo collection of graffiti from our travels now as result of BA). The art is widely-appreciated and generally accepted by many of BA’s citizens. The political stuff is really interesting. Some of it is fairly basic (neo-Socialism pushes, people complaining about the current president) – but a fair amount of it was overly-metaphorical, or was just something a bit over our heads (or Ryan’s translating skills).

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No trip to BA would be complete without a tango class or show. There are a lot of expensive packages for tourists to go “take a class,” and then eat dinner and watch a show. The going rate was about $130 per person for these events. The complaints about these packages were that the classes were a bit of an afterthought. Luckily Ryan promised me months ago he’d take a tango class with me, so I found a private Tango instructor and booked a class for us at his studio. Before our class we decided to take a taxi because we had not used the subway. WRONG CHOICE! BA’s seemingly endless road construction claimed another victim and caused us to run late to the class.

The stress of being late melted away once we arrived and started dancing. Our instructor was really patient and was able to teach us quite a bit in the hour we had with him. I know he was teaching us tango, but he kept getting really close to both of us. It was funny seeing a man cheek to cheek with Ryan. He would switch from being the man and woman to show us the moves. By the end of our lesson we had some vocabulary to put together a combination. The woman has no control with Tango, and the man has to communicate what moves he will do with different pressures on your back, different placement of his feet during the dance routine or subtle pushes and pulls during the performance. Considering I have danced my whole life it was a bit difficult for me to let Ryan control everything that we were going to do. The instructor picked up on the 20+ years of dance training that I have had and started doing complicated lifts and dips with me. He kept showing me photographs of professional tango couples, and then I would try to recreate the line. It felt great dancing again. On the way back to our hotel the subway took a fraction of the time our cab to the studio did. Ah well...

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On the food scene, Ryan and I enjoyed two different meals at Bar el Federal in the San Telmo neighborhood. El Federal still had their original hardwood bar intact dating back to the 1850s and poured a “stout” on tap that was flavored with black olives! Federal is a very homey bar with a good local scene. We were able to snag a cheap bottle of wine and some homemade charcuterie and cheeses for our last dinner in BA. Another great find.

To round out our second trip, Ryan and I spent our last half-day in the city on a walking and picture-taking tour of San Telmo. We’d been staying in or near this neighborhood, but hadn’t really had a chance to get out and see it over our 5 days in the city. We stopped for a bit to browse the famous art and antique markets near the Plaza Dorrego and took in some more bizarre graffiti. With our day in San Telmo completed, it was time to say “Adios!” to speaking Spanish (Ryan was bummed – he made a lot of progress being immersed in it again for 3 weeks) and head off to our next stop – RIO!

Rio de Janeiro. Out of all of the countries that we travelled to, Brazil took the most leg work. In Atlanta, I had to book a meeting with the Brazilian consulate. Prior to that meeting I had to get paperwork showing our bank accounts, airline tickets, yellow fever vaccinations, and hotel accommodations. In addition to that paperwork, we also needed cashier’s checks from the post office for $160 per person to obtain a visa to visit for 3 days. But, we can come back anytime in the next 10 years.

*** WARNING *** Consider this the obligatory disclaimer that the remainder of the entry on Rio includes some adult-oriented carnival and Rio stories. We had to paint a picture!

So Rio… “Booty, booty, booty, booty, rockin’ everywhere.” The Ying Yang twins’ chorus from Bubba Sparxx’s song ‘Ms. New Booty’ popped into my mind after walking around Rio for a day. Our hotel was across the street from Copacabana beach. The beach began gaining fame years ago when the Rio’s famous sights started appearing in Hollywood movies and film stars such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers began to frequent Copacabana. Countless celebrities have vacationed here since it became a popular destination.

Anyway, back to the booty song… While walking around, all the ladies were wearing thongs. Not just the young women - all ages. I admired their confidence relaxing on the beaches and the several blocks around the area. The amazing butts did not stop there. Once we went to the samba parade, each samba school had several Brazilian women dressed in headdresses and thongs pulsating and dancing their hearts out. We sat right in front of quite a bit of camera men, and the samba dancers would turn on the charm (and by charm, we mean booty-shaking and body-gyrating) full tilt when they were being broadcasted live to millions.

As the Carnival celebrations start to get under way, Rio has open street parties all over the city called “blocos” (a record of 492 approved blocos this year to be exact). Our first full night in Rio we had the treat of meeting several of Ryan’s work friends: Kevin, Rhonda, Mike and Mandy. They had just flown in from Seattle and Detroit respectively. We were excited to hang out with some fellow Americans and experience all that Rio has to offer. Right away we landed in the middle of a Bloco party next to the villa they rented for their vacation. Beer cost was roughly $0.50 each, and everyone was in full costume dancing. All ages attend these events, and the local Brazilians’ love of Carnival is extremely contagious. Before you know it you are attempting Samba and bouncing to the beat of the musician’s drums. Here is a video of a Bloco party that was on the street in front of our hotel earlier that day:

According to a paper that I got in the lobby of our hotel the observance of Carnival began (according to many historians) in Italy as a celebration by Catholics before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a six-week period of fasting and abstinence that ends at Easter. Eating meat was prohibited during Lent, and the origin of the word “carnival” comes from either carne levare meaning to remove meat or carne vale – “farewell to meat” in Italian. Catholic Portuguese settlers of Brazil are credited with bringing the Pre-Lenton celebration to Rio de Janeiro with the first recorded Carnival taking place during either the 17th or 18th century. Now it is a huge event where Rio is expecting 1.5 million people to partake directly in the festivities and tens of millions of others watch the main events on TV.

Ryan and I took the subway to the Sambadrome (specifically built for Carnival) and the singing and dancing were already underway on the train. I did not expect the elaborate costumes from all ages of people in the stands. Among the 90,000 people cheering on the event were groups of people holding signs and wearing specific samba school shirts. Once making it to the huge Sambadrome we found our entrance amongst the madness and were pleased to have seats in a box close to the parade.

There was an underlying pulse of excited energy. Carnival is such a huge part of the Brazil’s culture, and it was an amazing experience to join them on the ride. The parade is also a serious competition of the Samba schools. Currently there are over seventy competitive samba schools in six divisions. Each school chooses a theme, a samba song, and creates upwards of 20 + different themed costumes and multiple floats to progress through the parade over a time period of 40-80 minutes. The samba song for each school is sung over and over again throughout the entirety of each school’s performance. We do not know Portuguese, but we were able to pick up on a few words that were sung and written in our program. The samba schools are judged in ten categories: Theme, Percussion Section (the “bateria” – these guys were a big deal), Harmony, Continued Spirit, Overall Impression, Float and Props, Costumes, Front dance group and The Flag Couple. Having seats across the parade from the judges’ box ensured that we got to see everyone at their highest energy.

We went on the first of the four nights of the Samba parade. The event started at 9pm. Our night was scheduled to go until around 6 AM, but over the course of the night things got delayed and I bet the 10th school on the program did not finish until after 7 AM the next morning. Ryan and I watched and danced to 6 full samba parades, and at 3 AM we were spent and left during the 7th school. Unfortunately we had to check out of our hotel the next morning, and that made pulling an all-nighter a bit uncomfortable. ***If you go to Carnival, plan to sleep the next day - Do not fly out!*** Traveling in a taxi away from the Sambadrome after 3 AM, we saw the next three schools queued up in costume with their floats preset. Each of these schools has around 5000 members performing. It was incredible experiencing Rio’s Carnival. The time, effort, creativity, and organization to pull of this event was executed flawlessly. *** Photo note: please forgive the slightly crummy pics from the samba parade. As a security precaution, we left all of Ryan’s stuff at the hotel and have relied upon our iPhone pics – and a few bootlegged photos from the local media – to supply the photos posted re: our samba parade experience ***

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The next morning after sleeping very little, I kept dancing. It felt like after you have been in the waves for several hours: your body still feels the motion of the waves even though you are not in the water. (It wasn’t just me, when we went to the airport I kept seeing people dancing all over the streets.) Rio was like an alternate universe, and I am glad we got to visit during its most colorful festival!

After a brief walk around Rio to visit Ipanema and Copacabana one more time, Ryan and I drank one last caipirinha at the hotel, enjoyed our second tasty meal at our local food find – Bocado Belfonte (where Ryan was smitten by their local soups) and headed for the airport. Thank you South America – you were quite an experience! All of the food, culture, dancing, people and beauty will be forever remembered. Adios Peru, Argentina and Chile… Ciao Brazil! We are en route to the next big leg of our trip: Africa!

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Posted by mcpherson.nyc 13:47 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

We're baaack!

Part one of our Africa update here. South Africa and Namibia...

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Sorry for the delay in getting any updates out, but internet access was spotty throughout Africa. As such, here is the first of two (lengthy, sorry!) updates from Africa we'll be putting out over the next few days....

Cape Town and the Winelands, South Africa. After travelling for 2 days via Paris, Amsterdam and Johannesburg to get to Cape Town, South Africa, we were exhausted. The man stamping my passport at customs joked with me that it was not my passport. My passport picture is fresh faced and smiley and I was the opposite of that after travelling 48 hours. Ryan reserved a car at Hertz for us to use around Cape Town. Unfortunately, Hertz gave away our reserved automatic transmission and only had manuals for us to rent once we finally made it to the car rental office. That would have been no problem if we knew how to drive a stick shift. My first car was a 1968 Ford Bronco with the gear shift on the drive shaft… That did not qualify me to drive a stick shift, while sitting on the right side in the vehicle, driving on the left side of the road, and shifting gears with my left hand. This adventure was a bit scary- but surprisingly we safely made it to our lodge/hostel. The wheels fell off so to speak when I had to parallel park on a hill. Luckily, the manager at our hostel came out and saved the day.

Tired and hungry, the manager sent us to a popular Cape Town restaurant (Arnold’s) around the corner from where we were staying that specializes in African game. We tried ostrich filet, gemsbok filet, crocodile ribs and warthog ribs (imagine super-tender bacon on a stick)! It was weird trying the different game animals that we were about to see all over Africa. If you like meat, take the opportunity to try warthog ribs if you get the chance… so good. Cape Town was growing on us and it was a nice change to the hectic pace of Rio de Janeiro. Everyone that we encountered was super-friendly and the service industry was extremely accommodating.

Cape Town is an incredible city. If you want to plan a romantic getaway, honeymoon, or just a relaxing vacation, I feel that Cape Town would be an excellent choice. In addition to Cape Town, wine country is about an hour away. I know that South Africa is difficult to get to from the states, but once you arrive the cost of living/entertainment is quite reasonable. It reminds me of San Francisco, but prettier – and definitely cheaper!

On our first full day in Cape Town we hung out at the waterfront area. There are multiple cruise ships that dock in this area and there are a bunch of stores and restaurants built up to support all of the tourism. In the middle of the waterfront area there are sculptures honoring South Africa’s Noble Peace Prize laureates. Nobel Square was created as a place for reflection and contemplation of South Africa’s troubled past. The sculptures pay tribute to those who took some of the most significant steps towards ending apartheid peacefully. Included in Noble Park is: Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former President F. W. de Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela.

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We found a great brewery called Mitchell’s and sampled all of their beer and enjoyed fresh seafood and a boerwors, avocado and biltong pizza. Ryan used the South African sauce Peri Peri to spice up quite a few of his meals. The weather was gorgeous and sunny everywhere we went in South Africa.

In true McPherson fashion, we booked a half-day bike tour. It was just us and our bike guide, Dave, who taught us quite a bit about the city. We rode through the waterfront area, Bo Kaap (colorful houses, the first place where freed slaves lived in Cape Town), Congressional buildings, the Company Gardens, the World Cup Soccer Stadium and rode through Green Point Park to finish it up. Riding though the government area was a bit tricky because Congress was about to come into session and Jacob Zuma (President of South Africa) was going to give a State of the Union address.

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Our guide let us know his frustrated views of the political system. Jacob Zuma is known to have said in the past: “if you have AIDS, just take a shower to get rid of it”. Apparently, the Minister of Health backed up his statement. What?! Another sad statement that I have heard multiple times is that in rural areas older men with AIDS think they can cure the disease if they find a young virgin to sleep with. Yikes… it would be great if in the near future proper education can reach the entire population. Another devastatingly sad thing we saw in South Africa was the expansive townships for the poor that initially started during the Apartheid era. These are areas where AIDS numbers are high, and the majority of the city’s murders and crime take place. Just recently, the city of Cape Town ran power to many of these locations for the first time while proper sewage, electricity and water are a continued challenge. One of the townships I read about had a major E-coli outbreak. Knowing and seeing these problems so close to the city of Cape Town are a disheartening reality against the amazing beauty that this part of the country bears.

Back to more pleasant topics… Next to the governmental area in Cape Town are the Company Gardens which were the foundation of the city in the 1600’s. Cape Town was founded as a stop-over resting area for shippers needing sustenance, and the Dutch East Indies Trading Company was created. Fast forward four centuries, it is a beautiful city that still functions as a stop-over point.

On our tour, we saw the FIFA stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, only 2 concerts have been there since the football matches. The space is not utilized at all, and local sports teams opt for a more affordable venue. There was a beautiful park next to the stadium, but it baffles me that the projected future use was not thought out prior to the multi-million dollar investment.

We wrapped our bike ride up with a return to the waterfront where one of my favorite animals surprised us by jumping up onto a nearby dock and requesting a snack:

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After riding through the city, we did the number one touristy thing in Cape Town- we rode the cable car up to Table Mountain. It was Valentine’s Day when we went, and couples were having picnics and enjoying the sunset on top of the mountain. The views were breathtaking and we could see Robben Island, Lion’s Head, the 12 Apostles, Camp’s Bay, and a complete view of Cape Town. Also, there were several furry little creatures called Dassies (Rock Hyraxes) on top of the mountain. They are super-cute, and a baby Dassie caused quite a commotion. The first Dassie that we saw kept posing for Ryan; notice his headshot below!

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The next day we took a boat ride tour out to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years. The tour was fascinating because actual political prisoners from the past decades gave the tour once you were inside the prison. Our guide, Cipo, was at the prison with Mandela. Cipo gave a personal account of being at the prison, and showed us Mandela’s cell. There were quite a bit of political prisoners before Apartheid came to an end in 1994. At the prison, the inmates used to discuss their ideas and educate one another. Here is a clip of Cipo talking about how they stayed sane during incarceration:

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Less than an hour from Cape Town are the beautiful wine country towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek. There are wineries all over the place, and you can pop in and experience a tasting for a small fee. We stayed at a lovely B&B with a bunch of Dutch folks. On our trip we have met more Dutch travelers than any other nationality with Australia in second place. On our first night in Stellenbosch we went to a beautiful restaurant called La Pineta and enjoyed a nice sunset view looking all the way back to Table Mountain (and its “Tablecloth” cloud). There were kids dressed in cricket gear from practice, and couples dressed up for dinner… it seemed that we had stepped into a very high class establishment. The venue would have been amazing for rehearsal dinners and weddings!

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Ryan and I made it to three different wineries for tastings. We took the advice from our lodge owner on which ones to go to, but we had luck going to the third place randomly. The first place we went to in Franschhoek was called Anthonij Rupert. It was a thorough tasting, and we learned a lot about the different South African wines with complimentary bubbly to start with! Luckily, Ryan was the DD for the day because my tolerance is super-low. Next we went to Boschendal Wineries. This one was a bit understaffed for the demand. There were multiple tour buses that came through during the hour we were there. Evidently, quite a few people had the same idea as we did. The final one we went to was on whim because they were still open. I am so glad we did because it was very entertaining. Camberley Wineries is a small operation run by a retired man who is passionate about wine. At first, a local college student who loved wine led the tasting but the owner came up to hang out with us after the tasting hours had “closed”. He wanted us to try all sorts of different wines, and was really excited about letting us taste his latest creation of Cabernet Franc (bottled just two days prior). Apparently, it is really hard with conditions in South Africa to cultivate that particular grape in an amount that allows you to make a 100% Cab Franc, and he told us he “knew in his heart” that it was great wine that others would love.

According to our last host, it is hard to clear a profit from the sale of wine if you have a small operation. His Shiraz had won multiple awards, and he said he barely breaks even with bottling 35,000 bottles per year. He loves it for a hobby in retirement, and he enjoys meeting people all over the world. How fun would it be to own a vineyard if money was no object! We wrapped up our visit with a tasting of a 10-day old bottle of a red blend and headed off.

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On our final day in South Africa, we traveled to Boulders Beach to see African (aka "Jackass" - from the sound they make) penguins. They are an endangered species, but their numbers are improving in this location. It was about 90 degrees outside, and the birds were really friendly. Notice how close we got to the penguins in the pictures below. Next we drove to Table Mountain National Park and saw Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope and Olifantsbos Bay. The cliffs at the southern point tower 200 meters above the sea and the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet at this point. We walked out to this point, and the wind was strong (nothing like Patagonia though). Gorgeous!

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On the way out of the park we saw a number of beautiful animals including ostrich and the very rare bontebok. Lastly, we took time to enjoy some people wind surfing and kite surfing on the Atlantic Ocean. I definitely want to try that one day! Driving back to our lodge we went on the Chapman’s Peak Drive. This is one of the world’s best ocean drives, and there are a lot of areas where you can get out and take pictures. There are cliffs, so your pictures can’t be that ambitious! Ryan took one of me, and I look angst-ridden posing over the cliff with the sunset in the back ground. Once again, the spectacular views did not disappoint...

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Namibia. A peaceful feeling came over us when we stepped off the plane in Namibia. The airport was small and everyone we talked with was so pleasant and helpful. Driving to Windhoek, we were taken aback by the expansiveness of the sky. You can probably see several miles in all directions. Unfortunately, our time in Namibia got chipped away on both ends because Air Namibia cancelled and rescheduled our flight multiple times. Originally we were going to spend 5 days here, but it got whittled down to 36 hours. We had already booked our safari and the cost to change flights and safari dates made it not economically viable to reschedule and extend our time in Namibia. The owner of the lodge we stayed at was upset about the airline changing flights all the time. He constantly has guests changing and cancelling because they can’t get here. Basically, the airline tells you when they will fly you from point A to B.

Nevertheless, Ryan was incredibly determined to make it to the Namib Desert to see the famous sand dunes. We woke up at 4:30 AM and drove from Windhoek to Namib Naukluft National Park (500km) over mostly dirt highways. Ryan had a blast “rally car racing” along the dirt highways and in a testament to Namibia’s scattered population; it was common to drive for 2 or 3 hours along the way without seeing another car. Our drive involved driving through creeks and stopping to refuel in Solitaire, Namibia – a “town” consisting of one gas station and a thatch-roofed curio shop. As we neared the dunes in the park it felt like we were on a car safari because we kept seeing all sorts of wild animals including ostrich, springbok, monkeys and oryx. We went to “Big Daddy” (tallest dune in the park – about 400 meters high), Dead Vlei (salt pan with 900 year old trees that have been scorched by the sun), and Sossusvlei.

The combination of climbing sand dunes and drinking copious amounts of water were a surefire way to detox from wine country. It was really challenging to trek up the enormous dune. Certain areas where the sand was compact were much easier to hike. Although, the higher we got the sand got looser, and it was incredibly difficult to hike because our feet kept sinking. Here is a video of Ryan showing the sites:

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It is treacherous hiking to climb a large dune to the top, but on the other hand it is really fun to run down the dune afterward. I felt like I was gliding down the dune. You basically have to run because if you move slowly down the dune, your feet will sink up to your knees and you could hurt yourself. It is possible to sand board on certain dunes like these in other parts of the country. I bet face planting in the sand dune would not be too pleasant.

Anyway, our 11 hour round-trip to the Namib Naukluft Park was definitely worth it. Cars are rare in Namibia, and hitch hiking is a common request when you drive through towns. We did not pick up any locals on our journey. It could have been really interesting, but for obvious reasons it was not worth the risk. The ride was beautiful and we saw a lot of animals including ostrich, springbok, baboons, horses, and cows on the way back. Amazingly, we also saw a full double rainbow across the expansive sky! The sky is like a three ring circus: on one side there is a thunderstorm, the other side is sunny, and a rainbow in the middle to complete the entertainment.

We wrapped up our time in Namibia with (of course) one last great meal at Joe's Beer Garden in Windhoek. Joe's not only allowed us a chance to sample a few new beers from South Africa (Castle) and Namibia (Hansa and Windhoek Lager), but also gave us the chance to try out some more game; zebra, oryx and kudu were the new offerings on the menu that night! With our bellies full, we closed our short stint in Namibia and prepared for the next chapters in our adventure: safari time in Botswana and a visit to the "Spice Island" of Zanzibar in Tanzania!

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Posted by mcpherson.nyc 10:38 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Out of Africa

Tales of Adventure from Botswana and Tanzania

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Another long one, gang. Sorry. Africa was awesome!

Botswana. Maun, Botswana has a really small airport, and the population is around 60,000. Maun’s economy is based largely on tourism because it’s the point of entry for a lot of Safari locations. Ryan and I ended up having 2 days in Maun to relax and prep for our safari. We stayed at a lodge that was on 300 acres of land with a slow moving river and multiple cows grazing everywhere. English is widely spoken and Setswana is the language that ties all of the different tribes together. Ryan and I learned hello and thank you in Setswana (and a number of other phrases by the time we left); it always generated a pleasant response from the locals when we used our limited vocabulary.

In Maun, we took a cultural tour one morning with a local Botswana man named Andy. He took us to a small village on the outskirts of town called Sexaxa, and we were introduced to local food, basket weaving, traditional instruments and dancing. There is a stark contrast of old traditional mud hut type homes with large modern houses on the same street. Also I saw brand new vehicles sharing the road with wandering cows. The poor and rich live side-by-side, and there are all types of homes. Andy showed us a room/hut that was made of a termite mound on the bottom portion and termite mound mixed with cow dung on the top half with a thatch roof on top. I was kind of fascinated that those building materials were able to make a sturdy bedroom. At home we have the exterminators come and spray our home every three months, and in Botswana they took the termite’s mound and made a hut. It was wild to learn about all of the different ways of traditional life. Also the temperature was 90+degrees outside, and in the termite/cow dung/thatch room it was at least 20 degrees cooler.

There were three generations of women who were sitting by and assisting Andy with the tour. The grandmother showed us how to play the traditional instruments, and she walked with a large vase on her head. The most entertaining part was when she placed a skirt of beads on and shook her tail feather. I asked her to show me how to perform the steps and they all laughed at my ridiculous attempt at their local dance. Ryan filmed a portion:

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The local women who still live in villages often make baskets to sell to tourists. The baskets were beautiful, and Andy told us that it can take a week to complete one basket. Then the basket is only sold for 100 Pula or about $12 US. We were only able to buy a small one and some local jewelry due to our luggage being so constrictive. Our guide told us that the money from the baskets helps supplement the fees for the children to go to school. I wished I could have bought more because they were beautiful and I wanted to support their creative efforts.

Back at the lodge, we signed a waiver to go on a canoe trip. When we went to get our canoe on the bank of the river, Ryan saw a brown snake, and he calmed me down saying it was no big deal. As we pulled the canoe into the slow moving river it dawned on me that we didn’t really know all of the immediate risks of our afternoon activity. Like were there alligators… more snakes?! Luckily, we enjoyed the late afternoon disaster free and opted for the pool afterwards. On our canoe trip, we got to witness a herd of cows swim across the river to head back to their pasture. Even the calves were swimming across the river in a straight line. Lastly, the funniest animal we saw in Maun was the blue balled monkey (vervet). I think Mother Nature has a sense of humor because the baboon we saw had super bright blue balls! Now, off to Safari… Ryan has been anxiously waiting for this next week since he booked it last year. I am sure we are going to be blown away by all of the wildlife!

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Going on a Safari was the most anticipated portion of our trip for Ryan. He read books about all of the different countries that offer safari, and through his diligence found the best place for us to experience our first safari in Botswana. We travelled from Maun to the Central Kalahari Desert on a 6-seater plane (counting the pilot and co-pilot). It was my first time on an extremely small plane, and luckily I didn’t experience any unwanted side effects. I had to get used to this way of travel fast because it’s how guests are transported from camp to camp through the bush on safaris. Once at our destination in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in the Kalahari Desert our guide Chris and tracker Kastom picked us up at the small air strip. Immediately we felt welcomed, and they told us about the rules of the camp. Since we were in a national park, the guides were not supposed to drive off the main roads. Also, we had to get back to camp by 7pm or before nightfall, and no one was allowed to walk around camp at night unaccompanied. The camp we stayed at was called Tau Pan (Lion’s den) because there are a pride of Lions that consider the area their home. Tau Pan was a stunning camp built up over the desert on stilts. It sleeps around 20 guests per night in separate huts. In the main area there was a fire pit, and a large area to relax in and enjoy the stars at night. The accommodations were stunning considering we were in the middle of a desert.

Safari camps run on a schedule to align the game viewing times with the most active times for the animals. Early morning and evening game rides also avoid the most intense heat of the day. Our schedule included a 5 AM wake up call, pick up at 5:30 at our tent, small breakfast that goes until 6 AM, and then the morning activity from 6-10:30 AM with a morning tea around 9 AM. Once back at the camp brunch is served from 11AM-noon, and then the guests have 4 hours to either enjoy a siesta or any other relaxing activity. Tea is served promptly at 4 PM, and then you go on your evening drive. The safari culture includes the tradition of enjoying a sun-downer cocktail with snacks at sunset. At Tau Pan we had to be back around 7pm, whereas our second camp called Kwara had no restrictions because the camp and drives all occurred on a privately-owned concession on the Delta. The food was wonderful, and we couldn’t understand why we were always hungry. On a safari, you just sit in a land cruiser and look at animals and learn about the wildlife. Ryan and I didn’t understand why we had such a hearty appetite with our lack of activity. Nonetheless we enjoyed great food and drinks the entire 5 days that we were on Kwando Safaris.

The first game drive included seeing a lioness and her 3 cubs, a cheetah mom and her 2 full-grown male cubs, giraffe, red hartebeest, oryx, steenbok, ostrich, and a bunch of different birds. Our first game drive in the desert was a success. That is the beauty of a safari… you never know what you are going to see on an outing. Obviously, you have a general idea of the animals in the area, but you don’t know what activity will ensue.

The landscape in the desert was sandy with small bushes and sparsely populated with acacia trees. There was a watering hole next to camp where thousands of Red Billed Quelea birds hung out. Tau Pan had a plunge pool on the deck for the guests to enjoy, but they had to drain it due to the baby Quelea birds drowning in the chlorinated water. The camp is not fenced off, and animals can freely roam about the camp. One evening we went to dinner around 8 pm, and heard a loud moan. When lions communicate they can be heard across many miles by their pride, and it sounds like a low, loud moan. Our guide had to personally take us back to our hut after dinner and drinks and an enormous male lion paw print was on top of where Ryan’s sandal had left a print. So while we were enjoying dinner a lion was walking around 30 feet away from the main camp area. The next morning there were paw prints walking back the other way. So if Ryan and I skipped dinner or stayed up all night we would have seen the elusive male lion walking right next to our hut! Knowing that there are wild animals walking through the camp adds an element of excitement. We heard from a guide that several lions had camped out under hut # 6 (our hut) to escape the scorching sun of the afternoon last year. The camp immediately added a wall from the ground to the hut on stilts to enclose off the area underneath to the lions. How crazy would that have been—you come on safari, and there are a pride of lions underneath your hut!

Our second day in the desert got extremely hot in the afternoon. Ryan and I have lots of experience of hot weather with living in Atlanta, but this was a whole new level. When we went to afternoon tea at 4 pm that afternoon the guides were complaining about it, and they said it was 44 degrees Celsius or 112 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun. Yikes! There were quite a bit of retired couples on the safari, and a few of them were really struggling with the weather. An older couple from Germany looked like they had heat stroke. That afternoon the game drive proved pretty fruitless. All of the animals were suffering from the heat just like the humans and none of them wanted to walk around until dark. Everyone was on Siesta for the entire day!

Even though it was extremely hot, we saw our trusty oryx, springbok, ostrich, and a cheetah napping in the shade. Once the sun goes down in the desert, it’s much cooler and feels amazing. The dinners on safari consist of great food, and lively conversation with guests and the staff. Ryan and I were by far the youngest travelers, and everyone wanted to know how we got off work for 4 months. There were couples from England, Germany, and a group of older women from Australia travelling together. Ryan and I always closed down the evening activities. I think the 5 AM wake-up call made several guests run to bed as soon as dinner was done. The sky was amazing at night due to being in the middle of the desert. You could see all of the southern hemisphere constellations… I wish I still had my knowledge from taking astronomy in college, but now there is an app that helps you figure out what you are looking at in the night sky!

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After spending 2 full days in the desert, we flew to the Okavango Delta and went to a camp named Kwara. The safari company that we worked with has 6 different camps all over Botswana, and guests can pick and choose what type of experience they desire. Flying into the Okavango Delta was a cool experience because we could detect hippos and elephants near the water from our aerial view. Our guide met us at the airstrip, and took us back to the Kwara camp. The land cruiser vehicles were equipped with “snorkel kits” to go in the water, and they fit up to 9 guests, but they never had more than 6 at a time. The guides drive the vehicle, and the spotters sit out on a chair in front of the truck to spot game and birds quickly as well as pick up on fresh animal tracks. Whenever they spotted a cat (lion, leopard...etc.) or something dangerous, the spotter would fold up the chair in front of the vehicle and get back into the truck. When that happened, we knew we were about to see something exciting.

Our first activity at the Kwara camp included a boat ride through the Okavango desert to see the sunset. On our trip we saw a bunch of hippos swimming. Surprisingly, I saw a hippo do an awkward belly flop while trying to get out of the boat’s way. They are such large animals, and they really enjoy the water during the daylight. At night they eat a ton of food to maintain their heavy rotund figures. On the boat we enjoyed our 20th African sunset, with silhouettes of birds framing the picture. The African continent has gorgeous sunsets… we have not been disappointed.

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The second day at Kwara was like witnessing animals disembark from Noah’s ark. After several days in the sweltering desert, the Okavango was slightly cooler with water everywhere. Within 10 minutes of leaving the camp at 6 AM we saw giraffes, elephants, kudos, baboons, and multiple impalas…. What!! It took us hours to spot animals in the desert, and here in the Okavango they were out in multitudes. It was really exciting, and our guides had free range to go off-roading to track the animals. The Okavango Delta is amazing in late February because baby animals are being born. We saw multiple elephant, giraffe, hippo, and zebra babies in their natural habitat.

Our guide Bait and our tracker Justice were both from Botswana. They had great chemistry and loved working together to find animals for us to see. Ryan really enjoyed getting to know Bait and the two of them took turns comparing photos they took on the 3 days we spent in Kwara. It was awesome having a guide that loved photography as he was constantly working with Ryan to get the best lighting for various pictures, etc.

Anyway, on the Noah’s Ark morning, Bait and Justice saw vultures flying around a certain area, and not diving down. They zeroed in on the area, and were able to track a Lion eating a baby impala he’d poached from a leopard. ***NOTE: lionesses do the hunting, so any time you see a male lion riding solo with a meal, you know he intimidated someone into giving it to him *** My heart rate went way up after Bait off-roaded toward the lion, drove over trees and then parked the truck less than 8 feet from the lion eating. The lion could have cared less about our presence. I didn’t relax until we pulled away from the area. It was wild watching the lion eat the baby impala. You could hear the bones crunching, and at one point he finished off the head. Ahhhh! Halfway through his meal, the lion took a leg bone and used it on his teeth like a toothpick. A part of me wondered if he would switch to us once he lost interest in his meal. The whole experience was surreal. I had never seen a lion that close having his morning snack. If you're easily grossed out, you might not want to watch this video and should possibly skip the pictures Ryan posted of lions in the photography section.

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One of our safari mates Wayne joked that he had a pet elephant named Bruce back at camp. Bruce was an older male elephant who liked sleeping next to Wayne’s tent at night, and he had heard the elephant snoring around 5 AM. On the way back to the Kwara camp, we spotted Bruce near the airstrip. Bait drove right up to where he was grazing and parked the vehicle. Bruce walked right up to our land cruiser and stared at me. I was in the process of turning my iPhone on to capture the moment, but I froze as the large elephant walked over. Bruce lifted his trunk as if to say hello and batted his ears. It was incredible! His trunk was less than a foot from my face. After he said hello, he sauntered away back to where he was grazing. Bait said the elephant smelled me when he lifted his trunk close to me, and he was just being friendly. I wish I had filmed it to capture the moment. Nonetheless, it was really special, and I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get to the animals.

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During the afternoon we tracked a few Cheetahs and watched them sleep for a bit. Luckily, as the sun set they popped up and were a bit more active. It would have been amazing to see the fastest animal run, but they were always relaxing when we saw them. On our Safari the guides set up snacks and drinks at sundown to enjoy the sunset. After a few days of this routine, I got used to it and could see myself enjoying this on a daily occasion! Our group of people on the safari changed every few days with new travelers coming in and others leaving. There was a cast of characters including our nicknamed ambassador from Australia. Sundowners for the Aussie included a full bottle of wine, and he was always saying borderline inappropriate things followed by, “Sorry Margaret” in his thick accent. Nonetheless, he kept our truck laughing with his absurdity.

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The next day we were paired with two couples from Canada who were really nice and captivated by everything just like us. The Australian Ambassador didn’t make the early morning activities, and it was a change to have bird lovers with us. Ryan and I were remedial safari guests at first—we didn’t know any of the bird names, and would have our guides repeat the names multiple times. By our fifth day, we were able to point out all of the different birds. My favorite was the Lilac Breasted Roller, and Ryan caught a beautiful photo of the bird (Ryan’s favorite, incidentally, was probably the Saddle-Billed Stork or the Malachite Kingfisher– if only because it took so many attempts to get a picture of them). Taking pictures of wildlife takes quite a bit of patience and luck. We were only in certain areas for a finite period of time, and the lighting was not always the best to capture high quality photos. Regardless, Ryan took some amazing pictures of everything that we saw. There was a constant soundtrack of nature sounds throughout our entire time on safari. Highlights from our last day included watching reedbucks bounce through the open water, watching some hilarious hippos show off in a watering hole and seeing a HUGE python just after it had consumed an impala (you could clearly see the legs in its belly!).

The Okavango Delta had more sounds because there were always hippos splashing in the lagoon in front of our tent, and there were resident baboons that ran amok at the camp. I miss hearing everything at night… It’s a magical, untouched place. It’s also intriguing to know that an elephant might decide to sleep next to your tent in the middle of the night.

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Botswana knows that there is a huge market for their safaris, and the country is constantly creating laws to protect the environment (such as outlawing all hunting of any animals effective in 2014). In the Kalahari Desert they have detected huge deposits of diamonds, but the government wants to improve sustainable economic activity before it dives into depleting the natural resources. If you desire to go on a safari, I would highly recommend looking in Botswana. I do not have any other experience to compare it to, but Botswana was very enjoyable on all levels. The people, the stability, and the landscape make this a memorable and beautiful place. There was an older English couple at our camp who had been on 20 safaris over the past 10 years. The kind couple confided in us and said that Botswana was their favorite destination out of all of their travels. Ryan picked a great place that had some serious repeat customers! *** As with everything else, all the rest of our safari pics are in the link to our photography section... feel free to check them out! We tried not to overwhelm y'all ***

Tanzania. According to BBC or CNN articles, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in Africa, while Botswana is one of the wealthiest. The GDP per capita could be skewered due to Tanzania having a population of 46 million while Botswana only has 2 million, but nonetheless we were travelling to a different area where money is scarce. On the CIA world fact book website Botswana’s GDP per capita is $16,800 and Tanzania is only $1,700. We arrived in Dar es Salaam close to midnight, and had to go get a tourist visa to enter the country. Tanzania requires $100 for each American visa and the bills have to be crisp and recent. It’s not a joke, meaning if your bill is from earlier than 2006 it would not be accepted by immigration. Luckily we both made it through quickly. A group of Chinese men were still at immigration arguing once we got our luggage. Apparently, Tanzania and China have some tense relationships due to business. We witnessed this first hand by hearing loose talk with locals, and while traveling to Zanzibar we saw some intense arguments in customs with a group of Chinese. China has been actively investing in Tanzania, and there were multiple projects such as a new airport in Dar es Salaam that was being built by a Chinese firm. Evidently, the Tanzanian government has identified this as a possible over-extension of their resources to China and has tightened up on things like visa protocols for Chinese tourists, etc.

Tanzania was extremely easy for us on the planning end because we had a connection to the places that we were visiting. This was a rare treat after not knowing anyone in the places that we have visited up to this point. Ryan’s friend, Caitlin, took care of all of the arrangements for us. They worked at Huron Consulting Group together, and Caitlin now works for the Clinton Foundation throughout East and West Africa (and Cambodia). She works to combat Malaria, and she helps empower the locals to take care of themselves. Last year Malaria took 650,000 lives throughout Africa. It’s the number one killer ahead of AIDS. So her work is greatly needed, and it’s so cool that an intelligent consultant decided to use her skills to improve the world. Caitlin was our godsend in Tanzania. She arranged a trusted driver to meet us at the airport in Dar to take us to a decent hotel. Tanzania is like Hawaii in the sense that there are resident rates everywhere. If you are a resident you pay a smaller cost than a tourist. So she arranged “friend of” resident rates for us, and made sure that we were not taken advantage of in Tanzania. Although, I mentioned earlier that it’s one of the poorest countries in the world, accommodation can be pricey and cabs will charge rates comparable or higher to New York City if you do not negotiate correctly.

Dar es Salaam was pretty lackluster for me. We stayed in the business area, and we didn’t see the “tourist” area so my assessment might be lacking the charming sites. What I saw was quite a bit of traffic, and people selling everything under the sun on the side of the road. I could buy some cashews, a pillow, outdated world maps, some car products, old comic books or DVDs to name a few of the items. The individual sellers would weave between the cars and try to hawk their wares with impressive energy in the heat. Ryan and I saw a boy siphon off some gasoline from a truck carrying a gas tank during rush hour.

The next morning I finally got to meet Caitlin and the three of us headed for an adventure on Zanzibar, an island 20 minutes by flight away from the mainland of Tanzania. Caitlin ran into a pilot that she knew at the airport, and once again Ryan and I were so grateful to have a friend that was so connected. She negotiated all of the rates at the different hotels that we stayed at during our week in Tanzania. To me, it seemed exhausting to negotiate constantly. As a tourist you don’t really know what the fair rate is for different things. On one hand you don’t want to screw over the local business, but you also don’t want to get taken for a ride. Caitlin solved that problem by calling her favorite drivers and talking with hotels as a resident.

Our first day in Tanzania, we flew to Zanzibar which is a tourist island destination off the coast. We flew into Stone Town and immediately went to Lazuli- Caitlin’s favorite restaurant. The food was extremely healthy and fresh with tasty smoothies and ginger lime sodas to accompany the meal. Afterward we explored the side streets through Stone Town and settled into a new boutique hotel called Maru Maru. Stone Town is an Arabian-style labyrinth packed with old mansions, bazaars, and palaces that were constructed during the nineteenth century Sultan slave trade. Stone Town’s doors are a unique feature and there are about 500 throughout the city. The doors are wooden, ornate, and they represent the home being a protected place. Zanzibar is 99% Muslim and traditionally the doors were a visual statement of the occupant’s status in society. Even though it was 90+ degrees I had to make sure I dressed in long pants and kept my shoulders covered. It’s impolite to walk around in a tank top or a skimpy sundress in Stone Town, but the dress code was much more lax once you made it out to the beaches. While walking around Stone Town, Ryan and I were approached by multiple individuals that wanted to be our tour guide. Luckily, we already had Caitlin with us!

Continuing with the sundowner tradition, we joined Caitlin on the roof top of the hotel. Ryan and I are people of leisure (during this trip, but not when we are contributing members to society), but Caitlin had to tackle several conference calls that afternoon. It was relaxing to watch the sunset over the ancient city of Stone Town. The city was built by the Sultans and had a flourishing spice trade in the 19th century. All of the buildings could have used a serious white wash or coat of paint, but in a way the deteriorated look added some old world charm. Dinner was amazing with fresh seafood at a local Zanzibar restaurant that specialized in Swahili food. Ryan had a yummy octopus dish (accompanied by “pili pili” chiles) and I had a tasty tuna steak. Afterward, we settled in at a bar (Livingston’s) on the beach with a DJ spinning 90’s hip hop favorites from the States. It was a great environment to relax in, and two of Caitlin’s friends from Nairobi, Kenya joined our trip. Our new friends were named Ramil and Taylor. Ramil was a NYU grad who worked in a firm to help develop the future leaders of Africa, and Taylor worked with a firm called Synergy specializing in improving sanitation. Both were employed in jobs aimed at improving the lives of East Africans. Both Ramil and Taylor were highly entertaining and kept everyone laughing the whole time.

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The next morning after a brief pass through the local fish market to gawk at fresh sharks and squid, we headed out to Red Monkey Lodge on the south east coast of Zanzibar. The area was not overrun by tourism, and the water in the ocean was a pristine aquamarine color. The views were breathtaking, and there were dhows scattered throughout the panoramic view. There was a village behind the house we had rented and locals were around on the beach. Next to our house was another resort type place (Coral Rocks) with a pool and lounge chairs where we all took some pretty epic naps. The food at the two resorts was amazing. Our first night we ordered a seafood platter along with a variety of other ocean-inspired dishes and shared. Our new friends were fond of the “flow”. Basically whenever they go to brunch in Nairobi, they each pick different dishes and share. This was such a great idea and my problem of food envy would be cured because we were all sharing!

In the evening we were invited to a “Survivor Party”. Basically it was all of the tourism workers on the south east part of the island getting together to celebrate making it through the tourist season. Lucky us—we got to go a local party. If you made it by 9:30, you were given 2 tequila shots each. I guess that is Zanzibar’s way to kick off a party at the beach! It was fun sitting at the beach bar playing drinking games and watching the first brave couples hit the dance floor. There was a line-up of different DJs during the party, and the music was really enjoyable. The music started off relaxing and later in the evening when the dance floor was packed it turned into an all-out dance party.
On the dance floor tons of different nationalities were represented. There are a lot of tourists from Europe that visit Zanzibar, and there were also members from the Maasai tribe dancing. I had never been to a party with authentic tribesmen in their distinctive outfit. The Maasai Tribesmen jumped while they danced and our friends from Kenya informed us that there are jumping competitions in their community. So, naturally I had to make my way over to where they were on the dance floor and jump with them. The party continued well into the night, and I still heard mash ups from the DJ as I fell asleep.

The next morning the five of us went on a snorkeling excursion. Of course there were some negotiations before we left on the price. Luckily Taylor spoke Kiswahili well, and he continued to get us great group rates during our trip. Since I get burned super easy, I wore yoga pants and a long sleeved shirt. I know my home made wet suit was ridiculous, but I didn’t get burned as we looked at the beautiful fish on the reef. The starfish were red with intricate black designs, and there were many different tropical fish about 2 km off the beach. We took a dhow out to the reef, and it took a while because the wind was not very strong. Snorkeling or scuba diving is such a relaxing activity to do while at the beach. I love how every location we go to has different interesting life to view in the water. Zanzibar’s water is perfectly clear so it made the visibility impeccable.

After seeing the south east side of Zanzibar, Caitlin wanted to show us the northern beaches. While trying to check out of the Red Monkey Lodge, we were told that it was cash only. We all had big tabs (by Zanzibari standards) because everyone put their meals and drinks on the room tab. This was a frustrating component of Tanzania. The proprietor of the hotel wanted us to travel an hour and a half back to Stone Town to get cash from the ATM. Once we got the cash, we were supposed to go to another hotel in Stone Town and leave the cash in an envelope. Luckily, Caitlin negotiated for us to pay the hotel 2 days later when we traveled back to Stone Town. The next beach was located thirty minutes away from Red Monkey, and a trip back to Stone Town would add several hours of driving. The hotel said nothing about cash payment up front. A lot of the businesses like to do cash only so they don’t have to pay taxes. It’s frustrating if you are traveling in a remote area without any ATMs close by. It’s not safe to carry that much cash while traveling.

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After sorting out the difficulty of payment, we headed to our next resort. One of Caitlin’s trusted drivers picked the five of us up and took us to the more populated side of the island to experience a different beach vibe. Once we got to the lodge where we had a reservation, there was trouble checking in. The hotel didn’t want to honor the pre-negotiated rate, and there were a ton of backpackers trying to check in as well. Caitlin walked to a resort next door and negotiated a more reasonable rate. Always negotiating!!

Tanzania is prone to power outages for multiple hours per day. The hotel asked us to pay upfront, and our ex-pat African friends told them that we would pay later. We paid 20% more to have an air conditioned room and who knew if it worked since the power was out! Ha—you would never say that to a hotel in the States. Also, there would not be long stretches of daily power outages as well. There is a completely different way of doing business here.

Our hotel called Sunset Bungalows was designed in an Arab style and the rooms were lovely. The buildings were reflective of Zanzibar’s Sultan roots. All of the walkways had gorgeous flowers draping over the terraces. The beaches on the Northern part of Zanzibar were more populated but still strikingly beautiful. The water was incredibly clear and had a turquoise color. The sand was smooth and white and the beach was facing the West. Due to the placement of the beach, Ramil and Taylor went out to negotiate with the locals on taking a sunset cruise. So off the 5 of us went on an evening cruise to watch the sunset.

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Afterwards, Ramil wanted me to finally teach him some yoga. I am not certified in yoga, but I have taken a ton of classes following the Ashtanga format. I don’t think cocktails and yoga go together, but Ramil, Taylor and I were going through the sun salutations on the beach. A booze cruise floated pass and started hooting and hollering once the three of us did a downward dog with our butts in the air towards their boat. That evening we enjoyed the “flow” format once again ordering all sorts of food at the resort. Who knew you could get good sushi on Zanzibar?! All of the food on Zanzibar was amazing and it was such a treat for Ryan and me to get to try up to five different dishes at each meal- because of our sharing friends. We really enjoyed hanging out with Caitlin, Ramil and Taylor in Zanzibar.

The next morning, our friends from Kenya all had to head back to Nairobi for work. Caitlin did send her trusty driver, Singa, to pick us up at the sunset bungalows on Kendwa Beach. He took us back to Stone Town and watched our luggage for us and later took us to the airport. With several hours to relax in Stone Town, we walked around through the winding streets and looked into several shops. Once again, buying things was not feasible with our luggage. Nonetheless, it fun to see what was offered. There were miniature ornate doors, spices, and all sorts of beach wear. The funniest thing we saw was Obama’s face on purses and beach wraps. The shopkeepers kept asking us to come into their shops and look at what they had to offer. Our final meal in Zanzibar was at the fresh restaurant, Lazuli. There was only one chef working to make the food perfect. It took over an hour to get our meal, but it was worth the wait. Our trusty driver took us to the airport, and our adventure in Zanzibar came to a close.

The next day we had originally planned on spending in Nairobi, Kenya on a 14-hour layover. Having said that, we didn’t know that the day we were to be in Nairobi would overlap with the 2013 presidential election in Kenya. After the last election, widespread rioting occurred throughout Kenya. We didn’t want to take a chance of getting caught up in anything like that during our one day in Nairobi. So, to be safe we changed our flight time from Dar to Nairobi and hung out at the airport in Nairobi for a few hours after arriving from Dar (where Ryan was thankfully able to snag one last Tangawizi). From Nairobi, we headed onto an all-night flight to Bangkok, Thailand! Southeast Asia here we come…

Thank you Africa! Your sunsets were stunning, your animals were unforgettable, and your people were kind and generous. In Setswana… Sala sentle! Ke a leboga!... in Kiswahili … Karibu and Asante! (Good bye and Thank you)!

Posted by mcpherson.nyc 10:53 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Sawasdee!! from Thailand

... time to eat and relax!

sunny 90 °F
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Bangkok, Thailand. We arrived in Bangkok after a redeye flight from Dar es Salaam (via Narobia, Kenya). Traveling on a redeye will make anyone not feel their best. Fortunately, we had nice accommodations once we arrived in Bangkok at the Renaissance. After a month of travelling in Africa, the high-speed internet, a/c and complimentary snacks were a welcome change of pace.

I decided to take a yoga class at the gym in the hotel with a room overlooking the expansive city. I believe the yoga teacher was also a Thai masseuse because she kept manhandling the students into the positions. People in the class kept crying out when she stretched them, but I loved it because my body was tight and cranky from traveling overnight. After arriving to our hotel in the afternoon, Ryan and I were exhausted from traveling and decided to chill out in our hotel. It was fine because the lounge had really good Thai food. Already, I was falling in love with the hospitality and food and I hadn’t even left the hotel.

The next morning (after we’d recovered from our travel exhaustion) our first priority was to experience a Bangkok food tour recommended by friends back home. We set out to navigate Bangkok’s Sky Train and to find the station where our food tour would begin. The sky train and subway system in Bangkok are both state of the art. They don’t cover the mileage that most major city transit systems do, but Bangkok’s version has ice cold air conditioning on the subway cars and the bulk of it has been built in the last ten years or so. The stations are kept impeccably clean. Ryan and I want to thank NYC for helping us quickly navigate foreign subway systems and Atlanta for making us accustomed to sweltering heat. Bangkok is hot and muggy like Atlanta during the summer. Luckily, we were not in Thailand during the upcoming monsoon season. I read about how the rain comes down in sheets and you’re instantly drenched.

The sky train and subway systems in Bangkok have numbered exits to simplify meeting people and finding new places. It seems such a simple idea, but as a foreigner it’s really helpful to meet someone at exit 4 or head to a tourist site from Exit 2. We headed to “Saphan Taksin” Sky Train stop and met our Bangkok Food Tour group. Our guide was named Nushi and our group had 8 people from Utah, a couple from Singapore, and a couple from San Francisco. This was the most Americans on a tour that we had encountered on our entire trip. Our guide gave us ear pieces so she could talk to all of us at all times throughout the tour because a group of 14 would be tough to communicate with on the noisy streets of Bangkok.

If you’re a food lover, I would highly recommend taking a food tour in Bangkok. Our tour was around 3 hours and took us to five different restaurants. We would never have ventured to some of the places on our own—and I probably would not have tried such an assortment of food. We enjoyed traditional roasted duck served on rice, curry noodles with chicken, crispy catfish, green mango salad, Thai style green custard bun, Thai BBQ pork bun, original Thai curry, and coconut ice cream to name a few. Of course we also had tasty Thai iced tea. It was amazing; each dish was so flavorsome. Thai food has a wonderful balance of sweet, salty, spicy, and savory. When ordering a dish, the servers always ask if you would like it spicy. The Thai chili chopped up in your food can make your mouth go numb if you’re not used to the spiciness. Ryan has a much higher tolerance than I do and was always requesting more chili peppers. On our tour, some of the restaurants were off the beaten path owned by families through the generations and others were fancier where business lunches were taking place. Throughout the tour we walked quite a bit so we could quickly build up an appetite before making it the next place – sort of! Whatever weight that we had lost through our travels would quickly come back in Thailand.

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Several things that immediately stand out in Thailand are the Monarchy, Buddha images, and monks. Everywhere you look there are images of the current king and queen: Rama IX and Queen Sirikit. It is a crime to speak poorly of the Thai Monarchy, and if you’re caught bad-mouthing the government you can receive up to 20 years in prison. Also, there are Buddha images or shrines on almost every street corner. There are multiple flower stands set up so people can purchase flowers to leave as an offering. We commonly saw people walking down the street and bowing to different Buddha statues and images. Monks come only just beneath the monarchy in the social hierarchy. We probably saw twenty-plus monks per day while walking around. Whenever other Thais greeted us with a wai (a bow with hands in a prayer form) we would reciprocate with the “foreigner” bow. There are multiple ways to wai, but as tourists there is no way we could figure out which type of bow was needed. The safest bet for us would be to place our hands under our chin and bow if they did it first.

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The guide books warned us to stay away from the tuk tuk drivers that are everywhere in the city. One of the main scams the drivers pull is to take tourists to certain shops and gem stores were they get a commission for bringing unknowing tourists. Also, the tuk tuk drivers like to tell tourists that certain locations are closed because of a Buddhist holiday. Without fail walking around Bangkok after our food tour, tuk tuk drivers were trying to take us to “nicer areas” or show us Bangkok. They offered their services for 10 Bhat per hour ($0.33). I think we politely told a few of them we were not interested, and then we just started putting our hands up, ignoring them, or waving them away.

Thailand has a reputation for amazing massages. I am not referring to the “happy-ending” ones, but traditional Thai massages. Within 9 days of being in the country I treated myself to 3 different massages, and I made Ryan accompany me for his first massage ever. It was hardly a spending splurge. Each massage cost 300 Baht ($10 US) and they were so good that I usually tipped 30%. Amazing!! The technique of a Thai massage includes combining elements of yoga and acupressure. As well as stretching muscles and loosening joints, it seeks to stimulate pressure points along the body’s energy lines, in order to address energy imbalances and release blockages, stimulate blood circulation and detoxify organs. Holler! I wish a Thai masseuse could have been a part of all my dance contracts over the years.

One of the biggest attractions in Bangkok is the Grand Palace. It’s a huge complex, which encompasses Thailand’s holiest and most beautiful temple, Wat Phra Kaeo. The temple holds an emerald Buddha which attracts thousands of visitors per day. Ryan and I took the sky train to the “Saphan Taksin” exit and headed to catch a tourist boat on the Chao Phraya River to make our way to the Grand Palace. The boat ride cost 40 Baht per person, and it was a fun trip to see all of the different temples and shops heading north on the river. Once we arrived near the Grand Palace we had to weave our way through tons of street vendors and try to squeeze past all of the tourists trying to board tour buses. Since the Grand Palace is so popular, the fee to enter has been raised. For foreigners it cost 1000 Baht for two entrance fees and we opted for an audio guide to learn about what we were seeing. All of the shrines and temples were beautiful.

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After seeing the Grand Palace, we elected to see the enormous Gold Buddha lying down at Wat Pho a few blocks away. This Buddha weighs in at a massive 15 meters by 43 meters making it the largest such Buddha in all of Thailand.

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All of the walking around made us in the mood for another food tour. We enjoyed our first tour with Bangkok Food Tours so much that we booked a more ambitious one that went through China Town at night. This adventure would not be for anyone who has an aversion to strange foods. We met our tour guide and an Aussie couple near the entrance of China Town. All of the roads in China Town were developed to look like a dragon from an aerial view in Bangkok. After viewing a few temples we stopped near an ornate Chinese shrine to see the Goddess of Mercy. Although she is a Chinese goddess, Thais still hold tremendous respect for her. Around her shrine was a Children’s Hospital. Many people were praying and offering donations to help the children.

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Our China Town tour included visiting 7 different places and tasting probably around 15 different items. It was a Saturday night and some of the restaurants were packed. The previous tour we did was in the morning, and restaurants were prepared for our group with the food waiting for us upon arrival. We had the pleasure of trying: dim sum, curry scallops, sea bass with ginger, river prawns with chili sauce, peppery soup, Thai tea ice cream, and several different types of tea to name most of the foods we tried. The street vendor that we got the peppery soup from was extremely popular. The soup tasted like the name implied and there were different organs from a pig in it. There was pig tongue, heart, lungs, “sack” (which we could never get our guide to more specifically define – YIKES!) and liver in the soup along with noodles. As we ate our peppery soup a line formed around our table waiting for our seats. In spite of the contents, Ryan said he thought the soup was among his favorites from the night.

China Town in Bangkok was buzzing with energy, and there were people everywhere. It was sensory overload… or rather an assault to all five of my senses. One of the Aussies on our tour noticed a family of 5 on a motorbike speeding by on the street. He had made a bet with his wife about who would see 5 people on a bike first. There were cars, motorbikes, pedestrians, and tons of vendors selling all sorts of food. I was trying just to keep my wits about myself and keep up with our guide. Fortunately, after eating all of that strange food I never got sick. I seriously was worried about my stomach for the next 48 hours, but both of us remained perfectly healthy.

(Warning—don’t read if you’re squeamish) The Aussie who was on our tour told us the strangest story about the last experience he had in Thailand’s Chinatown. He used to live in Bangkok and did business with a Thai and Chinese firm. For those of you familiar with the opening dinner from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – you may know where this is going: At a fancy business dinner in Chinatown he said that after dinner had been served, the hosts ordered a live monkey out to the table to finish their meal. It was supposed to be an honor and delicacy costing 100,000 Baht. Here is where it gets crazy… The restaurant’s servers pushed up a live monkey under the table with his head exposed through a hole in the center visible to all of the guests. Then they chopped the top of its head off right in front of the guests. After that, the business dinner guests ate the raw brains from the monkey. What!! Ryan and I were so shaken after hearing this story. Yet, walking through Chinatown you get the sense that anything is possible. The Aussie said he needed an enjoyable experience from Chinatown to replace that awful memory and our outing was hopefully going to do that.

On the tour, one of the more interesting foods we tried was deep fried duck beak. Our guide didn’t tell us what it was until everyone tried it. She said our group was more adventurous than her other clients. Usually all the group members don’t try everything like we did. I did regret eating some chili sauce with a river prawn. My mouth and cheeks were numb from the spiciness for about 20 minutes. Other than that, it was a very interesting experience. Ryan and I successfully tried probably 30+ Chinese and Thai dishes within our 10 days in Thailand. My preference is for Thai food while Ryan seems to like the Thai versions of Chinese food a little bit better.

In true McPherson fashion, we booked a bike tour around Bangkok. We went on the tour on a Sunday in hopes to avoid the most traffic. I feel that we are now bike tour specialist considering we have been on so many. Unfortunately, our standards have become really high, and this tour fell short in some aspects. One of the laws in Thailand is that only Thais can become tour guides. That is a great idea to preserve these jobs for locals, but only if their English is understandable. I should not criticize because I don’t speak Thai, but it was billed as a historical Bangkok tour in English. Our guide was super smiley, but he could barely communicate with our group. On one of the side streets near China Town an older woman from Belgium on our tour wiped out on her bike while trying to avoid one of the numerous cats. She was in such a cute outfit but now was covered in sludge from her fall. I felt that I basically spent four hours riding through the little streets around Bangkok and China Town trying not to fall off my bike or run over a cat. To be fair, we did see several key sites but I was more concerned with not getting run over by the erratic Thai drivers.

The highlight of the bike tour was meeting a couple tourists (one from Texas and one from Spain), eating lunch, and getting a pedicure from a bunch of fish. The U.S. has outlawed the fish that eat off dead skin on your feet probably due to sanitary reasons. That didn’t stop Ryan and me from squealing with laughter as we dropped our feet in into the fish spa.

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Before our trip Ryan and I made some deals; Ryan took a tango class with me and therefore I had to go with him to a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok. It was by far the priciest tourist thing we did in Bangkok. To watch the fight a tourist ticket costs 2000 Baht each. We never found out how much the locals paid. Muay Thai fighting is a big part of Thailand’s culture. When we used to live in NYC, Ryan would take classes to learn the technique from a Thai boxing champion at his studio near Canal Street in Manhattan. Now in its birthplace we had to see how it was really done. Muay Thai fights take place every night in in Bangkok.

Once making it to Ratchadamnoen Stadium I was surprised that the stadium was not as big and daunting as I had anticipated. There were musicians who would drum during the 3 minute rounds of each fighter. We ended up seeing 5 different rounds of young fighters. The boys were in weight classes with the lightest being 77 lbs. and the heaviest contender was only 126 lbs. There was not an ounce of fat on these young athletes. Ryan and I ended up sitting ringside (thanks to our expensive tickets) and next to our bike tour friends that we had met previously during the day.

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With two food tours, multiple temple viewings, a bike tour, a Muay Thai fight, and hours of walking through Bangkok we were ready to head to the beach and relax after so much activity. Our flight to Phuket went smoothly, but we encountered some trouble driving to Khao Lak. The JW Marriott Resort we were staying at was around an hour north of the airport and we were supposed to stay on route 4. At one point we came to a stop with 3 different options of roads to take that were all named route 4 with some other words in Thai on them. It was hysterical… Our first choice of Route 4 dead ended into a National Park. Eventually trying all the different routes we finally made it to the most beautiful resort that I have ever stayed in.

Khao Lak, Thailand. I feel like Marriott is sponsoring our trip. Our entire stay in Thailand was at different Marriott properties, and we are using rewards points that have accrued over ten years. Sometimes certain airlines make you feel like a 3rd-tier passenger for redeeming points whereas Marriott always made us feel really welcomed. Nonetheless, the luxurious accommodations were incredible and peaceful. After the fast pace hustle and bustle of Bangkok, this resort was relaxing. JW Khao Lak also has the largest pool in Southeast Asia. An enormous river pool connects all the buildings with larger pool areas that have bars. All five nights that we spent at this resort involved enjoying free cocktails in the Infinity Pool at Sundown. Whoever designed this resort was brilliant with placing the sunset in perfect view from the bar framed with palm trees.

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Ryan and I ventured off the resort and tried beach front Thai restaurants that were amazing. It was funny being a “budget traveler” while staying at the JW. The fancy meals that were offered in the resort were really pricey and around 8 times what you pay at a local place… seriously. On our third night we finally found a gem of a restaurant called “Ma Ma’s Greeting”. The tables were set up on the beach with small white lights cascading around to provide the guests with light. A meal including several Chang beers for Ryan and me plus water, salads, entrees and a fruit dessert cost around 500 baht or around $16 US total. The food was so good! I am getting hungry just thinking about the tastiness and high quality of the ingredients. The Papaya and Mango salads were really fresh and tasty along with Pad Thai, Thai Curry, Green Curry, and Ryan’s favorite: Basil Chicken. Down the beach the JW offered a Thai buffet on the beach for around 4000 Baht per couple. I am sure it was amazing, but Ma Ma’s restaurant was perfect for us to spend three evenings watching the waves at night.

I have been blessed or rather cursed with pale Irish skin with freckles. I find spending time at the beach relaxing in the shade or when the sun sets. Even when I put copious amounts of sunscreen on, I usually manage to still get burned somehow. So, it was nice that Ryan and I went to hang out in the pool around 5pm every day, and then spent the evening on the beach at a local restaurant. We did float around the expansive river pool one day, but overall we were pretty lazy. I have never spent time at a resort like this before… but I guess that is what guests are supposed to do!

Of course with all of this laziness, I needed to get a Thai massage from one of the huts on the beach. I felt guilty for being so indulgent, but I rationalized that for three months out of every year for the past 8 years I have worked as a Rockette. Every season involves 90 + shows, rehearsals, and a lot of wear and tear on your body. By eating well and getting massages was healing me… maybe! Nonetheless, it was awesome getting a massage on the beach. The Thai women stand on top of you and stretch your body into all sorts of different angles. From dancing for the past 15 years, they are always shocked at my flexibility and make a big deal to their co masseuses. I felt like a big white doll at the beach front Thai massage place. My masseuse probably was no more than 5 feet tall and definitely weighed less than 100 pounds. When the massage was done she asked to braid my hair, and then wanted to fix my feet. She was not trying to earn more money from me because I tried to tip her for these unsolicited services- she refused. I finally had to just grab my towel and escape the massage hut. The whole experience was funny to me, and once again couldn’t be replicated in the States.

We did venture away from the resort one of our days and drove back to Phuket to experience a speed boat tour of the smaller islands across Phang Nga bay in the Phi Phi Islands National Park. While visiting the resort in Khao Lak we opted to rent a car to give us more freedom. Most guests that stay at the resort don’t rent cars - probably because they don’t want to deal with extremely erratic driving. Ryan had to dodge motorbikes coming at him from all different directions and large SUVs were prone to merge into your lane cutting you off. From my assessment, it seemed that whatever car was larger had the right of way. There were also no speed limits posted unless there was a sharp curve and then a warning sign would be posted to lower your speed.

Thailand has a reputation for amazing beaches and islands that sprinkle throughout the Gulf of Thailand- and we wanted to see what the hype was about. Our tour started at 8 AM in Phuket with Bamboo Island first on the itinerary. There were 14 other passengers on our speed boat including an Atlanta couple from Canton, GA (small world). Once at Bamboo Island, our guide ushered off the boat and quickly demanded that we take pictures before the hordes of tourists showed up. As you can see from the video and pictures, the views are breathtaking. The sights calm your soul and then all of the tourists start showing up. Large speed boats started docking and dropping off multiple tourists. We were able to get a quick video and some photos before the island was overrun.

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Afterward we enjoyed snorkeling in a bay near Bamboo Island called Hing Klang. There are giant limestone cliffs overlooking the water, and just below the water surface the limestone structures have eroded making cool passageways to snorkel through. It was really fascinating going through the passageways and seeing the fish in the carved out areas. There were colorful Parrot fish everywhere. Back on the boat, our tour headed to Phi Phi Don Island for a traditional Thai lunch. It was another beautiful island advertising rock climbing on the giant limestone structures. The Thai food was excellent of course. As we sped away from the island, the guide pointed out individuals climbing the massive limestone structures.

Our next stop was Phi Phi Ley Island and Maya Bay. This island was featured in the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio. The water was pristine, the beach was white and sandy, and the limestone structures created a gorgeous backdrop. The only problem was that thousands of other tourists wanted to see it as well. Over half of the area on the sand was covered with speedboats parked right next to each other.

Afterwards, our guide took us to Phileh Lagoon to take some fun pictures while jumping off the speed boat. Ryan was able to do a back flip into the aqua marine water. The water was warm and it felt great to swim after cruising around on the speed boat. The last stop our guide pointed out was Viking cave where bird’s nest soup is harvested. This is one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. The nests have been used in Chinese cooking over 400 years. From the boat, I could see the workers inside the cave and the scaffolding used to extract the nests.

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Kob Khun Ka Thailand! That is how a woman says thank you in Thai. Ryan and I really enjoyed traveling through this beautiful country. The food was incredible and the beaches were stunning. Next stop Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat!

Posted by mcpherson.nyc 14:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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