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I am a new traveling fool. I've been a corporate travel junkie for one too many sales quarters and am ready to spend my hard earned cash... I'm taking a "sabbatical" for a while and hitting the road to travel. The trip should take me to six out of the seven continents if I don't run out of cash early.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A few African Thoughts

I've looked back a bit at my previous HUGE blog post and realized I'm back to blogging what I'm "doing" now what I'm "feeling." This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine as I personally don't enjoy reading things that read like "lists." I enjoy narratives and the truth in the small details.

Clearly, Africa has been amazing. Prior to coming on the trip I picked up a copy of, "it happened on the way to war." This book was, so I thought, helping me prepare to visually experience Africa. The Author Rye Barcott was a US Marine from North Carolina who started his own NGO after visiting Kibera, Kenya. It all started with a $26 dollar donation he made to a woman named, Tabitha. She used that initial funding to sell vegetables for a year until she had built her savings to open a public health clinic. We're not talking a fancy clinic but a working clinic in the heart of the worlds largest and most dangerously poor slum. This guy, Rye, has some massive courage. He moves himself into the slum multiple times to start CFK, Carolina for Kibera, which aims to combat ethnic violence through youth leadership empowerment. And when I say massive courage he does three tours of duty in the marines through Bosnia, Eastern Africa and Iraq while running this NGO with practically nothing. What an amazing story! The imagery he describes was what I thought I would be getting a glimpse of here on my trip. Boy was I wrong, I landed right in the heart of some of the more developed and tourist safe nations on the continent.

My images of Africa before I got here seemed to be based around national geographic magazines. Boy was I surprised when I landed in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls and saw all of the satellite dishes on the little mud huts. Seriously people? You want TV over food?

Over the course of the trip I've learned that Zimbabwe is rather poor but Namibia and Botswana (where we've spent most of our time) are pretty wealthy nations by African standards. They have huge amounts of natural resources and the tourist route I've been traveling along is exactly that - a tourist route. Thus the cities and camp sites we've stayed at are pretty well developed with electricity, running water / toilets and even solar hot water showers. The early bird gets the worm with the showers so I've been getting up earlier than everyone else to get mine!

Anyway, I didn't find the Africa I was looking for. I found something completely different that reminds me more of remote parts of Colorado or Idaho than Africa. It is full of south african tourists (whites) who come up to see the wild life and camp / RV. Its not crowded at all in the sense of Yellowstone in the summer. It does also have many glimmers of the economic conditions removed from the tourists areas. The super markets tend to be in very small poor towns and it seems like people don't have a lot of options. As an interesting find education is free and everyone is required to finish high school. Who would have thought?!

I'm interested in coming back and spending time in central africa. It seems Kenya is more known as an up and coming destination with more tribal life. It also seems like Kenya is more what I came looking for. Its funny that I was looking for anything at all? I had no idea what I was getting into. When I think back on speaking with people prior to my departure everyone seemed amazed I was going to Africa. Do we have this stigma surrounding this country that immediately makes us conjure up images of extreme poverty, disease and danger? If I try to think about any relevant recent information about Africa in the US or western news all that comes to mind are stories on AIDS, World Cup Soccer, Northern African Governmental Protest Revolutions and of course the ever famous somali pirates!

There is practically nothing about Namibia or Botswana. If it bleeds it leads and as it seems here there isn't much bleeding going on. Is it worse to be in the middle economically than at the bottom? Kenya seems to get most of the attention and a lot of NGOs and aid programs are focused outside of the two countries I've been traveling in. I'm not sure. There does seem to be some running water and infrastructure development so maybe they're doing okay without much help.

The thoughts rolling around in my head are why don't more people holiday here? This is an amazing destination with incredible wildlife and scenery! I'd assume it has to do with the transportation and time requirements of getting here. I did take a six hour flight from San Francisco to JFK followed by a sixteen hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg. This still wasn't the end of my journey to get into the heart of southern Africa! I had to take another three hour flight from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe! How many people are able to spend FOUR of their precious vacation days on just travel! I really do hope more people will think about visiting Africa. I haven't felt unsafe since I've been here. The type of travel I've been experiencing, overlanding, is relatively cheap and gives you access to so many different parts of the southern part of the continent. One of my favorite parts of this type of travel is the people you meet along the way. I've met so many travelers from so many countries. These are amazing people who some of them will become life long friends.

And now my laptop battery is going to die so I'll leave my thoughts until my next blog post.

Monday, June 13, 2011

macbook air by the campfire

Second Update from the Safari Vehicle in Africa

Etosha National Park (Namibia) Day 9 & 10

The game drives in Etosha National Park were a bit different than the
ones we did in Chobe. These game drives would be done from our big
orange Geckos truck. The open air land rovers in Chobe seemed more
"safari" and these game drives definitely seemed more "overland
truck." There are pros and cons to doing a trip the way we have been.
We were given an itinerary that we could only hope to create
ourselves with good amounts of time blocked out in between activities
to allow us to navigate our way from place to place.

Thinking back on Etosha (it was a week ago!) I remember thinking I
wish I had spent more time there. Etosha is the third largest
wildlife sanctuary in the world! How did we do this in only two nights
and ONE day!? We camped on the east side of the park the first night
then did the eight hour drive from end to end in one day with numerous
bathroom stops and picture stops. We had lunch at a campsite half way
through and pulled into the far west gate camp site that night. The
best animal viewing I had in Etosha was at the second campsite. The
campsite was attached to a very posh game park resort. They had setup
a watering hole to bring the animals close to viewing distance. When
we first pulled in and headed over to the watering hole a huge old
bull male elephant was drinking and slapping mud all over himself for
the night. It was amazing to see this animal in its natural
environment without fear of him charging us! The watering hole also
had an impressive fence setup. I felt pretty good after surveying the
fencing situation and seeing it was electrified but also spaced enough
that it would act like a cattle gate to any animal who approached the
camp. The legs and feet would slip through and get stuck.

So Mr. Bull Elephant chilled for a while and we all sat in silence as
the sun started heading down in the western sky. We watched a few
Zebras from far away eyeing the watering hole. It was so amazing to
see how cautiously they approached the watering hole that night. As a
herd they clearly had a few leaders who would tentatively move closer
and closer to the watering hole while watching the jackals. As the
zebras approached the watering hole the sun continued to set and the
sky was lit up with purples, pinks and beautiful blues. Finally the
herd made it into the watering hole and started drinking. As they
lined up with all of their stripes I realized this was a moment I
would not forget for the rest of my life. I felt like I was cheating
in some way. How could I be so lucky to be in the middle of Namibia
at a watering hole watching the sunset over a herd of zebras with a
bull elephant heading toward the horizon? We all sat in silence as
the events unfolded and quietly headed back to camp to sleep with a
big smile on our faces.

Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park (Namibia) Day 11

The following day we headed out of Etosha National Park on our way to
Otjitotongwe Cheeta Park and Reserve. The only animal we hadn't seen
on our trip was full size lions. We hadn't seen male or female lions.
On the drive in Chobe we saw two lion cubs that was spoiling enough
as it was. We were all happy with the animals we had seen and gotten
very good pictures of but something was missing. I was listening to
my ipod when I spotted an animal I hadn't seen yet. About two hundred
yards away from the truck I could see three animals walking more
slowly and gracefully than I had seen any other animals. They looked
like gargoyles that came to life. Each step seemed so deliberate and
focused. I grabbed my binoculars and sure enough it was three female
lions traveling together. The truck stopped and I clicked about
thirty pictures of them on my highest zoom to grab anything I could
before they ducked behind some bushes. We were all really happy to
have finally seen what we were looking for.

As a side note my photo taking structure has been questioned by many
on this trip. I take a LOT of pictures. With my DSLR I subscribe to
the thoughts that I can always delete the pictures and if I take
thirty pictures I'll end up liking a few of them but LOVING one of
them. This is exactly what happened with the lions. Ahhhh
redemption! It doesn't help that I've taken over 10 gigs of pictures
thus far in Africa! I have my work cut out for me to sort through to
pull out my favorites!

So that morning after the lion encounter we drove for a few hours
until we reached the Cheetah Park. To call it a "park" really seemed
like an overstatement to me. It is a farm. Farmers in Namibia often
have their livestock attacked by wild animals. Who would have thought?
This causes some serious problems for them. Well now that I think
about it… it doesn't seem so bad. Namibia's #2 industry is tourism
after diamond mining. The tourists come to see the animals. Thus the
government has enacted legislation that any farmer who's livestock has
been killed by wild animals will be reimbursed with cash or have
his/her animal replaced at equal size. What a cool program, right?

Anyway, the cheetahs can be a problem. Cheetahs gotta eat, right? So
thirty or so years ago this farmer rescued some cheetah cubs that were
abandoned by their mother. He raised them on his farm and they have
become domesticated. They're as domesticated as 100+ pound wild cats
can be. These things are seriously huge! As we came into the park
and entered the massive fenced compound they call a home it was a
realization that anything could go wrong at any time. The farmers son
now handles the cheetah visitors and even put up a bar / campground to
bring more people in. We were able to take some photos up close with
the cheetahs and I couldn't help but think of all of the youtube
videos I've seen with titles of "when animals attack." Sitting next to
a cheetah and smiling as it purred and flexed its claws was nerve
racking to say the least! After a bit of picture taking each of the
three cheetahs was fed with the ribs off of a cow. We just kept
clicking away with our cameras from a safe distance as they had their
evening meal.

After seeing the domesticated cheetahs we all hopped in the back of
the farmers pickup truck for a ride out to the "reserve." They do have
a huge reserve with wild cheetahs. They don't feed them all year long
only when game is scarce (winter) and the have the tendency of trying
to escape due to lack of food. I don't remember how huge the reserve
was but it seemed rather large. We drove straight into the reserve
and immediately five or six cheetahs began stalking our truck. The
truck doesn't have any cages on it. It doesn't even have seats or seat
belts. We were literally just standing on the back of a pickup truck.
The kicker of it all was we were not only standing like tender
cheetah snacks on the back of the truck but there was a garbage can
full of raw meet in the middle of the group! We were sitting ducks!
The farmer pulled the truck off the path a bit and stepped out. He
was immediately surrounded by the six cheetahs. I was worried as I
realized his only defense was a tiny stick. Seriously the Jean Claude
Van Dam in me was screaming for an AK47 or something!? How were we
going to survive the rest of this drive! That can full of meat
couldn't possibly feed all of the cheetahs! It was only a matter of
time before they turned on us and picked us off one by one! I'd be
the first to go because I put salt on my tomatoes at lunch and they
prefer the salty ones as appetizers! AHH!!

Needless to say I wasn't eaten. The farmer actually mock charged a
cheetah b/c he got too close. With a TINY stick? How's that for
balls!? After we got back from feeding them I asked him if they'd
ever attack him. He first mentioned the old saying "don't strike the
hand that feeds you." Then he went further and said if you fell down
and were on the ground in a vulnerable position they'd most likely
attack and kill you. I was sitting at his bar as he told me this with
a cold beer in my hand realizing all it would have taken was a quick
fall out of the truck and I would have been a goner. I'm glad I
didn't know that before we headed out. That night our shower
facilities were a bit "under-developed." The lights in the
"out-house" were powered by a car battery sitting on the floor and the
hot water came from a "boiler." A boiler is literally what it sounds
like. They have a few fifty five gallon drums hooked up over a fire.
You build a fire and let the water boil. It mixes with cold water and
you have your hot shower. I was one of the only people who really
needed the shower. I stunk! So I went out in the woods to find some
wood and build myself a huge fire!! I had that thing roaring! As I
looked up to head back and grab my towel I see my Japanese friend,
Ken, fast walking toward the shower with his towel! He cracks me up!!
I sprinted to my tent grabbed my gear and headed on in. I can't
recall how but Ken got the nickname Ninja and I got the nickname
Hippo. Yup, hippo. I'm good with it though b/c they're my new
favorite animal. I've always been called a brown bear back home and I
guess in Africa I'm a hippo. So I changed Kens nickname to Shower
Ninja. He gets a kick out of this b/c I've continued it everyday. "I
better get in the shower quickly before the shower ninja has his way!"

Himba Village & Truck getting STUCK! Day 12

The following day we departed the Cheetah farm on our way to
Spitzkoppe. On our way we were able to stop at a Himba Village. The
Himba people are a semi-nomadic tribe who still practiced the
traditional african tribal way of life. We were invited to tour a
village to interact with the people. The village we headed into was
actually a Himba orphanage. The people mostly live further north on
the border of Angola but this orphanage was started further south and
people have slowly been making their way there.

I'm not really sure how to describe my feelings about the village
tour. First of all it was a bit shocking. I don't know what I was
expecting but I didn't feel prepared after we left. The difference in
culture was a bit jarring. As a young man I struggled to understand
how people could live in a culture with such male dominance. I can
actually see a bit of the appeal of living outside of the western way
of life. They're a farming people. They raise cattle while provides
food, milk, clothing and almost everything else they need to live.
The walls of their small huts are built out of cow dung mixed with
water and sand. The walls were really strong too!!

I'll try to be brief and not get on my soapbox here too much about the
Himba people. First of all I struggled with a people who has chosen
to keep their own children ignorant of simple advances of knowledge.
I'm talking about geography, physics, language, technology and finally
the two that irked me the most were literacy and medical attention. I
don't see the point at this time in our human evolution why everyone
shouldn't be required to seek medical attention when hurt and be able
to communicate with the people around them. (see how I said "soap

The male vs. female patriarchal society was very abrupt. Men can have
as many wives or girlfriends as they want. Women are expected to have
children as soon as they're fertile. Having them out of wedlock is
fine but the child is solely her responsibility. (what!?) Men choose
their wives or girlfriends. Not the other way. The women are allowed
to say no to a man but it did seem as if that didn't happen too often.
Men choose when they will have sex. Women take care of the children
and men take care of the animals. Women to all of the cooking and
educating of the children. That was a lot of the basics I took. Men
wear western clothing and women remain in traditional cow skin tribal
wear with no tops.

So yeah that might have something to with my discomfort. We were
surrounded by twenty or so women who had breasts of every shape and
size swaying in the breeze as our interpreter translated our questions
and returned their answers. All of the women we met were over thirty
except for the last group. The last group was my peer group there was
a sixteen year old an eighteen year old and a mid twenties. It was so
strange to be talking to topless women who would be my peers or my
peers younger siblings. The overwhelming patriarchal structure kept
slapping me in the face and I tried to accept them for who they are
not who I think they should be.

And the next adventure was AWESOME! We got our safari truck STUCK in
a river bank! It took me a day or two of driving on un-sealed roads
to realize the majority of the roads in this country do not involve
pavement. They're dirt or salt roads that are constantly being
resurfaced to smooth out the ruts that evolve. If the roads aren't
sealed then the bridges are non-existent! Literally! All of the
roads just go straight through the rivers. Most of the year due to
lack of rain the rivers are dry. This year has been one of the
wettest in over ten years. We needed to take one road to our camp
site that night that went through one of the rivers. We didn't know
if it would be wet or if it had dried up enough. We asked a local
driver who told us the road was open and we could proceed. We found
out quite the contrary. After going down this road about thirty or
forty five minutes we came right into a big river crossing and got

The scary part of this experience is that we're in the middle of
africa and our truck also has a broken starter! We've been pushing the
truck to get it started for the past few days. Yup, you heard me
right. PUSHING! It took all eight of us pushing with all of our might
to get that thing moving at all! So here we are stuck in the middle
of the river bed with god knows what kind of animals surrounding us
with a truck that cannot stop running. If it does, we're screwed.

Thankfully Paul and I had the skills to motivate the troops to get us
moving again. We both jumped down and started directing operations.
We found a shovel and I dug through the kitchen to find pots and pans
to dig our way forward. We had traction bars or traction skids. We
popped them under the back wheels and also used some of our canvas
sleeping pads. After about an hour of digging and slowly moving yard
by yard we were able to cross the river bed. We all whooped and
hollered at our success and ran after the truck like mad people in the
night. As we pulled up to the top of the hill we realized how screwed
we were. At the bottom of the next hill was another river crossing
but it looked to be three times the size of the one we just worked our
way across over an hour. The first river crossing was dry it was just
two or three feet deep with soft sand. This second river crossing had
water in it. The sand was like mud. After surveying the scene for a
bit we realized we'd need to dig our way back across the first river
bed and find another way to our camp. Another thirty or so minutes
later we were across and back on our way. Thankfully the hard work we
completed on the first crossing came in handy when coming back.

We ended up not making it to Spitzkoppe and found a camp to stay the
night. I was exhausted after digging and after dinner was in bed by

Cape Cross & Swakopmund (Namibia) Day 13 & 14

The next morning we awoke and departed for Cape Cross to see the
seals. We have seals in San Francisco so I wasn't overly excited to
see them. I'd say we must have thirty or forty in SF. At cape cross
there were hundreds. The smell was one of the worst things to hit my
nostrils in my life. It was so bad and so strong it stuck into my
clothes. Paul and I had to febreeze ourselves down after we got back
in the truck!

We rolled into Swakopmund for the first night in over two weeks in a
bed. I don't think any of us could have been more excited. We
checked ourselves in and headed out to dinner at a local italian food
restaurant. I've continued my decline into the type of tourist who
takes photos of what he eats! I had a calzone and couldn't have been
more excited to have some western food.

The following day Paul and I meandered our way around town as everyone
else went sand boarding and attempted sky diving. We skipped on the
expensive touristy stuff since we still have three more months of
travel before this trip concludes. Everyone else has a job to go back
to and we're on a set budget. It sucks to skip things like that but
we realize we can go sand boarding back in the US in California and

It was June 11th and this was Pauls 27th birthday! That afternoon
another group of travelers from Africa Tour Company (ATC) rolled into
our lodge and we met up with a few girls we had met back in Victoria
Falls. Their group had been on our Chobe game drive and our Chobe
pontoon boat cruise so we had become travel friends. We invited them
to come out to celebrate with Paul on his birthday that night at the
bar. In pure Paul and Andrew fashion we proceeded to get hammered.
Paul even told me he "didn't want to go out." After Shannon bought him
his first shot of hooch I knew he was going to go big. The ATC group
showed up and drinks, dancing and chatting ensued. We didn't get into
our rooms until three in the morning that night. The next morning we
all piled onto the bus hung over on our way to Namib Naukluft National
Park to climb some sand dunes. A good time was had by all on the
bumpy ride to our next camp site.

Sossusvlei - Namib Naukluft National Park (Namibia) Day 15 & 16

After getting into camp a bit late we setup camp and had a late
dinner. As has been custom on this trip we went to bed early because
we'd be up early for a sunrise. We got up at 5:15am the next morning
for our one hour drive to dune 45. Dune 45 is exactly 45k from our
camp and it the dune most tourists climb to watch the sunrise. I
wasn't overly excited to be driving through the cold dark morning to a
sand dune where I'd need to climb up in the sandy cold air… then
again… it was AWESOME! We climbed up and true to africa form, it
didn't disappoint. I felt like I was looking at watercolor paintings
or Ansel Adams photos as I watched the sunlight pour over the sand
dunes and create beautiful shadows and lines up and down each dune.
The sand was cool and dry under my feet as we clicked away taking
photos of each other. I definitely won't forget seeing the sun begin
warming up a desert dune landscape. As the sun came up we even had a
small hot air balloon come up over the horizon to greet the morning.

After walking back down we had a hearty breakfast and headed further
into the dunes to explore. I've spend very limited time around sand
dunes and I enjoyed the opportunity to explore. We walked an hour or
so into the dunes to a salt flat where a major river was cut off from
the ocean by the shifting dunes. It was amazing to see the salt flats
filled with dead trees and wilting shrubs. The dunes have a mind of
their own.