Tag: country review

Mainland Southeast Asia Top Ten

We didn’t get to spend long enough in either of these fabulous countries, and for that reason we are going to lump our Top and Bottom lists together for Thailand and Laos. With Thai food in the mix, we’ve gotta do a food Top Ten – five just won’t cut it. You know the drill.

Top Ten (ok, Top Eleven – We liked it that much)

  1. Exploring wats by bike

    Value for money – Thailand and Laos are a cheap date. Both the accommodation and food options provided a lot of value for a little bit of money. After paying out the wazoo for crappy hotels in Africa, and paying nearly nothing and getting what we paid for in parts of India and Nepal, Thailand and Laos over-delivered on nearly all aspects.

  2. Bangkok party night – Shout out to JDMesh! We couldn’t get enough of our world traveler friends, this being the 4th country and 3rd continent we’ve chilled together (not including our home country/continent), and we went out with a bang on our last night of hanging together on the Big Trip. Fun times ensued.
  3. Chiang Mai – Yep, the whole city. If Ted and I pick up and left the U.S. on a whim and you want to know where to find us, Chiang Mai should be one of the first places you look.
  4. Thai cooking class on our anniversary – I love Thai food. I love learning new things. I love Ted. All these reasons and more made this experience a Top 10 in this part of the world.
  5. Namo yoga with Poncho – Our traveling pals connected us with Poncho prior to arriving in Chiang Mai. Not only is he a fun and fascinating person, he is one heck of a yoga instructor. We had lots of fun with Poncho both at class and around town.
  6. Lots of wats – and Buddhas for that matter. You can’t spend time in Thailand and not visit at least one wat. In fact, you’ll probably visit a dozen. Very unique and special places, we enjoyed exploring the different wats that Thailand has to offer.
  7. Village life – Talk about getting off the beaten path. Our time spent in the village of rural Thailand was pretty damn cool. Challenging and rewarding – good words to describe both this experience and traveling in general!
  8. Mekong slow boat journey

    Slow boat to Luang Prabang – Why spend less money and get there in a shorter amount of time when you can ride for two days on a riverboat down the Mekong with seventy 20-somethings from around the world who like to drink Beer Lao?

  9. Waterfall day in Luang Prabang – Unbelievably beautiful waterfalls in a hot, steamy country with lots of fun people around. Yep, hard to beat.
  10. Tubing day in Vang Vieng – Sure we hated being the crazy Westerners contributing to this insanely over-the-top debauchery, but we still managed to have a pretty fantastic time.
  11. Motobike extravaganzas – Having your own transport is a fun and liberating experience for people who have been relying on others for transportation for a long time. From Chiang Mai touring to completing The Loop in Laos, we dug it.

Bottom Five

  1. Heat – To avoid sounding like a whiner, I’d just like to note that this part of the world was melting hot. My Scandinavian self could hardly bear it. We almost bailed on Laos because of heat concerns, but boy I’m glad we didn’t do that.
  2. Gap year debauchery – especially in Vang Vieng. After Western Europe, Thailand and SE Asia are the meccas of backpackers. These young’ins are incredible partyers that are a little over-the-top.
  3. Our travel companion’s crash on The Loop – Talk about an adrenaline rush – and not in a good way. I don’t do well with the sight of blood and knowing this poor kid was hundreds of miles from decent medical care was a scary thought.
  4. Sarah losing her glasses to the Mekong River – You could blame it on our tubing day in Vang Vieng and you would be right. After 9+ months of carting around my prescription sunglasses, I lost them on that fateful day. They certainly had a good run.
  5. Not having enough time to enjoy these places – Cliche but true. Each of these fabulous countries deserved more time. I wish we could have given it to them.

Food Top Ten

  1. Bangkok street food – Where to start? Late-night pad thai? Grilled meat on skewers? Big bowls of soup? The list goes on and on. No shortage of fab options and of course they were all at a steal of deal. Life is good for food lovers in Thailand.
  2. Khao Sawy

    Dinner with the Chads – The Chad living in Chiang Mai invited us to a great restaurant right by his house and did the ordering for us. We ate a lot of things that I didn’t recognize and I know my mouth was on fire by the end of it which makes me think it was quite an authentic experience.

  3. Khao Sawy – A regional specialty of Northern Thailand, this curry-like soup was fantastic. Ted specifically sought it out the moment we hit Chiang Mai (he remembered from his last visit 10 years ago). At one point, we found a spot that impressed Ted so much he immediately ordered a second bowl after finishing his first!
  4. Fruit smoothies from our juice lady in Chiang Mai – One of Poncho’s many pearls of wisdom, this lady worked in the market just down the road from our hostel and we visited her once if not twice a day.
  5. Lao BBQ – You do the cooking yourself on a set of coals brought to your table. Brilliantly, the system allows you to cook meat, veggies, and soup simultaneously! Very fun.
  6. Laap and sticky rice

    Laap (and sticky rice) – Laap is a Lao specialty and to eat it with sticky rice is the only way to do it. Laap is essentially meat or fish chopped into tiny pieces and seasoned and spiced to perfection.

  7. Baguette sandwiches – Merci to the French. It sounds hard to believe, but sometimes you just can’t eat another meal of noodles. Getting to snack on fresh-made baguette sandwiches was a fun and unexpected delight in this part of the world.
  8. Beer Lao – Prolific and refreshing in this steamy country. We enjoyed many a Beer Lao.
  9. Mekong fish-on-a-stick in Luang Prabang – Don’t mind if we do!
  10. Mango Sticky Rice – Best Thai desert ever!  Perhaps best fruit desert ever.  Fresh mango with some cream-infused sticky rice.  Mmmmmm….

Be sure to check out our Best of Mainland Southeast Asia photos to see some of our favorite moments from this wonderful part of the world.

Goodbye Laos, Hello Bali

After our awesome experiences on The Loop, it was back to Tha Kaek and up to Vientiane for one more night in this wonderful little country. Ted had been to Southeast Asia in 2002 but missed out on making it to Laos – which is one of the reasons we wanted to be sure to visit this time around. Compared to it’s rather wealthy and tourism-friendly neighbors (Thailand and Vietnam, respectively), Laos is very much the little kid brother – it’s got similar natural beauty (save the beaches), amazing Asian culture and food, but people just don’t seem to come here, except for those who are a little more independent and adventurous. It’s managed to avoid some of Thailand’s pitfalls though – no sex tourism (if you want to sleep with a Lao person, you have to be married, and you could get thrown in jail or deported if you forget this rule!), no lady boys, not many drug problems, etc. It’s modern when you least expect it, yet more rural and poor than you could ever imagine. The tourism services exist but not at the level or complexity that we had experienced in most other places we visited. Though many folks speak English, many more do not. It will be interesting to see what happens to this amazingly friendly place in a few short years. It would have been fascinating for Ted to have seen it in 2002 and be able to compare it to now – I’m sure it has changed a whole lot. Though Laos is still very much under the radar compared to other Southeast Asia hotspots, it has so much going for it and it is only a matter of time until this sleepy little place finds itself in the same league as the big boys.

We were not ready to leave Thailand and we were not ready to leave Laos either, but our trip was winding down, we were running out of time, and we needed to B-line it to the beach to relax in our final days of bliss. We caught an international flight to Malaysia where we had an awkward 16 hour overnight layover. We made the best of it by spending the night in a sketchy hotel near the airport, eating some ridiculously good seafood noodle dishes, and getting a decent night’s rest. Then it was back to the international terminal for our flight to Bali!

Nepal Wrap-Up

Nepal has been at the top of Ted’s wish list for a long while, and for good reason. Our time here was nothing short of spectacular, though challenges abound. Trekking the Annapurna will be a travel highlight in our books forever, having friends to join us was a particular treat, though transportation and power in this country created some difficult situations. In no particularly order, check out our favorite moments, challenges, and eats:

10 Favorites

  1. Wicked peaks from Tatopani

    Fun People – We spent nearly our whole month in Nepal hanging out with people we love. Cheers to Charles and Kate for making the journey from the US, and to Dave and Jesse for being such hilarious partners-in-crime.

  2. Shiba – Our guide on the Annapurna trek was a superstar. Best guide ever. We loved this guy.
  3. Our porters – We couldn’t have done the trek without them. Well, perhaps we could have but we’re glad we didn’t have to.
  4. Wicked peaks – Every day wicked peaks. In every direction.
  5. Weather on the circuit – I’m gonna go out on a limb and call it perfect. Sure it was a bit cold in the evenings, but during the day you couldn’t ask for better walking temps, our outrageous visibility, and no rain!
  6. Thorung La Pass – 17,769 feet. Bagged it.
  7. Tatopani Hot Springs – Healing, natural hot springs after 10+ days of walking? I think yes.
  8. Dinner with Shiba – Dinner with our favorite guide in his home and with his lovely family was a treat.
  9. Sunsets in Bandipur at the Old Inn – A beautiful view, at a lovely old property and cold beer. Perfect.
  10. Bodhnath Stupa on Buddha’s Big Day – It was quite by accident that we got to hang out with Buddhists on the celebration of Buddha’s birth, death and day of enlightenment.

5 Not-So-Greats

  1. Bodhnath Stupa

    Road transportation – Terrible, terrible roads. No bus ride or Jeep ride was an exception. It takes hours to go a few miles.

  2. Bathroom experience along the Annapurna Circuit – No need for detail here, but there were squat toilets all the way, and when you’re legs are tired from walking anyway, this was sad news.
  3. Power rationing – Kathmandu was without power 8-12 hours a day on a regular basis. Our hotel posted the hours that power would be available in the city each day. A capital city with systematic power outrages is quite unfortunate.
  4. Strikes – Who knows who was striking about what, but when it was a strike day all transportation would come to a halt. No buses, no taxis and most shops don’t even open. Lucky our travel schedule was so flexible – it could be quite an issue if you were trying to get somewhere on a certain day at a certain time.
  5. Freezing cold nights – on the Annapurna circuit, we had a couple high-altitude evenings with not quite enough covers. We’re stretching here with things to complain about…

Top 5 Eats

  1. Dal bhat - Nepali lunch and dinner.... for life

    Hot tea on Annapurna – We’re not big tea drinkers but we were on the trek. The hot liquid both kept us warm and kept us hydrated. We drank gallons of the stuff.

  2. Dal Bhat – The Nepali national dish. We learned to like it.
  3. Momo Fest 2011/Momos in general – Momo Fest deserves its own post: Check out what our travel buddies had to say about our momo night on the town.
  4. Pokhara Pizza – Best pizza we had encountered out of the US and it was cheap ($2/pie)! Woohoo!
  5. Manang’s bakery items – Manang was a little village in the middle of our Annapurna trek. After days and days of the same boring food, we were thrilled and surprised to have the options of fresh croissants, apple danishes and chocolate cakes. A little slice of heaven in the middle of a pretty heavenly place to begin with.

Check out our Best of Nepal and Annapurna Highlights albums for some pics of quite possibly the most spectacular mountain landscapes on the planet (and other Nepali highlights)

India Wrap-up

Time for another wrap-up. Normally we do a Top 10, a Bottom 5, and our 5 Favorite Food and Drinks. However, wild-and-crazy India needs a Top 10, a Bottom 10 and a 10 Favorite Food and Drinks. We’ll try and keep it short as this is a lot to cover. Here we go!

Top Ten

  1. Holi festival with Sasank

    Staying with Sasank in Delhi – Great guy, generous host, wonderful apartment. Lucky us.

  2. Holi – A holiday like no other. Kinda like dyeing Easter eggs, but with us being the Easter eggs.
  3. Rooftop sitting – Drinking chai, escaping the insane streets and enjoying sunsets.
  4. Udaipur Cooking Class – First cooking class experience was both informational and a lot of fun. Who wants to taste what we learned when we get home?
  5. Meherangarh Fort – We can confidently say that this is our favorite fort in the whole world.

    The Taj at 6am

    One doesn’t usually have strong feelings about forts, but this fort just knocked our socks off.

  6. Camel safari sunset – How could you not love a beautiful sunset over rolling hills of sand that you arrived at by camel?
  7. Sikh Love – Didn’t meet a Sikh we didn’t like!
  8. Border closing ceremony antics – Though it might have been wrong to laugh so hard at something not aimed to be funny, we did and it was.
  9. Taj at sunrise – She’s a beaut and at that hour we had the place mostly to ourselves.
  10. India’s unbridled energy – Though a vague concept, there is no place else like India. Its uniqueness and intensity are at times overwhelming, but ultimately that’s what makes it so rewarding.

Bottom Ten

  1. Delhi belly – We’d toughened up our stomachs a little bit before arriving, but Delhi/India toughened them up a bit more.
  2. Obnoxious salesmen who won’t take no for an answer – Rickshaw? No, thank you. Rickshaw? No. Rickshaw? NOOO!!!!
  3. Salesmen that blatantly lie – Did you know that Richard Gere has visited this hole-in-the-wall textile shop in Jodhpur and that Giorgio Armani sources his fabric from this same place?
  4. Salesmen that are syrupy sweet nice when they are trying to make a sale that become rude or hostile when they realize that you aren’t going to buy anything.
  5. Filth – Really gross stuff. I don’t even want to write some of it down because it’s so gross. But imagine garbage, cow poo, public urination and the smells that go with it.
  6. Horn honking need not be encouraged

    Poverty – There is such a gap between the Haves and the Have Nots and it’s unavoidable to see. People literally live in improvised dwellings on the sidewalks of streets while others are driving by in their Audis. It’s just brutal to see with your own eyes.

  7. Car horns – Though the horns make lots of different clever sounds, they are all loud and all overused. A walk or a bus ride on any road is hard on the ears after about 5 minutes.
  8. Everything is a negotiation/nothing is straightforward
  9. Different prices for foreigners – This is institutionalized. Sure our rickshaw drive will be pricier than for the locals, however, everything from the Humanyan’s Tomb to the Taj Mahal has a significantly higher sticker price for us non-Indians.
  10. Staring – Unnerving, to say the least. I know most folks don’t mean any harm, it’s just weird to be brazenly watched for no particular reason.

Favorite Food and Drinks – We primarily ate vegetarian in India as Hindus don’t eat meat, thus it is a very easy thing to do. However, once in awhile a chicken curry was in order!

  1. MMMmmmmmm - Chai!

    Masala Chai – Or simply chai tea, if you will. It’s prolific, it’s delicious and it’s cheap. We drank some every day.

  2. Lassis – Pretty much a yogurt milkshake. I particularly liked banana lassis for breakfast!
  3. Aloo Parantha – Speaking of breakfast, this is what we liked to eat. It is an Indian bread stuffed with seasoned potatoes served with curd (yogurt) and pickles (chili sauce) for dipping.
  4. Naan – Or roti or parantha. At home we always ate garlic naan with our curries but we found out in India that naan is usually only served for special occasions. For everyday eating it is either roti or parantha (same thing but called by different names in different regions).
  5. Thalis – A medley of different curries, if you will, served with rice, bread and sometimes a dessert. Most restaurants serve unlimited refills, however, we usually split one between the two of us because it was so much food.
  6. Sarah and a dosa

    Butter Chicken – Chicken in a creamy, tomato curry. Mmm!

  7. Masala Dosas – Super thin pancakes/crepes wrapped around some curry.
  8. Curries in general – So many options and oh-so-good. Even mediocre food in India is better than most great Indian food at home.
  9. Gulab Jamun – Pretty much a donut hole soaked in a sweet syrup.
  10. Pakora – Deep-fried battered pieces of vegetable. Hard to not like.

Don’t forget to check out our Best of India photos.

The Quirks of India

It is impossible to come to a country like India and not want to take note of everything you hear, see, taste, and smell (this can swing from flowery fragrant to wretched in one inhalation). During our 5 weeks here, we have accumulated a list of the highlights, interesting observations, ironies, hypocrisies, anomalies, and oddities. This post was inspired by (and partially copied from, with permission) a friend and fellow traveler who was generous enough to share his list of the idiosycracies and excentricities of India. We added a few of our own and mixed them up to give you a snapshot of the craziness that is India. Here are a few:

  • The first, and most important, lessons I learned about India were “you cannot generalize about the people of India” and “India has A LOT of everything.”  I did not fully appreciate these two statements before coming here and now that I am, I concur.  I would describe India like I would Europe – a collection of countries and cultures, each with their own language, food, traditions and nuances.
  • Dirtiness – Yes, it is very dirty here, even filthy, in lots and lots of places. Trash all over (though they do recycle here quite a bit – very surprised to find that there is enough incentive for people to collect plastic, glass, etc), cows shitting all over, dirty water in streams, rivers, etc. Showering at the end of each day is essential, even if you just go out for a quick errand during the day. I’ve never had to wash my flip flops daily, but just about every day, they come into the shower with me. But surprisingly, people’s BO here is not as bad as it is in Africa!
  • Chillin on rooftops (particularly in Rajasthan) has been awesome. Hostels/hotels generally have a restaurant on the roof, and drinking chai, looking at the fort that looms overhead, or the lake that lies in the valley, is killer.
  • Women here really wear the traditional clothes most of the time. And it is so pretty – bright colors and so many of them. Bangles on their wrists, nose rings, saris, etc.
  • Hocking loogeys:  Expect that people are comfortable clearing their throats with a loud open mouth cough in the unlikeliest places (perhaps while taking your order in a restaurant), spitting excessive amounts of chewing tobacco (missing your arm by a few inches while in the back of their rickshaw), or spending the first 20-30 minutes of their day hocking a symphony of gutturals for all to enjoy.  Also, loogeys are not differentiated based on sex.  While it would be rare to see a women chewing tobacco, she may have no qualms about spitting on the sidewalk in front of you.
  • Travelers here embrace the local dress more than anywhere we’ve noticed. Saris, to Ali Baba pants, to shoes – this is the place to dress the part.
  • Men are in the 70s, with AWESOME huge mustaches. Pants and shirts are pretty 70s style as well.
  • All the buses (and some of the cars and rickshaws) have crazy horns. At first it’s cool to hear the chorus of different “get out of my way” sounds, but then it wears on you. People honk EXCESSIVELY here, for anything and everything, and it gets loud and old real quick. Excessive honkulation is an addiction in this country and it needs to stop.
  • Cows really are chillin everywhere. Nobody pays them much attention. Sometimes store owners will push them away from their storefronts. It’s pretty funny when they get in the middle of the small lanes, already congested with rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, and people. Quite the mess.
  • The Indian culture is the strongest we’ve encountered – by far. Indians have their own music, dance, film, TV, fashion, food, etc, and as a result, people are less influenced by American/Western culture. People know much less about the US than others we’ve encountered, probably largely because they don’t watch nearly as much of our media or listen to nearly as much of our music. It’s very cool to see the pride people have in Indian culture, and while I don’t love the music (lots of minor and dissonant progressions with a sitar-y twang), their food and dress are bursting with flavor and color.
  • Queuing: I was warned in advance to sharpen my elbows…but when you are at the window (which was a battle to get to) and engaging in a conversation with the attendant to figure out which train ticket you need, how is there a guy sticking his hand in the glass booth still trying to cut me off?  Then, when ignored by the attendant he tries to fit his head in the hole as if this will surely make his voice heard. There is little regard for lines in India so you just have to be aggressive and deal with it.
  • Many of the places we visited in India are also domestic tourist destinations, which made for some really interesting interactions. In a country where most people are either poor or extremely poor, a holiday is a big deal, and generally these holidays are reserved for religious pilgrimages. In places like Amritsar, Rishikesh, and Varanasi, people are sometimes making the trip of their lifetime to the Ganga, and many of these folks are from rural areas. As a result, they aren’t used to seeing white people, and many are excited to be in photos with us. Sometimes, we feel like B-level celebrities, which is kinda fun.
  • In Ted’s opinion, this is the most fascinating place to travel on the planet. It’s certainly not all good, but the rewards are well worth the challenges. Not my favorite country, but definitely the most interesting.
  • In Sarah’s words: “Every day, I love and I hate India”. So true – the rewards here are tremendous – from the history and architecture, to the spirituality and food – but the requirements are high, and you have to walk out the door ready for battle every time you leave the hotel. As one Israeli traveler said, “you have to pump yourself up, get ready to go out and kick some ass (while doing a boxing motion with his fists) – I’m coming to get you India!”

Africa – The Numbers

Here are some interesting figures from our 2nd continent:

  • 3 – Months we spent in Africa
  • 46 – Number of beds we slept in
  • 8 – Countries Visited (South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya)
  • 39 – Days we spent in South Africa
  • 3 – Hours we spent in Lesotho
  • 7 – Cars we rented in South Africa
  • 5900 – Kilometers we drove in South Africa (3600 miles)
  • 30 – Number of deeply discounted or comp’d hotel nights through Ted’s tourism connections
  • 26 – Days spent with family in Africa
  • 35 – Percentage of nights we paid for accommodation (thanks Moms and Dads, and tourism connections!)
  • 38 – Hours on a bus (nothing compared to the 182.5 in South America)
  • 14 – Beaches visited
  • 45 – Number of game drives
  • 50 – Number of lions seen on game drives
  • 2200 – Photos taken (and kept)
  • 12 – Number of guides and porters assigned only to us for our Kili hike
  • 13,393 – Vertical feet climbed on our summit hike of Kilimanjaro
  • 19,341 – Highest altitude in feet we’ve ever climbed to
  • 6 – Flights on big airplanes
  • 6 – Flights on small airplanes
  • 10 – Visits to the Johannesburg airport
  • 1 – Number of police reports filed

Check out our Best of pics from Southern Africa, East Africa, and African Mega-Fauna for some visual highlights.  Now, on to the Indian Subcontinent…

Eastern Africa Wrap-Up

I think you know the drill by now, but let us start by saying that Tanzania is one of our trip superstars so far.  Below are our favorite things, our least favorite things, as well as some good eating memories and animal sitings (Africa exclusive!).  Check out the Best Of East Africa photos to go along with lists.  Here we go:

The Best

  1. Private Plunge Pool on Zanzibar

    Private plunge pools – A perfectly symbolic representation of being spoiled totally rotten on Zanzibar; we stayed in several spots with private plunge pools alongside our rooms.  This was totally ridiculous and we loved it.

  2. Wind-surfing in the Indian Ocean – This was a Ted-only activity but it was fun to watch him and I know he dug his first ocean wind-surfing experience.
  3. Exploring Stone Town alleyways – Fascinating and fun.
  4. Welcome to camp song and dance – Upon reaching camp on Kili some days, the porters would gather together to sing us a congratulatory tune.  Not everyone’s porters did this so Ted and I couldn’t help but appreciate the sentiment.
  5. Views from Baranco Camp on Kili – We arrived when it was cloudy but it proceeded to clear up and the views were stunning.
  6. Summiting Kilimanjaro at sunrise – The coolest thing I’ll never do again.
  7. Visit to a Masaai Village – Talk about a unique experience, we got to spend an afternoon learning about the indigenous and nomadic Masaai people who still live as traditionally as modern society allows.

    Masaai Village Visit

    Yes, some folks now have cell phones and venture into the city, however, polygamy is still practiced, cow blood is a staple in the diet and cow herding is the primary occupation.

  8. Safari sunset – Watching the sunset from the swimming pool on the first night of our Tanzania safari was perfect.  I knew we were in a for a good time.
  9. Getting off the tourist grid – Camping with the Browns at Lake Chala was something we never would have heard about or come up with ourselves.  What a treat.
  10. Another (relatively) incident free continent – After all the warning and precautions, we are happy to report that we had no illnesses, no transport hiccups, no car accidents, and only one minor theft (for which we were reimbursed).  Africa wasn’t so scary after all!

The Worst

  1. Budget accommodation – When we weren’t living the high life, the budget options in Tanzania left much to be desired. And the were stupidly expensive for what you got.
  2. Missing out on Kenya – What can we say?  We’ll have to go back.
  3. Too many jeeps

    Visa fee – A hundred bucks per person is a lot and when they wouldn’t take one of our bills because it was dated before 2006 (wtf?), it led to a stressful search for more money upon arrival.

  4. Food on Kili – It started off fine enough, but on day 4 after eating a different version of the same thing, it was rough.
  5. Safari jeep overload – When there was a good animal siting, you could be sharing the view with literally two dozen other vehicles.  A little intense and unfortunate for us and, more importantly, the animals.

The Delicious

  1. Zanzibar’s unique and flavorful food – Banana curries, avocado-orange juice, cinnamon, cardamom and clove coffee, jackfruit, coconut coleslaw, and dozens of different sauces made from the local spices for which the island is famous made for lots of incredible eating.
  2. Seafood market in Stone Town

    Seafood dinner market and Zanzibari pizzas – A memorable night perhaps more for the experience than the quality of the food, but still a favorite.

  3. Kilimanjaro beer – Our first beer post-Kili summit with our new Australian friends.  The drink was appropriately named and rightfully enjoyed.
  4. Indian food in Moshi – Post-Kili hike we dined at an AMAZING Indian restaurant in Moshi with our Australian mates.  We felt a little guilty filling up on Indian food as we knew we had a lot in our future, but that didn’t stop us from going back a second time.
  5. Fancy camping food – When Ted and I go camping, dinner usually involves adding water to a pre-mixed pack.  When we camped with the Browns, we had vegetable pasta, chicken curry, wine and gin and tonics.  That’s pretty impressive.

The Animals

  1. Lions in a tree!

    Overall quantity – We realize that this isn’t a specific animal, but the sheer quantity of animals we saw in Tanzania on safari was over the top.

  2. Momma Lion and her cubs – Pretty much the cutest thing ever.
  3. Lion stalking zebras – We saw a bunch of zebras hanging in a watering hole and upon closer look, we saw a lion watching them intently.  Though it didn’t go for the kill, it was exciting thinking it might.
  4. Zebras and wildebeest on migration – Tens of thousands at one time.
  5. Tree-climbing lions – Lions apparently don’t hang out in trees very much, but we saw a group that appeared to like it up there.
  6. Thousands of Flamingos – Every day they fly miles to hang out in Ngorongoro Crater and at the end of the day, they fly somewhere else to sleep.
  7. Packs of male lions – Adult male lions don’t usually hang out together but we saw a large group in the Ngorongoro Crater that proved it happens.
  8. Cheetahs!

    Lotsa cheetahs – Big cats are always a thrill to see and cheetahs had been very rare on our previous safaris.

  9. Black and white colobus monkey – We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on Kili but we saw some unique monkeys on our hike the last day.
  10. Ostriches – What a trip!  I challenge you to watch a group of ostriches running and not giggle.

Don’t forget to check out the Best Of East Africa photos here.

Southern Africa Wrap-up

We visited a total of 6 countries in Southern Africa – Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique – but some for only a matter of days, and some for only a matter of hours! That being said, we’ve decided to combine them all together for a regional wrap-up. Below, in no particular order, are our Top 10 Highlights, Bottom 5 Bummers, as well as Favorite Food/Drink and Animal Sightings (new category for Africa!) of our two months in Southern Africa. You can also check out our Best of Southern Africa photo album for some more visual highlights (and don’t forget the African Mega-Fauna album for our top animal sightings).

Top 10

  1. Mokoro Ride

    Victoria Falls – What can we say? They are one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and they are some incredibly impressive falls.

  2. Remoteness of the Botswana bush – A safari in Botswana is a unique experience. You are hundreds of miles into the wilderness away from cities, towns, and other people. There are no power lines or fences or signs of civilization. The only way in and out is via bush plane. It’s just you and the animals in the bush.
  3. Small plane flights between safari lodges – Due to the remoteness of the safari camps in Botswana and seasonal weather conditions, several times our transport between camps was by small plane. One flight was a total of 8 minutes and Ted got to sit shotgun with the pilot.
  4. Mokoro ride – Our safari group in Botswana got treated to traditional Mokoro rides, which are similar to dug-out canoes. Powered only by a long pole, you are gliding just inches above the water and kinda feel like you’re flying.
  5. Family-filled January – How incredible is it that both sets of our parents came all the way across the ocean from the Northern United States to Southern Africa to visit us?!
  6. View from Table Mountain – Nothing quite like it and I think we appreciated it even more due to the energy we expended to get up there!
  7. Morning at Clifton Beaches – Just around the corner from Cape Town’s city center are the most beautiful, tucked-away beaches. We went with the Graces on a weekday and nearly had the place to ourselves.
  8. Cheetah!

    Animal Sighting Good Luck Charms – The Martens saw it all in the animal department – including the much talked about Big 5 (elephants, leopards, rhinos, buffalo and lions) plus cheetahs and lots of other good stuff in a matter of days. Ted and I had not seen a rhino or a cheetah before their visit and we’d been on nearly 30 game drives before they came.

  9. Bush to Beach to Bush – I wrote about this day in a previous post, and it was really quite awesome. Seeing big animals and swimming in the ocean makes for an incredible day.
  10. SCUBA Diving in Moz – We both love being underwater and I wish we got to do it more often. We were very impressed with the coral and the variety of fish in Mozambique.

Bottom 5

  1. Lame NYE – We’d love to have a memorable, exciting story to share about our New Year’s Eve on the trip, but low and behold, we were asleep before midnight.
  2. Theft – At the lodge we stayed at in Cape Town with my parents, we had an issue with some sticky-fingered housekeepers. Wily Ted was able to prove their misdeed. The manager was appalled and immediately and appropriately addressed the situation, including reimbursing us for the small amount taken.
  3. Bad Bus Ride

    Bus to Tofo BeachWe’re wimps. We didn’t take a whole lots of public transportation in Africa, and I’m using this fairly uncomfortable bus ride as justification of why we didn’t do so.

  4. Visa debaclesLet’s just say that in Johannesburg we went to the India Embassy three times (to get a visa), the Mozambique Embassy four times (to get a visa), and the U.S. Embassy once (to get more pages in my passport).
  5. Failing to visit NamibiaWhen we left the US for our trip, we were 100% positive we were going to Namibia. Ted has a travel industry friend and contact living there with his family and we were planning to pay them a visit. Sadly, it didn’t happen.

Favorite Meals and Treats

  1. Sundowners – The idea of having a cocktail while watching the sun go down is a good one. We enjoyed our sundowners on the Zambezi River in Zambia, in the Botswana bush, with city views in Cape Town, throughout the greater Kruger Park area, and the list goes on.
  2. Ostrich Fillet - Mmmmmmm

    Stuffed Crabs – Mmmm. We discovered these stuffed treats in Mozambique and ate them all week.

  3. Unique Game – Never before had we eaten ostrich or impala – and we quite liked it. Other game options included crocodile, kudu (a type of antelope), and warthog!
  4. Ocean Basket – OB is a South African chain restaurant that serves fresh seafood, fish and chips, and sushi. They are everywhere and we ate there many a time including with both sets of parents.
  5. NatHab Safari Meals – When we were on safari in Botswana, we ate entirely too much amazing food. How they got such fabulous fresh food out into the middle of the bush in order to feed us so well is beyond me.

Animal Sighting Highlights

  1. Wild Dog

    Wild Dog – Our one and only sighting of wild dogs was in Botswana. They are endangered and extremely rare to see. Even the guides were excited, that is how we knew we were lucky.

  2. Pursuit of first leopard – Francis, our guide in Botswana, is the man. With his animal tracking know-how, his persistence and determination, his off-road driving and a little bit of luck we spotted our first leopards – a momma and two older cubs. You wouldn’t believe the amount of vegetation we got to drive over just to find them.
  3. Baby animals – Due to the time of year we were visiting, we got the opportunity to see lots of mommas and their babies. There isn’t anything much cuter than baby lions, elephants, and impala.
  4. Elephants – Ted’s favorite animal to see. We saw lots.
  5. Giraffes – Sarah’s favorite. Oh, and to see a giraffe running is incredible – it appears to be happening in slow motion.
  6. Rhinos

    Game drive with Ocean – Ocean was one of our guides with Ted’s parents and he kept things interesting. Within a couple hours we saw 4 of the Big 5 (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos) and evaded an aggressively charging male elephant!

  7. First rhinoceros – Finally! After our Botswana safari and several days in the Kruger Park area we were beginning to think they didn’t exist. But they do!
  8. Cheetah with it’s kill – What an amazing site to come upon. We didn’t realize it had just hunted until the little impala almost got away and the cheetah had to finish it off.
  9. Surprise night-time leopard sighting – Last night in the Kruger Park area and our way back to the lodge we magically came upon a leopard.
  10. Lotsa fish – Between snorkeling with the Martens and SCUBA diving in Moz, we got to see some great underwater animals as well!

Don’t forget to check out the Best Of photo albums here and here.

South America – The Numbers

Ok, so it’s been a while since we’ve left the South American continent, but here are some interesting numbers to tell the story of our time there.

  • 4 – Months we spent in South America
  • 68 – Number of beds we slept in
  • 5 – Countries Visited
  • 12 – Number of friends and family visited (Two of them in two different locations!)
  • 24 – Number of deeply discounted or comp’d hotel nights through Ted’s tourism connections
  • $6460 – Value of comp’d tourism industry activities through Ted’s tourism connections
  • 6 – Number of overnight buses (2 in Bolivia, 4 in Argentina)
  • 182.5 – Number of hours on a bus (that’s 7.6 full days on a bus)
  • 1 – Number of computers stolen
  • 2783 – Number of photos taken (and kept)
  • 7 – Number of flights
  • 1 – Number of big ships

South America well exceeded our expectations, and we’re on the hunt for ways we can get back for an extended period of time down the road.  Check out our Best Of pics from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile for some highlights.

Chile Wrap-Up

Oh Chile, where do we begin? You were an expensive place to hang out but you were totally worth it. We’ll be back again someday, that we do know. Here is a quick wrap-up of the loving, loathing and eating that went on in Chile (in no particular order).


  1. Ferry Ride at Torres del Paine

    Friends far away – Getting to hang with Drew and Francisco in Puerto Natales was definitely the highlight of this great land. We knew we were headed all the way down to see them before we even left the US, and there are not many places we can say that about in regards to our trip planning.

  2. Torres del Paine ferry ride – The day we had was unfair to the many before us who have endured rain, snow and wind in this park without seeing a damn thing. The views from the boat and the water color we traveled through were just unreal.
  3. Navimag Party Night – The night started with the adventurous backpackers posing for pictures in just their bathing suits in front of the glacier, and ended with Sarah salsa dancing with a local Chilean named Mauricio. In between, we bonded with our British roommates, met some Dartmouth lacrosse players and were entertained by a Dutch airline pilot that is surely too young to fly passenger planes.
  4. First view of Cochamo Valley – Arriving by horseback to a wide open clearing and being surrounded by gigantic granite walls that climbers dream about was indeed memorable.
  5. Vicente Perez Rosales National Park

    Ted’s birthday celebration – A great seafood dinner, and some drinks with new friends.

  6. Staying at Francisco’s house – This man has good taste. His house is great, his view is from a postcard, his puppy is adorable and he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. We made ourselves at home.
  7. Walking along the shore of Vicente Perez Rosales National Park with our shoes off and feet in the water – Not your typical beach but a gorgeous shoreline along a fjord nonetheless.
  8. Rafting – Thanks to Gerardo and Adventures Within Reach, Ted and I got to kick off Ted’s birthday was a ½ day white-water rafting trip. We had a raft to ourselves (with a guide, of course) and had a hilariously wet time.
  9. Meeting inspiring people – Kurt and Armin have a pretty awesome thing going at Campo Aventura. A tourist operation in a foreign country may not be for everyone, but the point is that they had BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) and they went for it.
  10. Endless daylight – Okay, it doesn’t stay light all night like it does in Alaska and Northern Scandinavia but it stays light until after 10pm and brightens up again by 5am. We kept getting messed up with the time because the lighting outside did not reflect the time it said on our watches.


  1. Food on the Navimag – We have been spoiled with some amazing food on our trip but the food on the Navimag left something to be desired. Think cafeteria food.
  2. Rough Seas on the Navimag

    Big Wave night on the Navimag – I hate to be picking on the Navimag as we did thoroughly enjoy ourselves, however, the rolling waves on our second night at sea were intense and many people were miserable. We weren’t miserable, per se, but it wasn’t fun.

  3. First dorm bed experience – I thought being 30 and being married would somehow prevent us from sharing a dorm room on our travels however, I was wrong. The cost of stuff in Chile is not cheap and we opted for a dorm room at one of our hostels to save a little money (it would not be the last).
  4. Constant wind and cold – Particularly in the way southern part of Chile. We were there on the front end of their summer but you wouldn’t know it. I was walking around with my down jacket and my rain coat on top of it (as a wind-breaker) at all times.
  5. An unplanned long walk – We arrived in Chile by bus and having no Chilean pesos handy, we had to schlep our bags and our stuff for several miles from the highway to our hostel. At least Ted has an amazing sense of direction.


  1. Thanksgiving, Chilean-style

    Thanksgiving – We didn’t have turkey, but we did roast a bird (chicken). Drew whipped up an amazing gravy and some yams. We topped it off with mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls. Mmmm.

  2. Pisco Sours – Pisco Sours are a delicious cocktail served down here that we quite love. Peru thinks they invented Pisco Sours and Chile thinks they did. After drinking many in both countries, we’ve got to say that Chile has got our vote hands down.
  3. Amazing seafood dinner with Gerardo – Gerardo is the local Chilean that we met with several times and who owns the rafting company in town. We let him pick the restaurant and do the ordering and he hit the ball out of the park.
  4. Chino workin the dough

    Francisco’s Meal – Francisco was a busy man when we were down visiting him in Puerto Natales, but on one of the nights we were all around, he spoiled us with some delicious chile, fresh homemade bread and some of the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted.

  5. Homemade bread in Cochamo Valley – After our 5+ hour horseback ride into the Cochamo Valley, we were welcomed with fresh homemade bread for a snack. It was amazing. Our hostess proceeded to make more batches of fresh bread which we continued to eat for dinner and again for breakfast the next morning.

To see more of the great time we had here, check out our Best of Chile photos.

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