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Blog Africa Blog
Kenya, Tanzania inc. Zanzibar, South Africa
Jan 26 - Apr 4, 2006

Most recent post is up top (i.e. in reverse chronological order).

Back in North America

April 7th, 2006
We only spent 2 days in
Jo'burg, including doing a very interesting half-day tour of Soweto, which is nothing like what we expected (and much safer than it was, say, in the early 90s).

Did you know Nobel prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived on the same little street in Soweto at one point?

Arrived back in North America earlier this week after a long long flight from Jo'burg to London to New York and onwards.

Susan's update with under a week left

March 29th, 2006
Alas, my last bit of news from Africa - only 5 days left before we head home...

We've been in South Africa for almost five weeks now and it's been wonderful. South Africa is a beautiful country with landscapes to suit any taste, and all within 'driveable' proximity. In our time here, we have visited the Atlantic Coast of
Cape Town, circled the beautiful cape, enjoyed the fine wines of the winelands (Stellenbosch, Franschoek), observed wildlife in the desert (the Karoo), "hiked" (briefly) some mountainous trails in the Hogsback area, been pampered at a luxurious spa, and sampled a wide range of activities at stunning beaches along the Garden Route, Sunshine Coast and Wild Coast.

The weather has been a little up and down during our stay - it is now fall here, so not the peak tourist season and I suppose the weather is somewhat more unpredictable. Interestingly, virtually everywhere we have visited (about ten destinations so far in S. Africa), they have told us that the weather has been incredibly dry and they're in desperate need of a good rain... As it happens, they always get a good rain, generally the night we arrive and the following day (which was decidedly a freak occurence in the desert!). We're beginning to feel we should be compensated for the much-needed showers we are bringing with us!

Fortunately, the occasional rain hasn't been an impediment to our enjoyment of our many destinations... Our most recent activities have included surfing lessons (a serious challenge to my centre of gravity), an ATV safari and horseback riding on the beach. I must say the horseback riding was an interesting adventure - our visions of a romantic ride along the beach were quickly dashed when we were told my horse didn't care for Jan's and that we should keep them a healthy distance apart. Turns out my horse didn't much like the guide's horse either and they got into a kicking match on the trip home (despite a strong desire to get off (fast), I stayed on through the bout...). On the other hand, my horse was quite fond of the beach and thought a roll in the sand would be a lovely way to enjoy his time there (my long legs were an advantage here as I was able to step over the horse and 'dismount' before I was rolling with him in the sand!). Despite these mishaps, it was a lot of fun and actually helped reduce some of my anxiety around horseback riding because I survived unscathed!

We did get to sample the S. African healthcare system about 10 days ago... It would seem Jan ate some "fishy" chowder that resulted in a serious bout of food poisoning and subsequent dehydration. When my nursing skills were exhausted, we spoke with a doctor and hauled Jan off for a night at the hospital on an IV drip to rehydrate him... Fortunately, he made a full recovery by the next morning.

Today was a beautiful day in Port Alfred where we enjoyed a tumultuous surf along a beach of deserted, wind-swept sand dunes. Tomorrow we are off to Addo Elephant National Park before heading to Johannesburg for a couple days, then home...

So long from Africa!

More beach relaxation in Port Alfred

March 29th, 2006
Hanging out in Port Alfred, some 150km E. of Port Elizabeth, which has deserted beaches backed up by big dunes and a stiff wind. And a nearby golf course (the one in town was old school stuffy), though it was tough finding left-handed rental golf clubs (finally borrowed some from the B&B manager's friend!).

We really enjoyed Cintsa, just east of East London on the start of the Wild Coast - it had a fantastic beach with 2 little villages on either side of the river.

Back on the coast

March 25th, 2006
Only a week and a half left until we return! We're not ready yet!

After some cool rainy days at
Hogsback enjoying the wood-burning fireplace, we spent a few days relaxing on the coast in Cintsa (just east of East London) at the start of the Wild Coast. Took another surfing lesson and managed to stand briefly a few times. We even had two solid days of sunshine!

Tomorrow we move down the coast to a modern b&b on the beachfront before staying in a national park (elephants!) and then flying to Jo'burg.

Arrived in
Hogsback last night
March 20th, 2006
Up at 1300m in the hills relatively near to the coastal city of East London. Unusually cloudy and showers here (the whole country is having strange weather all year long so far).

We have a romantic rondavel (round/oval building) perched near a cliff, with a fireplace (cold enough to need it!).

Graaff-Reinet, in the semi-desert Karoo, reminiscent of Arizona, was nicely sunny and quite warm, though not as hot as we had expected, with great scenery.

Susan's update from
Knysna while I was sick...
March 16th, 2006
(written while Jan spent a night in a hospital with food poisoning and dehydration)

We're currently in Knysna, on the south coast of SA, a lovely little town on a lagoon with apparently the most dangerous harbour entrance in the world - the Knsyna Heads. It would seem the British lost 49 ships trying to get through the Heads back in the 18th (19th?) century and finally gave up...

We've had a mix of relaxation and adventure over the past 10 days. After a couple days exploring the wine region (Stellenbosch), we experienced pure luxury at the Western Cape Hotel and Spa near Hermanus - care of my Westin points. It was a wonderful experience after 10 days of 'roughing it' (sort of) in hostels. The Western Cape near Hermanus is part of the 'luxury collection' and we made full use of its amenities - the spa and golf course in particular. Not exactly a cultural visit, but a welcomed stop on our itinerary.

We've had an adventurous few days since then. We did a 'quad bike' (ie ATV) safari at a private game reserve near Mossel Bay - wildlife certainly not as extensive as the Serengeti, but we had a lot of fun on the ATVs (my body required a few days to recover) and were able to get very close to some of the animals - giraffes and rhinos in particular. We followed that with a visit to another reserve where we had the opportunity to get up close and personal with a family of cheetahs and a couple white bengal tiger cubs - all were fairly young, but certainly old enough to do some damage if they wanted to... However, they had all been hand raised, so really a bunch of big pussy cats...

Yesterday, we decided to try our hand (legs, back, arms) at surfing. Ay caramba... I had no idea how hard it is. As it happens, it was Jan and me and about ten 20-something guys. It was a lot of fun, but frankly I didn't even try to get to my feet (sort of like doing yoga on a very unstable object) - I was more than happy to catch a wave, ride it on my stomach and have a rest when I made it to the shallow water (apart from the one time I headed straight for the rocks - not quite sure how I escaped that one unscathed! Jan wasn't either).

Tomorrow, we move inland to visit the Karoo - South African desert. Not sure what to expect other than intense heat (so we're told).

Arrived on the Garden Route

March 9th, 2006
After almost a week in
Cape Town with so-so weather, meeting up with some cool local travel friends ("Pips" and "Phlea", whom I met 3 years ago in a hostel in Las Vegas), Susan fighting a cold, freezing up on scenic Table Mountain, finally arranging a rental mobile phone and driving our rental car on the left side (even at night!) around the Cape...

We left for a few nights of very scenic and tasty wine country (Stellenbosch), where the weather hit a sunny 36°C for 2 days, followed by 20°C cloudy weather on the coast at a decadent stay in a 5-star resort with golf and spa (courtesy Susan's hotel points :-)

We arrived tonight in Mossel Bay, the start of the famed Garden Route (which is more of a nice coastal area, not even sure if there are any "gardens" here).

In any case, all is well and good and we are very much enjoying ourselves!

Susan's
Cape Town thoughts...
March 9th, 2006
Our last day in Cape Town today. A stark contrast from Zanzibar - and then, of course, a city with significant contrasts of its own.

Arriving in Cape Town felt like a sudden return to 'civilization' - one we almost weren't ready for - i.e we hadn't had to 'rough it' enough to truly appreciate all the amenities that were, once again, available to us. Alas, we quickly acclimatized!

The weather here has been unseasonally cool, apparently after a long hot, dry stretch. It's looking up today - the sun is shining and not too windy. We've basically been puttering around lovely Cape Town for the last few days, learning about its history, visiting some townships (an eye-opening experience) and driving around the beautiful cape - with a visit yesterday to the Cape of Good Hope.

We're off to the winelands (Stellenbosch) today to experience more of what South Africa has to offer!

In Cape Town, South Africa

February 27th, 2006
No worries with the flights from Zanzibar, and it's refreshengly cool and non-humid here (high 22°C currently, should be back to a normal high of 26°C in a few days).

Susan's
Zanzibar commentary
February 22nd, 2006
Despite all the warnings we had heard about Kenya and Tanzania regarding muggings, thefts, etc. we have not had any problems (touch wood!). Naturally, we are always warned not to walk alone at night, as this is somewhat riskier, and we have heeded that warning. Overall, we have found the people incredibly friendly and sociable; I'm working on my Swahili and can manage the basics - which seem to be enough to make a friendly connection, if nothing more.

We are now in Zanzibar - having spent 2 days in Stone Town (including a Spice Tour), we are now at Kendwa Beach - a slice of heaven and much needed break (sorry, I hate to say that!) after the daily moves and packing/unpacking of the safari. We actually cancelled our move to another beach to stay here a few extra days. It's absolutely beautiful - water is crystal clear turquoise, beach is soft, white sand, pace is slow and friendly, and the atmosphere is naturally exotic. The afternoon sun is extreme, so limits activity to a swim or reading a book. Local women wander the beaches offering massages - $5 for a half hour, $10 for an hour - and they're very good. There are also other beach merchants, though by no means annoying, who are always up for a negotiation - I love negotiating when I travel - it's all part of the fun and engaging with local people... (I wish I could do it as well in my "real" life!).

Still chilling in Zanzibar on the beach.

February 20th, 2006
As much as one can chill in 33°C weather... have to lie in the shade all day (literally :-)

Lots of stars out at night - we didn't realize there were so many fainter stars in the middle of the Orion constellation (for some reason Orion is always visible every night in almost every country I've been in... and of course it affected the layout for the pyramids in Egypt).

We're resting up before South Africa...

Sweating in Zanzibar

February 15th, 2006
Wow is it hot and humid here! (Moshi, our last stop on the mainland, was a little humid, but this is Caribbean-quality humidity!)

Today we did an interesting spice tour with a brief beach swim, and it was 33°C (91°F) in the shade. We should have gotten a room with A/C, as we sweltered last night (the fan loses effect under the mosquito net, which didn't quite keep all the mozzies out). Still, better than the snow storms in Toronto and southern Germany!

Zanzibar is 40% Muslim and it is distinctly different from the mainland. It's actually low season here due to the heat and humidity.

Tomorrow we move north to a beach for a long rest!

Last full day on mainland Tanzania

February 13th, 2006
Relaxing in Moshi at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak at almost 6000m, before flying to
Zanzibar tomorrow. No more tour groups!

Did you know? The country name Tanzania was formed by combining Tanganyika and Zanzibar...

Trying to upload a few photos to the blog, but it's failing and I'm running out of time...

Cheers,
Jan

Late Tanzania report from Susan

February 13th, 2006
We're in Tanzania now - in a small town called Karatu. We've just completed the safari portion of our tour before we head off to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro tomorrow. Tanzania has been great. Somewhat different than expected... the Kenyans tended to play it down significantly; in fact it's a beautiful country with incredible landscapes, friendly people (though don't go out after 7 pm!) and amazing parks and wildlife, not the least of which is the Serengeti. The roads are also considerably better than Kenya which makes a big differenct when you are traveling for 5-7 hour stretches across remote parts of the country!

Today we visited Ngorongoro Crater National Park, which is truly incredible - so many species of wildlife in great numbers intermingling with each other. It's amazing. We were surrounded by wildebeest and many babies (even saw one mother with the babies legs sticking out her back end - i.e. not yet delivered), zebras, elephants, warthogs, lions, cheetah, water buffalo, ostriches, many other species of birds all in the same place. Mind you, the smart ones kept a safe distance from the lions and cheetah...

At Serengeti, we saw all of the above as well as a leopard hauling its kill up a tree, lions feasting on a buffalo, lions mating (they do it every 20 minutes for 2 weeks! you can set your watch by it...), a little baby elephant, giraffes gracefully running in front of us (they looked like they were floating!). Really incredible.

On the very practical side - accommodations have been very good - I have had no run ins with strange stomach bugs (despite the fact that most of my traveling companions have experienced the 'Kenyan two step', I have so far been spared) or with strange crawling bugs - at least not in my room. That may change in the tropical climes of Zanzibar.

Last night in Kenya

February 4th, 2006
Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara were both amazing; we saw flamingoes, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, a leopard with 2 cubs (and a brief but unsuccessful hunt), lots of lions including cubs, wildebeest, etc.

Tomorrow morning the second half of our safari leaves for Tanzania for 8 days.

Susan's summary of first 4 safari days

February 4th, 2006
Just wanted to send you a quick note to let you know that all is well. We arrived safely in Nairobi on Friday night - unfortunately, our bags didn't, but they came the following night. Nairobi wasn't quite as scary as we thought it would be - well, at least in daylight; definitely not the place to be at night-time.

Tour group is great - good size, nice people, good guides - and mixed in with the Kenyan 2-star hotels are a few nights at some 5-star safari lodges - a very pleasant surprise!

Just came from Samburu National Park - lots of great game viewing (giraffe, lions, water buffalo, monkeys, baboons, zebras, every variety of antelope, elephants) much closer than expected. Today we visited Lake Nakuru where there are tens of thousands of flamingos, some rhino and a wide variety of others...

Visited a small Samburu village yesterday - amazing experience. The people are very warm and welcoming - more so in the villages than in towns (where they have a tendency to swarm us with "I love Jesus" caps for sale - go figure) - they're always happy to provide a quick Swahili lesson. Children are adorable - they wave enthusiastically whenever we drive by, and in the village, I had them imitating my every move, to their great amusement.

Tomorrow, we're off to Masai Mara National Park (another 5-star - woo hoo!) for more game viewing. Apparently, Tanzania will be somewhat less 'comfortable' in terms of accommodations, but should be equally spectacular for game viewing.

Alive and well in Kenya

February 1st, 2006
5 days down, 3 more full days left in Kenya (we leave for Tanzania safari on Sunday)

The game safaris have been incredible: lions, elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, rhinos, zebras, multiple antelope types, monkeys and baboons, birds, and baby animals too!

I'll be using this while in Africa

January 24th, 2006
So you'll know we make it safely from town to town... hopefully we'll have a chance to updated it once a week.




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