You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

 

Dear Calvin,

 

I hope this finds you doing well.  I came across your site via CU Class Notes.  I am CC 2010.  I have been inspired by your story and website, and as a fellow lover of travel and medical student, would definitely be keen on learning more about your travels and how it all works out.

 

Also–I saw that you have not yet made it to the African continent (according to the place markers on the website’s map).  [That is mainly where I travel, and my family is also from there.  I would be more than glad to provide you with connections in the countries I have been to/enjoyed, should you make it that side.]

 

Thank you, and I am truly looking forward to hearing back from you.

 

All the best,

 

Nadi Nina Kaonga

Nadi’s first ever e-mail to me, January 29th, 2013

 

Press play. And then start reading.

 

 

 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  – African proverb

 

You’re going to miss the first impressions, the first hugs and handshakes in a random hotel, the jet-lag tempered by an excitement of going on your 2nd (or even 3rd) monsoon with once again the proudly self-proclaimed “worst tour guide ever“, and not having a clue of what could transpire with these familiar friends, co-travelers, and even strangers for the next 16 days.

You’re going to miss setting off on a city that nearly suffocates you with a beautiful chaos, the overwhelming crush of humanity in the world’s oldest outdoor market, trying to find a stolen phone and coming to terms to being forced off the grid for the next few days, the sweet taste of mint lime juice after walking over 12 miles and 20,000 steps with your new travel family, and laughing over the inefficiency of a simple task of getting food at the airport.

 

 

You’re going to miss waking up after 4 hours of sleep in a different capital city, the quiet lazy morning of eating simple — but different — bread and watered down coffee before watching a beautiful sunrise over Nairobi.

 

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You’re going to miss landing in another unfamiliar country although this time with a familiar face waiting for you at arrivals as if you already had family here, being welcomed by the very person who sent an e-mail on January 29, 2013 that first compelled you to organize this very trip to subsaharan Africa, being taken in with open arms by a sister and her grandfather that you wish you’ve always had, and being shown around the warm heart of Africa, but only after waiting more than 2 hours to get your visas (well, you might not miss that).

You’re going to miss the popcorn and water that greeted you in the car that would take you to a most beautiful lake that you felt like you had all to yourself, grabbing drinks and kicking back to a splendid view, before heading back to a home-cooked meal so good that you can’t help to having seconds (or thirds), all the while watching with mischief at a grandfather 4 times your age eat 4 times your amount of pie.

 

 

You’re going to miss the 5am transfer to the airport before a quietly emerging dawn in Malawi to board a lonely plane in a lonely airport, landing in the afternoon at a country infamous for its civil war but now on the cusp of peace, exploring a remarkably diverse capital city that could have mistaken to be on the Mediterranean, hunting for fresh fruit like a local at the municipal market, being the only customers in a huge empty restaurant and getting better-than-expected food, and afterwards exchanging stories and travel advice with fellow backpackers at your hostel.

 

 

You’re going to miss haggling down an entire bus to Swaziland before watching nervously as your bags rattle around outside on a precariously connected trailer, walking through no-man’s land to another country while talking about Donald Trump with fellow transferrers, looking for bathrooms in the chaotic bus terminal of Manzini before settling in at one of the most impressive hostels you’ve ever been.

 

 

You’re going to miss collectively deciding on horseback riding while enjoying a comfortable lunch overlooking pastures in the middle of nowhere, heading towards an unexpectedly beautiful safari all the while your horse does its best to sneak in a mouthful of vegetation while you’re trying to keep up with the group.

You’re going to miss the drinks and dinner at the safari camp, failing to blend in with the chi-chi older crowd, before getting to know the Peace Corps volunteers on the eve of their farewell after they had been staying at your hostel for the past 2 years.

 

 

You’re going to miss the smooth morning bus ride to South Africa, the subsequent quick flight to Lesotho and the warm welcome by the warmest aunt-nephew duo, and the exploration of a nearby lake at sunset before heading off to the nation’s top restaurant on the second floor of a hat-shaped building.

 

 

You’re going to miss grabbing drinks at a sketchy local bodega so you could stay up with the group on our last night together, engaging one final heart-to-heart conversation before waking up to a frigid Lesotho morning.

 

 

You’re going to miss randomly greeting Lesotho’s prime minister on the tarmac as you boarded your flight to Johannesburg, before meeting the rest of the group to begin the second week.

 

 

You’re going to miss going out on the town for a night of mayhem, getting to encounter so many younger locals who took more of an interest in us than we would have expected, and trying to find our way back home inebriated during the middle of the night.

 

 

You’re going to miss the humbling experience at the Apartheid Museum, learning about Mandela’s legacy before truly experiencing a taste of it at the prisons on Constitution Hill, and the serendipitous discovery of a world famous food market after aimlessly strolling back to the scene of the crime of the night before.

 

 

You’re going to miss freaking out over missing 2 people in the group who failed to board the flight with you to Zambia, the mad dash across 4 countries in one day seeing arguably the world’s most beautiful waterfalls from both sides, fending off a rabid baboon, seeing an unreal sunset over the falls, the quiet night drive into Botswana, and the giddiness of seeing an elephant quietly greet you in the backyard of your lodge before you headed to bed.

 

 

You’re going to miss the excitement of going on your first safari, getting to see your first herd of elephants, kudus, giraffes, hippos, and hundreds of other animals that were unafraid to approach your jeep, then quickly getting over seeing your three-hundredth elephant by the end of the day, nodding off on a lazy boat ride on the Chobe waterfront, before staring dumbstruck at a beautiful sunset over the horizon as animals continued to feed, unbothered by our presence.

 

 

You’re going to miss turning down a bad deal for ATVs, and then sitting idly in an airport still under construction with literally nothing to do but watch repeating stories in syndication on CNN International, returning home to Johannesburg where you befriended even more locals at the hostel on your final night there.

You’re going to miss answering a challenge to climb Lion’s Head immediately upon your arrival to Cape Town while another part of the group finally get a Girls’ Night Out, the silent wish you had done more cardio during your climb, and the feeling of redemption when you finally reached to top as the sun was setting over the ocean.

 

 

You’re going to miss trading photos back and forth between the groups, debating on who had a better time as you celebrate conquering a hike that wasn’t supposed to be really done on the first day.

 

 

You’re going to miss making friends on the boat ride to Robben Island, meeting a former prisoner there as he recalls his days with Nelson Mandela, witnessing another gorgeous sunset over a natural wonder of the world at Table Mountain, and then delighting yourself with one of the best meals you ever had alongside your fellow epicureans.

 

 

You’re going to miss the early morning car ride to see African penguins in the midst of their mating season and unbothered by your presence, the feeling of accomplishment by reaching the Cape Of Good Hope on the edge of civilization, the WTF moment of being recognized by a random student who attended one of your travel workshops 2 years ago, and the nail-biting detour to find a fellow traveler’s former school before heading back to the airport.

 

 

You’re going to miss packing your bags in an oversized tank/jeep that you would eventually call home and being led around by a guide you would eventually call a friend as your group headed off into the world’s oldest desert.

 

 

You’re going to miss the heartfelt conversations and sharing of music on the way there, the difficult hike up to the top of Elem Dunes to watch the sunset, the warm fire at your campsite, having one of the best pork-chops you ever had after it was cooked right in front of you, and braving the slumber outside despite the cold.

 

 

You’re going to miss waking up with your mouth open and night filled with so so many stars.

 

 

You’re going to miss putting the final exclamation point to your trip as you finally come upon the surreal landscape to reproduce one of your favorite photographs, then staying longer than expected as you know this probably will be the last time you will ever be here for a very very long time.

 

 

You’re going to miss the relaxing ride back home, with enough time to reflect upon everything you had just seen, but more importantly knowing for a few more moments moment you were surrounded by new lifelong friends who had just shared experiences that you wouldn’t be able to repeat again with anyone else.

And you’re going to miss most of all, each other; a group of unique personalities united by adventure, where we’ll all look back one day and ask ourselves if we did see all that we saw and went as far as we did.

And we certainly did — far, and most importantly, together.

 

Denouement In Windhoek To Free Emirates Business Class Upgrade!

Denouement In Windhoek To Free Emirates Business Class Upgrade!

 

Uh..there’s really no contest in trying to even bother following up to the last post; a post that describes a place where I watched the sun rise over the world’s oldest desert, or where I took some of my favorite photos at the most surreal landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

But, obligations are obligations as the group parts ways today in Windhoek after traveling 16 days together through 13 countries in Africa.

 

Following up on yesterday’s trip to Sossusvlei: At 12:30pm we began to drive back to the capital city of Windhoek, stopping a few times to push our vehicle out of a sand dune, and of course, ice cream. We arrived at around 8pm and had one last dinner again at Joe’s Beerhouse (the only place open for groups on a late Sunday night). Afterwards, we turned in early as half the group would be getting up at 4am for their 6am flight back to the USA.

As for the 3 of us left over — Duncan, Kel and myself — we got up later at around 9am and decided to head early to the airport to check into our flights, but not before doing some brief sightseeing around Windhoek.

While Windhoek has been mainly viewed as a home base for desert safaris, it also can be regarded as a lovely, developed, walkable capital city that can otherwise resemble a nice suburban town in upstate New York.

And so before heading to the airport, we first stopped at the nearby Train Station, which doubles as a transit museum featuring one of the first German locomotives to traverse the barren deserts of Namibia:

 

 

We then drove by Zoo Park, notable for it being the site of a 5,000 year old elephant hunt; elephant fossils and rudimentary hunting equipment of our early ancestors were unearthed here.

 

 

Then we drove up to Windhoek’s unofficial landmark and symbol, the Lutheran Christus Church.

 

 

Across the street from Christus Church is the Titenpalast (behind that giant building, which I think is more impressive) now known as the Parliament of Namibia. It’s remarkable for using only indigenous materials in its construction.

 

 

Finally, there was this early 20th century Heinitzburg Castle that’s now an expensive hotel. Yeah, ok.

 

 

That’s it — Off to the airport! I have a 2 hour flight to Johannesburg followed by a 3 hour layover, then an 8 hour flight to Dubai followed by a 7 hour layover, and then finally a 13 hour flight to NYC.

Thank you Sydney for your company, your sense of humor, and for being so patient driving us around the past 3 days!

 

 

…but when I thought the adventure would end here, I would be so wrong once I got to my layover in Dubai!

So usually if anyone, ANYONE, makes me check in my bag on a flight, I fight them (at some points it can border on whining) and win. Although Windhoek and Johannesburg have more liberal carry-on allowances, any flight leaving Dubai’s airports cannot carry anything more than a 7kg bag/case on the plane. So even though my main backpack would have fit in the overhead bin and my smaller backpack would have been my personal item under my set, the airport staff at Dubai still refused me to go back through security unless I checked in my larger bag.

Despite moving stuff around between the bags, no dice; the 7kg maximum at Dubai is strictly enforced. So I then trudged back (and it’s a big airport!) to the front of the airport and proceeded to check in my bag. But out of curiosity, I asked about whether anyone cancelled so I could move my seat more to the front (I was in the back in economy). 

Their response? No problem; not only would I be moved up, I would also be upgraded to the plane’s business class for free (FYI, I don’t have any status with Emirates!), located in the upper floor of the fuselage. 

So in my moment of irony I want to personally thank the staff that stopped me at security and refused to let me get onboard without checking in my bag. Thank you thank you thank you. My lesson has been learned.

So with dedicated and expedited boarding gates, security, and departure bridges reserves just for business and first class passengers, this oasis greeted me when I boarded:

 

 

My seat upon arrival:

 

 

My seat decked out as a bed with provided mattresses, duvet, and pillows:

 

 

First person POV:

 

 

They give you this beautiful brown leather bag filled with free upscale (think BVLGARI) single-use amenities, and a plastic bag with standard airplane socks and eyemask.

 

 

The windows themselves are a hi-tech shade/blinders that can be controlled remotely by the iPad/tablet next to you or directly.

 

 

And then there is the bar in the back (where the bathrooms are) that opens up after take-off and is staffed throughout the 13-hour flight with free food, chocolates, coffee/espresso, and a semi-full bar available anytime.

 

 

The bathrooms are pretty standard, save for the BVLGARI cologne and perfume and the window that looks outside while I peed.

 

 

And although the food tasted pretty standard, it was wonderfully plated with frequent utensil changes and condiment refills.

 

 

After 13 hours and nearly 8 movies (the best of which was my second viewing of the Bollywood film, 3 Idiots), we began to land at JFK airport, while being treated to the gorgeous thunderstorms outside.

 

 

So sad to leave this little island of paradise:

 

 

Not a bad way to end a crazy trip. Until the next monsoon…

 

- At time of posting in Windhoek, Namibia, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 19% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Deadvlei: A Witness To Eternity

Deadvlei: A Witness To Eternity

 

Some appropriately curated background music to an epic post, so please, if it’s not already playing: Press play. 
 
And then start reading. 
 
 
The world's oldest desert just got served

 

Vemödalen – “The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.”

 
 

National Geographic, Frans Lanting, 2011:

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The Monsoon Diaries, Calvin Sun, 2016:

 

 

Vermödalen, and yet I persist.

2 days in the world’s oldest desert will compel you to put a few things into perspective, namely that of one’s own occhiolism when arriving at such a place, but also what little you can do to appropriately let it all in.

And yet we persist.

At 8am in Windhoek the 7 of us set off in our 4WD tank led by our guide Sydney (of Travel Bug Safaris and The Cardboard Box Hostel), south across the Namibian desert towards Sesriem.

 

 

We stopped numerous times along the 6 hour drive to buy supplies, answer our bladders’ call to nature, stretch our legs, take photos, and have lunch at a remote outpost appropriately named Solitaire.

 

 

A beautiful ride that felt shorter than expected thanks to numerous engaging conversations, music, and occasional cat naps, by 3pm we had reached Sossusvlei.

 

 

Our first sight by Sossuvlei was a 45 minute stroll through Seseriem Canyon.

Much like Antelope Canyon in the USA, it was formerly a large, million-year-old river that largely dried out in present times, although it bears witness to countless prehistoric episodes of flash-fooding and subsequent rock formation.

If you want to see what a bottom of a river looks like, this is the closest you’re going to get to scuba diving without getting wet.

 

 

Afterwards we drove to Elim Dune, a series of probably 13-15 steep dunes that are truly awful to climb up and down, namely due to the fine desert sand that gives in too easily to human weight. FYI, some considered this hike more difficult than our 104-story climb up Lion’s Head.

Where some of us wisely gave up after climbing a single dune, JC, Kel, and myself foolishly hiked through nearly 10-12 progressively steeper and steeper dunes looking for the very end; every time we thought we conquered the last one, there was yet another dune waiting for us.

Eventually we gave up after 45 minutes of climbing and watched the sunset from where we rested our weary calves (and glutes!).

 

Elim Dune just got served

 

At around 6pm after sunset, we began to head back. Once darkness hits, you’re kinda screwed in navigating back to the parking lot; it’s very easy to get lost here.

 

 

After getting back, we drove to the local Sesriem Restcamp where Sydney set up our tents, fire, and dinner for us to enjoy.

 

 

At around 8pm, the stars began to appear.

 

 

After dinner, we headed to bed at around 9pm and slept in sleeping bags placed on top of simple but sturdy mattresses that ended up being more comfortable than we expected. We just wish we had known to pack more clothes as as the night progressed and temperatures dropped to near-freezing conditions.

By 4:45am we were all woken up by the frigid cold. But as we left our tents to pack up quickly and run inside our 4WD for better warmth, we paused for a moment to collect our breaths before a star-filled night sky:

 

 

And by 5:25am we were all packed up and back in our vehicle, ready to leave the park gates that would open at 5:30am. Then we formed a beeline of tourist 4WD jeeps on the way to Dune 45 (named for being located 45km away from Sesriem) for the famous Sossuvlei sunrise.

At 5:35am we scurried out of our vehicles and made a single line file to hike to the top of Dune 45, which is about 80m high and has sands measured to be over 5 million years old.

The views can be dizzying high, and we walked by one woman who had a panic attack on the way up; this hike is not for those with a fear of heights!

 

 

It’ll take an average fit person about 10 minutes to reach the top, where you’ll be rewarded by saying you saw the sun rise over the oldest desert in the world:

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Try walking past the crowds and perhaps even farther along the ridge of Dune 45 can so you can spend a few quiet moments here alone. You deserve it.

 

And nobody dare tread further than I

 

After about 45 minutes here, we headed back down and enjoyed a brief simple breakfast at the base of the dune.

At 8:30am, we wrapped up and drove about 15 minutes (the ride gets very bouncy here!) more inland. We then hiked about 10 minutes over relatively flat and sandy terrain towards Dead Vlei.

 

 

Under the shadow of a dune called Big Daddy (the highest of them all at 325m high), Dead Vlei is a prehistoric clay pan that once was an oasis filled with acacia trees.

After the river that supplied the oasis changed its direction, killing both the oasis and its trees, the lack of moisture in this region caused the trees to petrify (aka “mummify”) instead of rotting away.

And they still stand today; when placed against the shiny white floor of the oasis pan and the “orange skies” that are the dunes, they create a surreal landscape that has been featured in countless movies and shows (namely “The Fall”, “The Cell” as my favorites) and probably is unmatched by anywhere else on this planet.

 

Along Dune 45

 

And remember that National Geographic photograph by Frans Lanting in 2011? It always has been one of my favorites and I’ve tried to recreate his work here:

 

 

…But I went a step further…

 

 

…as you can tell, it’s hard for me to choose a favorite…

 

 

…after all, I spent my entire traveling life trying to get to this place…

 

 

And after lingering here under the blistering heat for nearly an hour, we started to answer the natural call to turn around and head back home. Such a shame.

As it would be another 6 hour drive back to the capital city of Windhoek, please take your time here while you can; this is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

 

What more can I say? This is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever laid my eyes on.

Enjoy the videos and photos; it’s time to go home.

 

Photo Credit: Nadi Kaonga; our 4WD got stuck in the sand dunes at one point heading home, so we had to do things the old fashioned way.
The Cape Of Good Hope, Chance, and Serendipity

The Cape Of Good Hope, Chance, and Serendipity

 

 

After an epic 48 hours in Cape Town and capping off with an unforgettable 6 hour dinner at La Colombe, the group returned at 1am to our hostel and packed ahead for our drive to The Cape of Good Hope early the next morning. I foolishly chose to stay up until 3am blogging, only getting an ungodly 3 hours of sleep before we had to leave again.

Our plan for the day was to drive down from Cape Town beginning at 7am to the Cape of Good Hope, returning to the airport by 3pm for our 5pm flight to WIndhoek, Namibia. And where Sam and Mike elected to stay behind to explore more of Cape Town for the weekend, Nadi would join us in their place for Namibia.

Beginning the drive at 7am from Greenpoint, we reached False Bay (named for being frequently and incorrectly assumed to be that of the main Cape Town city) by 8am, and got a great view of the beach below.

This is known to be a great beginner’s surfing spot, although it’s also home to the Great White Shark.

 

 

After a few minutes here, we drove onwards to Simon’s Town to see native African penguins at the Boulder’s Beach Penguin Colony (65 rands per person). Although I’ve found them to be very similar to the emperor, chinstrp and gentoo penguins we saw in Antarctica 2 years ago, the African penguins here are more comfortable around humans; instead of running away from you in Antarctica, here they’ll bite you if you get too close (especially with your selfie stick!).

 

 

Equally cute, nonetheless…

 

 

August happens to be their mating season, so you’ll see a lot of “fluffier” penguins which are the infants who have yet to undergo their moulting period, as well as many coupled-up adult penguins who choose to stay together for life.

 

 

After about half an hour here, we drove onwards about 45 minutes longer to reach the edges of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which resembles The Burren area of Ireland that we had driven to a few months earlier.

 

 

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a view of the native ostriches here, which when they’re by the sea can be a rare sight. The brown ones are female, and the black/white ones are male.

 

 

While here, consider a hike up Cape Point Peak to the Old Cape Point Lighthouse. Although a semi-steep hike that’ll take about 10-15 minutes, it’s nowhere as brutal as the Lions Head or Table Mountain hikes in Cape Town.

 

 

Built in 1857, the Old Cape Point Lighthouse amusingly never lived up to its potential. It was frequently obscured by fog due to its height of 283m above sea level, thus rendering it useless to approaching ships. After the Portuguese Lusitania was shipwrecked in 1911, another Lighthouse was built nearby at 87m above sea level.

Views from the top:

 

 

It was at about this point where I struck up a conversation with the girl on the left (in the photo above), noticing she and her friend had American accents. When one question led to another about where they were from (New Jersey), what they were doing here (some medical-related program) and that somehow we were both were interested in Emergency Medicine, barely a breath passed before her eyes widened and she blurted out: “Do you do ECAASU?”

Lo and behold, in the middle of nowhere at the edge of civilization, a random University of Pittsburgh student would recognize me as her workshop facilitator (on the topic of travel no less) back at the ECAASU 2013 conference at Harvard

Of all the places to run into each other again. . . .

 

 

After quickly exchanging contact information and betting on the potential of traveling together in the future, I headed back down with my group still stunned as we drove onwards to Cape Point, the most southwestern point of the African continent:

 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the edge of the civilized world:

 

 

Any further we would reach Antarctica 600km away (hah, been there done that!).

After about half an hour taking photos and walking around, we drove back on the west side of the peninsula, reaching the scenic beachhead by Chapman’s Peak.

 

 

And Chapman’s Peak itself, named after legendary sailor John Chapman who swam in the freezing waters here to retrieve fresh drinking water for his stranded crew.

Driving down the mountain pass here is extraordinarily breathtaking, as the mountain itself is built from multiple layers of sand deposits that have been pressed down over millions of years when these lands were still underwater.

 

 

We finally stopped at Hout’s Bay and Fisherman’s Wharf for a quick lunch at 1:30pm, watching locals feed the seals here.

 

 

By 2pm we were off again, quickly adding in a nail-biting detour to find Hout Bay Educare, an elementary school that Kel volunteered for when he was here 4 years ago. Despite Kel not being able to find it on his own 3 days earlier and the fear that we would miss our flight, we finally located it with help from the locals and got Kel his reunion photo. We then blasted off to the airport at 2:15pm.

And thanks to relatively light traffic conditions in our favor, we reached Cape Town International airport by 3pm and checked into our 5pm international flight to WIndhoek, Namibia.

One more country left! We now just landed in Namibia at 8pm, and was picked up by this TANK, which will be our mode of transport for the next 3 days. This baby will always have right of way.

 

 

It took nearly 45 minutes (even with no traffic on the road) to drive from the airport to Windhoek, but as a warm warm welcome, we’re currently eating at atmospheric outdoor Joe’s Beerhouse.

 

 

Tomorrow, we finish our 3 week adventure with a weekend trip to the legendary sand dunes of Sossusvlei!

 

- At time of posting in Cape of Good Hope, it was 17 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: raining, partly cloudy

 

The Cape Town Epic

The Cape Town Epic

 

 

After a blockbuster back-to-back days at Victoria Falls and the Chobe National Park, our group flew back to Johannesburg for a one night layover to regain our senses.

 

 

The next morning we took an 11am Mango Air flight (the low-cost carrier of South Africa) to Cape Town, landing at 1:30pm after a 25 minute delay on the tarmac in Jo’burg.

 

 

Cape Town is, for the lack of a better word, beautiful.

And once we landed at the airport, Genoviva — the younger sister of a recent monsooner from the Silk Road trip (and college buddy!) Remi Coker — reached out to us about joining her for the legendary, and daunting, sunset hike up Lions Head. Giving into spontaneity and always flexible, we scrapped our original plans of a city center tour — but where the girls would elect instead to do the monsoon’s traditional “Girls Night Out”, the guys decided to join on the hike.

After a quick meal at Hudsons Burger around the corner from our accommodations at Atlantic Point Backpackers, the 4 of us took a 15 minute Uber from the Greenpoint waterfront district to the Lions Head parking lot. Our uber driver, however, messed this up and took us a kilometer further to Signal Hill, which happened to be a paraglider’s paradise.

 

 

Finding out at that we were dropped off at the wrong stop, however, we quickly hailed another Uber to take us down to the Lions Head parking lot. He too, also messed this up thinking we wanted to go back to the city.

We didn’t mind the accidental views along the way, however.

 

 

We then asked to make another U-turn and eventually arrived at the right place, getting to the “Friends of Lions Head” sign at around 5:30pm. By then Genoviva and her friend Hugo had already made their way up the mountain. So we ran. 

Not a wise choice on this path.

 

 

The sunset hike up Lions Head is no joke. The walk is extremely steep from the very beginning and is followed by even steeper rock steps that borders on actual bouldering. 

To compare, it’s very similar to the climb up Wayna Picchu in Peru. Nevertheless, you’re rewarded with amazing views over Cape Town.

 

 

Adding to the bouldering are eventual ladders and rock chains that with one wrong move, could send you tumbling to your demise.

 

 

Luckily, with a bit of perseverance, blind faith, and a few water breaks, we caught up midway with Genoviva, and together made it to the top of Lions Head just in time to catch the sunset at 6:10pm.

 

 

Lions Head just got served

 

Take your time here on what I affectionately have nicknamed today as “Selfie Mountain.” You deserve it.

 

Thanks for leading the way for us Genoviva, and making us do this hike in the first place!

Show off.

 

After a hike like this, I definitely owed it to myself the more-than-usual number of times I could serve Lions Head and the rest of Cape Town.

 

Once the sunset and it was beginning to get dark, we whipped out our torches and began the treacherous journey downhill.

–EDIT 9/19/16–

While descending from the top of Lion’s Head, a group of 3 girls hiking up, dehydrated, inquired if they could drink from JC’s water bottle. As this was happening, Ambrose and JC had a brief conversation with them and they eventually exchanged Facebook information. 

About a month later while I was perusing through Facebook, I noticed that one of those vert 3 girls, Chi Chi, was also mutual friends with a Jenny Chu (of recent Las Vegas fame) — a frequent monsooner who had also visited Cape Town 4 months prior. Apparently, Jenny met Chi Chi on her similarly brief weekend trip in Cape Town. WTF.

Finally, both Chi Chi’s and our hike to Lion Head were planned at the very last minute; ours was on a whim after Genoviva invited us to join her 2 hour prior when we arrived at the airport, while Chi Chi usually does this hike in the mornings but only changed her routine that day for a friend who had also just flown in from Singapore.

I’m telling ya, my world is small. 

 

We then celebrated with dinner at El Burro and hookah at Baghdad Whisky Bar on the famous Long Street (the NYC’s Broadway Avenue equivalent in Cape Town).

 

 

And for the girls night out? They went out dancing and had their own fun along Long St:

 

Photo Credit: Sarah Parise

 

At around 11:30pm and totally wiped out, we all headed back to our hostel finally reuniting with our 2 missing monsooners, Mikey and Sam, who had just flown that night.

On a sidenote, for the past 4 days we had been herding 2 bags of cheese-flavored chips since losing Mikey and Sam (that was their request for us at the airport prior to our losing them), and I’m glad to say they’ve been keeping us company in lieu of Mikey and Sam’s absence. Now these chips can finally reunite with their rightful owners.

 

 

After a restful sleep, the next morning we woke up at 9am for a nice walk around the Greenpoint Waterfront.

 

 

We walked by the famous Cape Town stadium:

 

 

…and Beach Rd:

 

 

And as we stood by the docks, we saw the infamous but surreal “tablecloth” fog come from the cape to cover the entire city of Cape Town and its Table Mountain.

 

 

At 10:45am we congregated at the Robben Island Gateway for the obligatory Robben Island tours, with ferries departing at 9am, 11am, and 2pm (We got our tickets more than a month in advance online)

 

 

Robben Island was the site where countless political prisoners against apartheid were imprisoned; Nelson Mandela himself was held here for up to 18 years. FYI, this is an emotional and sobering place to visit; your guides are all former prisoners themselves.

Once the ferries drop you off you’re taken on a mandatory 45 minute bus ride around the island with a remarkable and engaging tour guide.

 

 

The most notable of the stops is the leper colony graveyard…

 

 

…the rocks Nelson Mandela placed with other former prisoners to signify their time engaging in hard labor on the quarries….

 

 

…and the cave where Nelson Mandela and other prisoners hid to discuss the future of South African democracy.

 

 

After the bus tour, you’re dropped off at the maximum security prison where a former prisoner takes you on a personal journey through a place he once was forced to call home.

 

 

The first main part of the tour was the yard where prisoners including Nelson Mandela, was forced to cut rock as part of their hard labor sentencing. 

In the far corner on the right was “Nelson Mandela’s Garden” where he conjured up his memoir The Long Walk To Freedom.

 

 

And then there’s the cells themselves, where the 4th one from the entrance on the right is Nelson Mandela’s cell of 18 years.

 

Nelson Mandela's cell of 18 years

 

After 3 reflective hours on Robben Island, we headed back on a 2pm ferry to the mainland, where we befriended like-minded travelers from England.

 

 

After disembarking, we swung by nearby Nobel Square, where statuettes of South Africa’s 4 Nobel Prize winners are standing, including those of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

 

Nobel Square just got served

 

Then the group hailed Uber taxis for the 15 minute drive to the Aerial Cableway to Table Mountain, one of the 7 New7Wonders of Nature (the other 4 we’ve already visited include Puerto Princesa, The Amazon, Iguazu Falls, and Ha Long Bay).

At this time of year, the last cable car up to the top is at 4:30pm, and the last one down is 5:30pm. Each roundtrip ticket costs 240 rands. If you miss the cable car down, you will be forced to hike down the 4-5 hour path to the city.

 

 

After about 20 minutes waiting in line and then 2 quick minutes up to the top, you’re rewarded with some of the best views of Cape Town at its highest point of 1 kilometer above sea level (However, in my personal opinion the views were better from yesterday’s hike up Lion’s Head).

 

 

At 5:45pm we headed back on the last cable car down.

 

 

And as an exclamation point to our 2 days in Cape Town, we rounded off our day by taking a 30 minute drive south to the vineyard country of Cape Town for a 5 hour dinner at La Colombe, arguably the top restaurant in Africa and formerly San Pellegrino’s 12th best restaurant in the world.

Thanks to aforementioned two-time monsooner Jenny Chu for the timely recommendation, we were able to score a hard-fought reservation for 10 of us about a month in advance.

 

Linda teaches Kel how to salsa

 

We were even fortunate to have two-time monsooner Nadi Kaonga serendipitously rejoin us after showing us around her motherland of Malawi last week!

 

 

The full tasting menu is 14 courses long, and was one of the best, most imaginative and creative meals we’ve ever had since our epic dinner at Alinea in Chicago 2 years ago.

And to make things even more crazy, the full cost ended up being no more than $114 USD per person including wine pairings, cocktails, 2 wine bottles, tax, and gratuity!

 

 

P.S. From the returning 5 monsooners who gathered today for this lovely meal (namely Duncan, Ambrose, Kel, Nadi, and myself): Happy 1 year anniversary to our family from The Baltic Crescent trip!

 

 

Now it’s time to hit the sack; it’s 3am here and we need to get up at 7am for our drive to The Cape of Good Hope.

 

- At time of posting in Cape Town, South Africa, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 49% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

An Elephant Symphony Plays In Chobe National Park

An Elephant Symphony Plays In Chobe National Park

A Phanty Procession!
 

 

To do Kasane is to do Chobe. Regarded as one of the top 2 “elite” safari destinations in Africa, Chobe is most famous for being home to the world’s largest and most numerous elephant herds in the world (among other wildlife) covering over 11,000 square kilometers at the confluence of 4 countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia. This is also one of the few places to see the “Big 5” (the African lion, the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros).

2 types of safaris are offerred at Chobe: a game drive at either 6am or 10am in a 4WD jeep and a river cruise on the Chobe waterfront (which should be done at sunset beginning at 3pm). Each 3-hour safari should run at an average of 250 pulas per person.

We got ready at 10am for our first safari in the 4WD:

 

 

It’s about a 5 minute drive from Liya Guest Lodge to the entrance to Chobe National Park, where registration (done by the driver) can take about 10 minutes. Afterwards it’s about another 5-10 minute drive to the riverfront on the upper trail.

 

 

Once you reach where the water is, the wildlife begin to teem in the hundreds to thousands.

 

 

The list of things to see include (and not limited to) the kudus and impalas:

 

 

Birds with spoon-shaped beaks:

 

 

More impalas:

 

 

Elephants — lots and lots of them:

 

 

Zebras:

 

 

Monkeys:

 

 

Giraffes:

 

 

We returned to the lodge at 1pm, a little bummed no lions or leopards came out to greet us. Nevertheless, we still had a river cruise to go to at 3pm.

We took a taxi (20 pulas per vehicle) to one of the docks at 2:30pm for boarding.

 

 

Along the river we saw —

More elephants:

 

 

Baboons:

 

 

Crocodiles:

 

 

Hippos:

 

 

Buffalos:

 

 

And most importantly, the sunset at 6pm:

 

 

Afterwards we grabbed a perfunctory dinner at The Old House within walking distance of our docks, before heading back home for an early evening relaxing at our lodge (where a random elephant happened to be roaming in our backyard!).

 

- At time of posting in Kasane, Botswana, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 49% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear