Monthly Archives: August 2015

Cape Town 2015

Sadly, we had to leave Cape Town. We spent a little under two weeks exploring Cape Town and the Western Cape and were floored with our experiences. We were surprised to find Cape Town is the number one visited place in Africa, not the pyramids in Egypt. Since it is currently winter in South Africa, we didn’t have too many crowds to deal with and found everything relaxed and laid back. Not many Americans make it to South Africa which is really too bad. The country has a fully developed infrastructure, some great national parks, delicious food, friendly people, very interesting history, and very good values.

We love visiting national parks in the US but we have found most countries’ national parks are nothing like the US’s – they would be very commercialized, no rangers, no real management, lots of people would live in the park, and so on. South Africa is definitely the exception, their national parks are very similar to the US’s. The parks are well structured, well signed, easy to visit, and very good values. There are parks all over the country and we visited three just in the Cape Town area alone. They are truly gems and they alone make South Africa worth visiting for nature lovers.

Jacquelyn and I are not wine drinkers and really do not know much about wine other than we like the white colored kind and the red colored kind is a bit more abrasive and unenjoyable. Since the Cape Town area is a famous wine region we decided to tour around a bit and check out the different manors and try some wine; it was fantastically delicious! There’s a really neat feature with some of the wineries: they offer picnics! All a person has to do is make a reservation the day before, show up at the appointed time, and enjoy picnic food and good wine around some very beautiful scenery. We had a lot of fun so I can only imagine how awesome it would be for wine aficionados. Unsurprisingly, there are many wine choices in the super market and most are pretty inexpensive, like $1.5-$3, so it was fun to handful of different kinds.

The food was very good. The Dutch and British ruled Cape Town and brought different groups, like Malaysians and Indians, to South Africa for labor which resulted in the melding of food to create some very distinct flavors we’ve never had before! The Malay food style is called Cape Malay; it takes the Malaysian cooking style and blends in Indian spices for European style dishes. There’s a dish called bobotie which can only be described as a meatloaf like dish with very mild curry flavors served with rice. It’s amazing.

Apartheid ended about 25 years ago yet it’s clear Apartheid made a lasting mark on South Africa. We had a handful of conversations with white and black people who lived through Apartheid and I still can’t think of a good way to summarize what we learned as it’s a blend of happy, sad, tragic, heroic, and villainous stories. Things have improved for a lot of people since the end of apartheid but there are still many problems. For people who like history and learning about different cultures, South Africa and Cape Town is a great place to visit to learn about an awful period of time from the very people who lived it.

There weren’t really any downsides visiting South Africa. Infrastructure was great, things were really easy/straightforward to do, and we didn’t encounter many surprises. The only slight inconveniences were the precautions we took for our safety. We received a lot of tips on how to keep ourselves and our personal belongings safe. In general, it seemed like everyone had different strategies for coping with the crime like hiding money in multiple pockets or carrying a large rock in case muggers come out on a hiking trail. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any muggers and we were never in a situation where we were concerned for our safety. We found Cape Town and the surround area to be very safe. Even with the security / safety situation, I would still recommend anyone visit as common sense goes a long way.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in South Africa and Cape Town. It was very memorable stay and we can’t wait to return!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Victoria Falls 2015

Victoria Falls was stunning. We spent multiple days visiting the falls and enjoying its splendor. The view changed throughout the day as the sun moved across the sky: some areas became more clear, rainbows would appear only to disappear later. It was really easy to spend all day at the parks watching the waterfalls. No amount of videos or photos could have prepared us for how awesome the falls were. That said, there were some pretty large negatives in our visit which would preclude us from recommending anyone to visit unless for some specific circumstances

Victoria Falls straddles the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and each side has national parks / viewpoints to see the falls. We visited both sides over the course of five days and were extremely surprised with what we found. Both Zambia and Zimbabwe are poor but Zimbabwe is REALLY poor. It is the most poor nation we have visited and there are only 22 other nations more poor than Zimbabwe in terms of average incomes and purchasing power. Zimbabwe had hyperinflation for a number of years and now uses the USD as their official currency. We ended up buying some of their old hyperinflated currency as souvenirs so now I can say Jacquelyn and I are officially billionaires many times over :).

While both nations are very poor, everything is a very bad value. This part of our trip has earned the distinction of being the absolute worst value we have ever encountered. The costs of things made absolutely no sense – we were paying greater than Western Europe / US prices for commodity items. Prior to our travel to the area, we had learned things were a bit expensive but we were not prepared for being treated like walking / talking ATMs. At times, setting our money on fire would have been more enjoyable than the services or items we received at the price we paid. Just an example: we take a lot of photos during our travels in the last year and we regularly back the photos up to the cloud for safe keeping. One restaurant we visited wanted $1 per 8MB of data; at that rate we would have spent nearly $150,000 backing up all our of our photos to the cloud. If I asked a local to shove a stick in my eye I’m convinced it would cost no less than $45 which is shocking as a stick in the eye should be free. Visiting Victoria Falls simply a bad deal.

We felt really happy at the falls and really enjoyed our time in the parks. Everything outside of the parks suffered from serious disorganization and basic activities, like checking in at the airport, became pretty large ordeals. This is similar to other poor nations we have visited but it was some of the worst we have experienced.

So, at the end of the day, we are glad we saw the falls but we won’t go back.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

South African Safari 2015

Who would have guessed driving at slow speeds while staring out the windows looking for African game animals for hours on end would be enjoyable? Certainly not Jacquelyn or I. Turns out, safari driving is a lot of fun! We spent about a week and a half in two different South African national parks watching the big game animals like lions, elephants, water buffalo and so on. It was a really cool experience and we really enjoyed our time; South Africa is an incredible place to boot with super friendly people, amazing scenery, great food, some very strange practices, and a great value overall. We have left South Africa for the time being, but we will be returning in a handful of days to explore the Cape Colony area – we really look forward to our return!

When we first set out on our trip, we didn’t really think we’d be going on safari. Neither Jacquelyn nor I are really animal people and we’ve never spent the time to look at animals we encounter in nature. We knew we’d be going to Africa so we started planning the places we wanted to visit. I read about “self driving safaris” where we wouldn’t have to go with a tour agency and we could go on our own pace. We have come to deeply detest guided group travel so this was a huge plus. We then learned we could stay within the national parks at different camps that had all the amenities we enjoy like running water, beds, cooking facilities, and surrounded in natural beauty. After researching where to visit, we settled on two national parks figuring at the very least we would be able to enjoy nature.

We sought out a lot of advice for South Africa since we had heard stories about danger and how people need to be very careful. All the recommendations boiled down to two items: don’t drive at night and treat stop signs like a yield sign to prevent theft/carjacking. Pretty easy advice to follow but we later learned the recommendation to drive during daylight was partially due to all the potholes in the roads. Apparently, there’s a pretty big problem with people popping tires or rolling vehicles when avoiding potholes so it’s recommended tourists simply drive during the day to be safe. That said, the roads were in good shape, we’ve driven in much worse conditions and didn’t feel as though the potholes inconvenienced us in the slightest.

We saw a lot of animals and it was really fun. Some animals, like giraffes, have really odd behaviors that make this rather majestic animal look completely ridiculous. There’s the big five game animals, rhino, elephant, leopard, lion, and water buffalo, that everyone strives to see when safari driving. It was easy enough to spot rhinos, water buffalo, and elephants since they are kind of hard to miss, but it was very difficult to spot lions and leopards. We almost went the entire trip without spotting a leopard because they are uncommon so it became our mission to spot a silly leopard only because that was the last of our big five sightings. We asked rangers, we looked at the sighting boards, and we asked other tourists just so we could see a leopard in the wild. Luckily, we saw one on our last day as we were headed out of the park. For people who don’t really care about animals in nature, we really put a lot of effort into seeing animals during our safari drives :).

So South Africa has some peculiarities, but I’ll just mention two. First: whenever we parked a vehicle in a public place there was always some random people who would “watch our car” to make sure no one messed with it while we were running errands, eating, or whatever. These people did not work for the places we were visiting, they were car watching entrepreneurs. We’ve been a lot of places where people demanded tips or wanted money for doing nothing so at first I just thanked the watchers and then left. After asking some locals whether this was legitimate I was told “Well, yeah, they watched your car for you”. It turns out these guys really did their job and didn’t just collect tips. We saw three car watchers forcefully remove a guy from the parking lot. Until I visited South Africa, I never thought car watching could be a dangerous or violent occupation. Second: people really take animal watching super serious. It was common to see $12,000 camera lenses, super expensive binoculars, and I even saw a vehicle mount system for someone’s zoom lens. We drove all over the national parks and from time to time would find some serious safariers hiding away from the crowds. We would chat with them and often times found they looked down on the casual safarier. There’s a stark difference between the regular folks and these super safariers – Jacquelyn and I would have the radio blaring while going as fast as we legally could looking for whatever animals were out in the open and these serious folks would be driving extremely slow, be very quiet, and they would be inspecting every nook and cranny. We quickly learned to spot those folks and then ask them what they saw – we saw a lot of cool wildlife that way!

We loved our time in South Africa and we’re really excited to return!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.


PS: there are a lot of birds in the album below.