Despite having been out late with Shane and Renee the night before, I was up somewhat early (and far early that I had hoped), waking up around 08:00. I had a slight hangover, but nothing too terrible (and certainly nothing compares to that morning on Zanzibar!).
I went out to get a light breakfast and some coffee while I waited to hear from Mat and Kelly. They had been out the night before at his company’s annual party, so I expected that we’d all be dragging this morning. Kelly ended up staying at home so she could rest, but Mat came into the city around 14:00.
The weather was rather crappy and it rained most of the afternoon. Mat drove us into some of the outlying neighborhoods of Melbourne, which I enjoyed getting to see. My favorite area was Fitzroy, where we spent some time walking along the street and looking at the shops. We stopped in a local bar, the Naked for Satan; the bar was amazing and had such a unique atmosphere. The walls were decorated with vintage snuff photos, both men and women. We grabbed a beer before heading out to further explore the city.
We explored a bit more before stopping in the Middle Eastern area to relax with some shisha; we got apple flavor that was served in a hollowed-out apple. None of the shisha in Melbourne can contain tobacco, which made it far less harsh and more enjoyable. Our next stop was to grab a quick bite to eat before Mat dropped me back at the hostel.
It was getting late in the afternoon by this point, but I decided to head back out for one last stroll around the city. I decided to just retrace my steps and revisit some of the places that I enjoyed the most. My first stop was the Pilgrim Bar, where I’d met Shane and Renee the day before. The bar served good beer, but it was the location, right on the river, that I enjoyed the most. It was quite deserted in the late afternoon, so I just had one beer before continuing on. I meandered around the CBD area for about an hour before finally returning to the hostel, where I packed up and prepared to leave early the following morning.
Monday, 14 November
Today I caught an early flight to Cairns, in the northeast of Australia. We landed just before noon and I reached my hotel in less than hour after that. I was immediately struck by how hot and humid the city was, far different than the chilly weather of Melbourne!
After checking in and changing clothes, I went out with the intention of lounging on the beach. Cairns is nestled among the mountains, right next to the Pacific Ocean. To my disappointment, I found that there was no proper beach in Cairns – in fact, the tide was out when I got to the waterfront and the water recedes quite some ways from the shoreline (several hundred meters). I resolved to just walk along the esplanade area along the waterfront, which was a pleasant enough walk.
The city had built a large public pool at the end of the walkway, complete with fountains and even a sandy beach area lining it. The pool was packed with people, as was the surrounding grassy fields. People were finding any way to escape from the heat! I stopped in a local coffee shop to cool off and do some reading before walking around the city a bit more.
Cairns is not a particularly remarkable city; it is a small beach resort town, very similar to what we have in the States. I went out for Chinese food for dinner, finally satisfying a craving that I’d been having for several weeks. The food was ok; not the best, but ok. While walking back to my hotel I stumbled upon a German restaurant that served some good imported beer – including Lowenbrau! I grabbed one quick drink and then went back to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.
On the way, I remembered that tonight was to be the “super moon” event, when the moon would be closer to Earth than it had been for 70 years, making it appear far larger in the night sky. Several people were lined up along the esplanade to watch the moon and I joined them. The view was spectacular! The moon rose over the mountains to the east and was massive! I tried to snap a few photos, but none of them did justice to the awesome sight.
Tuesday, 15 November
I had a full day tour planned for today, heading up the coast to see the Daintree Rainforest. The tour started early and I was picked up shortly after 07:00. The tour guide was an upbeat, energetic guy named Marc; he added a lot of personality and humor to the day – definitely one of the best tour guides I’ve had.
Our first stop was at a wildlife reserve, which was very similar to the park we visited in Sydney. This park was larger and better organized, but they had fewer animals on display. The park was divided up into different sections based upon habitat (rainforest, forest, wetlands, etc). Each section contained the animals that usually live there. They had a few koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and a monstrous crocodile. I walked around the entirety of the park and then made my way back to the bus.
Our next stop was at a gorge in the Forest, where we took a separate shuttle to go further into the forest before taking a short hike. Marc guided us around, explaining about the various different trees and animals that live there. We saw a forest dragon, which is a small lizard. As we walked closer to the water, we saw several large spiders; thankfully they were far enough away that I didn’t get scared of them. There were several people swimming in various areas of the water.
We had a 90-minute drive to reach our lunch stop; thankfully I’d booked the option with lunch included. At the start of the tour we were able to pick our meal from a small selection: chicken, steak, or kangaroo. I went with the kangaroo, of course. Lunch was at a small resort hotel deep in the Forest, but also right on the beach. The kangaroo steak was quite delicious; the meat it very tender and not gamey at all. After eating, I went for a walk along the beach, which was rather deserted, making it a calming and serene 45 minutes.
Our next to last stop of the day was at an overlook, providing us views of the rainforest and the ocean. During this stop, Marc found some ants crawling along the fence and explained that the rear of the ants is very acidic and rich in vitamin C, but the ants also bite. He killed several ants and let us try licking their butts to taste the acidic area; it was a fun experience.
Finally, we took an hour-long boat ride along the river to try and spot crocodiles. Having seen so many crocs in the wild in Africa, I was unenthusiastic about this portion of the tour. The boat captain was quite discouraged because he had done eight tours that day and only seen two juvenile crocs during the entire day. We spotted the same two crocs, who were quite small. They were both near the shoreline, swimming along, hunting for food.
We then drove back to Cairns, arriving shortly before 18:00. I stopped for a quick bite to eat and then a walk along the esplanade on my way back to the hotel.
Wednesday, 16 November
Another full-day tour planned for today, but this one took me out to the Great Barrier Reef and Green Island. Thankfully the tour didn’t begin until 09:00, giving me time to sleep in.
The boat was packed with a group of Chinese tourists, but I was lucky enough to find a lone seat still available. The boat took roughly an hour to reach Green Island and the trip over was quite rough. The water was choppy, rocking the boat around; I spent the entire ride with my eyes closed, listening to music, trying not to get sick. I was so happy when we finally reached Green Island.
I had roughly 45 minutes before lunch was to be served on the boat, so I spent the time relaxing on the beach. The water was crystal clear, beautiful shades of blue and green. It was the most beautiful beach and ocean that I’ve seen (so far). I could see the Great Barrier Reef through the water, including several fish. Green Island is actually part of the Reef; it is a sandy outcropping on the Reef itself.
Lunch was a decent buffet on the boat, with a variety of hot dishes. Once I was finished, I spent the next hour walking around the entire island. There was a beach area with chairs and umbrellas, but these had to be rented out. The walk around the island took about 45 minutes and I was the only person walking around for much of that time. The views were breathtakingly stunning.
At 13:15 I returned to the boat for the first boat tour of the day. The first tour was in a semi-sub boat around the Great Barrier Reef. We boarded the smaller boat and headed down into the seats, which sat below the water level; windows lined the room, providing us close-up views of the Reef and the fish. The tour lasted 30 minutes and we were able to see tons of fish swimming around; many would come right up to the windows.
Immediately after the semi-sub tour ended, I boarded the glass-bottom boat for another 30-minute trip around the Reef. This boat didn’t allow us to see as much as the semi-sub, but we did get to see a turtle swimming around. A kid on the boat, maybe 12 or 13, screamed and shouted when we saw the turtle; the scream startled everyone onboard – it sounded like a scream of terror.
After returning to shore, I spent the short amount of time remaining walking around and relaxing. The ride back to Cairns was – thankfully – not as bad as the morning. We left Green Island at 15:45, arriving back in Cairns around 17:00.
Thursday, 17 November
Today I left Australia and flew to New Zealand. Nothing eventful or remarkable happened during the day. The flight was direct – one of the few direct flights out of Cairns – and I arrived in Auckland around 17:00. I took the SkuBus into the city and then walked over to my hotel.
I was staying at the Shakespeare Hotel and Brewery, right in the heart of the CBD. The hotel portion was quite nice, but it was the bar on the ground floor that was the true highlight. They brewed a couple beers on-site and served several others.
I didn’t do anything during the evening; I spent the time unwinding at the hotel, having a beer in the bar downstairs.
Friday, 18 November
My plans for today centered around taking the ferry over to a couple of the islands nearby and hiking around them. I walked down to the waterfront after breakfast, planning to board the ferry directly, but then I noticed several signs advertising the 75th Anniversary Celebration for the Royal New Zealand Navy. There were several events planned for the weekend as representatives of navies from around the world had come to participate.
On the schedule for today was a parade down Queen Street of the bands and military members from all of the naval forces in attendance. The parade was set to begin at 11:30, so I decided to skip going out to the islands in order to watch the parade; I could visit the islands tomorrow. I had a short time to waste until the parade began, so I stopped in to grab some coffee. As the time for the parade neared, I noticed that Queen Street was still full of traffic. I did a Google search and discovered that the parade had been cancelled! The organizers decided to cancel the parade in response to the earthquake that hit the South Island last week in which a couple people died. I’m not quite sure how canceling the parade did anything, but I was disappointed. I checked the ferry schedule and I had missed the last ferry to the main island (there are only a few going out early in the morning), so I decided to spend the day wandering around town.
Auckland doesn’t have many sights to see and I soon decided to do some clothes shopping. Most of my clothes were far too big for me and I wanted to get some clothes that actually fit. I stopped in several stores and found nothing that I liked or that was affordable (one store wanted $150 NZD for a simple t-shirt, which I refuse to consider paying). I stumbled upon Cotton On, which had several great shirts at really low prices. I also found a smaller store nearby, where I bought a new hoodie and a couple shirts. The sales guy who helped me was very friendly (and clearly gay); he even just hung around and chatted with me for a little bit…. Perhaps flirting?
Everyone I spoke with in Auckland called me (and every other guy) “bro” all the time. “What’s going on, bro?” “How’s your day going, bro?” “Paying with credit card, bro?” “This is a good beer, bro.” It was really… interesting that it was so common for people to use that word. All I could think of was South Park:
I’m not your friend, buddy. I’m not your buddy, guy. I’m not your guy, friend.
I would add in: “I’m not your bro, guy!”
By late afternoon I had run out of things to do, so I opted to see the movie “Doctor Strange” before dinner. The movie was visually stunning, but overall I found it to be boring (I was struggling to stay awake during the second half). The theater was decently full and several people were munching their goddamn popcorn, necessitating my moving around a few times to escape the sound of their chewing.
Saturday, 19 November
Today the weather was far from ideal: cold and rainy, which ruined my plans for heading out to the islands to hike around. I could have done the hiking in the cold, but I didn’t have the clothes for the rain. I was rather disappointed, but I found that there was a naval vessel review scheduled for the afternoon, so I decided to go and see that.
I walked down to the waterfront in the morning and visited the free naval exhibit that was setup in The Cloud, an exhibition space on one of the piers. The exhibit chronicled the 75-year history of the Royal New Zealand Navy through a series of photos and videos. There was a large section devoted to the integration of women into the general armed forces (rather than having two separate groups for the genders); it was nice to see how the process evolved and was embraced by the military.
When I left the exhibit, I was disappointed to see that the weather had worsened. The wind had picked up and the rain was coming down harder (not a downpour, but unpleasant to be in, even with an umbrella). One of the naval vessels was having some sort of ceremony nearby, with the sailors standing at attention; I wanted to stay and watch, but it was miserable standing around outside.
I went into town a little bit and found a small restaurant to have brunch. I ordered the French toast, which was topped with cooked bananas and bacon, with a side of peanut butter and syrup. The flavors blended so well; it was rich and decadent and delicious! It was very filling and I could barely finish it, but it was too tasty to waste.
By this point I’d missed the naval review, which I’d decided to do before brunch. The weather was just too awful to stand outside and watch the ships in the harbor. I had given thought to taking the free shuttle out to the aquarium, but the shuttle timings would have left me with only 30 minutes or so in which to explore the aquarium, so I opted to skip that idea.
I walked around the city for a little bit, but the wind picked up, so I went to grab a coffee to warm up with; I spent some time reading and working as well. After a little while the weather improved (well, the wind and rain stopped), just as night was coming on. I grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading back to the hotel so I could pack and head to bed early.
I went down to the bar and had one final drink to celebrate my travels. Four months had flown by all too quickly. The prospect of returning to the United Stated was not one that I welcomed - I would rather continue traveling indefinitely. Alas, all things must come to an end. Though this was the end of this epic adventure, it has merely whetted my appetite. Bigger and better things are in store for me in the no-so-distant future!
However, I still have the four day stopover in my wonderful Seattle to help ease me back into life in the States...
Today dawned with such hope and promise… the presidential election had finally arrived. Happily, I had voted while I was in Scotland back in September; as a Hillary supporter, I was hoping to call Hillary “Madam President” by day’s end. She may be a divisive person, but there is no one more qualified for the office of President of the United States; I was proud to cast my vote for her. The polls would be open throughout most of the day and it would be the afternoon before any results started to come in.
I was up earlier than I had expected today, but it gave me time to have a relaxing morning before heading out on my day tour. I walked over to the Kings Cross area of town to grab a bite to eat; I quickly realized that this isn’t the best part of town. I saw several homeless people who had obvious mental issues, as well as a couple prostitutes. After walking around for a little bit, I headed over to the pickup location for my day tour to the Blue Mountains.
The tour bus was (thankfully) not very full for the day’s trip (perhaps 12 people in total); I like smaller groups as things seem to be able to run smoother. There was another solo guy on the tour and we said a quick hello to one another before the tour started.
We drove for about 45 minutes before reaching our first stop, the Featherdale Wildlife Park. This is a small, interactive animal park with animals from around Australia, including kangaroos and koalas. We could walk around and pet the animals as we passed by them; several animals were free to roam around and in some areas we could enter their enclosures.
My first stop was the koala sanctuary, where they had several different koalas. They were all up and eating, providing some great views of the animals. One area had a koala that we could pet and get a photo with him, which was fun.
Walking to the next section there was a guy with a snake, letting those who wanted to hold it; I avoided the snake and went on to look at the birds. The park had a plethora of birds, from macaws to hawks to cockatoos.
The kangaroos and wallabies were really fun to see; they were so inquisitive and were obviously quite used to humans. Several came right up to us and we could reach down to pet them.
The park even had a huge crocodile, far bigger than any of the crocs we had seen in Africa! He was lying around in a pool, but soon began to move about. It was amazing getting to be so close to the croc; I snapped a few photos and send one to Chris, letting him know that I “took care” of the croc, just in case it was trying to hunt him down…
The park had an enclosure for the Tasmanian devil, but the animal was not out for us to see, which was disappointing. I went into the bat enclosure, which was very cool to see them flying around and hanging from the ceiling.
After leaving the park, we drove up into the Blue Mountains; the mountains are actually quite small, not getting my higher than 3,600 feet in elevation; even the guide referred to them as hills rather than mountains. We made a stop in the town of Leura for lunch; I walked down to a local bakery to have a meat pie for lunch. I ordered the kangaroo and tomato goulash pie, which was delicious!
As I was walking back to the bus after lunch, a violent thunderstorm began; the lighting and thunder was intense and VERY close. Seconds after we boarded the bus the rain came down, which was quite lucky. The other solo guy ran back in the rain; he had found a place that was showing the election results and lost track of time watching them. This caught my attention and we began to discuss the election.
His name is Shane; he’s from Ireland, but currently lives in New York. Throughout the afternoon, we kept checking the news with our phones for the latest updates. After lunch, just the east coast polls had closed and Hillary was leading Trump by 2 electoral votes.
Our next stop was at Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, which was nestled right next to the stunning Three Sisters. Our tour included admission to the three rides that they had; we were dropped off on one side of the valley and took the Skyway across to the main visitor center. The Skyway is an elevated cable car with glass panels on the bottom, allowing us to look straight down at the rain forest.
Shane and I decided to head around the park together and took the cable car from the visitor center down to the forest floor to walk around. The cable car was quite steep, which was exciting, and it provided even more great views of the entire area. Once we reached the bottom, we got out and decided to take the longer walking path around the forest. The forest was quiet and peaceful; there was not much to do along the path besides just admire the beauty of the forest.
To get back up to the visitor center, we took the scenic railway, which is the steepest passenger railway in the world, running at a 52 degree incline! We wanted to get the front seats, so we waited for the next car and then got in. At the front there was just a wire mesh to keep us from falling forward and out of the train. The train ran backwards up the mountain while playing the theme from Indiana Jones; the path was incredibly steep and it was exciting to ride it backwards.
Once we got to the top, we decided to take the train back down the mountain so we could get the best views from the front of the car. We hopped over the railing and got back in line for the first car. Going down was even more exciting than going up; we had to hold on to the safety bars to steady ourselves. Sadly, the ride is a short one, but we were able to just stay on-board and ride it back to the top again.
By this point the storm clouds had caught up with us and the views of the mountains and valley was obstructed by the clouds; we were lucky to have seen what we did when we arrived. We drove on to Echo Point, which would normally afford some spectacular views; all we saw was clouds. There was a walkway leading down to the first of the Three Sisters, which Shane and I followed. It was raining lightly as we walked along; in a short time, we took the steep stairs down to the Honeymoon Bridge and to the base of the Sister. We were able to see more of the Sister from this close vantage point, which was nice.
Before heading back towards Sydney, we checked on the election results; Hillary and Trump were neck and neck; far too close for comfort…
We had a 90-minute drive back into town, where we drove by the Olympic Village and then stopped at the riverfront, where we got off the bus and boarded a boat to take us back into town. The rain hadn’t let up and we were thus unable to see anything as we sailed down the river and into Sydney Harbor. Shane bought us each a beer, which we drank while monitoring the election; by this time Trump was taking the lead, but the west coast polls had not yet closed, so there was still hope!
By the time the boat reached the city, Trump was further in the lead… Shane and I knew we needed to get some drinks. We’d talked about going out after the tour and the election results just fueled that.
When we arrived in Sydney, we got off the boat at Circular Quay and walked over to a nearby bar, naked Buckley’s, to have some drinks. We sat at a table and were nearly done with our first beer and Shane was checking the BBC News on his phone; suddenly he tossed in down on the table for me to see: Trump had been declared the winner. We were both stunned, shocked and in disbelief at what had happened. We both swore, cursing the results, wishing they were somehow an elaborate joke.
We sat at the bar and had two more beers, lamenting the election results and discussing our fears for the future….
BEGIN POLITICAL RANT
My gut reaction was one of revulsion that Trump would live in the White House, be addressed as “Mr President” and shown the due respect. By winning the election, he has cheapened the office of the presidency. How could we go from Barack Obama… to this man?
How could a man like Donald Trump win the election? A man who has openly and repeatedly declared hateful, bigoted, xenophobic, racist thoughts and ideas. A man who had insulted and offended every single minority. His candidacy started out as a joke, one that we never took too seriously… until it was too late. Even so, the idea that such a horrible person could become President of the United States was unthinkable.
Trump represents the resurgence of the white, Christian, straight male; the one group that has oppressed every other group in society for centuries, during which time they have held the reins of power. In recent decades this power of theirs had been threatened: they were no longer able to keep minorities down; women’s rights in the early 1900s to Civil Rights in the 1960s to Islamic rights in the 2000s to gay rights in the 2010s. These minorities were finally getting treated equally, with the respect they deserve, but this threatened the power that these man held. Trump is the logical backlash against these equality movements; the last hurrah of the white, Christian, straight male. Looking at the voting map of the US, it is quite clear that the old South had indeed risen again…
What terrifies me most about a Trump presidency is the fact that the Republicans now control all branches of government. The Republican Party may now pivot and embrace the hate-filled rhetoric of Donald Trump, making it the party platform.
Presidency The powers of the White House are now at the disposal of a temperamentally unpredictable, childish bully. Anytime anyone insults him, he flies off the handle to fire back at them. Now that he has real power, what can’t he do in retaliation? He will be a target for intense ridicule from around the world. How will he react to North Korea’s hostile behavior? We cannot have a president take drastic action; we need someone to carefully weigh the consequences of their actions, which Trump has never been able to do; he acts on impulse, without thinking. This is not the type of person who should have control over national security, the military and, most frightening of all, nuclear weapons.
Congress With the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, they can pass any legislation that they see fit. With Trump as president, any right-wing, conservative and bigoted law will easy be signed into law. Republicans can now overturn the Affordable Care Act, pass discriminatory legislation aimed at oppressing minorities (along the lines of House Bill 2 from North Carolina).
Supreme Court There is already one vacancy on the Supreme Court, with one or two possibilities to follow during the next few years as the two liberal judges are getting older. This raises some serious fears as the vacancies will be filled by conservative judges, which will give them the majority on the bench. This could lead to serious setbacks for minority rights: Roe v Wade could be overturned, gay marriage could be banned, etc.
There is one other possibility that is even more fearful: that Trump will repudiate his campaign rhetoric and promises, which he used just to win over the voters and get elected. If this happens, no one will have any idea where he stands on any issues. He would have been elected based on what he said during the campaign, but if he abandons those ideas, we’re venturing into no-man’s land, which can be even more dangerous.
I will acknowledge that Donald Trump has been elected president, but I cannot and will not accept it. I will do everything I can to combat his hateful policies at every turn over the next four years. The rights of minorities must be vigorously defended and championed!
END POLITICAL RANT
Shane and I made our way over to the Opera Bar, which was just a short walk away down the waterfront. It was getting late, but we each needed to have something to eat as we drank. We ordered some food and another beer; the view from the bar of the harbor and the Sydney Harbor Bridge was amazing. My friends from Melbourne, Mat and Kelly, had suggested drinking here at sunset, which would be spectacular. We sat around chatting while we ate and drank, talking mostly about the election as we were still in shock, but also about traveling (our shared passion) and movies (Shane has a shared love of films like I do - he likes "One Hour Photo", enough said!).
We then hopped in a cab to head over to the Darling Harbor area, where we wanted to go to a bar that Shane had visited the day before, called Beer DeLuxe. The taxi driver didn’t know the bar, but Shane was able to provided directions that got us there. The bar was right on the waterfront, but they were getting ready to close when we arrived. We spent a long time discussing the election and then beer with the bartender while we had a beer. We ordered one final beer and sat out on the terrace while they closed up the bar. It was a relaxing way to unwind and distress, commiserating over the devastating news together.
We then walked along the waterfront for a little bit, chatting some more. We were both happy to have met one another; it made the day tour more fun to spend with someone, as well as gave us something to do during the evening. We decided to spend the next day together as neither of us had definite plans; I was really happy with this idea as it would make the day more interesting and fun to hang out with someone.
We were planning to call an Uber to come take us to our respective hotels, but we ended up grabbing a taxi instead. Our taxi driver was from Sri Lanka and was an outspoken Trump supporter, which baffled us. We told him that we were upset by the election and the driver would not stop talking about Trump, which was quite annoying. We dropped Shane off at his hotel, with he and I making plans for the following day. When we got to my hotel, the taxi driver kept talked about Trump for about 10 minutes while I was trying to get him to shut up and charge my credit card.
Back in my room, I turned on the news and got online to absorb more of what was happening back home. I was in total and complete shock. I was numb. I was speechless.
My friends back home and I had been texting throughout the day and they were all sharing the same feelings that I was. We were going through the grieving process: anger, disbelief, sadness. One minute we would be mad as hell; the next minute we’d be in tears. One of my main concerns was what this would do to women’s rights; Trump is a misogynist and that attitude for four years could set women’s rights back by decades, preventing another chance for a woman president for years to come.
I finally went to bed around 02:00, sad and dejected by the day’s events.
Thursday, 10 November
Today was my last day of my short stay in Sydney and thankfully the weather was supposed to be nice, so wandering about the city would be pleasant.
Shane and I planned to meet up and spend the day together until I had to catch my bus at 19:00. I took it easy in the morning, watching the news and catching up on the latest from the election debacle. The news was not pleasant; I watched Hillary’s gut-wrenching concession speech, which was possibly the most difficult part of the past two days.
Shane and I messaged one another via Facebook and I headed off to his hotel at 10:00; I had to check out of my hotel by that time, but Shane graciously let me bring my bags over and keep them in his room during the day. His hotel, the Y Hotel, was right by Hyde Park and was quite nice – I would definitely stay there when I return to Sydney.
Our first stop was a small café near the hotel so Shane could have some breakfast; I’d eaten at my hotel, so I just grabbed a coffee. After that we walked through Hyde Park, stopping to admire a memorial to all those who have died in military service to Australia; the memorial was a series of large bullets.
Nearby was a large building that we went over to check out; it turned out to be a memorial for World War One. Inside was an eternal flame and a very interesting statue that was housed on the floor below. Outside of the memorial was a reflection pool, which was rather pretty with all of the trees surrounding it.
We continued heading north, towards the Botanic Gardens and the Opera House. On the way we passed by several interesting buildings, including a massive church and a very pretty fountain. At one point we took a sidetrack into a courtyard of an old building, which was rather quaint.
We finally reached the Botanic Gardens and began exploring it on our own. The area was part of a larger park, right on the waterfront. We were both really impressed and pleased with the area; Shane commented that he wished that Central Park in NYC was more like this park; I had been thinking along similar lines not two minutes before he said that!
We stopped to take some pictures in front of the Opera House before walking over to see the building up close. From the balcony of the Opera House we were able to get some great views of the Harbor Bridge.
We still had most of the afternoon left to us, so we decided to take one of the ferries out on the harbor as we walked over to Circular Quay. We picked the ferry that went over to Darling Harbor, which would allow us to explore that area of the city for a little while. We stood in the queue to get the ferry tickets and barely made the boat at 13:05 (we were the last to board). To our delight, the ferry didn’t go direct to Darling Harbor, but made two quick stops (including one at Luna Park), which allowed us to take some truly amazing pictures of the Opera House, the Bridge and the city.
Once we docked at Darling Harbor, we decided to walk around and eventually head over to the fish market for lunch. The harbor area was teeming with people; we took the long way around the harbor. Christmas decorations were staring to be put up, including a large Christmas tree; we both commented that it all seemed so out of place, especially since the weather was so warm! Christmas is supposed to be cold!
The fish market was about a 20-minute walk away from Darling Harbor; it was fun just walking through a different part of town as we made our way over there. When we arrived at the fish market, we were both rather disappointed: it didn’t appear to have any of the restaurants or actual markets that we’d expected. All we saw was a large parking lot and what appeared to be a large warehouse, but no storefronts. We walked around and discovered that the warehouse was where everything was located, we just couldn’t see it from where we entered.
Inside there were several different restaurants, selling all kinds of seafood. We explored the area for a bit before settling down to have lunch. I had a minced meat pie, while Shane had sushi, prawns and clams. We were both really pleased with the food; we sat outside to eat right by the waterfront; the birds were everywhere, eager to get scraps of food.
After eating, we walked back over to Darling Harbor and then tried to decide what we wanted to do for the rest of the afternoon. We only had a couple of hours left before I needed to head to the bus station. We decided to head over to the Queen Victoria Building mall for a little bit. The mall was massive, with four floors of stores; there were some really interesting clocks and decorations around the mall. We stopped in a couple of stores, including one called The Art of Dr Seuss. It was filled with large paintings of his work, which were really interesting to see – but they were insanely expensive (in excess of $10,000 AUD); one statue was priced at over $25,000 AUD!
We also went into a hobby store, which was filled with some really fun things, like action figures from the Terminator and TONS of the vinyl pop figures. We wandered around the store, admiring some of the things they had, and then discovered the model train section in the back. The prices for some of the trains and the model buildings were outrageous! The store had a large display with several trains running on it; it was encased by glass, but there were four buttons on the outside. Shane pressed one of the buttons, which did nothing. I then pressed the other three and it stopped one of the trains. Then we noticed that the buttons were stuck. Shane quietly said “I think it’s about to go!” and I agreed, so we quickly made out way out of the store.
We stopped in a small café to relax and grab some coffee. The café was small and quaint; it was nice to just sit back, chat and get some energy again from the coffee. When we finished, we got up to leave and walked right out of the café – and I suddenly realized that we hadn’t paid! We rushed right back in, paid and then left. We honestly just forgot; I think we were in a bit of a zombie trance, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. We were laughing about it as we left the mall and headed back to Shane’s hotel.
Back at the hotel, I checked through my bags and repacked a few things to get ready for the bus ride that night. Shane turned on the news and we got caught up on the analysis that was going on. Shane then pulled up a trailer clip for the next season of Planet Earth, which showed a lizard escaping from dozens of snakes – it was so cool to watch!
Finally, it was time for me to leave. I was sad to have to say goodbye to Shane; we had a lot of fun over the two days in Sydney. We were both going to be in Melbourne on Saturday, so we made tentative plans to meet up again there. Shane walked me out to the elevator and gave me a big hug before I left. Even though we’d just met the day before, I felt like we’d made a good connection and we’d keep in touch, no matter where we end up living in the world.
The short walk to the bus station took me only 15 minutes; I arrived early, so I grabbed some snacks from 7-11 before getting in the queue for the bus. The bus was packed, but I was happy to find that the bus had ample led room, the seats were very comfortable, and there were USB charging ports at every seat! As we started the journey, the bus driver turned on a movie (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), but I fell asleep less than 30 minutes into the film.
We made a couple of stops throughout the night: two 20-minute rest stops and then another to pick up some more people. Aside from those stops, I managed to sleep during the majority of the bus ride.
Friday, 11 November
When we arrived in Melbourne, it was just after 07:00, so I stopped at Starbucks to grab some coffee and breakfast. I then spent a couple hours reading as I couldn’t check into the hostel until 10:00. Thankfully, the hostel was only a 5-minute walk away from the bus station. When I arrived to check in, the two guys at the front desk were very friendly and helpful; when they found out that I am an American, a look of pity came over their faces and they said “I’m so sorry!” I said that I didn’t want to ever go home and one guy joked that I could just stay in Australia!
My room was quite nice; two bunk-beds in a rather large room. The bathrooms were clean, with plenty of showers as well. One of my roommates was named Michael and he was visiting from Prague; we chatted for a few minutes and then connected on Facebook; he offered to show me around town anytime that I come to Prague.
I spent some time hanging out in the lounge area of the hostel before leaving to go meet my friends Matt and Kelly. I had met them last year during my trip to Iran; I had come to Melbourne specifically to hang out with them. Kelly was pregnant (the baby is due at the end of the month). I took the tram out to Port Melbourne to meet up with them. It was so nice to get to see them again!!
We went to grab some lunch at a local restaurant; we all had burgers and they were amazingly delicious! I devoured mine. After lunch, Mat had to head back to work, so Kelly and I took a drive over to the beach. The weather was cool, with a slight breeze, but sitting in the sun warmed us up; we could both had happily stayed there all day. The water was so clear and a beautiful shade of blue.
Kelly then suggested that we head over to the Shrine of Remembrance, located in the city’s botanical gardens. This shrine was in memory of all the casualties from the wars in which Australia has taken part. When we arrived, they were cleaning up from a service that was held earlier in the morning for Remembrance Day. The shrine itself was a massive building; inside, several wreaths had been placed and there were various flags of the armed services. I walked up to the balcony, which afforded me some amazing views.
Downstairs there was a museum about Australia’s involvement in various wars, which was very detailed and interesting to explore. We were both really impressed with the facility.
We then decided to head into the city to grab some drinks and wait for Mat to get off work. We went to a rooftop bar and had several drinks. The bar had some fun cocktail drinks…
Mat met up with us and we had a couple more drinks before heading out to grab dinner. Most of the restaurants were packed, with long wait times; Kelly decided to head on home and let us have a night out on the town. Mat and I had dinner at the Hofbrauhaus; the band played one or two German songs, before starting to play some awful American music. We quickly let once dinner was through and made our way to another bar.
We ventured over to a whiskey bar, which I rather liked. I’m not a big fan of whiskey, but the atmosphere of the place was great. We had a whiskey from Tasmania and then decided to move on. Mat took me to a bar named the Butterfly Club, which was perhaps my favorite bar that I’ve been to on this trip. The main floor was decorated like an old mansion, overflowing with an eclectic collection of trinkets. The lower floor had a stage where a guy was playing piano and singing. We went down there and listened to him perform for a while.
He was playing “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music when we arrived and everyone joined in and sang along. Then he played “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, “Oops I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, and then “Stop” by the Spice Girls. During the last song, he taught us all the hand gestures that go along with the song and we all joined in. It was great fun!
The last bar that we went to was full of old arcade games, including the TMNT and The Simpsons. People were also playing Donkey Kong County 2 for the SNES on one TV; other TVs had Mario Kart 64 on them. We played an NBA game, TMNT and the Simpsons before calling it a night (it was nearing 1am by this point!). Mat walked me back to my hostel before heading off to the train station to head home.
Saturday, 12 November
I was up somewhat early this morning, despite not getting to bed until around 02:00. I grabbed a quite breakfast and then went out to explore the city a bit on my own.
As I was walking along, I came across an outdoor Christmas concert being performed for kids. I stopped to watch them for a little while, though I had clearly shown up near the end of the performance. They got the kids to start chanting for Santa, who soon rode in on a motorcycle… driven by Captain America. Even the MC was surprised: “It’s SANTA! Oh, and he’s being driven by… oh, it’s… Captain America…” They all got up to sing and dance for a little while longer, before heading into the department store next to the stage.
I continued on my walk and discovered a sign posted on a lamppost: “Stop Trump!” along with information about a protest rally that was starting in 15 minutes. I quickly got on my phone to get directions to the rally starting point – I had just enough time to make it, so I rushed over.
When I arrived I spoke with some of the organizers; when they found out that I am American, they all just said “I’m sorry!” and encouraged me to take part in the protest. The crowd was around 100 people or so; several signs were being held up saying things like “Fuck Donald Trump!” and “Can’t Build a Wall. Hands Too Small!” The age of the protesters ranged from students to the elderly, which was encouraging to see.
The rally consisted of several people getting up to speak to the crowd; they had someone representing the various minorities that are now threatened by Trump’s election victory: women, immigrants, LGBTQ, and Muslims. Between the speakers we would yell and chant out various sayings. The press had quite a large press presence at the event as well – I was even captured in several of the photos, including one from the local News 7 (I’m in the yellow circle below).
After about 45 minutes, we turned to march through the streets of Melbourne. The police, who had been peacefully monitoring the event, escorted the group through the city. I was right near the front of the crowd and we shouted the chants as we walked; the favorite chant was “Fuck Donald Trump!” People along the street would stop to take photos and several chanted along with us. It was thrilling an exciting to take part in this event, to do something to get my voice heard.
I left the protest crowd after about 20 minutes of marching so I could continue walking around the city. I walked over to the old exhibition building, which is a wonderful Victorian-style building situated in a beautiful park.
I spent some time in the park, before turning around to head back. On the way, I stopped by a beautiful old church and another couple of parks. My route back took me down to the riverfront and over to Batman Park.
When I returned to the hostel, I grabbed my computer and headed out to grab a coffee. Shane and I had made plans to meet up at some point during the day, so I decided to relax until I heard back from him. He sent me a message and told me that he was at Pilgrim Bar with his friend, inviting me over.
I walked over to Pilgrim Bar, which is located right along the riverfront, next to Federation Square. Shane and I gave each other a big hug when I arrived, before he introduced me to his friend Renee. Renee and Shane had been at the bar for a little while, so I had some catching up to do with the drinking. Soon enough I’d had a few beers and was feeling good. Renee was really awesome and crazy funny; I immediately hit it off with her. Shane and I both said how great it was to get to see one another again; when he introduced me to Renee, he put his arm around me and described how we’d bonded over the election travesty in Sydney.
As we were drinking our beers, Shane noticed a couple lying on the grass across the river from us. The woman had climbed on top of the guy and draped a blanket over them… and it was quite clear that they were fucking! Shane used his camera zoom lens to make sure… and they definitely were fucking. People were walking by on the path not 10 feet from where they were lying on the grass. We were laughing and fascinated with it.
After having a few beers at Pilgrim Bar, we decided to head out to a different bar. I suggested the Berlin Bar, which Mat had told me about the night before. It is a bar that uses the Berlin Wall as inspiration: the bar is divided in half, with one side being quite decadent (the West) and the other side being bery sparse (the East). We decided to give Berlin Bar a chance, so we headed out.
The walk to Berlin Bar took about 20 minutes… and it was an eventful 20 minutes! We had to cross Flinders Street, a large and very busy street with several lanes of traffic and tram tracks. Did we wait for the crosswalk sign?
Like true drunk tourists, we simply jaywalked across the road; I can still see Shane calmly walking across the street, arms outstretched, while Renee and I laugh and run after him.
Our next stop on our adventure through Melbourne was a fountain that was a stone wall with a slow stream of water cascading down it, which allows people to put leaves up on it to make pictures. There were some leaves already up on it, but Renee showed us how it works. She tried to make a smiley face, but the water pushed several of the leaves down the ‘face’ so we decided that it was a ‘stroke face’ due to the sagging. Shane was more… mature? … and he just made his initials out of leaves.
We stumbled on to Berlin Bar without making any other stops or sidetracks. When we reached the building, we walked into the bar… and I was instantly let down. I didn’t see the stylized differences that Mat had mentioned; the people in the bar were douche; in short, it sucked. …and then I realized that we were in the wrong bar! Berlin Bar was on the floor above us!
I was instantly happy when we entered Berlin Bar! We entered on the Capitalist West; there were lush, comfy chairs and sofas, bright lighting and everything was well decorated. There weren’t many people sitting in the West though and I had my heart set on the Communist East. This area was more simple: hard chairs, small tables made of wood, stark decorations and lighting, two military cot beds in the corner. On the wall, they were projecting the movie “The Great Dictator” starring Charlie Chaplin. I was so glad that Shane knew the movie and loved the final speech just as much as me!
I ordered a beer; Shane ordered a Italienishen Hengst cocktail (AMAZINGLY good, with a small bar of chocolate in it!); Renee ordered… I can’t recall. I only remember Shane’s drink because of the chocolate bar, but Renee’s drink was equally delicious. I ended up speaking to one of the waiters, who was quite attractive; once again, I received the “I’m sorry” when he found that I’m American; we chatted for a bit before I returned to our table. Shane got up and asked another bartender if he was gay, but there was some confusion over who I was speaking about, so we never figured it out. Shane even asked our waitress and she coyly said that she’d find out (she didn’t).
We all decided to leave after having our one drink (the prices were rather high); on our way out, I decided to give the waiter my number. Per Shane’s suggestion, I gave him the piece of paper and said “I’m not sure if you’re interested, but I’m here for a few days.” And then left. (No, I didn’t hear from him.)
We walked outside and tried to decide where to go. Renee wanted to stop inside the bar on the ground floor, which was playing some good dance music. We went in… and Shane and I were quickly disenchanted with the place. It was filled with douchey guys and the vibe wasn’t very good; we left before having even one drink.
Shane came up with the brilliant idea of going to do karaoke! He found a place nearby and we set off into the night. We jaywalked across several more streets, being quite drunk by this point. The karaoke bar, KBOX, had private rooms, so we rented a room out for three hours and we got some drinks included. We opted to order pitchers of beer to share, rather than ordering individual drinks; we ended up going through four pitchers of beer during out time there. We eventually extended our stay by another hour and ordered some snacks, since we’d not had dinner (and it was 01:00 by the time we extended it!). We ordered some fries, dumplings, and veggie wraps.
We began going through the two song books: one organized by artist and the other organized by song name. Shane had wanted to sing “Just Can’t Wait to be King” from the Lion King, but they didn’t have the song. We all took turns getting up to sing songs, sometimes singing together or as a group. The room had three mics: one on a stand that was the best. Our song choices for the evening were wide-ranging and covered all genres. The songs that I can recall are:
Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi SkyFall – Adele (a duet by Shane and me) Ghosttown – Madonna I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys Summer Lovin’ – Grease (a duet by Renee and me, though the song cut out half way) Making Love Out of Nothing at All – Air Supply Paint It Black – Rolling Stones Wannabe – Spice Girls (Shane and me) Rape Me – Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) – The Offspring Creep – Radiohead Bohemian Rhapsody (all of us) – Queen (we all sang this one together) Otherside – Red Hot Chili Peppers Animals – Maroon 5 S&M – Rihanna
..... and YES, there are oodles of videos of us singing.... I have more videos than pictures.
By 02:00 we were all pretty drunk… but did we want to call it a night?
Renee had the brilliant idea earlier that we should get ramen for a very late-night dinner and she knew of a place nearby. The ramen place was only about a 5-minute walk down Russel St; it was packed when we arrived, so we sat in the tiny waiting area for a couple of minutes. When we were seated, we all ordered the same thing: shujinko noodles. The portion was huge and the food was delicious! We all devoured every last bite.
By this point it was nearing 03:00 and it was finally time to call it a night; Renee and Shane had a long drive the next day as they were heading out of town. Renee ordered them an Uber and I was able to walk back to my hostel (it was a straight shot down Little Burke St). When we got out to the street, Shane and I exchanged several big hugs, telling each other how much we enjoyed hanging out, how glad we were to have met, etc. I told them that I am awful with goodbyes and that I’d wait until their Uber showed up, which gave us a few more minutes to hang out together. When their car arrived we gave one another one last hug, promising that we’d see each other again in New York or Chicago… or somewhere in the world!
The walk back to my hostel was… difficult. I hate saying goodbye, especially to some amazingly great new friends who I’ve just met. Shane and I commented several times how we felt a strong connection to one another, like good friends, despite having only known each other for a few days. He’s a great guy, with a warm and caring heart. I can tell that we’ve got the start of a good friendship.
I’ve decided to change up the blog for my Middle East sojourn; rather than blogging about each day, I’ll blog about each country. My stay in each country was brief, so I think this is the best way to capture everything that happened.
I arrived in Muscat around 04:00 and, after clearing customs, I went out to find the driver the hotel had sent over to collect me from the airport. There were several drivers waiting with their call boards, but none with my name. I walked around for quite a while and exchanged some money, but still my driver did not show. Finally, one of the other drivers asked me where I was heading; he then got out his phone and called the hotel! I hadn’t asked for any assistance; he just did it on his own and I was very grateful to him. After speaking with the hotel, I agreed that it would be best to just take a taxi (which was just slightly more expensive than the hotel shuttle).
Upon arrival at the hotel, I managed to check in early; the room was massive, larger than my first apartment! I had a separate bedroom and living area, with a kitchen as well. After the camping in Africa, it was a welcome bit of luxury (THIS was a luxury tour now!). I relaxed in the room for a little while, showered and eventually got ready to head out into the city.
I had no definite plans for the day, so I set off to wander around the city. My hotel was rather far from most things; instead of taking a taxi, I decided to walk. Yes, walk… in Oman. The heat was miserable and I was soon sweating profusely. However, I didn’t let it deter me and, after about an hour, I arrived at a rather nice hookah (shisha) lounge. I’d read up on where some good lounges were located and decided to give it a try.
The lounge was very nice, tucked away in the corner of an alley – not a place one would easily find without knowing about it! The shisha was very nice and smooth; I had an iced mocha to go with it before eventually ordering some food (a wrap with lamb). I spent the time reading; I had finished “Atlas Shrugged” a couple days before leaving Africa and had started in on Richard Nixon’s autobiography; I am amazed at how engrossing the book is!
Finally, after spending a few hours at the hookah lounge, I walked back to the hotel. I stopped at a local grocery store to get some snacks and ice cream, which I needed after the long walk back.
The next day I planned to take the Big Bus Tour of the city; this tour is a hop on/off type of tour with recorded narration as the bus drives around the city. My hotel was rather far from any pickup location, so I got up early and walked the 90 minutes there. On the way I passed several embassies and had the “delight” of having to run across several rather busy roads (a bit like the game Frogger). The pickup location was in a shopping center right on the beach. After snapping some photos, I went to Starbucks to cool off before starting the tour.
The tour itself was quite good; the buses run every hour and there are a total of 10 stops where you can get on and off at. The tour covered the majority of the city and the major highlights.
Given the bus schedule, I couldn’t get off at each location (and some stops weren’t worth exploring. I did get out and walk around at the royal palace though. I spent the hour wandering around the streets and taking numerous photos of the palace. It is a beautiful building!
I next stopped at the souq, but, to my disappointment, most of it was closed (I had forgotten that the shops close for several hours in the afternoon). I walked along the waterfront for a little bit and then sat down at a café to have some lunch. I ordered a milkshake, which was enormous, and a pita with hummus and lamb meat.
I took the bus back over to where I began the tour. When I arrived I opted to take a taxi back to my hotel, rather than walk. Thankfully there were several taxis waiting in the area and I managed to get one for a pretty cheap rate. I spent the rest of the evening at the hotel, getting ready to head out to Kuwait the next day.
KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT
My flights to Kuwait were short and uneventful; I arrived to my hotel just after noon. My original plans had been to spend two days in Kuwait, flying to Bahrain late on the night of the second day; unfortunately, that flight had been moved to the morning, which left me just the one day to explore Kuwait.
I set off to walk around the city, thankful that the heat was not as intense as Muscat. I intended on visiting the Kuwait Towers, but the day was quite hazy and I would have seen nothing from the observation deck, so I opted to skip visiting.
I walked through the city, marveling at the various buildings and their unique architecture; one thing you can always feel in the Middle East is the wealth of the area.
I made my way to the waterfront, where I spent some time enjoying the view. There were several stray cats in the area as well; they would gather under the bench of anyone that had food.
I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring more of the city. I was really impressed by the amazing architecture of the city.
That night I decided to head out and explore some more, intending to find another shisha lounge. Having failed to find one, I walked over to Starbucks to relax and read. The barista at Starbucks was quite clearly gay and started to flirt with me, check me out, etc; when I gave my name for my order, he said that it was such a beautiful name. Several times while I was sitting there reading, I would look around and catch him looking at me and smiling. When I left, I walked by the drive through area and I suddenly heard his voice “Have a good night sir – thanks for coming in!” He’d gotten on the drive through speaker to say goodbye – and I knew he was talking to me because there were no cars or other people around. It was rather flattering; sadly he was not my type.
My flight from Kuwait to Bahrain got me in around 11:00; I was through the border controls and at the hotel by noon. This hotel had a free airport shuttle, which was quite handy. Being such a small city, I had only planned to spend one full day there, but the flight changes gave me an extra afternoon to spend in the city.
I located a well-reviewed shisha lounge nearby and walked over, passing by the Grand Mosque and one of the royal palaces on the way. This shisha lounge was my favorite of the trip; it was full of locals (with a few other foreigners), the staff was friendly; the shisha and food were outstanding! I ordered some Arabian dish with lamb meat in it (I don’t recall the name of the dish); I ate every bite though, it was delicious!
The next day I planned to walk around and explore the city. My first stop was the Grand Mosque, which had been closed to visitors the day before as it was a Friday. The mosque arranges guided tours for foreigners and non-Muslims – for free too. My guide spoke excellent English (he had spent several years in the USA, working in a training exchange program with the Coast Guard). The tours usually last 20 or 30 minutes; we spent 3.5 hours together!
We started out in the main courtyard. The land the mosque was built on was reclaimed land and they had to *import* sand from Saudi Arabia to do the reclamation. Yes, a country in the Middle East had to actually import sand! During his talk, the call to worship rang out and he said that we could go in to watch. I was given a seat at the back and my guide went to worship. It was very interesting to get to observe them worship, having only seen videos on the news or online.
The “call to prayer” that rings out five times a day is based on the position of the sun in the sky; Muslims must find time (around 10minutes) during each time period to do their worship. It isn’t a true call to prayer though; as my guide explained, no one can tell you when to pray or how often to pray; the call that goes out five times a day is to summon the people to worship (or salah/salat), which is different from praying, which can be done at any time and as often as desired.
One person leads the salah, guiding the group gathered through the various protestations. This person is called the “imam” and it can be anyone who happens to be the first to arrive, though the position is usually granted to one of the elders who has gathered, allowing them to set the pace that best fits their abilities. This concept of the imam, which my guide said literally means “the person at the front,” was entirely new to me; I thought there was one designated person who did it all the time.
In addition, during Friday worship, there is a brief sermon that is given out between the time that the noon call goes out and when the salah actually begins (usually a 20-30 minute window). The person giving the sermon changes each week and anyone from the community is allowed to speak. In Bahrain, a person who wishes to speak must submit their topic and material to the state ministry; once approved, they are put on the schedule. People can question and discuss the subject with the speaker as well, so he must be able to defend what he says.
One of the things that really struck me as we talked was the true sense of community that came through with the various beliefs and practices. The community is central and emphasized over and over. The change of imams and speakers on Fridays was a great example of this: everyone can participate, not just a few religious leaders.
My guide spoke a lot about their beliefs that Muslims will respect you as a human being and that they cannot force you to be a believer; to be a true Muslim (or believed of any religion) requires sincerity, which only you yourself can truly know. We talked for hours about the beliefs, tenants, and perceptions of Muslims around the world. I think he realized that he was talking to a sympathetic ear; I didn’t express my atheism, but I did make it clear that I don’t think Muslims are evil by any means. We talked about the extremism that exists in every religion, as well as the similarities between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (in my opinion, they’re all basically the same – they worship the same god!).
While we were walking around the women’s balcony, we walked by an area set aside for various educational courses. Without missing a beat, he said “And that’s where we teach them to hate Americans and build bombs, of course.” We both burst out laughing and our laughter echoed throughout the mosque.
Before we knew it, the call for afternoon salah was going out! We made our way back downstairs to gather our shoes and head out. Before leaving, he gave me some delicious date cookies (or biscuits, for any British reading this…), along with some juice. As a final gift, he wrote out my name in Arabic calligraphy, which I enjoyed. He told me that my name in Arabic (or the name that most closely matches ‘Ryan’ - Rayyaan) is the name for one of the gates of heaven. This particular gate is reserved for those who closely observed fasting during Ramadan.
After leaving the mosque I found my mood quite uplifted and I was very happy. I walked around to take some pictures of the mosque and then meandered through the city a bit more. I had to be back at the hotel by 16:00 to check out; my flight to Qatar was at 22:00 that night. I had spent so much time at the mosque that I didn’t get to full explore the city, but I had an outstanding time chatting with my guide that I didn’t mind.
To help pass the time before my flight, I walked over to a Starbucks across the street to do some more reading. I could have walked to a local café, but I didn’t feel like lugging my bags around (the hotel kept my large bag for me, thankfully).
I had one full day to spend in Doha and I spent the day wandering around the city, exploring it and trying to escape the insane heat. The past couple days I’d been able to avoid the really crazy heat, but it was back with a vengeance in Doha.
Breakfast wasn’t included at my hotel, so I found a local place nearby that had decent reviews. They served a wide range of foods, including American-style pancakes (which I ordered). The place was clearly run by Americans as there were flags from the States everywhere: universities (including Colorado State), some of the 50 states, and, yes, the American flag. The food was good and the portion was massive; I wasn’t able to eat all of it.
I walked around the city and made my way to the waterfront, where there was a nice park running along it. To one side was the Museum of Islamic Art, which had a great view overlooking the water and the other side of the city.
I continued along the waterfront and stopped at the giant pearl fountain. It was a nice fountain and, after taking some pictures, I turned to head back into the city itself. I’d planned to walk further down the waterfront, but it was getting far too hot to stay outside much longer.
I walked by the Islamic Center, which was my favorite building in Doha; it was a modern take on a mosque, with a spiral minaret.
I then made my way over to the Souq Waqif, which is a large outdoor market with lots of restaurants. I decided to stop to grab a drink, enjoy some shisha and read while I cooled off. I sat outside, but the staff turned on the aircon, which was pointed at my table. The shisha was good, but the service at the restaurant was awful. There were several of us having shisha, but I was the only one who never got fresh coals for the shisha; the guy would routinely replace the coals on everyone else’s, but I had to ask for mine and then he never came back. Needless to say, I was rather pissed off about it. I’d planned to have some lunch there, but I left instead.
I spent the afternoon relaxing, but I went back out to the Souq for dinner. I wandered around the souq for several minutes, trying to decide where to eat when I stumbled upon an Iraqi restaurant! I instantly decided to stop and eat there. I ordered lamb, which came with rice and bread. The lamb was, without a doubt, the best meal I’ve had this entire trip; it was incredibly tender, falling off the bone and melting in my mouth. I was getting quite full, but I ate every delicious bite! I was brought a small bowl of something sweet for dessert; it was like a custard and had some dates in it; a small glass of tea was brought as well. This was the perfect way to finish up the meal; it wasn’t too sweet and it was quite tasty. If I had another day in Doha, I would definitely have returned there for another meal.
After dinner I thought I’d find another place to enjoy some shisha; I again wandered around the souq, searching for a good place to relax. The place was packed with people and I wasn’t able to find a free table anywhere, so I eventually gave up and returned to the hotel.
I spent the evening watching some shows on Netflix and packing. My departure flight was at 03:40, so I opted to stay up until it was time to leave for the airport. Rather than calling a taxi, I used Uber, which was much faster and cheaper.
Monday, 7 November – Tuesday, 8 November
Today began the long travel from Doha to Sydney. I had several flights and long layovers:
Doha -> Dubai (3 hour layover) -> Colombo (9.5 hour layover) -> Kuala Lumpur (4 hour layover) -> Sydney
I managed to sleep through the first flight, but it was only an hour long. I spent the time in Dubai getting something to eat and grabbing some drinks for the longer flight. After buying the drinks, I discovered that I had to go through another round of security screening (despite having already gone through one round), so I had to toss the drinks that I had bought.
The flight to Colombo was alright; I watched “The Thomas Crown Affair” and got some sleep in as well. The layover in Colombo was pure hell though. I had to go out through passport control, pickup my bags and then check in for my next flight; I had booked two separate tickets (Doha to Colombo and Colombo to Sydney, which saved me several hundred dollars). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check into my flight until just after 20:00, which meant I had 6.5 hours to waste in the lounge area. There was nothing to do there though: no shops, no food, nothing. I wanted to store my bags and head into town, but the lockers were full. So I sat around, reading and working on my laptop; the wifi was complete garbage, requiring me to sign in repeatedly every 3 or 4 minutes.
My flight to Kuala Lumpur was rather pleasant as the plane was rather empty, allowing me to have the entire row to myself. As there was no in-flight entertainment, I stretched out and got some sleep. Upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur, I grabbed some coffee and then relaxed in their “movie room” which was a large room that aired various movies on large TVs; on air was a movie called “Burying the Ex” which was so-so.
The flight to Sydney was equally pleasant as it was even more empty than my previous flight. My seat was in a designated “quite zone” which forbid children from sitting anywhere nearby; I managed to get several hours of sleep during the flight.
I arrived in Sydney around 20:30, quickly making my way through border control and hopping in a taxi to reach my hotel.
My last full day in Africa… This was a difficult day to get through, far more difficult than I thought it would be.
Max and I were up early; it had been a cool night and we were both bundled up in our sleeping bags. After breaking down our tent for the final time (farewell Rhino tent! … yes, we’d labeled our tent “Rhino” so we could identify it in the truck), we went down to the restaurant area to use the wifi for a little bit before breakfast.
Breakfast was – again – cereal, but Norman had also made fried eggs. We also packed lunch before leaving so we wouldn’t have to make a lunch stop on the road. What was for lunch? Norman’s lunch specialty: sandwiches! I know he skimped on the breakfasts and lunches to provide us with good dinners (T-bone steak one night; springbok steak for our final meal), but the basic food got old quite fast.
Max, Chris, Svenja, Rafa, Joana and I gathered at the front of the truck to play cards during today’s drive. We’d not played cards up from for several days (probably due to the crazy heat), but today we made the most of our final day. Rafa got out her portable speaker and we played our music. We’d not had music on the truck since the first day with the larger group and we’d had enough of it; we didn’t play the music too loud, just loud enough for us up front to enjoy. I refrained from playing cards and I was feeling slight motion sickness, but I sat with them so we could all chat.
A few hours into our drive we made a brief stop for some petrol (the truck had developed a steady gas leak at the dunes, so we had to make frequent stops to fuel up). To our delight, there was a KFC right next to the gas station. Chris, Svenja and I headed over there to buy something for lunch – screw our prepacked sandwiches! I bought a chicken sandwich and they bought some chicken bites. The food was *delicious* - though probably only because we’d been deprived of such food for so long.
We drove on to our first event of the day: wine tasting at a local winery. The place was packed, but luckily we were able to get right in (we’d arrived an hour early). We got to try six different wines, each one pairs with a cheese. The wines were decent, but nothing particularly amazing. The entire event was clearly aimed at getting tourists to spend money. One or two people in our group bought something, but we left shortly after the tasting concluded.
We reached Cape Town in early afternoon and drove to our final sight: Table Mountain View, which afforded us some amazing views of the city, along with Table Mountain and the water. We were all blown away as we stood around taking pictures. The wind coming off the water quite strong and several people were flying kites.
We then drove into downtown Cape Town, where the tour formally ended outside the Nomad office. My hotel was a five-minute walk from the office, thankfully. We all unpacked our luggage, which happened far quicker than I had anticipated. Besides myself, only Siri and Jasmin were staying at the nearby hotel; everyone else had made other reservations. Rafa, Joana, Chris, and Svenja all decided to walk over to my hotel with me so they could use the wifi access. Max grabbed a cab to drive over to his hostel; he promised to come out with us later that night though. I was worried that he wouldn’t show up and that we wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye.
I checked into my hotel and we all went up to my room, which was gorgeous! I had a spectacular view of Table Mountain from my window; the bathroom was huge; the bed was uber comfortable. I was in heaven.
Rafa and Joana used the wifi to find a hostel to stay in; they’d been trying to find a place via CouchSurfing, but had no luck. Thankfully they found a place and decided to head over to check in; we planned to meetup at the waterfront later. I arranged for an Uber car to take Chris, Svenja and me over to their hostel, which was less than ten minutes away. We were all amazed by how nice the hostel was: there was a bar, a huge kitchen and lounge area; their private room resembled a hotel more than a hostel! They quickly changed clothes and then we took another Uber down to the V&A Waterfront.
The waterfront was packed with people out shopping, getting food and enjoying themselves. The three of us wandered around for a while, heading inside so Svenja could do a little shopping. I kept trying to access the wifi networks so I could communicate with Rafa via WhatsApp, but my phone couldn’t get a stable connection; the result was that we missed meeting up with the girls. We went back outside and walked across the rope bridge before grabbing a taxi back to my hotel.
We went up to my room and dropped off our bags before heading out to walk to dinner. We’d made plans for a group of us to meet up at the Beerhouse at 19:00. Soon after turning down Loop Street we ran into Rafa and Joana – a happy coincidence! They stopped in at a hostel to inquire after their rates and they ran into Norman and Fadz.
The Beerhouse was a great bar with a large beer selection and a decent food menu. We were the first to arrive and I was wondering if the others (Max, Fabian and Tamara) would show up. A few minutes later I was excited to see Max walk up the stairs – he made it! I felt joy and relief at the same time. The bar had quite a wide selection of beer from around the world; I was surprised to see Innis & Gunn from Scotland listed; I ordered one of them (with the rum finish) so Chris could try it.
We were in the midst of ordering our food and drinks when Fabian and Tamara arrived. It was so great that everyone was able to make it, especially since we were all staying in different lodgings and the plan was quickly thrown together. Fabian and Tamara got their orders in and we sat around chatting together.
The food was really good; I ordered a burger with avocado (Chris ordered the same thing); he and I were both in heaven as we devoured our food. We had a few more drinks during and after dinner. A couple of us ordered dessert; I ordered an ice cream sandwich, which was delicious. Around 21:30, Fabian and Tamara decided to head back to their hotel. It was sad to have to say goodbye to them; I’d had a lot of fun playing cards with them over the past 12 days.
The rest of us decided to head out to another bar. Earlier in the day we’d decided to head to a gay bar and I’d found a couple for us to go to. Svenja was excited to go to gay bar, but she didn’t know about Chris. I simply asked him if he’d like to go to *a* bar… he picked up the way I said it and deduced what I was saying. He gave a slow “yes” and we all laughed.
The gay bar was a 20-minute walk away and we all set off together. The streets were rather empty since it was a Sunday evening. When we reached the gay bar, we were all devastated to find that it was closed – despite the website stating that it was open on Sundays! There was another gay bar next door that was open, but there was no one inside, so we just moved on.
We walked back to a Cuban bar down the street that was full of locals. Beerhouse was clearly patronized by the white community of the town, but the Cuban place was popular with the black community. It was fun to see the two sides of the city. We sat outside and ordered some drinks; the beer I got was not very good and I gave it to Max to finish. The place had hookah, so we ordered a mint hookah to share. The flavor was very smooth and we all shared it (except Chris, who refrained). It was a wonderful way for us to relax together. Shots for the entire table came with the hookah; I let Svenja pick out which shots to get from the menus; they were so incredibly sweet – it was like drinking pure sugar. Chris got hungry and ordered some nachos for the table to share; I was still so full from dinner so I didn’t eat anything.
Finally, around 23:30, it was time for us to head out. Rafa and Joana ordered an Uber to come and pick them up. When the car arrived, I walked them out and gave them each a big hug before saying goodbye. It was, unfortunately, a rushed goodbye since the car was waiting. We’d been traveling together for so long and now it was coming to an end; it was really quite difficult to believe.
Max, Chris, Svenja and I walked back to my hotel together so they could collect their things that they’d left there. The walk back was rather sketchy at times, with some obviously drunk or high people wandering the streets, along with a large number of homeless people. When we reached my hotel, I got on Uber so I could order them each a car to take them to their respective hostels. I ordered Max’s Uber first and we went down to the lobby to wait.
When Max’s Uber car arrived, he turned to me and gave me a long hug. We told each other how much we enjoyed getting to know one another and he insisted that we keep in touch. I was very touched that he was so insistent upon that; it really showed how much our friendship means to him. I stood there with Chris and Svenja as Max got in the car and waved to us. Svenja came up and put her arm around me and I fought back the tears, but I know Max could see them; Svenja even said that he looked equally sad and that he was crying too. I couldn’t tell if he really was, but it comforted me either way.
I didn’t think that saying goodbye to Max would be that difficult. I watched his car drive away, wishing and wanting to run after it and give Max one last hug, to say one last goodbye. I hate to say goodbye to dear friends and for good things to come to an end. Once he was gone, Svenja gave me a big hug to help comfort me, which I needed very much.
Chris, Svenja and I stood around and chatted while we waited for Max’s Uber to drop him off, at which point I could order an Uber to take them to their hostel. While we were chatting, the police pulled a car over right in front of the hotel; they handcuffed the driver, searched the other passengers and the car as well; to our surprise, they let everyone go! We couldn’t figure out what exactly happened.
Chris and Svenja’s Uber car was due to arrive around 00:15 and we began to say our goodbyes. We all knew that we’d be staying in touch and that we’d see each other again soon (hopefully in a matter of months when I’m back in Europe), but the goodbye was still difficult. When their car arrived, the tears started coming on both sides. I gave Svenja and Chris each a big hug, wishing them happy travels in South Africa. I stood on the sidewalk as they got into the car; they turned and waved goodbye several times from the car; Svenja and I blew each other kisses; I began to cry and so did she. It was the last goodbye I would say to my wonderful Nomad Family.
I went back up to my room in tears; so sad to have said goodbye to these amazing, wonderful and dear friends of mine. I sent Chris a message on WhatsApp to make sure they made it back ok; he let me know that they had and that Svenja too had cried on the way back. It was a difficult night for all of us. Our Nomad family was ending.
Monday, 31 October
I was up early so I could pack, shower and have breakfast before heading out to the airport at 09:00. I was still quite upset from the night before, crying several times as I got ready for the day. I sent Max a quick email, letting him know that I was glad to have met him, that I truly value his friendship and that I would miss him. It made me feel slightly better, though I was still struggling as I sat having breakfast.
After eating I spotted Siri and Jasmin sitting at another table; I went over to say hello and goodbye to them. They were so sweet and kind; I was glad that they had joined us on the tour. I could always count on Jasmin to be ready with her camera to take pictures of whatever we happened to be seeing; Siri and Jasmin were always ready and eager to play 5,000 with us as well. I chatted with them for a few minutes and then went up to grab my bags.
On my way back down to the lobby, the elevator appeared to get stuck around the fifth floor: the floor counter stopped and the elevator seemed to not be moving; after 45 seconds or so, the floor number went down one number, indicating that we were moving agonizingly slow. The doors opened on the first floor and I got off so I could use the stairs to get down to the lobby.
My shuttle driver was there waiting for me; he was a very nice guy and we chatted together during the quick drive to the airport. He talked about fishing, swimming and surfing in the water around the area – and the many sharks they had to deal with. One of his friends had caught a shark in their fishing net one day and he showed me the pictures of them freeing the shark (it was HUGE! – that’s what she said).
The airport was not very busy and I was able to breeze through check in, security and passport control. I spent some time walking around the shops and then getting some work done; I had arrived far too early, having planned on dealing with longer lines. I eventually returned to the gift shop and bought myself a rhino crossing shirt and a rhino bracelet (the proceeds from the bracelet go to combatting poaching).
As I was walking over to the boarding gate I saw that Max had written back to me! It was really nice to hear back from him. His email was rather sweet too:
Everything went smooth. Txs for the ride, apprecuated.
It has been also a pleasure travelling with you. I am going to do a survey if anybody else along my travells will have the same amount of red kings in carbo or wikdcards and aces in 5000 as you. I am going to miss the sound of your lough. Goodbyes are also not my strength but the good thing is nothing is defenite and we gonna see each other again. In Vienna I can show you some good places, also for food. If you need a place to stay in vienna, either for crushing a couch or flat. Let me know I can ask some friends if they know something. And if its a good time we can visit Graz and its beauty amd no its not me
I wish you a couple of relaxing days and luxury in Oman after the campingtour Letme know if you arrived safe in Oman.
I'll think it gonna be a good time here in south africa.
Needless to say I got sad again and struggled to keep myself composed while waiting in line to board the airplane. I truly wished that I could skip the flight and spend a few more days in Cape Town with my friends, but I knew this wasn’t possible.
The flight to Doha was around nine hours and was one of my best international flights ever. I managed to watch several films, including “Hello, My Name is Doris” which I thoroughly enjoyed. I heard about the film when it was released in the artsy movie theaters, but I never got around to seeing it; it was the perfect movie for how I was feeling. I also watched “Funny Girl” and most of “Batman Returns” during the flight, before taking a nap for around an hour.
My layover in Doha lasted just over an hour and I used the time to Skype with my sister – the first time we’d been able to do so since Nairobi! It was nice getting to catch up with her before boarding my next flight to Muscat at 00:45. I tried to sleep on the flight, but I didn’t get much rest. It was a quick flight though.
Upon arrival in Muscat, I had to buy my visa, which was as easy as just paying the 5 OMR and walking through the passport control. I was even able to skip the long line of GCC nationals who were queued up for passport control.
After collecting my bags, I went out to meet my driver to head to the hotel. To my dismay, no one was waiting with a sign that had my name on it! I spent some time walking around, getting money out of the ATM, hoping that my driver would show up. Eventually a local man came up and asked where I was going; I told him the name of the hotel and that they were supposed to send a driver. The man got out his phone and called the hotel for me and helped me get everything sorted out (I ended up taking a taxi to the hotel, which cost the same amount). I was very grateful to the man for his help; so many of the people that I have met in the Middle East are incredibly friendly, outgoing and helpful.
I’ll continue with the first day in Muscat on the next blog post since it is technically a new day (1 November).
Reflections on Africa
The 41 days of my trip through East and Southern Africa were some of the best I have ever spent overseas. I tried not going into the trip with high expectations; I would take each day as I came and enjoy everything as much as I could.
I was hesitant and nervous about camping for such an extended period of time, not having done any real camping until now. This was quickly dispelled after the first night in the tents. They were so simple to put up and take down, and sleeping in them was actually rather fun. There were nights where the temperature would drop and it would be quite cool, but those are the nights that I slept the best. Many nights the tents were the best place to sleep as they offered relief from the heat, such as at Lake Malawi. Also rather fun was having to use my torch to get around at night since most campgrounds didn’t have lights everywhere. It is a silly thing to enjoy (and miss now that it is over), but there was something about walking around in the dark with only the torch to light our way (especially in the game parks, where animals could be anywhere!).
The sights that we saw on the trip blew me away. We started with a bang in the Serengeti, getting to see a plethora of animals (everything but a rhino!); this was followed by the relaxing days on Zanzibar and again at Lake Malawi. Victoria Falls was a lot of fun and a great way to break up the two halves of the tour. The second half didn’t start out as well as the first; Okavango Delta was a major disappointment (aside from meeting my Captain). Our final night with some of the original group was both fun and sad; swimming at the rock quarry in Ghanzi was one of the most relaxing afternoons of the second tour. Etosha was exciting for the simple fact that we FINALLY saw some rhinos, but by that point we were bored with game drives. The Namib desert offered us something different from the game drives and was quite interesting to see, despite the intense heat. Skydiving in Swakopmund is definitely one of the major highlights from Africa; I am still amazed that I was able to actually do it.
I would have to say that the first half of the trip (Nairobi to Vic Falls) was better than the second half (Vic Falls to Cape Town). I think the sights and activities were more fun and we didn’t move around every day, giving us more time to really enjoy where we were staying.
It was the people on the tours that truly made this one of the best trips that I have ever taken. The first group was almost a fluke: every single one of us got along with one another, joking around and having a good time; this doesn’t usually happen with a group of 17 people – there’s usually one or two people who don’t get along. This group truly embraced the idea of the “Nomad Family” and we all bonded quite well. The second group was a bit more disjointed: those who joined us in Vic Falls were amazing, those who joined us in Windhoek never seemed to bond with everyone else. Those of us who bonded together became like a small family on the tour. We’d help each other out, share our snacks and drinks; hang out together at night.
There are a few specific people who I will always cherish and who I feel became quite good friends over the course of the trip: Jane, Linda, Rafa, Joana, Christian, Svenja, and – of course – Max. We all bonded together quite quickly and remained close throughout the tour. Chris and Svenja, despite joining us at Vic Falls, quickly joined with the rest of us and it seemed as though they’d been with us since Nairobi.
Rafa, Joana, Max and me all had the experience of the RhinoMax truck in the Serengeti to help us bond; that was a group that stuck together throughout the tour. Rafa and Joana - mi amors! <3 They are two of the funniest people I’ve ever met; they feed off of one another’s energy and make every day exciting. I really enjoyed their signing throughout the trip and their dancing around the trucks even more; it could always make me laugh. They were also very kind and loving people; we became so close with one another, as though we’d been friends for years.
Jane and Linda joined us in Dar Es Salaam, but they quickly became two of my favorite people on the tour. We soon bonded while playing cards and, together with Max, had regular card games going every night before and after dinner (while enjoying a Fanta Passion – only in Malawi!). We could joke around so easily together. It was very sad having to say goodbye to Linda in Vic Falls; we all wished that she could have stayed with us through to the end. Thankfully Jane was going to be mirroring my tour for the next several days, so we still have some time left together. Jane and I have a very similar sense of humor, very sarcastic; her laugh was infectious. One of the things I’ll remember most about Jane is her random signing of nothing other than “Da da da da da” during silences as we’d be walking along (a trait that I’ve now picked up).
Chris and Svenja have become two of my favorite people that I’ve ever met on a trip. When we first met, Max didn’t hesitate to show them my Germany tattoo and explain that I adore Deutschland. Thankfully this wasn’t off-putting for them and we started to bond while walking around Victoria Falls. The week we spent together at the start of the second tour (when it was just the nine of us on the turck) solidified our friendship, allowing us to get to know one another so well. Svenja is a lot of fun to be around, with a great sense of humor; she could always find a way to make me smile and laugh. Chris is incredibly friendly, easy to talk to and he has a wicked wit.
Together they are an incredibly sweet and loving couple. We’d all shout “Awwwe!” every time they showed some affection. They would affectionately call each other “schatz” (which means “honey” or “darling”); the rest of us eventually picked up on this and started calling each of them “schatz” as well. When we’d called after Chris and say “Schatz!” he’d always respond with a slower, questioning (and sarcastic) “Schatz?”
One of my favorite memories of them was when Chris played “500 Miles” on his iPad while we were driving one morning; I had mentioned how much I dislike the song, which is why he downloaded it the night before. On this day they were sitting in front of Max and me; during the chorus they would take turns turning around, looking at me and singing along (“Da da da!” “Da da da!”). It was hysterical… and now I my opinion of the song has quite changed since I have such a fun memory associated with it now.
And Max. What can I say about Max? Max is the person that I think I shall miss the most. We spent more time together than with anyone else and I felt a real bond with him (and yes, I was smitten with him…). I saw the many faces of Max throughout the trip; he started out as someone who would talk endlessly and tried to push people’s buttons (his debate with Rafa over fate in the Serengeti was epic); he evolved into someone who was outgoing, kind, caring and incredibly sweet; he pulled back and became more introverted for a short spell; he eventually became a mixture of sweet and sarcastic. He was always showing his friendly affection as well, from just putting his arm around me to a pat on the back; little gestures that he’d do to those he cared about (he didn’t do these things to or for everyone).
Camping with Max for so long was a real treat and we developed a good routine for putting up and taking down our tent. Each night before bed we’d chat for a little while, which was always nice. Max was an enthusiastic card player, though I have to admit that he could get too competitive at times; when we won a round or a hand, he liked to point out how you could have done better in order to beat him. He wasn’t trying to be rude or show off that he’d won though; he never gloated. The game “Black Stories” that he brought along… ugh, don’t get me started. No one who played liked that awful game except for him…. I still find the random score sheets from our many games of 5,000; we would use the back of any paper that we could find. During one game, Max decided to deduct 0.1 points for some joke I made - and he held to that scoring system during the game!
Max and I always bought snacks and drinks with the intention to share them; anything either of us bought we could help ourselves to, which was rather nice. We also made sure that neither one of us spent more than the other. One of Max's favorite snacks was peanuts, which became running joke starting in the Serengeti. We also loved to get the gummie snacks as a sweet treat. Simba chips and Hoppity Poppoty popcorn became favorites later in the trip.
What I will remember most about Max is his sense of humor. He and I could joke around with one another all day long, each laughing at the other’s jokes. He has an infectious laugh and a great smile. He would always do little things to help me or others out; little gestures that showed that he cared. He wasn’t this way to everyone on the trip, but rather just to those who he seemed to have a strong attachment to (Jane and me both come to mind).
During the Okavango Delta excursion, Max actually asked Jane and me to correct his English whenever he was speaking incorrectly; she and I looked at each other and laughed; he had no idea what he was asking for. For the next several days I would hear Jane, in her proper British accent, correcting Max’s English (his English is fantastic; Jane and I would get extremely picky, just to tease him). My favorite phrase he would use was “I didn’t knew…” (rather than “I didn’t know…”). I don’t know why I still find that endearing, but I do.
To those who I’ve not had time to write extensively about (Marca, Emma, Maite, Dennis, Synthia, Hana, Tim), I miss and love each and every one of you as well!!
I shall miss each and every one of these wonderful people. We started out as complete strangers and ended up being good friends.
How best can I sum up Africa? I cannot begin to describe just how amazing the experience was; this was a trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. I think something I saw at the Cape Town airport sums up the spirit of these 41 days best. While shopping at the airport, I found a rhino charm for sale; on the card was written the following message:
May the African sun always shine on you. May the rhythm of its drums beat deeply in your heart. May the vision of all its glory fill you with joy, And may the memory of Africa be with you, always
Today… today the trip changed. Today the glorious group of nine was invaded by nine more people who joined the tour. None of us were excited by this change as we’d gotten quite used to our small group. The entire atmosphere on the truck changed; gone were the music jams and dancing around; gone were the jokes being tossed back and forth; the truck was quiet… and it was depressing.
I decided to introduce myself as Wilhelm to the new people. Chris and Svenja helped me develop a persona: Wilhelm Gerhard Neuer from the tiny country of Biergarten, situated at the very top of an Alp in-between Deutschland and Liechtenstein, right next to the Wiesen (Biergarten is only the top of the Alp; the rest of the mountain is part of Deutschland… it’s a very tiny, secluded and secretive country).
Max… being Max, decided to try and tell everyone that my name is Bryan, knowing that I hate when people mistake my name for Bryan. Now it has become his thing; he always refers to me as Bryan now!
One guy, from England, asked me if I was from the States; when I said yes, he asked who the other American on the tour was. I responded that there was just one and he then asked who Ryan was, upon which I had to explain the story. He and his wife thought it funny and understood my desire to be called Wilhelm.
Our drive today took us to Etosha National Park to do two days of game driving in our Nomad truck. Those of us who did the Serengeti tour in the smaller safari trucks were disappointed that we would be in the Nomad truck; it isn’t built to give everyone the best views for game driving; we all wished that we could use the same types of trucks that we had on our other game drives.
Heading into our campsite in Etosha, we made a brief stop at a souvenir market so people could do some shopping. No one bought anything, but we did spot a giant rhino statue!
We spotted some animals on the road into camp: giraffes, zebras and – oh yes! – impalas!
We stopped by the campsite for a quick bathroom break and then Norman took us out for a quick loop nearby. I jokingly asked him if we’d see a rhino; he just smiled and said that we’d have to see… I secretly hoped that someone at the camp had told him of a rhino sighting. We drove to a nearby water hole and saw… lions. Just some lazy lions lying by the water with some other lions eating a zebra carcass.
Everyone was excited to see the lions, which were rather close. Max, Rafa, Joana and me… couldn’t have cared less. Can you see the utter excitement from these photos??
All we want to see is a god damned rhino! Lions? Seen plenty Giraffes? Boring Elephants? Fat asses Impala? Fuck them
We headed back into camp to get our tents setup. Max and I grabbed a large beer and walked over to the camp’s water hole lookout. We sat there chatting, enjoying our beer for about an hour before it was time to head back for dinner. We didn’t see any animals at the water hole, but it was very nice to just hang out together.
During dinner I developed an impression of an impala: big eyes staring out with no brain or intelligence behind them; mouth stupidly chewing on grass; ridiculous jerking head movements at the slightest noise; body locks up and falls over when it dies. I started just doing the facial impression for Svenja, but then got down on the ground to do the full impression for her (and the rest of the group who was there to watch). Svenja laughed hysterically!
After dinner, Chris, Svenja, Max and I went to the bar to watch the football (soccer) game between FC Bayern Munich and Eindhoven. It was rather fun getting to watch the game in the middle of Africa with two Bayern fans (my favorite team as well, though I’ve had little time to actually follow much at all due to school). Bayern easily won the game, 4-1.
Thursday, 20 October
Another full day of game driving… joy…
Our first sighting was… more lions back at the same water hole from the night before. They were closer this time and up walking around. An elephant then walked up to get a drink of water; it didn’t see the lions right nearby. I wished that the lions would just attack, as foolish as that idea is, but I just wanted to see something exciting.
Our next sighting though was… a RHINO! Yes, we finally saw a rhino! It was walking around behind a bunch of bushes (“too much bush!”), so it was quite difficult to see. I was eagerly looking out the window, hoping to get a good picture of the rhino, but he wouldn’t cooperate. Chris managed to get a few great photos of the rhino (they’re the photos below, which he was nice enough to share).
Up next, we saw a giraffe sitting down by a tree, which is quite a rare sight to see. Most giraffes that people see are up and walking around; to see one sitting down is quite unique.
We saw several other animals as we drove through the park. Rafa, Joana and Max all fell asleep at different parts of the drive; we had quite a bit of fun taking some funny pictures with one another asleep – it helped to pass the time and relieve the boredom of the game drive.
The next animals that we saw were some white elephants grouped together around a water hole, along with several other animals. Rafa and Joana were rather bored with the elephants, and I took a picture that accurately sums up our collective feelings about going on yet another game drive.
We stopped for lunch at a campsite in the park, where we had several hours to relax by the pool. The pool was quite large and very cold, which we desperately needed on this very hot day. I spent some time at the pool and then some time at the bar, with a beer, working on my blog.
After lunch we passed by several more animals: kudu, Oryx, etc. We drove out to the desert proper for a few minutes to take photos; thousands of years ago this area had been a massive lake, but now all that’s left is the desert.
And then – finally – we saw another RHINO! This one was lying next to a water hole and was in plain view for us to see. The first view we got was, typically, of its ass (how many animal asses have we seen on this trip…). I was giddy when I saw the rhino – like a kid on Christmas morning. I reached over and put my arm around Max, excitedly saying that we'd finally seen a rhino!! I kept looking over at him with a huge grin as we sat there watching the rhino. This seemed like such a great achievement, the culmination of something that began at the start of the trip. I was very, very happy that he and I got to see a rhino together.
We needed to move the truck around to get a better view of the rhino, so Max leaned through the small window into the front cabin to ask Norman and Fadz to drive forward. Rafa grabbed me and pointed to where Max was leaning forward: “Look, another ass sighting! Quick, take a picture!” she said and sure enough, we got a view of Max’s ass along with the rhino ass.
We sat there for quite some time watching the rhino and he eventually stood up and gave us a great profile view. It was an amazing few minutes getting to sit and watch this beautiful animal in the wild.
En route to our new campsite, we spotted some lions sleeping in the grass, along with some hyenas. The hyenas are such ugly creatures!
After arriving at camp, Max, Chris, Svenja, and I walked over to this camp’s water hole to see if there were any animals there. We brought some Savannah Dry Ciders with us to drink. We spotted three giraffes drinking, which was rather interesting to see because they stand awkwardly when they bend down to drink.
Then we spotted it: a rhino walking up from the left to get a drink. Chris started snapping some photos (all pictures from this evening posted on here were taken by him). As he was taking pictures we were shocked to discover that there were two more rhinos sitting by the water – and they had been there the entire time that we’d been sitting there! Then a fourth rhino came walking up from the right side! I couldn’t believe our luck – four rhinos were mere feet away from us!!
We sat there for about an hour and then several lions came out of the grass to get a drink of water; the first hint that something else was coming was when the giraffe ran away at high speed. The rhinos stood very still and just watched the lions as they came for a drink.
By this point we were slightly late for dinner, so we left to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back to watch more animals. We told everyone at dinner about everything that we’d seen and almost everyone joined us when we returned to the water hole.
When we got back, only three of the rhinos were still there, but we were able to see them quite well. They eventually walked around to our side of the water and then waded into the middle of the water.
About 10m away from where we were sitting was a large tree with a huge python sitting in it. Despite the fact that I hate snakes, I had to go over and see it. Thankfully the camp guards were keeping a close eye on the snake.
As we resumed watching the rhinos, the power at the camp went out, killing the floodlights that illuminated the water hole. Plunged into total darkness, Chris turned to taking photos of the night sky; this was the first night in weeks in which we’d been able to see the Milky Way in the night sky.
Today also marked the one-month anniversary for the five original tour members: we started our tour on 20 September and seeing our first rhinos was truly the best way to celebrate!
Friday, 21 October
Today marked our last game drive of the tour – huzzah!! We drove out from the camp to see what wildlife we could as we made our way out of the park. Happily, we spotted two more rhinos: a mother and a young rhino walking through some bushes nearby.
We made a brief stop back in camp for a bathroom break. Rafa ran up to me saying that she had found another “Rhino Max” bracelet in the gift shop, this one much longer. We went to the store and, happily, the new bracelet fit around my wrist! I bought the new one and gave Rafa my old one that didn’t fit (she had lost her bracelet at the rock quarry). It was a great find by her!
I fell asleep for the rest of the game drive; I honestly couldn’t care less about seeing another giraffe or elephant; I’d seen so many during the other game drives that I was bored of the whole experience. The game drive ended in mid-morning and we drove the 100km to our campsite for the night, in Outjo.
We had the entire afternoon to relax, so I spent the time getting some work done and posting a blog (finally!). After dinner we all made our way back to the bar (except for Max, who went to bed early; he’d been quite tired for the past few days and hadn’t been feeling well, so he needed to get some rest). At the bar, I joined Chris, Svenja, Rafa, Joana, and the Swiss couple who joined us in Windhoek (Fabian and Tara). They taught us a new card game called Wizard in which one states how many sets (also called ‘stitches’) they hope to get each round; points are awarded based on how close one comes to that number. It was great fun and we had some drinks while we played.
The owner of the bar, a very nice man in a wheelchair, came by to say hello and then he sent over some drinks to us: it was called a Springbok and was part Amarillo and something with mint. It was delicious! We sat around playing cards until around 22:00 and then called it a night.
By this point, Rafa and Joana had left the card table and joined the bar owner at his table to chat and have some drinks. Chris, Svenja and I joined them for a little while. The owner provided us with several (free) drinks as we sat around chatting; the group drank three bottles of wine, various shots of alcohol, and beer. We then started to play a drinking game: - One person rolls two dice under a cup and states the value of the dice (5 and 1 is 51) - You can lie about the value of the dice as only you get to see them - The next person can call your bluff and look: if they are right, you drink; if they are wrong, they drink - The next person then rolls and their score must be higher than the score before them
I saw between Svenja and Chris and decided to stop drinking by this point. I always believe what Svenja said and Chris never challenged the score that I stated, which saved me from drinking. The game was a lot of fun to play though. Joana particularly enjoyed it and drank quite a bit; she is hysterical when she drinks (she’s hysterical sober as well).
Finally, around 01:00 we decided it was time for bed. Rafa stayed behind, but Chris, Svenja and I helped Joana get back to her tent. I unzipped the tent door for her and she literally fell into the tent, laughing. By this point she was also calling out loudly for Norman in a playful, joking way. “Norman!” “Nooorman!” “NORMAN!” The three of us were laughing hysterically each time Joana called out his name. All of our tents were right next to one another, huddled under a tree, so Joana’s calls could easily have woken the others.
I crawled into my tent, trying not to wake Max up; as I was about to fall asleep several minutes later, I heard Joana call out “Norman!” She called out his name several more times and it was all I could do to stifle my laughs so I didn’t wake Max.
To sum up Joana’s evening, here’s how it happened:
21:00 Rafa: Joana, do you want to come to the bar and just talk with us? Joana: No, I want to go to bed. I’m tired. ………. 01:00 Joana: Norman? Norman? Norman!
01:15 Joana: Norman?
It was actually an amazing evening. We got to bond with two of the new people and then enjoy some drinks with locals at the bar. We all had a great time.
Saturday, 22 October
Today we had a late start, thankfully: breakfast was at 08:36 and we left about 45 minutes later. Our schedule for the day was just a visit to a local Hiba tribe. I’ll be quite honest and say that I wasn’t looking forward to this visit; the Massai visit in the Serengeti had been such a disappointment and I was worried that this would be the same thing.
We met our guide and he took us into the village. We were able to interact with the villagers and wander about on our own. The kids loved to come up and visit with us; they were interested in the water bottles that several people brought with them and even took the bottles (they thought that there must be something special about such water).
Max took to the kids right away, talking to them and playing games with them. He and I picked up several kids and swung them around; they each had such big smiles on their faces.
Chris was the true center of the kids’ attention though. They crowded around him and wouldn’t let him go the entire time that we were visiting with the tribe. He would pick them up, swing them around, carry them; the kids all loved it and one could easily see the joy that Chris got out of it as well (though he was exhausted by the end).
We were able to go inside one of the village huts and one of the women showed us how the women ‘bathe’ in smoke and use smoke to clean their clothes; only the men are allowed to clean with water. The smoke smelled rather good as it was mixed with things to make it smell good.
After we finished with the village visit we drove on to our campsite for the night in the town of Khorixas. I slept throughout the drive, which gave me some energy when we reached the camp. Max and I walked over to a local grocery store to grab some drinks (sadly they didn’t have Fanta Passion – I’ve only found it in Malawi!). We then came back to camp and joined the others by the pool, which was frigidly cold. I took a quick dip in the pool before retiring to the bar area to continue working on the blog (which I am now – finally – caught up on!).
Before dinner we filmed my fantastic impala impression and had Max and Rafa play lions hunting me. Svenja filmed it using her GoPro while Chris took several photos of the hunt. I crawled around, ‘eating’ the grass while Max and Rafa stalked me. I thought I’d heard them when they pounced, but it happened quite suddenly, which was awesome! Max grabbed me from the side and Rafa from behind; Max bit at my neck and Rafa just grabbed on and pulled me down. It was actually a ton of fun. As this was being filmed, the rest of the group saw us and wandered over to watch as well.
Sunday, 23 October
We had quite a full day today, with a lot of driving and also some activities.
After leaving camp, we made a brief stop at some local stands for souvenir shopping. One or two people bought a few things, but most of us just wandered around. Norman picked up a baby who belong to one of the women working one of the stands; the baby was adorable and had the greatest smile; when I went to say hello, she wanted to reach out and feel my beard.
We drove further south and made a longer stop at the Spittskoppe, where we spent about two hours walking and hiking around. The rock formations were quite impressive. We met up with another Nomad group (their guide was Nyika’s sister!) and we all walked over to one of the rocky hills, where we had time to hike around and explore. The hill was rather steep, but the rock gave us a lot of traction so we could walk up and down. The view was spectacular.
We then made our way under a ledge where we could see some old paintings done by the bushman people; the paintings were 2,000 to 4,000 years old. Many of the figures depicted the animals of the region – including a rhino!
Lunch was served when we returned to our truck. To our amazement, the other Nomad truck was camping at this location for the evening, despite it only being around 14:00 (they were driving the opposite direction from us, but following the same route); we couldn’t see any bathrooms or showers for them to use, let alone a bar for them to enjoy. We couldn’t understand why they would be camping there and not at the same place that we had left earlier that morning (especially since it was in the desert and blistering hot).
During lunch, Max managed to get a hold of my camera without my knowing… these pictures are the result. :-)
Our route then took us to Swakopmund, where we are spending the next two nights – in a hotel too! The town is very Western and feels like a beach resort in Florida or North Carolina (I’m reminded of Wilmington, actually). The town is located right on the beach, on the west coast of Africa. The weather was considerably colder on the coast; we all had to put on pants and jackets! We stopped off at company to book some option excursion for tomorrow, as it was an entirely free day to do whatever we wanted. Several people signed up to do quad biking, sand boarding, or a dolphin cruise. Not me… oh no, not me…
Back in Zanzibar (yes, on THAT horrible drunken day), Joana and I had talked about doing skydiving; we had promised each other that we’d do it together when we go to Namibia. Well, the day is finally here and Joana still wanted to do it… and, to be honest, so do I, though I’m terrified of the whole idea. I asked the women working there a million questions about skydiving. And… then Joana and I booked it. I handed over my credit card, saying that if it was rejected, the event wasn’t meant to be… and I’ll be damned if the charge didn’t go through just fine – my last method of backing out was gone! So… at 10:00 tomorrow morning I’ll be leaping from an airplane…
Max took great delight in telling me that I’d be dying tomorrow, playing on my fears of skydiving. It was actually pretty funny and he meant it all in a fun, joking manner. He said he’d have a sign on the ground waiting for me: “Welcome back Bryan!” I joked back that skydiving would be a great way to have an impact on Namibia!
Max and I checked into our room and proceeded to do some laundry before we rejoined the group for our dinner out. The entire group went out to a local restaurant that served Italian, burgers, and game meat. I ordered an Oryx burger with “secret sky-diver’s sauce” on it; Chris ordered the same thing and Svenja ordered a pizza. We were all amazed at how delicious the food was! Chris and I LOVED our burgers; I’m not sure what all was on it, but it was amazing. Svenja shared a bite of her pizza, which was also quite tasty.
After dinner we all came back to the hotel to head to bed early; we’d had a long day and most of us had fun activities planned for tomorrow.
Monday, 24 October
Today… I face my fear and go skydiving!
I woke up early, around 07:00 and I was immediately hit by the reality of what I had planned for the morning. I was struck with fear and nervousness, but then dread set in when I looked outside: the sky was full of clouds, which meant that we wouldn’t be able to do the skydiving unless the clouds cleared up. I had psyched myself up so much for this that I didn’t want to miss the chance.
I met with Joana at breakfast and she was equally nervous. We ate a small breakfast (mainly so we wouldn’t puke it up later) and then hung around the reception area until it was time to go. We listened to music to help pass the time – and to calm our nerves. Joana likes Celine Dion, so we played a lot of her music.
Our driver collected us at 10:00 and drove us out to the airfield. The two guys in the car were very friendly and talkative, telling us that we had nothing to worry about. Joana and I were the only two booked to do skydiving for the entire day. Thankfully the sky had cleared up mere minutes before we were picked up – it was a good sign!
Upon arrival at the small airfield, we had to fill out some forms and then decide on which photo or video package we wanted. We couldn’t both have the same package because they didn’t have enough equipment for it; I went with the GoPro on my partner’s wrist, giving me a good video of the jump; Joana did the photo and video package, which has another person jump and film her.
Up next we met our partners: Derek was going with me, while Ramon was going with Joana. Derek has done over 11,000 jumps, so he was quite relaxed about the whole thing. He gave me my jumpsuit and put on my harness, but then went off to chat with some friends. Ramon was more thorough with Joana and he appeared very nervous; we later found out that this was to be his first jump in Africa! He was from Spain and had been doing skydiving for five years, but he just arrived in Swakopmund yesterday!
Derek then gave us a briefing on how we would be jumping from the airplane: Derek and I would be going first… He showed us how to tuck our feet under the plane when we started to exit, how to hold our arms and head, etc. It actually helped put me at some ease to talk about what we would be doing… though that all changed as we then walked outside to board the airplane.
The airplane was very tiny, with only one seat for the pilot. Ramon and Joana climbed in first, with Joana sitting in between Ramon’s legs right up next to the pilot. Derek and I sat the same way, but just behind the pilot. The other two jumpers, one of whom was Joana’s cameraman, climbed aboard and sat to my side and in front of me. We were all sitting quite close to one another. The door to the plan simply slid shut like a garage door and then we were off!
The plane made quite a steep climb, but we had such an amazing view of the area! To one side was the Atlantic Ocean and the miles of beautiful beaches; we could see all the way to Walvis Bay to the south. To the east was the Namib Desert, with dunes stretching out to the horizon. While we were flying, Ramon and Derek attached their harnesses to ours and the pilot would announce how far we were from the jump zone.
5 miles… we start to get harnessed together 2 miles… we get our goggles ready to put on 1 mile… goggles go on and the door opens up
Suddenly one of the jumpers goes… and then it’s my turn! By this point I was terrified. During the flight up, I kept turning to Joana and grabbing her hand for support. We sang the “Fuck It All” version of “Let It Go” as inspiration.
There’s no warning or countdown; Derek just scoots us forward to the door and I realize that this is actually going to happen. There is no turning back. Suddenly, my entire body is hanging outside of the airplane! I don’t have time to think and Derek tells me to tuck my feet under, which I quickly do. He rocks forward a few times and then… we’re out!
The first second, right after leaving the airplane, was the only really scary part – and the only time that I could feel like I was falling. I looked down during the first few seconds and was thankfully not that terrified. I thought to myself “Well, you’re falling now. Nothing you can do but enjoy it!” Once we were in position, Derek tapped me on the shoulder to indicate that I could now open my arms up. I stretched my arms out and relaxed, taking in the entire experience.
The feeling of freefall is spectacular! The wind is rushing by and I couldn’t hear a thing. I looked down at the ground for a bit and then all around me to take in the view. To my surprise, I didn’t swear as much as I had anticipated. I said “Oh fuck!” once (which is clearly on the video), but it was in awe of the view that I had while falling. I smiled and laughed with joy for most of the time. Derek was using the GoPro to film the entire time; he kept prompting me to do a thumbs up or the “hang ten” sign with my hands, which I did.
The freefall time seemed to last only a few seconds, but in reality it was somewhere between 30 and 40 seconds. Derek release the parachute and the freefall ended; it wasn’t a sharp jerking movement either; it was very smooth and soon we were drifting through the sky. Derek removed my goggles so I could see better. The breeze was very light and refreshing.
As we drifted down, I could see Joana and the other guys falling and releasing their parachutes. Joana and me had our parachutes deployed at 5,000 feet, while the professionals went down to around 2,500 feet. Joana and Ramon ended up almost directly above us, so Derek had to maneuver us out of their way. This was the scariest part of the entire experience: we sped up and made some very sharp turns. We quickly settled down and continued to glide down towards the airfield.
As we came in to land, Derek instructed me to simply stick my feet straight out in front of me. As we landed, I did as I was told and then we were on the ground. Derek quickly told me to stand up, which caught me by surprise; I did my best, but we fell forward, laughing. A couple guys came up to help grab the parachute and unhook us. By this point, Joana was nearing her landing and I saw that she too fell when they landed – it must be a common occurrence.
After snapping a few photos and celebrating that we’d just gone skydiving, we changed out of our jumpsuits and then headed back to our hotel. Joana needed to grab her purse to pay for the videos and photos; the guys were happy to do a quick trip to the hotel and back – it gave them time to edit together our videos. While Joana was grabbing her purse, the driver talked to me about his skydiving experiences; he’s done just over 100 solo jumps. To celebrate the 100th jump, their group jumps complete naked!
When we got back to the airfield, we celebrated by having a Windhoek beer and some Simba chips. The TV was playing some great music videos from the 1980s and we sang along to them. Ramon eventually came up to chat as we waited for the videos to finish. Finally, we got to watch both of our videos on their big TV; we laughed at ourselves the entire time. The videos are amazing!
Back in town, Joana and I grabbed some lunch at Spar and then met up with everyone at the hotel. After eating and watching our videos again, a group of us (Chris, Svenja, Rafa, Joana, and me) headed out to explore the town; Max stayed behind so he could exercise. We walked down to the beach, which was breathtaking. There were so many rocks around and the waves were intense.
Chris decided to go swimming for a few minutes, so the rest of us went to a nearby bar to grab some drinks. The beers were the first truly good beers that we’ve had in Africa (the African beers are good, but somewhat watery); these beers were craft beers and they had a variety of styles. Chris and Svenja met up with us for some drinks after a while. It was great getting to just relax and chat with everyone.
We made a brief stop back at the hotel to change clothes and grab Max so we could all go to dinner; we’d made reservations at the Swakopmund Brauhaus at 20:00. Before going to the restaurant, we made a stop at a hostel to pick-up the DVDs for the people who went sand-boarding (Rafa, Chris and Svenja). We got to watch the video as well and it was quite clear that they’d had an equally amazing time during their excursion.
We had ample time before our reservation, so we walked back down to the beach to watch the sunset. It wasn’t the most stunning sunset that we’ve seen, but I found it fun to see the sun set over the Atlantic, rather than rise over it like we get in the States.
The restaurant wasn’t quite as German as I had hoped or as their brochure made it appear; there were German flags on the walls and some imported German beers (Paulaner!), along with a small selection of German food. I went with a dish of smoked meat, potatoes and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. The meat was thinly sliced Oryx and perfectly seasoned; it was a delicious meal! For dessert, Svenja and I split a panna cotta.
Tuesday, 25 October
We had a somewhat early start today, leaving shortly after 07:15 and heading further south. We made a brief stop in Walvis Bay to see the flamingos, which were gathered together along the beach. Further on, we made a stop on the side of the road at the point where we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn! There was a large sign on either side of the road, so we stopped for a quick photo.
After lunch we went on a drive around the Namib Desert with a local guide named Frans. Frans was the best guide that we’ve had this entire trip; he was funny and told some amazing stories. He turned what would normally have been a boring drive into something amusing and entertaining; we were all gripped every time he would talk. The drive took us around some rock formations and up to the top of a hill, where we could see some mountain zebras.
Camp for the night was rather nice, which a small pool and a decent bar. We all took a dip in the pool to cool off and many of the new group members joined us at the pool. I was able to spend some time chatting with them, getting to know them better. Today was Fabian’s birthday and Norman brought out a cake to celebrate; we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him and then everyone sang to him in their native languages. After dinner I played a few rounds of 5,000 with Max, Chris, Svenja and Rafa. Everyone seems to really enjoy the game, which is still amazing to me (I’m glad they like it so much!).
Max and I stayed up playing Carbo after everyone had gone to bed. It was nice spending time one-on-one with him, relaxing and chatting. We talked about the trip, the differences between our two tour groups, and tons of different subjects. I truly enjoy getting to chat with Max; he’s a very smart guy and it is easy to have an intelligent conversation with him. He can get very passionate about certain subjects, stubbornly defending his opinions; it can be somewhat irritating, but amusing as the same time.
Wednesday, 26 October
I woke up in a panic this morning – I left my camera at the bar area when Max and I went to bed after Carbo. I frantically got dressed and ran up to the outdoor seating area where we had sat, but the camera was gone. Thankfully the woman from the bar last night was starting to unlock the doors and open the reception for the morning; she saw me and smiled. I went to the reception and she happily gave me my camera. I was so relieved!
We set off early this morning, skipping breakfast so we could drive to the Sossusvlei Dunes before the sun was too high (and the heat unbearable). The dunes were a gorgeous shade of red and the landscape was spectacular. The national park set aside one dune, Dune 45, for tourists to climb. Upon arrival, we all set off up the dune while Norman and Fadz prepared breakfast.
Dune 45 is rather high and we walked up the path along the ridge. I was one of the first of the group to set off up the dune and I was soon amazed at how steep the slope of the dune was on either side, especially as the path began to narrow. People were coming down along the same path and I was always afraid that I would fall when they passed.
Eventually I reached a point where I could go no further; the slope and height were too much for me. I sat down on the dune so I could relax before turning around to head back down. Rafa and Joana soon met up with me; Rafa could clearly see that I was not doing alright – I was on the verge of a panic attack. She kindly walked me down back down the dune, talking and guiding me the entire way. We would stop and let people pass by us, each time Rafa would help calm me down. I tried to control my breathing so I didn’t panic. Thankfully I reached the bottom safe and sound; Rafa then climbed back up the dune to join Joana.
I spent the rest of the time back at the truck, recovering and drinking water. Breakfast was delicious: bacon and fried eggs (a wonderful change from the usual toast and cereal). While eating breakfast, Svenja and I noticed a group of attractive guys in another truck… a truck full of definite Fs.
Once breakfast was done, we drove to the next sight, which was at the dead tree area of the dunes. We rode out to the trees in a wagon pulled by a very slow tractor, while other tourists took 4x4 trucks. We spotted the truck of attractive guys again on the way. When we arrived, we had to walk one kilometer to reach the trees. During the walk, I spotted the group of guys, so I sped up my pace (I’d been rambling along in the sand, worn down by the heat. It was worth the effort…
The trees themselves were nice, but not as impressive as I had expected. The trees have been dead for hundreds of years, preserved by being in the desert. We spent some time walking around, taking pictures. Rafa and Joana played the song “Gangnam Style” and danced around with the Korean couple, who laughed and got into the dance.
Our last sight for the day was the Sesriem Canyon, which was a small canyon that no longer has water in it. Norman led us on a short walk through the canyon and then left us time to wander around. We could see the layers of rocks along the walls: large rocks indicated periods of heavy water flow, while small ones or sand indicated little to no water.
We then made our way to our next camp, where we spent some time by the pool. The campsite itself was total shit: far from everything, including the truck; the ground was covered with animal poop as well. We talked to the manager and were able to move to a different location, but he warned us that we needed to be quiet for the accommodated guests (we promptly began to communicate by shouting).
Before dinner I joined Max, Tamara, and Fabian to play Wizard. We had started a game on the truck while driving to camp, so we resumed where we left off. Tamara easily beat the rest of us – I had a streak of bad luck that never seemed to end. After dinner, we started a new game; this time I had some great hands and was leading in the scores until the final round, when Tamara and Fabian pulled ahead (and tied).
Tamara and Fabian went to bed around 21:00, but Max and I stayed up playing Carbo again. We only played for about 30 minutes before heading to bed; again, it was wonderful spending more time with him. We sit next to one another on the truck every day, but most days we sleep, read or listen to music; this time in the evenings is really special to me.
Thursday, 27 October
We had a very long day of driving before us today, driving around 500km. We had one stop for sightseeing today at the Fish River Canyon, which we reached late in the afternoon. During the morning dive, I alternated between sleeping and reading more of “Atlas Shrugged” – I reached the chapter of John Galt’s political statement, so I wanted to be able to really focus on what I was reading.
Fish River Canyon was nice to stop and visit; it is the second biggest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon). We could only walk around the rim of the canyon, not descend into it; we still had some amazing views though. We started out at one lookout point and were then given time to walk along the rim over to a second lookout point, where we were picked up. I walked along with Chris and Svenja since I didn't want to walk along the edge alone (my fear of heights rearing it's ugly head once again).
Camp for the night was pretty nice (except for the showers, which had mold all around!). There were three pools, all part of a hot springs complex. The bar was large and well stocked; I spent some time having a beer and relaxing.
After dinner a large group of us returned to the bar to play cards. Max, Tamara, Fabian and I played Wizard, which the others played 5,000 (we didn’t have enough cards for the entire group to play either game). I’ve really taken a liking to Wizard and I think that I’ll buy a set of the cards when I get home; it is a fun and easy game to play with people. Almost everyone went to bed around 22:30, but Max, Chris and I stayed up a little longer and played Carbo together.
Friday, 28 October
I was woken up early this morning by the sounds of baboons getting into the campsite’s trash bins, as well as stealing any food that was left out in the kitchen. They created a massive mess; there were about ten baboons that I could see and one of them even came up and knocked on our tent!
We had a late start from camp (leaving at 09:30) and I spent the time doing a little reading before playing a couple rounds of 5,000 with Svenja and Max. Out drive today took us across the border into South Africa; the border crossing was uneventful and we soon reached our camp.
Camp is located along the river that borders Namibia and South Africa, so we didn’t drive all that far today (around 200km). The camp is… very disappointing. There is nothing to do in the camp; we’re in the middle of nowhere. There is a small pool and a bar area, but Norman didn’t stop for us to do any currency exchange, so I’m not sure how we’re supposed to buy anything at the bar. The only activity today is canoeing on the river, which doesn’t interest me in the least; we’ve got nearly the entire day to sit around this camp… doing nothing.
Fabian, Tamara, Max, and me played a game of Wizard to help pass the time, which was actually quite fun. I also did some work and blogging before we had dinner. After dinner we all went back to the bar area and played cards: some of us played Wizard, while others played 5,000. I played 5,000 and had a kick-ass round that night: I kept getting tons of aces and wild cards, racking up well over 4,000 points (and taking a commanding lead). Max kept telling everyone that I *always* have all of the aces (just like I *always* have the red kings when playing Carbo).
Saturday, 29 October
Today’s agenda was quite brief: drive around 500km to our next campsite where we would have a dinner provided (no more Norman dinners!). The drive was smooth; we spent it talking, reading, listening to music… all of the usual activities. We didn’t play cards today as we were all rather tired and it was still hot on the truck (though nowhere near as bad as it was in the Namib desert!).
Camp for the night was one of the nicest campsites that we’ve had; it had really nice (and clean!) bathrooms, a large dining area with a bar, a decent sized pool. It was rather crowded, but that didn’t interfere with us at all. Best of all: the camp had wifi!! We’d been through such a wifi drought over the past couple of weeks; everyone hopped on their phones as soon as we got access.
We pulled a table from the dining room outside and sat around having some drinks together. The afternoon was getting rather cool, so we soon returned back inside, where a nice fire was going. We soon saw the staff start to cook our dinner (chicken) over the fire and it smelled delicious! Svenja, Rafa, Joana, Max and I sat around the table, chatting and hanging out until it was time for dinner.
Dinner was delicious: chicken, mashed potatoes, homemade bread, and even ice cream for dessert! The family who owned the place made the food and they were all so incredibly nice and friendly! They would chat with us, helped us take the table outside in the afternoon, and did everything they could to make our stay wonderful. They even offered to play the videos of our skydiving on their projector, but we forgot about it until it was too late.
After dinner several of us hung out at the bar and played a couple rounds of 5,000 before we left to head to bed. We would have played longer, but they wanted to close up the bar at 22:00. This was to be our last night in the tents – and our last night together. Max and I stayed up for a little while chatting in our tent; it was very nice to just chill and chat with him. He continued to tease me that a spider would come crawling into our tent, using his fingers to make noises and then running them up my arm or back to make me think it was a spider.
I went to bed feeling rather sad that this would be the last night Max and I would spend in our tent. We’d been sharing a tent together for nearly 40 nights and it would be strange to not have that anymore. I’ve come to consider Max a very, very good friend.