A Travellerspoint blog

Ecuador – Our unplanned gateway to the Amazon and Galapagos

semi-overcast 28 °C

Ecuador had never been part of our plan, but all along our travels the people we met would rave about it, so before long that and the fact it could connect us to Colombia, became good enough reason to add another country to our tally.

Immediately things seemed different - we went from first class bus services to stop-and-pick-up-randoms every five minutes from the road side - and we always seemed to be the only travelers. We connected in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, for our chosen destination of Baños (also the Spanish word for bathroom or toilet!). Baños, the town of natural thermal baths, smoking volcanoes, endless outdoor activities, not to mention it being the gateway to the amazon. After a lot of hours travelling on a scary bus, plus arriving at the wrong destination and having to get on another bus, first (second and third) impressions of Baños weren't quite as expected. Rain, dirty thermal pools, a hidden volcano that was out of bounds to tourists due to the poor weather and lots of outdoor activities...that were out of bounds due to the weather. So we ate lots, drank lots and wrote and re-wrote our calendar plan from then until our home date - could we squeeze in a 4 day trip to the amazon? I'm sure it will fit somewhere... Could we squeeze in a 4 day trip to Galapagos? Probably not according to the bank balance but shall we do it anyway?

Turns out that Baños wasn't really the gateway to the amazon either - we could travel an hour to Puya for a jungle day trip but we wanted the full overnight experience, for which we needed to make our own way to Lago Agrio, 10 hours away. I make Baños sound terrible, in fact we had a great time and I would highly recommend for anyone to visit - the people were so friendly, and when the weather is fine there are lots of things to do. It's a great place for a real feel of Ecuador life. By the next evening we were on our way to Lago Agrio, the same scary bus travelling overnight with 3am police checks in the street before finally arriving at 5am. We waited for a few hours feeling tired, grumpy, unclean and somewhat bemused by the lack of organisation but by 9.30am we were bundled onto our mini bus and taken to our river canoe to start our adventure. It seemed a little strange that there were no other tourists due to be at our lodge, only Charlotte, a lovely girl from Germany who would be staying at the lodge to volunteer for a while. After 2 hours travelling along the river in the rain, we made it to our camp 'Cayman Lodge' and before long we were back in the canoe heading to the lagoon to watch the beautiful sunset.

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We spent the next 4 days on what felt like a personal tour, no more tourists arrived and Charlotte had started her volunteering. It really was the real amazon experience we were looking for, our bedroom didn't even have windows - just an open space with a mosquito net over the bed to protect us from the jungle creatures. Our guide Washington took us out on a day walk - probably one of the worst experiences (for myself...Steve didn't seem to mind) given all the spiders including the Golden Silk Weaver below. Before heading back we had the chance to take a quick dip in the lagoon, this was a refreshing daily occurrence considering the sticky humidity. Unfortunately piranha fishing wasn't very fruitful except for the one fish we caught but it was a good thing we did it as the government is not that far from banning it. We felt lucky to have had the experience. Nighttime was filled with more jungle walks and cayman hunting in our canoe before being served a 3 course meal and retiring for bed by 10pm - with no electricity and no other tourists it became the best option! And also the best way to avoid the giant frogs that kept falling through the ceiling due to the rain. On the last day we traveled to visit a local community for a surreal shamen experience, shoot blow darts like the natives and learn how to make bread from Manatoka roots, the highlight though was definitely seeing the river dolphins on the way back - sadly not as social as traditional dolphins but awesome all the same.

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On the last day, Washington woke us as 5.30am and took us out in the canoe to hear the morning sounds and do some bird and monkey spotting. That moment, sitting in silence at sunrise in the middle of a deserted lagoon, the chorus of howling monkeys, various birds and cicadas around us, was one of the most amazing moments of our entire trip.

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Amazon adventure over, we spent the next couple days in Quito, frantically trying to find a good deal for Galapagos. The flights as standard were USD $400 per person and cruises, the usual mode of exploration, started at $600 for 4 days so we decided to take a risk by booking the flights and arranging the day trips ourselves when we got there. It was the right idea and within 12 hours we were flying to the protected Unesco World Heritage site of the Galápagos Islands. Sunshine and beautiful views greeted us and we spent the first day enjoying the town of Puerto Ayora. We even checked out the famous Charles Darwin Research Station known for it's conservation efforts across the islands. Then enjoyed the rest of the evening at the waterfront fish market where we bought the biggest, tastiest and freshest snapper, surrounded by begging sea-lions and pelicans awaiting the scraps.

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The next day we visited Isabela island, the largest in the archipelago, famous for its marine life. Following a very queasy boat journey, we debarked onto a beautiful beach, complete with sea-lions and marine iguanas who were completely unfazed by the surrounding humans. After spending the day seeing flamingoes, sea turtles and giant land turtles, we headed to a lava island just off the coast - dense black rock with no growing vegetation due to the harsh conditions and the best bit - hundreds and hundreds of these black iguanas, everywhere! From the island we could look down into the shallow sea to see reef sharks and stingrays and before we knew it we were in the water with them, snorkelling amongst the intimidating marine life. Reef sharks might be tame and harmless but when they are bigger than you and they look just like the vicious monsters your brain associates with danger, you start to panic!

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The next day we stayed on Santa Cruz island and hiked to Tortuga Bay, a beach known for its untouched beauty with the finest flour-like sand, the only thing spoiling the view was all the tourists! Our final day on Galapagos we headed to North Seymour island - a tiny lava island just 1.9 square kilometres. Small enough for us to walk around and take in the vast array of birdlife including the awesome blue footed booby and the magnificent frigate with its inflated red heartshaped gular pouch that expands on its chest to impress the ladies. Everything we saw on the Galápagos Islands blew our minds and the tame animals and birds were just incredible - it may not have been part of the original plan but visiting Galapagos was sure one of the best experiences of our whole trip. With just a few weeks and only 2 countries left, we flew straight to Colombia for our next adventure.

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Posted by moseyingmizuiks 05:51 Archived in Ecuador Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises birds sunset wildlife amazon galapagos ecuador lagoons cuyabena Comments (0)

Peru – A trail of Inca ruins, some sand and a lot of ceviche

semi-overcast 22 °C

It only took a short 15 minutes from Copacabana to cross the border into Peru. Then a short 6 hour bus journey to reach our fly-by destination of Puno. Nonetheless, we arrived around midnight and headed straight to our hostel (Lucky Your House Hostel) where we were greeted by the most helpful staff. They carried our bags, got us water from the shop down the road and even sorted out our miscommunicated tour instructions for the next day. With a little bit of shut eye, it was the beginning of our epic Peru adventure...

PUNO

Now Puno is a considered by most travellers to be a one-stop city with the Uros floating islands as its main attraction. The next morning we were ferried across on a short 30 minute boat ride across the 5km channel. After arriving at our assigned island, the family greeted us with a short song and dance routine before helping us disembark. Our tour guide then proceeded to give us a short description on their way of life by way of pointer and flipchart. We were then shown a family home made of none other than reeds which on queue they started to sell us their wares to us. The Uros history dates back a few hundred years when they settled on the islands as a defensive manoeuver from the conquering Incas on Lake Titicaca. It was at this time that they decided to build a community of sustainable islands made completely of the tortora plants’ dense roots and reeds. This may sound odd but once you see it you can only marvel at its complexity considering that the base of the islands can last upwards of 30 years. Don’t get me wrong the days of people living uniquely on these islands have since disappeared but the tour gave us a better understanding of how the Uros lived during that time. Admittedly though, even after reading about it online, we were still surprised how commercial it has become. It wasn’t long before another we were off the islands and back on shore ready to catch the next bus out of town.

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With our travel schedule tight we hailed one of the souped up tuktuks (by style...not speed) to the bus station with about 30 minutes to spare before our 1PM bus to Cusco departed. Hurried along by the staff, we found ourselves sitting in the front of the bus. It may not sound that bad only our-so-called ‘reserved seats’ were actually in the front sleeping cabin for the drivers. Before even realizing what was happening, we were piled into the most uncomfortable cramped position for what we were told would be the next 45 minutes which turned into 1hr20min! In amazing Spanish, Natalie was able to say her piece and make our drivers understand our predicament. To be honest it’s not like they cared but at least we finally got the seats we paid for at the front of the bus. Not that long after settling in, we were told that the bus company lied to the majority of the other passengers on the bus as well. The joys of South American bus travel continues!

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CUSCO

Finally arriving in Cusco, all we wanted to do by this point was to head straight to see the boys – Little Steve and Mikey. They booked to come over not only visit us but to complete the Inca trail too. We arrived just before they came back from completing their excursion. As excited as we were to see each other the boys were spent, all we could manage was a few words and a drink. That wasn’t before they warned us about the pain that lay ahead. The next morning we all went for breakie to properly catch up. It didn’t take long before that continued into the wee hours of the night. During that time, we had to go to our trekking briefing and pay off the remaining balance. This should have been the easy part except the guy in the office wasn’t the most helpful. Nonetheless, we were ready to tackle the beast ahead. This was not without firstly having to deal with a monster hangover the day before the trek. With that Mikey and Little Steve’s "never a dull moment" visit came to an end. Awesome! Thanks guys!

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INCA TRAIL

Day 1

The culmination of months of planning, mini treks and a dream was about to begin. Our bus picked us up at 6.30, driving us 2½ hours to reach the starting point in Ollantaytambo. During this time, our guides Alistair and Angel gave us a quick run-through on what to expect in the days ahead. This was also a good time for the 16 of us in our group to check our packs one last time before setting off. Those who had hired an extra porter (like us!) had to weigh up whatever they weren’t carrying to a max of 6kg and then stuff the rest in our own personal bags, which for the most part included snacks, jackets and spare clothes. This was no comparison to what our 22 porters had to carry - tents, sleeping bags and food with a max of 25kg on most. The first day of the trek was a short 12km hike across the Vilconota River through the Urumbamba Valley. We then followed the trail down to the Cusichaca River all the way to the extensive Inca ruins of Llactapata before stopping in the small village of Wayllabamba for the night. The best part was by the time we arrived our tents were up and a 3 course meal was ready to be served. Even though it was easier than expected on the first day, lights were out by 9.30pm.

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Day 2

The next morning we were woken to a cup of coca tea and a breakfast fit for kings. It was a good start to the day considering that we had to hike 1200m uphill. By this point, there were a few of us who were leading the group and were so aptly named “the wolfpack”...mostly due to my “Hangover” like beard. Thanks Alan! We moseyed alongside both the Llulluchayoc and Huayruro Rivers all the way to the 3680m midway point before stopping for a quick break at Llulluchapampa. Topping up with some more coca leafs, we climbed to “Abra de Huarmihuañusca” or more commonly known in English as “Dead Woman's Pass” at the 4200m mark. Breathing a little heavier, we crossed the misty cold pass and descended the steep trail to Pacamayo all the way back down to 3600m. Once again we arrived to a set up campsite and a warm cheering welcome from the porters. Our second day was now done with a further 12 km knocked off the trek.

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Day 3

Another 6am wake up was calling! Today was the longest day and the hardest, having to trek 15km over an ever changing terrain. The first part of day we climbed a steep 400m to reach “Abra to Runkuraycay” overlooking the Pacamayo valley. Hiking along we saw many snow-capped mountains dotting the horizon before reaching the “inaccessible town” of Sayacmarca. Some historians are still not sure why this settlement was built in the location it was and think that this was used as pilgrimage stop point before Machu Picchu. Following the trail we then passed through an impressive Inca tunnel carved in a rock onto our final descent down the “gringo killer”. And it surely is! This knee jarring exercise through the cloud forest should have had the best views but fog and rain clouded the supposed beautiful scenery. We continued onwards to the rightly named “town in the clouds” - “Phuyupatamarca” Inca ruins before reaching camp. This was an extra 90 minutes roundtrip but somehow still managed to beat everybody else back. It didn’t long for any of us to call it a night....after an extremely cold shower and another 3 course dinner we were all tucked in bed. It was probably a good thing considering we had to wake up for 3.30am on the last day!

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Day 4

Machu Picchu. This was the day we’ve all been waiting for. With only 5km’s to go we set off for the final checkpoint. We left the camp at 4.15am to ensure our porters could make their early train then had to wait in line with all the other groups until the gate opened at 5.30am. When the last gate finally opened it seemed that everybody was on a mission rushing to get there as quickly as possible. The last part of the trail was narrow, windy with sheer drops along the way. Not to forget the ridiculous “monkey steps” which you have to climb on all fours to get to the top. There was no time to slow down or even be out of breath...before you could even realize how far was left we arrived at the sun gate. The most epic view of all....Machu Picchu and all its glory was now upon us. The sun shining and low clouds hanging just above, gave us the most perfect view. By this time we started to notice the group-loads of people filling into the site. Scurrying down the final stretch, we managed to take the all-so-epic snaps. That wasn’t without getting easily irritated by the fresh smelling inconsiderate day-trippers who have just arrived on the train. It didn’t take much to forget about them and enjoy the surroundings. Our guide brought us around the site explaining its history. After touring the grounds for a good 5 hours, we took the bus down to Aguas Caliente. It’s a small town below MP, and where you need to catch the train back to Cusco. We stopped for lunch and few well deserved drinks, before waving our amazing guides Alistair and Angel a final goodbye. But first we needed to catch that train back to feel human again. Only that was easier said than done especially when the hostel we booked into didn’t have our booking. We’re not sure if it was our grumpy demeanour, looks could kill eyes or our unpleasant smell but we finally received the keys to our room. A little sore, tired and unbelievably proud...we sauntered into a dream wonderland!

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CUSCO part 2

The next day we tried to sleep in but woke at the crack of dawn considering all the early mornings we’d had over the last couple days. Not wasting any time, we walked around the city grabbing a bite to eat, buying souvenirs and stopping for a much deserved hour long massage. Then as we were planning our next couple days travel and as backpacking always goes, we somehow ran into our friends from the salt flats – Hamish and Neil. Having already planned to meet up with our friends from the trek, a great group of us headed for a night of great Peruvian food, drinks and the usual face painting...of course. The next morning wasn’t entirely pleasant not for the expected hangover but the raw half scrubbed face where the face paint wouldn’t come off. The day was filled with more cheap local grub from the San Pedro Mercado, some EPL football and the ever common goodbyes before our next stop. In 16 hours we would be in sandy southwestern Peru!

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HUACACHINA

Checked into our beautiful full cama bus (with TV’s behind each seat), we were on our way down the ever so windy road. Not that it mattered anymore about the TV’s what with being queasy and all, but the journey lead us to the land of sand dunes and sandboards. We got dropped off at the hostel and this being the main reason we travelled all this way, we signed up for the afternoon session. Having not much else planned for the day, we enjoyed what the town had to offer which wasn’t much. Only we have the chance to sample the local speciality and home of the Peruvian national drink...the “Pisco Sour”. Finally the time arrived for us to enjoy this natural desert oasis. All loaded up into the sand buggies, our driver crashes into the car behind him, not a great start! Along with the newly added dent/scratch, we went charging up the dunes. Jumping from one dune to the other, our limbs flailing and hearts racing, we finally make it to our first hill. Our boards are nothing more than a piece of wood with some plastic sheeting and Velcro straps. It wasn’t the greatest piece of equipment but with a little bit of candle wax smeared all over the bottom of the board...it’s good to go! And with that we were off down the hill...not perfectly...not gracefully...just down it. We managed to go down the same hill a couple times, climbed back up, down again, and then piled into the buggy moving on to the next hills. By the time we reached the last one, our boards were waxed out. Nevertheless, we made it down in one piece in time to zip across the “Atacama Desert” once more to see the sunset close out our day.

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MANCORA

7am. Once again we were up early to catch the next bus out of town. This time we were skipping the capital and heading straight to the northern beaches. The odd thing about Peru is that not all buses leave from the same place, as some of the companies have their own offices/stations. Since we couldn’t continue with the same company we had to taxi across town for our connecting bus. We had a short 3 hour stopover and decided that instead of carrying our bags around with us we would check them in...or so we thought. Having just enough time for a quick bite to eat, we were back on the bus heading for more sun and sand. 18hrs later we finally arrive in the very hot Mancora....only one problem....no bags. That’s right....the bags we thought we checked in weren’t checked in, they were being held. This wasn’t explained to us until we inquired and this is when were told that we had to tell them to release them before we left Lima to have them on the bus. We gave each other a few disillusioned looks before being reassured that our bags we would be on the next bus arriving tomorrow at 11. Deep breath! It was then we realized that we would have to spend the day in the same non-sun friendly clothes. We hailed a tuk-tuk and made our way to our hostel. In no time, our new amazing hostel friends offered us beach wear to fit in. Drink in hand; we could only laugh about the situation. Adam from the hostel gave us a quick tour of the town bringing us to the market and making us sample the best bakery in town. We then spent the afternoon on the beach sipping cocktails before heading back for a beach BBQ. The next morning we remembered we had no bags and rushed to the bus station hoping for them to arrive. The first bus came...no bags. Eeks! We talked to the girl at the desk and she reassured us that they will arrive. Another 30 minutes passed before the next bus pulled in; to our surprise our bags were delivered with everything intact. Wow, second time this trip! Relieved is an understatement and we were more than aware how lucky we have been. After 3 days of relaxing in the sun and a new skin tone on offer, we hopped on the overnight bus to central Ecuador. Adieu Peru! Thanks for being truly and utterly amazing!

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Posted by moseyingmizuiks 03:06 Archived in Peru Tagged beach ruins trek trekking inca_ruins machu_picchu friends sand cusco puno sandboarding mancora uros inca_trail porters floating_islands uros_islands uros_people desert_lagoon peru_beach food_market dune_buggy uros_floating_islands northern_peru Comments (0)

Bolivia - Old Ladies in Top Hats and a Death Road

18 °C

San Pedro de Atacama turned out to be a pleasant surprise considering we originally had no intention of going there, we ended up grateful for the border debacle! Armed with new friends, we booked our Salar de Uyuni trip then experienced a real Saturday night out in Northern Chile – an illegal desert party. It’s great when you meet friendly locals willing to take you there at 1am, not so great when you are ready to go home and realise you are in the middle of the desert! Let’s just say it was an interesting 2 hour walk home and the desert gets pretty cold after sundown! Thank goodness for the friendly local who took pity on us and escorted us all the way back to our hostel.

Soon enough we were setting off for our 3 day salt flat tour. Day one consisted of a very celebrated border crossing into Bolivia (finally!) and being split into groups of 6 – we were lucky to be teamed with Sam (Australian) and Willem (Dutch) who we had met in the previous week as well as Natalie and Manuel from Montreal – fate considering our near approaching plans. We drove through the desert to the white and green lagoons and to the natural hot springs – such a sight in the middle of the desert.

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Our guide wasn’t proving to be the greatest – his knowledge of the sights was limited and his willingness to contribute was zero. We even seemed to be fed less than the other groups, who would kindly have to donate their leftovers to us so we didn’t go hungry. Next stop was “Laguna Colorada” - the red lagoon in the southwest altiplano of the Andes. This was something we have always wanted to see! The water is red due to the algae living within and it attracts hundreds of flamingos that call it home.

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Day 2 and the lagoons were starting to look a little similar and our guide continued to lack gusto, but we did get to see trees formed from rocks and the well-known “Arbiol de Piedra”, Volcano Tunupa and play around on some unused train tracks! We even managed to catch a photo of this llama – in South America they wear these crazy colourful earrings so that their owner can identify them, it certainly made us chuckle!

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That night we stayed on the edge of Salar de Uyuni in a salt hotel – made top to bottom of salt – beds, chairs and tables included. Day 3, the final day, was an early start to see the sunrise over the salt flats – an amazing 10,582 square kilometres of salt for as far as you can see. We visited Cactus Island – a totally unexplainable island in the middle of the flats, full of the tallest Cacti you have ever seen.

Breakfast proved interesting when our friend Sam lost her camera and it was soon located in our wonderful guide’s pocket!! Happy that it was returned to its owner, but angry and unsure of how to deal with the situation, we headed (still with the guide driving us) to the main area of the salt flats for the obligatory tourist photos.

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Before arriving in Uyuni and jumping on a bus to La Paz (first impressions telling us to get out of Uyuni immediately), we visited the train graveyard, had some confrontations with the tour company and driver and some farewell drinks with friends.

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Our first impressions of La Paz were amazing. Arriving at 6am we saw the city lit up on hills around the centre of town that is situated in a valley. The Bolivian traditional dress worn by the women was incredible and so colourful – dressed to the nines in skirts, heels and top hats, usually 4 ft tall with no teeth – I think we mentally adopted at least 20 old ladies that first day!

We were in La Paz to tackle its death road – a 64km downhill mountain biking challenge on North Yungas Road, the world’s most dangerous road – named due to the sheer, unguarded drops next to the narrow and unpaved road you cycle on – not to mention the cars and blind spots. Starting at an altitude of 4800 metres, in the clouds and freezing cold, it took 4 hours to reach 1200 metres, ending in the humid jungle. The thrill when you finish can only be described as ‘thank goodness I survived!’. We were told that 27 tourists in all have died whilst attempting death road since 1995 and at least one a week injures themselves badly – usually with broken bones and every week there is a fatal accident involving a vehicle - Yungas Death Road. We celebrated being alive at a nearby hotel – eating, drinking and swimming with friends. The celebrating continued way into the night back in La Paz as we visited the favourite nightclub spot, Planet Hollywood – cheese central, and went on to a few other bars.

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The sunshine of Copacabana in northern Bolivia was calling so we rose early to do some final shopping in La Paz – the witches markets in particular. Overloaded shelves of animal brain, dried llama heads and pretty much anything else you can think of. We left the nice witches armed with some talismans to keep our family and friends safe and some llama placenta to guarantee smooth skin – don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it!

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We reached Copacabana that evening, just in time to see the sun set over the beautiful Lake Titicaca and it’s tacky swan pedalos. That evening we sampled some of best Bolivian food we have had so far (including llama and trout) at the posh restaurant "Rosario Del Lago". Over the next couple days in Copacabana, we trekked to the highest point for some amazing views, ate trout for less than $2 a meal and ceviche until our mercury levels likely hit the roof. After exploring the town, we stumbled upon on odd sight where the locals had started to line up their cars outside the church and began some extreme decorating – tinsel galore, confetti and flowers, it seemed too many cars for a wedding, so we started to enquire. Turns out this was a car blessing ceremony, a daily M.O.T. alternative to keep you / your car safe. Sure enough out comes the priest and blesses each car one by one, culminating in the owner showering their blessed vehicle with champagne and setting off firecrackers in celebration. Definitely one to remember when we buy our next car!

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No trip to Lake Titicaca is complete without a visit to “Isla del Sol” - the sun island, believed to be where the sun originated when found by the Incas. We took a boat to the north of the island and trekked our way to the south over 3-4 hours, seeing Inca sites along the way including the Sacred Stone (the sacrificing table) and remaining Inca houses. We bumped into friends we had made on death road, Jessie and Aiden (who also turned out to be on our Inca Trail in Peru!). Being the highest altitude lake in the world, we somewhat struggled with the thinner air and the steep uphill parts of the trek – enough to panic us about our capabilities for the Inca trail which was less than a week away!

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Next stop was crossing the border to Peru to begin our real Inca adventure...

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 20:31 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains trees trains landscape travel tours sunrise national_park bolivia la_paz inca salt_flats copacabana lake_titicaca isla_del_sol traditional_dress salar_de_uyuni Comments (0)

Argentina - 150hrs on a bus with a hint of steak and malbec

sunny 23 °C

BUENOS AIRES

We finally made it to Buenos Aires (now to be referred to as BA) after 30 long hours minus a small detour to Doha, Qatar. I mean we could have flown directly across from Cape Town in 11 hours; it’s just too bad we didn’t notice this minor detail until just before we left and it was already too late to change anything. Either way, we arrived in the land of steak and Malbec late on Sunday evening.

Only one problem...it was Easter weekend and nothing was open. And to top it off, BA experienced its worst flooding in over a 100 years with parts of the city and subway closed. This didn’t make it particularly easy to get around.

The next morning we woke up and walked around the city. The massive “Obelisco” stood tall in the middle of the famous 12 lane “Avenida 9 de Julio”. Being obviously distracted by this new Argentinian world, we actually wandered in the wrong direction for the best part of two hours before realizing we weren’t anywhere near the docks. We reviewed our ever trusty tourist map to get our bearings, and within a couple lefts and rights we ended up where we set off to go. We walked along the waterfront in “Puerto Madero” watching the locals taking a Sunday stroll in the rain. We then crossed over the harp shaped bridge walking our way closer to the centre of town where a number of historic buildings started to pop up. Our first sighting was the pink palace or “Casa Rosada” as the locals know it, made famous by “Don’t cry for me Argentina” Evita Peron. Just across the Plaza de Mayo the “Cathedral Metropolitana” and “Iglesia San Ignacio” fill out the square. Then only a bit further down the block the beautiful “Teatro Colon” made an appearance. It was about this time we finally stopped for some lunch and a well deserved drink.

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Again since nothing was open, it was hard to plan our next step. Our original plan was to take the ferry across to Montevideo in Uruguay. Only the next ferry wouldn’t be leaving until after Easter weekend. We didn’t want to stay too long in BA so we decided to explore the city for 2 more days until we had a firm plan in place.

We moved from our hotel in the centre of “District Federal” to “Palermo”. Palermo is a quirky neighbourhood with lots of art and restaurants - a real hipster haven. It’s too bad our hostel didn’t exactly live up to this reputation. The hostel was filthy and full of locals who kept to themselves. We didn’t exactly get a great first impression! We soon set out again to view the area, only you need money to do this and our bank wasn’t exactly cooperating. We tried 12 different ATM’s before success and we were told that it’s not uncommon for our money dispensing friends to run out of money. It was a good thing we had just enough cash to keep us going until the next day before we could sort ourselves out. Another wine was in order!

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Bank issues now forgotten, we had another issue to contend with. This time Natalie woke up to bites covering her feet and ankles. It didn’t seem like much at first but we would soon learn otherwise. By this time, we headed to the bus station to figure out our travel options. Within a few minutes we decided to forego Montevideo and Iguazu Falls for now and head south to Patagonia. After a bit wrangling going from one bus company to another, our tickets were booked to El Calafate for the next evening. This left us with the next day and a half to explore the districts of Palermo and Recoleta.

Winding our way through the now bustling streets of BA, we had heard of a not so Argentinian institution known for its unique fugazetta pizza. More on that cheesy creamy onion goodness in the next food update. All filled up, we made our way to the posh part of town to check out the grand “Cementario de la Recoleta”. This is one of the most ornate cemetery’s you can imagine with tombstones the size of large monuments dedicated to their long lost loved ones. Some of these spots are so old and coveted to come by that people are willing to sell these plots off. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that but I guess it’s an acceptable type of recycling. Being pushed out the gates of resting dead, the “Museo de Arte de Latino de Buenos Aires” was our last stop. This “Tate-like” museum in style not size, highlighted some of the new art coming out of South America. It was now at this time that Natalie’s ankles and feet were starting to swell and we decided there was no better solution but to treat ourselves to our first authentic Argentinian parilla. This is one of the main reasons it would be difficult to be a vegetarian in this country! We were told to go to a couple places near to where we were staying but we ended up at the local resto down the road from the hostel. What would have normally been an expensive meal turned out to be the cheapest meal we could have ever imagined. Apparently, the “blue market” is must know knowledge for every traveller in Argentina. It’s the secret exchange of non-existent American dollars where you get an amazing rate of 7.5 to 8.5 pesos for every dollar when the printed rate is just 5. A meal of a massive rib eye steak to share, a couple sides and a bottle of malbec ended up costing a whole $2 with the magical exchange rate. Oh yes indeed! Not only was it delicious but we soon found out that this cambio is available anywhere...actually it will find you.

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With Natalie’s ankle-feet-gate making it´s mark, our last day was spent stopping in cafes and restaurants enjoying the last bits that BA had to offer. Including our first taste of their famous Alfajores (something which would become a staple of our daily diet)!

PATAGONIA

Goodbye BA! And hello 40hr bus ride to Patagonia. The landscape was great at first, only it was barren land that got repetitive very quickly including the extremely straight road ahead. I’m still not sure how the driver stays awake! Now even though we didn’t have a direct bus there, we got to experience our first luxurious coach experience with a 3 course meal and glass of wine to boot. That was until we had a 4hr stop-over in Rio Gallegos then continued east for another 5 hours until the snow peaked destination of El Calafate.

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EL CHALTEN

With such a long bus journey now behind us, we now had to pay a special visit to the hospital to tend to Natalie’s ankles. After an initial payment of $20, there was no exact reason given for her ailment except for an extreme bad reaction to whatever bit her. However, even with our broken spanglish the doc was able to prescribe a week of antibiotics and advised her to rest her feet for a couple days. This gave us enough time to book up the 3 things we came all this way to do...including the not so foot/ankle friendly hiking.

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Our first stop took us to El Chalten for 2 days. Another 4 hour bus later, we arrived at the base of one of the most southern parks of Argentina. This park is home to numerous hikes including one that leads to the majestic Mt. Fitzroy. When we first arrived we went straight to the park ranger’s office to get a map of all the walks available to us, grabbed our packs and headed straight to the hostel to get settled in. Within minutes Natalie was all bandaged up and we were back out the door heading on first trek called the Laguna Torre. It’s a 22km round trip trek and it was already 1pm by the time we started. It wasn’t too long before we befriended this American guy named Keith who joined us for the walk too. The trail brought up and down through the lower end of the range, across rivers and through a valley of dead trees before being we climbed over this rocky pass leading us to a jaw dropping Glacier Lake. We enjoyed the view and some lunch before making our way back. We even celebrated with a chug of some of the purest water you could imagine coming directly from the glaciers. Don’t worry its safe! That’s what the rangers told us anyways. Ankles and feet in check, we marched our way back in record time. It was an early night to say the least! The next day we woke up at the crack of dawn to get started on the big Fitzroy trail (Laguno de los Tres), only the weather didn’t cooperate this time with wind and rain scuttering our original plan. To make up for it, we did 3 short treks around the outer edge of town including Las Aguillas, Los Condores and Chorrillo del Salto. A combined 40kms later and a few steps in between, we reluctantly waved adieu to the beautiful El Chalten.

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PERITO MORENO GLACIER

The very next day we were up early again. With not much time to rest, a bus picked us directly from our hostel en route to the Perito Moreno glacier, part of the Glaciers National Park. While most glaciers are receding at an alarming rate, it’s one of the only continuously growing glaciers in the world. At over 35km long, 5km wide and 60m high it still manages to move at a mindboggling 2m per day. To get the full experience, we signed up for the mini trek which includes a boat ride across the face of the glaciers, a walk across the glacier itself and access to the viewing platform to give you a different perspective of this ginormous ice mass. This for us was one of the things we really wanted to see more than anything and it did not disappoint.

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As we arrived, you could see small icebergs floating in the lake holding the Moreno Glacier. When we got out of the van the air was crisp, cold and refreshing all at the same time. When we finally started moving across on the boat, the air was a frozen fog hugging the front of this white, almost blue, glacier. All you could hear is this massive ice cube cracking when nothing looked to be happening. It took another good hour or so before the sun came out. By this time we had already had our briefing from our guides and made our way to the base of the glacier after a small walk through the forest. It wasn’t too long before we heard the first crack and splash of the first chunks of glacier hitting the water. I can’t even describe to you the sensation! With our crampons now strapped on, we were ready to take our first steps onto the ice. A bit wobbly at first, you get stuck in and follow the guide up. Pushing those crampons with each step you take you start to notice the crevasses, holes, dirt and water flows cutting through the ice. After a good 2 hours of trekking on it, we stop and enjoy a surprising glacier whiskey cap. Unstrapped, we made our way back to the boat for slow drive by in front of the face of the glacier. With the sun beating down on it all you can hear is shifting, cracking and more chunks falling from it. We made our way to the viewing platform which shows us the grandioseness of it. The ice is so much bigger than you could ever imagine. There are so few words to describe the sheer scale of it! And with that, that wrapped up another day in southern Argentina.

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TORRES DEL PAINE (CHILE)

Once again another early morning was beckoning! A 5am wakeup call is never pleasant, especially after 3 continuous days on the go. This time it was to a place we planned on spending more than just a day there but with schedules tight and unhealthy feet we couldn’t afford to do the “W” trek, let alone explore southern Chile properly. This one day trip was better than nothing, only we’re not sure if we would suggest people to take this option.

We travelled just under 5hrs to get a glance of one of the Andes most popular attractions. Torres del Paine has two giant granite pillars which reach a height of over 2800m. When you first set your eyes on this range the towers and white caps just stick out. Following the road inland, we stopped at Lago Sarmiento for our first photo op with the mountain sitting nicely in the background. From there we headed south to Mirador Condor before stopping at Salto Chico. The milky water from the glaciers filled this small quaint set of waterfalls all the way through from Lago Toro to Lago Grey. The mountains hide for a few brief moments before reappearing one last time. Sadly, we only caught a tiny glimpse of this spectacular range before making it home late that night.

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CORDOBA

After an action packed 40hrs of sitting on a bus, we arrived in Argentina’s second largest city. Bags on our backs, we walked to our hostel at 7am in the hope they would allow us in. Luckily enough, we managed to rid ourselves of the random stray dogs in time and get a room immediately. Unfortunately for us, we arrived on a Sunday with not much open. This is looking to be the norm anywhere we go and going by the Argentinian way of things it should get going only later on that evening.

We passed the day stopping by the main square of Plaza San Martin to people watch, then worked our way to the “Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emillio Caraffa” which features a changing collection of modern art. After our small intake of culture for the day we were told of the weekly “Paseo de las Artes” which happens every Sunday near Canada Street by the canal. Great name for a street really! It’s stall after stall of arts, crafts and food. The market is filled with gringos and locals alike checking out what’s on offer. Even after being distracted for a few moments doing our bit to support the market, we could not help but notice the fact that all Argentinians love a good cup of the local herb tea ´Mate´. During our people watching session during the day and again now, it was common to see people sipping away, filling and refilling their drinks in the square, the parks and in the market itself. The reason I mention this is that there was a massive array of speciality ´mate´ cups, straws and thermos holders. It was an art all by itself!

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The next day we were hoping to meet with our Cordobian friend Francisco who we met in Ethiopia in January. In the meantime, we headed to the plaza to check out the very old “Santa Iglesia Catedral de Cordoba”. This remarkable building dating back to 1577 is complemented by its various styles added by a number of architects through the ages. Having worked up a bit of an appetite by this point, we stopped in the local mercado to check out some of the local foods on offer. For a few brief moments, we lost ourselves testing out the free samples on offer. It wasn’t long before we needed a quick shot of coffee to keep us going and check our emails one last time. Sadly, our local guide Francisco was away on business and wouldn’t be back until the next day. Not being able to stick around too long, we decided to go to Mendoza that night. Tickets booked, we were on our way to the home of Malbec wine.

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MENDOZA

Back on another night bus, this time only a short 10 hours ride we arrive in Mendoza at 8am. Only knowing the address of our hostel, we ask the tourist information person to direct us there with our new city map. He also points out that we arrived just in time for wine week and that international Malbec day is the next day. In which case, the city which produces more than 60% of the country’s wine will be holding a celebration to mark the occasion. Planning complete and information in hand, we set off to find our new home for the next couple days. Only that’s easier said than done. It didn’t take long before an old man on street noticed us looking a little lost. Alfredo was kind enough to walk us all the way to the front door. Checked in, we were now ready for the wine!

Well almost ready, we still had to book up for our bus in two days time. It’s only too bad that when we went to reserve our seats we were told that the bus was sold out and we wouldn’t be able leave until the day after next. Slightly delayed, the Bolivian border was only a few days away.

Our first trip in this lovely city would be to the outskirts of town to do a bit of winery hopping. We literally crossed the road from our hostel and jumped on the 173 bus. Or so we thought! We tried once, then twice...but each time we asked the driver he would say he wouldn’t be going to that area even though it was the right bus number. A lovely old lady who spoke extremely quick Spanish, of which we only just got the jist of, was able to help us out since she herself was taking the same bus as us. And to top it off she explained to the driver where we needed to get off! 45 minutes later we were dropped off in front of Mr. Hugo’s bike rentals. Within minutes we were greeted, offered a drink, fitted on our bikes, given another map and offered a piece of advice before peddling off. He told us that “remember...if you get stopped by the police please be sure to call me. I’ll sort it out.” It was a bit on the worrying side that he would say that but he was honest enough to tell us that there were a couple issues recently with police and cyclists. With that we cycled away to our first stop down the road. This brought us to the “Olive Place” where we did a tour of the estate. We had the chance to try different oils, dips and speciality alcohol (including tobacco, massala, dulche de leche, etc.) all made on site. We got on our bikes a second time aiming to go Tomasso winery a few kilometres down the road. Only we missed it by a long way and ended up peddling about 40 minutes past it before turning back. When we finally made it back I realized I had actually taken a picture only a few metres from the entrance. So frustrating! Thirsty from our journey our first tasting wasn’t as enjoyable as hoped considering our grumpy sommelier. We quickly sipped up and peddled to winery number two. Mevi the most picturesque and best tasting wine was next, followed by the rustic family run Vino Elarno to finish off. We were even given a bunch of grapes as we were leaving. A little merrier than when we arrived, we dropped off our bikes and got on the next bus back to town.

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The next day was international Malbec day and we couldn’t be in a better place to celebrate. There was entertainment in the main square (which we missed through bad timing) but noticed that all the water in the fountains in town were dyed “roja”. Now if only you culd actually drink it!? The day continued with wine tasting of our own...stopping for a bottle at lunch, then another and a couple more before the day ended and that was before the official wine tasting in the square that evening. For 20 pesos we were each given a glass and then proceeded to go around the different tables tasting almost every Malbec on offer. Before going to bed we raised our glasses one more time for Malbec! Sweet dreams indeed... or for at least a few hours until our next bus to the Bolivian border.

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Another early start...28hrs later we made it to La Quiaca. This small border town offers not much more than a gateway to Bolivia. And within 20 minutes after arriving we learned that this gateway was closed. The Argentinian side was open; it was just that the Bolivian teachers were protesting wages and forced the border to close. Actually, it had already been shut for 3 days before we got there on the Friday and after talking to the guards they said it was to stay that way until at least the Tuesday after. Ouch! Unsure what to do, we started talking to some of the other travellers on the border. Within a few minutes five of us were on our way to get the next bus out of town in hopes of crossing the border through Chile. We arrived at 11.15am and by 1pm we had already said “hasta la vista” to La Quiaca.

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Our next stop was Jujuy, the only connecting city in the north to all other destinations. After another 6 hours on the bus, we arrive and scramble to find out when the next bus will be. No luck...as we’re told the next bus is in two days time. A bit deflated we have no other choice but to stay the night before figuring out our next step. Unfortunately, we go from hostel to hostel without any luck as no rooms are available anywhere. Until the last hostel we stopped at called around and found somewhere for us to stay. Oddly enough as we were leaving we noticed that there was a bus company office in the front. As luck would have it...the one company we couldn’t find at the bus station is the one which is leaving at 8am. We all booked up within seconds. The next morning we were finally on our way to Bolivia via Chile. That was of course after we started to worry when our bus didn’t show up on time. We scrambled around once again asking everybody in sight, only to find out that the bus was to arrive as otherwise scheduled at 9.30am. Packed and boarded...we were off to San Pedro!

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 01:54 Archived in Argentina Tagged church bus argentina iglesia wine buenos_aires border_crossing winery mendoza cordoba patagonia perito_moreno steak el_chalten torres_del_paine bus_journeys malbec Comments (0)

Fast Food...au style Afrique!

sunny 25 °C

After passing through 10 countries and eating our way through each one a little bit at a time, here’s a quick recap of what each country had to offer. Don’t get me wrong, it may not be as exotic as you would hope but seriously this is some of the best and or more interesting tasting food we have experienced along the way.

Lake Navaisha – Fried Tilapia topped with maranara-esque sauce, with wilted spinach and chips

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The fish was fried to almost tough but I’ve now realized that this is how most fish will be served from any vendor. Mind you I was surprised enough to see a vegetable included when it came with spinach, let alone the chips. The sauce wasn’t spicy but more tangy and somehow brought it all together.

Lake Bunyoni – Crayfish Massala with rice and sweet potato

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We literally stumbled upon this little makeshift restaurant in a little village market by the lake. We were going stall to stall then John (the owner of the kitchen) invited us in to take a seat. There were only 2 items on the menu – crayfish massala and a beef stew. For $2 we enjoyed the huge serving of this gooey sweetly spiced massala. It tasted so fresh that John even told us he had caught the crayfish that morning from the lake. Delicious!

Zanzibar

We were told that you can get some of the best seafood on this small island extension of Tanzania. However this is only partly true. When it’s done right, it’s good....when it’s overcooked, it’s bad! There were of course a couple exceptions to this.

Seafood Calzone

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We tried this when were staying at a hostel in the north part of the island. The calzone arrived pleasantly plump, brimming with calamari, prawns, fish and mussels, all smothered in tomato sauce and cheese. The perfect afternoon snack by the sea!

Fish Biriyani and Fried Fish Curry with Ugali

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We were brought to this local restaurant by our guide. It didn’t look like much but there were loads of locals filling the tables. There were 3 menu items for each chicken, beef and fish dish. We decided on two of the fish options – Fish Biriyani and Fried Fish curry with Ugali.

The fish biriyani had nice flavour running through it, tender fish but a bit on the bony side. The rice made up for it though as it was the fluffiest rice we had to date. The fried fish curry on the other hand was a bit confusing. It was more a spicy-ish soup sauce than a curry. And the fish pieces were fried beyond death.

Zanzibar Pizza (Nightime fish market)

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This small little dish is not like your regular pizza. We were told by whoever went to the Forodhani night market to try one. The guy beats this small ball of dough until stretching it paper thin. He then spreads this cheese paste across the bottom, fills it in with any toppings you like (we opted for the prawn and calamari) then tops it with an egg. It is then closed up like a parcel, brushed with ghee and placed to cook on the grill. Five minutes later the creamy ooze of egg and cheese exit the pastry into our bellies. One of the best little snacks we’ve ever had!

Botswana Doughnut

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This little golden ball of dough might not seem like much but it sure is tasty. I happened to try this doughnut whilst I was doing the boat-walk-donkey beer run in a small village near the Okavango delta. This baseball size doughnut was moist, sweet and so easy to bite into. And it only cost 20cents!

Zimbabwe – Alligator bunny-chow

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We weren’t really sure what this was when we first ordered it as our server couldn’t explain it very well. All we understood that it was something local. When it arrived on the plate it looked like not much else than a torn out piece of bread with grey pieces in an orange sauce. Looks can be deceiving, and the curry type sauce smothered the tender pieces of crocodile with all the sauce soaking into the bread. A rare bite of spice which did the trick!

Johannesburg – Kota with Achtar

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This was pretty much identical to the bunny-chow served before only this had its true South African identity attached. Our kota was bought from a small vendor during our tour of Soweto and had a couple additions to make it their own. Instead of the usual curry filling soaking into the bread...chips, sausage and cheese filled it in then topped with Atchar. Atchar is similar to a mango chutney but completely different in it’s sweet-tangy-spicy taste and fine texture. Now what makes this snack so interesting it the fact it was actually inspired by the Indian community during the apartheid regime, as they were not allowed in certain shops and cafes and so the shop owners found a way of serving the people through back windows, etc. This was an easiest and most effective way to serve the workers.

Durban – Mozambique Chilli Prawns

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Prawns-smawns! You would think that anybody can cook up a decent batch...well these were some of the best shelled pink crustaceans we’ve ever tasted. The prawns were cooked to such tender perfection. Then the buttery beer sauce coated each one with the right amount of smokey chilli intensity. The best part was that it came with a few pieces of pita to soak up the leftover spicy goodness!

Durban – Carpaccio of Beef and Smoked Ostrich

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This is quite a tasty dish when made with the right ingredients. And this was only done half right! This dish usually consists of raw meat, fish or veg which is thinly sliced or pounded thin. Natalie ordered this as neither of us had ever tried Ostrich Carpaccio before. Sadly, the ostrich wasn’t smokey or as flavourful as expected. On the other hand, the beef was tender, juicy and very tasty.

Durban – Trio of salmon: ceviche, fried, smoked

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A trio of champions! What’s not better than salmon 3 ways...a bit of citrus, butter and smoked makes for one amazing meal! Enough said.

Durban – Tikka Klipklip wrapped in filo pastry

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Another first...this time trying the South African Kingklip. A distant relative of the eel family, this thick meaty white fish can be somewhat compared to cod. Only this dish was anything from ordinary. The fish was wrapped in thin filo pastry, the topped with creamy tikka sauce. It was just missing a few vegetables to make it all come together. Succulent is the only word that can describe it!

Cape Town – Largest oyster ever!

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I heart oysters! And this one topped them all combined. We stumbled upon this stall in the “Victoria & Alfred” waterfront in Cape Town. This 12cm long slimy sea tasting shellfish took about a minute to open and all but 10 seconds to devour. No oyster would be complete without a bit of tabasco, lemon or red wine and shallot vinaigrette. If you are ever in SA make sure to go to the docks or to the source in the Western Cape. Best oyster ever!

Stellenbosch – Bobotie with rice and veg

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The national dish of South Africa is a delicious mixture of curried mince meat and dried fruit with a creamy golden egg mixture topping. It may sound a bit odd but I was told on our wine tasting tour day that this was a traditional Afrikaans dish. And it didn’t disappoint! I broke through the soft but slightly crispy top with ease before reaching the fruity meat mixture down below. What surprising mix of flavours!

Kalk Baai – Snoek and chips

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It would seem like any other fish and chips except that the snoek is only found in the waters of the southern hemisphere. It can grow up to 200cm long, weigh up to 6kg and has 2inch bones. Ouch! Luckily enough, the one you see was cut down to size to fit on my plate. When I first crunched down on the crust the fish just fell off the bone. That first bite then reminded me of the oily flavour of mackerel. Plus, you had the option of dipping the fish and chips in 3 different sauces including tartare, aioli and achtar. Thanks Dee and Errol for sharing this local gem!

Kalk Baai – Chocolate vodka martini

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This is not your normal martini you get in bar...it’s a guilty sinful pleasure you will need to repeat once you tried it once! It’s everything you want but shouldn’t have. A buttery chocolate mix with vodka then topped with swirls of cream. There’s not much more to say...just drink it!

Cape Town – Amarula Ultimate Gold Chocolate Cake (Charley’s Bakery)

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This was the special of the day when we went. Amarula the South African cream liqueur was mixed in instead of the usual Baileys. A dense but moist chocolate cake topped with a caramel icing then topped with gold leafing and a few rose petals. Divine is one way to describe it, disgustingly good is another!

Cape Town – Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (Charley’s Bakery)

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Now if you thought that martini was chocolate enough then be prepared for the most indulgent cake ever tasted. This chocoholics dream has 3 layers each of angel cake, mousse and ganache. What!? Exactly. It should come with a sugar induced coma warning. I can't even put a few words together to say how mouth-watering good it was.

This was some of Africa’s food in a nutshell. Obviously, there are probably quite a few dishes you have tried or tasted before only some of these have been changed to satisfy the tastes and flavours of the different regions. This of course is only a handful of the mostly amazing delicious food we tasted along the way. Sadly, we also stuffed down other foods into the deeps of our bellies before we could even take a picture. That’s enough food talk....maybe a South American blog is needed...yes that’s it!

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 09:03 Tagged food africa Comments (0)

South Africa – 4 friends, a Mercedes, sharks and a 211m jump

25 °C

We made it to our hostel in Johannesburg a little disappointed – miles out of the way therefore a fortune in a taxi and no mod cons or wifi as we were expecting – nevertheless, it suited our biggest requirements – a much needed cleaning and a relaxing time doing nothing!

It soon became apparent that Jo’burg was going to be more of a challenge to explore than we had expected. You hear the horror stories about its title of ‘the world’s most dangerous city’ and the precautious measures created by locals make private chauffeuring a lucrative business. Nobody lives in downtown Jo’burg, even businesses have moved to the suburbs – Sandton being the most sought after neighbourhood. Unfortunately, this means that all hotels are in the surrounding areas (including ours), tourist attractions are spread out and public transport is not advisable. We had to pay $80 USD for a driver to escort us for an afternoon of trips – bus station to pick up tickets for the next day’s adventure with Leonie and Harriett, the Apartheid museum and then to the shopping centre near our hotel so that we could go to the cinema – a luxury that we were pretty excited for. First stop complete, we headed to the apartheid museum (possibly the ‘hardest to navigate’ museum ever) – the South African story is a troubled and sad one and some of the things we learnt in that museum have haunted us ever since. Apartheid is the segregation of races introduced by the government that escalated out of control over decades. A lot of the museum focuses on Nelson Mandela’s plight to fight Apartheid for which he spent 27 years in jail, then his successful admission to presidency in 1994 when all Apartheid laws were finally lifted. Our driver waited in the car park for us the whole time which we felt guilty for (not that guilty at $80 though). Next stop cinema and the driver decided to hold our return journey ransom for another $20 USD and at that stage there wasn’t much we could do if we wanted to ensure a safe ride back so we paid up and made arrangements for our collection. Of course when the time came, the driver was an hour late but we were just grateful to not be left stranded.

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The next day was Friday and one that we had been looking forward to for a long time, we were finally meeting Leonie and Harriett – something we had all talked about since last year. But before that, time to squeeze in one more tour before departing Jo’burg. We really wanted to visit Soweto – a township created as part of the Apartheid in 1963. The Internet told us that our best option was Pieter Strydom, a local tour guide who ran daily trips into Soweto (www.bigsixtoursafaris.com). The tour was amazing and Pieter was wonderful and extremely informative, we were driven around the city taking in some local landmarks before heading into Soweto. Admittedly, we were expecting extreme poverty, maybe for the town to look a little like places we had seen in Africa but what we saw surprised us – lengths of wealthy property in and around the poorer areas, huge smiles and welcoming waves from the locals – in fact this seemed the most welcoming and safest area in jo’burg so far! After driving slowly past Nelson Mandela’s house (he was home, between his short break from hospital), we visited a museum called the Hector Pieterson Museum which told the story of the 1976 student riots and Soweto uprising against the introduction Afrikaans as a language in schools – 400 people were killed during the uprising and it was then we realised that most of the museums we had visited in the entire of Africa had told devastating and harrowing stories – some in the years since we were born and how lucky we should think ourselves. We were able to visit a school and were welcomed into local homes so we could understand how they lived. Pieter was kind enough to drop us at the main train station where we excitedly greeted Leonie and Harriett. The initial shock of Steve’s beard out of the way, we caught up over a few drinks and headed for our 14 hour sleeper train journey to Durban on the Shosholoza (www.shosholozameyl.co.za).

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The train was more comfy that we had imagined although we swear that journey could have taken 5 hours and not 14 if it hadn’t stopped at so many places and for so long! For those 14 hours, we chatted, ate, drank wine and slept in our make shift bunk beds. We arrived early in Durban and next step was to rent a car – assuming it would be easy to do when we stepped outside of the train station – of course we were wrong. Leonie spotted a car showroom so we stopped in to ask them to point us in the right direction – before we knew it, they were letting us use their internet, giving us drinks and taking us around the city in their car from rental place to rental place – sometimes these unexpected acts of kindness can restore your faith in humankind! We picked up our new car – a Hyundai Elantra and decided to stay the night in Durban to get our bearings before beginning the road trip in the morning. That afternoon we walked along the beachfront and in the evening we treated ourselves to dinner at The Cargo Hold – a restaurant with a showpiece tank of sharks from the aquarium.

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Early morning, we headed to the stadium which was one of the host venues during the 2010 World Cup. We then rode a cable car to the top for beautiful views across the city. Harriett was first up to drive and off we went, destination Coffee Bay! We thought that this was a journey that would take us 4, maybe 5 hours so you can imagine how surprised we were to still be driving at 8pm! We soon learnt that the colour difference between roads on the map was there for a reason and we needed to stick to the blue ones. Unfortunately for the last 80km we didn’t have a choice, it was a red road all the way – Harriett did an awesome job of getting us there in one piece, despite the hazards on the roads – potholes, animals, people – by the time it was dark, each of us had our own duties to help spot oncoming hazards and it turned into a pretty funny game. Funny until a van came racing up behind our car, swerving us into a pothole and blowing the front tire. All of a sudden its 8pm, pitch black and Steve and Harriett are changing the tire (Leonie and I were needed to hold the light, oh and scare away the rabid looking dog), there are intimidating and unhelpful locals wandering around us and we only had 4km to go. We arrived at the hostel around 9pm following our unexpectedly eventful day and went for food and a couple drinks, then rested up for whatever adventures the next day would bring us. When we woke, we took a few hours to swim in the sea and take in the beautiful scenery of this small little bay named after an apparent ship wreck who lost its cargo of coffee beans, before heading on our way. It was only when driving the route in daylight we realised that ‘tire-gate’ had actually happened right outside a prison and near a cliff edge – some things are better unknown. Avis had told us that they couldn’t do a straight swap of tires, we had to pick up a completely different car so that determined our next stop – East London airport where our replacement Elantra was waiting for us. But of course it wasn’t, they didn’t know anything about the conversation we had had with them earlier that day and asked us to wait whilst they tried to find a solution. We patiently waited, hoping that this wasn’t going to turn into a nightmare when the sales assistant called us over “sorry about the mix up, they are just driving your Mercedes around” – we were ecstatic, a Mercedes? All desperately nominating ourselves as driver, we drove away from the airport to find our hostel in our brand new Merc. I won’t be ungrateful and talk about how it was actually smaller than the Elantra and harder to fit all our bags in... One thing was for sure, we looked like the most pretentious backpacker’s that ever travelled, “we’ll have your cheapest dorm room please, oh and do you have a parking space for our Merc?”

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The next day was a big day; we had a lot of miles to cover and a very important challenge for Harriett and Steve to conquest on the way – The Bloukrans Bungee! On the road at 6am, making good time we decided to stop off when we saw some beautiful sand dunes in the distance – turns out it was EC Woody Park a part of the Addo National Park and totally worth the short detour.

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We made it to the bungee site, Harriett seeming a bit more composed than Steve at this stage – as soon as we got there, the two of them were raced to get ready and start the daunting 10 minute bridge climb to the jumping platform. Leonie and I were obviously very disappointed that we couldn’t jump but we were taking one for the team and looking after the bags. The Bloukrans Bridge is the highest bridge bungee in the world at 211m – 718ft and the guys smashed it! Calming the adrenaline with a beer after the jump, we were surprised to see Harriett’s parents turn up – not that strange as they were in SA for their son’s wedding, same reason Harriett and Leonie were there – but strange because they had no idea that we would be there or that their daughter was throwing herself off the bridge they were driving over. After some catching up, we headed to Plettenburg Bay where we were staying with Rob, the father of the aforementioned bride. Rob was so welcoming and really made us feel at home, we felt relaxed for the whole evening and were treated to some real home comforts, including a stunning sundowner at the Viewpoint Restaurant across Plett Bay. The next day we went to the beach for some relaxing time in the morning and Leonie and Harriett headed to the local National Park for some safari action in the afternoon. We bid a fond and thankful farewell to Rob and headed to the next base stop along the Garden Route – Knysna. We had decided that we needed a night out and what better way to get a bit tipsy than a game of Kings / Ring of Fire – within a few hours we were all very drunkenly tucked up in bed, unfortunately the game took all of half hour to affect us...some more than others.

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Hangovers intact, our next stop was Mossel Bay for some beach and seafood action before the long drive to Cape Aguilhas, the most southern point of Africa – we made it just in time for sunset so took some time to enjoy our surroundings before getting back on the road to drive to Hermanus ready for our shark adventure the next day.

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The next morning, Harriett, Steve and I were out of the door at 6am for our shark cage diving adventure whilst Leonie chilled by the pool. The location was Gansbaai and following a short brief we were off on the boat to look for some Great White Sharks. One thing they forgot to mention was an incident from the day before, in fact we didn’t know about this until we had returned from the water – probably for the best (news article: http://tinyurl.com/bmyja5r http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGsdIrlrSi8). Shark-attacking-cage incident aside, we were pretty excited when we caught sight of our first great white, the companies use chum as bait to lure the sharks in – a method very frowned upon around the world because it allows the sharks to associate humans with food and many people say that shark attacks have increased since these diving tours started. Nevertheless, after our moment of guilt passed we were doing it. Wetsuits on, we lowered ourselves into the cage, the guides would shout ‘down’ when you needed to hold your breath and duck to catch a glimpse of these enormous creatures. The second time the three of us were in the water, the guides started talking about how they hadn’t seen this particular shark before which was a little unnerving, especially when it started circling the cage and completely ignoring the bate – the guides were asking us what we were doing to interest the shark so much, we were pretty happy to get back on the boat that time.

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Shark excitement over, Cape Town was calling to be our home for the next week – the longest we had stayed in one place for almost 3 months. We returned the car and checked into our hostel to get ready for our night out in De Waterkant where we were meeting Leonie’s beautiful friends (not before we finished off 1kg prawns each!).

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Unfortunately, Harriett was leaving us the next day to go back to London so we waved her off and continued our lazy hangover day by doing nothing, now a threesome for the next week. We made it out on the hop on, hop off sightseeing bus and played good tourists, visiting the waterfront and food markets – Cape Town is really stunning! We were lucky enough to know some locals from our Africa Tour, Jono and Lara, who were kind enough to take us and our other ATC friend Immy to Stellenbosch, the famous wine region of Cape Town – we spent the day visiting different wineries, tasting beautiful wines in the sunshine and catching up on our amazing trip together before stopping off in a quaint little town, Franschoek to see off the evening with a shot of melted chocolate.

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Tuesday morning, Steve and I took a tour to Robben Island, the famous prison island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 year sentence. We were thrilled to be guided around the prison by an actual ex-prisoner, sentenced similarly for his opposition to Apartheid. We met with Leonie and headed to the beach – another reason why Cape Town is so amazing! Our friend from Friday night Wendy came to join us on the beach and was the perfect city hostess, taking us to the best lunch spot and then onto a striking lookout point at Chapmans Peak before heading to Twelve Apostles Hotel to watch the most golden sunset of all time over a glass of wine – thank you Wendy for such a wonderful day!

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As Leonie had previously stayed with Dee (mother of the bride) and Errol for the wedding, they had been kind enough to offer their home to us for a couple of nights, just outside of Cape Town in Plumstead. As soon as we arrived we were made to feel at home, Errol fed us with his amazing homemade biltong (dried beef – a common South Africa snack) and we were treated to a home cooked meal with the family that evening – again, so wonderful to meet such kind and hospitable people when you are travelling to make you feel like you are at home for a couple days. As we were south of Cape Town, it made it easy for us to take the train to Boulders Beach – famous for its natural penguin colony and it didn’t disappoint – hundreds of penguins along the waterfront was such an amazing sight! After a few travel delays, we met Dee and Errol in a bar for a sun-downer before we were treated to their local ‘fish and chips’ at a restaurant along the waterfront – it was like being back on the UK coast! And the final icing on the cake was a pure chocolate and vodka martini – possibly the best thing you have ever tasted – and now we have the recipe, thank you Dee and Errol!!

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Our final full day in South Africa, we were kindly invited to an Easter Braai with Jono and Lara’s families – again being spoilt by new friends. Fantastic food, great company and a surprise Easter egg hunt to top it off. It was a perfect afternoon before we see them next time in London where they are planning to live for a couple years.

With one more night together, the three of us returned to our hostel in Cape Town and got ready for the night ahead – before long, we’d picked up some other backpackers and headed to a bar on the famous Long Street. With the promise of Drum and Bass, we followed our new friend Emmanuel to another bar to meet his friends – whiskey, vodka and dancing but unfortunately no drum and bass!

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After the best couple weeks in SA (even without seeing or experiencing what Table Top mountain had to offer...thanks weather) we were so sad to leave Leonie and a little nervous to head to South America after just getting used to Africa and its little quirks! But we had a 30 hour flight to contend with first...

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 07:17 Archived in South Africa Tagged landscapes mountains beaches skylines people parties trains landscape travel tours africa wine shark cape_town south_africa johannesburg soweto gansbaai stellenbosch garden_route mossel_bay great_white bungee_jump bloukrans joburg_tours Comments (2)

The final finale, from Botswana to the lovely South Africa

sunny 32 °C

By this time we’ve already travelled for over 36 days on the tour. After a weekend of rest and frolics we were ready to head south!

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On the Sunday, we met our new Belgian tour guide Bjorn for our final briefing. This was when we realized that this part of the tour was going to be different than the last 4 and a bit weeks we’d already spent travelling down the east coast.

With our new tour guide, new cook, new driver and new travel buddies in tow...we were off. Goodbye Zim, hello Botswana for a second time! This was a weird part of our tour given we just had just returned from Chobe National Park and now we were heading there again before making our way to the Okavango Delta. Although, we did manage another boat safari across the Chobe river before we left. Once again, we saw plenty of wildlife, it was only too bad it was grey and rainy when we went but the elephants didn't seem to mind. It also didn’t help that everybody else was already merry with their pre-packed coolers of goodness. Boo to poor planning!

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The next morning we left at exactly at 5.45 and headed to Maun, the starting point of the delta. Our guide decided to let our cook Florence tend the reigns for the next few days whilst he stayed back. We looked forward to getting to know our Johannesburg born chef a lot better. And of course couldn’t wait for her home cooking!

The Delta is a huge expanse of water travelling from the Angolan highlands, forming the largest inland delta in the world. With our natural-wood dug (so we were led to believe, turned out they were fibreglass...sustainable friendly) packed mokoros, we were ready to explore the inlets it had to offer. We arrived at our camp after paddling for a good hour. It was there we were greeted by the locals who helped us set up camp.

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It wasn’t before long, we realized we were without drink. We had water of course but no beer or wine to satisfy the taste buds on a hot Africa’s day. Before I even knew what was going on, our Polish friends had already asked our new local friends if they could help us out and Natalie had already volunteered me to go with them on what they said was a 40 minute journey. By that time everybody had already passed me along their orders and money, including the Polish guys whose idea it was in the first place. Within minutes I was on a mokoro to the village. It took 3 modes of transportation to make it happen...mokoro, walking and a donkey. Yes...donkey! Beers, “Skake-Shake” (local drink of fermented maize...I’ll get back to that later) and whatever else everybody ordered were successfully in tow. You may laugh, yet it worked and we were all happy campers after it taking 4 hours to get. The water had never looked so refreshing to jump in! The next couple days were filled with treks, mokoro rides, cards, food, chilling and dancing around the campfire. Oh the life!

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By the way that “Shake-Skake” stuff was disgusting! You had to shake it and the 1L milk type carton expanded before you knew you could pour to drink it. From our understanding you can get different flavours, only since we were in the village...it was only the original maize, bitty, sour stuff from the box!

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After 3 days, it was time to return. That wasn’t before a last brief encounter with a hippo. Apparently, the hippos had left their normal pool and moved to exact spot we were crossing. They decided to pop up where we passing on the way back. Hungry, angry hippos!

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We made our way back for one more night, ready for the next day’s drive to our final destination of South Africa. In the morning we crossed the border into Blydepoort overlooking the Blyde River canyon. At 26kms long and an average of 800m deep it forms the northern part of the Drankensberg Mountain range and one of the largest canyons in the world. We stopped at various points along the way including the very high 'God’s Window' before stopping at the Bourke's Luck Potholes along the Blyde river.

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From there we headed to one of the most well known and most visited parks in South Africa...Kruger National Park. We set up camp just outside the park on a private reserve owned by Richard Branson called Sabi Sands. It was only the previous weekend that his son was married on those same grounds, although our site was pretty far from there and our area was nothing spectacular in the slightest. It was an open site with no fences to protect us from the wandering wildlife. This warning says it all really!

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The next morning we set off on our last game drive safari. It was only 18 minutes after the park opened that we saw our 8th leopard of the tour. They say that leopards are elusive but we have been so lucky. Within the next two hours we saw 4 of the big 5 except for the lion. We tried all afternoon to no avail, even with tips from the other cars driving through. As the day was fading we headed back to camp for one last night with the crew. Florence our chef cooked us up a farewell “Braai” to send us off. Delicious! A few drinks later around the fire...it was over, 46 days touring Africa and 10 countries, done!

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The next morning we packed our tents one last time before heading to our last stop...Jo’burg. This was a fond farewell! We were sad to leave but ready to begin our roadtrip across SA and meet Leonie & Harriett. Thanks ATC! Thanks new friends! Thanks Africa!

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Posted by moseyingmizuiks 13:01 Archived in Botswana Tagged landscape elephants river africa botswana south_africa okavango_delta chameleon mokoro kruger_national_park africa_travel_company Comments (0)

Lake Malawi to Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe ft. Vic Falls

30 °C

Leaving Zanzibar with a heavy heart, we headed to Dar-es-Salaam and were happy to see another white sand beach at the campsite to feed our withdrawals. The next night, after heading south through Tanzania, we stayed at a rustic campsite in Iringa where we drank their Amarula hot chocolate specialty. After arriving late, it was a good way to unwind in preparation for the next day’s drive to Malawi.

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The next day we crossed over the Malawian border, where we travelled alongside the 3rd largest lake in Africa with the same namesake, or what the locals refer to as Calendar Lake due to it being 365 miles long and 52 miles wide. For the next couple days, we set up camp Chitimba where we were able to relax and swim in this beautiful lake. The days were soon filled with relaxing and a (slightly competitive) football match with the locals (of course Steve’s team won 6-2).

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Unfortunately, I started to feel pretty poorly and by night time the sick bug bit again – not the greatest experience when staying in a tent. Whilst I rested up in the baking tent the next day, Steve went to visit the tribal village to meet the locals, explore the hospital and school and visit a tribal witch doctor. The guide had taken a suspicious interest in Steve’s life so he experimented with a fictional life where he was a single guy and fire-fighter, the experiment worked as the witchdoctor started Steve’s reading with “hmmm I can sense that you like to play with fire or work with fire...your family miss you...you will soon meet a girl and get married” – so that took the authenticity out of it!

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Feeling almost back to normal, the next stop was Kande Beach and we treated ourselves to a lake beach chalet. It was an upgrade bargain at $10 each! Swimming, sunbathing and playing volleyball in abundance!

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After talking to a few people who had already been, it was suggested we book a fishing and snorkelling trip on the lake. With a bit of haggling we managed to book a 9am trip with our favourite Icelanders, Leifur and Berglind. Feeling slightly fragile from the night before, we were taken aback when we were met with a very small wooden boat and some makeshift fishing rods (seriously a couple bamboo sticks with string) for the trip. The fact that our hired guides for the day were scooping out the water from the boat was a little worrying. I don’t think any of us felt comfortable heading out with them, especially for what they were charging us so we started to request a better boat, perhaps one with a motor, or even some life-jackets at least. It was now past 10am and not one of our requests was met with any seriousness. A few disapproving looks here and grunts there, we all decided maybe it was better to pull out all together. Within a few minutes, Steve and Leifur were running up to Berglind and I to share their fantastic idea... we were going to buy some beer and hire a 4 man pedalo. They had even managed to borrow a fishing rod, some snorkelling gear and some life-jackets to boot from one of the local beach guys. Seemed like a fair back up plan to us and it continued to be a good idea, until we made it in the water and realised how strong the current was - in the opposite direction. By sheer grit and determination (sweat, silence and I think I almost saw tears), Steve and Leifur pedalled us all to Kande Island that sat 2-3 km from the shoreline. The weather was looking up, the winds calmer and we were able to swim and snorkel around the island as planned. Of course, it would be too easy if we were to be able to return to shore with no issues, we soon realised that our pedalo was sinking on one side. A few “is it? Isn't it?” moments until it quite obviously was – we waved for help to the speedboat crew back at the island and before long, Berglind and I were climbing into the other boat to be rescued along with the beer and bags. Luckily Jono was diving close by and was able to help the boys push the pedalo from in the water whilst Steve and Leifur continued to pedal the already broken propeller. What an experience...aside from a few aching leg muscles, some pretty serious sun burn (ending in blistering for poor Leifur) and the fact that guy we hired the boat from blamed us for not knowing how to use it! I’m pretty sure we know how to pedal and steer a pedalo! We arrived back in one piece and in time for a team volley ball match (which once again Steve’s team won!) and a very welcomed pig roast.

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Next stop Zambia, unfortunately for us; Zambia was mainly for travelling through rather than stopping and exploring. We stayed at a fantastic campsite in Livingstone, the gateway to the Zambian side of World Heritage listed Victoria Falls and headed to the falls that afternoon so that we would get a perspective of both sides. We managed to walk across a suspension bridge rising on the front side of the falls and were beyond drenched by the other side!

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Botswana was our next stop for an overnight bush camp in Chobe national park. Chobe has ended up being our favourite of all the parks we have visited. The afternoon we arrived, we headed straight for a river cruise along Chobe River. The surrounding area of the park and river borders with Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The first hour was fruitless on the big game radar except for a few beautiful birds. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by the most elephants we have ever seen. These grey giants were all playing in the water and coming inquisitively close to the boat.

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As if we hadn’t been spoilt enough, we moved from the boat to an open safari vehicle to explore the land area of the park. Nothing could have prepared us for spotting four hungry lionesses creeping up on three oblivious warthogs. We sat in anticipation, waiting for the lions to strike for their dinner and as they bolted, so did the pumba’s – would you believe they got away by running through the gap at the front of our vehicle. This left us with 4 hungry and angry Lionesses, prowling around our vehicle, all within a few metres – the tension and the shakes happening in the vehicle at that moment were unreal! As we continued our drive along the waterfront, we spotted a (very sunburnt) dead baby hippo floating in the water and a lion sitting on the shore just waiting for its opportunity to swim in and grab its free dinner, what we didn’t realise was that there was a crocodile waiting for the lion in the water – cue Steve's rendition of 'circle of life'.

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That evening, we arrived at our camp that had already been set up for us in the middle of the national park. We have been real bush camping before but this one felt a lot more remote and intimidating. In the final 5 minutes drive we saw a leopard in a tree, try and get that out of your mind when you are lying in your tent trying to sleep, and that’s before you can hear the lions roaring in the distance. So in a situation like that, what is there left to do? Sit around the bonfire and take turns to tell spooky stories of course! After waking up and checking we hadn’t been trampled by elephants, we had one more early morning game drive before heading to find our next adventure in Zimbabwe.

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When we made it to Zimbabwe, it was bittersweet as we would be saying goodbye to so many friends as well as changing to a new truck and crew. Friday night became party night to celebrate Izzy, Vicky and Terry’s birthdays and to act as a farewell celebration for us all and we really managed to go out with a bang, Springboks all round! (Peppermint Snapps + Amarula = delicious).

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It was so nice to be in one place for 3 nights to have time to explore, relax and manage that hangover. The campsite regularly became home to lots of baboons, and as Steve and I admired how cute they were, one bolted and started chasing us – of course Steve was already miles ahead shouting at me to run faster! We soon found out, after escaping the baboon, that you are supposed to pretend to throw something at them to scare them – lesson learnt! By the Sunday, Steve had booked in to do the half day adrenaline package over Victoria falls gorge, consisting of the Flying Fox, Zip Wire and Gorge Swing, the latter being a 70 metre free fall jump off the gorge cliff – not for me thank you!

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We made it back to “Mosi-oa-Tunya” the indigenous name meaning literally "the smoke that thunders", in Zimbabwe which of course did not disappoint. We were then greeted with a perfect double rainbow over the misty thundering waters. It’s spectacular to experience something that you have read about or seen on TV for so long, definitely one of the top 5 highlights so far.

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And that was the third leg, with only one more of the tour to go, we can’t believe where the time is going but we also can’t believe all the excitement we still have ahead of us!

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 06:54 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged zambia malawi zimbabwe botswana chobe victoria_falls lake_malawi chobe_river Comments (1)

2nd Leg - Serengeti Animal Madness and Zanzibar Paradise

sunny 30 °C

We arrived back in Nairobi after 2 weeks on the road to begin the 2nd leg of our journey where some of the people from the first group continued onwards, while others left and new ones joined. It would be only days before the wild of the Serengeti and the beaches of Zanzibar welcome us.

After having our briefing, we were set to leave early the next morning. This of course did not happen without some “T.I.A” (This is Africa) drama. We hit the road to meet our guide...only he didn’t show up. With all the new people in tow with questions to boot, Steve our driver on one phone calling our missing guide and John our cook on another, calling head office for answers, we baked in the sun waiting patiently in the shop parking lot. During this time, we had pry open the safe on the truck to see if all the money was all intact (which it thankfully was) and organize a classy parking lot lunch. It wasn’t until a whole 4 hours later, Christie the replacement guide arrived to begin the journey south. A few hours later than expected, we finally crossed into Tanzania! By this time we were hoping that something would give and still wanted to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Kilimanjaro. Sadly we had no such luck as Africa’s highest mountain stayed hidden behind the clouds for another day.

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With dusk just beginning to fall we arrived at the Snake Park campsite in Arusha. Camp would usually be quite easy to set up, only with new people just starting out on the tour, not many of them had an idea of how things worked. Christie was already in holiday mode and nowhere in sight, so all of us from the previous group tried to help out the "newbies" as much as possible. Not a great way to start but at least we had the Serengeti to look forward to the next afternoon. Only before we set off on our next adventure, we headed into the third largest city in Tanzania to stock up on supplies and pay a visit to the Maasai cultural centre. This modern building houses thousands of pieces of art depicting Maasai life & culture.

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With culture out of the way...the 4WD jeeps were packed ready for our 3 day/2night safari. Our first stop landed us at the Rift Valley Escarpment in the village of Karatu. This would be our base camp for the night. To our surprise, upon arrival, our tents were already set up for us. What made it even better was the electric Wilfred. This experienced guide had the biggest heart and smile which could only make us more relaxed than we already were.

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To ensure we had the best game spotting opportunities, we all agreed to wake up at the crack of dawn and enter the lush Ngorogoro Crater. The crater expands over 260 km2 (100 sq mi) and 610 m (2,000 ft) deep. And holds upwards of 25 thousand large animals including lions, rhinos, wildebeest and flamingos!

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After spending most of the day in the crater we started making our way to the Serengeti. It was all going fine until the first hour when our jeep had a punctured tire. That didn’t stop us but the state of the roads almost did. We somehow all managed to fall asleep, yet it took another 4 long hours on one of the bumpiest dust laden roads we have ever traveled on before we reached the entrance of one of the most well known national parks in the world. And it certainly lived up to the hype!

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Now if you weren’t already animaled out by this time, we made our way back to the Snake park for one more night before heading to Zanzibar. The stories that come with the legend of the spice island certainly resonate through the cool blue seas, white sand beaches and the scorching sun. Only before we could get ourselves cozy on the beach, we had to deal with the ghost of our walkabout tour guide. Since none of our accommodation had been confirmed whilst we were away on safari, our rooms were snapped up very quickly. It also didn’t help that a music festival was going on the same weekend we were there to make things that bit more complicated. With all that going on, our new guide Moses (who joined us after the Serengeti) did his best to make a bad situation good.

Even after a bit of a strop that our hut wasn’t beachfront (25 metres away, life is so hard) we realised that Paradise was now upon us. Being as excited as we were, that night we all thought there was some sort of food market around the north part of the island. After a fruitless search, it wasn’t too long before we figured this imaginary market was only in Stonetown. Luckily enough, we happened to stumble upon the perfect beachfront seafood BBQ pop-ups. Even with the food having been slightly overcooked the surroundings were impeccable. Come on...where can you go wrong for a “fruits de mer” platter at $15!?

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For the next couple days we downed cocktails, filled our bellies with more seafood all before settling on a well deserved beach rest. By this time we had discovered there was a beach party happening that night. That afternoon, Natalie and I got ourselves in a high tide pickle. We walked the length of the beach before realizing the water had gone up too high to turn back (after a drink or two of course). We did try, whilst holding our possessions above our head safe from the water, to tackle the high tides, only we failed miserably therefore turned to local hotel security for help. Surprisingly we were rejected by resort security and sent straight back in the water. Thank goodness there was a local painter on the rocks a little further down who led us the way to the nearest available route. That was only after he yelled at us to get out of the ever rising water. Eeks. We finally made it back in one piece ready to party the night away.

After 3 days in the north, our last night was spent in Stonetown. The south side of the island is a lot more populated than the north but this is where the character of the island came out. Starting early in the morning, we were led by a very odd Cockney accented local guide exploring the history of the spice island and slave trade that made Zanzibar what it is today. After being cultured, we walked the cobbled streets stopping in shops along the way and finally topped it off with the most overcooked seafood in the Forodhani Gardens market. And just before bed, we had to squeeze in a nightcap at the famous Mercury’s bar in honour of Zanzibar’s most well known personality – Freddie Mercury, to bid farewell to Zaidee & Hayden who would be leaving us the next day.

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After all that, Dar-Es-Salem was calling us for one last night in Tanzania before starting the 3rd leg of our African adventure.

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 15:47 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Exploring Africa - First Leg!

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Wow – we have done so much in the last few weeks, Ethiopia is but a distant memory. Unfortunately, internet availability has reduced somewhat so the blog has been a little neglected but we haven’t forgotten.

We arrived in Kenya on 26th January, ready for our 46 day tour down to Johannesburg. Partly excited because we had so much ahead of us that we didn’t have to think or plan for and partly nervous to meet the strangers we were about to spend every waking moment with.
We left Nairobi on our African Travel Company (ATC) truck bright and early to set off for the Maasai Mara where we would be having our first safari of many. Our first official stop was at the Rift Valley viewpoint for some pictures of this amazing view.

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That evening the group was upgraded free of charge to “posh” permanent tents so we were able to put off camping for another couple of nights. We were assigned ‘chore’ groups and given the rota for helping with food prep, truck cleaning and washing up – yep this is an ‘all chip in’ kind of tour!! The next morning we headed to the Maasai Mara National Park and saw our first wild animals of the trip – 28 species in one day! That first feeling of seeing wild elephants, lions (lioness and her cubs), giraffes and zebras was amazing and made us realise how lucky we were to be doing this trip.

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Over the next days we travelled through Kenya and were shocked at the vast difference between here and Ethiopia – Kenya is modern, developed and a lot more western; yes there are still enormous pockets of poverty but the impression of the western world, UK especially, is obvious. We left Kenya and took our first border crossing leading us into Uganda. First impressions of Uganda were wow! So lush and beautiful, people were so cheerful and attentive. That night we headed to Kampala, the capital and a few of us decided to brave the local nightlife and take a taxi into the centre of town. We headed to a club called “Bubbles” and within minutes we were chatting and dancing with the friendly locals. Some more friendly than others with a keen eye on Steve...or so his ego led him to believe, until it was pointed out that they were the neighbourhood prostitutes!

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We had asked the taxi driver to come and collect us at the end of the night and were mortified to see him sat in the club, alone and drinking water for the whole night, just waiting for us to be ready to leave. We climbed into bed at 3am and struggled at our 5am wakeup call...not to mention the 12 hour bumpy ride on the truck with our sore heads.
Our next stop was Lake Bunyoni where the rest of the group were stopping to go Gorilla trekking – as much as we wanted to do this, $600 per person was just too much for our budget, considering you only spend an hour with the Gorillas – having said that, it’s one for the bucket list. It was nice to relax at the lake for a few days and mingle with the locals, we were told about an amazing Crayfish restaurant and when we arrived we were welcomed by the chef who was cooking on his stones outside his shack, no restaurant as such but it ended up being amazing food and wonderful service for a whole $3 – when we returned with friends the next day, there was no crayfish left but the chef offered to go and catch us some and prepare food for a couple hours time – now that’s service!

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Whilst the group were trekking with the Gorillas, Steve and I had the opportunity to visit a local school that had been established to help orphaned children. The name of the charity is “Little Angels” (www.littleangelsuganda.org) and was set up 18 months ago by a young local called Duncan. Duncan was sponsored by a westerner as a child, which means his education was paid for (USD $600 per year) and all he has ever wanted to do to say thank you to his sponsor was give other children the same chance. The kids were amazing, it took everything to not sponsor at least one there and then! “Little Angels” also welcomes volunteers to come and teach for any lengths of time, there is no cost but it’s expected to donate something that goes towards your accommodation and food – if anyone is interested then we would happily put you in touch.

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That evening, Duncan took our group to a local bar, when he came to collect us in his 9 seater van, he assured us that being 16 would not be a problem and we could all fit. Reluctantly but still obligingly, we squeezed ourselves into the boot, on the floor, on each other’s laps and when our tipsy tour driver came through the gates and asked to come with us, it was not seen as a problem the only solution that was suggested by Duncan was for one passenger to sit on top of the car with legs through the sunroof...let’s just say it was an interesting and uncomfortable 20 minute drive to town for everyone but as we keep being told...”T.I.A.” – This is Africa!!

The next day, a few of us crossed the border to Rwanda, curious to see the condition of Kigali which is unfortunately famous for the 1994 genocide. Although still struggling with a corrupt government, it was amazing to see how the country had progressed in nearly 20 years – a short amount of time given the developed infrastructure and western looking buildings that greeted us. We treated ourselves to lunch at ‘Hotel Rwanda’, made famous by the book and movie that told the story of the brave hotel owner that hid Tutsi’s from the Hutu’s during the 3 month genocide.

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Time to move on and head to Jinja in northern Uganda, the base for some extreme sport on the River Nile. White Water Rafting was never part of my plan but Steve had always planned to do it on the Zambezi. But before we knew it we were caught up in the moment and 8 of us were booked for the next day. I was regretting my decision following the first boat flip and although glad I did it, can honestly say I don’t think I’ll be paying for an experience like that again! Steve however, is as keen as ever for some more extreme activities.

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One of the things we had been most looking forward to was bike riding around Hells Gate National Park in Lake Nakuru, Kenya and so we were pretty excited to head there next. In total the bike ride was around 30km and we were able to cycle in amongst the zebra’s, giraffes and pumba’s (Wort Hog, we have learnt is a dying term, in Africa they are commonly known as their Lion King alias Pumba and we found out Pumba means ‘Stupid’ in Swahili). About 10 km into our ride we stopped to check out some rock climbing set up on a volcanic rock and before we knew it we were wearing the gear and tackling the steep “Fishers” rockface in front of us – not bad considering neither of us have ever been rock climbing or abseiling before!

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And that’s our first 2 weeks on the tour – we travelled back to Nairobi to drop off some of our new friends and greeted the next group of soon-to-be friends to travel down to Tanzania for our Serengeti excursion and the much anticipated Zanzibar!

Hard to believe:
• Cutting the grass with a machete – homes or hotels it doesn’t make a difference, this is the norm and mowers do not exist.
• Our not-too-bad growing knowledge of Swahili
• It seems like every other building we see has a red cross on the front, when we queried this we found out they are government crosses notifying demolition, usually of buildings that were built or provided as a gift from the government ...during the election, so there is no longer a need for them now the election is over...!

Hard to manage:
• Over 100 mosquito bites between us.
• Early starts, 2.45am has been our earliest and 4.30am our average, not to mention the frustration of taking your tent down in the dark when you are tired and grumpy.
• Carbohydrates – they just keep coming, bread rice/pasta and potato for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
• Our tour guide going M.I.A. – we waited and waited on day one of the second leg of our trip, a lot of rumours and speculation later, we adopted a new guide and left without the original resulting in a very unorganised week.

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 08:07 Archived in Kenya Tagged landscape kenya national_park rwanda uganda river_nile Comments (5)

Fast Food

To eat or not to eat?

sunny 28 °C

We're alive! I know it's been awhile (more like a month) since the last post but trust me finding any type of connection in Africa is next to impossible. When you do, like right now....this is what you get. Another post.

Now wherever you go, food can always be an appetizing adventure. When we landed in Ethiopia we knew what to expect. Lots of injera, meat and the odd fish dish! Only when you try food outside the homeland in London or Toronto, you just never know how authentic it will be.
During the two weeks we were in Ethiopia we tried to taste a new dish a day. Only it wasn’t always as easy as you think...lots of the menus were westernized to accommodate the travellers taste. Boo!

If you know Natalie and I well enough then you know how much we love food. It’s for this reason we thought it would be interesting to share a quick snapshot of some of the local grub we’ve filled the hunger hole with.

BREAKFAST

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Spris – What better way to start your day with a fresh Spris!? When we first saw this on the menu we thought it was a misspelling for a certain soft drink. Wrong! It’s a 4 layered fresh fruit drink...starting with papaya at the bottom, avocado, banana and pineapple juice. Then topped with a squeeze of lime!

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Fatira – A fried double layered crepe type pastry that can be eaten as such with a bit of honey on the top or it can be filled with eggs, tomatoes or cheese. It usually cut in bite size squares where you can chew into the crispy goodness.

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Neshif special – A delicious local favourite! Scrambled eggs with onions and peppers with a layer of spicy soaked bread pieces filling the bottom then topped with yogurt. No fork needed as it’s served with a small baguette to scoop it up! (Sattelite Cafe - Gondar)

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Confused egg sandwich – Not an easy one to get wrong. We asked for butter and ketchup, only to receive a small bowl of this paprika chilli type spice. At least it added a little kick to the already stale roll. Oh and take a look at the children’s turtle plate! (Some restaurant at the gates to the Simien Mountains)

LUNCH AND DINNER

Injera with a side of injera and a little bit of dipping goodness... I would love to explain all these “tapas” like dishes; I just think most Ethiopians would be offended if I referred to them like such. Each dish is a meal size portion for one or many depending how many you choose.

Once you have selected one of the many saucy meat, fish or vegetables dishes you must choose a side. A carb-tastic choice of rice and potatoes or the infamous injera! The staple of any Ethiopian diet, no meal is complete without the latter. It’s a sour tasting sponge-like pancake which is available in 3 types: white (most expensive), brown (most sour and cheapest) and mixed (served mostly). This is then usually rolled out across a round serving dish. Each dish is then poured onto the injera, allowing the flavours to soak into the bread. Admittedly, some have been absolutely delicious while others what can we say...we wouldn’t order again. At least the ones below were for the most part edible.

The following two dishes are the first two we tried and tested in Addis. The first is “bean firfir, whilst the second is “chicken shiro”.

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Bean firfir –Crushed beans in a spiced tomato sauce with cut up pieces of injera. Not a strong tasting dish, a filler nonetheless.

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Chicken Shiro - Chicken served with a buttery specialy spiced chickpea flour based sauce.

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Kitfo special with cheese and spinach and shiro tegabino – The “kitfo” originates from northern Ethiopia. This is actually a two part dish that we shared at a restaurant in Gondar. It’s lightly spiced minced lamb meat served with finely grated cheese and sautéed spinach and onions. While the “tebagino” is powdered chickpeas prepared with ginger, onion, garlic, tomato and berbere sauce. (Kitfo Hut, Gondar)

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Fish Dullet – Another local classic! A lightly sauced chilli infused dish where the first few mouthfuls go down smoothly before it starts to bite back. It’s also served with a harrissa type dip for an extra kick!

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Fish goulash – You wouldn’t believe me if I said that this tasted exactly like “hot & spicy” bbq chicken wings...but it does. Flash fried fish pieces smothered in a buttery hot sauce. It was our fail safe dish on any menu! Delish!

DRINKS AND SNACKS

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Coffee and Popcorn – Consider yourself lucky if you’re invited for a coffee ceremony! They go all out by freshly roasting the beans, and prepare popcorn with a dash of sugar to sweeten it up. Odd but good!

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Talla – This special brew is made more for the local pallet! It’s fermented barley and hops, the same as beer only thicker and more bitter. You can usually find this strong hair growth solution at any local local restos - in more rural areas.

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Tej – Another local favourite with its own unique honey taste. Each village or town even have their own “Tej House” to choose from. All depending where you get it, it can differ from awfully good to awfully bad!

This was only the first part of the food discovery across Africa. There were many other dishes worth mentioning...it just took too long to upload the photos. Bon appetit!

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 07:13 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Lalibela & Ciao Ethiopia!

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Ok so we cheated, we booked a flight from Gondar to Lalibela following our traumatic bus experiences – but how could we resist at USD $50 instead of 2 days driving facing previous conditions?!
Lalibela is probably the main tourist destination in Ethiopia thanks to its rock-hewn churches built in the 12th Century. People travel from all over the world to see this architectural phenomenon – churches carved into / out of the ground which patiently took up to 24 years to complete.

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We arrived in Lalibela to a well organised airport, hotel reps greeting travellers upon arrival with a standard transport fee and an incredible view as we drove higher and higher into the mountains to reach 2600ft. Our hotel was the cleanest and nicest by far that we had stayed in Ethiopia (Lalibela Hotel) with hot water and loo roll, result for 4 nights!
As soon as we stepped onto the street to explore it was apparent that Lalibela was different to everywhere we had been – the town is used to tourists which has had an adverse effect, the prices were extortionate in comparison to the rest of Ethiopia and locals seem to take advantage of what they see as ‘wealthy faranji’. You couldn't walk more than 30 seconds without a gang of kids reciting one of the ’14 cons of Lalibela’ just in case they were lucky and we were tourists who hadn’t been warned. They mostly all begin with them naming the capital cities of a few countries or tell a compelling story to grab your attention– “at school we have to share a text book between 10 students and I have a test tomorrow, will you buy me a school book from that shop over there?” once you have paid $10-15 for a book and you have disappeared around the corner, the kid takes the book back to the shop and him and the shop owner share profits. There was also “my parents live 40km away and i live with my grandmother who takes care of me by herself so I can go to school – she loves meeting people from other countries and giving coffee ceremonies – would you like to come no, today, tomorrow...?” then at the end of the hour you would be presented with a bill for $100 and not allowed to leave until you pay. Luckily we were savvy to these and had to make light of it. We soon realized that the more we turned the questions back on them they would quickly leave us alone.
Lalibela as a town has become quite greedy and recently raised prices to see the rock hewn churches from $24 per person to $50, not even comparable with tourism prices in Europe! This happened 3 weeks before we arrived and tourists had already found a way to beat the system – reselling to a fellow traveller at cost price, easy as the tickets last for 4 days. We managed to successfully trick the system but at the time we were leaving Lalibela, the officials were catching on and threatening big trouble to any tourist found to be using recycled tickets.

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The rest of our time in Lalibela we spent walking and relaxing, we met a lovely couple from Holland and joined them for dinner at Ben Abeba restaurant which is truly something else. Created by a Scottish woman and her Ethiopian partner, the restaurant pushes Ethiopia’s architectural boundaries and offers some of the most beautiful sunset views.

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We were sad to be heading back to Addis, one because it was Addis and two, because our trip in Ethiopia was coming to an end. As we took a (dramatic) taxi (who demanded more money half way whilst we refused and stormed out of the car but then he apologised and agreed to take us for the original price, we wouldn't normally have got back in the car but the neighbourhood looked pretty sketchy and we had everything on us so trusting him seemed our only option) to Toronto Hotel, we passed by a restaurant called ‘Oh Canada’ (yes this line is for real) and knew straight away that we would be heading there for the evening. ‘Oh Canada’ had been opened by a Canadian named Lily who had moved back to Ethiopia recently to be with her parents, she needed something to remind her of the great white north and thus opened this Canadian themed restaurant, complete with poutine, hockey team burgers and province pizzas.

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It was the best way to complete our final evening in Ethiopia. We have enjoyed the 2 weeks greatly, it’s been testing and tiring; every day requires intense thinking and planning but that's all part of the experience. It does make us excited for the 46 day trip ahead of us though, no thinking required!

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 01:19 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged church lalibela ethiopia addis_ababa Comments (2)

Gondar, the Simien Mountains & a little thing called Timkat

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No crazy minibus stories this time around. It was a non-eventful 3hr journey north to one of Ethiopia’s most celebrated historical cities. Except for the fact we delayed the start of our ride by 45 minutes since we misunderstood the difference between Ethiopian time and our regular time. Oops! All we knew is that we wanted to get there in time for Timkat aka Ethiopian Epiphany and take a wonder in the Simian Mountains.

When we arrived in Gondar this small city of 70 thousand people was abuzz prepping for Timkat. Gondar as a city is by far the most chilled out we have visited on our tour to date. The city has a lot of history which can be seen by the presence of Fasil Ghebi aka the “Royal Enclosure”. It houses a number of castles within this complex built by the various emperors throughout the years. It’s only too bad that parts of the original structure was either changed or damaged during WWII.

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The good news is that on the way there we were lucky enough to meet a lovely local and new friend named Tegby. Even though we only met a few hours before, she was so nice to offer us a place to stay. We didn’t want to impose and easily found something up the road. Even if it meant the room had no power and still had to pay almost full price. We managed to haggle a discount for a couple nights for our troubles, a few candles to light the room and a promise it would be fixed in the morning.

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That night Tegby was even so kind to check up on us. She then invited us over for some food and a traditional coffee ceremony with her family the next day. We’ve read about this, and never really thought we would have the opportunity to truly experience it so we are very grateful to Tegby and Family!

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Now back to Timkat and the reason we made our way to Gondar. It’s an annual celebration which lasts 3 days and gathers thousands of people together to celebrate Ethiopian Epiphany. As you can imagine, it’s a busy time and supply and demand of rooms becomes thin. It’s like anywhere really, just unfortunate that most locals or even travellers can’t afford it as prices double or even quadruple for the 3 days. Since we were already staying at the hotel we managed to secure a room after a good couple days of bargaining. Check wiki for more details on Timkat. For now you can take a look at a few pics.

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One of the best things about travelling is that if you’re a “faranji“ you tend to meet various people who want to try to sell you something or who are as likeminded as you. So after a couple days, with new friends in tow you just never know what can happen next...like this picture where we had told our new friends we’d like somewhere quiet where we could all hear each other and they moved a table and chairs outside the toilet and taught us how to dance...Ethiopia style!

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Gondar is also the jumping board to the Simien Mountains, one of the largest mountains ranges in Africa stretching for over 1000 miles. We drove another 3 hours north to trek and camp over 2 days and 1 night. The opportunity to see these vast and beautiful views whilst hiking the 26km was the highlight of our trip – throw in the baboons that surrounded us as we walked (and spat at Steve) and this experience will be hard to beat.

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And what blog would be complete without a pic of the always amazing toilets we have had to endure. All I have to say is loo roll is like gold in these parts. Amazing and probably why Natalie has still managed to avoid public toilets (2 weeks!).

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Thanks Gondar. Now to Lalibela...

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 09:12 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged gondar ethiopia timkat simien_mountains gelada_baboons Comments (1)

Bahir Dar, Lake Tana & the Blue Nile Falls

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Hello & sorry for the delay, our internet connection is getting worse the more we travel! We wanted to share some photos of our time in Bahir Dar.

Following our traumatic journey to Bahir Dar, we were happy to arrive at Ghion Hotel and be greeted by this beautiful view from the hotel veranda, overlooking Lake Tana.

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Ethiopians are extremely proud of this 72 mile lake, probably because their country is landlocked by 7 countries so beaches are unheard of.
During the three days spent in Bahir Dar, we took a boat trip around Lake Tana that cost around £4.50 each for 4 hours.

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Ok, our boat might look basic but it was a better deal than these workers transporting wood from the other side of the Lake, what took us 20 minutes was due to take them 4 hours.

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The main reason for the boat tour is to see the local monasteries that have been on and around Lake Tana since the 14th Century – the most exciting part of these was how they had been built, thatch roofs and mud walls, just like most of the homes we see daily.

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Really, the highlight was meeting the village kids, as with most of the trip though, the obvious poverty is heart breaking but these children are so full of joy, it’s wonderful to try and overcome the language barrier to make conversation – usually about Manchester United or Chelsea!

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The next day we took a trip to the Blue Nile Falls, our expectations were low as the rumour is that they ‘turn off’ the falls Mon-Sat to preserve water. We were very surprised to arrive at such a beautiful view, with Christmas just gone and with Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) happening this week, we were lucky that the falls had been left open for this special occasion.

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As with most of our Ethiopian ventures, the journey can be just as interesting as what you have actually paid to see and we never tire of seeing how the locals live and work.

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We made friends with this boy on the boat; he was hitching a ride to the other side of the river and was happy to pose for a picture whilst he chewed on Sugar Cane - the local favourite snack.

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As much as we are avoiding cars and minivans at the moment, we had to endure a 45 minute bumpy ride along a dirt road for this trip. I think we have resided to travel with our eyes closed to block out the constant road hazards, honestly this picture shows a tame example:

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So that is Bahir Dar and we are a week into our trip with so much more to see – next step Gondar to celebrate Timkat and trek the Simien Mountains, that’s if we survive the 4 hour minivan journey...

Highlights so far:
- Steve reciting an Indian takeaway menu every time he attempts to say ‘thank you’ in Ethiopian, the actual Amharic word is “ameseghinalehu”, daily giggles with Steve saying sagamaloo all the time.
- Leaving Addis Ababa – this is one city not high on our ‘return to’ list.
- 60 pence beer every day.
- Being served red wine in a beer bottle as standard.

Cultural shifts:
- Men peeing anywhere and everywhere – in front of you, whilst they walk, there is no public peeing etiquette.
- If you are beautiful and from a tribe then get a face tattoo – at least 30% of women we encounter have tattoos on their forehead, side of the face or jaw line.
- Hygiene or lack thereof, not getting any easier – add that to the cold showers, eek!
- Male affection – we are just loving the love between guy friends in public, holding hands, cuddling – when we spoke about the fact that men do not do this in the western world, they couldn’t understand it – “Why wouldn’t you show affection with your friends?”
- Being fed – it’s a sign of respect and trust, if someone is bringing a handful of food towards your mouth then you eat it. Yep, that’s probably the hardest adjustment for me of all the above!

Posted by moseyingmizuiks 04:23 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged travel ethiopia bahir_dar addis_ababa blue_nile_falls Comments (3)

Addis and the magical bus journey to Bahir Dar...

sunny 28 °C

Oh Addis! With a registered population of over 3 million (more like 10million if you ask anybody else) you can see why the capital city of Ethiopia is dirty.

Usually you can find yourself to be enamoured with a city within a few hours and maybe days, only we can’t say that about Addis. The city is slightly intimidating with evidence of poverty lining the streets, rubbish everywhere, the usual pick pocket posse trying to ply their trade, dogs abound or dying around and men peeing in the street. Yes, that’s right...you can see men peeing in plain sight with no qualms about it. In other words, do your bits and get out!

After two days of finally getting ourselves sorted with the trauma of our bags lost and the comforts of home truly gone, we were ready to leave the city to Bahir Dar. We booked the minibus from the hotel. This seemed to be the cheapest and easiest way to get to our first stop. Oops! First off, we’re now following African time. When they say the bus will leave a 6. It only means to start getting ready for that time and will probably arrive anytime after 7.30. After the slight delay, the bus arrives at 8.30 with one slight problem. There are 4 of us from hostel who are taking it, it’s a 14 seater van, all the seats but two are already taken. Without hesitation the driver says to pile in...we shake our head but obligingly do so. Before we are even ready to take off, we are asked to pay more money for our bags. The other two girls who are with us make a fuss and delay the journey even further with a back and forth argument between the driver, the person who sold the bus ticket and them. After much discussion, no extras are needed and we set upon our journey. That was a shortlived yay!

Think of it this way. I’m 6’2, Natalie is 6’1...back row and stuck in the corner. Not exactly the most comfortable position to be in for the next 10 hours. We couldn’t do much at this point so we just went with it begrudgingly. To make matters worse, remember that we are already 16 in a 14 seater van. That’s right...let’s pick up more people along the way. By the time we exit the city, the minibus has 19 passengers buckled in including a couple children on their respective mom’s laps. WTF!?

Through gritted teeth, we make it through the first 4 hours. That’s not without the driver stopping a couple times for a quick smoke and coffee. Note that I said driver and not us. It was probably a good thing as there was even was one place where there were men with guns in hand, staring at us intensely through the window. I can say for sure that they were definitely not Police officers. It wasn’t until the 5th hour we were finally allowed to get out. Pff! Stretchy, Stretchy! The only thing besides stretching that put a wry smile on my face was the fact that one of the kids selling his goods at the stop asked for my autograph. Apparently, I looked like a basketball player of sort. -Before I even had a chance to respond to him, he legged it as his friends started to make fun of him. That or I scared the poor kid away.

Now I might have forgotten to mention that Ethiopian drivers are crazy. Not only do they pack vehicles like sardines (which is the norm in Africa, we were told to think ourselves lucky there were no animals in the van with us) but they also like to drive in the middle in the road. Oddly enough, the drivers communicate with one another with this type of headlight/blinker Morse code. They alert each other when there is some obstruction up ahead, broken down vehicle, people on the road or even just bad bumpy roads. It works to some to degree but there’s no need to play chicken with the other car coming towards you. Again...WTF!?

It wasn’t until hour 7 that we were able to relax, a couple people got dropped off and we finally had a seat to ourselves. Again that was shortlived, we picked up another person and my knees were once again cramped against the door. Awesome! This only lasted another hour before another couple waved goodbye. From that point onwards, not only was the dark of night lifting but that inner frustrated frown was starting to turn upside down once the sun began to uncover the northern Ethiopian countryside.

It took 10 long forgettable hours over 580km to reach our destination and only one quick second to say goodbye to that horrible minibus. And that folks was the road to Bahir Dar...

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Posted by moseyingmizuiks 01:36 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged travel ethiopia bahir_dar addis_ababa Comments (3)

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