Video

Sail. My time on a Tall Ship

Almost a year without a post? How embarrassing! I have no excuse, but hope to regain your attention with this video I made about my time sailing aboard the schooner Bill of Rights. https://youtu.be/8S-q-A8xX_Q

When you tell people you live on a tall ship they ask “What is a tall ship?” My answer is that it is basically a pirate ship. Aboard “the Bill” we take kids on week-long sailing adventures around the Channel Islands. We teach classes about science- everything from simple machines (all the sails raised by hand) to bioaccumulation. Sometimes we even sail to other places to participate in tall ship festivals. As you can imagine, tall ship sailors (I’ve dubbed us ‘shipsters’) love to get drunk and sing sea shanties. It is a fantastic adventure.

Riding a motorbike taxi in Tanzania

Have I mentioned how much I love couchsurfing.org? Through this website I found Simon, a really amazing guy who runs a school near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and hosts tons of couchsurfers. I have to admit, though, I had a moment of doubt…

I thought Simon lived in Dar es Salaam. Turns out, he lives about 45 minutes outside. It’s a great little village, but I got a little nervous on the journey there. I met Simon at a bus station in Dar, and we got on a bus, which took us outside the city for about 30 minutes. Then we got on a smaller bus for another 15 minutes. Then we got on a motorcycle. By this point I felt like “Where is this guy taking me???” I reminded myself that Simon had over 100 recommendations of couchsurfing, but it didn’t ease my nerves very much. Then we arrived at the house. He actually has a special house next to his house for couchsurfers. Another couchsurfer was already there. It was set up almost like a hostel, complete with logbook for people to sign and write notes. It was a pretty sweet set up, and I immediately took a shower to rinse the adrenaline out of my system.

Simon has this sweet setup because a lot of couchsurfers volunteer at his school. Students go to his school for one year between primary and secondary school in order to learn English. The problem is the primary school is taught in Swahili, but secondary school is taught in English. Simon’s school provides kids with a way to learn English. I taught for a few days while I was there. I also visited Simon’s neighbors, had dinner with his priest, went to see a group of woodcarvers he works with, and just hung out with  the people in his village. Simon is an extremely popular guy.

Check out this video of us riding around town on a motorcycle taxi, https://youtu.be/U2PHNvD3HlY

Zambia to Malawi

While I was in Zambia I had the chance to sort of re-live parts of my Peace Corps service. From Livingstone, I traveled up to Lusaka with Richard, the owner of Fawlty Towers lodge. It was such a treat to have good conversation and a free ride (I also got to play with his adorable daughter, Maya). In Lusaka I spent the night at Chachacha backpackers (nice, but a very small, poorly equipped kitchen), then left early in the morning by bus heading east towards Chipata. Marshall, a friend from Peace Corps Madagascar, met me along the road to take me to his village. It was great to be back out in the countryside again. Villagers are always so happy to see someone new.

The next day we hitched a ride to Laila’s site, another ex-Madagascar volunteer. That’s where I really got to kick it Peace Corps-style for a few days, cooking outside on a little charcoal stove and taking bucket showers. We also rode bikes around to the surrounding villages, and went shopping for chitenges (sarongs) at the nearby market.

We went into Chipata, where I stayed at the Peace Corps house and met lots of the PC Zambia people. Early Sunday morning we began the trek to Nkhata Bay, Malawi. We took a taxi to the border, and then another to a nearby town. After a bit of haggling, and the usual confusion, we found a mini-bus to Lilongwe. A friendly Malawian on the mini-bus showed us to the good buses going to Nkhata Bay, and we left Lilongwe by 10am (which was Marshall’s goal for the day).

We arrived in Nkhata Bay at around 4:30pm to absolutely ridiculous heat. At first we started walking to Myoka Village Lodge, and ignored the taxi drivers offering a free ride (this is usually a scam). Thankfully, a British couple informed us that they were legit, because the uphill walk with our backpacks was brutal. It was dark by the time we made it to Myoka, so the owner, Gary, offered us a free room rather than set up our tents (you may be noticing how many amazing, generous people I encounter on my travels- isn’t it awesome?). Gary also informed us that this is “suicide month” in Malawi because it is so oppressively hot and humid. I have to admit, the heat is really bad, but swimming in the lake is amazing. I seem to be discovering all the wrong times to visit places. Myoka Village would be beautiful at any time of the year. They have free boat trips, and occasionally live music in the evenings. I really enjoy the vibe there.

Cape to Cairo officially begins

Day 1

On September 5th I left Cape Town with fellow traveler, Nick. Our first destination was Namaqualand National Park in the Northern Cape. We were hoping to see the blooming of the wildflowers, which is supposed to be an incredible site. Arriving on time to see this is an exact science, and we missed the main bloom, but there were still tons of beautiful flowers to be seen.
Namqualand wildflowers2
From there we traveled up to Ai-Ais National Park in Namibia. I was a little worried about having trouble crossing the border, since my South African travel visa had been expired for almost 3 months. I was fined R1500 (about $190), but luckily I was told that I could pay when I re-enter the country. Score! Ai-Ais is popular because of a hot spring there, so you know I was stoked to check it out. It turns out the hot water from the spring is diverted into a pool. Rather then relax in steamy hot water, you swim in a luke-warm pool. The air temperature was pretty cold, so I wasn’t into it.

The next day we headed north to Fish River Canyon, but were sidetracked to the Canon Lodge in Gondwanaland when Nick noticed some buildings blending into the mountainside. We decided to check them out and found a cool resort and sustainable farm. All of their food is grown and made on the farm. After several delicious meals we were finally ready to head on to Fish River Canyon. This beautiful area is very much like the Grand Canyon, so I felt right at home.
Fish River Canyon
A couple of Swiss travelers we camped next to suggested visiting the Giant’s Playground and Quiver tree forest near Keetmanshoop. I had already fallen in love with the quiver trees on the drive there. The Giant’s Playground is a boulder field, with huge rocks stacked on each other, as though they were a child’s building blocks. Keetmanshoop is a small town with not much going on, but the Quiver tree campground was a nice place to stay, and they have daily cheetah feedings that you can view up close, and even pet the cheetah.
Giant's playground2
After leaving Keetmanshoop we had a long drive to make it to our next destination of Sesriem, from which you enter Soussusvlei, the most beautiful dunes in the world. We had the good fortune of stopping to camp at the Lovedale farm. A very interesting man named Jacobus gave us a tour of the enormous farm, and told us everything we could ever want to know about farming sheep. That night we feasted on bbq mutton.

Soussusvlei was beautiful and frustrating at the same time. The “town” of Sesriem, is really just a campsite and a reception desk from which to purchase entry into Soussusvlei. There is a gated entrance into the campsite, and then an internal gate on the road to Soussusvlei. From Sesriem it is a 65km drive to the dunes. The entrance fee to Soussusvlei is fairly reasonable at R80 per person, plus R10 per car. The campsite, however, is a huge rip-off at R300 per car plus R150 per person. The catch is, if you want to enter the park in time to see the sunrise, and stay long enough to see the sunset you are forced to stay in the campsite because they control the gates. I would have had no problem with this except the receptionist was on a bit of a power trip, the showers barely worked, and the ‘toilets’ at the dunes were…well, I’ll just say they could be better. Also, if your car gets stuck in the sand, you’re on your own. There are no park rangers or telephones, and no cell-phone reception. There are no other campsites in the area, but Nick and I camped on the side of the road just outside the gate for free. Other than that, the dunes were amazing. I think the pictures speak for themselves.
Dune1
Deadvlei2
Dunes
From there we went northwest to the coast, and a little town called Swakopmund. There are more cool dunes in here, and some of them even sparkle! The first 2 nights we stayed at the Seagulls Cry campsite, but had some items stolen while visiting with other campers. Turns out leaving the car doors wide open in a dark campsite and walking away is a bad idea, go figure. It was an unfortunate, but valuable learning lesson about choosing travel partners. Consequently, I am on my own again. For the next couple of days I stayed with a really cool girl named Eva and her cousin Elias. Now I’m staying with Tashia and Dalene in Windhoek. I’m telling you, there are such awesome people on Couchsurfing. I feel like I’m making best friends all over the world, and I love it!

Check out my awesome new friends https://youtu.be/iY3zxS-M0Q4
Today I head to Livingstone and Victoria Falls. Believe it or not, I am excited to be back on the bus. When planning trips, most people instantly start looking for flights to their destination and rental cars to get around. They don’t even consider taking the bus or a train. People are totally missing out! I love using public transportation, and here are a few reasons why:

1. See the countryside
Sure, it’s a 10-hour bus ride instead of a 2-hour flight, but think of all the beautiful landscapes, funny farm animals, and unusual attractions you’ll see. There are great photographic opportunities, especially when you arrive or leave a city at sunset (which I will be doing today from Windhoek). Plus, if you factor in the ride to the airport, the time you wait before boarding the plane, and standing around to get your baggage afterwards, the time difference probably isn’t that much.
2. Meet cool people

Turns out, that creepy-looking guy sitting next to you is actually a German diplomat, and has cool travel stories from all over the world. He even flew with Nelson Mandela once. You never know whom you’ll meet, or what crazy stories you’ll hear if you talk to people.
There is also the chance that a local will give you good advice about where to go, and may even help you get there. Once I had a 10-hour layover in Port Elizabeth. A local offered to show me around the city for the day, and we had a great time! (Thanks Farai ☺)

3. Music therapy

No one to talk to? Awesome, this is my chance to finally listen to the new music I picked up in Cape Town. I think Blk Sonshine is my new favorite band. Really, when do you ever get to just sit and listen to music?

4. Cute kids

Kids can be a great source of entertainment, especially when they are doing funny things like stuffing their mouths with marshmallows (I so wish I had taken a picture). If the kid is actually interested in you (and the mother doesn’t seemed disturbed by you), it’s a great opportunity to do kid things, like coloring. Worried about crying kids? Carry some marshmallows with you, just in case.

5. Environmentally friendly

Don’t forget that air travel has a huge impact on the environment. Here is a chance to reduce your carbon footprint. Plus airplanes are pumped full of nasty chemicals, so you will be saving your body too.

6. Saves money
Not only is public transportation cheaper, but also it may allow you to spread your money to more people by stopping for food at local shops. I always take overnight buses, that way I won’t have to spend money on a hostel.

7. Practice your language skills
Even if you only know a few basic phrases, people in other countries will love hearing you speak their language. You will probably learn a lot as well, so be sure to have a notebook with you. This is another time when little kids come in handy. If you’re in Madagascar, know that they will laugh hysterically at you. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing.

Many people avoid public transportation because they are afraid. Certainly there are a few places where taking trains may be dangerous, but more often it just requires being cautious and aware of your surroundings. Remember, what you focus on is attracted to you. So think positively and smile at those around you. For me, this works every time. So go take a bus trip somewhere…go now!

What’s cooking in SA

It’s important to me that I travel responsibly on my journey through Africa. This means supporting local businesses, practicing cultural sensitivity, and using public transportation. I will avoid flying within Africa at all costs in order to reduce the footprint created by my journey (plus public transport is just more fun!). Of course, I still plan on seeing all the amazing things there are to see. There is a website that is helping me do this. It is http://www.responsibletravel.com, and it has information on great vacations all over the world that also benefit local communities. It was through this website that I found Andulela. They have tours in Cape Town, which are guided by locals and involve learning about the different communities. There were so many possibilities for cool tours, but I really wanted to learn how to cook a curry. So I took the Cape Malay cooking class. We actually went to the home of local woman and got hands-on experience making sambosas, curry, rotis, and sambals. We also got a guided tour of the Bo-Kaap museum and neighborhood. The money I spent on the class went right into the neighborhood. I even bought some spices at the local family-owned spice shop for good measure (plus I was hoping this would help my curry skills). I had such a great time, and I hope to get a few more tours in before I leave Cape Town.

And by the way, I can totally make a kick-ass curry now! Check out the video https://youtu.be/zHbxyBTrdSk

Touch the sky

I’ve imagined it a thousand times. My heart starts racing. The wind is blasting in my face. Then I jump, and my stomach flip-flops over and over again. I have dreamt about skydiving for a long time, despite my intense fear of falling. But I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, and it’s irrational nature. I’ve faced some pretty scary things recently- living alone in a developing country, suddenly losing my home and job, having a scarce amount of money, traveling alone through Africa- and whenever I start to stress out I just remind myself that there really is nothing bad happening at this moment. The only frightening situations are the ones created by my mind. I know many people who have skydived, and they all loved it. Raved about it even. That’s why I wanted to try it, after all. So what’s there to be afraid of?

The flight was fabulous, and the day was perfect. One minute I was gazing out at the ocean, and the next at the misty mountains stretching along the northern horizon. South Africa is incredibly beautiful. Once we reached 10,000 feet everything happened so quickly. The door opened and I did feel the wind in my face, but my heart wasn’t pounding as hard as I’d imagined. Then we jumped, and my stomach did not flip-flop. It was exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. It’s not like when you fall near the ground, because there is no fear of hitting something. The ground is so far away you just feel free, totally free. After the chute opens is the strangest sensation. There you are, in the middle of nothing. You look down at your feet, but there is nothing below them. The ground is still a thousand feet away, and you are floating along like a balloon.

Touching the ground was a relief, not because I was afraid, but because I had so many thoughts and emotions to digest. This new experience was unlike any other, and it is unlikely that anything will ever match it. Until, of course, I jump on my own.
Check out the video