Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year from Vientiane, Laos! It is now 2011 were we are at!

us riding an elephant outside of Luang Prabang, Laos

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Northern Vietnam

I'm going to break up my blog entries for Vietnam into two parts mainly because the route we are taking to explore Southeast Asia. This entry will cover what we have been up to for the first 10 days that we have spent in northern Vietnam. We didn't really have much of a plan for Southeast Asia when we landed in Vietnam but quickly determined that we didn't allow for enough time. We only allotted just under a month for Southeast Asia and didn't really include Thailand except that we planned on flying from Bangkok to India. Our current plan for Southeast Asia is that we'll spend 10 days in northern Vietnam then cross into neighboring Laos for 9 nights then back into Vietnam to spend time in the middle and southern sections of the country before going to Cambodia and Thailand. We plan on leaving Vietnam on 14th of January which is the day our visas expire.

The first 5 days that we spent Vietnam were in the capital of Hanoi. We didn't really begin the sightseeing until the third day. We spent the 1st two days resting from our 24 hours of traveling from Cape Town then we mapped out our Southeast Asia and Vietnam itineraries. We then spent time with the staff at our hotel who helped us quite a bit.

Hanoi itself is an interesting town. It is busy with mopeds and motorcycles driving around everywhere not paying that much attention to whatever driving laws that they may have on the books but at the same time it is a more laid back country than what we have visited so far in this part of world. In China it was chaotic and people often came across as pushy, rude, and you seemed more like a bother to them. In Vietnam everyone we've encountered has been very nice and we've been treated like true guests. It definitely makes you want to stay longer and participate in more activities when you realize there isn't going to be too much of a hassle factor to deal with.

Ho Chi Mihn's mausoleum

Some of the more interesting things that did was visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and museums and then a water puppet show. The Ho Chi Minh complex included the mausoleum including Ho's embalmed body, his living area, and a museum. The mausoleum for me was the most interesting. We first had to get in line which wasn't long at all but had to stop at one point to check our backpacks then stop at another spot to check our cameras but we could keep our cell phones. We then had to get in two single file lines and walk into a large concrete structure that housed his body. I had one guard get on to me for wearing my sunglasses which I had to take off and another guard got on to me for having my hands behind my back which I thought was weird. You eventually walk in to a chamber with the body. He looked a little pale but otherwise ok considering that he passed away in I believe 1969. The mausoleum itself was free but the two other areas cost 15,000 VND a piece which is less than a dollar.

Next interesting thing we did was a water puppet show. The water puppets are on paddles or ropes and tell some type of story relating to Vietnamese culture. It was interesting even if I didn't know what was going on. It lasted about 45 minutes and we sat in the second row in 1st class seats which didn't cost that much. The auditorium itself was pretty full and there are multiple showings per day. Apparently, it a popular thing to do in Vietnam.

Other activities that we pursued in Hanoi were just wondering around the Old Quarter of Hanoi, the Naturally History Museum, and Hoa Lo Prison otherwise known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. The Hanoi Hilton was somewhat interesting. Unfortunately two thirds of it were torn down in the 1990's but they have turned a small portion of it into a museum. The prison had been use long before the Vietnam War but was an infamous place where US POWs including Senator John McCain were held and tortured. There was a decent amount of propaganda for some of the US exhibits that made things looked better than what it really was.

After 5 nights in Hanoi we spent 5 nights outside of Hanoi. The first activity that we did was go to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi to the coast. There are several somewhat sharp limestone hills that stick out of the water making it a very scenic attraction. It was a little overcast and cool during our stay though. We spent one night on the boat which was pretty decent. We went to a cave and Alethea went kayaking for about 45 minutes during the first day. Later on in the evening we did some karoke that wasn't always pretty but we had a good time. The next morning we hiked up Tee Top Island to get a better view of the bay before our final activity which was a spring roll cooking demonstration. I got to roll my own roll and ate a couple afterwards.

Limestone hills of Halong Bay
Our final activity in northern Vietnam was to go to the mountain town of Sapa. To get to Sapa we had to take an overnight train from Hanoi which we took the night after we got back from Halong Bay. The train was uneventful and I slept pretty good. We arrived at 5:30 am then took a hour van ride from the train station to the town itself even though the lady in the van told us it would only be 15 minutes. We then checked into our hotel and cleaned up before going on a trek to a local village starting around 9:30 am. We hike around 3 km to a village called Cat Cat. Oddly enough you have to pass by a gate and buy a ticket to enter. The village was pretty poor and when we got to the waterfall at the village there was souvineer shops and places to eat. We were going to watch some traditional dancing but there was no electricity running at the moment so they couldn't dance in the building. Guess the old time dancers needed electricity :-). We then hiked backed in a loop to our hotel. We were back around noon and ate lunch in our hotel. The food at our hotel was very good. The staff at our hotel were nice and took good care of us. The name of the hotel was the Sapa Eden. We spent the afternoon walking around Sapa. It is a town that is pretty much dedicated to tourism and could be called a Gatlinburg type town. We walked through the local market seeing all kinds of food for sale. We also noticed that there were several shops selling North Face backpacks and jackets for the most part. There has to be a plant close by and even then I believe a lot of it was counterfeit. One funny thing we saw while roaming around town were some pigs that were being herded down one of the main streets.

getting a little help while hiking in Sapa

The next morning we checked out of our room and began the second half of the Sapa adventure. The second day of our adventure including a hike to a local village and then spending the night in what is called a village home stay. For our hike we met up with two other individuals and our guide. We hiked out of town for a couple kilometers on a paved road before getting off onto a trail that took us through the rice terrace fields, streams, and valleys. For some reason we talked our guide into taking the longer trail which was 15 kilometers but was supposed to be more scenic and less traveled. It was definitely less traveled as we saw no other westerners. It was somewhat scenic but it started to rain over half way through. The path was kind of rough at some points. We relied on the band of local women that tagged along with us to help us through some of the rough muddy parts. It wasn't always an enjoyable hike. We did tip our helpers 100,000 VND or $5 USD when we made it to the village. We ended up staying in the village of Va Tan in what amounts to a two story barn that was set up for the purpose of home stays. We met other couples that were traveling from France, Italy, England, along with our fellow hikers from Germany and Romania. We had a good time drinking tea and eating dinner before heading out the next day. In the morning we hiked along a road to a small village and small waterfall before getting lunch. After lunch we had a jeep take us back to our hotel where we spent a couple hours taking showers and washing then drying some of our gear before our night train back to Hanoi.

Alethea bundled up by the Christmas tree @ our hotel in Sapa

In all I enjoyed our time in north Vietnam. It has been a pleasant start to this part of our trip. The people have been helpful and friendly. The food has been good and just about everything we've done has been cheap. Before wrapping this part of the journey up I'l like to say thanks and speak positively of Hanoi Old Center Hotel. They were very helpful in planning and booking our Hanoi itinerary. They made everything go very smoothly. I would recommend looking them up if you are ever in Hanoi.

This wraps up the first half of Vietnam. We fly into Laos on Christmas Eve and will be there until just after New Year's before flying back into Hanoi and taking an overnight train down to the central and southern sections of Vietnam. Hope everyone has a happy holidays!

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log:

Tuesday December 14th
Flew 10 hours from Cape Town, South Africa to Kuala Lumpur. Got to fly on a 747 for the first time. Wasn't that comfortable and you feel the turbulence more in the back. Lost 6 hours with the time zone change. Only slept 20 to 30 minutes.
Was in KL for about 3 hours. Napped for a hour or so.
Flew from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi. Flight was 3 hours 25 minutes. Slept for a hour.
Arrived in Hanoi and got a our visa. Kind of expensive at $50 but process was smooth
Met our driver after a few minutes and rode 30 minutes to hotel
Because of construction moved to another sister hotel. Hanoi Guesthouse. Nice room. Only $20 US per night includes free wi-fi and breakfast.
Took shower and nap for 2 hours.
Walked to local recommended place for dinner. Had Pho. Only cost $8 for two bowls and 2 large beers.
Came back to hotel and got online.

Wednesday December 15th
Spent day planning at hotel.
Ate dinner at local place including 2 draft beers for only $7.50
xmas shopped for family within 15 minutes online

Thursday December 16th
Woke up @ 8 am, ate breakfast, worked on trip planning until around 3 pm, ate lunch @ 24Pho, returned to hotel and worked on trip planning. Taking a long time time. Trying to map out 4 countries over a 2 month time frame. Went to dinner at nice place down the street. Little touristy and more expensive than the first few meals but not too bad. Dinner was under $12.

Friday December 17th
Woke up @ 8 am
Ate breakfast
Dropped off laundry at breakfast
Try to exchange VND for USD but two banks said no and that banks in Hanoi don't do this. Walked back to hotel and they said they would arrange for us to get $500.
Walked around old quarter including market.
Walked to lake and old temple in lake
Walked by Hanoi Opera House
Ate lunch at Museum Cafe. Bill was $265 K instead of $225, gotta be careful with Vietnam food bills, two have been off by over 20%. Food was good though.
Went to Vietnam Natural History Museum. Not bad.
Went to water puppet show. Lasted 45 minutes. Popular thing to do in Hanoi. It was ok but neat.
Back to hotel.

Saturday December 18th
Woke up @ 7 am and ate breakfast
Took taxi to Ho Chi Min complex, supposed to have been 40 K, was 75 K ($3.50)
Visited Ho Chi Min's Masoleum – this part was free, had to check backpack at one station, then camera at another station, had to enter in to two single file lines, got in trouble with guards the first time for wearing sun glasses & the second time for having hands together behind my back. Saw his embalmed body, not bad – little pale
Walked next door and saw his house on stilts, used cars
Saw HCM museum
Left complex and walked over to Temple of Knowledge after a little misdirection (lost) streets are not clearly marked on street.
Visited Temple of Knowledge for about 30 minutes.
Ate lunch at KOTO ( Bill Clinton once ate there too while President
Walked a few blocks over to Hoa Lo Prison or Hanoi Hilton as it was known by US POWs. Saw Senator McCain's flight suite that he was captured in.
Walked back to hotel
Stopped and “bought” “North Face Backpack” for $10, originally $20.
Mailed postcard to Doug of Ho Chi Min
Reviewed bookings and itinerary with front desk staff and then paid the bill. Wasn't too bad.

Sunday December 19th
Halong Bay – left @ 8:30 am
Arrived @ 12:30 pm
Boat took about 1 hour to get to final spot
Took tour of a cave
Alethea went kayaking.
Did karoke with an English family

Monday December 20th
Halong Bay cont'd
Did spring roll demonstration
Arrive in Hanoi @ 16:30
Took shower and repacked for Sapa
Took overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa – train left right on time @ 21:10

Tuesday December 21st
Arrive right on time @ 5:30 am
Told we had a 15 minute van ride to Sapa. Turned out to be exactly 1 hour. Good thing I used the bathroom before we left.
Checked into hotel and ate breakfast
9:30 – treked 3-4 km to village of Cat Cat, very poor, saw pigs, Alethea spoke to one girl who was 22 but looked 15, had 2 kids . Said couldn't have more.
Back by noon
In the afternoon we walked around Sapa. Nice touristry town
Walked through market, girls trying to sell us stuff but were nice
Saw Catholic church
Saw pigs being herded, good food at hotel
Saw numerous counterfeit North Face stores.

Wednesday December 22nd
Left @ 9:30
Took motorcycle without helmets to top of town to begin our hike. Started hike with Monica from Romania and Carl from Germany
Hike 15 km to Lao Cai. Small women helped us to step in the right places and helped us from being covered in mud. The hike was a little rough and was through a valley and rice terraces.
Tipped woman helper 100 K VND or $5 USD
Ate lunch around 2 pm
Checked in at homestay around 4 pm.
Alethea washed the bottom of my pants and shoes since they were very muddy
Drank tea . Ate dinner ~ 6 pm including some local rice wine shots/toasts
Bed ~ 9 pm

Thursday December 23rd
Breakfast @ 9 am
Hiked on road to a village and waterfall ~ 5 km
Ate lunch 12:30 pm
1:30 took Jeep 10 km on rough road back to Sapa
Went back to hotel, showered, and washed/dried clothes, and got online
Took van back to train station ~ 1 hour
Ate dinner at local restaurant by train station
Boarded train.
Train left on time

Friday December 24th
Arrived in Hanoi around 5:15 am
Couldn't find greet at first. Found greeter who waived a taxi down for us.
Came back to hotel, took nap nap for a couple hours in a room
Ate breakfast, repacked our backs, got online
Left for airport around 3:15 pm. Ride was 15 minutes early which seems to be the norm which isn't a bad thing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

South Africa

My entry for South Africa will be rather simple. We spent 5 night in Cape Town and then 4 nights on the road driving east of Cape Town. First I'll highlight our Cape Town experiences.

Cape Town for us was meant to be a resting point after having bee on safari in Kenya & Tanzania for the previous two weeks. I know what some people are thinking. How hard can a safari be? Well it was a little rougher than I expected but I still think it is the highlight of our trip so far. We needed a few days to recoup from being on the go plus the travel time from Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania down to Cape Town took over 24 hours. The trip down to Cape Town was smooth until we arrived in Johannesburg. We arrived before midnight and didn't think we would have to go through immigration to collect our bags and recheck but we ended up having to do this. This wasn't hard since you don't have to do anything upon arrival in South Africa but get a stamp in your passport and recheck your bags. The problem was that the place to recheck your bags had closed for the night and the check-in counters were not open until the next morning. We knew were going to have to spend the 6 hour layover in the airport but thought we would be able to stay what they call air side to stay in a 24/7 business class lounge but instead we had the privilege of sleeping on benches by the check-in counters of South African Airways. It is the first time I've slept out in the open at an airport. It actually wasn't that bad. I got about 3 hours of sleep before we checked in around 5 am for our 6 am flight to Cape Town.

view of Table Mountain from our hostel

Once we arrived in Cape Town we spent the first couple of days relaxing. We stayed at a pretty good hostel called The Backpack at the African Travel Center. One downside was that the wireless internet was down for the 1st three days but we had access to the desktop computers in their internet lounge. We also made use of our time by taking care of some administrative\logistical things. I got a haircut that I was overdue on. My last one was in Turkey and that was 6 countries ago. I also got my 3rd and final TwinRx Hepatitis A\B vaccination shot at a travel clinic. It only cost me the equivalent of about $51 US to get the shot in South Africa while costing $175 back in the US. South Africa has private health care and not a government run system to subsidize the cost from what I read online. We also took a morning and drove out to the US Consulate to get additional visa pages added to our passports. We still have months of travel left and definitely run the possibility of running out of visa pages especially since some countries will take up two pages. If you run out of pages then more than likely you will not be allowed into a country. Seems a little harsh but is true. We decided to do it here since we had access to a consulate versus waiting until we almost ran out and have to significantly alter our plans to go to an embassy where it isn't as convenient. It turned out to be pretty easy and quick to do. The bad part is that they now charge $82 to add the pages. It used to be free up until I think 6 months ago but I know have the equivalent of a new passport book worth of empty visa pages. The cost of a new passport is up to $135.

We did spend a little time sightseeing. We walked down Government Avenue which is a pretty pedestrian only street that runs down the heart of Cape Town. We then walked over to the waterfront area. On our last night we met a friend of a former colleague of Alethea's who took us back to his place and cooked dinner for us. It was a real nice dinner and I enjoyed playing with his dog Miss O who is named after Oprah!

Government Avenue in Cape Town

Cape Town was a pretty good resting point. It is a nice modern western city. The unfortunate part is that crime is real high here but not as bad as Johannesburg. There are a lot of tall walls with barbed wire or sharp objects on them to keep people out. Many of the fences have a top wire that is electric. We also drove by some of the townships. There is an obvious disparity in the livelihoods of those who live in the townships and those who don't.

We finished up our time in Cape Town by mapping out what we wanted to do for our other 5 days and did just a little bit of planning for Southeast Asia. It was a little difficult to do research because internet access in South Africa isn't as cheap or widely available as it is in other parts of the world. It was almost like we were back in Australia or New Zealand with their notoriously slow and expensive internet service.

One slightly amusing thing about Cape Town is that they have replaced parking meters with human beings. When you park you pay an attendant who watches your car while you shop or eat. You pay them in tips and usually not a flat fee when you return to your car. We found this practice to also be in place in other parts of South Africa. Another practice is if you park in the street someone (usually a young kid) will wash your car whether you wanted it or not and expect a tip. We had this happen in one town and we gave the kid a decent tip but he kept asking for more money. We didn't give him any more though. Despite the high crimes rates I wonder if they have lower rates of vandalism involving cars. I'll need to look this up at a later date.

The remaining 5 nights in South Africa were spent on the road.. We rented a small Indian manufactured called from Tata. The car was ok but had very little horsepower. We had to turn the air conditioning off when going up hill for extra horsepower. It actually made a difference. We drove the first day along the coast through the town of Hermanus to Cape Agulhas. During season you can actually see whales from the coast in Hermanus. We just missed them by a few weeks. The drive was pretty scenic except when you come across a township of tin shacks which are only a few hundred meters from homes that would list in the US for over a million dollars. Cape Agulhas itself is best known for being the southern most point on the continent of Africa and the place where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet. It is well marked and meant for us tourists. After Agulhas we traveled down to the town of Knysna. We visited some overlooks and a beach on the Indian Ocean before having some fresh raw oysters at a local restaurant. We even heard some live music and were given a CD from one of the bands (Collin's Street) who were promoting their music. One small problem is that I am not carrying a CD player in my laptop plus I don't even own anymore except I guess the one in my car back in Tennessee. 

Alethea @ the southern most point in Africa & where the Atlantic & Indian Oceans meet

The next stop on our driving tour was in a town called Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn was located somewhat inland. The highlight was that we got to go to an ostrich farm. We saw a few different types and got to stand on some ostrich eggs. We wanted to ride them but it was too hot. Once it gets over 30 C's the ostriches can become aggressive and I don't blame them although I was really looking forward to riding one.

The last place we stopped which was for two nights was the town of Stellenbosh which is home both to a large university and is a major wine growing region with over 300 wineries with 100 open to the public. On our last full day we went wine tasting. We manged to visit 3 wineries including eating lunch at one. We visited Lanzerac, Hidden Valley (the golfer Ernie Ells winery was next door), & Tokara where we had lunch. The weather was fantastic and it was a good day to wrap up South Africa before a 24 hour day of traveling.

An ostrich & Alethea posing for a picture

This wraps up South Africa. South Africa itself is a nice modern western country. You can tell the English and Dutch heritage throughout the country. The Afrikaans language sounds pretty much like Dutch which means it doesn't make much sense to an outsider. I recognized a few similar words from the brief time I've spent in the Netherlands. We only covered a small portion of it but it is a quite large beautiful country with lots to see and do. We didn't even visit any of the game parks since we had just finished seeing plenty of wildlife in East Africa. I think it be worth a visit if you are in the area but not sure it warrants a trip from the US due to the sheer distance. For me South Africa was an enjoyable experience that allow for some rest, some planning for future stops, as well as some enjoyable sights to see that were easy to visit. The only real negative take away will be the townships and all the fences with barbed wire in virtually every town that you visit. I am sure a lot of progress has been made since apartheid was legally dismantled in the early 1990's but a lot of progress still needs to be made. It seems like each town has a township no matter how nice. It will probably take decades for things to become more balanced. 

me toasting Africa goodbye :-)

Next stop for us is Southeast Asia. We start with Vietnam. I am little ignorant on some of the countries we are visiting in this part of the world outside of the history of the US with Vietnam. I did spend some down time recently reading about 20 scanned in pages of guide books about Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, & Thailand. I'm looking forward to these countries. The food alone should be worth the trip plus it is supposed to be one of the more economical (cheap) parts of the world to travel in. I am still holding up pretty well. I get a little homesick every now and then after being on the road for more than 4 months. Sometimes I let the daily inconveniences get to me a little bit which may not always make me the best person to travel with but I am still having a good time exploring all the new countries and cultures that we have been exposed too and am looking forward to the next leg of our journey!

Link to photo album:

Daily Log

Friday December 3rd
Arrived in Johannesburg around midnight. Ran into some problems here. First we thought we could transit through the airport versus going through immigration but we had to through immigration. Not a big deal since there is no cost for a visa and you don't have to fill anything out. We then had to collect our bags even though we were told in Kilimanjaro that they were checked all the way through to Cape Town. We left the baggage and customs to find out that the area to re-check bags was closed until tomorrow. We thought we would be able to go to a lounge which is open 24/7 but it was on the other side of security which we knew but since we had no boarding pass and couldn't re-check our bags we were stuck. We went upstairs and found some benches. We slept on the benches from around 12:30 until a little after 4 am. I slept probably 3 hours total while Alethea slept less. First time I have ever spent the night in the airport and I have a feeling it probably will not be the last.
We checked in to our Cape Town flight which left on time at 6:00 am. Flew two hours to Cape Town.
Waited for about 40 minutes at airport on shuttle pick up and some other passengers.
Made it to hostel around 9:30 am. Room isn't ready and check in isn't until 2 pm. I took out my toothbrush before putting my bag in storage and brushed my teeth. Sitting by pool outside on a couch until whenever the room it ready. Internet is down too at the hostel.
Definitely not a smooth travel day but at least we made it with our luggage.
We plan on taking a day or two just to relax before seeing this area. I know next to nothing about South Africa so I'll need to read up on it. I should clarify I know the history with Mandela and apartheid but not much about what there is to see here.
Checked in to our room around noon.
Finished editing pictures
Took nap for just over a hour
Ate lunch at the hostel
Walked around neighborhood.
Got haircut
Bough groceries
Found laundry mat place running a special. Came back and got our clothes. Dropped them off will pick up tomorrow
Bought beer to bring back to hotel to drink.
Worked on blog.

Saturday December 4th
Woke up around 9 am. Nice to sleep in for a change
Ate breakfast then went to pick up laundry. Laundry wasn't ready. Excuse was that they had electrical problems the night before and things were delayed.
Bought some wine from the grocery store since we think alcohol shops are closed on Sunday.
Walked around town. Walked down Government street which is a 1 km pedestrian street. Real pretty, lots of parks and nice buildings.
Walked over to waterfront area. Stopped and had beers and a pizza at a tavern. Walked over to mall. Alethea got some medication.
Stopped at Belgium beer bar on way back to the hostel
Purchased some sandwiches for light dinner. Ate sandwich, wine, and chili Doritos for dinner.
Tried to get online but was told at reception that wireless is down and will not be back up until Monday. Not sure how this place got to be one of the top 10 hostels in the world. It is Ok but not great.

Sunday December 5th
Slept in to around 8:30. Didn't sleep as well but still Ok
Had coffee and breakfast.
Went down to front desk to the travel section and discussed options for planning remainder of South African portion of trip.
Was going to go down the street to a restaurant and eat and get online. Packed up and walked down there only to find out they are close on Sundays. Walked down the street and found a pretty cheap internet cafe.
Alethea's computer was having problems charging. Her computer gave out after 30 minutes and she went back to the hostel. I surfed for 78 minutes.
Came back to hostel and finished posting my blog and pictures.
Started reading Alethea's SE Asia book while drinking some of my $2 a bottle red wine. It's not that bad.
Went to Ocean Basket Seafood a couple blocks where we are staying. It was a little bit of a splurge. The excuse was celebrating our 4 month anniversary on the road. The food was good and so was the beer (Jack Black – locally brewed, tasted like a pilsner)
Called home via cell phone. Balance it getting low on GoSim card. For some reason it is down to $33. It dropped from 61 to 41 but there doesn't appear to be that many calls. Need to research my call history online. First time I had called home since Turkey.

Monday December 6th
Didn't sleep too well last night. Had reaction to seafood we ate last night. It was probably the raw oysters. I seem to be having issues with them lately which stinks since I like oysters.
Planned out morning SA itinerary
I went to Netcare Clinic in downtown Cape Town while Alethea went to Rick's cafe to take advantage of the free internet. I was in and out of the clinic which I found with no problem in 10 minutes. It only cost $51 to get the Twin RX Hep A\B shot. In the US the same shot costs $175 and SA doesn't have a state run health system they have a private system.
Hiked back to Rick's Cafe where Alethea was still working on uploads and blogging. Walked over to the hostel to get my laptop. Hung out at Rick's & surfed online.
Called US Consulate in Cape Town regarding passport pages. Cost $82, no guarantee we would get it back the same day.
Went back to hostel and booked rest of SA itinerary.

Tuesday December 7th
Rental car rep met us at hostel around 9 am. Drove back to Tempest Rental Cars. We could have walked it was so close.
Drove to US Consulate in Cape Town. It was around 30 km and took a little over 35 minutes. There was some road work going on that slowed us down.
Made it to consulate, passed through security and went to window for American Citizen Services, filled out necessary paperwork to get additional passport pages, paid $82 via CC,
Drove back to hostel
Alethea got haircut while I walked all over downtown for a SE Asia guidebook. Didn't find one. Went into 5 stores.
Bought some toiletries.
Went back to hostel, Alethea took shower
Went to Ricks' to do SE Asia research. Internet was off and on. Alethea booked a place to stay in Hanoi. We decided to get visa approval letters for Vietnam since we needed them. Probably should have gotten this visa before we left the US.
Met a friend of a friend of Alethea's at a hotel just down the street who lives in Cape Town named Kevin. We went to a grocery store and bought groceries then went back to his place and spent a few hours talking and hanging out with his dog Miss O which is a Jack Russel Terrier. We didn't get home until after midnight. Didn't sleep well woke up with a headache.

Wednesday December 8th
Hand wrote notes since didn't have adapter for these type of SA outlets
Drove to Hermanus from Cape Town. Had nice lunch of mussels at seafood restaurant.
Drove to Agulhas over some bumpy unpaved roads for a little bit of the journey. Drove probably 3.5 to 4 hours.
Small town decent hostel. Signed up for BBQ. Told it would take 30 mins to prepare. After 1 hour food wasn't ready & were told it would be another 30 mins. Went to room and ate peanut butter & jelly.
Visited Lighthouse, Shipwreck, & the Southern Most Point in Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. It is actually marked. Had beer on bench.

Thursday December 9th
Drove 4 to 5 hours from Cape Agulhas to Knysna. Nice coastal tourist town.
Went to Mitchell's Brewery and had a round of beers. A cat climbed up on the bar.
Went to overlooks and down to the beech. Touched the Indian Ocean with my feet. It was cold.
Ate dinner @ Quay on 4. Had oyster special 12 for 65 R and one Peroni (Italian) beer. Stomach wasn't feeling good so stopped eating.
Listened to two bands. One or was given a CD for the second band named Collin's Street.

Friday December 10th
Drove to Knysna Elephant Sanctuary 22 km east of Knsyna. Too expensive to tour or ride elephants. $25 to tour $100 to ride.
Drove into Plettenabay. Look for Bungi jump place that is supposedly the world's tallest but found out it is another 30-45 minutes to the east despite brochure saying it was in Plettenbay.
Headed back west for a hour to George. Bought gas. All fuel purchases for cars have to be made in cash and you cannot pump your own gas.
Drove another 30 plus minutes to Oudtshoorn where we spent the night at the Karoo Soul hostel.
Went to Safari Ostrich farm. It was too hot to ride or race the ostriches. If over 30 C they get aggressive. Did get to see plenty including feeding them and standing on their eggs.
Went grocery store to buy dinner. Also, stock up on some additional toiletries before heading to SE Asia.
Borrowed two electrical adapters from the reception. Our around the world adapter kits only partially worked in SA. They have a 3 pronged outlet that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world.
Read all 16 pages for Vietnam. Read all 8 pages on Thailand, Laos, & Cambodia.
Cooked dinner back at hostel.

Saturday December 11th
Long day of driving.
Drover route 62 from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosch. Took over 5 hours. Drove through a lot small towns. Stopped in Robertson to get some cheese at a farmer's market. Ate lunch in Worscester. Drove through a very long tunnel jest east of Stellenbosch that costs 25 R.
Checked into hostel around 3:30 pm. Discussed options with hostel.
Washed one pair of pants so I wouldn't be short.
Went to internet cafe.
Went to grocery store. Brought back pizza for dinner. Bought a bottle of wine from the hostel.
Printer out Vietnam visa entry letter but found out that it had someone else's name on the invite. Emailed agency that handled the transaction. Must be accurate.
Scenery was pretty nice to drive through. Drove through some arid regions then got into wine country. Saw tons of vineyards around Stellenbosh.

Sunday December 12th
Spent the day touring wineries.
Toured Lanzerac, Hidden Valley (Ernie Ells winery was next door), & Tokara where we had lunch.
Weather was gorgeous.
Dropped off laundry in the morning.
Finished with with tasting around 3:30 pm. Came back to hostel after going to get gas and grocery shop.
Washed out Teva's and black sandals.
Worked on blog and pictures.

Monday December 13th
Travel day to Vietnam starting with flight leaving Cape Town around 1:30 pm.
End of South Africa blog.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I'll start off my Tanzania post where I ended my Kenya blog where I mentioned that I had read more positive things about the parks in Tanzania than the ones in Kenya. I would have to agree with the reviews and blogs. In my opinion the parks in Tanzania were better. We saw many of the same animals and a few new ones but we saw many of the animals in greater quantities plus the scenery was better. We toured Tanzania a little differently than Kenya. In Kenya it was a private safari with just Alethea, myself, and our driver. In Tanzania there were seven of us plus the driver in 4 wheel drive extended Toyota Land Cruiser. We were the only Americans in our group with our other travel companions coming from England, Belgium, and Italy.

We had essentially 6 nights but only 5 days of safari in Tanzania which was the same amount of time we spent in Kenya. We visited three parks which were Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. We spent the first night in Arusha and traveled to Lake Manyara on the second day. We arrived in the evening and went on a 3 hour game drive the next morning. We saw many of the same animals but saw a couple new ones at this park. We saw vervet monkeys and wildebeest for the first time. We also saw hippos out of the water from a safe distance for the first time in Africa. Lake Manyara was ok but nothing too special. 

Lake Manyara

After our morning game drive at Lake Manyara we took off for the furthest park away from us which was the Serengeti. However, we did drive through Ngorongoro on the way to the Serengeti. We stopped briefly at the top of the crater to take a few pictures. The drive all the way out to our lodge in the Serengeti took about 5.5 hours on some roads that were real rough at times. Our driver referred to it as an African massage. By the time we were through with our game drives on some days we felt a little beat up and even had some bruises. Our English friends even got massages on one day but they may have been because they had climbed up most of Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity before going on safari and were feeling a little exhausted. After a few more days I probably would have enjoyed a massage myself. Anyway, the scenery in the Serengeti is fantastic. The part of the park we entered was full of open plains. During some portions you could look in every direction and see absolutely nothing but grass. I actually thought it was like being in the Midwest or in Yellowstone for a minute until not too long after entered the park we spotted 4 lions on the side of the road which to my knowledge cannot be found in the Midwest or Yellowstone. The lions didn't really pay us much attention to us and once it started raining they would close their eyes and lay down flat in the grass like it would make a difference but it was cute. One funny thing we saw on the way to the lodge was that we saw an adult male elephant chase off a group of 3 sleeping lions. We had stopped to watch the lions when our driver spotted the elephant and he predicted exactly what was going to happen. The lion ran right where the lions were sleeping and scared them off. The lions didn't fight back and the elephant just kept walking.

Lions in the Serengeti

We ended up spending two nights at the Serengeti. We saw many of the same animals but as a I mentioned earlier we saw them in greater quantities. We did see some hartebeest, topi, and a cheetah which we had not seen before on our safaris. We also saw fully grown adult male lions with the full mange. We did not see them in Kenya. By far the most interesting activity that we saw on the whole safari in my opinion was a lion that stalked, hunted, and killed a zebra. Other lions joined in and ate the zebra once it was down. For about 45minutes we watched a female lion scout out and attack a zebra. It was a little gruesome but awesome. The lion would walk then stop for a little bit then move up again. When it moved up for the kill it took off and swatted the zebra then jumped on it and latched on to its windpipe to crush it. The other lions then moved in to help hold the zebra down. Once it was down other lions came in including baby cubs. We never did see the female who performed the kill eat any of the zebra. The younger ones including some of the adult female lions did most of the eating. Our guide who has been a guide for 14 years had never seen a hunt like this from start to finish. He had arrived right after a kill but never witnessed the whole thing. I took numerous pictures and will post them in a separate album. There are a few gory pics so they are obviously not for children. It was a really amazing thing to witness. We actually got to see another episode involving lions where an adult male was guarding another downed zebra and wouldn't let some other female lions eat it until the one that killed it ate. The lion activity was the highlight for me in the Serengeti but we did spot three additional leopards and a cheetah. Both are rare to spot.

Leopard sleeping in the Serengeti

The last park we visited was the Ngorongoro crater which is actually a caldera for those who aren't earth and planetary scientist living in Atlanta, Georgia. Ngorongoro is a massive caldera that is I believe 23 km by around 19 km (the internet is down where we're out in Cape Town, so I cannot verify the exact dimensions). The view of the caldera from the rim is something else. It is pretty both at sunrise and sunset. In Ngorongoro you see nearly all of the same wildlife as in the Serengeti except in the caldera the animals are less shy and don't startle as easy as in other parks mainly due to fewer predators for some animals. Zebras for example don't always take off running when you drive by. One even walked up to us. The only two animals you do not see are giraffes since it is hard to get down into the crater for them and female elephants with young elephants. You see male elephants though. The male elephants at this age separate themselves from the pack and are more solitary. We did see a plenty of lions within the crater including some adult male lions. We also spotted from a long distance using binoculars a rare black rhino. They actually aren't black but can be identified by their mouth. They were essentially hunted to extinction but have been re-introduced. They even have put chips into the rhino's horns to track them. I believe there are only 16 in the park. We did see another cheetah for a few minutes. It sat around and looked at us for a minute before laying back down in the grass. The lodge we stayed out in Ngorongoro was real nice too. The lodge is up at the top of the crater and about 7,200 feet above sea level.


This wraps up Tanzania and our almost two weeks of safari in East Africa. For me it has been the highlight of the trip. I am glad we went to the 6 different parks that we visited. Each park had something different to offer. My favorite park was the Serengeti by far followed by Samburu in Kenya then Ngorongoro. I'm going to miss being pampered and having everything taken care for two weeks such as meals and lodging. We pretty much ate like royalty with three buffet meals a day for the most part. When I last weighed myself in Egypt I was down 16 pounds for the trip but did my best to add some of those pound back. On another note we passed our 4 month mark on the road while concluding the Tanzania portion of the trip. I am doing pretty good and so is my gear for the most part. My main REI backpack has a few battle scars on it but is doing well. My clothes are doing pretty good too. One shirt is pretty frayed and may not make it. I'm getting better at hand washing my clothes. I may not be the fastest at it but I am thorough. It was recommended to wear long sleeved shirts at certain points in Tanzania due to malaria infected mosquitoes, so I would hand wash a shirt after wearing it each night. I haven't had any real side effects from taking the malaria medication either outside of the second day when I took it on close to an empty stomach. The only things that have broken have been my plastic spork which I replaced by buying one in Kenya and Alethea's expensive pair of sun glasses which I replaced in Luxor, Egypt. I didn't break them. A screw came out and is stripped to the point where it cannot easily be repaired. On some days during our travels it seems like it was 2 years ago when we were in Australia getting started but on other days it seems like last week we were driving around New Zealand.

I'm wrapping this entry up in Cape Town, South Africa. We are resting today after having traveled for 24 hours to get here. We had a minor issue in Johannesburg and ended up spending the night sleeping on a bench at the airport next to the check-in counter which actually wasn't too bad. We'll be in South Africa for 10 days before heading to southeast Asia. We will start in Vietnam and end up in Bangkok before flying into India.

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Friday November 26th
Landed in Tanzania around 1:45 pm
Showed yellow fever vaccine card to health inspector. He looked at it for maybe 2 seconds.
Waited in visa line. We were led to believe visa was only $50 USD, turns out it was $100 USD, we asked for a receipt to see if they were being honest plus in case we lost our passports or if the stamp faded out. The visa people took the money and just threw it into a pile between them. Looked kind of shady.
Met driver and drove 1 hour to Arusha and our hotel
Met Julius from Ranger's Safaris, they are handling the Tanzania portion of the trip, they are a sister company of Pollman's who ran the Kenya portion of the trip. He went over the itinerary.
Were led to believe wi-fi was free but it isn't. Also, the latest we can check out is noon but our pick up for tomorrow is 2:30 pm
Hand washed clothes since we were advised to wear long sleeved shirts in certain parts of Tanzania due to the mosquitoes and both of my shirts were dirty. Took a hour to wash my clothes

Saturday November 27th
Got to sleep in a bit since we weren't being picked up until the afternoon. Woke up at 9 am.
Ate breakfast and sat in hotel room until 12:00 pm
Hung out in hotel lounge until 1:30. Alethea primarily got online while I read her Vanity Fair magazine.
Ate lunch and was back back in the lobby by 2:35 pm
Met guide but had to wait on a lady from Italy who was flying in but was in route to the hotel.
We are doing this part of the safari with multiple people. There is a couple from Belgium (Hans & Arianne), two women from England (Mimi & Hailey), & a woman name Vincenza from Italy. We eventually left the Arusha Hotel around 3 pm. Took a little bit to get out of Arusha but we eventually made it out. Took 2.5 hours to get to out lodge in Manyara. The scenery was different than Kenya. It is more open and agriculture and less populated. We saw multiple what looked to be Masi herding cattle and goats.
The Serena Manyara Lodge is real nice. It is up a hill at 4,200 feet. It has a great view overlooking Lake Manyara. The lodge also a lot of baboon that we saw at checking. Room is nice too.
This area also has a lot of mosquitoes so we are wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants despite the heat and using repellants in addition to our malaria medication. Very few tourist contract malaria but if you do it was one nasty disease.
Didn't see really any animals except baboons.
Had very good dinner at the lodge. We were supposed to eat outdoors but it rained so ate at the lodge.

Sunday November 28th
Woke up @ 6:00 am. Didn't sleep well at all. Bed was hard, room was hot, & I ate and drank a lot of liquids before dinner.
Ate breakfast & 6:30 and checked out at 8:00 am
Went on game drive to Lake Manyara. We saw numerous animals and some like zebras in large numbers in open areas. The different animals that we hadn't seen before were wildebeest, a different type of giraffe, several hippos out of the water, and some different types of monkeys. We saw elephants and baboons. Lake Manyara is not a big part but pretty neat and different than others that we have been too. We stayed until 11:15 then drove back to the lodge for lunch.
Ate lunch from 12:10 to 1:00 pm.
Began the 5 plus hour drive to Serengeti. The roads were ok until we got to Ngorongoro. There the roads were no longer paved. We drove up the to the top of the crater and took pictures for a few minutes then began our drive back down. Views of the crater were spectacular including the drive down. We saw multiple masi people and villages. We saw cattle, goats, several zebras, and giraffes. The terrain flattened out then we eventually made it to the Serengeti National Park. We stopped and used the bathroom then drove through the park for a couple hours until we got to the lodge. We sort of did a game drive while en route. First the scenery is spectacular but because it is so plain. At various points there is open plane with nothing else in sight in every directions. I've never scene terrain like it before. We eventually ran across three female lions and took some pictures. We saw multiple gazelles, zebras, and other animals. One of the funniest things I have seen is that we came across four lions. One lion was still eating an animal in the bush while the other three were laid out flat sleeping on their backsides . They looked like dogs. All of a sudden a male elephant comes walking towards the lions and charges at them sending them scattering in different directions. The elephant then just kept on walking. Kind of funny. We then drove another hour before getting to the lodge around 6:30 about 5.5 hours after we started.
Ate dinner @ 7:30. Hand washed my long shirt because I need to stick to wearing my two long sleeved shirts while we are in a malaria zone.
Great day for animal viewing and seeing the amazing Ngorongoro (which we'll come back too) and the plains of the Serengeti.
One interesting about our lodge is that when it gets dark we have to have an escort from reception because there is no fence and sometimes leopards, lions, and other animals make an appearance.

Monday November 29th
Woke up @ 6:00, ate breakfast @ 6:30 pm.
Started game drive at 8 am. Today was an all day game drive. We saw many of the same animals in the morning until mid-morning when we began to see some really amazing items. The first was a leopard high up in an acacia tree. Leopards are hard to fine so weren't expecting to see any. This leopard had climbed high in a tree and had just killed a gazelle and had dragged it up the tree. The leopard was on one side of the tree and the dead gazelle was off to the left over 10 meters away. The next thing we saw were two lions up close that had just mated per some earlier spotters. It was a full grown male with the mange hair plus a female. Our guide said that during the one week that they mate they can mate 250-400 times in just that one week. They mate every few minutes for the 1st three days. We waited for 30 minutes but didn't see any activity. The females was just resting while the male was just looking around then he closed his eyes and started to sleep as well. If the female moved then the male would move too. Our driver said the female is the one who allows the mating to occur and if the male starts without the female's permission then he gets scratched.
After seeing the male and female lion we saw probably the most spectacular thing on our entire trip to date. We saw a lion successfully hunt and kill a zebra. We first saw a pride of lions a couple hundred meters north of the road. All but two were laying down. It looked like 7 through binoculars. Over the next 30 plus minutes we saw the oldest female of the group gradually work her way over to a herd of zebras. She would move then sit down then move. Eventually, we saw the lion take off and swat a zebra then attach itself to the wind pipe and suffocate it. While this was going on another 4 adult females came over to help hold the lion down. When the lion was down a bunch of lion cubs came over and joined in the feeding. Our driver guide who has been doing this for 14 years said he had never seen a kill in person. He has seen lions feeding shortly after the kill but not the actual kill itself. It was amazing. We stayed and watch the lions eat on the zebra for a good 15 minutes or so before heading off to lunch ourselves. On the way we drove by where we could see the zebra and there was plenty of it left to eat despite 10 plus lions eating on it. We then went to lunch and came back a hour later and there were still lions eating on it and plenty of it to go around. We then came across another dead zebra as we were working our way on the loop road heading back to our lodge. We then notice in the background a full grown adult male. We then saw three females walk up. Two of them tried to eat the zebra which had already partially been eaten by the male. The male lion got up and chased the females away. Then the female who per our guide did the killing came over and ate. When she ate then the other lion could eat. The male lion didn't care at this point. The other female lion wandered off and got a drink of water before walking away. We stayed for 10 minutes or so and watch the lions eat the zebra. It was kind of nasty.
All in all an amazing day on our all day game drive. We actually got to see another leopard up in a tree and a very big herd of wildebeest and zebras together. We saw some giraffes and a herd of elephants running too. Definitely a day I will not forget for a long time.

Tuesday November 30th
Woke up @ 6:00, breakfast by 6:30 and checkout at 8:00 am.
Tried to pay bill with credit but told we didn't charge enough for the minimum amount. When we tried to pay cash she told us the amount was $19 but when I had her divide by the exchange rate posted on the wall the amount came to $16. Only $3 but you got to be careful when paying in different currencies.
Did an all day game drive plus drive from the Serengeti Lodge to Ngorongoro Lodge. Saw all kinds of wildlife including the last major animal we wanted to see and that was a cheetah. Unfortunately, the cheetah just sat there and was staring at us and all the vans versus hunting something. We saw some baby giraffes close to out lodge.
We stopped at a museum along the way at Oldupai Gorge and read about the fossilized animal bones and human footprints with some being as old as 3.6 million years.
Arrived at our lodge around 4:40 pm about 40 minutes later than expected. Great view of the crater from our lodge.
Lodge is at 7,200 ft. elevation!
Went to bar and had drinks
At 18:30 there was a 30 minute acrobat show. It was better than I expected.
Ate dinner. Went to bed

Wednesday December 1st
Woke up @ 6:30, Breakfast @ 7:00
Today was an all day game of the Ngorongoro Crater. We left the hotel at 8 am. It took about 5 minutes to get the checkpoint at the top of the crater. Stopped and used the toilet. Drove down the crater for around 20 minutes. It is a steep decent on a one way unpaved road. On the side of the crater we stayed out there is one road down and one road up. We saw a wide selection of animals that we had seen before. The crater has everything except giraffes, female, and young elephants. We saw hundreds of wildebeest and zebras. We saw several lions including some females that were sort of scouting some zebras. We saw one pride of 5 lions sleeping the grass. We saw two male older lions and some older male elephants including one 5 legged elephant. The highlights of the day were seeing an extremely rare black rhino from a far distance and a cheetah up close. The cheetah only stood up for a couple minutes before laying down in the grass.
We drove back to the lodge and were there by 4 pm.
Alethea has had headache all day so we decided to rest until a Masai dance @ 1830
I'm sad the safari is coming to an end. I'm glad we got to see so much wildlife in different ecosystems throughout Kenya and Tanzania. It is definitely the highlight of the trip so far.

Thursday December 2nd
Day of travel.
Woke up @ 6:00. Ate breakfast @ 6:30 and left by 7:30 am
Drove until about 9:15. Stopped for shopping. Stayed for about 30 minutes. Didn't buy anything but some of our travel companions did.
Made it the junction around 10:15. Switched vans to go back to Arusha. Numerous people were gathered around the van at the hand off point trying to sell us stuff. One guy introduced himself and Banana Sugar Daddy so I introduced myself as Barack Obama. He tried selling me a t-shirt over and over and would throw it on my shoulder and try to walk away but I just threw it back.
Said goodbye to three of our travel partners as they were going on to another park for at least one more night.
Drove to Arusha. Heard loud banging noise. Stopped and checked it out. Turned out to be the rear bumper guard which was broken on one side. Alethea had some strong string that he used to tie it sort of back together.
Made it to Mountain View Lodge in Arusha to eat lunch around 12:40 pm. Took real long time have food served. We had to leave @ 1:15 pm & took our food to go since it wasn't ready.
Made it to Kilimanjaro airport around 2:15 pm. Took a hour to check in and clear immigration.
Left close to on time around 3:30 pm.
Flew 50 minutes to Nairobi
Spent three plus hours in one of the business lounges drinking beer and catching up on online stuff.
Flew from Nairobi to Johannesburg. Flight left with a lot of empty seats and about 10 minutes early. Flight took 3.5 hours to Johannesburg.
End of Tanzania blog

Friday, November 26, 2010


Originally I was going to blog about Kenya and Tanzania as one entry but figured I would separate them. Our time in both countries is meant as a vacation from our vacation as we have said when describing it to others:-). The traveling that we have been doing hasn't always been easy. It takes a lot of work sometimes and the grind of the traveling can wear on you times too. The time in these two countries is a chance to see some amazing wildlife and scenery for a couple weeks while taking a break from the normal type of traveling we have been experiencing for the last 3 and a half months. Every part of our time here was arranged and paid for (minus a couple meals & tips) before we left the US. It actually made me a little nervous considering the expense involved because something could have happened along the way that could have kept us from this portion of our trip but we did buy some travel insurance that would have covered almost any type of disruption. To arrange for our safaris Alethea worked closely with a former colleague who has been leading groups to this part of the world for several years. They both did an excellent job planning our itinerary. We also reserved a place for the first five nights in the Cape Town, South Africa so we can ease back into our travel routine and have a place to stay once we arrive without having to worry about it while we are on safari.

Lake Nakuru 

I've really enjoyed our time in Kenya. It has gone very smooth. The only real hassle was when we transited through Cairo's airport which is a zoo. It was almost like we were the first transit passengers when we flew from Jordan on to our final destination of Nairobi. I have to keep in mind we are on a paid safari so everything should really go smooth versus the independent make up as we go type travel that we have been accustomed too. This being said the people of Kenya have been very nice even when we stop at tourist shop facilities for bathroom breaks. The hard sell for items has been pretty gentle and polite which is kind of amazing considering the level of abject poverty in this part of the world. Some of things I've liked besides the wildlife and scenery which I'll get to in a minute was the way that we traveled and our accommodations. In Kenya we had just one driver for 6 days which was nice considering that in Egypt we had 6 tour guides in 10 days. Our guide, Thomas, even knew our names and where we from when we were introduced in Nairobi. He traveled with us to each park. He was very personable and knowledgeable about the animals. I believe he has been a guide for 14 years. Another aspect that I liked where the variety of parks that we went too. The landscape in each of the parks were different as well as the animals within those parks. There was some overlap but a good deal of uniqueness too. 

Lion in tree at Nakuru

The parks or reserves that we visited were Nakuru National Park, Samburu National Reserve, and the Serena Mountain Lodge near Mt. Kenya. I'll briefly describe them. Nakuru is about a hour and a half northwest from Nairobi. Nakuru is a fenced in national park. It contained several species of animals including baboons, zebras, rhinos, flamingos, pelicans, gazelles, giraffes, zebras, and lions. It contains Lake Nakuru and was pretty lush with vegetation. The next park was the Samburu National Reserve which was 5 hours north of Nakuru. The roads to travel to this park where rough at times. The climate at Samburu is drier and hotter than Nakuru. The types of animals were the same except for orynx, dik dik's, warthogs, various birds, lizards, turtles, ostriches, elephants, crocodiles, hippos, and a leopard. We stayed two nights in Samburu versus one night for Nakuru. Samburu was quiet. Our lodge only had 60 rooms but wasn't busy at all. The electricity was even limited to 3 hours in the morning and 5 in the evening but it didn't matter much since we went on two 90 minute to 2 hour game drives per day. It even had a swimming pool that I used one day. I really enjoyed the amount of animals we saw there. The lions, elephants, and the one leopard we saw were my favorites. The Serena Mountain Lodge that we stayed at was a little over 4 hours southeast of Samburu. It is located up by Mt. Kenya at 7,200 feet elevation. The lodge is built around a natural salt lick water hole. the animals come to the lodge instead of you going out to the animals! There were all kinds of Sykes monkeys and some even climbed up on our deck. We got a quick view of Mt. Kenya which is the tallest in Kenya close to sunset. One interesting thing that they do at the lodge is during dinner a gentleman comes by with a clipboard and asked what animals you would like to see during the night. If one of their watchman see one that you select at the water hole then they will knock on your door and wake you. We thought it was funny that they had an animal viewing order form. Unfortunately though the animals that we selected must have had the night off because we did not receive a knock during the night.

I know I am being kind of repetitive but I've been very thoroughly impressed with the amount of wildlife we have seen. The pictures will have to do the talking. I was expecting to go on game drives for hours and only see a handful of animals but we saw numerous types of animals from beginning to end. We saw them in huge quantities except for the lions and leopards which are harder to find. We only saw one leopard but saw 4 lions at Nakuru and 3 lions in Samburu. The elephants at Sambura were something else. They are very smart animals that seemed pretty playful but they can be very aggressive if you get to close. Our driver kept his hand on the ignition to our van when we were stopped as they walked right by us. He knew when to start the van.

This wraps up the Kenya portion of our safari. We had 5 nights/6 days here and really enjoyed it. I would recommend Kenya as a place to visit. It isn't necessarily cheap but worth it. I am writing this on our last day in Kenya although it may not get posted until we arrive in South Africa. We had internet access at our hotel for the first night in Nairobi but have been offline ever since. We are headed to Tanzania next. In the pre-trip research I did I found more positive reviews on Tanzania than I did about Kenya. It is going to be hard to beat Kenya but we'll see.


Link to photo album:

Daily Log

Sunday November 21st
Entry is kind of long but illustrates a long day of traveling. Spent the previous day and into the morning traveling. We drove 3 plus hours from Aqaba to Amman, Jordan. Flew from Amman to Cairo (we left 45 minutes late). At Cairo we ran into some administrative delays. We had a 5 hour sit so it didn't really matter. We disembarked the plan on the runway & were bused into the normal immigration area and not to the transit area. Alethea asked one person where we should go and he initially said upstairs then asked someone else and changed his mind and told us to wait in line. We then asked another person after waiting in a slow moving line for 20 plus minutes. He spent 5 plus minutes walking around asking other people and he took us upstairs and hailed down a bus to take us into another area for transit passengers. We were met by a member of Egypt Air who was working with Kenya Airways to process boarding passes. He was pretty nice and seemed competent. He took our passports and came back after 35 minutes to giver us our boarding passes. He also made sure our bags were matched onto the flight. Alethea went into a lounge while I walked around the airport for over a hour. I did exchange my Jordan Dinars & Egypt Pounds for $5 US dollars. We boarded our plane a little after the departure time of 11:25 pm. I was kind of disappointed with all the transit was handled. It was as if we were the first transit passengers in Egypt's history. We flew two hours to Khartoum, Sudan where we let off 2/3rds of the plane and picked up some more passengers but did have a full plane when we left. We then flew 2.5 hours to Nairobi. I slept a hour on the first leg and 2 hours on the final leg. We deplaned in Nairobi or at least attempted to but the jet bridge door to the terminal was locked an no one could unlock it. We walked back down the jet way on the tarmac and up another ramp. It then took us a hour to go through a slow moving immigration line. We then met up with our tour company and took a taxi to the hotel. We then took showers and a 2 hour nap. We then woke up and ate lunch at the hotel buffet. It was good. Spent a couple hours reading by the pool. We decided to rest and catch up on stuff. The hotel has free wireless access but we were only given one user ID & password so only one of us at a time can get online. We are scheduled to be picked up by our safari operator at 8 am tomorrow.
So far so good in Kenya. Weather is nice and less humid than I expected. The altitude is around 5,000 feet which surprised me. Didn't realize it was this high.

Monday November 22nd
Checked out of hotel at 8 am.
Met Rasheed from Pollman's in the hotel lobby @ 8 am. He introduced us to Thomas our guide. He knew our names & that we were from the US which is more than the Egypt guides knew each day.
Drove 3 hours to Nakuru. We stopped for a break about 1 hour into the drive when we first saw the Rift Valley. It was at at place with a gift shop. We were invited inside and received a soft sale approach. She wasn't too aggressive. Arrived in Nakuru Nation Park a couple hours later. Drove around and saw baboons, zebra, water buffalo, flamingos, pelicans, and rhinos from a distance. Can't believe we saw that many animals within a hour including numerous baboons.
Checked in at lodge around 12:30. Very nice. Better than I was expecting. Ate lunch around 1pm. It was a nice buffet lunch. I had more basic expectations but have been impressed so far. I knew we paid quite a bit for this but didn't think we would have it this nice.
Had a break from lunch until 4 pm. Looked at pictures I took in the morning. Took 137 pics before noon. Deleted over half within a few minutes. The scenery is beautiful here.
We met our driver shortly before 4 pm. We saw a whole lot of wildlife. We saw lions (4), giraffes, rhinos, hyaena, and birds in addition to water buffalo, gazelles and baboons that we saw earlier. We saw one adult male rhino that threaten to charge our van. The highlight though was seeing the lions. We saw one up in a tree. I cannot believe they can climb up in trees like they did.
I am amazed at how much wildlife we have seen on the first day. I figured it would take us several days to see the different types of animals that we have seen. I have taken around 300 pictures today alone although I'll probably have it narrowed down to below 100 before the day is over with. 

Tuesday November 23rd
Woke up @ 5:45 am. Ate breakfast @ 6:30 am.
Drove from Nakuru to Samburu starting @ 7 am. Arrived @ 1:30 pm
Ate lunch, rested and had quick cup of team before meeting Thomas for our 4 pm game viewing.
We saw warthogs, elephants, crocodiles, a hippo, lions, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, antelope, & birds. We saw three lions. We got real close. Two of them walked by our van by only a couple of feet. We saw one dragging around a fresh kill. We believe it to be a warthog. We saw elephants for the first time. We saw two full herds plus some stragglers here and there. The hippo we saw never got out of the water. The crocodile just sat there. We saw one approx 3 year old lion getting ready to start a hunt by a pack of antelope. The antelope were a few hundred meters away. They were all starting back in the directions of the lion. Very good sightseeing day. Very impressed.
Lodge is nice. Electricity is on only from 5:30 am to 8:00 am and then from 6:30 pm to 11:30 pm. They have 60 huts. It would make a great place for a small solar farm to power the place.
On the drive up we passed a small checkpoint. Saw a road that went to Somalia which still has no government. The road we were on before we turned off was heading to Ethiopia.
Other interesting sight was when we checked out in Nakuru in the morning there were porters stationed outside guests rooms so when they opened the door they were available to carry bags and earn a tip ($1 US per porter).

Wednesday November 24th
Woke up @ 6 am to go on a safari @ 6:30. Didn't see too much at first. Did see some elephants up close and some giraffes drinking water which was kind of neat. We were back by around 8:15 am to eat breakfast.
Hand washed some clothes after breakfast
Swam and lounged by the pool for about a hour
Drank beer at bar
Ate lunch
Edited pictures
Went for a safari @ 4 pm. Didn't see much for first 45 minutes. We then ran across some ostriches which are not that common. We then saw a pack of elephants heading back to the highlands for the evening. Saw a baby nursing on its mother. Then saw another pack walk real close to our car. We then saw a third pack with a baby who was very playful. Most of them walked by us to the river. Saw the dominant male. We were sort of heading back when we heard over the radio that a leopard had been spotted. We drove pretty fast to get over to it. It was sitting in a tree. Very beautiful. I'm glad we saw it. I took several pictures. We then drove back to lodge and got in about 10 minutes after the 6:30 pm curfew. You can get fined if not back at the lodge by 6:30 pm.

Thursday November 25th
Woke up @ 6:15. Ate breakfast and checked out of lodge by 8 am.
Drove to Mountain Lodge by Mt. Kenya. Took 4.5 hours
First bathroom stop involved a sales pitch and demonstration of some wood carvings.
Stopped at equator for pictures and demonstration of water flowing clockwise and counterclockwise. Person doing the demonstration tried to sell us a certificate stating we had been at the equator for $8 USD. We said no but tipped him $1 USD for the show. We were then escorted to a shop to look at some wood products. Since my spork broke I bought a wooden spoon/fork combo for $1USD. He first tried to sell it for $10USD! We haggled and he wouldn't come down so I walked away and he sold it to me for $1 USD. He said he was selling it to me at the price because he needed lunch money.
Checked into the lodge around 12:35 pm. To see the animals the lodge is built around a large watering hole so the animals come to you. It is also at 7,200 ft. elevation and was much cooler than Samburu was. We are only here one night before driving to Nairobi tomorrow. There was a nature walk available at 3 pm for 90 minutes but it cost $30 USD per person which is too much plus we've seen a lot nature already. I'd rather buy a beer & keep and eye on the watering hole.
Also forgot to mention that it is Thanksgiving back in the US. Happy Thanksgiving!
Around 3:30 pm we saw a whole bunch of monkeys invade the property by the watering hole. Eventually a couple walked by our deck which is I believe on the 3rd floor.
Spent a hour on my blog
Watched animals and viewed Mt. Kenya and drank hot tea for a couple hours on the deck until dinner
Had a very good dinner.
During dinner a gentleman came by with a clipboard and you can check off what animal you would like to see and if they spot it during the night they will knock on your door. It was an ordering form for animal viewing! We almost checked the wrong room since we sometimes lose track of all of our room numbers.
Attended the 9 pm slide show.

Friday November 26th
Alarm went off @ 6:15 am
Ate breakfast and checked out of hotel by 8 am
Drove 3.5 hours to Nairobi's Wilson airport. Ride was fine until we got to the Nairobi area. Stop and go traffic and detours. Our driver actually barely tapped another car but no real damage. We kept going.
Arrived at airport about 11:35
Said our goodbyes to Thomas and checked in.
Airport terminal was real small and we drove up to it.
Cleared customs
Waited for plane, flight was at 12:45 pm. Flight left a few minutes late, plane was a single engine 10 seat plane but only had 6 passenger and two pilots. It was somewhat of a bumpy flight at times. Couldn't see Mt. Kilimanjaro since it was so cloudy. Was kind of neat since I got to see the pilots fly. I pretty much starred at the radar and other instruments to see what they were looking at. Flight lasted 50 minutes.
End of Kenya blog :-)