Monday, May 23, 2011

Favorite Places part II: Tofo

Google stock; Worlds biggest fish the whale shark

For my favorite places part II, I think I have to mention Tofo, Mozambique. While traveling around the rest of southern Africa, I got so many other backpackers telling me I had to go diving on Tofo, that it was inevidable that I ended up there. I was pretty disapointed however when I go there, due to the fact that it was January first, and all the prices where tripled at the hostels. On top of that, the whole town was so crowded when I got there, that the one road into town was grid locked, and I had to walk about a mile from where the bus finaly had let us off. In the dark, getting directions to a hostel, I finaly arrived at the ultra packed Fatimas Nest Backpackers.

The Mesa State crew

The lounge area at Fatimas Nest

Paying $20 a night for a shoulder to shoulder, tent to tent hostel is never on my agenda, and the only reason I stuck it out was the awesome beach, great weather and beautiful scenery, but on about the sixth the whole town seemed to be abandoned of tourists, and the cost went back to normal. Me and my friends practicaly had Fatimas to our self, and were free to explore the area in peace.

Tofo and surrounds have some truly excellent diving, with nice reefs and excellent large marine life. Whale sharks and Humpback Whales in season, reef sharks and much more. We were told at a marine biologist seminar, featuring whale sharks, that the Tofo area has one of the greatest concentrations of the giant fish in the world. Evidently the whale sharks, along with giant manta rays, put Tofo on the map. The biologist even took people on snorkeling tours with them, when they needed to tag or track the sharks. The reafs aren't any good for snorkeling, being too deep to see, but there are atleast three dive centers in town. Liquid Adventures is where we got the best deal, and ended up getting open water certified.
Diving turned out to be one of my favorite things i've ever done, and now I'm hooked for life. Once you get use to the low oxygen and restrictive breathing, things for me became extremely relaxed and soothing, topped with amazing sights a non-diver would never experiance.

For four or five days all I did was dive in cool reefs with names like Clownfish Reef, Mike's Cubbard, Salon, Sherwood Forest and Manta Reef. It was an unforgetable week.

North of Tofo beach

Friday, May 20, 2011

Favorite Places Part I: Cape Town

Google stock; Aerial of Cape Town
For a place to land on my favorites list, it has to be unique in some way, and had given me an experience I can't get anywhere else. Every day when someone hears about my travels, I am asked what country is my favorite, and I never have a definite answer. I haven't been able to say what one is my favorite as each one is awesome in different ways, and special in my heart. however I can give you a long list of different places that really stick out in my mind.


Google stock; kite surfers at Camps Bay

These aren't in order of favorite, rather in random order as I remember them. I was once asked where in Africa I would live if I had to choose, and after some thought I believe I would most like to live in Cape Town, South Africa.  I don't think that you will get the National Geographic African experience that one sees on t.v at home, and hopes for when coming to Africa in Cape Town, but that might be why I like it so much. Cape Town is a very modern and beautiful city, situated right on the Atlantic ocean.

Camps Bay

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Cage Diving

The night life is fun and ongoing, and there just seems like there is always something to do. Bar hopping at night, climbing Table mountain, sun tanning on Camps bay beach, paragliding over the ocean, sport fishing, cage diving with great white sharks, taking wine tasting tours... the list goes on and on.

Google stock; Panorama from the top of Table Mountain. From left to right are visible Lions Head, Signal Hill, Robben Island, the Cape Town city centre, Table Bay, and Devil's  Peak.

sky tram up the mountain

Most notable thing in Cape Town has to be Table Mountain. It is a flat top mountain with unparalleled views of the beaches and Cape Town. My ambitious and in shape friends took the time to hike to the top, while I took the sky tram, giving me some alone time sitting on a rock wall just soaking up the majestic beauty.

Google stock; Table Mountain seen from Lions Head

The clouds would just roll right over the mountain like a white wave, and I doubt very much that I've ever seen anything more beautiful. It was very peaceful just sitting there by myself, reflecting on life. Table mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, but also a candidate for one of the new wonders of the world, along with Rio. No one should go to Cape Town, or even South Africa without getting to the top of Table Mountain.

Google stock; Cape Town wine lands

 Cape Town's transport system links it to the rest of South Africa; it serves as the gateway to other destinations within the province. The Cape Winelands and in particular the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek are popular day trips from the city for sightseeing and wine tasting. Whale watching is popular amongst tourists: Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales are seen off the coast during the breeding season (August to November) and Bryde's Whales and Killer Whales can be seen any time of the year. The nearby town of Hermanus is known for its Whale Festival, but whales can also be seen in False Bay. Heaviside's dolphins are endemic to the area and can be seen from the coast north of Cape Town; Dusky dolphins live along the same coast and can occasionally be seen from the ferry to Robben Island. Robben Island is where the prison is located that Nelson Mandela spent 20 years or so incarcerated.

A group of students from my college and I all rented motor bikes and drove down the most beautiful highway to Simons Town and Cape Point. The highway follows the coastline the whole way, with sheer cliffs on one side and beautiful beaches on the other. I'll never forget those views.
Boulders Beach near Simon's Town is known for its colony of African Penguins. We paid the fee for the park and got to walk over to the beach that was teaming with cute little penguins. There were so many little squaking penguins, just hanging out in pairs, or swimming in the ocean. Evidently surfing is popular too and the city hosts the Red Bull Big Wave Africa surfing competition every year.


From Simons Town we rode to Cape Point to see the southern most tip of Africa, where we had heard that you could see the India ocean colliding with the Antlantic... But we couldn't, it was just peaceful seas.

Cape Town was also the location of several of the matches of the FIFA World Cup including a semi-final. They built a huge stadium called Green Point Stadium that has 70000 seats. I remember the stadium well, because it was the aspirations of some of my friends to be able to go into it and play some soccer themselves. 

Google stock; Green Point Stadium.

I think you can probably see why I loved Cape Town so much. It has a little of everything, and is un-ending. I've even heard Cape Town comparied to Rio De Janero, and I can see why.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mini bus nightmare

I was in Tofo Mozambique, and after a few weeks of scuba diving, hanging out on the beach and eating lobster, I decided it was time to get on down the road. After about 30 hours of hitchhiking, and taking a few long bus journeys, I found myself in a sweltering place called Tete. I was very near the Mozambique/Malawi border, and wanted to make it before night so I didn't have to stay in this town. I finally found a mini bus going to the border and climbed in. This would be my first mini bus nightmare. Bus drivers in Africa do not leave until the whole bus is completely full, and they will not deny anyone a ride, hoping to make more money. I had experienced this before, but not to this extreme. I was seated in the first row behind the driver, which is usually the most roomy place to be, due to the little step in front of you to put your feet. This time however, this little step had four more people sitting on it, facing backwards. I was crammed up against the window, with two old ladies right in front of me, staring at me and obviously talking about me openly, then another guy crammed up against me to my left, with a kid of around eight sitting on his lap. If that wasn't enough, this kid had two live chickens in his hands, hung upside down by their legs, flapping wildly at times, beating my face with their wing, and launching feather all over the place. Then, due to there being no room for baggage, the driver opened the window I was crammed against and shoved my bag through and onto my lap. Now I was being stared at, talked about, chicken smacked, squawked at, crammed, deprived of leg room, and violated all while having a 50 lb bag on my lap, and my knees to my chest. The thing that finally did me in was when the driver put about five water bottles full of gasoline under my seat as spares. They were obviously leaking making the whole bus unbearably fumigated. Even the fact that the big sliding door would not shut , due to people hanging out of the opening and holding onto the luggage rack on the roof, didn't help air out the bus. A bus meant for ten people, now held 28 plus two chickens and a load of gas.
Finally, about an hour into the ride, when both of my legs where completely asleep, one of my sandals was missing and some guy behind me was resting his hands on my shoulders, I asked someone how much further to the border. When the answer came, and it was two more hours, I told my self I just wasn't going to make it. The very next time that the bus stopped to let someone out, I made everyone in my row get out also, to let me the hell off. When I finally disembarked the vehicle of death, I realized I was in the middle of no where, somewhere a couple hours from Malawi. I didn't give a damn. Against many protests from the driver, him telling me that there was no where to go, and I would probably die, I finally got half my money back and started walking.
When the bus finally left be, I looked around and wondered very seriously if I had made a bad mistake. As I was walking down the road, five kids around the age of 20 came running out of the jungle, clearly drunk out of their minds, wielding machetes. I had no idea what the hell they were doing and it scared me out of my mind for about a minute, seeing them running my direction with machetes, yelling and laughing. I was sure not to show my fear, and acted like I was from around those part. I walked towards one of them and extended my hand to shake his, and surprisingly to me, and I think him too, he took my hand and shook it. My actions definitely had them puzzled, and they were no longer laughing, yelling or anything, just standing in a circle around me in the street and starring in bewilderment at the crazy white boy walking down a road in the middle of nowhere in Mozambique. Eventually I just pushed one aside and started walking again, while they followed along, talking to each other in Swahili, probably trying to decide what to do about me. About a minute later I seen a truck coming, and knew I had to get on it. I practically stepped out in front of it, but it stopped. I jumped in the bed, and it took off, just as a beer bottle came hurling by my head. More rocks and bottles were flung in my direction, but I was safely on my way to the border. The funny thing was that we even passed up the bus I had been on, and they honked and waved as the crazy white boy in the back of a truck sped past.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My first hitch hiking experience

Some time around December I was in Livingstone Zambia, and the group from my school was still traveling with me. I was getting pretty low on funds at the time, so when my friends decided to go rafting on the Zambezi river, I decided to stay behind, and plan an adventure of my own. I knew that since the group was going home soon, and I would be in Africa on my own, I should probably get use to traveling solo.
Livingstone is very close to the Botswana border, and when I asked for advice on how to get there cheap from the owner of our hostel, she told me that some people hitch hike, if they had more time than money. I thought that would be the ultimate adventure, all while getting me use to a new cheap way of getting around.
I headed out the next morning, finding my way to the highway that leads to the border. From there I just started walking, refusing touts from numerous taxi drivers or mini buses. I wasn't walking down the road waving down cars for too long, as within 20 minutes a little truck picked me up. I can't remember the guys name, but he said he was a Botswanian returning home after visiting relatives. He said it was very curious seeing a big white boy walking down a lonely highway in the middle of no where, waving down passing cars, and I'm sure it was.

I remember this event well, because of a few important factors. First off, it was my first time striking out completely on my own in a foreign country as remote and strange, and some would say hostile as Zambia. It was liberating almost to know that I had what it takes to just go out and do what most would never even consider, especially since I had many more months of similar adventures planned.

Another reason I felt this little adventure was worthy of mentioning, was because on the way to the border, along the long lonely highway, I got glimpses of my first African big game animals. The driver was kind enough to pull over for me to get pictures a few times, when a giant giraffe was hanging out on the side of the road, or herd of gazelles ran out in front of us. It is a pretty memorable moment, seeing these huge animals up close, in their natural environment, and not on t.v or in zoos.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Epic Adventure

My trip is almost complete, and so I thought I would put onto a map the exact routes and places I went. Quite a ways.