Africa. This is one continent I will continue to explore way beyond the 4 countries I've had the good fortune to experience. Starting my African journey in Madagascar in 2012, continuing on to South Africa and Egypt in the same trip, it left my thirsty for so much more. I was then lucky enough to have a friend trekking up Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. See below for my photo journal of these amazing countries.
Ever since I went to South Africa in 2012, it was just a matter of time before I wanted to go back and go on a true safari. When my friend mentioned that she was planning a trek up to the top of Kilimanjaro I realized it was a perfect time to blend a once in life time trek to the highest peak in Africa with a chance to see the most amount of elephants I could possibly imagine.
We took off on a 7 day trek up Kilimanjaro from Moshi. Our amazing guide Wema and his awesome team of porters made our trek up the Lemosho route full of amazing food, laughter and of course singing. Most days we were fortunate with clear skies, beautiful sunsets and stars that went on forever. It seemed that everyday was truly a new adventure, with new landscapes, and the top of the mountain that seemed forever away. When it came time for us to head up to the top, we woke at 3:30am and started our trek to the highest elevation I've ever been to. That night we slept at 15,955 ft elevation and we about to ascend an additional 3,400 ft to hit Uhuru Peak....and just to make it a little more interesting it was also a white out snow storm. Trying to suppress my altitude sickness that was coming on pretty strong, along with Wema's supportive cheering and pure will, myself and my friends all made it to the top reaching 19,341 ft in a white out. It was an amazing feeling of accomplishment.
Following 7 days of hiking, I decided a 3-day safari through One World Safari Tours was well worth it...and it was magnificent. It was literally like living in a dream where elephants, zebras, giraffes and even a lion family run free around you. It made my life! Overall Tanzania was a country that I know I will return to. The people, culture, and overall experience that Tanzania offers is so special and has made it one of my favorite countries.
Being the planner that I am, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to give up control and let someone else put together your trip, but On The Go Tours was amazing! We literally saw EVERYTHING in 14 days. Staring in Cairo, made our way down to Aswan and Luxor and then concluded with 4 amazing days in Dahab at the Red Sea. We saw temples that have been standing since 4000BC, the Sphinx, Ruins, ancient artifacts and so much more, but nothing really compared to the Pyramids. To actually look at these massive architectural structures and realize they were built without the use of any kind of modern machinery is astounding. The amount of history and culture that exists in Egypt is hard for an American, whose own history technically only started a few hundred years ago, to grasp. Our guide put up with the a lot of laughter, stupid jokes and he still managed to teach us something along the way. Thanks Hathem, it wouldn't have been the same with anyone else. Let's GO!
It’s been said that Cape Town is the “San Francisco” of South Africa, and I would have to say that I kind of agree. From the waterfront area (like Ghirardelli Square), to wine tours (like Napa/Sonoma), to the nightlife and outdoorsy ambiance I can definitely see the connection. However, the shark diving, game reserves and penguins on the beach… do set it apart.
Even though it was winter when I arrived in Cape Town, I was fortunate to get only one rainy day in the week that I stayed there, which was awesome. At the Backpackers hotel where I set up camp, there were a million and one things you could do… and I signed up for most of them. I started with a climb up Table Mountain on a perfectly clear day.
Now there are 2 ways to get to the top of this mountain, which is one of the highest points in Cape Town and provides breathtaking views. The first is to hike it, which is about a 3 mile hike and doesn’t sound too intimidating considering I’ve hiked Mt Tallac in South Lake Tahoe, CA a handful of times, but what they don’t tell you is that the whole 3 miles consists of knee high rocks that you have to hoof up about 1500 vertical feet. It’s like working out on a stair stepper for 2 hours strait… taking 2 steps at a time, but I made it and it was totally worth it. The other way you can see the view is via cable car, which is how we made it down. It might be one of the coolest cable cars I’ve seen with a rotating base so you can see the whole view as you descend no matter where you’re standing. Genius!
After a day of hiking I took off on a 5 hour bus ride to the Garden Route Game Reserve for a night to drive around in an open jeep and see nature at its finest. Having been to zoos all over the country I’ve seen heaps of “exotic animals” before, but nothing prepares you for seeing a giraffe family of 3 walk 2 feet in front of you, or a lion sit on a hill and watch the sun set while you’re 50 feet away. It literally took my breath away. Not to mention when the sun went down the entire sky was lit up with pinks, yellows, oranges and blues that cascaded over the rolling hills. It was remarkable.
Once back in Cape Town we went on a wine tour of the area and tasted the best Syrah I’ve ever had from Annandale Winery. Buy it if you see it anywhere, you won’t regret it! After the wineries we went on a tour of the area with boats, bikes and hikes with Day Trippers. We boated to the seal island, hiked up Cape of Good Hope, biked along the beaches and played with the penguins at Boulders Beach….which was my favorite! (I couldn’t help but think of the penguins from Madagascar!) They were so cute.
To wrap up my adventure in Cape Town I thought what is more adventurous then Shark Diving? So I headed out on a boat before the sun was up to the seal island and hoped to see some great whites. While unfortunately none of them breached, it was still an amazing experience. Seeing them from the boat was one thing, but once I got into the 10 degree water in the cage, I could see how graceful and magnificent they truly are, and definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Overall I would have to say that my time spent in South Africa was remarkable! I met the most amazing people and learned that 90% of folks who wear clothing with California or New York on it, are NOT actually from California or New York, but another continent completely (Thanks Willem). Saw the most incredible sites and definitely want to go back and see more!
Since I was a little girl I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa and volunteer, and in 2012 I was finally able to make that happen. I boarded a plane to Madagascar in July and spent one month volunteering for ReefDoctors, working with marine biologists and additional volunteers from around the world to help preserve and educate about the third largest reef in the world. It was a one of a kind experience.
I should mention this was the first time I had really traveled alone. Sure I had been to several countries in Europe and Central America, but never by myself. On the plane over, I had a profound sensation of fear, excitement, exhilaration, and an underlying calm of knowing there was no place else I was supposed to be.
Stepping off the plane I was instantly overcome with the feeling that I was far from home. The everyday comforts from toilet paper in the bathrooms, down to English as a common language were no longer going to be my “norm” for the next month, and I know it seems trivial, but I felt like I was going to grow and learn from this experience more than any other in my life to date.
An hour car ride through 10 miles of pot hole covered dirt roads later, I finally arrived to the Reef Doctor’s camp where I was greeted with a mix of British, European and Australian volunteers and staff. I have to admit it was one of the first times in my life I actually felt like a minority as the sole American amongst the group….and one of the only volunteers who knew as much about aquatic life as you can learn from Finding Nemo. The patient and educated staff and volunteers helped me learn about the state of the reef, the power of education to the locals about over fishing and what we could do to help. Did you know that if we keep fishing at the rate that we are today that there will be hardly any fish left for the next generation? And you can actually make a difference by being conscious of how much fish you consume and use moderation, since the preservation is based on a simple rule of supply and demand. With preservation as one of the main goals of the program, I was fortunate enough to be there during the first stages of the reef conservation program and the envisioning and planting of the Coral Tree at one of the dive sites. Within a few years the coral pieces will grow and be replanted on a BioRock© that will increase the structural integrity of the current reef system, creating habitats for the fish and thus bringing more fish to the reef. It felt inspiring to be part of such a worthwhile cause, and to get the community involved as well.
Now other than the animated cartoon I knew very little about Madagascar or what exactly to expect when I got there about the culture, people and the day to day life of the Malagasy. It turns out that their days are based on what we would consider the “simple” way of life. You wake when the sun rises and go to bed when it sets, mostly because there is no electricity, except for an hour or two a day if you’re lucky. The men set out to go fishing in their hand wood carved pirogues (canoes) that cascade across the ocean adding a blanket of sails over the calm morning sea. The women take to the nearby village Mangilie, about an hour’s walk along the beach, with items to sell, which they transport in buckets weighing upwards of 15 pounds carried effortlessly on their heads, while a baby is slung over their back and another little one plays at their feet. I watched in awe from my bungalow as this ritual took place day after day from sun rise to the breathtaking sun set.
When it comes to safety, or OUR idea of “safety”, it seems to not be a valid concern in this culture, especially when it comes to getting from point A to point B. There are 3 main forms of transportation, zebu, taxibus and car. Zibo, or cows pulling a wooden wagon down the dirt road where you sit on the edge of the wagon and arrive with a much bruised backside, is normally used for shorter distances. Taxibuses are used for longer distances and come in 2 different sizes. The first is a compact truck with no brakes that is stopped by 3 boys who ride holding on to the back and pull it to stop. Inside you will find wooden benches on either side of the flat bed, where they will cram in upwards of 20 people shoved into every nook and cranny of the vehicle with 10 more hanging off the back of the cab. On top you’ll find the luggage, furniture, live animals, fish….whatever you can image piled sky high secured with ropes. The next size up is a bus….but all the same rules apply. It will usually take anywhere from 1 hour (if you’re lucky) to 4 hours to get 30 miles on the dirt road with all the stops and breakdowns along the way. And finally if you want to spend some money you can hire an actual car….but it will cost you about $30 where the taxibus only sets you back $1.50….the choice is yours.
After living in Madagascar for a month I have to say it made me appreciate how fortunate I am for what I have and reminded me what truly is important in life and what we can live without. If you want to read more about my experience I did a guest blog for ReefDoctors you can find here. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget with amazing people, beautiful ambiance and awesome diving!