Sunday, April 17, 2016

What Really Happened

My blog posts tend to be about the highlights of my trips; however, there are certainly low points as well.  Since I’m now safely back in the US, I’ll share the some of the unfortunate incidents that occurred this trip.

During the two years that I lived in Uganda, I never had any major thefts.  But after only three nights in Johannesburg, $200 cash was stolen from my hotel room at the Holiday Inn.  Some was taken out of my purse and some from the safe in my room.  I reported it to the manager, but the “investigation” did not find anything (no big surprise there). Since the hotel is not responsible lost or damaged property, the money is a loss.

Long Work Hours
Working in the country office means working 11- or 12-hour days, due to the time difference with Seattle.  The Seattle staff come online around 4:00pm (South Africa time); so just as I was finishing my long day at the Johannesburg office, the emails from Seattle started coming in and needed attention.  Work travel was not as exciting as I had anticipated - it's just twice as much computer work.

Disorganized Packing
Due to stress of work (prior to leaving Seattle), my packing job was not very thorough. 
TIP: NEVER go to Africa without insect repellent and long socks.

Lost Luggage
Somewhere between Mozambique and Botswana, the airlines lost my checked luggage. That was almost two weeks ago now, and there has been no word about it.  It contains all of my work clothes and shoes, work notebooks and papers, and all of the crafts I bought in South Africa and Mozambique.  I’ve talked with two airlines in three different airports (Maputo, Johannesburg, and Maun), and nobody knows where it is.  Ugh.

Poor Tour Company Operations
I arrived in Maun, Botswana and went to the Sitatunga Camp, as indicated on my safari itinerary.  Unfortunately, the tour company had changed the meeting point and never informed me.  After several hours with the Sitatunga office staff calling around, we found my safari group in a different camp.  But they said that they could not pick me up because I was too far away (on the other side of town).  I had to find my own way to Maun airport to meet them the next day or I’d miss my safari.  I was able to hitch a ride with a different tour group, so it worked out in the end.  It was just a very stressful way to start my vacation.

Transport Problems
On the long travel day of the safari, we all got up at 4:00am to begin the journey, only to find the vehicle had a flat tire.

Later that day, the boat we were on broke down.

During my game drive in Victoria Falls, we also got a flat tire.

And even in Harare, Chiko’s husband had to change a flat tire.

Clearly, this was not the smoothest trip - but let's end on a high note.

  • I'm so glad that I was able to meet the PATH field staff in person.  It will definitely help build stronger team relationships.
  • I'm thankful that I was able to go on field visits in both South Africa and Mozambique.  Usually when people from PATH travel, they are stuck in the office the entire time.
  • The nine people on my safari were awesome.  We came across other groups that had 24 rowdy kids (by 'kids' I mean early 20-somethings).  I find it much more enjoyable hanging out with the older, more mature crowd.
  • Even though Victoria Falls was quite expensive, it was one of the most incredible natural wonders that I've ever seen.  I enjoyed every moment of my three days there.
  • And of course, I was reunited with one of my closest friends from grad school.
I love traveling to various countries and seeing the differences in culture, infrastructure, and way of life.  Now that I've traveled around Africa quite a bit, I think my next trip will be on a different continent.  Southeast Asia?  Maybe a European tour?  It all depends on opportunity (i.e. work travel, cheap flights, traveling companions, etc.).

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Three Days at Victoria Falls

Day 1
When we arrived at Victoria Falls, it was already raining a little; combined with the thick spray from the falls, we were completely drenched as we walked through to the viewpoints.  I didn’t even make it halfway through the 2-km pathway, not only because my clothes and shoes were soaked through, but also because it was impossible to take pictures and I didn’t want to risk damaging my camera or phone. 

I ended up at the visitor’s center cafĂ©, drinking a hot chocolate. And I found a great photo book of the falls at the gift shop.  Thankfully, the remaining time at Victoria Falls was sunny and beautiful.

Even in the rain, Victoria Falls is one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen.  The rainy season has just finished, so the falls have a high volume of water right now.  I don’t think I’d want to come during the low season, because it wouldn’t have the same impact.


Since I didn’t get very many pictures at the viewpoints, I had to do other activities to make the most of my time at the falls.  I immediately signed up the “Flight of the Angels” to get an areal view from a helicopter.  I was a bit nervous after the nauseating flight into the Okavango, but I wasn’t going to miss this.  Even though the price was outrageous for a 15-minute flight, it’s the only way to the see the entire falls and gorge from above.

Day 2
The second day started with an early morning game drive, and for the first time in all of my African safaris, I finally saw a rhino.

Next we went to the bridge that crosses the gorge between Zimbabwe and Zambia.  We couldn't actually enter Zambia because we only got a single entry visa for Zimbabwe (and I didn't want to pay for another one).  Crossing the bridge gave us another (distant) viewpoint of the falls.

(Zimbabwe side on the left, Zambia on the right)

In the afternoon, we finally had "down time" to do whatever we wanted.  So a group of us went Victoria Falls town and visited the craft shops (which were completely overpriced) and a smoothie bar.

Day 3
On the final day at Victoria Falls, I said goodbye to my tour companions (some were going home, others were continuing on another leg of the tour).  After a leisurely breakfast, I realized I had several hours to kill before going to the airport.  I decided for one last adventure at the falls.  :)

It was a great way to end my vacation.

Then it was off to Harare to visit Chiko, my classmate from grad school in Leeds.

I’ve spent the last two days with Chiko, helping finalize her wedding details (April 30th is the big day) and getting a tour of Harare.  I knew the visit would be short, but it’s time to head back to the states.  (I’ve been gone for nearly a month!)

I will be posting one more blog when I return to the U.S.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Okavango Unplugged

I have to admit, it's been wonderful to unplug from the world for the past week.  No Facebook, no work emails, no news headlines, no internet.  It took about two days to really let go of those habits and stop thinking about work and to-do lists.  But when you're in the Okavango Delta, you have to choice but to "log off". . . and it's completely freeing.

But now, I have to somehow encapsulate all of the activities from the past seven days into this blog post.  I'll have to break up the journey: one post about Botswana/Namibia and one post about Zimbabwe.

I flew into Maun on April 6 and met up with my safari tour group on April 7.  There were nine of us: three from Germany, two from Australia, two from Italy, one from Canada, and me.  We flew from Maun airport to a landing strip in the middle of the Okavango Delta.

The 6-seater plane and me as the co-pilot (ha ha!)

This was the first time I flew in a small plane like that and I can't say that I enjoyed it.  The Dramamine kicked in halfway through the 40-minute flight and then it was slightly better.

For two days, we stayed in a very nice camp that had large permanent tents and was surrounded by wildlife.  During this stay, we went on a walking safari (and saw elephants and hippos), took a three-hour game drive around the area (saw a lot of animals, but not a lot of big game), and went for a Mokoro trip (local dug-out canoe) through the waterways.

Most of my tour group and one of our guides

Sunset on the walking safari

 Morning Mokoro ride 
(It was unusually cold that morning, hence the jacket and scarf.)

The third day of the tour started at 4:00am because we had to travel from the delta to the Namibian/Botswana border near Chobe National Park.  So we drove for two hours, then rode on a small boat through the canals for an hour, then got in another car for an hour, then another (bigger) boat for two hours, and then finally the tour "adventure" truck for the remaining eight hours.  It was a long day.
Speeding through the delta canals, looking for crocodiles

We only briefly cut through the Caprivi Strip of Namibia because the roads are better there than in Botswana.  I never actually went sightseeing in Namibia, and I certainly didn't go to the desert region. (That's in the southwest region, which was the opposite side from where I was.)  We stayed at another camp site (permanent tents) that night and headed to Chobe National Park in Botswana the next morning.

Our game drive through Chobe was definitely a highlight of the trip.  We saw a herd of about 40 elephants (crazy!!), giraffes, zebras, impalas, a leopard, lions, wildebeest, warthogs, baboons, tons and tons of birds, and a few other animals I can't think of right now.

After the game drive, we went for a sunset cruise and saw elephants playing the water (which was hilarious), as well as hippos and more crocodiles.

That roughly sums up my time in Botswana and Namibia.  The blog post for Zimbabwe will happen in a few days. I'm leaving Victoria Falls today to go visit a friend in Harare (the capital).

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mozambique in Pictures

I was only in Mozambique for three days (two of which were work days).  Here are the highlights in pictures.

Hotel Cardoso - pretty nice. 
It had an old historic feeling to it. Unfortunately, the internet was terrible and caused much frustration (for work and blogging).

 View from the hotel restaurant balcony

My coworker, Loida, and I went to the very large craft market in Maputo.  
Beautiful colors and fabrics.

Teaching early childhood development at a rural health clinic.

 Community health workers and PATH off to do house visits to follow up with families who have children with developmental delays.

The work portion of my trip is finished.  Now I am in Botswana and will leave on the Okavango Delta safari tomorrow.  I probably won't have internet until I reach Victoria Falls (in five days).  Until then . . .